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Bed of the Scorpion

Chapter Text

Sasori found his seat next to his grandmother. It was high up and overlooked the crowd that was still filing in. He frowned, watching as the day's selection was paraded out on to the stage. There was a quiet murmur throughout the amphitheater as everyone got into their seats for the auction. The auction started as it normally did, with the auctioneer going over the usual rules and customs for this sort of event. Without further adieu, he began with the first slave.

"Do you think you can keep this one for more than a month?" Chiyo sniffed as Sasori leaned forward to get a better look.

"Stop bidding on such weaklings and we won't have to do this monthly," he countered as he rolled his eyes. His grandmother huffed softly, shaking her head. Sasori ignored what she said next as the merchandise was announced. Most of the pieces this month were irritatingly average. The auction had barely started and he was already losing interest. He fanned himself, starting to think of the next project he wanted to work on once his grandmother let him go for the day. He doubted any of these weaklings could stand what he needed in a slave. He zoned out for the next couple of slaves that were announced, only returning back to the realm of the living when he felt his grandmother elbow him in the side to at least pay attention to the last one.

"And last, this little lady is from a far-off land," the auctioneer announced as a young woman with long black hair was brought onto the stage. "She can move like a snake and charm them too," he called out to the crowd, shoving her forward. The shackles make a soft noise as she stumbled forward. A basket was placed in front of her. "Go on," the auctioneer gave her a sharp stab in the back, "give them a dance."

She looked around at the crowd and frowned. After a couple of seconds, she heard the auctioneer threaten her quietly and then she closed her eyes with a heavy breath. She looked at the basket in front of her just as a song started to play. A king cobra started to come up, waving its body to the music. She watched it closely, mimicking its movements with her hips and waist. She created a dance on the spot, using the movements of the snake to form the choreography. She moved around the stage swiftly, keeping the dance simple and short, and finishing it off with a kiss on the snake's head.

Sasori watched intently, slowly feeling a grin pull at his lips. He could easily see she moved beautifully, despite the short display. And if she worked with snakes, it was promising to think that she knew her way around poisons.

“A belly dancer,” Chiyo hummed.

"We'll start her bidding at 3,000," the auctioneer announced.

"20,000," Sasori called out. The stadium let out a hushed gasp. He had just knocked out all of the lower-class competition.

"Sasori!" Chiyo gasped next to him.

"I want her," he hissed softly. "And I shall have her," he grinned.

"30,000," someone else called out.

"50,000," Sasori countered.

The girl sighed, picking up the snake and resting it on her shoulders as she listened to the numbers being shouted out for her. She looked at the auctioneer who smirked at her then looked back at the crowd, trying to find the faces of those who shouted their prices.

“50,000, Sasori?” Chiyo frowned.

“Hush, Grandmother,” Sasori growled. “We have the money and she will be mine.” Sasori grinned as two more people upped the price to 65,000 and then 80,000. He watched and waited for the auctioneer call the 'once...twice.' The crowd let out a hushed murmur. A few people glanced at him to see if he would speak up. He grinned, reveling in the tension before calling out once more. “100,000!” The stadium was so silent that a pin drop would have been deafening.

No one else raised the price higher. No one dared to. After a couple of seconds, the auctioneer spoke. "Sold!" they grinned. "100,000."

"Well, you got her," Chiyo sighed.

The girl gasped quietly, feeling her heart begin to race. It had just hit her that she was sold as a slave. And judging by the lack of protest against his price, she could tell this was someone no one bothered to mess with. The auctioneer turned to her and smirked which only gave her a worse feeling about the situation.

She was ushered off of the stage and immediately greeted by a young man with dark-rimmed eyes and thick red hair. “Congratulations,” he said in a raspy voice. “My cousin rarely goes so all out for slaves.” The man, who looked to be about her age, nodded in the direction he started to walk in. “Follow me. You’ll be bathed and given new clothes.” His eyes landed on the snake. He frowned at it for a moment. “Do you want to keep him?” he asked softly as they continued down the hall.

"Can I?" she asked quietly. She did not want to part ways with it. She had only just met the snake, yet she could feel it was going to be the only familiar thing to her. He led her into the room she was to be bathed in, where two women were waiting for her.

“The snake stays with her,” the man instructed the women. They bowed low at his order. He nodded then turned to her with kinder eyes. “They will take care of you until my cousin comes down to retrieve you.” He paused, looking her over with a little sadness in his eyes. He opened his mouth for a moment before turning away silently and leaving.

Up in the stadium, Sasori stretched, a wide smile pulling at his lips. “I got what I wanted,” he grinned.

“Don’t kill this one so fast,” Chiyo reminded him sternly. “You just blew your entire monthly stipend.”

Sasori rolled his eyes as he turned away. “She looks to be worth it,” he said, starting towards the exit. He wanted to see his prize.

The two women worked quickly in undressing the girl and getting her into the bath. They had placed the snake on a nearby counter while they worked on her. They scrubbed her hard enough for her to wince.

"You've already been branded?" one of the women asked quietly, noticing the tattoo of three tomoe on the back of her shoulder.

" not a brand," she said softly.

The two women shared a worried look with one another.

“It...might have to come off,” the other one said, biting her lip. Removing tattoos was a painful business.

Sasori stepped into the room. Spotting the girl and overhearing this conversation, he crossed over to them and moved the woman’s hand out of the way. He placed a delicate fingertip on the black ink. “No...she can keep it,” he said, a smirk still curling his mouth. The two women sank into low bows. Sasori’s fingers followed the curve of her neck before taking her jaw and pulling her head to look at him. “A daughter of the snake,” he whispered. “I didn’t know there were any of you left.”

She tried to hide the gasp that escaped when she felt him touch her and heard him speak. The heavy pit she felt in her stomach got heavier when she looked at the man who purchased her. She had to admit that she was a little surprised that he was a young, attractive man but there was something about him that was scarier than the idea of being bought by someone older. "There are not many of us," she said quietly. "We try not to make our scarce presence known."

The two women stepped away from the tub, signifying that they were done bathing her. One of them moved to grab the clothes that were set out for her and brought them over.

“You are a rare prize indeed,” Sasori said. He leaned in close to look at her eyes. The slit, snake-like pupils were something fascinating since they were so rare. The other of the two women walked over with the towel. Sasori stepped away, allowing the girl to get out of the tub and dry off but held his hand up before they could clothe her. “Leave,” he ordered the women. “Leave the clothes, I will dress her myself.” He waited for them to do as he ordered and leave. He stepped up to her and again lightly ran his fingertips over her skin. He dragged his fingers down her chest to her navel. “You have another tattoo,” he said, spotting a larger one of a snake on her hip that moved down to her thigh, almost touching her knee. “You are very proud of your snake heritage.”

She looked down at the floor and nodded, keeping her shaky breaths quiet and trying not to shudder too much as he dragged his fingers across her skin. "I am," she answered. She looked up for a second at the snake on the counter as it moved around, making its own coil and burying its head inside the coil. Even the serpent did not like the situation they were in. "It is a major part of my identity."

"Mmm," he hummed softly. He circled her, dragging his fingers across her lower stomach and up over her bare hip. "I suppose I could let you keep that identity for now." His voice lowered as his finger continued to move over her back and up her spine. He leaned in close to the back of her neck and stopped inches from it. "Eventually, you will have to leave the den of the snakes to lay in the bed of the scorpion."

She exhaled shakily, closing her eyes. She suppressed the shiver that threatened to run down her spine. She glanced at the snake again, hearing a soft hiss coming from inside the coil. "You wish to strip me of my identity..." she said quietly, keeping her sight on the snake. There was no way she was going to ever let that happen. It was all she knew. "It will not be easy."

"Oh, but I don't want easy," he said lowly, circling back around. He gripped her jaw and forced her to look at him. "It's no fun if you're submissive," he grinned. "I won't just take your identity..." he tightened his grip on her chin, "I'm going to destroy it and piece by piece make you all mine." He pulled away. "But not right away. As I said, you make keep it for now. Have your new little pet." He picked up the fine linen that made up her clothing and slowly started to wrap her in it. Dexterous fingers brushed her skin as they fastened the cloth and gold that made up her sparse outfit.

She groaned quietly as he fastened the tighter parts of it around her body. "You are letting me keep him," she hummed. He moved her in front of a mirror so she could look at herself. She frowned, feeling uncomfortable without her usual garments on. She watched the snake in the mirror, trying to find some sense of comfort with what she found familiar while she still had it.

"I am," he smirked, running his hand up her side, "for now." He watched her gaze. "Look at me," he growled softly, digging his nails into her side. He smirked, watching her gaze flicker from the snake to his eyes. "When I speak to you," he turned her face to his again, "you are to look at me." He stared into her eyes.

She looked into his eyes, trying not to flinch at his gaze and nodded slightly. "Yes," she said. She pulled away gently to bow. "Thank you for allowing me to keep him."

"You're welcome," he grinned, holding her gaze. They stayed there for a moment before he pulled away. "Since he is your only belonging, gather him and let's go." He turned and walked to the door. "You will tell me more about yourself once we are alone." He turned to watch her pick up the snake and wrap him around her shoulders. The head of the creature rested on her head. He gave her a sultry look as he took her in. "In another could have been a queen with your beauty," he smirked wickedly. "But I won't let you go to waste."

Her brow furrowed slightly as he turned to leave. She tried not to frown too hard as she started following him. She got a feel for what kind of person he was by what he told her in their short conversation. She knew she needed to watch her facial expressions around him, knowing full well he was the kind to hurt people.

As they walked down the corridor, he unraveled a long golden chain. He looked at her over his shoulder and reached back, indicating for her to put her hand in his. As soon as she did, he clasped one end of the chain to her and slipped the other over his own wrist. They continued down to a cluster of slaves, gathered around a platform. As soon as Sasori stepped into the blazing sun, they snapped to attention and kowtowed around the platform.

"Next to me," he said, tugging the chair of the platform as he sat down on it. The other slaves silently picked him up and started walking.

She stood on the side of the platform, squinting a little as her eyes adjusted to the sunlight. Once the slaves carrying the platform started moving, she followed, keeping up with it easily. The snake on her head rested lower on her shoulders. She tried not to look at the people they passed, petting the snake's head gently.

Sasori smiled at passersby, greeting them as they called out their hellos.

"Ah, Lord Sasori, congratulations on your bid!" an older woman said on the opposite side of his new purchase. Sasori gave her a fond smile but the wickedness still flashed in his eyes.

"Thank you, Koharu," he nodded. "I take it your granddaughter is doing better?"

"Oh, yes, your tonics never fail!" Koharu smiled, bowing slightly.

The girl's brow furrowed as she listened to the conversation. 'Tonics?' she thought. 'This man actually helps people?' She glanced up at him, seeing the way he smiled at this other woman. It was completely different from the way he looked at her earlier. It almost sent a chill down her spine just how easily he could switch in front of a crowd.

Sasori gave Koharu another smile and then gave the signal to continue on. He glanced down at his new slave, noticing her mild displeasure. He smirked, yanking her chain gently. "We're almost there," he said as the group of slaves started to ascend grand stairs.

She looked up at the mansion as they moved up the stairs. If she had not been brought as a slave, she might have actually appreciated the architecture. Once they reached the top, the slaves carrying Sasori lowered him, remaining in their bow as he stepped off of the platform. She looked around the mansion, taking in the fact that this was going to be her new home.

Sasori watched her reaction, a small smirk pulling at his lips. He tugged the chain slightly as he walked into the open and airy structure. "This is mine and Lady Chiyo's home," he told her as he turned the corner to walk down a corridor lined with flowing white linen.

Other slaves bowed low as Sasori passed, giving their greetings. They kept their eyes fixed to the limestone floors until he had passed. Only then did their eyes flicker up to give Sasori's newest plaything a sorrowful look. Unlike on the street, he paid them no mind, keeping his head lifted and straightforward.

"Everyone but you is owned by my grandmother," he smirked, turning once more and pulling her into a large room with a high domed ceiling. "You are entirely mine. Anything I say overrules Chiyo," his voice dropped low again and his smirk widened as he turned to push her against the wall. He tilted her chin up with his fingertip, their faces inches apart. He looked into her eyes again, dragging the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip.

Her breath hitched and her heart started to race again. Looking into his eyes made her uncomfortable and she could not back away from him since he had her pinned. The snake around her moved lower, sliding to the floor and coiling at her feet. She breathed heavily through her nose for a second before speaking. "You told me...once we are alone, I must tell you about myself...what do you want to know?"

"Glad you remembered," he smirked as he pulled away. He slid his end of their chain off first then took her hand. "Why don't we start with your name." He slipped the chain off of her hand and slowly coiled the chain back up. He walked to a desk near them, placing the chain down in its neat coil.

She breathed a little easier now that he was not so close to her. She swallowed a lump in her throat before speaking. "My name is Azumi," she answered, watching him linger by the desk for a moment.

"Azumi," he repeated softly. "What a kind name," he smirked, looking at her from the corner of his eye. He pulled open a small drawer then picked up two boxes. Without looking at her, he curled his finger towards her. "Continue," he ordered in an even tone as she walked to him. "Lift your leg," he told her.

She lifted her leg for him as she continued to speak. "I am from a village far away from here," she said. "My father is the head of that village." She knew her status where she was from meant nothing where she was now. She wished she could say she was surprised that this man wanted to know the background of his slave, as most people would not care about a slave's past. But she was not surprised at all.

He sat down and took her foot gently in his hand as he slipped a ring attached to a delicate golden chain over one of her toes and fastened it around her slim ankle. A small red-eyed scorpion sat in the middle of her foot now. He put her foot down and motioned for her to repeat the process for the other foot. "A noble daughter far from home." He pressed a kiss to the top of her foot. He stood up and looked her over again. "Never take those off unless I say so," he instructed her before turning on his foot. "I'll admit, I'm curious about how you came to be on that stage," he smirked. "But I am more interested in what you can do for me right now."

She stood in her spot, watching his back. "And what is it that you want me to do for you right now?" she asked, keeping her tone neutral. She tried not to show on her face or in her voice how scared and uncomfortable she was.

He looked back at her. "Come," he said, disappearing through another set of linen curtains. She followed him into the other room, looking around at it. "What did your family use the snakes for?" he asked her. "You seem to be quite comfortable around venomous snakes." He looked down at the king cobra that weaved between her legs. He sat down at a larger workbench. The whole room was lined with shelves that contained various bottles filled with dark liquids and plant matter. Across the room, a large distillery and various tools were set up on another workbench.

She did not think he would keep something like this so close to where he slept. It was a little sick, but it gave her a little more insight into what kind of person he was. "Other than as familiars," she started, "we used their venom for healing purposes." She looked down at the snake and then back at Sasori. "I am one of five people able to communicate with snakes."

"I knew I made the right choice," he hissed softly. Sasori's eyes flashed with excitement. "So, you've worked with poisons and medicines before?" he grinned. "Can I wager you've had plenty tested on you as well?" He did not bother to hide the delight in his tone. Again, he looked at the snake. "You must be very intelligent to have learned such a skill. Mmm," he hummed grinning, "but anyone with half a brain could tell you are smarter than most."

She resisted the urge to turn and leave when she saw how excited he was. "I have worked with them before, yes," she said. "And yes, I have had them tested on me. The skill to understand snakes is something that comes naturally to my father, brothers, and I."

Wickedness curled over Sasori's lips. "I knew you'd be perfect," he said as he stood up and pulled her close. "I want to test something now," he said excitedly, pulling out a vile as he held her forearm up. He opened the vile and made a small cut on her then dripped the liquid in it onto the thin line he made in her skin.

"Mm," she hummed uncomfortably as he cut her. Once she felt the liquid sink into the cut, she felt the painful burn and groaned. The burning sensation increased and she squeaked quietly.

Sasori nearly moaned at her reaction. "Do you know what that was?" he asked, his voice slipping low. He capped the bottle and gently dabbed the small wound to clean is and wrapped it neatly with some silk. He watched her for any more visible signs of it taking effect.

"Snake venom?" she huffed, still feeling the burn in her arm. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes as she bit her lip in pain. However, just as quickly as the pain came, it started to go away. The cobra hissed softly, wrapping around her leg.

"The deadliest one in my collection," he grinned. "And you're hardly reacting to it." He stood up, wrapping a hand around her neck. Using his pointer finger and thumb, he pushed her head back and watched her eyes dilate then constrict. "You should be dead by now," he whispered, still smiling. "And yet your body is only showing signs of mild irritation," he crooned close to her ear. "You have an immunity to snake venom."

"Yes," she panted, the sensation in her arm easing just a little bit. "Snake venom has hardly any effect on me. And depending on what the sensation is, I can usually tell what snake the venom came from."

"Fascinating," Sasori almost giggled. "Oooh, do I have plans for you," he grinned. "But before I get carried away, I suppose I should show you where you'll sleep part-time," he said, letting go of her. "When we are working on things for the shop and clients, you'll sleep here," he said, walking back into his main room. He gestured to a daybed that was pressed to the end of his large one. "In all honesty, I hardly sleep so you'll have to get used to that. When we aren't working on a major project, you can sleep down in the slaves' quarters," he told her. "You'll know which room is yours. It's the only one with a red door and a scorpion on the front."

She looked at the daybed and nodded slightly. She herself did not sleep much but if his plans for her were along the lines of what he just did to her, she was going to treasure sleep whenever she could get it. "If I may ask," she started, looking at him, "what projects do you work on?"

Sasori smirked, sitting down on the daybed and crossed his legs. "I am the proprietor of an apothecary," he told her. "The best in this whole country," he grinned. "And I also make the deadliest poisons known to man on commission."

"I see," she hummed. The cobra slithered up her body, resting on her shoulders. Her hand immediately went to the snake's head, petting it gently. "The poisons..." she started, "do you use a lot of snake venom in them?"

"I like to keep it on hand," he hummed. "Since, I have certain clients that prefer its effects." He smirked at her, leaning his head on the back of his hand. "I do favor scorpion venom as a base if they do not give me any specific criteria though."

"Scorpion venom..." she hummed. “I am not familiar enough with scorpion venom," she said quietly. "We do not use it in our remedies and medicines since it is not as potent as snake venom."

"Not as potent?" he questioned. "Oh, no, my dear, you are mistaken." He shook his head. "When milked and refined, it can be just as severe and potent as snake venom," he corrected her.

"So, it needs to be worked on to be nearly as potent as snake venom," she said, shifting her weight to one hip and folding her arms. "Why go through the work? Would it not just be easier to use snake venom?"

Sasori huffed a little. "Yes, it needs refining but it works much better." He lifted his chin, watching attitude settle into her stance. "Snake venom can work too quickly and ruin the desired effect. And if you find the right type even unrefined it can be just as catastrophic of snake venom."

"Does scorpion venom even have different varieties like snake venom?" she asked. "Or is it the same boring old composition among all scorpions?"

"Excuse me?" Sasori's eye twitched. "None of the scorpion variants are common or boring," he hissed. "They are each unique and you will learn to respect them," he said, getting up and crossing to her." In fact, tomorrow you will be testing out one on your very skin." He pulled her close and dug his nails into her hip. He dug them in deep enough to cause raised red lines to form on her skin.

Her breath hitched, feeling his nails dig into her. She figured immediately that she had struck a nerve. "I see..." she breathed, looking him in the eyes. "I apologize." She bowed slightly. "Clearly scorpions are special to you. I understand."

He looked into her eyes, the hand on her hip moved to grip her chin harshly. "I don't mind a challenge. Decent and intelligent conversation is hard to come by." He held her gaze.

She tried her hardest not to flinch under his gaze. "I was not a low commoner before this," she said. "I do not mean to challenge you, but I am able to carry such conversations."

He smirked, watching her struggle for a solid minute before finally letting her free. He sat back down and waved for her to take a seat on the day bed. "Then I expect many interesting conversations from you." He leaned his chin on his hand again. "You're one of a kind so far and I intend on figuring out every skill you can offer me."

She sat down next to him just as he wanted, trying to keep a distance between them. "I may not be of much use to you beyond the venom," she said. The cobra followed her, loosely wrapping around her leg. "I do not know what skills you are looking for."

"You don't need to know," he smirked. "Just do as you're told and you might surprise yourself, noble girl." He looked down at the cobra then back up at her. "We won't be working on anything tonight so you may sleep in your own room tonight if you wish."

She nodded and stood up. The king cobra made its way up her body, wrapping itself around her waist and rested its head on her shoulder. "I hope everything I have told you about myself was sufficient," she said. She bowed, but the snake did not bow with her, it stood straight and hissed quietly.

"It was," Sasori said evenly. “For now.” He glared at the snake for a moment before looking back to Azumi. "Make sure you get enough rest. You'll need your strength for tomorrow," he smirked as she rose from her bow. "You're dismissed."

She nodded and turned to leave, breathing easier once she was out of his room. She had no idea where the servants' quarters were but she was not going to dare ask him for directions. She walked down a corridor, hoping it would take her closer to where she needed to be. The cobra hissed quietly at her, making sure she knew exactly how he felt about the situation they were in.

Chiyo walked out of a room and passed Azumi. She looked over the girl and sighed a little. "He just sent you out here with no directions, didn't he," Chiyo said, stopping the girl in her tracks.

Azumi jumped slightly when Chiyo spoke and she quickly turned around to bow to her. "Yes, my Lady," she said. "He only told me that it was a red door with a scorpion on it. But not where it was."

Chiyo sighed. “As I thought. Follow me,” the woman said, turning around. “Tomorrow, if Sasori doesn’t keep you in his quarters, I’ll give you a tour of the house,” she told Azumi as she turned down another hall and pushed open a door that led to a long hallway lined with more doors. “He’s terrible at actually keeping servants and when he does, he never remembers his basic manners.” She clicked her tongue, shaking her head. She walked down the hall all the way towards the end and stopped in front of a door on the left. Just as Sasori had described, the door was red and a scorpion was burned into the wood.

Azumi put her hand on the door to open it but then stopped herself and bowed to Chiyo again. “Thank you, Lady Chiyo,” she said. The cobra lowered its head a little bit toward Chiyo.

Chiyo smiled kindly. "Don't let him kill you," she said softly as turned away.

Azumi furrowed her brow and frowned at the comment. 'That does not sound hopeful,' she thought as she pushed the door open and stepped inside. The cobra slithered off of her and moved about the room, trying to find a place he could feel most comfortable. He hissed quietly as she sat down on the bed. "I know I just met you, but you are the only one I can trust here. Do you have a name?" The snake hissed at her again, coiling up at the foot of her bed. "Naga?" she smiled as she lay back on the bed. "I like it.”

Chapter Text

The sun was just barely peeking over the horizon, throwing long golden rays into the indigo sky when there was a knock on Azumi’s door.

"Lord Sasori has summoned you," a man's voice called through the door. He knocked once more just to make sure he was heard. Naga lifted his head from his coil at the sound of the first knock. His attention shifted to Azumi when she moved in her bed. "I suggest you not make him wait. The young master is very impatient."

Azumi opened her eyes and sighed. "Of course," she mumbled to herself. "I would never assume such a man to be patient." She sat up and stretched then shared a look with Naga. "As much as I know you want to," she started, keeping her voice low, "you cannot bite him if he does anything to me." She stood up from the bed and got ready quickly, picking up the snake and heading out back to Sasori's room.

Sasori poked his head out of the back workshop attached to his room when he heard her come in. "You're here, finally," he huffed. "We have a large order for a batch of tonics that just came in and a special order for another client," he sighed, irritated. "I hate when Chiyo does favors," he growled, walking back into the workshop. "Aprons are on the wall," he said, sitting at the distillery workbench. The whole room had a thick aroma wafting through the air.

She nodded and stepped into the workshop, grabbing an apron and looking around. She noticed the batch of tonics and then focused on what he was doing. "What would you like me to do?" she asked him. She hoped that he had forgotten his threat of testing scorpion venom on her skin and if she did not challenge him, she would not have to hear another threat.

"Right now, I want you to make sure that doesn't boil over," he said, pointing to a beaker over a flame. "After we are done with this batch, I have something special for you." He looked over his shoulder, giving her a wicked smirk.

She tried not to look too concerned about whatever it was but she had to admit, she was scared about it. She stepped over to the beaker, watching it carefully to make sure it did not boil over, as he instructed. They spent the rest of the morning and the better part of the afternoon working on the batch and the client's special order.

Sasori sighed leaning back and running a hand through his hair. "Alright, we can let this sit for now before we bottle it later," he smirked at her. "You kept up well." He stood up and walked up to her. "I've never had another slave keep up so well on their first day. You really do know your stuff."

"Thank you," she said with a bow. "I have worked with compositions similar to this before. What I have done was not exactly the same as this but once you have mixed three or four compositions, you have mixed them all."

Sasori's eyes narrowed but his smirk remained. "Mmm, yes, you're right.” He reached around her, pulling the strings of her apron. He pulled the apron over her head and tossed it onto a nearby chair. "Are you ready for your surprise?" he asked, gripping her hip harshly. He had not taken his eyes off of her the entire time. "It will be my gift to you."

Her breath hitched when he grabbed her and she figured this was hardly much of a real gift. She hesitated for a moment before nodding slightly.

He smirked, leading her over to a new table and picked her up to put her down on the edge of it. "If you have tattoos you must be good with pain," he smirked, tracing a finger up the snake on her thigh. "Am I right?"

She looked down at his finger as it traced her thigh then back up at him. "Yes," she said quietly, trying to hide her fear.

The grin on Sasori's face widened. "I want to test that." He looked her in the eyes. "Lay down." He pushed her down before she could do it herself. He waited until she was all the way down before turning and picking up ropes. He bound her hands first, then her feet.

"What?" she gasped as soon as she felt the rope. "What are you doing?" she asked. She felt him tie the rope tighter than necessary and let out a quiet whimper.

"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you," he smirked, pressing his hand harshly into her chest to hold her down. "You'll love it." He walked over to one of the shelves and pulled down two jars. "We are going to make sure you and everyone around us know who you belong to now." He spooned some powder out of one jar into a dish and then poured a liquid over from the other. It let off a low hissing sound and a heavy scent curled up with a cloud of grey smoke. He picked up a paintbrush and sat back down next to her.

She smelled the mixture he made as soon as he brought it close and her eyes widened. She recognized it immediately as acid. "No," she whispered. She turned to look at him and her breath hitched when she made eye contact. The smirk on his face told her everything. She looked at the small dish he brought over and bit her lip, holding back the scream that wanted to escape.

Sasori pushed the fabric of her dress out of the way gently, exposing her thigh and hip on the opposite side of her snake tattoo. He smirked as he pressed a kiss to the spot. "Oh, yes, this is going to be great," he grinned, swirling the brush in the mixture. "This will look amazing." He pressed his brush to her skin and started to paint.

She felt the first long stroke and flinched immediately. It took a couple of seconds for her to feel the burning sensation the mixture he painted with caused. "Ah-ha," she squeaked, trying not to scream. Her breath quickened when she felt the second long stroke.

"What a sweet sound," he smirked, continuing to paint. He blew on it softly, making the burning sensation stronger. He was slow with each stroke, drawing out how long the brush made contact with her skin. The mixture caused a little bit of smoke to rise off of her skin, filling Sasori's nose with the smell of her burning flesh.

She shut her eyes tight and bit her lip. The scream came out as more small squeaks. "Please," she gasped. She turned her face away from him, feeling tears well up in her eyes.

“Heh, oh no, my dear,” he let a low laugh out, “we talked about this. You must look at me when you speak.” He curved his brush up over her hip, following the bone. Again, he blew on it, watching her struggle to keep her body from buckling. “How does it feel?” he asked with an excited light in his eyes.

She exhaled heavily before turning back to face him. "Horrible," she groaned, biting her lip again. She looked down at the brush and where it was going. He made another long stroke, dragging over a line he already did and causing her to let out a small yelp.

“I could only imagine,” he smirked. “But you are faring better than any of my other slaves have in the past. They’ve all passed out by this point.” He leaned in as he started to go into more detail. He made sure to add every little speck and line he knew would make this visually ornate and beautiful. Not to mention drag out more of her screams.

She let out another, slightly louder cry and curled her fists tight enough that her nails drew blood from her palms. She tried to look at what he was painting on her to see how much longer she would have to endure it but the tears that welled up in her eyes clouded her vision. She closed her eyes, letting them come out as she tilted her head back and exhaled heavily again.

Sasori’s lips parted slightly, letting out a pleased almost moan while watching her writhe in agony. When he finally put his brush and bowl down after a couple of hours, he sat back, marveling at his work. He looked her over as she still tensed up in pain. “You look amazing,” he said softly, predatorily. He turned away to grab a rag, another bowl, and two bottles. He sat back down and opened one bottle, pouring it out onto the rag. With zero warning, he pressed the rag onto the fresh burn and wiped.

The direct contact with the burn and dragging motion is what pushed her past her limit. She let out an actual scream in pain, letting more tears fall from her eyes.

Sasori grinned, feeling zero remorse for the pain he had put her in. “Relax,” he told her, “we’re almost done.” He chuckled, pouring the other liquid onto a new rag. He pressed the rag over the whole burn. It had an instant effect. First, it cooled the burn with an icy feeling then slowly a numbness crept in. “This is your reward for staying awake,” he said softly into her ear.

She inhaled sharply at the cooling sensation and then let it out in a slow exhale when she felt the numbness. She closed her eyes again, trying to relax. She did not even want to see what it was that he burned into her skin. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked up at him, trying to quiet her breathing. She would have rather dealt with the scorpion venom than go through that.

"I'd say that wasn't so bad," he smirked, reaching down and bending her knee so her leg was up at a ninety-degree angle. "But as I said before, you're the only one who hasn't passed out from this." He wrapped a silk cloth around the newly numbed area. "Don't take that wrapping off until tomorrow. I don't feel like dealing with you if you get an infection."

“I will not,” she said quietly. She did not want to take it off ever. She never wanted to see what he did to her, but she knew that he did it so it could be seen by everyone. She waited until he put her leg down before sitting up. Still tied up, she looked down at the silk and frowned. She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath. She would give herself time to cry about it later.

"I'll be kind and let you rest a bit," he smirked, smacking the silk wrapped hip. "My client that's coming is a regular," he explained. "So, I want you to pay attention to him," he told her just as another slave knocked on his bedroom door.

"Si-sir," they squeaked from the door.

They both looked in the direction of the door and Sasori sighed. “He must be here already,” he said. He looked at her and smirked before leaving the workshop to answer the bedroom door.

Azumi sat on the table, struggling to loosen the rope around her wrists and ankles because he tied them too tight. She wiped her face and listened to the conversation between Sasori and the client as they walked back to the workshop.

“It was a big order this time,” the client said.

“Nothing I could not handle,” Sasori told him.

The two men entered the room and Azumi swallowed a gasp.

"You got another one?" the man asked nonchalantly as he laid eyes on the tied up Azumi.

"Yes, and she's proving to be so much better than any of the other toys I've broken in the past," Sasori grinned, running his hand up her leg to her thigh. "Mhm," he smirked, before turning away. "Your order is over here," he said. "It's your usual: odorless and quick."

"Perfect," the client said. "Have you made anything new for me to try?"

“I can give you this,” Sasori said, picking up a bottle. “I only have two test versions of it.” He handed the bottle to the client. “It’s odorless, but has a very faint taste and it is meant for slow and agonizing deaths.”

Azumi furrowed her brow. It did not come at all as a surprise to her that he sold poisons to people. But the actual confirmation was very disheartening.

“Interesting...” the client hummed, looking the bottle over as he took it. “I shall give it a try,” he smirked.

"I expect a detailed report of how it goes," Sasori smiled.

"As I always do," the man said to Sasori. "Hidan!" he called.

Another man with silver hair came running into the room. "Yes, Lord Kakuzu," the silver-haired man said as he knelt down quickly.

"Carry these," he said, pointing to the boxes.

"There's...more than usual," Hidan said, glancing over to Azumi. "Whoooa, you branded her already, Lord Sasori!" he smirked. "Can I see it?" He walked over then gasped. "You're awake!"

Azumi gasped quietly, moving back slightly when Hidan got closer to her. “Yes, I am,” she said to him. “And I have already been made aware of how unusual that is.”

“You speak like a noble,” Hidan said.

“Not all of us are born into slavery,” she said, looking at his own branding on his chest, no doubt given by the man behind him.

Hidan huffed, backing away. "Yeah, whatever," he grumbled, picking up the boxes. "She's rude," he said to Sasori as he turned to leave.

Sasori smirked, looking at Azumi. "She's still adjusting," he almost cooed. He walked over and ran his fingers through her hair.

"Your payment," Kakuzu said, clearing his throat and holding up a plain wooden box. Sasori pointed to workbench behind Kakuzu, indicating for him to put it down there. "Will I see you tomorrow night at Oonoki's banquet?"

"Unfortunately," Sasori growled. The soothing strokes in Azumi’s hair suddenly turned into a nasty grip, scraping her scalp.

“Nng,” she grunted in pain.

Kakuzu nodded and then bowed. “Until tomorrow then,” he said. Sasori nodded back at him.

“Goodbye, Lord Sasori,” Hidan said as he bowed his head slightly and followed Kakuzu out of the room, leaving Azumi alone with Sasori again.

Sasori released her hair, slowly returning to stroking it. "I'm going to release you soon,” he told her. “And I'll show you how I want my bath run so you can do it for me in the future."

She did not want to like the feeling of her hair being stroked but she did. She almost leaned into his touch before she caught herself. “At what times do you like your bath to be run?” she asked.

"Typically, around seven thirty, but if I'm in the middle of a project, whenever I've finished." He sat back down, smirking as he noticed her almost lean into his hand. "I take it with oils that I make and the perfect temperature between lukewarm and scalding." He dragged his nails gently along her scalp. "After, I expect my towel to be warmed and ready for me. I will tell you which creams and oils I want you to set aside for the night before and after my bath at first," he explained. "Once you get the hang of it you can choose for me. I don't doubt you will pick it up easily."

She tried not to hum at how good his nails against her scalp felt. “That sounds easy enough,” she said. “I hope I can serve you well and better than...the previous slaves.”

Sasori smirked, lifting his other hand to trace up her leg again to her thigh. His fingertips ghosted over the silk bandages up to her stomach. "You know your way around a lab and so far can keep up with what I need from you," he smirked. "You are already so much better than anyone else I've ever had serve me." His hand in her hair traced down her jaw and turned her head to him.

Her breath hitched slightly as she made eye contact with him. “It is because a lab is a familiar environment for me,” she said. “To be honest, it is where I feel most comfortable. But I know how to adapt in other places.” She tried to keep her eye contact with him as best as she could.

"I couldn't have made a more perfect purchase," Sasori grinned. He pulled his hands away and moved them up to undo the ropes around her feet. He turned back to work on the knotting at her hands, tracing the rope indentations for a moment. "Let's go," he said, stepping away from the table.

She rubbed the spot of her ankles that the rope hurt before getting off of the table. She took a couple of seconds to adjust to the numbness in her leg as she stood. Once she figured out how to walk with the uncomfortableness of it, she followed him, rubbing her wrists where the rope hurt her.

He led her back through his room to another doorway. "I have a private bath here, but there are two bathhouses on the property itself," he told her. The room they walked into was large, circular and very open air. The river that ran near the house could easily be seen and heard from where they stood. A large, pool-like bath was sunk into the ground along with another, smaller inground tub.

She looked around the bathroom in awe. "Wow," she whispered. She caught herself staring at the view. The sound of the river made the bathroom feel a little more like an oasis. "This is beautiful," she told him.

He smirked at her reaction. "My mother put a lot of effort designing our homes." He walked over to a built-in set of shelves that contained various types of jars and bottles. "Come," he waved her over. "This is where I keep most of the scents and oils that I am favoring currently," he told her. He squatted to open a cabinet. "Towels are down here, always rolled and this should always be kept well stocked." He stood back up. "You won't be stocking it but if you notice it is running low, be sure to tell the maids of the house."

She nodded and took a moment to look at how many towels were in the cabinet. She looked at the scents and oils on the shelves, reading the labels. She had to admit she admired his taste. They all seemed to be ones she would use herself. She looked at him and nodded again. "This seems easy enough," she said.

"You would think that but for some reason, so many of your predecessors messed it up," he said with mild irritation. "Anyway, over here is the valve that fills the smaller tub." He tapped a brass faucet. "You need to turn it to these two points." He turned on the water with both sides of hot and cold. "No higher or lower. If you do, I will notice."

Again, she nodded. "Understood," she said. That was a small detail that she could understand the previous slaves messing up on. She had no doubt that at least one of them was killed over something like that. If he ended up killing her, she was not going to let it be over something as stupid as water temperature. She resisted the urge to scoff and roll her eyes at the mere thought of it.

"Good." He looked around the room. "I'll give you time to acquaint yourself with all of this later," he sighed with a stretch and started to remove his clothes. "For now, take these back to my room and find my robe." He gestured to his clothes as he threw them to the floor, circling back to the shelves. "When you do, hang it up over there then come back to the shelves and I will show you what order to put things in."

She tried her best not to look at his body. She did not want to be attracted to such a monster, finding it completely disheartening that he was the way he was while he looked the way he did. She picked up his clothes and took them back to his room, folding them neatly and then grabbing his robe. She went back into the bathroom and hung it up where he told her to. As she approached the shelves, she looked over the labels of the oils and scents he had.

Once she was back Sasori picked out four jars. "Two of these are oils," he held up the jars. "You only need four drops of each," he said, pulling out a dropper from a small vase on the shelf. "And these two are salts." He held up the other jars. "One scoop of each of these will do." He showed her what to do. "Simple," he said, turning to shut the water off. "Now go eat dinner and come back before I'm done."

She nodded and bowed to him before leaving the bathroom. Naga slithered up to her, having been coiled by the door the entire time. He hissed softly to her as they left Sasori's bedroom. She picked him up and wrapped him around her waist, resting his head on her shoulder. She had no idea where to go, once again and decided to just walk in any direction.

Similar to the day before Chiyo rounded a corner and sighed. "He still hasn't given you a tour?"

"Ah, no, Lady Chiyo," Azumi said as she bowed. "He has not. He kept me with him in his workshop all day. I was just dismissed to go eat."

"Alright, I'll give you the tour since he is neglecting to," she told her. First, she brought her to the servant's kitchens. All of the servants and slaves who were sitting down to eat stood up and bowed low. "You can cook down here. And unless Sasori orders otherwise this is where you will take all of your meals." She waved the servants off. "Go back to your meal," she told them, and they relaxed. She ordered one of the women to prepare a bowl of food for Azumi. "You can eat while we walk." The servant quickly served the bowl and handed it to Azumi. She took the bowl and thanked them quietly. "This won't take too long," Chiyo said.

Azumi nodded as she followed Chiyo out of the kitchens and into the hallway. "Thank you for this," she said.

"It's part of our job to make sure you have everything you need to do your job correctly," Chiyo waved her thanks off. "My grandson gets very wrapped up in his own little world and forgets that constantly."

“He seems to take great pride in his work,” Azumi said as she ate her food quietly while walking down the hall. “It looks to have brought on a great amount of success. You must be very proud of him.”

“Proud but always worried he is overdoing it,” she frowned. “I often find clients for him when he isn’t in the shop. The Hyuugas have been coming to us personally for their medications for decades and they haven’t praised me once the way they do Sasori. It does make a grandmother’s heart swell.” She stopped outside of a room. “Down here is the laundry room. All you have to do is ask a house servant for help should you need anything from in there. Down the rest of the way is close to the servants’ quarters where you slept last night and the kitchens.”

Azumi looked into the room and nodded. “He has mentioned quite a few times how his previous slaves...” She tried to find the words to use.

“Died?” Chiyo finished.

“Yes...because of him?”

“Yes, well,” Chiyo sighed heavily. “He can have a bad temper and sets a very high bar for anyone who works with him,” she frowned. “He also forgets basic human needs when he’s working so please do remind him to eat and bathe.”

Azumi frowned a little and then nodded. “I will,” she said. She looked down the hall, recognizing the servants’ quarters. She finished her food and bowed. “I must get back to him. He may be done with his bath soon.”

"Alright then," Chiyo nodded. "If you get lost again don't hesitate to ask for help," she said before turning down a different hall.

Azumi moved through the halls back to Sasori’s room, trying to remember the path she had taken on the tour. Her leg still felt weird which slowed her down just a little bit. She put Naga down on the floor when she entered the room and went back into the bathroom where Sasori was still in the tub.

"You're late," Sasori said, leveling her with a glare. "But I figured Granny was talking your ear off so I'll forgive you," he said, stepping out of the tub.

She bowed and moved to grab a towel from the cabinet and gave it to him. “She was giving me a tour,” she said, “so I know where the kitchens are.” She grabbed his robe to bring it over to him as he wrapped the towel around himself.

"Mm, oh, yes, I haven't done that yet, have I?" he hummed as he dried off and took the robe. "Well, all the better you know and I did not have to," he said, walking back into his room. He lounged on his bed. "Sit," he commanded, casually pointing to the daybed. "Take that bottle before you leave and put it on you when you return to your room tonight," he said, pointing to a small bottle on the desk.

Azumi sat on the daybed and looked at the bottle on the desk. “Is it for the burn?” she asked. The numbness was slowly going away as it had been a couple of hours since.

“It is,” Sasori said, bending one of his legs up. “As I said, I don’t want to deal with an infection and so far I actually like you.”

She looked at him, risking the smallest smile. “Thank you,” she said, bowing slightly. She ran her hand along the silk wrapping around her thigh. The pain was there but it was very minuscule. She knew by the time she went to bed she would feel it a lot more.

“Mhm,” he said airily, pulling out a log and marking down something. “You have nothing to wear for tomorrow.” He put the book down and looked her over. “I will have one of Chiyo’s girls provide you a dress. Can you do your hair and makeup?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “I can.” She paused for a moment before looking up at him again. “If I may ask, what exactly is this event?”

“Nothing of particular significance, just an irritating banquet.” He rolled his eyes. “A waste of my time honestly.” He stood up and with a swish to his robe, disappeared into the workshop. He returned moments later with a wooden box. “I made this for some client but she wound up not using it.” He pressed the box into her lap. “It’s yours now.”

She opened up the box and looked through the makeup that was inside. She whispered to herself in awe, picking up some of the items and closely inspecting them. “Thank you, again,” she told him.

Sasori glanced at her through his lashes as he picked up his log again and settled back into bed. “You can keep that. If you continue to prove useful, I’ll give you more for whenever we are forced out.” He grumbled about not wanting to deal with social graces. “Dismissed.” He waved his hand.

She stood up from the daybed and bowed. "Goodnight," she said. She picked up the bottle he mentioned from the desk and placed it on top of the box as she carried it back to her room. Naga slithered behind her, hissing quietly about how he did not trust the makeup in the box. "He made it for a client," she said to the snake. "So, it should not be too bad." Once she was finally in her room, she set the box down on the dresser and sat down on the bed. She lightly unwrapped her leg to put a little bit of the liquid from the bottle onto the burn. It cooled it instantly and she sighed. "I still do not know what it is," she mumbled to herself, refusing to look at whatever he painted on her. She placed the bottle on the dresser and laid in bed, taking a while to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Similar to the day before, a knock came to Azumi’s door. “Lord Sasori has requested you to his room,” a new voice said. “He said to bring all of your things for the banquet as well.”

"All of my things," she groaned to herself as she woke up. If her eyes were open, she would have rolled them. She got up and looked at Naga as she got ready. "He does not seem to mind you being around," she said. "So," she picked up him and wrapped him around her, "you are coming." She placed the bottle he gave her in the box of makeup and picked it up and went back to Sasori's room.

Sasori was still in his robe from the night before but he now had loose pants on under them. He looked up from the four beautiful dresses laid out on his bed. “Try these on,” he told her. “I need to know which will look best with my outfit tonight.” Sasori snapped his fingers at another servant girl who looked like she was going to ascend from sheer fear at any moment. The girl jumped a little and Sasori shot her a nasty glare. “Help her get dressed and whatever else she needs,” he said before disappearing into his workshop.

Azumi set the box of makeup down on the desk along with Naga and stepped closer to the bed. She looked at the servant with her and immediately noticed the look on her face as she started to undress her. The girl noticed the silk wrapping on Azumi's leg. "Did he hurt you already?" she whispered as she picked up the first dress.

"I am fine," Azumi whispered back.

The girl frowned and turned to the dresses. “He is going to want you to show him each one,” she told her. “I will put your hair up for now just so it’s out of the way.” Her voice was still soft.

Azumi nodded and let the servant put the dress on her and put her hair up. She looked down at it once it was on. It was beautiful but it was a little more modest than she would have preferred but she was no longer in charge of what she wore. "Are these your dresses?" she asked the servant quietly.

“Only two,” she said softly. “I was allowed to keep two of my dresses when I was sold. These other two are from one of Sasori’s previous girls.” She smoothed out any wrinkles the dress had. “How does it feel?”

“It feels fine,” she answered. She did not want to admit it was a little restricting and rubbed against her burn wrong. She went into the workshop so she could have Sasori’s verdict on the dress.

Sasori heard her come in and turned around. “No,” he said quickly. “You’re restricted.” He rolled his eyes. “Put the looser dress on.” He waved her away again, turning back to his work.

She nodded and immediately turned around to go back into the room. “He said the looser dress,” she told the servant girl, already taking the one she was wearing off.

“Really?” she frowned. “You seemed like the body conforming type.” She picked up the second dress. “Here you are,” she said as she helped her put it on.

“Body-conforming restricts my dancing,” she told her. “If it were up to me, my dress would have about twenty percent less cloth.” She looked down at the looser dress once it was on. It felt much more comfortable than the last one.

“Much better,” Sasori said, leaning in the frame of the workshop doorway. “Do your hair and makeup properly after a bath. Then get dressed.”

Azumi nodded and began to take the dress off. “Thank you,” she whispered to the servant girl.

“It was nothing,” she whispered back.

“You are dismissed,” Sasori said to the other girl. She bowed low and back out of the room silently, taking the two dresses that belonged to her with her. “You know where the bath is. Waste no time,” he said easily.

Azumi paused for a second, a little shocked that he wanted her to use his bath. She nodded and went into the bathroom to start it. She let it get to a nice temperature and unwrapped her leg. She still refused to look at what he did to her. She sighed as she turned the faucet off and stepped into the tub, flinching at the feeling of the water touching her burn and then relaxing just seconds later.

A few moments passed and suddenly Sasori swept into the room. He was now dressed in a red and linen outfit. He walked up to the shelves and sighed. Without asking, he poured oil into the bath and then looked at her then pulled another jar down and added two scoops of salt. He took a deep breath. “Perfect.” Then he walked back out.

Azumi shook her head and sighed as she washed up. She made sure to keep the bath short, knowing that he did not like to be kept waiting as the servant who woke her up the day before mentioned. Once she was done with her bath and got out, she grabbed a towel, assuming that since he poured oil and salt into her bath, he would tell her to use the towels in the cabinet. She dried herself off and went back into the room to get dressed.

Sasori looked at her in his mirror. He was putting on the finishing touches of his makeup. He stood up and looked her over. “Here,” he said, offering her the chair as he walked over to a jewelry cabinet and opened it. He pulled out several gold pieces and laid them out on the bed.

"Thank you," she nodded. She brought her box of makeup over and sat down, glancing at him in the mirror as she started doing her makeup. She finished it within a couple of minutes, making it match the outfit that Sasori chose for her.

He stopped her before she could put the dress on. He tilted her head on the tip of his finger and looked her over, taking in her handiwork. He hummed softly. “That will do,” he said, releasing her.

She held back the scoff that almost came out and picked up the dress. She put it on and sat back down in front of the mirror to do her hair. She pinned the front part of it back, not wanting to deal with it in her face most of the night. But she knew at some point, she would let it all down.

Behind her, Sasori finished adorning his different jewelry, waiting for her to finish her hair. Once he was certain she was he walked up behind her and placed two golden scorpion bracelets down in front of her. He carefully took her left hand first and slipped the two rings that were hidden under the scorpion's claws on to her fingers then slipped the bracelet over her wrist. He repeated the action on her right hand, keeping their bodies close. "Keep these on," he said softly in her ear. "No one will question who you belong to in these." He traced his finger up the backs of the scorpions and up her arms.

She looked down at the scorpions and resisted a sigh. It came as no surprise to her that he would do this. Her gaze moved to his and she made eye contact with him in the mirror then nodded. "If I can ask one thing," she said cautiously, "can we numb my leg again?" The pain from the burn was starting to come back. She knew asking was a risk.

His eyes drifted down to her hip along with his hand. He pulled back her dress then pulled her away from the desk to get a better a look. "It's healing beautifully," he smirked. "Fine, I do not want you making a fool of yourself. Where is your bottle?" he asked her, standing back up.

"In the makeup box," she told him. She stepped over to the other desk she had left the box on and opened it, pulling out the bottle he had given her. "It worked really well last night," she said quietly.

"Of course it did," he said knowingly. "I had to strengthen it before giving it to you." He took the bottle from her. "Anyone with a high pain tolerance will have a higher tolerance for anesthesia," he explained as he knelt down and very carefully applied some of the liquid to her hip. "Have you looked at it yet? It turned out beautifully against your skin." His voice took on a tone of reverence.

She paused for a second, sighing quietly in relief at the liquid. "I have not," she told him. "I have kept it wrapped as you told me to. I only took it off for the bath."

"After tonight you will be able to wear it openly," he told her. "Do so," he said, standing up and replacing the bottle in the box. "You will be allowed to walk around freely but when I call for you, you must appear at my side."

"I will try not to stray too far," she said with a slight nod and then a bow. "Are you intending to make a brief appearance at this event?" she asked. "Or will we be there for quite some time?"

“I never stay long,” he said airily. “But I have the feeling that Chiyo is going to keep us much longer than I would like tonight,” he sighed.

"I see," she hummed, looking at Naga who was coiled up in the corner of the room. "Even though it is not an important event. I have finished getting ready."

“No event hosted by the nobles are truly important,” he countered. “They are all a waste of my time and by extension yours. We could be spending it doing something far more productive.”

"I was never one for these events back home either," she said with a slight shrug. "Many times, I was asked to attend to be the entertainment, but I would usually leave shortly after I performed."

There was suddenly a knock on the door. "Sasori," Chiyo said from the other side. "Are you ready yet?"

“Performances?” he repeated softly. He was going to ask for elaboration but he cut himself off with a long-suffering sigh. “Unfortunately,” he called back as he walked to the door. “We’ll meet you out front.” He opened the door, folding his arms. Azumi followed him to the door, walking closely behind him as they made their way through the halls. She had not seen him interact with his grandmother and she was a little curious to see their dynamic. Outside, a covered palanquin was waiting outside for them. Chiyo was already sitting in the structure. Seven servants waited around the palanquin. One was clearly Chiyo’s handmaiden. Sasori rolled his eyes, pulling out the gold chain from the first day he walked Azumi home. Without turning around, he held his hand out. “Hand,” he said, letting the chain drop.

Azumi frowned, stepping a little closer to Sasori as she walked to give him her hand. ‘I should have known he was going to chain me to him,’ she thought. She started to wonder if he was lying when he told her she could walk around freely. ‘Did he mean as freely as the chain allows me?’ she thought, mentally rolling her eyes.

He walked up to the edge of the palanquin and pulled the chair through the window. "Relax," he told her softly with a smirk. "It's only for the walk to and from the banquet."

She nodded and took her spot next to him. Once he sat down, the palanquin bearers picked it up and were given the order to walk. Once they did, she kept up easily.

"Sasori, please don't start anything with Deidara tonight," Chiyo said after they had been walking for about twenty minutes. Sasori's head snapped up from a scroll he had brought with him. The rage in his eyes would have made a lesser man flinch, but Chiyo simply lifted her head.

"I never start anything with that dirt clot of a child," he said, his voice tinged with his anger.

Chiyo closed her eyes and sighed. “Your temper gets out of control around him,” she said. “You must control yourself around him, tonight is a very important night.”

"How about Oonoki keeps his damned brat in check, this way my temper's limits won't have to be so tested," Sasori countered with a hiss. "It's not my fault nor my responsibility to be nice to that man-child he calls an heir." Azumi listened to the conversation, hardly surprised he came off a little childish around his grandmother.

"Sasori..." Chiyo sighed. "You are older than Deidara, you must act like it. Be the better man and an example."

'This man should not be an example of anything other than a sadistic psychopath,' Azumi thought, rolling her eyes.

"Again," Sasori leaned back, "I won't have to react if he has some respect." He straightened his back as they arrived at another opulent home. There was a flurry of activity as the other guests arrived and the servants from every household moved to help their masters in and out of the mansion. The smell of different foods and the sound of music drifted through the air. The pallbearers stopped on Chiyo's command and slowly lowered them down, ending their conversation.

A servant assisted Chiyo out of the palanquin and the rest bowed as she and Sasori stepped off. "Do not ruin this because you cannot handle yourself around him," Chiyo grumbled, walking ahead into the mansion.

Sasori refrained from rolling his eyes again as he walked behind his grandmother. He gently pulled Azumi along behind him. "Stay close for just this part," he said to her softly.

"Ah, Chiyo! Sasori," Oonoki boomed as soon as he saw them. He was at the front of large hustle and bustle greeting guests as they entered.

“Oonoki!” Chiyo grinned, keeping the air between them friendly. “How are you doing this evening?”

Azumi peeked around Sasori and looked at the little old man in front of them. It made her wonder what ‘his brat’ looked like.

"Is that Sasori!" a woman's voice yelled over the crowd.

Sasori tensed and took a long deep breath. He let it out in a long slow breath as he turned to greet the young woman that was running up to him. "Kurotsuchi," he said respectfully, a fake smile plastered over his lips. "You've grown since I last saw you." He bowed low.

"Oh, Sasori!" Kurotsuchi giggled, blushing a little. "You don't need to put on airs around me," she smirked.

"Now, Kurotsuchi," Oonoki said, "you know he is being respectful. As you should be too."

"I am always respectful, Grandfather," Kurotsuchi grinned.

Azumi's brow furrowed. 'What a cocky child,' she thought.

"You look as lovely as ever," Chiyo smiled at her.

"Thank you, Lady Chiyo," Kurotsuchi said with a smile and a bow.

"Shall we move inside now that we've all greeted each other?" Sasori said with a tight but polite tone. His eye flicked around for a certain someone.

"You go on ahead, Sasori," Chiyo smiled. "I want to talk to Homura," she said as she bowed again to Oonoki and Kurotsuchi.

"We can go find something to drink together," Kurotsuchi grinned, slipping her arm around Sasori's.

Sasori ground his teeth but somehow managed to flash a smile. "A drink sounds perfect," he said, pulling Azumi along. "I almost forgot," he said, undoing her chain. "Remember, you must come when I call for you," he said lowly to her.

She nodded to him and bowed as he turned and walked away. Once he was gone, she looked around. She knew absolutely no one at this event and it was not like she could mingle with anyone because she was a slave. She sighed, looking for a corner to occupy until Sasori called for her. She found one, next to another servant, close to where the drinks and appetizers were being kept. If her anxiety began to skyrocket due to the number of people in the area, she was going to risk taking a drink.

"Are you not used to these kinds of events?" a familiar voice said. It was the boy she had met right after she was sold, Sasori’s cousin. His red hair was now adorned with a simple gold band and he was holding a glass out to her.

She looked at him and bowed. "Not in the position of a slave," she told him. She noticed the glass he held out and took it. "Thank you."

"I've never been one for these events, slave or not," he chuckled, leaning against the wall. He glanced down at her hands and frowned a little. " weren't born into slavery...are you adjusting alright?"

"I, uh...I am," she said quietly. "And no, I was not born into slavery. I was a noble's daughter in my home village. So a very different experience for me."

The boy nodded. He was admittedly curious as to how she had been sold off but he did not press her. "My cousin can be...eccentric," he said the word like he knew it was not quite the right word.

"Gaara," a blond man said as he approached the redhead. "Is your cousin here yet, un?" The blond had electric blue eyes that looked right over Azumi.

"He is," Gaara answered. "But he wouldn't be where there are too many people."

Azumi looked between the two men. 'Is this him?' she thought.

"Hm, you're right," the blond said. "I'll have better luck finding him outside probably, un."

"Oh, boy," Gaara sighed. "The party has barely even started." He sighed again and downed his drink. "I'm going to get another one of these, want one?" he asked but then shook his head. "No, you're going to need it." They watched the blond beeline deeper into the house. He was heading for the back where there was a large patio. It also overlooked the river and was set with foods, drinks and other things for people to enjoy.

She quickly finished the first drink she was given and nodded. "I think I will take another one," she chuckled quietly. "Thank you." He nodded and stepped away for a moment to grab their second round. Once he was back, she mumbled a second thanks as he handed her the drink. "So he is your...cousin," she started. "Which means you have seen how many slaves he has been through."

His face grew grim and he frowned, looking into his drink before he took a sip. “I have.” He looked up at the crowd. “I want to say that he’s gone through more than twenty. He went through four in the time that I was studying under him.” He took another sip. “Twenty is a very, very kind number.”

"That is...disheartening," she frowned. "I have seen the way everyone has been looking at me since he bought me. No one thinks I will live for very long." She took a sip of her drink. "He has said that so far I am better than the others. But that could be something he has said to the previous ones before he ended up killing them."

Gaara's eyes snapped to look at her. "He's never said that to any of the slaves I've encountered." He took another sip of his drink. "You...really must be special," he breathed.

"I do not know about special," she hummed. "Probably just the only one who is noble-born." She looked at him. "If you studied under him, then you know first hand how he treated them?"

Gaara let out a slow breath, it almost sounded like a growl. "He treats his slaves like they are lower than dirt." He shook his head. "You aren't his first noble-born slave. He's even had former doctors...they especially didn't last long," he said softly, finishing off his drink.

She looked down at her own drink and frowned. "I see..." she said quietly before taking another long sip. "It does not surprise me." She finished her drink off and leaned against the wall with him. "I do not understand why he is letting me walk freely at this event. Is that a normal thing?" Everywhere she looked, the nobles were being tailed by their slaves and servants.

"I suppose for Sasori it is," Gaara chuckled. "You're the only one who has ever come to one of these functions," he smirked. "They usually don't live long enough and the time is usually wrong."

"It feels a little odd to have that sort of freedom as a slave," she mumbled. "However, I guess it fits his...eccentrics, as you say, I will not complain." She looked at him again. "What exactly did you study under him for?"

"Medicine making and how to make antidotes to various poisons," he told her. "I'm a concierge doctor," he added.

"Oh," she said with a small smile. "Interesting. It would make sense, I suppose, to study under an apothecary then. Did you complete your training with him?"

"Almost but...I couldn't stomach his treatment of his slaves. I fell two years shy of my mark," he laughed mirthlessly. He looked out over the crowd. "I'm so rude," he laughed for real this time. "You know my name but I haven't asked you for yours."

"Oh," she chuckled softly, "my name is—" She was cut off by a loud crashing noise. They looked in the direction of the noise and saw the blond man from earlier pushing himself out of a now-broken table. ‘That had to be Deidara for sure,’ she thought.

"AZUMI! HERE, NOW!" Sasori's voice echoed the now silence across the room. Guests rushed out of the way and a hushed murmur filled the room as Sasori stepped in from outside and stalked up to where the blond had made an impact. He picked Deidara up by the shirt, his handsome face twisted in rage.

Azumi looked at Gaara and frowned. "I must go," she said softly to him before bowing. "I enjoyed talking to you, Lord Gaara." She came up from the bow and set her empty glass on the nearest table as she made her way to Sasori.

“Good luck.” Gaara watched her with worry etched into his face.

“You sniveling, snot-nosed swine,” Sasori hissed as he slammed the blonde repeatedly into the table he had broken.

“Lord Sasori, calm down!” one of the servants said. They were back-handed and sent flying to the ground without so much as a glance in their direction from Sasori. Azumi approached the servant and helped them up.

"Sasori!" Chiyo yelled, coming up behind him. "What did I tell you?"

Azumi stood next to her. "Would you like to go home?" she asked him softly.

Sasori snarled at his grandmother, tilting his head. "And what ," his voice was a dangerous hiss, "did I tell you, " he growled. He took Azumi's hand and started to pull her to the front of the house. "Yes, we're going home now."

Azumi let herself get pulled out of the house. Once there was no one around, she let out the groan she had been holding in from his really tight grip on her hand. She made eye contact with the servants around the palanquin as he walked right past them.

All of them had a sour taste in their mouth as they watched the new young woman be dragged away from Oonoki's residence. The walk back to the house was silent and tense. Without a word to any of the servants, Sasori stormed into his half of the house and threw Azumi hard into the doorway of the workshop. He cursed lowly as he yanked his jewelry off and threw them onto his desk. "That impudent child," he growled, digging his nails into the back of his desk chair. He let out a manic laugh before turning back to Azumi.

Her breath got caught in her throat when he looked at her and she took a step back. "You do not seem like the type to want to talk about it, so I will not ask," she said. She could feel her heart start to speed up. "But is there anything I can do for you?"

"Oh, I think there is," he growled with a smirk. He slipped a hand under her jaw and squeezed her throat tightly. He looked into her eyes, pushing her hard into the wall, his nails biting into her skin. His other hand caught her hands and ripped the scorpion bracelets off of her, cutting up her wrists and fingers as he did.

"Ha-ah," she gasped. She tried to let out a scream but his hand around her throat caused it to be a whispered squeak. Her hands immediately went to his wrists, trying to pry his hands off of her neck.

"Oh, no," he said in a low, soft voice. It mocked something sweet and kind. The hand on her throat pulled away and slid into her hair. He smirked as he made a fist and yanked her by her hair into his workshop. He threw her hard again into the table. "Get on," he growled.

Her hip hit the table hard and she let out a pained grunt. She looked down at her bleeding hands before lifting herself onto the table. Her hands started to throb and she could feel tears welling up in her eyes.

"What happened to that high pain tolerance?" Sasori said with a mock pout. He let out a bitter laugh and started to yank up her dress. "Take this off and lay back," he ordered before turning on the ball of his foot. He picked up the rope from the day before then reached for the dish and the two bottles he had used to paint on her still-healing burn. Azumi watched him move, her hands shaking as she removed the dress and tossed it to the side. She tried to quiet her heavy breathing as she laid back. Sasori turned back and pushed her hands over her head. He tied them neatly together and then to the table itself. He smirked, touching the burn he painted on her hip then traced his fingers down her legs. He gripped her shin tightly and spread her legs, tying them down to either end of the table. "No thrashing around this time," he smirked, mixing the same concoction as the other day with a paint brush. He straddled her waist and grinned down at her.

Her eyes widened once she smelled the mixture. "No," she whispered, her breath quickening. She did not want to experience that burning again. The tears were already coming out.

"Oh, yes," he grinned. "Your first one turned out so beautifully." He leaned down and wiped away the tears. "So why not add another," he growled, putting the bowl down next to her head. He sat back up and tapped the end of the brush to his lower lip then grinned, starting with three dots right to her chest. She bit her lip harder each time the brush touched her skin, letting out quiet squeals of pain. More tears came out as she shut her eyes and tried to bring her hands down but was unable to. He smirked, letting his eyes flicker up to look at her. "Let it out." He swept the brush over her skin, making neat beautiful lines in her skin. He grabbed part of her dress and carefully cleaned away any blood that seeped out. "I want to feel you struggle."

He grew silent as he worked, finishing the outline of the design in about two hours.

After two hours of crying and enduring the burning from his brush, she had grown numb to the worst of it, but she still flinched each time the brush made contact with her skin. Her breathing calmed down a little and she had turned her face from his a while ago, not wanting to look at him.

He continued to work, carefully using dots to create beautiful shading. He got off of her for a moment, moving to mix more of the acidic concoction. As he walked back over, he looked down at her. He took her jaw gently in his hand and turned her head to face him. She looked into his eyes and her breath hitched a little. She struggled a little against the ropes, trying to bend her knees. He held her gaze for a few heartbeats before releasing her jaw. He swung his leg back over and sat back down in her hips as he started to put the finishing touches on the burn.

Once he was sure he was done, he got off of her again and walked over to a basin filled with water. He soaked a rag and walked over to wipe it all down. He followed it up with the numbing cream and then grabbed a roll of linen. Saying nothing still, he untied her legs and gently bent her legs up to her chest. He watched the muscles bend and contract as he warmed each leg back up. She let out a relieved exhale once the numbness of the cream had settled in on her chest and groaned quietly as he bent her legs for her. She glanced at him and then immediately looked away. For a brief moment, she wondered what she did to deserve this and then she immediately realized she did nothing. None of this was her fault. He was angry at someone else and the only person he could take it out on was her. She tried not to glare too hard, not wanting to actually be the cause of his anger.

He let out a low chuckle, seeing the disdain for him in her eyes. “You handled that well,” he told her as he moved to untie her hands from the table but left them bound together. “Sit up,” he ordered as he started to unravel the linen. She sat up and rolled her shoulders and neck. She let him dress the wound but did not look at him while he did. She just wanted to go to bed. He unbound her hands then picked her up bridal style and carried her out of the workshop. He rested her on his bed gently. “You’ll sleep here tonight. I want to make sure that doesn’t get infected,” he said. “And you’ll need help tomorrow morning with it. I don’t trust Chiyo’s people to handle it.” He stripped down and changed before crawling into the bed himself, giving her a loose dress to sleep in.

She gasped, not wanting to sleep in a bed with this man. She moved closer to the edge of the bed, wanting to be as far away from him as possible. She grabbed the dress and started to put it on. As she moved, she caught a glimpse of what he burned onto her leg the day before and paused, staring at the detailed scorpion with a frown.

Sasori rolled over and threw his arms over. “I don’t bite in my sleep,” he grumbled. “Get on the bed. I really don’t need you falling off in the middle of the night.” She huffed quietly, curling in on herself and facing away from him. She gently touched a finger to the burn on her chest, feeling the pattern he made. She did not trust him or what he would do to her while she slept so she waited for him to fall asleep before falling asleep herself.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

"Today was not nearly as productive as I wanted it to be," Sasori grumbled as they walked out into the night air. "I'll have to tell Gaara to double down tomorrow."

Azumi hummed as she followed him, looking around as they walked and enjoying the cooler temperatures of the night. Naga slithered quickly behind them, feeling the still-remaining warmth of the sand. "Will we be returning the shop tomorrow as well?" she asked him.

"No," Sasori said cooly. "Today was not a planned trip in. We still need to work on what I wanted to get done at home," he grumbled as they turned down a street to the mansion. Lights glowed in between the linen and pillars. "Ugh, the old hag has people over."

Azumi groaned quietly, not exactly in the mood to deal with more people. "Are guests not a normal occasion for Lady Chiyo?"

"Not really," he mumbled. "At least not this late. I don't really know what she does during the day," he said, walking up the steps. They could hear the sounds of voices coming from the left of the house. The clicking of ceramic and the aromatic smell of tea wafted towards them.

"Sasori should be home soon," Chiyo spoke up.

Sasori groaned softly and took Azumi's wrist. "Let's go!" he whispered urgently, pulling her towards his room.

"Oh, Lord Sasori," a servant said, stopping them in their tracks. "Lady Chiyo requests your presence for the guests."

Azumi and Sasori shared a look before looking at the servant. "Tell her I'm sick and am retiring early," Sasori ordered.

The servant frowned, looking worried. They did not want to cross Sasori or their lady. "I...yes sir," they nodded, scampering off.

"Weak," a woman's voice said up the hall. Sasori's eyes snapped up to see an auburn-haired woman with green eyes swaying up the hall to them.

"I doubt anyone will contest it," Sasori smirked, relaxing a little. "Are they still trying to get us married?"

The woman scoffed quietly and smirked back at him. "They're convinced we're destined to be together."

'Marriage?' Azumi thought, mentally rolling her eyes. 'This man? Impossible.'

"But as much as we know it wouldn't happen, I still could not pass up a chance to come to see you," she said.

"Destined," Sasori rolled his eyes. "What a disgusting word." He walked towards the new woman, wrapping an arm around her waist. "It's been nearly six months since we last saw each other," he smirked. "I was starting to think you didn't like me anymore, Mei," he mock-pouted.

"Never," she said with a fake gasp. "How could anyone ever stop liking someone as handsome as you?"

'Ugh, spare me,' Azumi thought, actually rolling her eyes this time. 'He is handsome, but that only goes so far when he is a monster.'

"You flatter me," Sasori chuckled, giving her a wicked smirk. He leaned in and kissed her cheek. "Are you still trying to see that boy?" he asked, stepping back.

"Yes, actually," Mei grinned. "I think he's going to propose." Her keen eyes landed on Azumi. "I see you've got a new toy," she said coyly, swaying over to look Azumi over. "She's much prettier than your last few."

"Yes, and she's proving to be much more competent than the last ones as well," he smirked. Azumi gave them a thankful nod.

"My, my, is that a compliment from you, my dear Sasori?" Mei giggled, lifting Azumi's chin with the tip of her finger. "How rare."

"That should mean something," he hummed.

Naga slithered up the back of Azumi's dress and Mei peeked around at the snake. "She came with a pet?" she chuckled. "And you let her keep it?"

"It was a whim," he waved it off. "She does something rather entertaining with it, too."

"Oh?" the woman smirked at Azumi, taking a step back. "What do you do?" she asked.

"I am a dancer, my lady," Azumi answered with a slight bow. "I dance with snakes."

"You must be living for that," Mei said, looking back at Sasori. "You always were the best with your body. Not like the rest of us bumbling children."

Sasori scoffed through a laugh. "I do recall us bumbling around together plenty of times. Just better than everyone else."

"I retained none of it," she chuckled. "You can never catch me on a dance floor these days. You better put her to good use." Azumi tried her best to not let her reaction to that comment show on her face. "So your grandmother was telling us about that blond brat, Deidara," she continued. "You had a little mishap with him last night. You still haven't killed him?" she chuckled.

"Oh, he shouldn't be moving any time soon," Sasori smirked. "He darkened my shop's doorstep today and I took care of him," he said, looking over his nails.

"Mmm, but he's still alive," Mei giggled. "Maybe you're nicer than you like to let on."

"Or maybe I'm just reveling in the beatings I'm giving him before I finally finish him off," he countered.

"How patient of you," she smirked.

"I'm the most patient man in the world."

Azumi had to look down to hide her face, not wanting to laugh in front of them.

"How did you say that without dying." Mei threw her head back, cackling.

"With great will and determination," he chuckled himself with a twitch to his eye.

"You're probably ready to keel over right now," she grinned. "Well, I'll leave you to escape from your grandmother before she realizes you're home."

"You're the best," he smirked, kissing her cheek again. "Meet me there," he said, turning to Azumi. Azumi sighed quietly and turned, heading toward Sasori's room. He pulled Mei close again and tucked a piece of her hair back. "I'm expecting a wedding invitation if the Uchiha boy mans up and asks you."

"You'll get the first invitation," Mei smirked.

"Good," he whispered.

"Sasoriiiii!" Chiyo's shrill voice came from the other end of the house. "Is that boy really not home yet! How disrespectful!"

"See you later," he smirked, kissing Mei's cheek again before slipping down the hall. He entered his room and took Azumi's hand, pulling her into the bath. "Be quiet," he said, pressing a finger to his lips.

She nodded and stood there with him, listening for whatever he was hiding from. Naga hissed softly and she gently pressed a finger to his nose to keep him quiet as well.

"Milord?" There was a small stampede outside of his room. The sound of many voices chorusing his name echoed in the room itself.

"Oh, thank god, Chiyo didn't come herself," he sighed as the voices withdrew from his room and slipped down the hall. Once he was sure they had moved on, he relaxed.

"Shall I start your bath?" Azumi asked, already moving toward the faucets.

"Yes," he smirked. "A bath sounds amazing after today." He walked over to the lanterns in the room and started to light them as she started the bath. He circled the room, stopping in front of the shelves that were filled with products.

She took the oils and salts she figured he would want to use and added them to the bath. Once it was at the perfect temperature between 'lukewarm and scalding' she turned the faucets off. She went into his room to grab his robe and hung it up on its usual hook in the bathroom. He watched her work, smirking as she moved. "Will you be needing anything else?" she asked.

"No, I think that will be all for now," he said as he started to strip. "Change and report back before I am done," he ordered, slipping into the water.

"I will be quick," Azumi nodded. She bowed and left the bathroom, heading into the workshop to the cabinet he kept her clothes in. She found the clothes she had been wearing when she was on the stage being sold as a slave. It surprised her a little that he kept them. She shifted through the rest of the clothes in the cabinet and found the next most comfortable outfit from her own, putting it on quickly while being careful not to ruin the dressing around her chest that Gaara wrapped. Once she was dressed, she went back into his room, sitting on the daybed for a couple of minutes until she figured he would be almost done with his bath. She could hear the guests leaving, meaning Sasori was no longer in hiding. Once she was sure they were gone, she went into the bathroom to grab him a towel as he got out of the bath.

Just as she walked in he stood up and flashed her a smirk. "How punctual," he grinned, taking the towel from her and drying off.

"That is what you want, is it not?" she asked. "Someone competent and punctual? I have learned that you hate to be kept waiting."

"It is exactly what I want." Sasori took her jaw in his hand and pulled her close. "I'm starting to think you are too good to be true," he chuckled darkly, releasing her jaw and turning on the ball of his foot. He pulled his robe on before walking out of the bathroom and walked over to a case that leaned in the corner of his room then walked with it to his bed. "Punctual, competent and she can dance," he grinned. "I'm not so sure you weren't sent to kill me," he said, pulling an instrument out of the case as he sat in the middle of his bed.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You seem too well-respected in this society for a hit to be placed on you," she smirked. "Unless you have unknowingly crossed someone from another region." She sighed, shifting her weight to one hip and folding her arms. "I can assure you I was not sent here to kill you."

"I've got my enemies," he said with a wicked smirk. "But I will trust your word for now. Now I've heard about and seen quite a bit of your dancing today," he said. "So I think it is time that I really see what you can actually do."

Naga slithered up her leg and wrapped around her waist, hissing softly at her. She nodded to him and then looked at Sasori. "We are ready," she said. Sasori nodded and pressed the instrument to his lips. He started to play a melody. It started out flowing and was easily turning into something hypnotic. Naga started moving first, immediately getting hypnotized by the music. Azumi watched him closely for a second before imitating him with her hips and moving along. As she moved, the music started to get to her as well. She continued to move, her head started to get fuzzy. 'Oh, no,' she thought, realizing she was losing control of herself.

Sasori watched them move with extreme intent and fascination. He continued to play, swelling the music once in a while and then bringing it down low. He noticed right away that Naga moved in near perfect time with the music. Almost as if it was the music itself that was moving him. And it was. The snake had no control in his body and neither did Azumi. Her mind was fuzzy enough for the music to completely control her.

Sasori's attention shifted from the snake back to Azumi. She was matching the snake's movements in the very same way. He smirked and moved a little closer to the end of the bed. 'She's being charmed,' he realized, his eyes lighting up. He noted that it did not take too long for her and the snake to completely lose control of their bodies. They kept moving, following the music mindlessly. He smirked and got up from his bed, continuing to play as he got up to move with her and the snake in the dance. Again, he played with the swell of the music and moved his body closer to hers, curious about how she would react. Hearing the music get closer made her mind get even fuzzier. She wanted to pull away from him but she could not move away. He grinned, pressing his body against hers and moving together as he kept playing. He glanced over at Naga and noticed that anything they did he would copy, despite not having a partner.

'He has figured it out,' Azumi thought. 'This is bad.' She tried to pull herself out of it but he was too close.

He grinned as he pulled the instrument away from his lips and looked at her closely. "How precious," he chuckled. "My little snake can be charmed," he said lowly, not breaking eye contact.

Azumi frowned and sighed. The last thing she wanted to for him to realize he could actually control her. She took a step back from him. "I hope our short performance was good enough for you," she said, resisting an eye roll.

"It was all that and more." His grin stayed predatory. "It was very informative," he said, finally pulling away from her to sit back down on his bed. "You are dismissed for the night," he said, putting his instrument back in its case.

Azumi stared at him for a moment, not liking the look on his face. She sighed again and then bowed. "Goodnight," she said. She came up from the bow and went to her room. She passed a couple of servants on the way who gave her looks she tried to ignore. Once she was in her room she let out the groan she had been holding in since they came back from the shop. She looked out the small window of her room. Naga hissed at her quietly, coiling up on her bed. "He knows now," she said to him. "He can use it against us." She opened the window and moved her dresser underneath it to sit on. She spent the entire night staring out of the window, only realizing the night had passed when the color of the sky started to change from black to indigo. She sighed, knowing that Sasori was going to send someone to wake her up. "You should stay here today," she told Naga. "I do not want him to do anything to you."

Behind her, the door to her room was pushed open. Sasori watched her sit in her window for a moment. He smirked and crept up behind her, silently lifting his chin over her shoulder so he could speak lowly in her ear. "If you try to run," he said softly, "I'll really make you a snake and cut off your limbs."

She jumped and almost screamed but he was quick enough to cover her mouth before it could come out. As soon as she realized it was him, she hummed. There was no way to truly relax around this man. "I had no intentions of running, I assure you," she said behind his hand.

"I'm sure you didn't," he grinned, pulling back. "We're finishing all that work we missed yesterday," he told her. "Get dressed." He sat on her bed and picked up Naga, smirking at the creature and wrapping it around his shoulders. She got off of the dresser and opened it, sifting through the clothes and finding another comfortable outfit. Once again, being careful with the wrapping around her chest, she took her clothes off and changed. Once she was done, she looked at Sasori and then looked at Naga.

Sasori frowned, looking at her chest. "You should be able to remove that now," he said, getting up and walking over to the door of the room. He started down the hall. "It doesn't still burn, does it?"

"No," she answered. "It feels fine now." But she did not want to remove the dressing. She did not want to see what he did to her. Covering it could let her forget about it for a while. "We do not need to apply any more of the cooling agent."

They stepped into his room and continued straight to his workshop. "Then those are coming off," he told her as he stopped in front of a full-length mirror. "Come," he demanded coolly, turning to her with a hand on his hip.

'Then what was the point of telling me to get dressed,' Azumi thought, mentally rolling her eyes as she moved closer stepped in front of him.

"I can tell you're avoiding them," he said, pulling her to stand in front of the mirror. "I find that rather disrespectful." He slid his hand under the strap of her dress and down over her shoulder then repeated the action on her other shoulder. "I worked so hard on them to make sure they suited you." His voice was low and close to her neck. His fingertips traced down her spine and started to undo the bandages around her chest.

Her breath hitched and she looked at him in the mirror. "I do not mean to disrespect you," she said. She looked down and sighed. "But I have been keeping them wrapped so there would be no infection. Since you have expressed how much you do not want to deal with one."

"We both know that you aren't stupid," he said, running his hand down her side and gripping her hip tightly where the scorpion brand was. "I know you've barely glanced at this one." The dressings around her chest fell away. "The threat of infection has passed. Now you must let them air out." His hands moved up her sides and to her chest. "Look how beautiful it turned out," he said with a threat in his voice that meant not looking was not really an option.

Slowly, her gaze moved to the burn on her chest. She could not have imagined what it would look like. But she was not surprised when she saw it. It was a beautiful design. If it had been a painting on a canvas or on just about any other surface, she would have been able to admire it. She would have loved it. But it was on her skin. She hated it.

Very delicately, Sasori traced his fingers over the raised skin. "No canvas could compare to you," he smirked, whispering in her ear. He pulled away after a few moments. "As I said, leave it undone so that it gets air, you shouldn't get infected at this point," he hummed, turning to light a few burners.

She sighed and pulled the top of her dress back up then picked up the old wrapping to throw it out. It did not help that most of the clothes she had left the region where the burn was bare. "What work did we miss yesterday?" she asked him, stepping away from the mirror but not bothering to look at him.

"We have everything on that list," he said, pointing to a notepad that was nearly filled with orders. "Which you will need to handle because I promised to have a special order for one of my clients done by tomorrow and it needs to set overnight." He sighed, tucking a piece of his hair back as he poured over what looked like a very complex recipe.

She looked at the notepad and picked it up, reading it carefully. She started with the first order. It was simple and something she had done before she was a slave. The next couple of orders resembled the large batch they made for Kakuzu. Since she had done it just a couple of days before, she knew what she was doing. The rest of the orders were actual complex orders. It took her a little longer to work on them but by the time Sasori was finished with his special order just after noon, she finished the last of the orders in the notepad.

Sasori finally pulled his eyes away from his notes when he noticed she had stopped moving. "Finished already?" he asked with a smirk. He got up to look over her work. "I should say I'm impressed but I'm coming to expect such quality from you," he said softly as he picked up a bottle of the special order and looked it at it through the sunlight.

She glanced up at him as he looked through the bottle and then looked back down at the notepad, checking off the last order to mark it as complete. "As I said, I have worked with similar compositions, and once you have done one, you have done them all."

"Hmh." He put the bottle back down. "If that were true for everyone I wouldn't have had such an issue keeping slaves." He pulled a wooden box out from under the workbench and started to put the order away. "There should be smaller boxes down there for the single orders. Box them up and we can break for food," he ordered just as there was a knock at his bedroom door. Sasori let out a soft groan as he turned to see who it was right when his grandmother walked through the door.

"Hello, Grandmother," he said with a frown. "To what do we owe this visit?"

"We have company that I would like you to be present for," Chiyo said.

'Oh, great, more people,' Azumi thought, rolling her eyes as she boxed up the orders he told her to.

"Your uncle is here," Chiyo continued. "And you know how rare visits are from him since he is so busy."

Sasori's eye twitched. "Do I really need to—"

"You skipped out on the Terumis!" A fire burned in Chiyo's eyes. "You will not skip this one! Now make yourselves ready and meet us in the tea room!" Her tone was not to be argued against. She turned and left, leaving a snarling Sasori.

Azumi could hear the quiet growl he made while she continued to box up the orders. "Would you like me to continue this while you go?" she asked him. "I can start another order for you if you would like."

"No," he said with grit to his teeth. "I'm not dealing with him alone." He rolled his eyes. "He's going to ask you questions so just be prepared," he huffed.

"Very well then," she hummed. She boxed up a couple of more orders. "Ready whenever you are," she told him. 'Which will be never,' she thought, mentally rolling her eyes.

Sasori snorted but then spent the next twenty minutes preening himself. When he finally emerged from the bathroom he sighed heavily. "Let's go."

"Leaving so soon?" A tall, dark-haired man with sharp eyes walked into the room, carrying a tray of tea.

Azumi looked at the man as he walked in. "Oh," she meant to say in her mind but accidentally let it slip from her mouth. She could not help but be taken with his appearance. The man flashed her a charming and friendly smile and she felt her heart race.

Sasori caught the sound she made and in the same moment sent a glare her way. "Uncle, I was just coming out to meet with you."

"Nonsense," he smiled, setting the tea tray down on Sasori's desk. "I heard you made improvements to your lab and I wanted to see. But first," he smiled at Azumi again, "pleasure to meet you, young lady." He bowed slightly and took her hand to press a kiss to it. "I'm Sandaime, Sasori's uncle. Who might you be?"

"My sla—" Sandaime's sharp eyes narrowed at the word Sasori was about to say. Sasori quickly corrected himself, "my help," he finished.

Azumi tried to keep her composure and not laugh at the tinge of fear in Sasori's eyes. She looked back at the man in front of her, unable to keep a smile off of her face when he looked at her. "My name is Azumi, my lord," she said with a bow of her own.

"What a beautiful name," he hummed, straightening out. "Would you like a cup of tea? It's Darjeeling. Just came in fresh from the fields!" he grinned, already pouring a cup out for her.

Sasori hid his irritation by turning and sitting down on the bed. He caught Azumi's eye. "Traitor," he mouthed to her.

Azumi caught it and smirked then looked back at Sandaime, smiling as he handed her the tea. "Thank you," she said to him. He pulled out the desk chair for her to sit. 'I want to be his slave,' she thought as she sat down.

Sandaime poured out a cup for Sasori next then sat down on the day bed with a cup of his own. "Where is it you come from, Azumi?" he asked taking a sip of his tea. "Your manner of speech leads me to believe you are noble?" His tone was kind and warm.

She sipped her tea and nodded. "I am...or rather I was. My father is the head of the village I come from. A village very far from here."

"Mmmm," he nodded. " have no debts to repay on your village's behalf, do you?" he asked. His eyes flickered to Sasori.

She watched him look at Sasori. "Ah, no, my lord," she answered. "This is not a debt to be repaid by my village. My service to Lord Sasori happened by chance."

"I see," Sandaime nodded and sipped his tea, looking at Sasori again.

"Stop looking at me like that," Sasori huffed. "I paid for her. I did not take her from her home myself."

Azumi nodded. "I can assure you that he did pay for me fairly and legally. Well, as fair and legal as this sort of business can be."

"Which is not at all," he lifted his chin. "But that aside," he looked her over then to Sasori once more, "I truly did want to see the new additions to your workshop," he smiled at the increasingly irritated Sasori. Sasori ground his teeth as he sipped his tea once more. "You've been really making a name for yourself and your apothecary with Gaara."

Sasori gave Sandaime a thankful nod, the irritation still on his face. "He's been doing very well keeping the shop when I'm not there," he said as he stood up. "Come see," he told his uncle. Sandaime stood up, setting his tea on the desk next to Azumi as he followed Sasori into the workshop.

Azumi watched them disappear behind the curtain and let out the smallest squeal once she was alone. 'This is a family of very attractive men,' she thought. 'And he is nice.'

Sasori turned to his uncle once they were in the shop. "Do not try to take her from me," he hissed, rounding the table in the middle of the room. "She is the best help I have ever had and I will not lose her," he growled lowly, glaring at his uncle.

Sandaime looked around the room, his expression neutrally curious. "My, my, the little scorpion is growing bold," he said lightly, looking at a plant hanging to dry.

"I just know how you are about this situation," Sasori said, his eyes following his uncle as he moved.

"I am like that because of your...history," Sandaime said.

Sasori scoffed. "Most of the time they got themselves killed."

Sandaime's face twisted in disgust. "They were human beings just like yourself."

"Oh, don't act to lofty, Uncle," Sasori spat back. "Just because you call your people 'the help' does not put you on some mighty pedestal." Suddenly there was a loud crack. Sasori's cheek burned and his right eye teared up involuntarily.

"It does when you pay them and treat them with basic human respect," Sandaime hissed, returning his hand to his side.

Azumi heard the slap and froze. She was pretty sure it was Sasori being slapped by his uncle, which he probably—no, definitely—deserved, but it made her worry about how it would be taken out on her once his uncle was gone.

"She is paid with a place to sleep," Sasori said evenly.

"Oh, I'm sure she is," the Sandaime scoffed. "And what else? Your barbaric marking rituals?" he growled lowly. "I saw the way you dragged her off the other night." Sasori's eyes narrowed. He bit back a growl of his own. "I guarantee you have only given her one outfit and a world of pain because you keep your head around that Deidara child."

"You sound like Gaara," Sasori growled. "Deidara earned what he got and she is clearly still alive and unharmed." The growl slipped through this time.

"Unharmed?" Sandaime almost laughed. "Don't think I didn't notice the cuts on her hands. And my eyesight hasn't yet caught up to my age because, correct me in I'm wrong, but the exposed region of her torso looks like it was marked fairly recently. You call that unharmed?"

Sasori's eyes narrowed again, "The cuts are a result of her doing her job." he retorted. "We were completing orders right before you walked in." He flashed his own hands which had a few cuts of their own. "As for the mark on her chest, if your eyes are as keen as you say they are then you would notice that it is a clean and well taken care of decorative," he huffed.

"You're missing the point, Sasori," Sandaime growled. "You taking care of it does not justify the harm you are causing her. This is why your grandmother is always apprehensive about giving you new ones."

Sasori gripped the table tightly. "She does not give me anything." He was starting to lose his temper. "I pay for each and every one of them with my own earnings! If she had a better eye for choosing help then I would not have blown through so many!"

Sandaime moved his hand again, causing Sasori just to flinch a little in anticipation of being slapped again. But instead of doing that, his uncle placed his hand on the table and leaned in close, lowering his voice. "She may not have the courage to put you in your place, but I do," he said. "If this girl dies, she will be your last one." The two men glared at each other. "And if I come back two days from now and see you've thrown another tantrum on her body, I won't hesitate to show you my wrath," he said, pulling away. Sandaime turned and walked back out to the bedroom. He flashed Azumi a big smiled.

Azumi's heart jumped when he smiled at her. He made her feel the exact opposite way his nephew made her feel. She smiled back at him and he stepped closer to her, keeping his voice low. "Let me know if he does anything harmful to you again," he said.

Azumi held in the gasp. "I will," she said softly with a bow. "Thank you, my lord."

He nodded and again smiled at her. "I must get going," he said, gathering the tea stuff. He looked back toward the workshop. "Behave, Sasori," he called to his nephew. He smiled at Azumi again. "And it was lovely meeting you," he said with a bow and another kiss to the back of her hand. Sasori stepped out of the workshop moodier than ever.

"It was lovely meeting you as well, Lord Sandaime," she said with a bow of her own. He smiled at her again and turned to leave. 'What a charming man,' Azumi thought as she watched the door close behind him. Once they were alone, she turned back to Sasori and the feelings that his uncle left her with her washed away almost completely. "I will finish boxing those orders," she told him, stepping into the workshop.

He glared at her and threw his hand out, blocking the doorway to the workshop as she tried to walk in. He turned to her, walking her up against the wall. "If you think," he took her jaw in a rough, tight hold, "for one second that he can or will save you," he leaned in closer, making very direct eye contact, his lips brushing hers as he spoke, "he won't. I won't let him take what's mine."

Her breath hitched as she tried to back away from him but could not. Her hand gripped the frame of the door and her heart started to race. "I assure you," she started, feeling uncomfortable from the extreme eye contact and the feeling of their lips barely touching, "those were not and are not my expectations."

He hummed, looking at her for a few more moments before dropping her jaw and walking back into the workshop. "Finish up whatever you need to over there then come help me with this," he grumbled, sitting back down in front of his earlier work.

She lingered against the wall for a moment after he entered the workshop. Pressing her hand to her chest, she let out the heavy breaths she had been holding in and tilted her head back against the wall. She groaned quietly, rubbing her face. 'This man will literally be the death of me,' she thought, feeling her blood pressure rise. She stepped into the workshop and continued to box up all of the orders she worked on in the morning. Once they were done, she set them down on a work table for completed orders and then joined Sasori at another work table, trying to keep her distance from him.

Sasori noted the distance but said nothing. Instead, he took her by the wrist and yanked her closer. "I'm not going to bite," he said dully. "I need you to watch the reaction I'm about to make and record your observation." He picked up a pipette filled with one liquid and pulled a small dish closer to them. She held back a scoff and resisted an eye roll as she picked up a notepad that was nearby. She watched him make the reaction, looking at every part of it intently and writing down what she saw. The smell of it made her nauseous but she pushed through it until he was done. Once it was done, she took a step back and finished recording her observation before handing it to him. His face was set in deep concentration while he read her notes. "Mm, this will need more refining," he sighed. "It won't be done in time if I stop now." He grumbled about unwanted guests and interruptions as he turned back to the initial recipe. He changed a few things and started again.

She flipped to a new page in the notepad, watching closely as he started the reaction again. It did not look much different to her when she looked at it but she recorded what she saw and the differences from the first trial were very minute. She handed him the notepad again. 'I think I know how to fix it,' she thought. She looked at the small sheet of paper he wrote the original and the fixed recipe on, writing a small equation to figure out how to help it.

Sasori's eye caught her writing after he took the notepad. "Did you have any suggestions?" he asked offhandedly. He figured any thoughts she had could be trusted considering her talents thus far.

She hummed softly as she read over the recipe a couple of more times. "Maybe just one," she said. Naga slithered into the workshop and up her leg to wrap around her waist. She looked around for a milking jar and found one on a shelf. She put the jar against Naga's mouth and he injected a little bit into it. "I am not saying to use it instead of your scorpion venom," she told Sasori as she handed him the jar. "But if you use it might find the result to be closer to where you want it." She took a step back and gently pet Naga's head. "And if it does not work then try some sort of poison. You just need two types of toxins in it."

Hooded eyes looked at the jar as he took it from her. "I will begrudgingly try your snake venom." He smirked and adjusted the recipe again. "Do you think a plant-based poison would be better than another animal base?" he asked her, getting caught up in making the poison. He pulled down several jars and started to smile a little as he moved.

She hummed again, thinking about it for a moment. "To use an animal and a plant in the same recipe may cause it to cancel out," she said. "If you have already put an animal in there, it would probably be best to put another animal to amplify." She shrugged and put Naga on the floor so he could slither out of the workshop. "But this is only just a hunch, I am not exactly sure."

He hummed. "In my experience, a plant and an animal usually work together if they have the right compounds." He made the base again, adding a small amount to a few dishes and then added the snake venom. "I'm thinking one of these five will work. Two are plant-based, one is scorpion and the other two are snake."

She nodded and stood up straight, grabbing the notepad again and labeling the next couple of pages to correlate with each dish's ingredients. She watched as he made the reaction with the first one and then the second one. He immediately followed with the next three. There was a difference in reaction from the first attempts but she did not know exactly what he was going for so she just recorded her observation as she normally would.

He grinned at the two that reacted differently. "These two were made with a plant and the scorpion." He hummed, pulling them closer. "The one with the plan is closer to the effect I'm going for but the scorpion is a good fall back."

She nodded and hummed. "Is 'closer to the effect' good enough for you?" she asked, shifting her weight onto one hip. "Or do you want the full effect?"

"I prefer the full effect," he hummed, leaning back and chewing on his lip. "I have an idea of what to add but did you have another suggestion?"

"No," she answered with a slight sigh. "I have no other suggestions. If this is good enough for you, then I have exhausted my ideas."

Sasori frowned a little, some of the excitement leaving him. "That's disappointing." He looked up at his shelves. "I think I know what to add," he said, opening a jar that was filled with purple powder. She rolled her eyes and moved to stand next to him again, picking up the notepad again to record the reaction. She watched as he mixed the purple powder in and wrote down exactly what she saw. The mixture hissed and then turned a light blue before fading to a crystal clear. "Perfect," he grinned. It looked entirely different from what they had seen before. "This will please the client and I can tell them off because they said I couldn't do it," he smirked smugly.

'And this a respected man in society,' she thought, scoffing quietly. "When are they coming to get it?" she asked.

"Tomorrow," he said, getting up to grab a set of dark brown bottles and a box. He started to mix a larger batch of the liquid they had made together. "This particular client likes to test my limitations constantly. But a good challenge is nice once in a while."

"So you have said," she said, setting the notepad down on the table. "So what else are we going to work on?"

"Nothing for now," he said. "I suppose you're hungry right about now." He looked at her. "You can eat and then return," he said before turning and concentrating on what he was doing.

She nodded and bowed before leaving the workshop and picking Naga up on her way out of the room. She wrapped the snake around herself and headed back to her bedroom. She would not tell him that she was not hungry. She just wanted to get away from him for a little while. She laid down on her bed and Naga coiled up next to her. She sighed and closed her eyes, hoping to take a short nap to make up for the sleep she missed out on the night before.

Chapter Text

A little while later, Azumi woke up to Naga hissing softly at her and tapping his nose against her's. He did not want her to oversleep and suffer some cruel punishment for not returning to Sasori on time. "Thank you," she groaned, kissing the top of the snake's head. She figured it was about time for Sasori to want to take his bath so she got up and went back to his room, leaving Naga behind this time.

Sasori was laying on his back with his eyes covered by a book when she walked in. "You're back," he said in a rough, soft voice. He had clearly been sleeping.

"I am," she answered as she rubbed her own tiredness from her face. "Shall I start your bath?" she asked, as she was already heading to the bathroom.

"Mhm," he growled softly as he stretched. He got up and followed her into the bathroom and started to strip his clothes off. She tried her best not to look at him as he took his clothes off. She hated herself for being attracted to him. "You said those other snakes would be arriving tomorrow right?" he asked as he chose what oil and salt he wanted for his bath that night.

"I said that yesterday," she said as she turned the faucets. "Which means they arrived today. Hopefully, Lord Gaara knew to just put them in the tank we prepared."

Sasori paused. "Right," he hummed. "We'll go down tomorrow then and check on them," he sighed. "Ugh, I hate when my uncle visits," he groaned as he walked back out to his room to grab his robe.

She took the jars of oil and salts that he chose for his bath and put them into the water then turned the faucets off when the water was at the right temperature. She looked at him as he walked back in and did not catch herself staring until she made eye contact with him. "How often does he visit?" she asked, trying not to make it completely obvious that she stared at him.

His lip twitched into a smirk when he noticed her watching him. "He comes around every few months," he said, slipping into the tub once she was finished pouring everything in. "I see him every other visit typically. When he forces his way into my room."

"I see," she hummed, setting the jar back on the shelf. She turned back to him. "Will you be needing anything else?"

"No, not tonight," he hummed. "You're dismissed," he said, sinking low into the tub. He watched her from just below the surface of the water.

She nodded and bowed. "Goodnight then," she said. She left and went back to her room. Naga looked up at her from the bed and hissed softly. She took her previous spot atop the dresser, looking out the window at the river that ran behind the mansion. She wanted to take a walk along the river. Just a short one. After a couple of minutes, she made the decision to climb out of the window. The sand was already cooling and it felt so nice. She moved toward the river, making sure to remain unseen as she walked further from the mansion. She approached the water, stepping into it very briefly and then stepping back onto the sand. She heard the sound of the water being moved and noticed a water snake moving up the river. It took notice of her and swam toward her, slithering onto the land and wrapping around her ankle. "Hello," she smiled, sitting down in the sand to pick the snake up. The snake hissed softly at her. Further up the bank, someone was slowly making their way towards her. She noticed them, seeing the red hair and almost thinking it was Sasori. Her heart sank, not wanting to deal with getting caught outside. As the person got closer, she realized it was Gaara. She smiled and stood up. "Good evening, Lord Gaara," she said with a bow. "I have to admit I just got nervous. I thought I was about to be caught out here."

Gaara smiled serenely at her. "I'm sorry if I startled you," he said. "I like taking walks along the river to clear my head," he told her, looking down at the snake wrapped around her arm. "I see you made a new friend," he chuckled.

"I did," she smiled fondly, looking down at the snake. "I was also about to take a walk and then this little one approached me."

He chuckled again when the snake flicked its tongue at them. "They really flock to you," he said. "Those other snakes you mentioned came and...I'm not sure if they were okay with being put in the tank but they didn't seem to give me any trouble."

"That is perfect," she said. "They will be fine there for now. Tomorrow, I will be able to properly home them. Thank you for your help." She looked at the mansion really quick and then back at him. She smiled and sat back down in the sand, patting the spot next to her for him to sit with her.

He joined her on the sand and smiled. "So my uncle was around today," he smirked. "Does that mean you also received a visit?"

She chuckled softly. "Yes," she said. "I did meet him today. He is a very sweet man."

Gaara smirked at her. "You can say he was handsome," he laughed, leaning back and tucking his arms behind his head. "He has that effect on women." His giggle was boyish.

"So far, all of the men I have met in your family are handsome," she smirked down at him. "Granted, I have only met three of you, are all handsome." She chuckled and let the snake slither back into the water. "He seems to be the only person who can strike fear into your cousin."

Gaara caught the compliment to him and blushed a little in the darkness. "Our uncle does not tolerate slavery," Gaara hummed. "And he particularly hates what Sasori gets away with. It's something of a family feud." He thought for a second. "He's not afraid of Sasori because they both could destroy each least it seems like they could."

"Just from the slap that I heard, I do not think it would take much effort on the part of your uncle," she said. "It is so interesting to see how two different men can be brutal in different ways." She smirked and looked down at Gaara. "What about you? How brutal can you be?"

His eyes narrowed and he smirked devilishly. "What makes you think there is a brutal bone in this body?" he asked, rolling onto his side to look up at her. "I'm not partial to it but my relationship with my father has...propelled me to learn formal fighting."

"Mm, I saw the way you almost crushed that bottle in your hand yesterday," she smirked.

He chuckled again. "Right, I almost forgot about that," he said, looking at his hand over his head.

She laid down on her side, facing him and resting her head on her hand. "Is your father similar to Lord Sasori in the sense that he is also prone to lashing out in anger?"

"He is. He's not a kind man in any way. I'm starting to think someone cruel is born in this family every generation."

"It is almost like a curse," she hummed. "What an odd curse that is." She looked at him and smiled. "Thankfully, it was not you who suffered it for your generation."

"I couldn't be that needlessly cruel," he smiled as he rolled on to his back again. "I just don't have the heart for it."

"You are an absolute breath of fresh air compared to him," she mumbled. She looked behind her and noticed a glossy snake slithering toward her. It hissed quietly and coiled up next to her. She gently stroked the top of its head.

He chuckled, watching the snake. "Do they all speak the same language?" he asked.

"They do but each type of snake has a different dialect," she said. "They can all understand each other for the most part. And I have never had a hard time understanding their dialects. You have a lot of different snakes in this part of the desert." She leaned in close to the snake and tapped her nose against its nose. "They are all approaching me to introduce themselves."

"That's precious," Gaara chuckled, watching her interact with the snake. "Yeah, sometimes they can be a problem since there are so many, but I don't mind them," he shrugged.

Azumi stroked the snake for a couple more seconds before it slithered away. "I am glad you do not mind them," she hummed, watching as the snake left. She looked Gaara again and smiled. "How often do you come out here?"

"Most nights," he said. "It's nice to have someone to share it with," he smiled at her. "Do you think you'll make this a regular thing?"

"If I can manage to sneak out, I would like to," she said. "There are nights where I sleep in my own room but then there are nights where I sleep in his room." She laid on her back next to him. "So it may not be as consistent as I would like."

"He makes you sleep with him?" Gaara gasped, sitting up to look at her. "Tell me it's for work." He frowned, already ready to get up and kick Sasori's ass.

Azumi looked at him and placed her hand over his. "He has not done anything to me," she assured him. "It was just the night he made this burn on my chest. He had me sleep in his bed with him." She frowned and looked down. "There is a bed in his room for me that he told me I would sleep in when we are working on projects overnight. So far, I have not slept in that."

Gaara relaxed a little. "Okay," he nodded. "I recommend putting an extra blanket on that bed if you can," he chuckled. "I've spent many nights on that thing. Halfway through the night, the floor starts to seem way more comfortable." He looked at her again, the frown returning. "If he does...try anything, tell me. Immediately."

She smiled softly at him. "Thank you," she said softly, taking his hand in hers. "I very much appreciate it."

He laced his fingers into hers and gently pulled her hand to his lips to press a kiss it to the back of it. "You don't deserve this life," he said softly. "We should probably head back soon," he sighed heavily.

She frowned and looked back at the mansion. "I suppose you are right," she sighed. She looked back at him and the smile crept back onto her face. "As always, I enjoyed speaking with you, Lord Gaara," she said. "You are a wonderful company."

"You can just call me Gaara," he smiled, getting up first. He offered his hand to help her up. "It's always nice to talk to you too."

She took his hand and stood up. "I look forward to doing this again," she said. "Will you be at the shop tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow," he hummed, looking up in thought. "Yes, I will be but Sasori will be opening the shop," he smiled at her. "I have a patient first thing in the morning," he rolled his eyes.

She smiled at him and ran her thumb across the back of his hand before gently pulling back. "Then I will see you tomorrow," she said with a bow. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight," he said softly, returning her bow. He turned and started back the way he came with one last look at her in the moonlight.

Azumi turned and started moving back toward the mansion. She found her window easily and climbed into it. From her bed, Naga watched her, hissing quietly and telling her that no one came while she was gone. "See, that was not so bad," she smiled at the snake. She stepped off of the dresser and laid down in her bed. She knew she would have to get up soon to go to the shop with Sasori so she wanted to get some sleep before she had to deal with that. She sighed, making herself comfortable enough for a nap and drifted off.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Sasori made his way down to the slaves' quarters and wrapped his knuckles on Azumi's door. He did not wait for her to respond or even indicate she was in the room before he entered. He had watched her walk back to the mansion the night before. He was sure she had no idea he had seen her but he was also not inclined to let her know that he knew about the little adventure just yet.

When Azumi opened her eyes, she saw Sasori walking into the room. "Good morning," she said as she got up. She did not wait for him to give her the order to get ready, she just started getting ready.

"Morning," he replied cooly and laid on her bed the way he had previously. Again, he pulled Naga onto his chest, stroking the snake's head lightly. "When we get into the shop, I want you to check on those snakes and see if they need feeding," he said. "Then if you can, milk them."

She changed her clothes quickly and nodded at him. "I will probably need to rehome a couple of them," she said. "If there are more than five, we will need a second tank." She finished getting ready and looked at him. "I am ready whenever you are."

He stood up and draped Naga around her shoulders. "A second tank will be delivered then," he said, walking out the door. "I'll send Baki for one," he said almost as if he were talking to himself. Azumi followed him down the halls. Naga hissed softly at her as they walked. They went into Sasori's room and into the workshop. "We're taking these boxes," he told her, pointing to a couple of boxes on the table. "They're the orders we were working on yesterday. The clients are coming to the shop to pick them up." Azumi nodded and picked up the boxes. "Let's go," he said as he started walking again. She followed him out of his room and out of the mansion to the shop. The sun had not fully risen yet it was already extremely hot outside. Sasori glared at the sun as he turned down a different path then they had taken the day before. They headed into the city with the sun bearing down on them. "I'm not in the mood to deal with this," he grumbled, slipping down a shady street. The buildings were in the perfect position to block out the sun for a majority of their walk. They entered the same alleyway as the first time he brought her to the shop. This time though, the entered through the opposite end. Sasori stopped in front of the door and pulled out his key to let them in.

They walked into the shop and she set the boxes down on a counter as they went into the back room. Her attention immediately went to the snake tank that Gaara put the snakes in. "Oh, hello," she smiled at the snakes as she approached the tank. They all raised their heads to look at her and she tapped each of their noses.

Sasori watched each of the snakes flick their tongues as she tapped their noses. He frowned a little then ducked out of the workshop to open up the front of the shop. He walked back in to grab one of the boxes knowing that one particular customer would be there as soon as he opened the door.

Azumi realized the snakes did not need to be fed. She looked around for different jars to milk the snakes, finding six which was just enough. She took the first snake out and sat on the counter. Just as she positioned the snake to start ejecting venom, she heard someone walk into the shop. 'Already?' she thought. 'We just got here.'

"So, where is it, Sasori?" the newcomer asked. It was a man. Azumi could hear the smug look on his face. She peeked out of the workshop into the main shop to look at him. "Were you even able to pull it off?" he asked.

Azumi's brow furrowed at his question. 'Is this the person who was challenging him?'

"Please," Sasori smirked. "Of course I did!" He pushed the box towards him. "Go on. Open it," he said with an eager challenge in his eyes.

The man opened the box and looked into it. "Whooa," he said, pulling the bottle out of the box and marveling at the liquid inside. It was the poison that Azumi worked with him to make. "It looks really good," the man said. Then he looked at Sasori and smirked, the smug tone coming back. "But does it work?"

The snake Azumi was holding finished filling the jar with its venom and hissed at her. She jumped off of the counter to place it back in the tank and grabbed the next one to be milked.

"That's your part of the job," Sasori smirked. "Have you picked a test subject?" he asked.

"Mm, do you still have a slave?" he smirked. "Let's test it on them."

"I do," Sasori answered. Azumi heard the conversation and gasped. "But I'd rather not test it on her," he continued. "She's busy doing something for me right now." Azumi breathed out in relief.

"Oh?" the man grinned. "But if it works then she should be up and running again in three hours."

"It works but three hours is a lot of time," Sasori huffed, "that I need. You know time is money."

"Then who are we going to test it on?" the man almost pouted. "Your first customer?"

The second snake was done being milked and Azumi placed it back in the tank. She did not grab the third one just yet. She peeked out to the front of the shop again, listening to their conversation.

Sasori hummed. "Azumi," he suddenly called. "Who is second on the list of orders?"

Azumi froze for a second when she heard her name being called and then looked for the list of the day's customers. She stepped out of the workshop with the list. "Somebody named Shiore," she answered.

"Oh-oooh yes!" Sasori's friend grinned. "It's him. He's a pain in the ass anyway."

"Fine, fine," Sasori sighed. "He should be here in about fifteen minutes to pick up his cream."

"Perfect," the man smirked.

Azumi set the list down on the counter for Sasori. "Where would you like me to put the venom?" she asked him.

"There should be an empty shelf down there," Sasori answered, pointing to a low cabinet behind the counter. "We can designate that shelf for it."

Azumi nodded and went back into the workshop to continue milking the rest of the snakes.

"She sounds cute," Sasori's friend said, walking around the counter to peek into the back room. He gasped softly. "Sasori! That's not a slave, she's way too cute!" He grinned at Azumi while she started milking another snake and sashayed over to her with a wide grin. "Name's Komushi," he said, getting very close to her. Azumi let out a quiet groan when he got close and tried not to mess up the milking process of the snake. "You don't look anything like a slave. Sasori, how could you keep such a pretty little thing to yourself?" He put a finger under her chin to turn her head away from the snake and look at him.

Sasori huffed, walking into the workshop. "If she gets bitten because you're distracting her, then you're explaining to Chiyo how she got hurt," Sasori said dully.

Azumi looked at Sasori and then back at Komushi, backing away just a little bit. The snake in her hand was agitated with the stranger that approached them and was threatening to bite.

"No, thanks," Komushi chuckled. "I don't want to explain anything to the old lady."

"Then stop hitting on my slave," Sasori said.

Komushi gave her a wink and then backed away. "So what are you planning with all of those snakes?" he asked, watching Azumi resume her milking.

"I'm playing with new ingredients," Sasori said, opening a book and marking something down. "She thinks snake venom is superior to scorpion venom and I intend to test all of its possibilities out," he smirked, looking at Azumi with a glint in his eyes.

She lifted her head from the snake and looked at Sasori with a raised eyebrow. "I have not used the word 'superior' when it came to the debate on venoms," she said calmly. "I just think that using snake venom means less refining as its properties are already where you would prefer your ingredients to be, Lord Sasori." The snake in her hand was finished being milk and slithered up her arm to wrap around her shoulders. Sasori narrowed his eyes are her, his smirk still present.

"She's a sassy one," Komushi smirked. "Are you going to take that, Lord Sasori," he mimicked the way Azumi had said his name.

Sasori put the book down and closed the small space between himself and his slave. "She knows to be careful," he said, gripping her jaw tight enough that his fingers pressed into her bone. "Unless she wants to find out what that poison does." Azumi let out a quiet groan as he gripped her. The snake around her shoulders hissed in agitation.

"So, now you want to test it on her?" Komushi grinned.

Sasori smirked, opening his mouth to answer and not looking away from Azumi. "Ye—"

"Hello?" a voice came from the front of the shop.

Sasori took a deep breath and dropped her jaw. "No, just test it on Shiore," he said lowly. "Coming," he called out to the customer.

Komushi smirked at her as he walked out. "Saved...for now," he grinned devilishly as he uncorked the bottle and walked out to the workshop.

Azumi gasped once she was alone. She placed the agitated snake back in the tank and took a couple of steps back, trying to remain calm. 'It is too early for this,' she thought. She started to feel bad for the poor soul that just unknowingly saved her.

"Good morning, Shiore," Sasori said casually as if he did not have a heinous plan for this person. He stepped behind the counter and grabbed the item the customer had come to pick up.

"Good morning, Lord Sasori," a seductive voice reached her in the workshop. "Lord Komushi," he bowed his head a little to both men.

"How is your mother doing," Sasori said, making small talk. Komushi walked around the counter and winked at Azumi as he passed by. Azumi rolled her eyes and scoffed quietly, returning to the snakes to continue milking them.

"She is doing well," Shiore said, "thanks to you."

"I'm glad to hear that," Sasori said.

"Yes, she sends he-" his voice suddenly cut off followed by a heavy thud.

"You couldn't have caught him?" Sasori asked with a small chuckle.

"Ew no, why would I do that?" Komushi chuckled.

"You're going to have to touch him anyway since we have to carry him to the back." Sasori stepped into the back room and grabbed a chair, placing it against one of the other counters in the workshop. Komushi sighed and then lifted Shiore up, hooking his arms underneath Shiore's arms and dragging him to the back room.

Azumi watched as the customer was dragged in and sat in the chair. She furrowed her brow at the two men. 'Did they just...knock this woman out?' she thought.

"Ugh, I hate touching this guy," Komushi wiped himself down. "He always smells so weird."

"You'll get over it," Sasori chuckled, as he picked up a syringe and handed it to Komushi. The other man almost giggled as he took the needle and plunged it into the bottle, filling it up.

"Let's see if you, the great Lord Sasori, master apothecary could handle my challenge," he said dramatically before leaning down to push the needle into his arm.

"No, take his shirt off," Sasori said. "It needs to go into his chest."

'This guy?' Azumi thought. 'His shirt?' Komushi smirked and stood up straight to take Shiore's shirt off. Azumi's jaw almost dropped. 'This is a man.' She watched as Komushi pushed the needle into Shiore's chest and injected the poison into him. 'Are they killing him?!'

"His pulse should slow down in just a minute," Sasori said. "Just enough to be undetectable."

"Yeah, but the real test is whether he'll remember this when he wakes up," Komushi said challengingly.

"It'll happen don't you doubt me," Sasori smirked.

"Our entire dynamic is based on me doubting you," Komushi scoffed, sitting down on one of the workbenches.

'And you are still alive?' Azumi rolled her eyes.

"And yet, I haven't killed you," Sasori chuckled, echoing Azumi's thoughts.

"Who else would push you to your limits then?" Komushi smirked.

"Oh, no one can push me the way you do," Sasori ground out through a tight smile. He laughed and set his sights on Azumi. "How is this going?" he asked her, looking into the tank.

"I have milked four already," she answered, placing the snake in her hand back into the tank and letting the fifth one slither around her arm. "However, I was right about needing a second tank. These six will not last long living on top of each other like this." She started milking the fifth one.

"Mmm." He looked a the tank. "Komushi, while you wait for this little experiment to finish up, go up the street and buy a new glass tank," he said, turning to the other man.

Komushi looked up, poking Shiore's face. "Isn't Gaara coming in? Make him do it."

"He won't be here for a while," Sasori waved him off. "Also, I have other things I need him to do for me."

Komushi sighed and stood up straight. "Fine," he said. "But only because this poison is working."

"Uh huh," Sasori smirked. "Is there anything else they need so he can pick it up while he is out?" he asked Azumi.

Azumi looked at the snakes and they told her no. She looked back at Sasori and shook her head. "No, the tank is all they need right now."

"Fine, then," Sasori said. He looked back at Komushi and smirked. "Get to it, then."

Komushi looked between them before rolling his eyes with a smirk. "As you wish milord," he said dramatically with a loose bow. He slipped out of the room and out of the shop.

Sasori watched Azumi for a moment. "How much did they yield?" he asked, stepping closer to her. He reached out a hand to glide his fingers over the back of her neck to the tattoo that resided there.

She tried not to flinch when he touched her. "Each of them almost filled up their respective jars," she said. "I will write labels so you know which venom came from which snake."

He raised an eyebrow. "Are they not all the same type of snake?" he asked, pushing her hair out of the way to look at her back. He hummed softly then pulled his hand away.

"None of them are the same," she said. "We have six different types of snakes in this tank." She stepped away to grab a couple of labels and wrote down the six snakes on them. "Each venom has different properties to it, so depending on the effect you are going for with of these will serve best," she told him. She turned to look at him. "If you wish to use them."

"Mmm," he looked down into the tank. "It is safe to assume that you know all these effects venoms, correct?" he asked rhetorically. "Catalog all the effects and their best uses," he said, turning to pull a thin leather-bound book out. He placed it down on one of the workbenches.

Azumi nodded and sat down to do exactly that. "Is there anything else you need me to do?" she asked him as she started writing everything she knew about the specific venoms.

"We need to take inventory of all the herbs in the shop," Sasori hummed. "We can handle that once Gaara gets here." He frowned, tapping his fingers and staring at the man slumped in the middle of the room. "Ugh, he's directly in the way."

Azumi looked at Shiore and frowned. "Why did you put him there?" she asked. She turned back to the book and continued writing. "You could have sat him against the wall so he would not be in the way. If it works and he wakes up, he will just fall out of the chair."

"Aside from it being highly amusing for him to wake up in a confused stupor and then promptly fall out of his chair," he chuckled, picturing it already, "there isn't much wall space to put him against," he said, gesturing around the room, "There is also the risk of him flailing in this state and I don't need him breaking anything because he was within arms reach of it."

She looked around the room and hummed. "I suppose you are right," she mumbled before turning back to writing. "Does your friend...challenge you to things like this often?" she asked.

"He does," Sasori smirked. "He likes to, as he puts it, 'keep me fresh and on my toes.' He sees his challenges as a way of keeping me creative." His voice had a fondness to it. "We've known each other since we were kids."

She only found it a little shocking that he even had a best friend like that. Yet, her shock was beshadowed by the fact that his best friend was just as much of a monster as he was. "Interesting..." she said. She finished up writing the effects and uses of the six different venoms and handed him the book.

He took it from her. "Done already?" he smirked, opening the book to where she started. His eyes skimmed over the detailed notes she gave him on just the six he had. He looked at her after closing the book. "I may have some more venoms in my collection. They are poorly labeled by the last slave since they could barely comprehend basic chemical reactions," he snorted. "When we start inventory I want you to handle those and categorize them."

"Alright," she nodded. She looked at the snakes in the tank. "They will not need to be fed for a while."

"I'll leave it to you when they do need to be fed," he hummed. She nodded again and suddenly the door opened. Azumi hoped it was Gaara but was immediately disappointed when she peeked out to the front of the shop and saw a customer.

"Good morning," Sasori said, stepping out of the workshop. He flashed a charming smile and the customer returned the smile.

"It's so rare to see you in the shop, Lord Sasori," they said. "But very refreshing nonetheless."

"I have your custom order right here," Sasori said, taking out a small box that was designated for the customer.

While he dealt with the customer, Azumi looked at Shiore and frowned again. She helped Sasori make the poison that was administered to him and she felt bad about it because he was just an innocent person who happened to be around at the wrong time. Her thoughts were cut off by the back door opening and she could not control the smile on her face when she saw Gaara. "Hello," she grinned at him.

"Good morning," he chuckled, walking in. He walked over to the tank and peeked in on the snakes. "How are they today?"

"They are fine," she said, looking at the snakes as well. "I have milked them and they will not need to be fed for a couple of days. Um, Lord Sasori's friend is getting another tank because all six will not be able to live in one."

"Oh...does he need me to go get it then?" Gaara asked, looking around for his cousin. He walked around Shiore in the middle of the room as if nothing was out of place.

"No, his friend should be back with it soon," she hummed, tapping the nose of one of the snakes. "But Lord Sasori said we will be taking inventory of all the herbs."

"Oh right," he chuckled, "You just said that," he said, rubbing his face, yawning. "I just did that...last month," his words slowed down at the end of the sentence. "Damn," he laughed, sitting down next to Shiore and running a hand through his hair.

She looked at him and frowned. "Are you okay?" she asked softly. "Did you not get enough sleep last night? I am sorry if I kept you out a little later than you normally stay out."

He flashed her a sweet smile. "I'm okay. It wasn't you or our walk," he yawned. "I skipped my morning routine and my patient this morning was trying me to say the least." He yawned again, stretching just as Sasori walked into the workshop.

"If you need caffeine then get some," Sasori said, pushing Gaara's hand out of his face gently.

"I'll be fine," Gaara told him. "How long has he been out?" he asked, gesturing toward Shiore.

"About half an hour," Sasori answered. "Should be out for a total of three."

A couple of seconds later, Komushi returned with the second tank. "Gaara!" Komushi grinned. "I haven't seen you in so long," he said, leaning around the tank. "Where am I putting this down? It's kind of heavy," he said with a groan as he heaved the slipping tank.

Azumi made room on the table next to the first tank. "Right here," she told him. He moved toward the table and set the new tank down. "Thank you," she said to him with a slight bow.

"Do they need sand?" Gaara asked, walking up to her side.

Komushi huffed, taking a seat next to Shiore. "Forget the sand! Someone bring me some tea," he pouted. "Iced please!"

"You know where the tea is," Sasori said. "Get it yourself."

"But what's the point of having a slave if-" Komushi started.

"She's my slave, not yours."

"They will need sand," Azumi said quietly to Gaara. "I thought I could move some of the sand from the first to the second might not work out well."

"Sasori, can I borrow her to get sand for the tank?" Gaara asked politely, cutting Komushi's complaint off.

"Whaaat!" Komushi whined. "Why can he use her and not me!"

"Because he's doing stuff for the shop. Not being a lazy bum," Sasori shot back. "Fine. Go and come back quickly," Sasori said. He knew they only really needed one person but he was being spiteful.

Azumi and Gaara both nodded and Gaara picked up the tank. Azumi held the door open for him as they walked out and went to get sand. As soon as the sun hit her, she groaned. She followed him to where she assumed was the same place he got the sand from for the first tank.

"Komushi didn't bother you, did he?" Gaara asked, squatting down to scoop some sand into the tank. "He and Sasori can get out of hand when they are together."

"Not too much. I have grown used to people grabbing my face," she hummed, kneeling next to him to help him. "He wanted to test the poison on me but they ended up testing it on Shiore instead."

"I'm sorry," he sighed, shaking his head. "If Chiyo hadn't threatened him...he probably would have used you," he said honestly. "But they use Shiore often. I'm honestly surprised he's still alive and not completely fried."

"He must not be a very smart man then," she said. "If he continues to come to a shop where the owner used him to test poisons multiple times." She leveled the sand in the tank, knowing that the snakes would prefer to move it where they like it. "I am not even surprised that he would have used me."

"They usually do something to wipe his memory or charm him into forgetting what happened." Gaara picked up the now-full tank. "It's really horrendous to watch but I can't really say anything to stop them. As awful as that sounds." He started to walk back to the shop. "I'd rather it be him than me."

"I understand that," she hummed with a nod. "Even so, I still feel bad about it. He does not deserve it from what I understand." She walked a little ahead of him to open the door for him when they approached the shop.

"Put it down there," Sasori said as soon as they walked in. "Gaara, get started on the inventory. Start on the second floor. Azumi, once the snakes are settled, join him," he ordered as he checked Shiore's pulse.

They both nodded and Gaara immediately went to start the inventory. Azumi leveled the sand in the second tank one more time and moved three of the snakes from the first tank over, helping them get settled in. They thanked her and flicked their tongues against the back of her hand.

"Wow," Komushi hummed, watching over her shoulder. "I've never seen snakes act so...friendly to a person." He rested his chin on her shoulder. Sasori squinted at Komushi and yanked him back by the collar.

"They will cooperate well," Azumi said. "As long as they are not abused for their venom." She tapped the noses of the snakes and went to help Gaara with the inventory.

"You're like a human snake charmer," Komushi said.

"Snake charmers are human," Sasori said with an idle tone, mirth lurking behind it.

Komushi rolled his eyes. "I mean she doesn't even need the music to get them to comply."

"No music is needed when you can understand and speak to them," Azumi said, putting away the jars of venom she filled up and taking out all of the old jars of venom that were improperly labeled from the last slave. Naga slithered up to her shoulder from the floor to help her determine which animal each jar of venom came from.

"I feel like I'm being tag-teamed," Komushi chuckled, moving away from Azumi when Naga wrapped around her shoulders.

"Serves you right," Gaara smirked, looking at them from the top floor.

Naga smelled each of the jars and told her which animal the venoms came from. She made the correct labels and placed replaced the old ones with them. Once she was done correcting the labels, she placed the jars back onto the shelf they belonged. "Some of these venoms are very rare," she mumbled to herself as she put them away.

"Hey, how much longer is he going to be out?" Komushi asked, poking Shiore in the head. "I want to know if he'll remember anything."

"You're so impatient," Sasori said over his shoulder as he walked over to see what Azumi had done.

Komushi stood up straight, scoffing loudly. "That's rich coming from you,'" he countered.

Azumi looked at Sasori and backed away from the shelf so he could see it. "You have quite an array of compositions here," she said. "Most of these venoms are aquatic a land where the ocean is so far away. It is very interesting."

"My means of trade bring me a lot of unique products the common veins wouldn't dare to touch," Sasori smirked, leaning down to look at the new labels. "What is impressive is that you and your snake knew them."

"He can smell the compositions," she said. "I can only tell the differences in snake venom."

"I suppose it's lucky that I let you keep him then," Sasori hummed. He picked up one of the jars. "Now that I know what these are, I can play with them a little more," he smirked.

She furrowed her brow at his comment. She really hoped she would not be the test subject for when he decided to 'play' with the venoms. She was going to say something, only to be cut off by Shiore groaning in the back room.

"Oh! Someone's getting up!" Komushi grinned.

Sasori put the jar back in the cabinet. "Don't touch him," he ordered Komushi.

"Yeah, yeah, I know the rules," Komushi grinned like a child.

"You two are going to get caught doing this one day and I will not be apart of that fall," Gaara said as he moved to a new set of shelving.

Komushi scoffed through a boyish giggle. "We'll be fine," he grinned.

Shiore held his head as he sat up straight in his chair and then slumped over. "What happened to me?" he groaned. "Where am I?" He lifted his head and looked around. "When did I get here?"

Sasori smirked at Komushi over Shiore's head. He put his hands on the man's shoulders, making him jump.

"Relax, Master Shiore," Sasori said in his charming tone. "You tripped out on the street and Lord Komushi brought you in for me to treat you," he told the confused man. "How are you feeling?"

"My head hurts..." Shiore said, holding his head. "I don't remember much after leaving my house..."

'Looks like it worked,' Azumi thought, rolling her eyes.

Shiore looked up at Sasori and Komushi. "Thank you," he smiled. "I don't know how to repay your kindness."

Azumi leaned against the counter and tilted her head back in fake agony. 'You have got to be kidding me,' she thought. Gaara looked up from that book that he was logging everything into to catch her eyes. He smirked, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

"Komushi, make us some tea," Sasori ordered. Komushi nodded and got up to make the tea. "Your mother's order came in so we'll treat your headache and send you on your way."

"I feel like this keeps happening," Shiore said. "I'm always getting hurt outside and you always have to treat me. I'm so sorry, Lord Sasori. I must be a burden."

Azumi moved next to Gaara. "And he falls for this each time?" she asked quietly.

"He sure does," Gaara sighed.

"It is never a problem," Sasori reassured the oblivious man. "There is no better place for you to be taken to." Komushi returned with a hot cup of tea for Shiore.

"Honestly, it's a blessing," Shiore chuckled awkwardly. "You are so kind. I never used to be this klutzy but I think taking care of my mother might be taking a toll on me."

"You need to make sure you take care of yourself so you can take care of her," Komushi teased.

"You're right," Shiore smiled, sipping his tea. "I can never thank you two enough."

'For what?' Azumi thought. 'Administering poisons into your body?'

"Your loyal patronage is thanks enough," Sasori waved him off, keeping the charm levels high.

Azumi rolled her eyes again. 'Spare me.'

Shiore finished his tea with a sigh. "I should get going," he smiled, standing up with a little help from Komushi. "Mother will be worried."

"Of course," Sasori nodded. "Your order is right here," he said, picking up the original package and handing it over to the man.

"Thank you again," he said with a slight bow to Sasori as they walked out to the shop. The others in the workshop watched the man pay Sasori for his order then leave.

"You really should assess how badly you've damaged his system," Gaara sighed once Shiore was gone. "You're going to wind up killing him."

"He'll be fine," Komushi grinned, waving off Gaara's concerns.

"At least acting would be a good fallback if the shop were to fail," Azumi mumbled within earshot of Gaara.

"His system flushes everything out within two weeks," Sasori said.

"Yeah, see?" Komushi said. "He only comes around once a month."

Gaara rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say."

"I mean the other option would be to use this lovely little thing," Komushi grinned, dancing around Azumi and wrapping an arm around her stomach. He pulled her close and started to sway a little. "I'm sure she'd enjoy a nap once in a while, right?"

Gaara's eyes narrowed putting his book down. "Let her go," Gaara nearly snapped, walking over to pry Komushi's hands off Azumi.

Komushi laughed, twirling them away from Gaara. "Aww, would that bother you?" he teased Gaara.

"We can't use her just yet," Sasori said as he wrote down something in a different book. "She's an efficient worker. So let her go." He looked up at Naga who was coiled on the counter, hissing aggressively. "You're agitating her snake," he smirked.

'Just yet?' Azumi thought.

"Fiiiine," Komushi pouted as he let her go. "But eventually we'll get to play," he said with a wink. Naga's hiss got louder. He was getting ready to strike.

"Get away from her," Gaara warned again, glancing at Naga.

Komushi glanced at the snake and smirked, backing away just a couple of steps from her. Azumi stepped closer to the counter and Naga moved up her arm and into her dress to coil around her waist. The look on Komushi's face told her that he did not take the snake's threat that seriously but she was not going to warn him about it.

"Sasori," Gaara said, descending the ladder, "we're going to need to stock up on a lot," he frowned. "We haven't been shopping in a while."

"Mmm," Sasori frowned, taking the log Gaara offered him. "Damn, of course, it's a lot of the rare stuff. We'll have to take a trip for most of this to the night market."

"Oooh, the night market!" Komushi grinned.

"We'll only be able to get some of the stuff there," Gaara hummed. "We should contact the vendors before we close, so we can get it before the end of the week."

"I'll leave that to you then," Sasori told Gaara, handing the log back. "Teach Azumi how to do it too so she can do it in the future."

Gaara nodded and gestured for Azumi to follow him to the workshop and then up the ladder. "We really just write letters to be delivered to our vendors," he told her softly, shifting through a shelf with pre-written notes that requested specific items. "These are the only ones we'll need from them," he said.

"I suppose it is convenient to have them ready," she said with a small chuckle as she gently stroked Naga's head. "And how do you send them out?"

"There is a black market messenger that picks up the requests and sends them out to the vendors."

"Fascinating," Azumi whispered.

Gaara chuckled. "It is at first." He finished picking out the notes and putting them in envelopes. He heated some wax and stamped each envelope, marking it with a scorpion. "We leave them outside the door."

"Oh man, we haven't been to the night market in so long! I wonder what's changed," Komushi grinned. "You're in for such a treat Azumi!"

"What is this night market like?" Azumi asked, leaning over the banister and looking down at Komushi. "We do not have any of those where I am from. At least none that I know of."

"I've always like to describe it as," he paused for dramatic effect. "A festival of the underground," he grinned. "Anything and everything is sold there."

"There are ordinary things," Gaara joined in.

"And disturbing things," Sasori smirked.

"There's even performances and food from different lands!" Komushi gushed.

"Performances?" Azumi hummed. "This sounds very interesting."

"I hate to say he is right," Gaara chuckled, "but you may actually enjoy it."

"This is going to be the best outing in a while," Komushi grinned. "When is it again?" he asked Sasori.

Sasori looked at a calendar on the counter. "It starts tomorrow night," he answered. "And it goes on for three nights."

"Oh, this is so lucky!" Komushi grinned. "Let's go all three nights!"

Sasori shook his head sighing. "We don't have time for—"

"Come on, Sasori! We haven't had a good night out in so long!" Komushi whined lightly. "She has to experience it all."

Sasori raised an eyebrow looking at his best friend. "She's a slave," Sasori reminded him. "She doesn't need to experience anything aside from picking up herbs and making sure she knows how to run errands."

Gaara clicked his teeth. "Stop pretending you aren't at least a little excited to show her," he huffed, folding his arms. Sasori scoffed but did not say anything.

"I will try to not have fun there," Azumi smirked at Sasori.

Sasori rolled his eyes. "Now that would defeat the entire argument these two idiots are trying to make."

"I beg your pardon," Komushi gasped. "Why would you say something so rude to Gaara!"

"Well, at least you know," Gaara chuckled.

Azumi followed Gaara back down the ladder and he set the requests outside the door of the shop. She stopped in the back room to pet the snakes again before joining the three men at the front of the shop.

"Everyone here?" Komushi joked.

"I can go home," Gaara smirked. "Which I am going to. See you tomorrow, Azumi."

Azumi smiled at him and bowed. "Have a good night," she told him. He smiled back and left. Then she followed Sasori back to their home.

"There isn't much to do tonight," he told her as they walked up to the mansion. "Run my bath and then go to bed. We have a lot to prepare for tomorrow. We might return home early from the shop to sleep before going to the market," he said to her once they were in the house.

Azumi nodded and as soon as they got to his room, she went straight to the bathroom to start his bath, getting it to the perfect temperature then poured in the correct amount of salts and oils. She went back to his room and grabbed his robe to put it on the hook in the bathroom. Once it was ready, she turned the faucet off. "It is ready," she told him.

He hummed softly, coming out of deep thought. "You've taken to doing that efficiently." He looked at her. "Did you have servants where you lived?" he asked. "Most nobles are hopelessly incompetent," he smirked as he stood up to strip down.

"I did grow up with servants, but that does not mean I relied on them to do everything for me," she answered. "Much like you, I like to have things done a certain way. It was easier for me to do things on my own to get them how I wanted. Each time my father tried to give me a personal servant, I refused them."

He looked her over. "I almost expected such an answer from you," he said through a laugh. He shook his head then ran a hand through his hair. "You are dismissed," he waved over his shoulder as disappeared into the bathroom.

Azumi rolled her eyes and scoffed quietly. "Goodnight," she told him just as she turned to leave. "Brat," she mumbled as she walked down the halls back to her room. She laid Naga down on her bed and kissed the top of his head when he coiled up. The lack of sleep from the night before caught up with her and she laid down, drifting off to sleep quickly.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Sasori walked down Azumi's room. In his developing fashion, he did not bother to knock before walking in. "Hmnh," he grunted softly, unsurprised to find the woman still asleep. He looked down at Naga who had started to stir. He decided to crawl into the window space and wait for her to wake up.

Naga hissed quietly in her face, telling her to wake up. Azumi groaned, opening her eyes to pet the snake. She could feel the presence of another person in the room. Slowly, she turned around and gasped, covering her mouth to hold in a small scream when she saw Sasori. "For someone as impatient as you claim to be," she said, catching her breath quietly, "you certainly demonstrate patience."

"Doesn't that just mean you should be more afraid that I'm already here and that you've kept me waiting?" He gave her a devilish grin. "I don't mind waiting for things that make me laugh," he said, getting down from his perch. "There are orders we need to get done at the shop since we're closing early. So now that you're up," he said, walking to the door, "let's go."

Azumi sighed and rolled her eyes. 'It is too early for this,' she thought as she got out of the bed and stretched. She made sure she did not need to grab anything before following him. She decided to leave Naga since she was unsure how a cobra would fare in a crowded market.

Sasori waited for her in his workshop. "We'll leave directly from the shop since you slept in today," he told her, picking up a set of boxes that clinked with glass. He handed them off to her then picked up a small ornate box that wafted a woody fragrance as he passed her with it.

She looked at the boxes in her arms, recognizing a specific composition by the smell coming from one of the bottles in the top box. It made her nauseous and she let out a soft groan as she followed Sasori out of the room and through the halls. She tried to walk so the glasses in the boxes did not clink together with every step she took. Since it was slightly later in the day than when they walked to the shop the day before, it was a little hotter out.

"I hate how hot it gets past nine," Sasori huffed, making sure they walked in the shade. He led her down a different path than the day before once more. He was sticking to anywhere that had shade but they were still glistening by the time they arrived at the shop. Gaara was already there when they walked in.

Azumi smiled as soon as she saw Gaara. "Good morning," she said to him as she set the boxes down. She sorted through the glasses inside to determine which ones were orders for customers and which ones were ingredients Sasori needed to complete orders.

"Good morning," he smiled sweetly. "You're looking well rested."

Sasori did not spare them a glance as he went up the ladder to the second level. "Gaara, go down the block with her when she's done and get some of that coffee from my favorite shop," he told him.

"Alright," Gaara answered.

Azumi set the orders for customers on a shelf behind the counter and left the rest of the ingredients in the workshop to be put away when she returned. She greeted the snakes quietly and then met Gaara on the other side of the counter to leave with him.

Once she was with him, they silently walked out into the bustling streets of the market. "It's rare for Sasori to ask for coffee," Gaara hummed once they were out in the midday traffic.

"Something is off about him," she said. "He seems like the kind of person to get lost in thought, but it looks like he has been getting too deep." She sighed and rolled her eyes. "And I hate to say that I am concerned, but it is a little odd when someone does not act like their usual self."

"Deep in thought?" Gaara frowned. "Mmm, he only does that when he has a big project or a plot coming up...or something is stressing him out." He thought for a moment, trying to recall if anything, in particular, was coming up that would cause his cousin to think deeply. "Has he been treating you any differently or had any strange visitors?"

"He has not been hurting me if that is what you mean," she hummed. "But he has been dismissing me more. Other than your uncle, there has not been anyone else that has been around to visit. Before him, it was Lady Mei."

"Mmmm," he hummed. "Lady Chiyo could be pressuring him into the marrying her again." He cupped his chin, frowning in thought. "But he and our uncle never get along. And they did fight, didn't they?" he asked her. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

"It was not a real fight, I would say," she said, trying to hide the smirk on her face. "Your uncle only slapped him across the face."

Gaara barked out a laugh. "Yeah, that would do it," he grinned. "He's probably plotting how to get back at him. They never see eye to eye. Our Uncle has been trying to get slavery outlawed for the past five years. But even before he got his office, he had been working towards the goal of having it eradicated. You could imagine the outrage they have for each other."

"I think I received quite a glimpse of it when Lord Sandaime visited," she chuckled. They arrived at the coffee shop that Sasori favored and walked inside. It was immediately cooler in temperature than it was outside and she let out a small sigh. "This place smells amazing," she mumbled.

"You like coffee?" Gaara asked with a smile. "This place has a specialty coffee that our city is known for. People travel very far and wide to get it," he told her as they waited. Around them, people sat at cozy sunken chairs with plush cushions and a sandy pity in the middle.

"My village outsources coffee from somewhere far away and I am coming to the conclusion that it is this city," she chuckled. "I love coffee." She looked around at the rest of the shop. "I can see why Lord Sasori favors this shop," she mumbled.

"That's interesting," Gaara hummed. He walked up to the counter and ordered a large bag of ground coffee. The woman behind the counter turned and heaved a bag over the counter. "Put it on Sasori's tab please," he told the woman.

The woman smiled and shook her head. "It's on the house," she told him. "If it weren't for him, my son would have died."

It was such an odd thing to Azumi to hear people praise Sasori when she knew what kind of person he was behind closed doors. After the things he said and did to her.

"Thank you," Gaara bowed slightly and flashed the woman a charming smile. They walked back out of the shop, starting their way back towards Sasori's. He glanced at her out of the corner of her eye and chuckled. "You're thinking 'how could anyone thank him when he's a monster,' right?"

"Is it that obvious?" she asked sheepishly. "I try not to show what I am thinking," she chuckled. "But some things...I just do not understand."

"It's sort of my job to know when people are hiding things," he laughed. "But I understand your feelings. It's amazing how little people see and how well he can hide his true nature."

"How well he hides it is what is truly shocking," she hummed. "I have never seen such a display of alternate personalities being switched between so quickly and flawlessly. In another life, he would have been a great actor."

"He's always been good at it too." Gaara shook his head. "He hates people too much to ever want to perform for them," he chuckled. "He'd be such a diva! Only accepting jobs that interest him. Sort of like he is now." He laughed a little harder as they walked into the shop.

Sasori popped up from behind the counter. "I sent her with you so she could carry that," he commented, seeing Gaara with the bag in his hands.

Azumi sighed, trying not to roll her eyes. 'As if he could not be any more of a brat,' she thought.

"I'm so used to carrying things for you," Gaara shrugged, "I forgot she was here to even do that. But now you have your coffee."

Sasori looked at Azumi. "You know how to use a filter and burner set up, right?" he asked rhetorically. "Make us some coffee in the back," he ordered. "And then put the remaining grounds in a container."

Azumi nodded and took the bag from Gaara, walking to the back room to make the coffee. The snakes hissed quietly at her as she set up the filter and waited for the water to boil over a burner. "You are hungry now?" she whispered at them. She looked around for a moment then stepped toward the door. "Go and come back," she told them, opening the door just enough for the snakes to slither out of the shop.

"Are you going to leave from here for the market or are you heading back to Lady Chiyo's?" Gaara asked Sasori.

"We'll leave directly from here," Sasori replied. "It would be pointless to go home and then have to turn around."

"Makes sense," Gaara hummed.

"Komushi will be here right before we close," Sasori said. "Or at least he better be," he grumbled.

In the workshop, the water started boiling just as Azumi found something to prop the door open for the snakes. She poured it over the filtered coffee into a beaker and then found a couple of mugs. Once the coffee was done, she poured it and brought it out for Gaara and Sasori.

"Thank you," Gaara smiled at her as he took his offered mug.

Sasori simply sipped his own coffee and continued to speak to Gaara. "I don't plan to wait around for him for very long if he is late." He hummed into his coffee. He was a little surprised she had managed to make the coffee so perfectly.

Gaara smirked knowingly at his cousin. "He's been getting better with turning up on time," he countered.

"And you just went and jinxed it."

Azumi giggled, retreating back into the workshop to clean up the coffee setup she used.

"Well, as you said, if he is late, then don't wait for him," Gaara smirked.

Three of the six snakes returned to the shop and went back into their enclosures. "I knew I could trust you," she smiled at them. She knew the other three were also going to come back. They hissed softly to her before burrowing into their cool sand.

"Good morning, Lord Sasori, Lord Gaara," a man said as he walked into the shop. "Aah, that coffee smells amazing."

"Coffee always smells amazing," another voice joined them.

"Kankuro, Baki," Sasori said in greeting. "I can have some more made for you if you'd like."

"I would love some," the second new voice said.

"As would I," the other man said.

Azumi scoffed and rolled her eyes. She had just cleaned everything up. She took everything out again and started heating up more water and looking for more mugs.

"Have a seat," Sasori offered the stools behind the counter. He got up, hearing her already working to get everything set up as he walked into the back. "Where did the other three go?" he asked, noticing three missing snakes.

"They got hungry and went out to find food," she answered. She found a container big enough for the rest of the coffee grounds and started pouring the bag into it. "Did your coffee come out okay?" she asked him.

He frowned for a moment, staring at the tank. "Yes, it came out perfectly," he said, finally turning to look at her. "I won't bother to say I'm surprised you know how to make it just right, considering your track record." He walked up to her and waited for her to finish packing away the coffee before taking her wrist in his hand. He turned her around to look her over. "Do you know your measurements?" he asked softly.

She shook her head. "No," she said. "I have not been measured in quite some time so I do not know my measurements."

"I figured as much," he said lowly. "We'll have to do that tomorrow then." He released her, moving his hand from her wrist to trace up to her shoulder and touch the tattoo on her neck.

She flinched slightly when he touched her tattoo. "Very well then," she said softly. The water was boiling and she stepped closer to the counter to pour it over the filtered coffee. She grabbed two more mugs and waited for the coffee to finish before pouring it into the mugs. Just as she did that, the last of the snakes returned.

Sasori pulled back to look at the snakes. He heard them hiss softly to Azumi as they crawled into their tanks. He frowned a little, waiting for her to carry the two new mugs out to Baki and Kankuro.

"Okay, but all I'm saying, Gaara, is that—" Kankuro stopped as soon as Sasori walked back in.

Sasori raised an eyebrow. "By all means, continue," he said, leaning against the countertop.

Kankuro shook his head with a smile. "It's nothing of importance," he said. Azumi followed Sasori out with the two mugs of coffee. She placed them in front of the two new men and bowed a little as she backed away and returned to the workshop to clean up the coffee set up again.

"So that's her?" Baki asked softly.

"What?" Sasori huffed. "Do you all have so little to do that you are sitting around gossiping about my new slave?"

"You're the one who's been saying she's different from the others," Kankuro smirked. "Word gets around quickly when a notorious slave killer is suddenly praising one."

Sasori's eyes narrowed. "I am not a slave killer. I only killed three of them!" he defended. Kankuro raised an eyebrow and turned to look at his brother as he sipped his coffee.

"How many slaves must one kill to be constituted a slave killer?" Kankuro asked.

In the back, Azumi listened to the conversation, hiding her quiet gasps. 'He is really being tried right now,' she thought as she put away the beaker.

There was dead silence for a few beats. Sasori simply sipped his coffee and stared at Kankuro hard.

Kankuro scoffed. "Exactly," he ground out.

"Don't you dare take the high ground here," Sasori hissed back. "You've kept slaves and have had a few die on your watch just as I have."

"Of old age or natural causes!" Kankuro fired back.

"Did you come here just to raise my temper or did you have something you wanted?"

'Who are these men?' Azumi thought, peeking out from the back.

"I came here to ask my brother to get me something since I know he is going to the night market," Kankuro said.

'His brother?' Azumi took a long look at Kankuro. 'I am convinced there are no ugly men in this family.'

"Then ask him and stop pestering me about my life choices," Sasori rolled his eyes. The tension in the air visibly melted away in everyone.

"Oh, come on," Kankuro smirked. "We never see each other outside of family parties."

"Which he barely goes to anyway," Gaara added. Baki silently sipped his coffee, not engaging in this family drama.

"Parties are a waste of time," Sasori scoffed. He looked at Gaara and squinted. "I don't need to hear anything from you."

"You should at least visit your family once in a while," Kankuro teased. Azumi came back out to take the empty mugs from Gaara and Sasori. "Jeez, Sasori, why don't you give the girl some clothes?" Kankuro teased as she took the glasses away.

"It's sweltering out," he lifted his chin. "And we work around heat. I don't need her passing out."

"You really know how to make excuses," Kankuro smirked, giving Gaara a knowing smirk.

"What does that even mean," Sasori growled as he tapped his fingers against the counter.

"He's implying you have unsavory reasons for keeping your slave underdressed," Baki said airily.

Azumi stifled a laugh as she stepped back into the workshop.

"Unsavory reasons?" Sasori repeated with a scoff.

"You never had your previous slaves as underdressed as her," Kankuro noted.

She cleaned the cups and stood in the doorway, listening to the entertaining conversation happening before her. She made eye contact with Kankuro and they shared a smirk before she retreated back into the workshop to put the mugs away.

"Sasori, it's okay to admit you've been putting off your physical needs," Baki said with a shrug. "Just admit that's why she's so scantily dressed and we'll move on, right boys?"

Sasori shifted back as if he had been physically hit. "Excuse me!"

"Are you still a virgin?" Kankuro asked.

"I don't see how any of this is anyone but my own's business," he glared. "She is dressed to deal with the heat and my sexual life is not up for discussion."

"He means lack thereof, sexual life." Kankuro nodded with his companion and brother.

"Sounds like you're suffering some serious burns in here, Sasori," Komushi laughed, walking into the shop.

"Speaking of virgins," Sasori mumbled, looking at Komushi. Azumi's jaw dropped slightly. "These imbeciles are questions why my slave is dressed the way she is."

"Mm, that is none of their business," Komushi hummed, earning a nod from Sasori. "But since the discussion is on the table, why is she dressed like that?" he grinned, leaning on the counter next to Baki.

Sasori's nostrils flared. "I hate all of you," he folded his arms.

"Yes, yes," Komushi waved him off. "But that doesn't answer the question."

Kankuro shook his head, smirking. "Give it up," he grinned. "He's in denial that he finds her body attractive."

Gaara frowned a little. He discreetly glanced at the back room. He was not entirely comfortable speaking about Azumi like she was an object of infatuation.

"Isn't that ninety percent of why you bought her?" Komushi smirked. "Because I'm going to have to call you out right now."

"No," Sasori snapped. "She is capable and can actually do her job without me breathing down her neck."

"Mmm, that's why you're so touchy with her then?" Komushi smirked.

Azumi could not let this total annihilation go on any further. She composed herself before stepping out of the workshop and joining Gaara and Sasori behind the counter. "I do prefer being dressed this way," she stated. "It allows me to move much more freely and do my job better than if I was constricted by a more modest dress."

All five men stared at her for a moment. "There!" Sasori smirked. "I told you it was good for her work."

Kankuro sighed. "Fine," he smirked. "Defend your master all you want. We all know the truth," he winked.

Sasori's eye twitched. "We're dropping this now," Sasori said with finality to his tone. "We have to start closing the shop and getting ready to go. So, if you two vermin are done cluttering up my shop front," he said, shooing Kankuro and Baki.

"Fine, fine," Kankuro chuckled as he stood up from his stool, followed by Baki. Azumi approached the counter and took their mugs to clean. "The coffee was great, by the way," Kankuro told her.

"Thank you," she smiled with a bow.

"Don't forget please," Kankuro said to Gaara as they left.

"I won't," Gaara called back.

Sasori grumbled, sitting down on the now-vacated stool. "He gets more irksome with every passing year," he said, rubbing his temples.

"He's just messing with you," Komushi smirked, gently patting Sasori on the shoulder as he walked passed him.

Azumi went to the back room again and cleaned the mugs then put them away. The snakes hissed at her curiously, asking her where Naga was. "He is at home," she told them softly. "I could not bring him in today."

Sasori rolled his eyes. "Your brother needs to grow up," he said to Gaara as he started to clean up the workshop.

Gaara laughed softly. "Or you can be less sensitive. Unless his words hold some weight?"

"His words are meaningless and hold no weight," Sasori said, stepping into the back room.

Azumi looked up at him from the snake in her hand as he walked in. "One of them is shedding," she told him softly, peeling some of the skin off of the snake.

Sasori's face pinched in slight disgust. "Does it need help?" he asked, not sure what to do about a shedding snake.

"If you allow me to make a mineral spray for them, that is all we need," she said. "All we can do is relieve the itch while the skin comes off." She saw the disgust in his face and smirked. "It is no different from a scorpion molting its outer shell."

Sasori looked at her with a smirk. "I also think that process is gross." He flicked his hand. "Make your spray. I don't need them in discomfort and have it affect their health or venom production."

Gaara walked over to peek at the snake. "Does peeling it help them?" he asked.

"Not exactly. I am only peeling off what is not attached to the rest of the skin," she said. She put the snake back in the tank and got out the ingredients to make a mineral spray. "A snake should shed its skin whole but this one had a tear in it. I am just helping it get to where it needs to be." She combined everything into a spray bottle and tested it on her own arm before spraying the snake a couple of times. "This process will only last a couple of days for the snake."

"Interesting," Gaara said. "And that spray will just ease the itch?"

Azumi nodded at Gaara as she shook the bottle a little bit and sprayed the snake a couple of more times. "It will ease the itch and make the process a little more smooth," she said.

"When you two are done with your little show and tell, we can get going," Komushi said with a grin.

Azumi sighed quietly and set the bottle down next to the tank and cleaned everything up. Then she and Gaara joined Sasori and Komushi at the front of the shop. She had no idea what to expect from this night market that these men hyped up so much, but she made sure she was prepared for everything that was going to be thrown at her.

Chapter Text

The shop was closed and it was time to head out to the night market. Sasori shifted a bag off his shoulder and handed it to Azumi. "Hold on to this while we walk," he told her. "I'll go over everything you—"

"Um, no, no," Komushi wagged his finger. "This is her first market!" he grinned. "Gaara and I get her!"

"Did you forget that she is a slave?" Sasori asked him. "More importantly, did you forget she is my slave?"

"No, I didn't forget she is your slave," Komushi mocked. "But this is an experience that everyone, slave or not, needs to have at least once. Let this be her once."

Sasori ground his teeth, staring Komushi down. Komushi grinned at Sasori, not wavering. Neither man backed down.

"Tch fine!" Sasori growled, "Just this once!"

"Yes!" Komushi hissed triumphantly, earning a sigh from Sasori. "Get ready for a fun night," he told Azumi as she shifted the bag Sasori handed her over her shoulder.

"I am looking forward to it," she smirked at him.

Gaara and Komushi took Azumi's arms and led her ahead of Sasori.

"This is going to be great!" Gaara grinned. They walked through the still crowded streets of the city as the sun started to set. They turned down a side street that led to a building that only seemed to have one entrance. Komushi let go and let Gaara lead her down a set of narrow winding stairs.

Azumi stayed close to Gaara as they went down the stairs, finding the windiness a little disorienting. "I am not surprised that it is underground," she said softly. "But I did not expect it to be underground."

Gaara chuckled softly. "Don't worry the actual market is massive."

"You won't even realize you're underground," Komushi grinned. Gaara pushed a set of very thick curtains and a door to reveal a massive hall bustling with colors, sounds, and smells.

"Welcome to the night market," Sasori said softly as all four of them stepped into the hall. Stalls lined every pathway, mimicking the market space above them.

"Wow," Azumi whispered, looking around and taking in as much as she could. It was much more lively than the market above ground. "This looks a lot more like a festival than a market," she chuckled.

"It basically is," Komushi shrugged, walking out in front of her and Gaara. "This is the only place to get your more...questionable and rare items."

"It's not all illegal stuff either," Gaara assured her. "This is where merchants who can't make the weekly bazaars will come."

"Anything you can't find topside," Sasori spoke up, already melting a little into the swing of the market, "you'll find here." He migrated over to a table.

Azumi hummed, looking over at a stall that had clothes from different places. Some of it she even recognized as clothes from her home village. "I see," she said. "But we are here to get ingredients for the shop. What else do you personally come here for?"

"The food," Komushi grinned. "Some of the stalls here sell food from different places and this is the only time we can get to try it without having to actually go to those places."

"When Kankuro can't come: art supplies and fabrics," Gaara said. "I personally like to see medicines and plants for my garden," he grinned.

"But the performances here are some of the best!" Komushi smiled, migrating to a food stall that only smelled like fried foods. "Pick anything you want," he told her. "For the next three nights, you're our girl to treat."

Azumi smiled, looking at all of the foods available at the stall and picking out a fried breaded codfish. "You did mention performances before," she said to Komushi. "I am very interested in seeing them."

"You're a performer, too, aren't you?" Gaara asked.

"Yes, I was," she answered.

"Aren't there performances with snakes on the third day?" Gaara asked, ordering fried gizzards.

Komushi put an order of chicken in for Sasori. "Oh, yeah, there is! Maybe we can stop by them for you to see it!" He flashed her a smile. Sasori walked across from them, picking up their reserved orders.

"I would love that," she said with a small smile.

"Then that's what we're definitely doing," Komushi grinned.

"I cannot wait," she chuckled. She looked around again, spotting a stall that sold illegal herbs and plants. It was right next to a medicinal stall. "As I have never done this before," she started, "I shall go where ever you take me."

Gaara chuckled. "I might be as boring as Lord business over there." He glanced over at Sasori.

Sasori rolled his eyes and drifted over to the stall of illegal herbs. He grinned, picking up a few jars. "I'll take a little of everything," he told the woman.

The woman immediately started gathering small portions of everything in her inventory into sachets.

"If you want a more wild time," Komushi grinned, "come with me."

"How wild are we talking?" Azumi chuckled, smirking at Komushi.

"As wild as we can get," Komushi grinned. "I don't have any medicine or herbs bogging me down. Only fun and lots of caffeine."

"Alright, then," she smiled. "Then I shall go where ever you take me."

"This way then!" Komushi grinned, taking her from Gaara. "Take the bag," he said to Gaara, handing it off. Gaara shook his head and took it. Komushi pulled her deeper into the thickening market place. "What are some things you like? Hobbies you have? The clothing you like?" he asked her as he bent over a case of beautiful gold jewelry.

"Since I danced, I prefer dancer outfits," she chuckled. "I was not kidding earlier when I mentioned I prefer to be dressed this way." She looked at the jewelry with him. "Other than dancing, I like art."

"Aaaaah," Komushi smirked. "How lucky for Sasori," he chuckled. "I think we could find you something here. Or you could pick a material and I can have something made here. Sasori probably hasn't given you any clothes."

"She doesn't need much besides what I've given her already," Sasori said from behind them. He was bent over another glass case of jewelry. He was looking at a beautiful, simple body chain that had a small snake charm in the middle.

"It's nice to see you again Lord Sasori," the shop owner said from behind the stall. Sasori looked up and flashed one of his charming smiles.

"Pick something," Komushi whispered to her. "Don't worry about him." Azumi smirked and discreetly pointed to a golden armband. "Consider it yours." Komushi smiled at the woman behind the counter and asked her for the armband Azumi picked out. Sasori watched the exchange and gave Komushi a sharp look. The other man simply smirked back as he handed over the money for the armband. "Do you want to put it on?" Komushi asked Azumi once she woman handed it over.

"Yes," she grinned. She could feel Sasori watching them and she avoided looking at him. Part of her was slightly terrified that he would do something to her later, but the other part threw all cares away as Komushi put the armband on her.

"Gold looks natural on you," he said with a grin. "Now I think you need earrings and a necklace to go with it." He nodded, offering his arm for her to take it again.

Sasori watched them. He was tempted to remind Komushi that she would not be able to wear most of it daily beyond the main reason that she was a slave. Their job did not allow much jewelry. There was too much of a risk that metal would react to their chemical mixtures. But he could not ignore the way Azumi looked being treated so nicely or the fact that the gold did look beautiful on her. He did not like that it was Komushi making her smile. 'Why do I even care,' he snapped at himself.

"Milord," the woman who sold Komushi the bracelet spoke up. "Did you want anything?"

Sasori blinked, remembering where he was. "Uh...yes," he said ineloquently. "Do you happen to have this with a scorpion instead of a snake?" he asked, pointing to the body chain.

The woman nodded and turned around to pull out the exact same body chain with a scorpion. "Will this do?" she asked.

"It's perfect," he smiled, handing her the money for it.

"Wow," Gaara said, creeping up behind Sasori. "Are you buying things for a slave," he said with a sly smirk.

Sasori took the neatly boxed chair from the woman. "I'm buying it because there is something I want to do and it does not matter if I did or not. I own her and can dress her however I please."

Gaara nodded and Sasori put the box in the bag that Gaara was carrying. The two of them continued down the line of stalls, buying more things they needed for the shop. After a while, they realized they had not seen Azumi or Komushi anywhere. "I think he may have stolen her," Gaara said.

"It would seem so," Sasori hummed, not all that concerned. "They won't get very far with the way he's stopping at every stall."

Gaara chuckled softly, adding another thing to their bag. "It really doesn't bother you that he's probably spending way too much on her right now?" he asked. He kept his tone light but he was curious to know what his cousin was thinking. This was the first time he had let a slave have so much 'freedom.'

"If he wants to make the foolish mistake of wasting his money on her, then so be it," Sasori said. "It's not like she can wear most of it anyway. I'll let him have his fun."

"Or are you letting her have her fun?" Gaara smirked.

"Does it really matter?" Sasori deadpanned. "Fun is being had and it's on a time limit of three days."

"That's very generous of you," Gaara smirked. "I'm sure she'll be even more loyal to you for it."

"Maybe," Sasori hummed softly, not really having thought of that point.

"She did sort of come to your defense back at the shop," he chuckled. "So her loyalty can only increase from there."

"I suppose you're right."

Up ahead, Azumi let Komushi lead her through the market and show her exactly what was and was not legal to sell in their city. Everything from foods, drinks, and other substances. He took her to the aisle of the market that had a lot of handmade items like paintings and other types of art. "And how often is this market here?" she asked.

"It's every six months," he told her. "So, it's not too rare but it only goes on for three days. If you miss it you'll have to wait half a year for it to come back around." He slowed his pace a little, stopping in front of a shop that had handmade bags. "I've been trying to convince Sasori to book a table for years. He'd make so much money off one night."

"What is his reasoning for not taking such an opportunity?" she asked. "He strikes me as someone who would want to use this as a way to not only make money but spread his name further since a lot of these people come from far places."

"He is. And I think I'm finally wearing him down," Komushi commented as he moved on to another stall. "But he hates dealing with too many people, which is why he has Gaara run the shop. And there are a lot of people who live here that also attend the market." He stopped to look at a pair of earrings then glanced at her with a squint. "If they are here, you'd think they are also into the dark side of life but a lot of regular people are here, too. Our Lordship over there has an image he wants to maintain." Komushi rolled his eyes.

Azumi scoffed and rolled her eyes as well. "Incredible," she muttered. "He has never even thought to hire another person to sell his items for him to make the extra profit."

"Aside from Gaara," Komushi chuckled, "I don't think he trusts anyone else to be smart enough to know what they are talking about." He held up the pair of earring against her and closed one eye. "I hardly know what he's going on about when he tells me how he made his poisons. I just think of cool effects." he grinned.

Azumi nodded in understanding. "I see," she hummed. "What a missed opportunity this is for him then," she chuckled. She looked into the jewelry case in front of them. "But he could just have Gaara do it," she mumbled.

"Which is exactly what I told him, too," Komushi rolled his eyes again. "As I said, I think I'm breaking him down. Maybe you could work the stand together with him," he smirked. "Unless Sasori gets possessive and just does it himself."

"Which seems like how he operates normally," she muttered. "I am sure nothing I can tell him will convince him," she sighed. "It may stray him further from the idea."

He handed the earrings back to the stall owner and paid for them. "Oh, I don't know about that," he practically sang with a devious smirk. "You have been having a very different impact on the little scorpion."

"Stop telling her lies," Sasori snapped. He and Gaara were coming up the aisle from the opposite end, wading through the crowd. "You need to get this sick fantasy that I will ever sleep with any of my slaves out of your head." He flicked Komushi hard between the brows.

"I'm just messing with you," Komushi smirked.

"It's gone too far," Sasori rolled his eyes. "Are you done falsifying her being spoiled?"

"Tch, What? Are you tired already?" Komushi smirked. "I swear you're the oldest young person I know." Sasori rolled his eyes as he opened his mouth to counter Komushi again.

Gaara moved around the arguing pair to stand a little closer to Azumi. "Are you having fun?" he asked her softly. "Komushi is a little excitable so he might be dragging you around a little."

Azumi chuckled softly. "I am," she said. "He has been explaining a lot to me and slowing down a little bit to do so. If this was my first impression of him and not him trying to kill me, we would have gotten along earlier."

Gaara laughed softly. "Mmm, but if he was this nice at first would you have believed that he's Sasori's best friend?" he asked teasingly. Ahead of them Komushi and Sasori started to walk, still bickering like an old married couple. "I know...that Sasori will take away anything Komushi buys you but if you ever want something kept safe just give it to me. I'll keep it for you," he told her softly.

She smiled at him and bowed slightly. "Thank you," she said. "I appreciate it." She looked at the bag he carried. "I can take that from you if you want. Lord Sasori did tell me to carry it."

Gaara shook his head gently. "He also said we were allowed to spoil you today," he reminded her. "It's way too heavy. Let me worry about this."

She chuckled and nodded. "Alright, then," she said. "Have you gotten everything your brother wanted? By the way, you never mentioned you had a brother. To which I stand by my statement that all of the men in your family are handsome."

"I never mentioned Kankuro?" he hummed before laughing as he scratched his head. "I have a sister, too. I'm actually the youngest of the three." He looked down at her. "I haven't gone over to any of the art and beauty supplies. Want to help me pick stuff out for him? He wants new pigments and compounds. He's the artist in the family."

"I would love to help you pick stuff out," she smiled. He offered her his arm and she took it, walking with him to the section with the art and beauty supplies. "Your brother seems very unafraid of Lord Sasori, which is very admirable."

Gaara laughed a little through his nose. "Not many of us in the family are actually afraid of him," he said, walking slowly with her. They stopped in front of the stall that had various colorful items. Gaara pulled out a sheet with some color swatches and names of them next to them. "He'd never actually hurt any of us and if he did've seen that we all have our own little tempers," he said with a hint of shame in his voice.

"Sometimes within reason, I suppose," she shrugged. "I am not one to judge other people's behaviors too much." She looked at another sheet with different colors on them and a couple of different brushes. He paused to look at her for a moment.

"Oh, Lord Gaara," the stall owner came up with a large stone bowl tucked into her arm and a pestle in her other hand. "Does Lord Kankuro need restocking?" she asked with a large smile. "Is he with you? I have a lot of new samples that I want him to take a look at!"

"Kankuro could not make it this time," Gaara said, smiling back. "But I can definitely take him the samples and come back tomorrow with his review."

"Oh, wonderful!" she said, disappearing into the back to grab the samples. "And anything for the lady?" she asked, looking Azumi over as she came back.

Azumi looked up at them. "Oh, no, no," she chuckled. "Thank you, but I am just here to help him look for things for Lord Kankuro."

"Alright," the seller said. "Do you have his requests?" she turned back to Gaara with a smile. "I'll make anything he wants."

"He wants a couple of whites, turquoises, browns, burnt sienna, and raw umber," Gaara answered.

"Those are very specific," Azumi chuckled. "It is nice that he knows exactly what he wants."

"Oh, Lord Kankuro has always been very specific with his pigments," the seller grinned. "One of my favorite customers, if not my favorite." She looked at Gaara. "Coming right up."

Gaara thanked the seller again and then leaned over to whisper to Azumi. "Kankuro flirts with literally everything and one in the art section of the market," he laughed softly. "He knows how to play the game."

Azumi smiled and then chuckled quietly. "I would be so bold to say you also know how to play the game," she smirked.

"What do you mean?"

"I saw the smiles you gave her," she laughed. "You clearly know how to play for your brother."

Gaara smirked. "I haven't a clue what you're talking about," he said with a wink and a finger pressed to his lips.

The lady came back a few minutes later and with all of the requested pigments in little jars. "Please tell him to stop by soon!" she grinned. "I included the samples at the bottom."

"Thank you," Gaara said, giving her another smile as he took the little jars. "I'll be back tomorrow with his reviews as promised."

The seller grinned and then looked at Azumi. "Come back if you do need anything," she told her.

"I will," she smiled, bowing slightly. "Thank you very much."

Gaara tucked the purchase into his bag then offered his arm for her to take. "We have a few more stops to make down here," he said, looking around at the other stalls. "Keep your eye out for brushes, rolls of loose canvas and clay," he told her.

"I can do that," she chuckled as they moved. She looked at each stall as they walked by, scanning each small area for those specific things. After a couple of stalls, she spotted different blocks of clay set out on a table. She gently pulled him to the table and looked over the options with him. "Does your brother own a shop as well?" she asked.

He looked over the options the stall was offering. His lips pinched up in a small concentrated pout. "Uh, it's not a real store like Sasori's," he said. "Kankuro takes on commissions from people around the city and abroad." He checked the list Kankuro had given him and then pointed out a few different clays to the stall keeper. "But he only takes on project's he's interested in. Naturally," he chuckled.

"Which makes sense," she chuckled. The stall keeper grabbed the clays that were on the list and wrapped them up, even throwing in something extra for Kankuro. "I am beginning to see just how popular he is," she smirked. "It seems everyone knows how to make a name for themselves in your family."

"We pride ourselves on being pretty charismatic," Gaara said cheekily. "Or we're big softies and like doing nice things for people," he laughed.

"There is nothing wrong with being a softie," she smirked as they continued on. They stopped by a stall that had specialty brushes. She picked one up, feeling the quality of the bristles. "This is very soft," she hummed to herself, looking at the other brushes. "What quality does he like?"

"Lately, he's been into really stiff brushes for calligraphy and ink paintings but," he looked at the brush and smirked, gently taking it from her and tilting her chin up with his finger to gently move the brush over her cheeks, "we could get you this one if you like it," he smiled. "Sasori shouldn't object to you wearing makeup once in a while."

Her breath hitched slightly and she could not help but smile. "I am finding it hard to say no," she chuckled

He laughed boyishly as he brushed it over her nose and then very gently over her eyelids. "Good," he giggled a little.

"Sir...are you going to buy that?" the stall owner asked, watching the pair with an amused expression.

"I don't know," Gaara smirked at Azumi. "Am I?"

Azumi chuckled softly and nodded. "Yes," she smiled. "I do want it."

He gave her a mischevious grin and turned to the stall owner. "We'll take this and that pack there," he pointed to an extensive brush set. The stall owner nodded and packaged everything up for him as the others had. Gaara tucked them once more into the bag. "Thank you," he smiled at her.

"Anytime," she grinned back.

Azumi took Gaara's arm again as they continued walking. "Thank you," she said softly to him. "You really do not have to do this," she chuckled.

"I don't," he grinned. "But I wanted to." He gave her a fond smile as they continued to walk. The last thing they needed to pick up was the canvas.

"Are you two done yet?" Sasori asked, walking up with deep fried pieces of sugar.

"Almost," Gaara replied, reaching into Komushi's basket of sweets to steal a piece.

"Hey, that's mine," Komushi chuckled.

"It's too late for me to give it back now," Gaara smirked as he swallowed it.

Azumi looked around and spotted a stall with rolled canvases. "Ah, over there," she said, pointing in the direction of the stall.

Komushi turned to follow the direction Azumi was pointing in. His eyes fell on the rolled canvas. "Ugh, I don't want to carry that back!" he pouted. "Why doesn't your brother ever seem to do his own shopping anymore?"

"Because he's busy," Gaara smirked, walking with Azumi to the stall.

"Busy doing what?" Komushi grumbled to himself.

"What can I help you with?" the stallkeeper asked, smiling just as wide as the previous sellers.

"None of your business," Gaara countered. Komushi opened his mouth to retort but Sasori pushed right through them, walking up to the stall owner.

"We need one your biggest canvas sizes and two of your medium ones," Sasori spoke up, snatching the list from Gaara's fingers with an eye roll.

"Coming right up," the seller nodded, turning to grab the canvases.

Sasori looked at the list before handing it back to Gaara. "Now we can get out of here," he sighed.

"We're leaving already?" Komushi whined.

"We're coming back tomorrow."

"Besides," Gaara stifled a yawn, "we don't want to get caught in the heat."

"Yes the sun will be rising in an hour and I want to be in bed before then," Sasori said plainly, already making his way towards the exit. Gaara took the smaller rolls and tucked them under his arms when the seller handed them over.

Komushi sighed, looking at the big roll. "You never even asked me to carry it," he grumbled lowly, picking it up anyway.

The group headed back toward the exit quickly in an attempt to beat the crowd of that would form once the market closed for the night. They made it just minutes before the crowd would have formed.

"Would you like me to carry those?" Azumi asked Gaara softly, looking at the canvases. "It seems a bit unfair that you are carrying almost everything."

"It's not too bad," Gaara smiled.

"Yes, it is," Sasori grumbled, taking three of the four rolls from Gaara and handed them over to Azumi. "You're being chivalrous for the sake of it now and it's starting to grate on my nerves." He shoved the rolls into Azumi's hands. "The market is over for the day. She's a slave, treat her as such," Sasori said with a command to his tone.

Azumi frowned, moving the scrolls to a more comfortable carrying position.

"Relax, Sasori," Komushi chuckled as they started moving back up the winding staircase.

Azumi rolled her eyes. She figured he would go back to being rude and grumpy as soon as they left.

"Don't you tell me to relax," Sasori hissed as the two friends walked ahead. "And, Gaara, you better keep that little brush you bought her," he ground out over his shoulder.

Gaara tensed up for a moment then started to chuckled softly. "Guess we got caught," he said to her softly.

She smiled a little. "It would seem so," she said just as softly. They made it out of the marketplace and headed back to the shop to drop off the things they bought to restock certain things. Once everything was put into the workshop, they stepped outside and Sasori locked up.

"I'll meet you guys at the entrance of the market tonight," Komushi said, waving to them as he left. "I'm going to go crash on my bed."

"I'll come by around noon to help organize everything we got today," Gaara said, smiling at Azumi. Sasori rolled his eyes. He was starting to lose count how many time he had done that on just this one outing. "I'll be more useful since all of Kankuro's errands are done."

Sasori gripped Azumi's forearm tightly. "Then we'll see you at noon," he said flatly, starting to pull Azumi in the direction of their home.

"Goodnight," Azumi said to him as they left.

Gaara watched for a few moments, sighing to himself. "Goodnight," he said, once again to himself.

Chapter Text

Ignoring the pain from the tight grip on her wrist, Azumi allowed herself to get pulled, not saying anything to Sasori until they reached their home and then went straight to his room. "Shall I run a bath for you?" she asked once they were in his room.

"Yes," he said in a clipped tone. Without looking back at her, he walked into his workshop as he started to remove his daily jewelry. She frowned as she went into the bathroom. As usual, she set the temperature and poured the oil and salts in. She placed his robe on the hook in the bathroom and waited for him to enter the bathroom to dismiss her. He walked in moments later and looked her over. "Run the other bath. You're taking one with me," he told her. "I need to take your measurement after and I think it would be best for both of us if you were clean."

Azumi resisted the urge to roll her eyes and scoff, moving toward the other bath and setting it up for herself. She almost forgot to put the salts and oils in it if it were not for Sasori bringing it to her attention with a mere clearing of his throat and a nod toward the shelves. She nodded, grabbing an oil and a jar of salt and putting it into her bath before getting in.

Sasori sunk low into the water as he usually did, his head tilted back over the edge of the tub. They fell into silence for a little while.

"How did you like it?" he asked suddenly.

She hummed before answering, thinking about her words. "It was very interesting," she said. "I liked it a lot. It is definitely worth the hype from the three of you. I can see why one would be excited about it." She was definitely excited to go back.

"Mm, the hype," he chuckled. "I haven't seen either of them that excited about taking someone to the night market since we took Mei," he mumbled. "You won't be able to keep any of those trinkets they got you. And I want you to learn who to go to and what to shop for tomorrow. It is beneficial to know for our business."

She nodded and looked down at the water. "I was prepared to not be able to keep anything," she said. "And I made sure to pay attention to a lot of the stalls when Lord Komushi was showing me around." She knew that when she was with Gaara, she was not focused on much else but looking for art supplies with him. "But I will make sure to pay more attention tomorrow."

Sasori stared at her silently again. "Mhm." He wanted to bring up her behavior with Gaara but he was not sure how to. It was grating on him how close they were getting. It irked him just how easily Gaara seemed to brush off not only his status as a nobleman but also that she was not his. She was Sasori's slave and by extension Sasori's plaything. She could feel his eyes on her but she did not want to look back at him. She started to wash off quickly, anticipating getting away from him a little more. He watched her with half-lidded eyes. "Why are you rushing all of a sudden?" he asked, lazily turning over in the tub. He lifted his leg into the air and lazily started to wash his body down. "You can't leave until I let you," he casually reminded her.

She stopped for a moment and rolled her eyes. "I know," she said. "I just do not like being in the water for too long. And would you not prefer I get out first? To make sure your towel is warmed before you get out?"

He glanced at her again. "You're getting very clever with how you evade me," he smirked, running a hand up to his arm, rinsing off some soap.

"Evading you?" she hummed, turning toward him and leaning back against the farthest wall of the tub. "No. I just want to do my job efficiently."

Sasori scoffed, smirking again. "Fair," he replied before dipping under the water to rinse his hair. As he came back up, he ran his hands through his hair. "Tell me what your village was like," he said suddenly.

She looked up at him and blinked. "My village..." she said quietly. She had not thought about her home life since before she was put on the stage to be sold as a slave. She tried not to think about it too much. She did not want to be hindered by missing home. "It is tucked behind the mountains, settled within an oasis. Very well hidden. It is not very common to receive outsiders. One can really only find it if they are actively looking for it. And since no one knows about it, no one can know to look for it. It is a thriving village."

"Interesting," Sasori hummed. "It sounds like it has a strong natural defense. And you have many different types of snakes living within this village?" he asked, rinsing off his body. He stood up and poured water over himself to rinse his hair off and then stepped out of the tub.

"Most of them are naturally there," she said as stepped out of her tub as well. She stepped toward the cabinet to grab him a towel, handing it to him before grabbing one for herself. "The rest were brought to the village for our use."

"I see," Sasori said as he accepted the towel. He dried himself off then reached for his robe. "And how did a little noble girl from a far off land wind up on that stage for sale?" he asked her as he reached over and tilted her chin up with his forefinger. His voice lowered as he leaned in closer. "Did no one come to defend you?"

She frowned, looking him in the eyes and taking a moment to answer. "I volunteered to take the place of another girl from my village," she said finally. "She was much younger than I...and it did not sit right with me that she would be sold off as a slave."

He smirked. "How did I know it would be for some noble cause," he grinned. "And was she worth it?" His lips brushed hers as he spoke.

Her breath hitched quietly and she started to tense up just a little bit. "She deserves none of this," she said softly, keeping his gaze. "I saw great potential in her. It would have been a shame to throw it all away into slavery. So yes, she was."

"Hm," Sasori pulled back, smirking at her. He held onto her face, tightening his grip on her jaw and pressing into her bone. "I won't let you go to waste. I can assure you that," he grinned, finally releasing her jaw. His hand slipped down to her neck and shoulder. "Go get my tape measure from the workshop," he said without breaking their eye contact. His voice was soft but the dark command was still there. "Then meet me in the room." He gripped her shoulder tightly and spun her around gracefully, pushing her gently toward the door.

She wrapped the towel around herself as she went into the workshop, looking through a couple of drawers before finding the tape measure. She stood there for a moment and took a deep breath before walking out into the bedroom, handing Sasori the tape measure.

He was waiting for her on the edge of his bed when she walked back in. He took the tape from her and placed it on the bed then reached up and pulled her towel away, tossing it on the bed. He tilted his head a little to the side as he looked her over again. His fingers reached out to trace the shape of the 'art' he had burned into her chest. His fingers dragged lightly up to her collarbones and slid over her shoulder before curling under her arm to lift it up and outward. He repeated the action on the other side. Then his hands moved to her hips. He knelt and moved his hand to her inner thigh. "Open them," she said nudging her right thigh so her legs would open.

She pressed her lips together for a moment as she moved her right foot out a little to open her legs. It had been a long time since she had been measured for any reason and it was usually a moderately uncomfortable experience. Moderate discomfort had been surpassed as soon as he took her towel off. He had barely even started and she was already much more uncomfortable than she usually was around him.

He smirked, looking up at her. He could see the discomfort on her face and it was like sweet nectar to him. It was exactly where he wanted her. He moved his hand up to the crux of her hip and pelvis, gripping her leg tightly and pushing her legs open just a little further. He turned around to grab the tape measure off his bed and stood back up. He circled her to set about measuring her arms and wingspan first. His hand casually brushed her skin every so often. He was going to make sure each measurement was detailed. He noted each number in his head as he moved back around to her and measured her front.

She looked at him for a brief moment. "If I may ask," she started, as he continued measuring, "what am I being measured for?"

He took a moment to answer her. "Not that it really matters," he said casually, "but I plan to buy you something tomorrow that I want to see you in," he told her. "Don't worry, I think you'll rather like it," he said as he knelt down to measure her hips and legs. He ran his fingertips along the length of her snake. "But even if you don't, it doesn't really matter because as I'll wear it."

She nodded, starting to wonder if the comments from earlier got to him and he caved into getting clothes for her that would not cause people to question his intentions with her. "I see," she hummed, risking a glance down at his hands on her snake tattoo.

"This will be my next project," he said softly to himself. He could feel her watching him and could not help the grin that pulled his lip. He knew exactly what he wanted to do to enhance the large tattoo.

She furrowed her brows at the comment. 'Next project?' she thought. She wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe he was using her snake tattoo as inspiration for something that would have to do with snakes. But that was entirely too hopeful.

He finished up his measurements and walked over to his desk to record them all. "We'll leave from the shop again from tomorrow," he told her once he was done writing it all down. "I want all of our purchases from yesterday organized before we start bringing more in."

"That sounds good," she nodded, relaxing when he was no longer near her. She went into the bathroom to grab the clothes that were left in there and put her clothes back on before putting his away then waited for him to dismiss her.

He had moved to his bed in the time that she had been in the bathroom. Once more, he was poring over a ledger and making notes. He noticed her waiting and remembered why she was still there.

"Sleep here tonight," he told her. He doubted she would try to slip off to the river bank but he also did not want to have to go to her room to fetch her in the morning.

Her heart sank and she nodded, getting onto the daybed at the end of his. She laid down, trying to find some way to calm herself a little. She felt uneasy sleeping in a room with him, but she had to admit to herself that this was a little easier than sleeping in his bed with him. She stared up at the domed ceiling, looking at the night sky through the skylight at the peak of it as she waited for him to fall asleep first.

Sasori looked up from his ledger twenty minutes later and noticed she was still awake. "Go to sleep," he commanded without raising his voice. "I did not ask that you wait up for me. I do not want you to be any more of a pain to wake up in the morning," he said, nudging a blanket that was at the edge of his bed onto her with his foot.

Azumi rolled her eyes as she took the blanket and rolled over to face away from him. 'It is not even hard to wake me up,' she thought. She continued to wait for him to fall asleep, not at all comfortable with being there with him. Another twenty minutes passed before she finally admitted to herself that she could not stay up any longer and passed out.

'About time,' Sasori thought to himself when he looked up ten minutes later and noticed her breathing had switched to a sleeping pattern. He smirked and decided to finally call it a night himself. He closed up the ledger, placed it on his bedside table and fell asleep easily.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Azumi woke up to the light beginning to pour into the room. Since it was much more open than her own room, it seemed much brighter for the time of day that it was. It had to be later in the morning than the usual time she would wake up. She groaned softly as she sat up, stretching her back a little. She risked a glance at Sasori and noticed he was also just getting up. 'And you thought you would have to wake me up,' she thought, rolling her eyes.

Sasori groaned softly as he woke up. He rubbed his face and spoke without looking at Azumi. "Go get us some breakfast from the kitchen," he told her, nudging her with his foot. "I don't care what it is. We need to eat and get to the shop."

Without saying anything to him, Azumi got up and walked out of the room, heading down the halls to the kitchen. There were only three other servants there. They all looked up at her, giving her the same looks that everyone else had given her since she arrived.

"I must say I am a little surprised that you are still alive," one of them hummed as she walked deeper into the kitchen.

"If I was paid every time someone has said that to me since Lord Sasori bought me, I might have enough money to buy myself back from him," she smirked.

One of the other servants snorted, trying to quickly stifle their laughter. "I'm sorry," they said quickly, hiding their face a little. The third servant smacked them on the head.

"We have heard a surprising lack of screams of terror coming from his portion of the house," the first servant said.

Azumi grabbed two bowls. "We have been at his shop a lot," she said, portioning out breakfast for her and Sasori.

"I'd ask if you are unharmed, but those burns tell me otherwise."

"I have a higher pain tolerance than most. And normally I do not vocalize when I am in pain." She picked the bowls up and gave the other servants a polite nod. "I will die silently," she said as she backed out of the kitchen and made her way back to Sasori's room. The three servants watched her leave then looked at each other.

"I don't know if that was melodramatic or if she is just very brave," the second servant said.

"It's definitely both," the third nodded.

"One thing is for sure. I think Lord Sasori has met his match," the first one smirked.

Azumi moved up the halls quickly, stepping back into Sasori's room. She did not see him in his room so she figured he was in the workshop. She quickly went in there, setting his food down on the table in front of him.

"Hurry up and eat," he told her. He had his eyes pressed to a machine as he moved something on a glass dish. "We'll leave as soon as you're done." He pulled away to start eating.

She had already started eating when she set his bowl down. She stared at the machine he was working with as she ate. Part of her wanted to ask about it, but the rest of her did not want to make conversation with him. She ate her food quickly, finishing just before he did. Once he was done, she took his bowl and set both of them aside.

He stood, walking back out to his room with her in tow. He dressed quickly before heading for the door. They made their way out of the house and down towards town. Sasori squinted against the sun until they could slip into the blissful shade the was forming in the shifting afternoon sun. They slipped into the workshop as they had before and found Gaara surrounded various jars scattered over every surface. A few pots boiled on one of the upper workbenches, making the room impossibly hot and humid.

"Hey," Gaara flashed her a smile, pushing his hair back as he wiped a little sweat away from his forehead.

"Hello," she grinned at him. "Did you sleep well?" she asked him as she moved to the tanks with the snakes to spray the one that was shedding. She checked to see if any skin needed to be peeled off.

"There is always room for better sleep," he grinned. He walked over to peek in on the snakes with her. "Are they doing okay?" he asked her.

"It only takes one person to spray snakes," Sasori said from the second level. He stirred one of the pots, not bothering to look down at Azumi or Gaara. "You'll have your time for small talk tonight." Gaara glared up at him, the irritation on his face was blaring. Not hearing Gaara cross the room again, Sasori's teeth ground. "Do not make me repeat myself." He turned around to give Gaara a hard look.

Azumi and Gaara shared a look before he went back to where he was before. Once the snake was taken care of, Azumi started to organize everything they bought the night before, making sure everything was labeled correctly before moving on to the next thing.

"The stuff on the second level needs to be bottled and stored too," Gaara told Azumi as he continued to put labels on any of the new stuff they had not added to the collection yet. "Two of them are new stuff and one of them is just a replenishment."

Sasori walked over to the other side of the second level to sit down at his desk. "Gaara, did we get any of that new poison I wanted to try out?" he called down.

"We did," Gaara answered, picking up the bottle. "Take this to him," he said softly, handing it to Azumi. She nodded as she took it and went up to the second level. She crossed over to Sasori's desk, setting the bottle in front of him then tending to the boiling pots that needed to be bottled.

"I can't wait to use this," Sasori grinned, swirling the little bottle. "Has anyone come in?"

"Kakuzu stopped in," Gaara responded. "I left his order on your desk and he said he will probably see you tonight at the market."

"I look forward to that," Sasori mumbled.

Azumi turned the burners off and started bottling the compositions. Once they were all bottled, she started labeling them and set them on a tray to take back to the first level.

"Whoa, it is hot in here!" Komushi grinned as he entered the shop. "It's cooler outside." There was a collective hushed groan from the Azumi, Gaara, and Sasori. "Aah, the sweet sound of you all waiting for my arrival," Komushi grinned. He spotted Azumi walking down the ladder and waited for her to place the tray in her hands down. "And how is the little lady today?" he asked, wrapping an arm around her waist and dipping her.

"She is working!" Sasori snapped over his shoulder. "So let her work."

Komushi glanced up at Sasori, keeping Azumi in the same position. "Did I ask him?" He looked back at her.

"You did not," she said softly with a chuckle. "I am doing well," she smirked. "But I am working."

Komushi sighed heavily, pulling her back up. "Fine, I guess I'll let you work," he pouted. He let her go and spun around, gripping the ladder and making quick work of getting up to Sasori. He picked up the vile of the new poison. "Is this new?" he grinned, holding it up to a light on the desk.

"It is. Now put it down before you drop it and manage to kill yourself."

"When are you going to use it?" Komushi gushed, putting the vile down.

"I'm not sure yet," Sasori said. He shifted through a couple of papers on his desk before handing the one he was looking for to Komushi. "This is a list of its effects since I know that's all you care about."

Komushi nearly squealed like a little girl. He snatched the paper from Sasori and started to read it over. "Oh this is deadly," he grinned. "You need someone you're willing to straight kill for me to put you to the test with this."

"I always have a list. But we could also ask Kakuzu," Sasori said nonchalantly. Not a flicker of concern or weight that they were discussing ending someone's life for fun.

"Kakuzu has a book of people," Komushi laughed. "Picking someone won't be hard. When are you seeing him next?"

"He might be at the market tonight," Sasori answered, looking through some more paperwork.

On the first level, Azumi finished putting away the newly labeled bottles and went into the workshop to take the ones that Gaara was working on. "You were right about that bed," she said softly to him. "It was not the most comfortable," she chuckled.

Gaara looked up from the bottle he was working on. "He made you sleep in his room last night?" he asked with a frown. "Why?" he chuckled a little. "I'll try to think of how I can make it more comfortable for you. But he didn't make you work on anything did he? We all got home so late."

"No, we did not work on anything," she said. "But he did take my body measurements and then told me to sleep in his room because he did not want to deal with waking me up or something like that." She scoffed and rolled her eyes.

"Your body measurements?" Gaara's brows furrowed. "For what?" he asked. "Oh, sorry I realize that's kind of invasive, isn't it," he laughed softly, scratching the back of his head. "You don't have to tell me."

"He wants to make me wear something," she shrugged, not all that concerned about the reason for it anymore. "Telling you is a lot less invasive than the way he takes measurements," she grumbled.

"That's...very unlike him." Gaara glanced up to where he and Komushi were still discussing their horrendous hobby. "I mean him wanting to buy you something. Sasori likes to keep the most ridiculously detailed measurements of people when he takes them." He rolled his eyes. "And let me guess...he woke up after you, didn't he?" he smirked.

"Ugh, yes. He woke up just after I did, proving that there was no reason for me to sleep in his room."

"Yeah, that sounds like him. He likes to sleep in when he knows he doesn't have to get up for the other person."

She scoffed again, taking the labeled bottles and putting them on the tray to carry out to the main shop. "I have never experienced being around someone so ridiculous for this long," she said softly. "But this is my life now so I must deal with it."

"You...please don't believe that," Gaara said softly. "I am certain there will be a way to free you." He kept his voice down as he said it. He slipped his hand into hers and squeezed it. "My uncle is working on freeing everyone like you."

She looked at him for a moment, a small smile appearing on her lips. She squeezed his hand back subconsciously. "Until then, I will bear it." She pulled her hand away and winked at him. "But only because I get to see you every day," she said, turning and heading into the main shop to put the bottles away.

"You two are awfully quiet down here," Komushi grinned, leaning over the railing for the second floor. He watched Azumi walk into the main shop.

"That's what people at work sound like," Gaara smirked. "But it's no surprise that you don't actually know what that is."

"You always know just how to wound me, Gaara," Komushi sighed dramatically, pressing a hand to his heart.

"Not like it's hard to," Sasori smirked. "All someone has to do is bring up your lack of work ethic or your eyebrows."

"Or your virginity," Gaara mumbled.

"What was that?" Komushi asked Gaara.


Komushi squinted down at him, leaning over the railing hard.

"If you fall, I'm not cleaning your body up," Gaara said breezily.

"Yes, you are!" Sasori scoffed. "It'll start to smell if you don't."

"He's your best friend and this is your shop. You can clean him up," Gaara waved him off.

"But you work for me," Sasori smirked.

"Azumi can clean me up," Komushi grinned. "I'd rather have her touch me than either of you two."

Azumi groaned and rolled her eyes as she put the bottles away. 'No, thank you,' she thought.

"I think that's a hard pass," Gaara smirked. "I'll clean you up just to spite you and spare Azumi."

"So cruel," Komushi pouted.

Azumi chuckled as she walked back into the workshop. "That aside, please do not fall," she said, looking up at Komushi. She motioned for him to step back from the railing.

"Only because you asked." He gave her a wink and took a step back.

"Wow." Sasori rolled his eyes. "Find someone else to hit on," he grumbled. "I really don't feel like having to deal with my slave having a child."

Gaara clicked his teeth. "As if she'd give in to him." He felt an angry flare bloom in his stomach.

"So defensive," Komushi smirked. "What, did you claim her for yourself already?" he teased Gaara.

Gaara growled softly, clenching his fist. "No, I—"

"Neither of you can claim her," Sasori said, cutting him off. "Did you forget that she is my slave? I feel like I say it enough for both of you to remember."

"Yeah, yeah," Komushi smirked, walking down the ladder. "But, Sasori, if you let her youth go to waste, I'll never forgive you," he said, wrapping an arm around Azumi's shoulders.

"Oh, how will I live with myself," Sasori deadpanned, going back to his work.

Azumi chuckled softly, setting the tray in her arms down. "You might be surprised to know that I will remain looking like this for a long, long time," she smirked.

"What are you one of the undead?" Komushi smirked.

"The undead can't handle the sun, dimwit," Gaara huffed, his nerves still touched.

"Neither can Sasori and yet somehow he made it here," Komushi chuckled, releasing Azumi.

"Not the undead," she chuckled. "Just blessed with very good genes." She set the last of the bottles that Gaara did on the tray to take them out and organize them.

"That still sounds cryptic," Komushi squinted at her.

"It just means she's going to age well," Sasori huffed.

"Like our family," Gaara added. "Look at our uncle. Or consider just how old Chiyo actually is," he chuckled.

"How...old is Lady Chiyo?" Azumi mumbled. "How old is Lord Sandaime?" she whispered.

"Oh...she's ancient," Komushi smirked. "And he's about fifty-four."

'Fifty-four and he looks like he is in his thirties,' Azumi thought. She looked at Gaara and smiled, realizing that meant he would also age well. Gaara caught her eyes and winked at her.

Komushi looked between the two of them. "Gross," he said lowly.

"You're gross," Gaara said. Azumi stifled a laugh as she walked out into the main shop again.

"Anyway, what time is it?" Komushi asked. "I'm ready to go back to the market!"

"We can head out in an hour and a half," Sasori rolled his eyes. "It's like I'm babysitting children," he grumbled.

The last hour and a half went by quickly as the three of them worked while simultaneously ignoring Komushi. Once it was time to leave, they wrapped up everything they were working on and got ready to go to the market.

Chapter Text

"Let's go!" Komushi grinned just as Sasori closed up the shop.

Azumi took the bag meant for their purchased goods from Sasori and shifted it onto her shoulder. He smirked and waited for everyone to file out of the shop before locking it up. Like the night before, they made their way to the underground market quickly. It was even louder and busier than the night before.

"Aah, yes!" Komushi grinned. "Now the party has started!"

"Oh, this is a lot of people," Azumi groaned quietly to herself, making sure to stay closer to the three men she arrived with. They started down a different aisle than the one they started with the night before. It was more medicinal things than anything else.

They walked up to one of the tables with an older woman seated at the table. "Lord Sasori," the woman perked up, her tone coy. "I was wondering when you'd stop by," she giggled. Some of the other women down the aisle started to stir, realizing who had arrived.

Sasori looked at them and flashed that charming smile he always gave to those unsuspecting of his true nature. Azumi scoffed quietly and rolled her eyes. "I stopped by to get a couple of these," he smirked at the woman to owned the stall as he tapped on a jar.

"Oh!" she grinned. "Coming right up," she said, unable to hold in the slight giggle that came out of her. She stood up from her chair and moved to the back to the stall to grab his items.

"Always a charmer," Komushi smirked.

"She's like Chiyo's age," Gaara whispered to Azumi. "Anyone with a cute face and maybe a pulse could charm her."

"You've got something to say, Gaara?" Sasori sent a glare at him.

"No, just letting Azumi know what it is you get here," he said.

The woman came back with a couple of jars of what Sasori requested and Azumi started putting them into the bag. "I threw in a little extra for you," she grinned at Sasori.

"Thank you," Sasori's charm turned back on. "It's always nice to see you," he told her with a small bow. The woman giggled as they moved on to the next table. This stall had an array of whole dried creatures and plants for mixing.

"My lord," the man sitting behind the table nearly jump up when Sasori approached. "To see you and Lord Kakuzu in one night," he grinned. "A very pleasant surprise."

"Oh, Kakuzu has already been through here?" Sasori asked, looking over the crowd of people.

"He was here just a couple of minutes ago," the man nodded. "He went down that way." Just down the aisle, Kakuzu could be seen bent over another table selling different mixing ingredients.

"Let's ask him for the list," Komushi said softly to Sasori, smirking evilly.

Sasori smirked. "That's the plan," he whispered back. Sasori looked down at stall owner. "Thank you very much," he grinned. "We'll come back soon," he told him. He and Komushi started to make their way towards Kakuzu in the crowd.

"Look at them," Gaara rolled his eyes. He looked down at the stall owner. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I know what we need," he told the man.

"No worries, Lord Gaara," the man smiled, bowing his head a little.

Gaara pointed out a couple of things to him, telling him how much of each they needed. Azumi watched Komushi and Sasori make their way towards Kakuzu like children. She hummed and then turned her attention to Gaara. Once he got everything he needed from the stall owner, she opened the bag for him to put everything in.

"Thank you," Gaara smiled at her as he started to walk with her. He offered his arm for her as they started to make their way slowly towards Sasori and Komushi.

Kakuzu stood up, looking over at the two eager Lords. "Sasori," Kakuzu raised an eyebrow. "Komushi," he nodded to each of them.

"It's been a while, Lord Kakuzu," Komushi smiled, giving the older man a polite nod.

"It has been," Kakuzu said. "I had a good feeling I would see you here, Sasori. I don't think you've ever been one to miss this night market when it comes around."

"Never," Sasori purred. "This is the only place I can get my hands on the new and unique." Komushi was practically vibrating with excitement.

Kakuzu raised an eyebrow at the young man. "The sentiment is likewise. Are you finding anything interesting?"

Komushi's eyes were alight with excitement. He was trying his best not to fidget too much.

"You have no tact," Sasori sighed.

"Oh, who needs that!" Komushi smacked Sasori's arm.

Kakuzu held in a chuckled, retaining his stoic look among the bustling crowd. "Tact?" he repeated. "What's going on here?"

"We have something we would like to ask you," Komushi said.

Kakuzu looked between them for a moment before speaking again. "What is it?" he asked.

"I have acquired a new poison I would like to test out," Sasori said. "And we are aware that you have a list—"

"A long list," Komushi cut in.

"Yes..." Sasori said with a slight sigh of irritation at his friend. "A long list of people you want...gone."

"And we would like to wipe one of those people off of that list for you," Komushi grinned.

Kakuzu stared at them. "I'll stop by tomorrow," he said after a few moments of staring at them.

"Yes," Komushi hissed in sheer excitement.

"Did something break?" Hidan crept up behind Azumi and Gaara. "Oh, Lord Gaara," he gasped, bowing low to the man.

"Hello, Hidan," Gaara said, nodding for the man to come up from his bow as both he and Azumi turned toward him. "Are you enjoying the market?" he asked casually.

"I'm loving it!" Hidan grinned. "I got a snack." He held up a cup filled with fried scorpions. "Want one?" He offered to Azumi and Gaara politely.

"Where did you find those?" Gaara gasped softly.

"Right over there," Hidan said, pointing to another stall. It sold different fried foods.

Azumi looked at the cup, horrified at what was inside and took half a step back.

Hidan gave her a toothy grin. "Want one?" He shook it, jostling the fried insects.

"Let's go get some!" Gaara grinned, starting to pull her into the direction of the stand. "Those are so good!"

"I appreciate it," she said. "But I think I will pass on that. I am not exactly fond of such" She looked at the cup in Hidan's hand again. 'If one could even call it that,' she thought.

"Suit ya self," Hidan shrugged, eating more of the insects.

Gaara stopped short. "Oh," he pouted a little. "Do you want to get something else, though?" he asked, suddenly feeling bad that he was charging to excitedly towards the stand.

Azumi gasped softly and then shook her head. "No, no," she said. "Feel free to indulge, do not let me stop you," she chuckled softly.

Gaara looked back at Sasori to see if he even noticed that they were slipping away. "We'll both get something," he grinned, pulling her towards more of the food. "And we can get away from that," he said, looking at the three murderers that they were slipping away from. Azumi looked back at them as well and chuckled, holding onto him a little tighter as they weaved through the crowd toward the stand. She looked over the different options once they approached it. There were a lot more options than just fried scorpions and she let out a small sigh in relief. "Pick whatever you want." Gaara's voice was echoed by a softer feminine one. Another couple had walked up next to them at the same moment.

"Lord Gaara," the woman said with a small gasp. "I haven't seen you in so long! You've grown even more handsome." Her voice, while excited, remained soft.

Behind her, a man a little older than Gaara and Azumi peeked out, grinning. "Nice to see ya again, Lord Gaara," he said with a bow.

"Lady Konan," Gaara smiled, bowing, "It's always lovely to see you and Yahiko."

"Likewise," Konan smiled. "Are you two here alone?" she asked, looking at Azumi who bowed slightly to her. "Or are here with your cousin?" There was a slight tone of disdain in her voice at the mention of Sasori which did not go unnoticed by Azumi.

"He's talking to our favorite, most pious, bounty hunter and Komushi," Gaara smirked. Konan's eyes flickered to the direction she assumed Gaara and Azumi had walked from.

"Komushi's here?" Yahiko nearly whined.

"Don't worry, darling," Konan said reassuringly. "You don't have to talk to him," she soothed. "Noted. We'll play the avoidance game for as long as we can," she smirked. "But, Gaara, I did not take you for the slave-owning type." Her eyes settled on Azumi.

"Ah, no, she isn't my slave," Gaara started.

"I am Lord Sasori's, my Lady," Azumi said, bowing again.

Konan's face dropped. She looked at Gaara. "How long as he had her?" she asked him seriously, moving closer to cup Azumi's face. "You're too pretty to be owned by the likes of him," she said with a heavy tone.

Even Yahiko looked at her sadly. "Pretty didn't stop him from mutilating that last girl," he said, his brows furrowing.

Azumi frowned. "I have been made aware of his track record with slaves," she told them.

"She's only been around for a couple of days," Gaara said.

"And he's already done this to her?" Konan practically whispered, looking at the burn on Azumi's chest.

Gaara nodded, then looked down at her leg, indicating there was another one down there. Yahiko clicked his teeth, his face twisting into a snarl.

"How much did he pay for you?" Konan asked, suddenly hit with a wave of maternal protection.

Gaara shook his head. "Don't," he told her. "I know what you're thinking and I can't see him taking any more for her. He...seems to be growing attached."

"Attached?" Konan repeated. "And he has the audacity to look at me the way he does for having the relationship I do with Yahiko?" she asked softly, a small hint of a growl in her voice.

Azumi tilted her head slightly, looking at the pair in front of her. 'Is she romantically involved with her slave?' she thought.

Yahiko caught the look she gave them and winked, grinning mischievously.

Gaara rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm not sure it's going to be anything like you two," Gaara hummed. "It would only turn into something as horrible and twisted as he is." He slid his hand down Azumi's arm and laced his fingers tightly between hers. "I won't let him do that to he—you," he stopped himself, realizing he had been talking about her as if he was not right next to her. He turned to look looking at Azumi with a heavy weight in his eyes.

Azumi looked at him and smiled. "Thank you," she said softly.

Konan smiled fondly at them. "It's clear that you care for her more than Sasori ever could," she said.

"I couldn't imagine treating anyone the way he treats others behind closed doors," he said, looking over his shoulder. "He and Komushi are planning on testing a new poison so be ready for a request from them."

"As if I would ever give them anything," Konan scoffed. "I'll be making sure we don't cross paths at this market."

Azumi chuckled quietly at Konan's blatant disdain for Sasori. It was kind of refreshing to see a woman that did not swoon over him.

Gaara smiled and bowed again. "I'll try to make sure he stays away from you as well," he chuckled. "Just a fair warning, if you plan on visiting the shop, he has been frequenting it more often lately."

"He's actually making an effort to leave his house?" Yahiko blinked. "What changed?"

Gaara glanced at Azumi. "I'm going to say it has to do with how well she works with him," he smiled at Azumi. "She's brilliant and amazing help around the lab."

Konan looked at Azumi with a raised eyebrow. "Do you now?" she smirked at her. "Mm, then I might make an effort to drop by just to see you two. You are still working there regularly, right?" she asked Gaara.

"I am," Gaara said with a nod. "I'm there about four days a week."

"Maybe expect a visit from us," Konan chuckled.

"That would be really nice," Gaara smiled, bowing his head again to her.

Konan glanced in Sasori's direction and noticed that he was looking at Gaara and Azumi. "I think we may have to part ways here," she said softly, looking back at the pair in front of her. Gaara looked over his shoulder once more and frowned.

"Ugh, it's so creepy how he can pick people out of crowds like that," Yahiko shuddered. He slipped his hand into Konan's and bowed to Gaara and Azumi. "It was nice to meet you, Azumi." He flashed her a friendly smile.

"It was nice to meet you too, Yahiko," Azumi smiled. "And you too, Lady Konan." She bowed to them.

"Go quickly before he gets here. He's already on my case about trying to steal Azumi away from him," Gaara hissed to them.

Azumi and Gaara watched as the other two slipped off into the crowd, getting as far away from Sasori and Komushi as possible. "I like them," she said softly once they were gone.

Gaara smiled at her, "Konan is a kind soul among monsters," he said softly. "She and Yahiko have been going strong for a while now. He's only a slave on paper at this point," he pulled Azumi over to the stand to look at the food options.

"Aw," Komushi's voice reached them first. "I could have sworn I saw you two talking to the lovely Konan!" he said, draping an arm around Azumi's shoulders and pulling her away from Gaara. Azumi let out a soft groan, feeling Komushi on her. Sasori noted the way they had been holding hands silently.

"We were," Gaara said. "But she had to be somewhere else."

"Did she now," Sasori hummed.

"But we wanted to ask her if she wanted to test out the poison," Komushi pouted.

"We'll see her again." Sasori was still watching Gaara intently. "Hurry up and get your food. I want to go to the other side of the market," he told them.

Azumi looked over the fried food options. She found something she used to eat as a child and grinned. 'Churros!' she thought. "That," she said to Gaara, pointing at the fried pastry coated in cinnamon sugar. They were small bite-sized versions of the long ones she was used to.

Gaara put the order in for her and Komushi groaned when the smell hit him. "I'll have some too!" He pulled away from her to get his own.

"Are we all satisfied?" Sasori asked, them looking around.

"Yes, dad," Komushi chuckled, taking a bite of his fried cinnamon sweet. Sasori rolled his eyes and grabbed Azumi's arm, pulling her to walk ahead with him.

Azumi tried to eat her churros as he pulled her. "What are we getting next?" she asked Sasori. "We got what you needed from the stall that you walked away from when you went to speak with Lord Kakuzu."

He looked at her from the corner of his eyes, not turning his head. "You will know when we get there," he said, diving headlong into the rushing traffic of people. Behind them, Komushi and Gaara trailed behind.

"You're getting pretty daring," Komushi grinned at Gaara as they walked. His tone was light and conversational but Gaara could hear the threat in his voice.

Gaara squinted at him. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.

Azumi stayed close to Sasori, trying not to bump into people as they walked. Once they were in more of a clearing from people, she looked at Sasori. "Would you like one?" she asked, offering her mini churros.

Sasori stared at the fried sweet for a moment then looked at her. "No," he said evenly. "I don't tend to share food with my slaves in public." He pulled her down a new aisle that was all textiles and clothing. He slowed down, looking more intently at the different fabrics. He looked down at Azumi and hummed. "Red," he said softly.

Azumi looked at him then at the fabrics. She never wore red much, even as a noble girl. She knew she no longer had a say in what she wore so she did not protest it. Silently, she ate her sweets as she watched Sasori speak to the seller.

They kept walking further into the aisle. Sasori generally ignored the swooning women they passed at the stalls, unlike the previous stands. He suddenly stopped, seeing a red and gold embellished fabric. "How much for this?" he asked, tugging on the fabric gently.

The woman looked at the fabric and then at him "It's three hundred, but I'll give it to you for a good discount because you're handsome," she smirked. Azumi scoffed and rolled her eyes. This woman was younger than the previous stall owners so of course she would be more bold with her flirting. "You can have it for one hundred."

"How kind of you." He flashed her his charming smile as he wrapped his arm around Azumi's waist. He pulled her closer, flush against his side. "What do you think, my love? I think this color will suit you well," he said, draping the fabric over her chest.

Azumi had expected him to flirt back so she was caught off guard. She looked up at him then down at the fabric he held in front of her. "It is beautiful," she said genuinely.

"Yes, I think this shade will complement you well." The woman glared at her, lifting her chin just a little until Sasori turned back to her. Her flirtatious smile resumed, a small giggle slipping out of her lips. "We'll take it," he told her in an even tone, his smile matching hers. His hand on Azumi's waist brushed her bare skin as it moved down to her hip. This gesture did not go unnoticed by the stall owner.

"Of course sir," she bowed, the smile still in place. She took the cloth bolt down and Sasori gave her how much he needed. She handed it to him neatly folded once it was cut and without a word more, Sasori ushered Azumi further down.

Sasori released her once they were far enough from the stall. "I hate when they just throw themselves at me," he rolled his eyes. They repeated the process with an older woman at another stall. This time Sasori picked out a soft, flowing white fabric and golden beads that would act as an accent.

Azumi had finished her sweets and threw the small container out in a nearby trash can. She opened the bag for Sasori to put his purchased fabrics in. "This is beautiful as well," she said quietly, looking at the white and gold.

"I know," he said plainly, paying for it and putting it in the bag the same way he had the red fabric. He moved down the line to one of the tailors. "How much for you to make two dancer's outfits?" he asked the man with none of the pleasantries he usually had toward the stall owners.

The man perked up, looking Sasori over and assessing quickly that this was a man of money. He flashed Azumi a smile beneath his thick mustache. "I can have them both done by the end of the night," he said. "My girls have magic fingers." He winked at Azumi, gesturing back to two girls that would be making the clothing. Sasori wrapped his arm around Azumi again. "All you have to do, my Lord, is choose a pattern and pay." Sasori nodded and the man pushed the pattern book forward, allowing Sasori to look it over. "Please step over here, young lady." The old man started to get up.

"Do not move," Sasori ordered Azumi. "I have her measurements," he told the man, producing a sheet of paper with all of the numbers written down in detail.

"Oh," the man said, taking the paper and looking at the measurements. "These are very in depth," he said with a slight chuckle.

"I spare no details," Sasori hummed. Azumi sighed quietly, not exactly comfortable with a complete stranger having such detailed measurements of her body.

"Not a problem, then. We will have this done for you by the end of the night, as promised. It will be here waiting for you."

"So this is where you two went off to," Komushi said, walking up to them with Gaara in tow. "You really tried to lose us," he pouted, poking Sasori hard in the cheek.

Sasori swatted his friend's hand away quickly. "Seems I didn't try hard enough," he grumbled. "We need to stop back here before we leave tonight."

"Oh?" Komushi smirked. "Getting something custom made, are we? Are you getting us matching outfits?"

"Never in my life," Sasori glared at his friend, "will I be caught wearing anything remotely matching to you." He rolled his eyes.

"Aah, so we'll match when we're dead!" Komushi pushed his hands over Sasori's shoulders and pulled him away, starting to walk with him back into the bustling crowd.

"I want you to know I actually hate you," Sasori growled, pushing the other man away.

Gaara chuckled, walking over to Azumi, offering his arm once more. "Did he say what he's having made?" he asked softly.

Azumi smiled at Gaara as she took his arm again. "He asked them to make dancer's outfits," she told him. "The fabrics he chose were beautiful. And for the first time, I witnessed him not flirt back with a woman who swooned over him."

"Oh?" he chuckled. "Think our teasing got the best of him today?" He hummed. "She must have been young. He doesn't flirt with the younger women 'because they aren't as useful' as he puts it."

"It is not surprising that he decides their worth by their usefulness to him," she said, rolling her eyes. "He had to pretend that I was here not as his slave for a few moments."

"That's my cousin. If you don't serve a purpose to him then you're meaningless," Gaara grimaced. "He didn't do anything nasty, did he?" He started to look her up and down to see any marks.

"He did nothing beyond holding me close to him by the waist," she assured him, noticing his concern. "Do not worry. I am fine."

Gaara frowned, looking her hard in the eyes, "Okay," he nodded. "If he ever does try anything just tell me. I can't stand by again."

She looked up at him and smiled. "I honestly cannot thank you enough," she said. They weaved through the crowd at a good distance behind Sasori and Komushi.

He looked ahead and hummed softly. "Did you have anything like this in your village?" he asked her.

She hummed in thought for a moment. "Not exactly," she said. "This is a place where people from other places gather to sell their goods and my village is very hidden. People from the outside do not exactly get in unless we want them to. We had people go out and get the things that needed to be imported to the village to make sure no one got in."

He stayed silent for a moment, mulling over the new information she had just told him. "But...why is your village so hidden?" he asked. "And how is it you were found?"

"People like me were killed for various reasons a long time ago," she said. "Anyone remotely associated with a snake was practically hunted. I do not know the exact reason. My father never explained it to me. But he created our village to keep us hidden. So we would not be killed." She looked ahead, getting lost in thought for a short moment before continuing her explanation. " here in place of someone else. To make sure it stays hidden."

His eyes were heavy when he turned to look at her. "I'm sorry that happened to your people." Absentmindedly, he slipped his hand down to hers and laced their fingers together. "Humans really are terrible to each other. I hope whoever you saved is living their life to their fullest." His voice grew soft as he spoke.

"I hope so too," she said quietly. "I cannot imagine her having to go through this." She stayed quiet for another moment before speaking again. "However," she smiled, "despite these circumstances, I am glad I met you."

A smile pulled at Gaara's lips. "Me too," he chuckled. "I just wish it were as equals and not...this travesty of a social construct." Up ahead of them, Sasori and Komushi were bent over a table of strange bones and trinkets. "Ugh, they really don't need any more weird stuff," he groaned.

Azumi looked at them and frowned. "It is not enough that he sells poisons," she mumbled, rolling her eyes. She turned her attention to the stalls they passed, looking at all of the different things that were sold. It was a weird mix of everything with some random jewelry thrown in. "So, if you only work at the shop part-time, will you be there tomorrow?" she asked Gaara.

"Tomorrow," he hummed. "No, tomorrow I have to run to several house calls and meet with a few other doctors that work at the local clinic," he frowned. "But I could try to stop by." He looked down at her, watching the way she looked over things.

"Oh," she said. "If you cannot, then it is fine," she chuckled. "I feel like maybe you need a break from Lord Sasori."

He chuckled. "I always want a break from him," he sighed. "But...I would like to see you," he said hesitantly. " don't mind."

"Of course, I do not mind," she smiled. "But you do not have to subject yourself to his presence for my sake." She looked at him and smirked. "But your presence always makes my day."

"I'm starting to think...that I might be developing an addiction to you," he chuckled. "I'll come by with some churros," he grinned. "Those are Sasori's favorites so he shouldn't give me too many gripes."

"Oh, are they?" she smirked. "That is an interesting fact to know." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "I would love to see you."

"They always have been as far as I know," he smirked with a questioning tone. "But I'll come by before we come back here tomorrow," he smiled at her.

Suddenly, there was a hand wrapping tightly around Azumi's forearm. "Time to go," Sasori said in a low voice, glaring at the both of them. There was a promising threat in his eyes. He dug his nails into her skin until they bit through. Azumi groaned quietly in pain, trying not to let it show on her face too much. She let go of Gaara's hand, letting Sasori pull her away. The crowds had started to dissipate. People were starting to leave the market which meant it was almost over. She looked at him for a moment as they walked and frowned, feeling his grip on her not get any looser then looked around at the stalls they walked by. He said nothing to her as they walked back through the winding aisles to pick up the two new outfits Sasori had commissioned. Sasori released Azumi's arm and jutted his chin, indicating for her to step forward.

"Ah, my Lord!" The old man said with a large, jovial smile. "Here you are," he turned around to take the neatly folded pieces from one of the girls. Sasori picked up the red bra of the first outfit and hummed, going over the quality.

"Your girls are true craftswomen," he murmured. "Thank you." His tone was lofty as he deposited the new garments into Azumi's arms.

"Anytime," the man smiled at him. "I'm sure my girls will appreciate such a compliment."

Azumi looked down at the clothes as they were placed in her arms. She marveled at the new outfits for a moment before placing them in the bag neatly and then smiling at the man with a slight bow. "Thank you," she said to him.

"It was my pleasure, young lady."

Once again Sasori gripped her arm harshly, digging his nails into the muscle of her upper arm this time as he pulled her away from the stand.

Komushi and Gaara caught up to them just as Sasori was heading for the exit. "What did you do to make him so agitated?" Gaara asked Komushi lowly, watching Azumi be dragged along roughy. It turned his stomach to watch her be treated that way.

Komushi scoffed, drawing Gaara's attention. "Not what I did," he smirked at Gaara. "It's what you two have been doing all night," he told him cryptically.

"What...we did?" Gaara's brow furrowed then his lips pressed into a hard line. Was he going to be the reason she was punished sometime soon?

"Sasori is very observant," Komushi said. "You know that. He's your cousin." Komushi let out a laugh, equivalent to that of an older sibling watching a younger sibling get in trouble.

Gaara clicked his teeth, openly glaring at Sasori as they stepped out into the night. "I don't see why he's getting so bent out of shape," he grumbled. "He gave us permission to treat her nicely for the night market."

Komushi tucked his hands behind his head as he walked. "I'm not the sharpest tool in the lab but we both know that you two have been getting along a little too well." He glanced at Gaara again. "Well before the market."

"It isn't—" he started.

"But it is," Komushi smirked. They walked to the shop, entering through the back, as usual, to place their purchased goods in the workshop to be put away. "It's been fun," Komushi grinned. "I'll meet you here tomorrow."

Sasori released Azumi's arm and walked up to the second level to put a few things he pulled from the bag away.

Gaara bit his lip, hesitantly walking up to Azumi. "I'm sorry if he hurts you," he said softly to her.

Sasori's movements above them stilled instantly. "Azumi!" he growled. "Come, now." His voice did not raise but there was a hiss of venom in his tone.

Gaara stared up at Sasori then looked at her. His hands curled and uncurled, desperate to reach out, to pull her against his chest and tell Sasori to fuck off. But he didn't. He knew that would only make it worse for her.

Azumi looked at Gaara and nodded. She tried to smile but she was actually terrified at the moment. "I will see you tomorrow," she whispered to him before going up to the second level.

Gaara nodded silently then glanced up at Sasori one last time before leaving. His whole body felt numb and his heart was beating so fast as he hurried down the alleyway. He was afraid for her. And once again, he was being a coward. He stopped, punching a nearby wall and cursing himself loudly.

Sasori drummed his fingers on his desk, intensely glaring at a piece of writing on his desk. He waited to hear her soft footsteps stop behind him.

She stared at his back for a moment before speaking. "Would you like me to put everything away?" she asked him.

He turned around to regard her with icy eyes. He took a deep breath, his nails digging into the wood of his desk. "No, we can deal with it tomorrow," he ground out. "I want you to try those outfits on when we get home." His tone was clipped. He brushed past her, his body breezing past her. "Let's go," he ordered. He felt a little childish for only having called her up to the second level to get her away from Gaara but he would never admit that.

She let out the breath she was holding in that she did not realize she took when he looked at her. She tried to ignore her increasing heart rate as she calmed herself down before following him back down to the first level. She grabbed the bag that had only the outfits and whatever Sasori wanted to take home. He locked the shop up again and they headed back home in complete silence.

Chapter Text

Normally, silence from Sasori is something Azumi would be okay with, but tonight, the tension from him was very high and it made her uneasy. She could feel his hostility from a few feet away and it terrified her to think of what he would do to her. The silent walk felt longer than it actually was but they eventually made it back home. He said nothing to her as they walked through the halls.

"Bath," he said flatly once they were in his room. He disappeared into his workshop and everything went dead silent again.

Azumi went straight into the bathroom after setting down the bag by his desk. She took a moment to get her terrified breaths out before starting his bath, going about the same routine of getting it to the right temperature and putting in the salt and oils. She put his robe on its spot and waited for him to get into the bath. No matter how much she tried to calm herself down, her heart kept beating really fast.

He walked in moments later, barely sparing her a glance as walked over to the tub. "Who exactly is it that owns you?" he asked her quietly. There was a long silence between them with only the soft sound of water being displaced as he slipped into the bath. He glared at her back hard enough to burn holes into her skin.

She shut her eyes tight and took a deep breath before turning to him, keeping her face as neutral as possible and trying not to let her fear get the best of her. She had a feeling she knew what this was about. "You do," she answered.

"Then I think you will do well to remember that," he growled softly, his gaze intensifying. "I do not recall Gaara being the one to purchase you nor do I remember saying you were allowed to flit with my naive, young cousin." His voice was straining to stay in control. He sat with his back against the tub, looking down his legs at her. "You are burning through patience I don't usually have. You are useful but not irreplaceable." He stared at her. Tension hung in the air.

She took another deep breath and nodded, taking another moment before speaking. "I understand," she said softly. "Lord Gaara was only being friendly to me but I realize it is not my place to accept it. I will make sure not to from now on."

"Good," Sasori said with still narrow eyes. "Now hurry up and take your bath. I want to see those outfits on you," he said, relaxing further into the tub and turning to look out over the river.

She nodded and set up the other bath for herself the same way he would make her do it and then got in, relaxing underneath the surface of the water. She basked in the silence for a moment before she started to actually wash herself up.

Sasori lazily twirled his fingers in the water, not really moving to clean himself up. He closed his eyes, leaning his head back over the edge of the tub. His eyes fell on the moonlight that spilled into the room. It nearly washed the room in silver and reflected up onto the tub, framing Sasori in silver.

She looked at him and held in a gasp. Had she not known him the way she did, she would have thought he was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen. However, she had to admit to herself that he was a sight to behold. She caught herself staring at him and frowned, noticing that he seemed a bit...stressed. She hated herself for feeling bad for him, but she could not help it. She brought a bit of water up to rub on her face, snapping herself out of her thoughts.

Languidly, Sasori turned his gaze back to look at her. He rested his head in his hand, his fingers threading into his hair, still against the moonlight and watched her bathe silently. He said nothing as he watched her rub her face with hooded eyes.

Azumi sighed, feeling his eyes on her. His gaze was intense enough to be felt across a room and it was so uncomfortable. It was even worse when he was in her face. She pulled her hands from her face and looked at him. "Which outfit would you like me to try on first?" she asked him, hoping to relieve the tension between them, even if just a little bit.

He took a moment to respond to her. When he finally did, his voice was a lot softer than it had been before. "The white one," he told her.

She nodded and finished bathing herself. Once she was done, she got out and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around herself. She took a towel out for him for when he was ready to get out. "I will try them on now," she said, bowing slightly and going into his bedroom to fully dry off. She went to the bag that she left by his desk and picked out the white outfit he had made for her. Seeing it unfolded, it looks much nicer than she thought it did before. "Wow," she whispered to herself. She unwrapped the towel and set it down then started putting the outfit on. Rather than the usual two-piece dancer outfit, the top part connected to the bottom by a thin gold line. As unusual as that was for her, she still felt comfortable. She did not feel constricted in any way.

Sasori joined her in the room moments later, adorned in his robe. He laid on his bed, taking her in as he did. "How does it fit?" he asked with heavily hooded eyes. His exhaustion was beginning to set in. Being as angry as he was had started to take a lot out of him.

She turned to look at him. "It fits great," she said with a small smile. She adjusted the thick straps to sit on her hips and moved the leg slit to its correct position. Nothing was too tight or too loose thanks to Sasori's invasive measuring of her body.

"Good," his voice purred softly. "Now the other one," he told her with a soft command.

She nodded and took off the outfit, folding it neatly and setting it on the chair by the desk. She grabbed the other outfit and stared at it longer than she did the first one. "I have never really worn red," she told him, putting the skirt on first. The bra of the outfit was full of gold accents like the white one was and it amazed her how well they all went together. Two armbands slipped out of the bra as she picked it up. "Oh," she hummed. She put them on after everything else was on and in place. Like the first outfit, it was very comfortable and everything fit perfectly. This was an outfit she could see herself performing in.

"Oooh," Sasori hummed lowly. "It suits you." He got up slowly and walked over to stand in front of her. "It complements your eyes." His voice was a hiss as he tilted her chin upon his fingertip to look into them. His free hand moved to rest on her hip, pulling her closer.

Her breath hitched when he pulled her close but then she found herself relaxing slightly. "Lady Mei mentioned you used to dance," she said. " danced with me when you put me in a trance." She looked up at him. "Would to dance?" she asked softly.

"I did," he responded softly. His eyes searched her face as he considered her question. His lips pulled into a small smirk as he pulled her flush against his body. "Why not. It's been a while." His voice was just breath as he moved his other hand from her face and laced their fingers together. He took a step back and began to lead her in a simple dance around the room.

She placed her free hand on his shoulder and followed his lead easily, letting him move her around. She was hardly surprised at how graceful he was with his movements but it made her smile a little to see it for herself.

"You said you learned to dance from the snakes," he brought up as he spun her easily. "Did you take up dancing because you learned from them or was there a demand for it?" he asked as they moved around as one.

"It is more of a cultural norm that the women in my village learn to dance," she answered. "Most of the girls in my village learn from their mothers. Since I do not have a mother, the snakes taught me." She stayed quiet for a moment as he spun her again. "This is a more normal way of dancing in my village," she noted. "I was one of the very few people who belly dance. It is why I was usually asked to perform."

He hummed softly as he moved his hips with hers in time with a song only he could hear. "You seem to have a running theme of being the supply to a very specific demand." He dipped her low so hard that her head almost touched the floor. "Do you actually enjoy it?" he asked her.

"I do," she said, looking him in the eyes. "There is something about it that is...very freeing. When one works in a lab for most of their time, being able to do something that does not require much thought is always nice."

He pulled her back up, not breaking eye contact as he moved a little fast. They were so fluid as they moved together. "I understand that entirely," he agreed. "A release of letting your body go and your mind only focusing on how your body wills itself to move."

"Yes," she smiled. "It is not surprising that someone as busy as you with the reputation that you hold understands this. I would think you of all people would know this feeling."

"Though I haven't danced with a partner in a long time," he said, pulling her a little closer and he spun them on the ball of his foot. Her feet lifted off of the ground slightly but he did not break eye contact.

She giggled a little and held onto him a little tighter until she was fully back on the ground. "I cannot even tell," she smiled. "You do not feel out of practice one bit."

The sound of her laugh gave him a ghost of a smile on his lips. "Once again," his voice was a low rasp, "you are better than most I've worked with." He looked into her eyes for a moment and the smile slipped from his lips. His feet slowed as the song in his head came to an end. "Change back." His hand pulled away from her waist. "That white one is your new daily outfit and the one you came in is your sleepwear now."

She nodded as she took a step back. "Thank you," she said with a bow. "For the outfits and for the dance."

"You're welcome," he said. "I wasn't going to deal with those brats saying that I don't keep my things nicely," he smirked as he crawled back into bed. "You're like my doll and I will do with you what I see fit." He settled back into his pillows and closed his eyes. "Sleep here again."

She went back into the bathroom to grab her clothes from before and changed into them on her way back to the desk where she neatly folded the red outfit on top of the white one on the chair. 'A doll,' she scoffed mentally. 'More like a puppet with how you controlling you are.' She looked at his sleeping form and hummed before getting comfortable on the daybed. 'If only he was that nice normally,' she thought as she stared at the sky through the window at the peak of the dome. It took her a couple of minutes before she finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

As the sun poured into Sasori's room, he rolled onto his back, groaning softly. He rubbed his face before slowly opening his eyes to look at Azumi's sleeping form. It was the last night of the market. He sat up and thought about the night before.

It took a couple of moments for Azumi to wake up to the sun in her face. She groaned softly, putting her hand over her eyes as she stretched hard. The bed she was on really was not comfortable. She breathed out hard as she sat up and noticed Sasori was awake. 'Oh, he is awake before me,' she thought. It was much later in the morning than the last couple of times they woke up. At this point, she was not even sure if it was still morning. They may have slept until the afternoon, which would not be surprising since the sun was probably beginning to rise by the time they actually went to sleep.

"You wake up like a cat," he smirked, stretching a little himself. He swung his legs over the edge of his bed and ran a hand through his hair. "We don't have to rush to the shop yet. Go get us breakfast and then get changed."

She nodded as she stood up and stretched one more time. "I will be right back then," she said. She went to the kitchen, seeing the same three servants she spoke to the day before. "Good morning," she said to them as she walked in.

They all looked at her and smiled politely. "Good morning," the first one nodded. "Are you here for breakfast for the young master?"

"I am," she said as she chose two bowls to fill for her and Sasori.

"You two seem to be getting along," the second one said.

"You've also been coming home late," the third said. The first one who spoke elbowed them hard. "What!"

"Shut up before you bring the young lord's wrath down on us!"

"'Getting along' would be a stretch. There is no 'getting along' with Lord Sasori." She looked at them and smirked. "But should one not try to get on his good side at least a little if they are spending every single moment of their time with him?" she asked.

"That's fair," the second one nodded.

"That's sad and stressful," the first one frowned at her.

"Well, you're still alive so you must be doing something right."

"I would like to think so," she hummed as she grabbed a spoon for each bowl and then picked the bowls up. "Hopefully, you will see me again tomorrow," she nodded as she backed out of the kitchen and went back to Sasori's room.

Sasori was still not dressed when she came back. He looked up from the ledger that he was reading from. "I want to make a few new oils and salts," he said, looking up at her. "What scents do you prefer?" He smirked at her. "I'll decide if I like them too and go from there."

She tried not to look as shocked as she felt that he was asking her for her opinion on something. She hummed in thought as she handed him his bowl. "That feels like a lot of pressure," she said with a soft chuckle. "Crushed macadamia and rice milk?" she suggested. "It was actually my favorite scent when I was still a noble."

"Mm," he hummed. "It's been considered," he smirked, closing the book. "I should have everything to make it. Anything else?"

She took a spoonful of her breakfast as she thought about the next scent. "There was a scent my brother made me one time," she hummed. "It was an almond scent...a very deep-toned sweet almond." She frowned and looked at him. "I apologize if I cannot describe it well."

"I think I can make something similar," he grinned. "I like the challenge. Do you like vanilla?"

"I do," she smiled. "I love vanilla. It is one of my top three favorite scents." She paused for a second. "All three of which I just mentioned," she added quietly.

"Noted," he said, walking into the workshop. He started to pull bowls and ingredients down off of the shelf to put onto the table in the center of the room.

She followed him into the workshop, leaving her bowl on the desk as she passed it. She watched as he started on the scents. "Is there something you would like me to do?" she asked him.

"Finish your breakfast first," he told her. "I'm making the salts first. I'll show you how to make the oils and scrubs after."

"Oh," she said softly, taking a step back and nodding again. She went back out to his room and picked her bowl up again to finish eating. 'He is being oddly nice,' she thought. 'I wonder how long that will last.' She took a few minutes to finish her food as she thought more about his sudden personality change and then set her bowl down again before joining him in the workshop once again.

He used a large wooden spoon to turn the salt and oil over until it mixed well. He leaned down into the bottle and took a deep breath. "This is a very refined scent," he told her. "I like it." He pulled a jar over and started to fill it with the rice milk and crushed macadamia salt. "I was thinking we would leave for the market from here," he said offhandedly as he cleaned out the bowl. He nudged the jar over to her to smell it.

"Alright," she said, picking up the jar. She held it close and smelled it briefly. Her eyes widened a little and she was pretty sure her pupils dilated and then constricted back. "This is amazing," she said. "It is just as I remember it."

Sasori watched her eyes react. "Is...that something that normally happens?" he asked her in fascination. He looked intently at her eyes.

"So it did happen," she mumbled to herself. "Normal, yes. Common, no," she told him. "I usually try to prevent it from happening."

"Fascinating," he whispered. "I'm tempted to tell you that you aren't allowed to restrict yourself anymore," he grinned. "But I want to see what will cause that against your will." He gave her an almost playful smile.

She let out a soft groan at the very idea of that as she closed the jar and set it back down. 'He would want to do that,' she thought, rolling her eyes mentally.

He moved on to making the other two scents for her. He made the vanilla one next and handed it to her. "I'll start the prep for the almond one," he smirked. "How does this one smell?"

She picked up the jar and hesitantly brought it up to smell it. She knew it happened again. "Wow," she whispered. "That is..." She smelled it again. "Wow," she repeated.

Sasori grinned like the devil he was as he watched her through his lashes. "Glad you like it," he chuckled. "Now since we are making your almond one from scratch, I'll show you how I make my oils," he told her. He placed a few beakers over burners and started to mix the ingredients as he explained what he did to make the extracts.

She watched closely to make sure she would remember the ingredients and the process. It was only a few minutes of explanations, but she was able to understand it. The process itself is what took a while. Altogether, to make the extracts took a couple of hours. "This sounds easy enough," she hummed mostly to herself.

"You'd think so," he grumbled. "I had one guy about a year ago who managed to blow up three beakers and nearly kill us both because he couldn't just keep his eye on the temperature." He started to drum his fingers in irritation.

She looked up at him and then back at what he was doing. "I do not understand how you ended up with so many people that failed you," she frowned.

"Me either," he groaned. "I stopped letting Granny Chiyo choose my slaves." He poured a dark bourbon-like liquid into a dark bottle. "Does this smell close?" he asked her, passing her the bottle.

She picked up the bottle up and with a bit of hesitance, smelled the liquid inside. "Oh..." she said quietly, smelling it again. "It is...perfect..."

Sasori smirked, watching her breath it in. "Good to know," he said. "That will be yours then." He took it back from her and made the salt version of it for her. "The vanilla one will also be yours."

She smiled at him and bowed. "Thank you," she said. 'I should not trust how nice he is being right now,' she thought.

"Mhm," he smirked. "Go put them away and get dressed. We'll leave once I clean this up." He shooed her away.

She nodded and picked up the bottles, heading out of the workshop and to the bathroom. She approached the shelves he kept his oils and salts on and paused for a moment. "Is he nice enough to share a shelf with me?" she whispered to herself. She looked out the door and then back at the shelves. "I suppose it is worth the risk. The worst he can do is kill me." She started putting the bottles on the same shelf, but behind his own salts and oils.

Meanwhile, Sasori quickly cleaned up his mess and packed away all the instruments he had used. He breezed out to his room and quickly got dressed. But tonight he decided to wear something a little different than what he usually wore. It was a little fancier with a little more jewelry. He pulled part of his hair back and pinned it with a scorpion clip while his loose bangs hung stylishly in his face.

Azumi exited the bathroom moments later and got dressed in the white outfit that he told her would be her new daily outfit. She looked at him as he finished getting and noticed how fancy he was dressing. She wanted to say something about it but her breath got caught in her throat.

He turned to look at her and frowned. "Mmm, I should have specified," he mumbled to himself. "I want you to wear the red one and this," he said, taking out the golden body chain he had bought.

She looked at the body chain, immediately noticing the scorpion charm on it. 'If only it were a snake,' she thought. She could not deny that it was a beautiful piece of jewelry, however. She took the chain from him and then quickly changed into the red outfit then put the body chain on over it.

Sasori hummed softly. "Perfect," he purred. "Let's go. Komushi and Gaara are probably waiting for us at the shop by now," he said, walking ahead of her out of the house. They moved swiftly through the streets. Sasori's jewelry made soft tinkling sounds as he walked.

They approached the shop where Gaara and Komushi were waiting outside. "It's about time you showed up," Komushi groaned. "We thought you went without us."

"No, you thought that," Gaara said.

"Let's just get a move on," Komushi rolled his eyes. He pushed off of the wall, stretching hard.

Sasori zeroed in on the churros tucked into Gaara's arm. "It looks like you two already went." He reached for one without bothering to ask if he could even have one.

"And you look like you two are going to a party," Komushi smirked, looking at their almost matching outfits as they started to walk. "Red looks lovely on you," he winked at Azumi.

She gave him a small smile and a slight bow. "Thank you," she said to him. The walk to the market was quick just as it had been the last two nights. They made their way into the building and down to the underground. This was the last night, with more things to do so there were more people than the two previous nights combined. The number of people made Azumi very uncomfortable.

Komushi seemed to come alive, however. "It's performance night!" he roared over the din of people. "Oh, shit," Komushi whipped around to look at Sasori. "Are you—"

Sasori cut him off with a smirk and his finger pressed to his lips. "Let's just enjoy tonight shall we?" Sasori said airily, taking another churro from Gaara.

"You know," Gaara huffed. "These aren't for you."

Sasori turned his gaze to his cousin. "You brought my favorite treat and expect me to let her have it?" Sasori scoffed. "You can buy her more if you really must."

Gaara sighed and then looked at Azumi. "The stand isn't that far from here," he told her. "Would you like to go get more?"

Azumi smiled at him and then looked out at the crowd, her smile fading just a little. "I would," she said softly. "But will we even get through that?" she asked with a nervous chuckle.

Gaara glanced over at the crowd. "Milady wants churros," he grinned, taking her hand. "Komushi!" he called.

Komushi whipped around, somehow able to hear Gaara over all the people. "Yes?"

"Crowd control," was all Gaara had to say to him. Komushi's face darkened in pure mischief and he took off into the crowd.

"Crowd control? Seriously?" Sasori sighed, rubbing his face. "This is so gross."

"Crowd...control?" Azumi asked softly. She was a little afraid to even ask what it was. Within a couple of seconds, the large crowd before them started to disperse in a slight panic. "What...just happened?"

"You don't want to know," both redheads said in unison.

Sasori held a hand out in front of Azumi. "Don't go yet," he said softly. Komushi stood in the middle of the cleared pathway, grinning proudly. They waited for a minute before Sasori allowed them to walk forward. Gaara chuckled, taking her up to the churro stand.

"Milady," Komushi bowed low to her as she passed.

Sasori snarled but forced himself to relax as he walked up to his friend. He flicked Komushi's nose hard. "Stand up, you fool," he said, passing him. "She's still a slave."

Komushi smirked as he stood up straight. "Couldn't tell," he said. "Since you two arrived like a matching married couple." He walked ahead and went to the churro stand to order some for himself.

Sasori glared at him. "It's no wonder you're single," he grumbled, kicking Komushi hard in the shin.

Komushi hissed, closing his eyes and biting his lip hard. "Worth it and uncalled for," he groaned, rubbing the sore spot.

Gaara ordered some for Azumi and the stall owner threw in the icing for free. "Wow..." she whispered.

Gaara smiled fondly at her. "What happened today?" he asked, linking his arm with hers. "Neither of you were at the shop today."

"We spent the day making salts and oils," she told him, eating her churros happily. "He made a few of them for me to have. He has been...oddly nice," she hummed. "It is a little unnerving because it was just an instant switch."

Gaara's face softened, sadly watching her. "I'm sorry he's put you on edge like this." He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "He's good at making people's heads spin."

"It was very confusing," she said. "He was hostile when we first got home..." She paused, remembering why. "Oh...he does not like us being close together," she said.

Gaara frowned. "You mean like right now?" He looks down at their linked arms. "I could feel the tension last night at the shop but..." he sighed, starting to disentangle them. "He didn't hurt you again, did he?"

"No...he did not hurt me," she said. "He just spoke to me...and then after that, he was nice. He made me try on the outfits he bought for me...then we—" She stopped herself, unsure if she wanted to admit to him that they danced together. "We...went to bed."

Gaara searched her eyes for a moment. "Okay," he said softly. "Should I keep my distance tonight then?" he asked her. Sasori did not seem to be too angry with either of them today but he had a feeling his cousin was planning something. He did not casually dress up and never with a slave. He looked ahead to find his cousin and Komushi when he noticed they had vanished. "Uh...he couldn't have been that angry. It looks like the abandoned us."

Azumi stopped and looked around as well, seeing no sign of either of them as well. "Huh..." she hummed. "He must have been dragged off by Lord Komushi to do something heinous," she said with a slight chuckle.

"I don't know if we should trust that," he laughed with her. "Not seeing them can be more dangerous than keeping them close by." They kept walking further into the throng of people. Gaara remembered suddenly that she did not like the crowd and started to pull her towards the less busy aisles. It was all books and stationery. Everyone around was much quieter as if they were afraid they would frighten the books. "Did Sasori say why he had you dress up?"

She shook her head. "He told me nothing. Last night he said the other outfit would be my daily outfit and when I got dressed in that, he told me to change into this. I learned to not question him."

"That's probably for the best," Gaara frowned. "Mm, but I'm still suspicious. He isn't acting like his usual self. Nothing about him has been normal since he bought you," Gaara said, stopping to pick up a thick tome and read the spine.

"So I am gathering," she hummed, running her finger along the spines of a couple of books. She noted the title of one and hummed. "The other servants in the house are surprised every morning that I am still alive."

"I...I don't know...It's putting me on edge," he admitted. "That's not to say I want you to get hurt but it has me feeling like this is building up to something more."

"Ugh, of course, you would drag her off to this dust pool of an aisle," Komushi's voice reached them before his arms did. He pushed his arms down Azumi's shoulders and pulled her close to his chest. "Sasori wants you," he said in her ear, grinning like a fox.

Azumi sighed a little, feeling Komushi on her...once again. "Where is he?" she asked him.

Komushi chuckled. "I'll take you to him," he smirked, taking her hand. "Brace yourself. You're going into the heart of the party," he warned her as he pulled her away from the calm little sanctuary Gaara had brought her to. As he pulled her, the music suddenly started to fill the air. Gaara followed after them as fast as he could through the mess of bodies.

Azumi stayed close to Komushi as he led her through the crowd. It was to a new area that had been closed off the last two nights. The area was almost like a theater, with a huge stage at the front. People were already gathering the seats. "Wow," she hummed, looking around.

"I love performance night," Komushi sighed contently. A band was setting up just in front of the stage while people flooded in around them, finding seats.

"But where is Sasori?" Gaara frowned.

"He's backstage," Komushi practically squealed, already walking toward the stage. "I never thought I'd see that day!" he said with a flair of drama and breathiness.

Gaara was taken aback. "He's never performed!" He shook his head. "Is he playing in the band or something?" Gaara did not want to think about exactly what his cousin was planning. He knew, though. It was all falling into place now.

"Oh, you'll see," Komushi smirked. "And it's going to be great!"

Azumi's brow furrowed. "I did not expect him to be in the performances," she hummed.

They went around the stage and to the back where Sasori was waiting for them. "Took you long enough," he said as they approached.

"You saw how crowded it was," Komushi rolled his eyes. "Calm yourself. We're here. When are you on?"

"In another two acts," Sasori smirked. He looked at Azumi and reached up to fix her hair. "Hope you're ready for this."

Her eyes widened. "Wait, what?" she breathed. It all started to make sense. He had an outfit made for her to perform.

Sasori smirked devilishly. He watched the information sink in and dawn in her face. "You're smart," he grinned. "I'm sure you can figure it out."

She frowned and then looked out at the stage. "I am not prepared for a performance," she said softly.

"You're dressed for one, aren't you?" Komushi smirked.

Sasori turned her face towards him in his usual manner and looked her hard in the eyes. "Your master knows best," he said with a smirk. "You can handle this."

Gaara bit his cheek, hearing Sasori call himself her master.

She frowned again and then closed her eyes, sighing heavily. "Alright," she said reluctantly. The first set of performers stepped off the stage.

"You two go find seats," Sasori told Gaara and Komushi. "There should be two reserved for you in the front."

Komushi nodded and gripped Gaara by the arm. Gaara looked at Azumi with worry. "Come on," Komushi smirked, pulling the younger man away. "She's not going off to war," he teased.

"Stay here," Sasori told Azumi once the other two were gone. He did not give her a chance to answer when he slipped off to speak with the conductor. There was no music needed for the second act so Sasori could take his time explaining everything he needed down to a T.

Azumi stood there, watching Sasori speak to the conductor. A very slight panic started to set in. 'A warning would have been nice,' she thought. 'I am in no way prepared for—' She cut her own thoughts off with a realization as she saw Sasori finish talking to the conductor. 'I cannot believe this.'

When Sasori finally sauntered back over to her his smirk was even wider. "Your face tells me you're putting the pieces together," he purred. "The music wasn't originally in the plan but I saw how badly you reacted to the crowd and did not want to take any risks." He rested a hand on his hip. "I like to be in control."

She frowned at him and sighed again. Of course, he liked to be in control. She looked back out onto the stage as the next performance ended. 'I suppose we should just get this over with,' she thought.

He pulled her close. So close that his lips nearly brushed hers when he spoke. "Just focus on me and the dance," he said softly, tucking a piece of her hair back. "Let it take you," he smirked.

The other performs left the stage and the band set up. The lights dipped and Sasori took her hand, guiding her onto the stage. She knew how big the crowd was and did not bother to look at them. It was not common for her to get stage fright, but because she had no idea she was going to perform, she only had it a little bit. She kept her eyes on Sasori as they stood in the middle of the stage. Like the night before when they danced in his room, he pulled her close. But this time the music was all around them rather than just in his head. He started to move his body slowly, never taking his eyes off of her as the music sunk into their bones.

She let him move her, following his lead just as easily as she did the night before. It took her a short moment to accept the situation, but once she did, she focused on his face and the music around them, getting lost in it just as he had said. It was much easier than she thought and the smallest smile appeared on her lips as they moved.

He smirked, feeling her finally start to relax. He spun her around and pressed their bodies together. This dance was almost even more intimate than the night before. He slid his hands down her arms, lacing their fingers together. "Show us what those snakes taught you," he whispered into her ear. The sound of the flute joined the instruments.

Immediately, her head started getting foggy and she moved with the music subconsciously. She lost control of her body as the flute got louder and completely took over the movement of her hips. It was much stronger than the night Sasori figured out she could be put into a trance and she could hardly get any clear thoughts through. There was not much she could do to fight it and before she could even try to, she had been put completely into a trance.

Sasori moved with her body, letting her lead. The crowd was completely hushed as they watched the pair move. Gaara curled his fingers into a tight fist, never taking his eyes off Azumi.

"Whoa," Komushi whispered, watching with wide eyes and an equally wide grin.

It was nearly three or four minutes of Azumi not having control of her own body and then the music slowed to a stop. As her head cleared, she heard the applause but did not know what it was for. She looked around at the crowd for a moment before taking a step back to stand next to Sasori.

Sasori could see her coming back to herself as they bowed. He led her off of the stage after a few more bows.

Gaara and Komushi were already waiting for them backstage. "That was amazing!" Komushi gushed. "You really move like a snake!" He pulled her into a hug. "Damn, Sasori, I didn't know you could move like that either!"

"Thank you," Azumi said softly before pulling away from Komushi. She rubbed her temple gently, feeling a small headache forming. It had been a long time since she had been put into a trance that strong.

"There's a lot that you don't know," Sasori smirked at his friend.

"Mm, you're right and I don't like it one bit," Komushi smirked. "Just means we need to hang out more." He followed Sasori off backstage after Azumi.

Gaara was waiting for her when she emerged. He was more than a little shocked that she and Sasori could be so intimate and move so fluidly together. "That...was amazing," he said with a slight rush to his voice.

"Was it?" she asked, feeling her headache subside a little bit. "Thank you." She bowed slightly. "I am not used to...not being prepared for a performance."

"You didn't look out of place or practice at all," he said with a smile. But it faded quickly. His brows furrowed. "Are you alright?" he asked softly. His hand reached out to gently take her arm but Sasori's knocked it away with a snap.

"Let's get you some tea," Sasori said, pulling her away from Gaara. "I'm sure you're dehydrated."

She let Sasori pull her along and frowned, looking around as the next performance went on stage. "You do not strike me as a performer," she told him softly. "I did not expect you to also be up there."

He did not answer her at first. He pulled her to a stall serving tea and ordered one for each of them. He handed her the beverage and took a sip of his own. "I'm not," he finally said. His voice was a little hoarse from the heat of the tea. "But we moved so well together last night. I thought it would be an interesting experience."

She nodded and took a small sip of her tea. "Well, it does go without saying that you are an excellent dancer," she told him. "It is not very often I get to dance with someone who is as skilled as you. And for you to not really perform, it was an honor to do that with you." She gave him a slight bow. "Thank you," she said softly.

He sipped his tea again. "As I said last night," he looked at her over his cup, "it's been a while since I've had a good dance partner." He finished off his cup of tea and returned the cup. "I don't like wasting someone's potential and you have a lot of it."

She hummed and the finished off her tea as well. "I understand," she nodded. She took a moment to look around as her headache went away completely. Most of the crowd was in the theater area watching the rest of the performances.

Komushi and Gaara walked up to them. "You rushed off for tea?" Komushi smirked.

Sasori rolled his eyes. "Her head hurt," he said plainly. "She needed hydration after all that work."

"I am fine now," she told them.

"Want to watch the other performances?" Komushi asked them. "They're not as great, though," he laughed.

"No," Sasori yawned. "I want to go to bed," Komushi's jaw dropped.

"You're so old," he pouted. He hooked his arms around Sasori's throat and hung onto him like he wanted a piggyback ride. "Fine, let's finish shopping then go home," he sighed. Gaara shook his head, watching Sasori elbow Komushi hard in the ribs as he started to trudge along with the man on his back.

Azumi watched them as they started walking and stood next to Gaara as they followed. "It has been a while since I have performed," she said quietly. "That was quite an experience."

"I didn't think my cousin was capable of getting on stage," Gaara said softly. His hand discreetly slipped down to catch hers and lace their fingers together. "You were incredible," he said. "Did it feel good to dance again?"

"It...did," she said. What she could remember of it felt nice. She was not sure if she wanted to admit that most of the performance was basically blocked from her mind since she had been put into a trance for it. "But I would have preferred to have been prepared for it."

"It's surprising Sasori didn't tell you about this at all," Gaara frowned. "But I'm glad you enjoyed it despite his sudden planning. It's just a testament to how amazing you are."

Gaara thought for a moment. "Maybe he wouldn't tell you something like this," he frowned. "He does just expect you to go along with his whims. I begrudgingly admit, though, he's always had a strong sense of someone's potential." Gaara rolled his eyes and smiled. "Don't tell him I said that."

"Tell him you said what?" she smirked at him. Gaara smiled at her as the caught up to Komushi and Sasori. She looked ahead at Sasori and Komushi as they walked through the aisles and bought the last of what they needed and other random things that they did not need.

"Get! OFF ME!" Sasori huffed, finally throwing Komushi off of his back.

Komushi stumbled back, nearly tumbling into Gaara and Azumi as he did. "Hey!" he pouted, twisting to avoid doing just that. "You almost made me hit the little snake and Gaara." Komushi shifted the bag in his hand.

Sasori looked at them and then at Komushi with a dead expression. "Almost. Which means everyone is fine and you should quit whining." He kept his voice monotone but they could all see the little smirk pulling at his lips. "Now, let's go because I'm tired and want a bath."

"Ugh, fine," Komushi groaned like a whiny child. They went around to a couple more stalls and then made their way out of the night market, beating the crowds that would form at the exit once it was truly over. "That was fun, though!" Komushi grinned as they made their way out into the night. "I can't wait for the next one!"

"I think I'd deem this a successful trip," Sasori agreed, breathing in the open night air.

Komushi turned back to grin at Azumi. "And how did you like your first night market experience?" he grinned, his eyes twinkling. "Did you have fun experiencing the wild and weird underbelly of shopping?"

She smiled at him and nodded. "I did. It was an amazing experience. I can definitely see why you get excited about it," she chuckled.

Komushi and Gaara beamed. Sasori said nothing as he walked ahead of them.

"And now we know you can dance!" Komushi nearly vibrated. "You have six months to get ready for next time," he grinned.

"Who said there would be a next time?" Sasori snapped over his shoulder.

"Why wouldn't there be?" Komushi whined.

"It was a one-time thing," Sasori told him.

Komushi pouted hard. "But you had an outfit made and you saw how captivated the crowd was!" he huffed. Sasori shooked his head, continuing to walk. "I swear! No one plays my heart harder than you, Sasori."

"Too bad he doesn't have one to play back," Gaara said lowly to Azumi. "Did you want to perform again?" he asked her.

"With preparation, I would not mind doing it again," she answered. "I will admit, it was quite fun."

"You hear that, Sasori!" Komushi said, walking backward next to Sasori. "She had fun!"

"Yes, but her opinion does not matter to me," Sasori said easily. "Of course she had fun. She knows how to dance. It does not mean I want to do it again."

Azumi frowned slightly, but she was not surprised at his response. She knew he was not much of a performer even though he would be an amazing one.

"Come on!" Komushi grinned. "Admit that you had fun! Because you sure looked like you did."

"I never said I didn't enjoy myself," Sasori said stiffly. He looks back at Azumi. "She is an amazing dance partner,"

"Dance with me!" Komushi grinned at Azumi.

Azumi paused for a moment and looked at him. "Um—"

"Don't subject her to having to teach you how to dance," Gaara said.

"You have two left feet," Sasori chuckled.

"And I'm pretty sure they were put on backward," Gaara smirked.

Komushi gasped. "I'm under attack!" he pouted. "Azumi, you wouldn't mind dancing with me, would you?" He turned to her with the largest eyes.

Azumi looked at him and smiled softly. She put her hand out for him to take. He took it and she spun herself into his other arm. She did not expect him to dip her but he did. "Hm," she hummed. "I could work with it.

Komushi grinned, pulling her back up and flush to his body. "See," he grinned, "we could dance!"

Sasori shook his head. "Let her go before you step on her feet and injure what's mine," he said as he pulled her away from Komushi.

Komushi sighed. "I have six months," he grinned. "I think I can wear you down."

"Good luck," Gaara smirked.

"You'll die of old age before you can convince me," Sasori said.

They made it to the shop and went inside to drop off everything that they bought. Azumi briefly tended to the snakes to make sure they were alright.

"Are they still shedding?" Gaara asked curiously, walking up next to her.

Komushi peeked over his shoulder. "Yes, how are Komushi one through six?" he grinned.

"Absolutely not!" Sasori said from the second level of the shop. "If we are naming them it will not be that!"

Azumi stifled a laugh as she sprayed the one snake that was still shedding. "Yes," she chuckled. "This one is still shedding. But it will be over soon. In another day or two." She looked at Komushi and smirked. "And there is no need to name them because they already have names."

All three men looked at her. "They do?" they asked.

"What are they?" Komushi grinned.

"All snakes, like humans, are named when they are born. I did not name them," she said to them. She reached into the first tank and took out the desert horned viper that arrived first. "This one is Ryuuga," she said. "He is actually quite aggressive when handled incorrectly." She placed the snake back in the tank and picked up the next snake. "This is a sidewinder and his name is Tatsuo. He does not really like to be touched." She placed the snake back down and picked up the third snake. "This is an inland taipan and his name is Kurou. He's the youngest one here." She moved over to the second tank and picked up the snake that was shedding. "This is Takumi and he is a night snake. He is only slightly older than Kurou." She placed Takumi back in the tank and picked up the next snake. "This is a regular rattlesnake and his name is Tatsuya. He actually makes sure that the way he moves in the sand leaves nice patterns."

"Oh, he's an artist," Komushi smirked.

"Something of the sort," Azumi chuckled, putting the rattlesnake back. "This last one is the oldest one here. His name is Seiji. He is the most docile one of the six."

"I'm not going to remember any of this," Komushi chuckled.

"I did not think you would," she smirked.

Sasori was writing down all of the information she just relayed above them.

"What an interesting thing to know," Gaara said softly. "You have your own culture and names," he smiled at the snakes. He was going to do his best to remember each other their names and be nicer to them.

"Do they all get along then?" Komushi asked her then looked back at the snakes.

"They do get along," Azumi hummed. "But the two youngest ones might rile up the others and there may be a fight every now and then. I can do my best to keep them in check when that happens."

"See to it that you do," Sasori nodded. "Will they respond if we use their names?" he asked.

"They do respond to their names," she nodded.

Sasori rounded the upper floor and descended the stairs. He pointed to each snake and rattled off their names quietly to himself. "I see," he hummed.

Komushi yawned loudly, leaning against one of the counters. "The sun is going to start rising soon which means it's time for bed," he said.

"You sound like a vampire," Gaara smirked.

"He is," Komushi said matter of factly, pointing at Sasori. "Have you seen the way he jumps from shady spot to shady spot when he leaves the house?" he laughed.

"You're right," Gaara smirked. "And there was a little bit of time when his room was dark all day and night."

"Do you remember the slave he forced to carry a shader everywhere?" Komushi cackled.

"When did this become about me?" Sasori asked, slightly irritated. "You're the one who said it's time for bed." Azumi put away the last of the items they brought and joined them at the door.

Komushi shrugged and yawned again. "I'll see you later," he grinned, opening his arms to hug Azumi. "Remember. You, me, dancing partners." He winked at her before turning on the ball of his foot to leave.

Sasori rolled his eyes and waited for Gaara and Azumi to step out of the shop before locking it up. "Be here before me tomorrow," he told Gaara. "I might be a little busy in the morning."

"Alright," Gaara nodded. "I'll run a new inventory with everything we just got."

Azumi smiled at him and gave him a slight bow. "Goodnight," she said.

Gaara bowed his head and smiled. "Goodnight." He turned on his foot before Sasori could say anything about his behavior towards her.

Sasori grumbled under his breath about how she was still a slave. "Let's go. I'm dead on my feet," he said, starting towards the house. Without a word, Azumi followed him.

Chapter Text

The walk back home was thankfully not as tense as the night before but it was just as silent. They walked through the halls of the house quietly, heading straight for Sasori's room. Without a word, Azumi went into the bathroom and started his bath, going about the same salt and oil routine.

Sasori followed her into the bathroom and noticed her newly made oils and salts were on one of his shelves. Without a word, he cleared the contents of another shelf away and moved hers down to the new space. "That shelf is yours now," he said flatly. He started to shed his clothes in his usual fashion but took the time to neatly fold up his garments. He walked back out to his room and took his time taking off his jewelry. "Do you remember the performance at all?" he asked her when he walked back in.

She stood quiet for a moment, remembering her time on the stage with him. "I remember...the beginning," she said. "Everything up until you turned me around...and told me to show what the snakes have taught me. After that is it all...grey and obscure."

"Interesting," he drawled. He slipped into the tub. "You moved beautifully," he told her. "It was fascinating to see how the music moved through you. You were so malleable," he grinned.

Azumi frowned slightly, not liking the idea of being controlled so easily. Especially by someone who would clearly abuse it. However, it was something she could not help. "I cannot say whether or not I moved much differently than normal because I do not remember it," she hummed. "But thank you," she said toward the compliment.

Sasori grew silent. He leaned back in the water and moving his fingers over the surface of the water before speaking again. "I want you to remember," he said. "This trance you go into is very interesting but I think I prefer knowing you are completely conscious of what your body is doing when we move together. In dance or otherwise." He leveled her with a stare. "I need to know it's you making the choices, not the trance," he smirked devilishly. "That being said, I think I can put it to good use."

She stared at him for a moment before nodding. She was a bit scared to find out exactly what he would use it for and she did not want to risk asking him. "Do dancing as well?" she asked him. "I know you are good at it, but do you enjoy it."

He thought for a moment before answering her. "Yes," he finally said. "We talked about how it's like a release the other night." He rested his chin on his thumb and forefinger, gently rubbing his lower lip as he thought about his next words. "I love my work but even I need time to disconnect and just feel my body be alive."

She hummed as she considered his answer. "That is good to hear," she said with a small smile. She backed out of the room for a brief moment to grab his robe and place it on the hook in the bathroom for when he was ready to get out.

Sasori watched her hang it up and sighed heavily. "How much longer are you going to stand around?" he asked. "You're just as sweaty as I am, so hurry up and take your bath. I want to know how those salts and oils we made turned out in practice," he said with a wave of his hand. "You'll return to your room afterward," he said.

She sighed quietly, realizing that despite the nice moments they had, he was still himself and she would have to get used to that. She did not say anything as she set up her own bath, using the macadamia and rice milk scent that he made. Once it was ready, she carefully took off her outfit and folded it up before stepping into the bath, hiding the relaxed groan that wanted to escape when she felt the water.

He leaned over the edge of his tub, resting his chin on the backs of his hands. He took a deep breath and sighed. "That turned out even better than I originally thought," he said, smirking as he watched her try to hide her groan. He reached down and dipped his fingers into the water. "This will make your skin very soft," he said rubbing his fingers together as the liquid ran down his hand. "I might stock some of this at the shop."

She hummed and nodded as she inhaled silently. "It is nicely concentrated. It might be better than what I remember. Selling it in the shop would be a great idea."

"I'm glad you think so," he smirked. He rolled back into his tub and sighed. "We can make some tomorrow and bring it with us to the shop to give it a test run."

"Sounds good," she said softly, leaning against the wall of her tub and relaxing further into the water. She looked around the bathroom for a moment, letting her thoughts run rapidly through her mind. She did not realize how much time had passed until the actual fatigue of their night out started to hit her, bringing her back from her thoughts. She started to wash herself up, remembering he told her she would be sleeping in her own room.

He was getting out of the tub when she finally returned to herself. He dried himself off and made sure to leave a towel for her. The sun was starting to turn the horizon shades of pink and blue. "Mmm, it's been a while since I've seen the sunrise," he murmured.

She looked up at him and then out at the sunrise. She could not say the same. She spent a couple of months watching the sun rise and set when being transported from her village and sold into slavery. It lost its wonder after a week for her. She rubbed her face and finished washing up. Stepping out of the tub, she grabbed the towel he left out for her and dried off. "Will you still be going to sleep?" she asked him softly.

"Maybe," he said softly. "Seems a little pointless now." He pulled on his robe and breezed into his room. "But you should sleep regardless of me. I don't need you too drowsy when I need you most," he said flatly.

She nodded as she followed him into his room and picked up the clothes that he told her she would be sleeping in. She was not sure if she would want to actually sleep for fear that she would not wake up when he did need her, but she also was not going to pass up a chance to take a nap. "When would you like me to come back?" she asked as she got dressed.

He walked over to his desk and picked up a stack of papers. "I will either retrieve you or send someone for you," he said without looking at her. "Now go before I change my mind and make you start a new project with me," he said, walking into his workshop.

She rolled her eyes and huffed quietly as she turned to leave, heading back to her room. She passed a couple of servants on the way and gave them nods, ignoring the same looks they had been giving her since she arrived. In her room, Naga was coiled on her bed. He lifted his head when she entered the room and hissed softly at her. "Hello," she smiled at him, crossing the room to lay on the bed next to his coil. "It has been a while." He hissed quietly, leaning in to tap her nose with his. "I am still alive, yes," she chuckled. "I am sorry I left you in here." She got up and opened the window. "If you need to go eat, you can." He hissed at her to let her know he would be back soon and slithered out of the window. Azumi laid back on her bed and sighed, letting the fatigue take over and drifted off to sleep.

"She and the young lord just got in not too long ago," a servant's voice spoke outside her door.

Sandaime paused outside the red door. "Do you know how long she's been asleep?" he asked softly.

"She only went in there a couple of minutes ago," the servant answered. "She may still be awake."

Azumi groaned, hearing the sound of voices speaking. She could not hear what they were saying but she knew they were there. She lifted her head and looked at the window, wondering how much time had passed. Naga was not back yet, so it could not have been that long. She sat up and sighed.

Sandaime hummed, hesitating to knock now. He sighed and knocked anyway. "Miss Azumi," he said through the door. "I'm sorry to disturb you, but may I—"

"What are you doing disturbing my property?" Sasori growled from up the hall.

Sandaime turned to look at his nephew in the eye. "I need to discuss something with her that is none of your concern."

Azumi looked at the door and furrowed her brow, still unable to make out what was being said. However, she got up when she heard the knock and crossed the room to open the door. "Oh," she said, "Lord Sandaime," she bowed. "Hello." She looked at where he was facing and saw Sasori up the hall.

Rage blazed in Sasori's eyes. He ground his teeth, closing the distance between them. "I don't understand why you think you can just do whatever you want, Uncle," he glared up at the taller man. "She needs sleep and you need to leave."

"Good morning," Sandaime said to Azumi, ignoring his yammering nephew. He ushered Azumi back into her room and pulled her door shut. Sasori's jaw dropped.

Azumi looked at the door and then at Sandaime. "Um, may I ask what is going on?" she asked.

Sandaime leaned against the door with his full body weight as Sasori kicked it hard. He smiled serenely at her. "I simply wanted to check in on you and discuss some things."

She tilted her head a little, unable to not smile back when she saw his smile. "What things?" she asked. She found it very easy to ignore Sasori on the other side of the door with his uncle in between them.

"Well for one, how are you?" he chuckled. "If you are getting in this late I'm going to hazard a guess that you were at the night market?" he asked her with a mischievous glint in his eyes. "I liked going when I was a younger man."

"I am doing well, thank you," she smiled. "And yes, we did go to the night market. It was my first time. A great experience. I even performed last night."

"Performed?" Sandaime repeated the word with a raised eyebrow. There was a question of the implication behind his tone. "How so?" he asked ready to beat the civility back into his nephew.

"Lord Sasori gave me an opportunity to dance," she said. "Of course, it was a little unexpected but I have learned to just go with what he says and does."

"You danced," he nodded. "With clothes on, I hope?" He gave her a worried look.

Her eyes widened a little and she gasped quietly. "Absolutely," she said. "Lord Sasori actually had an outfit made for me to perform in."

Sandaime finally relaxed upon hearing the information. "Then I am glad you got to enjoy your first experience at the night market," he smiled at her. "He's never done that before. That's almost kind of him," he chuckled. "I'm sure you look beautiful in it. My nephew may be morally unsound but he has very good taste in appearances."

She smiled and nodded. "He has been much kinder than I would have expected from someone like him," she said. "Even Lord Gaara has noticed and thinks it is odd." There was one more kick to the door from Sasori, which they promptly ignored. "Though, that can easily end once you leave," she chuckled.

Sandaime sighed and shook his head. "An unfortunate truth." He looked her over with kind eyes. "He is showing you kindness? I'm glad to hear that after what he did to your body." He frowned again. "I just wanted to tell you first that I will be working hard on behalf of you and all the others enslaved in this city to free you," he said softly.

She gasped loudly this time, her jaw dropping. "" she whispered. "Really?" The thought of being to return home made her grin. "Wow..." Her eyes settled on his face and then she bowed. "Thank you so much, Lord Sandaime," she said softly.

He smiled kindly at her and returned her bow. "When you are free, I hope to meet you again as Lady Azumi," he smiled. "Until then, I will work hard on your behalf. And know that hope isn't lost." His smile widened. "I hope to see you dance one of these days, too," he chuckled.

She could not help the giggle that came out of her. "I hope so, too," she grinned. There was another kick at the door. "Oh," she hummed, reminded about Sasori's existence. She had a feeling he would do something to her once his uncle left. Naga came slithering back through the window, hissing softly and coiling up on the bed.

"Hello there," he smiled at Naga. Naga lifted his head to hiss softly. Sandaime chuckled then looked back at Azumi "You wait here," he smiled at her. "I'll deal with him," he stepped away from the door and opened it to quickly catch Sasori's foot in his hands. "Nearly thirty years old and you still act like a petulant child." Sasori's eyes were a brighter rage than before. His cheeks were flushed as he thrashed to no avail in Sandaime's grip. He was beyond words at this point. "I guess that means the only way to deal with you, is like a petulant child." His eyes sharpened and Sasori's widened in fear. Without another word, Sandaime pushed back on Sasori's leg, forcing him to hop backward and let the door gently close behind him.

Azumi's jaw dropped slightly as she stared at the door for a long moment. "Naga!" she whispered excitedly, looking at the snake. "He is going to try and free us!" She looked back at the door and pressed her ear to it to listen to what Sandaime was telling Sasori. She could only make out the deep hum of his voice and not his words.

"What were you discussing with her?" Sasori practically spat.

"As I said before, it doesn't concern you," Sandaime said easily.

Sasori growled. "She is mine," he snapped. "She has no business! All she needs to worry about is serving me and my needs!" Sandaime shook his head and sighed heavily. Sasori jerked his body to try and free his leg once more. His uncle stared at him and let his leg go, causing him to stumble back into the wall then hit the ground hard. "Aargh! Old man, you're really pushing it!"

"And what exactly are you going to do to me?" the older man chuckled. "Poison me?" he said the words lowly. "That knowledge runs in this family. Know your place, Nephew." He leveled Sasori with an unwavering glare. Sasori was not given a chance to respond before Sandaime turned and left. "I will be back in a couple of days," he said as he made his way up the hall. "She better be alive."

Behind the door, Azumi backed away. She heard Sandaime walk off and she sat down on the bed, petting Naga's head.

Sasori tore into her room and pinned her up against the wall. He ground his teeth, gripping her jaw tight enough to leave bruises. "What did he say!" His voice was raspier than usual with how hard he was growling. He slammed her head back hard into the wall. "Tell me!"

Her gasp got caught in her throat and she choked on the air, letting out a grunt as he gripped her jaw and already feeling a headache forming from her head being slammed against the wall. Naga got into a defensive posture and hissed angrily at him. "He was only," she strained, "checking to see if I was still alive." She grunted again. "He said he was worried that you would have killed me by now...just as everyone else thought."

"You're lying." He glared at Naga. "Tell him to stand down or I will make him into a new belt," Sasori snarled.

Azumi's eyes widened and she gently put her hand on Naga's head, gliding her finger down to his snout to relax him. "I am not lying," she told him softly. "Lord Sandaime may care about my well-being, but I am currently loyal to you."

Sasori stared at her for a few more moments before releasing her roughly and turning away. "Fine," he hissed. "Get dressed," he snapped. "Fetch breakfast and meet me in the workshop."

She rubbed her jaw and nodded then stood up. She pet Naga one last time before heading straight to the kitchen. There was no way she was going to let him know of his uncle's plans. She went into the kitchen and thankfully, no one was there. She took a moment to inhale deeply, trying to calm herself down. Once she fought off the tears, she grabbed two bowls and served them, grabbing the spoons and heading back to Sasori's room. She saw her daily clothes on the daybed and set the bowls on the desk. Quickly, she changed into the new clothes and picked up the bowls, stepping into the workshop and placing his bowl in front of him without a word.

He picked up the bowl without saying anything to her. He was, once again, bent over a specimen. "You were paying attention when we made those oils and salts, yes?" He started to eat his breakfast.

She set her bowl down on a different counter. She did not even want it. He ruined her appetite. "Yes," she said without looking at him.

"Then get to it," he bit out. He glanced at the food she put down. "And make sure you finish that. If you pass out, waking up will be a lot more painful for you."

She rolled her eyes as she started grabbing the bowls and ingredients that he used for the first scent they made. She spent the next hour making the salt and oil in the macadamia nut and rice milk scent. They did not say a word to each other. Not that she wanted to talk to him anyway. Once the batch was done, she bottled it up. She was able to make ten bottles for its trial period in the shop.

When Sasori noticed she was done, he looked up from his work and picked up a bottle. He smelled it and then rubbed some of it between his fingers. Satisfied with the quality, he nodded to the wooden boxes they used to transport things. "Put them in there and then come here," he said. His voice was softer now but still strained.

Still saying nothing to him, she moved to grab the box and started placing the bottles neatly inside. She set the box down once she was done and then joined him on his side of the workshop.

"Come," he instructed over his shoulder. He was grinding a fine powder with his mortar and pestle. She moved closer to see what he was doing but kept her distance so he would have room to move around. He poured a little oil into the mixture then set the bowl down. He pulled a brush from a cup in front of him then snatched her hand. Dipping the brush into the mixture, he dragged it across the back of her hand. "Mmm," he frowned. He looked up at her face and gripped her jaw just as he had earlier but much softer now. Her breath hitched as she felt his fingers on her jaw again. He gently stroked the bluish bruising that had already started to form with his thumb, pressing just hard enough into it for it to hurt as he looked into her eyes.

She furrowed her brows and winced a little as he touched the bruising. "What is that?" she asked softly, flexing her hand very slightly.

He looked at her a moment longer in silence. "You bruised easier than I expected," he whispered. He tilted her jaw up and started to paint the mixture on her face lightly with the brush. "It's unfortunate." He was almost pouting as he grabbed a soft cloth and dabbed the mixture until it settled into her skin and covered the bruising.

She frowned, feeling the mixture settle. "I do not usually bruise easily," she said. "However, your grip is very strong."

"So it would seem," he said, repeating his actions on the other side of her jaw until all the bruising was covered. She let him work on her face, looking away from him the whole time. She knew he was aware of his grip. Once he let her go, she took a step back, feeling the residue of the mixture on her face set in. "Go look at yourself," he ordered. "There's a mirror in the bathroom."

She did not spare him a nod before she turned and went to the bathroom. She found the mirror he mentioned and walked up to it. It was a full body mirror facing one of the corners designated for changing, which Sasori never used. She gasped softly, looking at herself. It was the first time in a long time that she saw herself. She frowned, immediately focusing on the burn on her chest. Her eyes moved down to her thigh where he burned a scorpion onto her. She stood there for a moment before her gaze moved to her face. She did not see any bruises. "Well it works," she mumbled to herself. She scoffed and then went back into the workshop.

"Does it feel heavy on your face?" he asked her. "I know Mei doesn't like her make up to feel heavy but I had to mix in some extra colors for you to counter the discoloration." He was scraping the rest of what was in the bowl into a small container.

"No, it is very light," she answered, making her way to the opposite side of the workshop where she made the salt and oil earlier. "I do not feel it at all." She started to clean up everything she used.

"Good," he said. He stood up and walked over to her. He backed her up against the table and leaned in close to her. His hands pressed into the table, caging her in. "And if I find out you're lying to me about my uncle," his voice was a low whisper, "I'll do so much worse to you than this." He ran his finger down the burn on her chest. "Understood?" he asked her with a slight smirk. He held her gaze, using his nail to drag over the scar tissue.

She breathed heavily through her nose and then nodded. "Yes," she said quietly, wincing a little as he touched the burn.

"Yes who?" he smirked, digging into the burn a little.

She frowned, looking down and then looking back up at him. "Yes, Lord Sasori," she said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes so hard.

"Good girl," he said, finally pulling away from her. He walked out to his room to get dressed.

It was not until he was gone that she started to let her heavy breathing out. She stood there for a moment, pressing her hand to her chest and controlling her breaths. 'It looks like he is back to being himself,' she thought. Once she calmed herself down, she picked up the box with the trial salt and oils and went out to his bedroom. As soon as she joined him in the bedroom, he started for the door. They left together for the shop as it had become routine.

Chapter Text

Sasori pushed the door of the shop open and then stopped dead in his tracks. He heard Gaara talking to someone. His fists curled up tightly and he fought to keep his composure. His uncle was here.

Azumi watched him stop and then caught the voices as they spoke. She hid a smirk as she walked past Sasori to set the box down on a counter and tended to the snakes.

"Good morning, Azumi," Gaara lit up when she walked into the workshop. Sandaime nodded politely as he set an empty cup that had contained tea Gaara had made for him down on the table.

"Good morning," she grinned at them. Both of them were such mood changers for her. The snakes hissed excitedly at her and she tapped each of their noses to calm them down.

"Did you get a good night's sleep?" Gaara asked brightly. He walked over to join her beside the snakes. Sasori busied himself with setting up the new display on the floor of the shop to avoid his uncle.

She chuckled softly. "I actually did not get to sleep until the sun rose," she said. "And it was pretty good for how short it was. How about you?" She turned to look at him, still smiling. "Did you sleep well?"

"Who says I slept?" he chuckled.

"I am truly sorry that I interrupted your sleep," Sandaime said to her with a slight frown. "I don't take it he let you go back to sleep since you are here now."

"Do not worry about it," she smiled softly at him. "I have had many sleepless nights in my life, this is no different. I will be fine." She looked at Gaara. "But you are a doctor, you should have slept. You need to sleep."

"Don't you know a doctor's work never stops?" he chuckled. "I had an urgent call as soon as I got home and before I knew it I had to come here to open the shop."

Sandaime shook his head and sighed heavily. "When you get to my age, you will not be able to do that anymore," he chuckled.

"It is not something we do on purpose," she said to Sandaime with a chuckle. She gently put her hand over Gaara's and turned to him. "But promise me you will try to get more sleep," she said softly.

His face softened, looking down at their hands. He smiled, looking up at her. "I promise," he whispered.

She smiled back at him. "Thank you," she whispered. She heard Sasori walk by the workshop door and immediately retracted her hand, not wanting to get caught. Sandaime caught the quick action and shifted to stand between them and the doorway.

"Azumi," Gaara looked at her face closely. "I didn't know you wear makeup. I didn't think Sasori would let you."

She stood quiet for a moment, looking him in the eyes. If she mentioned the bruises, it could potentially make it worse for her. "He...made it this morning..." she said softly. "I suppose he is still on a kindness streak."

Gaara frowned and took her hand again. He looked at her hard and shook his head slightly. "Did...did do something to you?" he asked. "My cousin isn't this nice for this long."

She looked down at their hands, not saying anything. It took her a long moment to nod. "It cover the bruising," she whispered.

Gaara's eyes narrowed. He gripped her hand tighter and then pulled away. He walked up to his uncle, grinding his teeth. Sandaime did not move from in front of the door. He simply shook his head.

"I knew he couldn't keep up his behavior!" Gaara hissed.

"I know, but stooping to his level will accomplish nothing," Sandaime said softly.

Azumi grabbed his hand again and squeezed gently. "If you confront him about it, it will only make it worse," she whispered to him. "I understand you are angry, but please...listen to your uncle."

Gaara seethed for a moment before regaining his composure. He squeezed her hand back gently and glared up at Sandaime. "You better work fast, Uncle, before I wind up in prison," he hissed.

Sandaime nodded. "I am doing my best, Gaara," he said softly.

Azumi put both her hands over his. "I promise, I will be fine," she said, bringing his hand up to press a kiss to his knuckles.

Gaara's entire body relaxed and his face grew heavy. "This shouldn't be your life," he whispered.

"Move," Sasori's voice interrupted their moment from behind Sandaime. "I need to get in here since I seem to be the only one working in this shop today," he said, irritation evident in his tone.

Sandaime gave them a second to separate before moving out of the way. Azumi moved to the counter she set the box down on and started taking out a couple of bottles to put them out on the shop floor.

"It's nice to see you again, too, nephew," Sandaime said to Sasori.

Sasori ignored him. Instead, he walked up to Azumi and tilted his head. "You've been in here for almost twenty minutes and you're just now doing this?" He glared at her. "The snake should not take that long to care for," he snapped, sending a glance towards Gaara.

"It's my fault," Sandaime said. "I kept her in here for conversation."

Azumi frowned, looking at Sandaime who nodded at her. She nodded back and took the bottles out to the front.

Sasori turned to glare at his uncle. "You aren't their parent," he growled. "You can protect Gaara all you want, but her life is mine," Sasori kept his distance from his uncle. "So go on, test me!"

Sandaime looked at him sharply but Sasori's glare remained. Gaara took a step back at the tension between them. "What good would it do me?" Sandaime sighed.

"Exactly," Sasori huffed. "Now don't you have someone else's day to ruin?"

Sandaime rolled his eyes. "I hardly think the two visits I've paid you today remotely ruined it."

"I've been in a bad mood since your first visit," Sasori grumbled. "I would count that as ruined."

"Sasori, why don't you go home and sleep?" Gaara spoke up. "You're acting on impulses right now and lashing out for no reason."

"I think you of all people should know I can run on less sleep than I am right now and that was a poor attempt to get rid of me."

Sandaime sighed again. "Then I shall leave," he said. He looked at Gaara and gave him a nod. "I'll see you again soon."

Azumi fixed the display up and watched as Sandaime came out of the workshop. "Are you leaving?" she asked him softly.

"For now," he nodded. "It would seem I've made the little lord a little more than cranky," he said with a smile. "But I might be back again today. I think his mother wants to come into town."

Sasori froze in the workshop. His mother was going to visit?

"Oh..." Azumi hummed. "I see. Well, as always it was nice to see you," she smiled with a bow.

Sandaime nodded to her and gave her a proper bow. As he came up he winked at her before stepping out of the shop. She could not help but grin as she watched him leave.

"What does he mean my mother is coming into town...why?" Sasori's brows furrowed. He looked at Gaara in confusion. "Did he say anything about this to you?"

"No, but why is this stressing you out so bad?" Gaara smirked. "What? Can't have her know her son is a monster?"

Azumi went back into the workshop and grabbed a couple of more bottles for the display. She noted the look on Sasori's face and hid another smirk. 'Is he afraid of his mother too?' she thought. She went back out to finish the display.

Sasori glared at Gaara. "No," he snapped. "She's going to hound me about getting married and starting a family."

"Hound, huh?" Gaara smirked. "Your mother should be praying nothing ever crawls between your legs."

Sasori blinked wide at his cousin. "What's made you so bold, Cousin?"

"Maybe it's the lack of adequate sleep," Gaara shrugged.

Azumi returned back to the workshop. "The display is finished," she told Sasori.

"Then maybe you should go home for the day," Sasori grumbled, pushing past Azumi to look at the display.

"Maybe we all should," Gaara shook his head. "We all need to sleep." He rubbed his face. He looked at Azumi and sighed. "Did you eat yet?" he asked her.

Azumi frowned, remembering she refused to eat earlier when Sasori told her to. She shook her head. "No..." she said softly. "But it is not because he did not let me. I just refused to."

Gaara's face softened. "I'll go get you something," he said, taking her hand and pressing a kiss to her knuckles.

"Thank you," she said quietly, smiling a little at him. She watched as he slipped out of the back door of the workshop and then moved to start organizing one of the shelves under the counter for some of the ingredients they bought at the night market.

Sasori walked back into the workshop to grab a few more things. He said nothing about Gaara not being there. Gaara returned fifteen minutes later with two covered plates.

"I hope you like rice and chicken," he said softly, walking up to the second level.

"I do," she smiled at him. She walked up to him and took one of the plates. "Thank you."

"Eat and I'll keep him distracted," he smiled. He climbed back downstairs and walked out to the shop floor to keep his cousin occupied.

She uncovered the plate and inhaled deeply, feeling her stomach rumble as soon as she smelled the food. She did not want to admit how hungry she was but there was no denying that she had been very hungry. She started eating quickly, not wanting to take too much time and cause Sasori to be suspicious. She took a couple of minutes to finish her food and then cleaned up a little bit before heading back down to the first level.

"Gaara, you're starting to irritate me!" Sasori said, storming back into the workshop at the same moment. He almost slammed into Azumi. "Go fix the display," he ordered her.

"What is wrong with it?" she asked him. "So I know what to avoid doing."

"Literally nothing," he told her. "Just put it back the way you had it," he told her.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and let it out slowly, not wanting to let her growing irritation with him get the best of her. "Fine," she said, walking out to the shop. 'Unreal,' she thought when she saw the display completely messed up because of him.

"Sasori, maybe you really should close the shop for the day," Gaara pleaded with his cousin. "You're being a little erratic and I can handle the shop. Just go get some sleep."

"I swear, Gaara!" Sasori growled. He stopped, smelling the food. " get food?"

Gaara nodded. "I did. It's upstairs if you want some." He started moving up to the second level and Sasori followed quickly behind, wanting the food and fixing himself a plate immediately.

Azumi fixed the display again and went back into the workshop. "It is fixed," she told Sasori. 'Do not fuck it up again,' she thought.

Sasori hummed from the second floor, his mouth full of food.

"He says thank you," Gaara called down then grunted when Sasori elbowed him hard in the stomach.

Azumi sighed and sat down on a stool in front of the snake tanks. The youngest of the snakes poked his head out of the tank and hissed at her. She smiled softly at it. "You want to dance?" she whispered. It hissed again and she picked it up, wrapping it around her and getting down from the stool. She moved around the workshop with it, fulfilling small tasks as she moved around. She figured she had a moment since Sasori was busy eating. Gaara leaned against the railing of the second floor, eating off of his own plate. He smiled dreamily, watching her dance from task to task. A couple of minutes went by before Azumi stopped at the sound of Sasori moving to the ladder to come downstairs. She placed the snake back in the tank and tapped its nose as Sasori came down the ladder. "What else would you like me to do?" she asked him.

"We're going to go to bed," he grumbled. He pressed the balls of his palms into his eyes.

"I'll send Uncle and your mother over to your house then," Gaara said, walking downstairs.

"Fine," Sasori huffed.

Azumi looked at Gaara and smiled. "Thank you for the food," she said, giving him a bow. "The moon will be full tonight," she told him softly. "I hope you get to enjoy the moonlight reflecting off of the river." She stood up straight and winked at him before turning to join Sasori by the door.

Sasori was too tired to deal with their affections. They left the shop and made their way back to their house quickly, making sure to avoid all sunlight on the way and especially avoiding contact with the servants as they entered the house. "Sleep in your room," he waved her off as he flopped down into his bed.

Azumi nodded and left his room without saying anything to him. She could not wait to sleep either. She made her way back to her room where her window was still open and Naga was coiled on her bed. He hissed at her, concerned. "No, I am fine," she smiled at him. "Gaara and Lord Sandaime are here to make sure of that." She laid down on the bed and tapped his nose. "Wake me up when the sun goes down," she said to him before drifting off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Hours later when the sun began to set Naga shifted on her, hissing softly. He bopped his nose against hers gently. His tongue flicked her nose, trying to wake her up. "Mm," she hummed, scrunching her face a little bit. She opened her eyes slowly and smiled at the snake. "Thank you," she groaned, kissing his nose. She sat up and stretched. She got up and readied herself, making sure she did not look like she had just woken up. "You can come with me this time," she said, climbing onto the dresser and out the window. Naga slithered out after her and she picked him up as she made her way to the river.

Gaara was already waiting for her at the place they had stopped the first night they walked along the river bank together. "Did you sleep well?" he asked her with a bright smile.

"I did," she grinned, walking up to him. "It was about time," she chuckled. "Did you get any rest at all?"

"I got some," he smiled, shifting a basket on his arm. "Did you eat?" he asked, offering his arm to her.

"No, not yet," she answered, taking his arm. They started to walk along the river. "I sort of try to avoid the other servants in the house so I did not bother to go to the kitchen. I know they mean well, but I am honestly tired of them expressing to me every day how surprised they are that I am still alive."

Gaara chuckled, shaking his head as they walked. "I want to say it will die off as time goes on but I think it only gets worse the longer you live," he frowned. "The longest he's ever kept someone is two months...and the shortest was three days."

"Three days?" she frowned. "That is horrible." She looked down and sighed quietly. "I think I feel sorrier for the one that had to deal with him for two whole months," she said.

"Eehh, Kabuto was okay but...I admittedly was not too upset when he died," he said with a slightly guilty expression.

"Oh," she hummed. "I see." She looked up at the sky and then back at him. "You do not need to feel guilty about that," she told him softly. They walked for a couple more minutes before stopping at a good spot along the river to sit down. They did not stray too far from Sasori's home but were out at a good distance so they would not be seen.

"My uncle has always made a point to drive the value of human life into each of us," Gaara smiled, sitting down with her and Naga. "It, unfortunately, didn't really stick in Sasori." He waited for her to get comfortable before opening his basket. The smell of food hit their noses instantly. "Sandaime stopped by in the morning, right?"

"He did," she grinned. "A pleasant surprise, I might add." She looked at the food in the basket and groaned quietly in excitement. "That smells amazing," she told him. Naga hissed in agreement. "But you cannot have this," she smirked at the snake, tapping his nose. "Plus, you already ate this morning."

Naga hissed and slipped off her shoulders into the basket. Gaara chuckled, opening the basket fully. "I brought him something, too," he said as Naga nosed a cloth away and ate his treat. He looked at her with a twinkle in his eye. "I know my uncle can do it," he grinned. "Go on. I made extra just so we could celebrate!"

"I will be forever grateful to your uncle," she said, reaching into the basket and picking up some food. "And you," she smiled, looking at him.

"I haven't done anything," Gaara chuckled. "But I will do anything to see you away from my cousin. Anything to make sure no one winds up in his clutches again."

"You may feel like you have not done anything," she chuckled as she started to eat. "But you have made it a little more bearable to be around him. I actually look forward to going to the shop when I know you will be there." She watched as Naga ate his food and smiled. "I spent most of my time with you at the night market, which made the experience more enjoyable than if I was there with Lord Sasori alone."

Gaara's cheeks were starting to burn. He looked out over the river then down at his food. "I...can't stand to see you hurt," he said softly, taking a bite of his food. "I know we barely know each other but I only ever want to see you smile." He looked her dead in the eyes. "I won't allow him to hurt you at all when I am around." He looked at the bruising on her jaw. "Why did he do that to you?"

She hummed, not saying anything at first. "When Lord Sandaime visited this morning, he came to my room to speak to me alone. He may have raised suspicions by locking Lord Sasori out of my room. But once he was gone, he immediately thought I was conspiring with him. Before even giving me a chance to explain myself, he bruised me and slammed my head against the wall." She sucked her teeth and scowled slightly. "And then he tried to cover it up and act as if it did not just happen."

Gaara's eyes lit up with rage. He put his food down and drummed his fingers hard, gritting his teeth. After a few moments, he looked at her. "Does your head feel okay now?" he asked her, doing his best to control his temper.

She looked at him and nodded. She took his hand and gently glided her thumb across the back of it. "It feels fine now," she said. She gave him a small smile. "I can handle a headache."

He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles softly, closing his eyes as his lips lingered there for a heartbeat. "If it flairs back up or gets worse, tell me," he said, looking at her. "Please tell me."

"Of course," she said softly, still smiling at him. "You will be the first person I tell." Naga hissed excitedly, coiling up next to her. "He says he enjoyed his food," she chuckled. "And he thanks you."

Gaara smiled. "Good," he nodded at her and then looked at the cobra. "I'm glad. You deserve a treat for being so good to Lady Azumi," he slipped her title in easily.

Azumi blinked and then chuckled softly. "I believe you told me to drop the 'Lord' in your name," she smirked. "You can do the same for me. When I am free, we will be equals with no need to go back to formalities."

He pouted a little. "But your name sounds nice with your title," he laughed softly. "And I want you to matter what he puts you through, you will always be a Lady," he smiled.

She could not help but smile. "Thank you," she said. Naga hissed between them, looking at both of them. "No one is going to call you Lord Naga," she said. "You are a king cobra, not a real king."

Naga hissed, looking as if he were pouting as he coiled in Gaara's lap. Gaara chuckled and gently pet Naga's back. "I might have said this before but I'm glad you have him," Gaara said. "I'm not sure what my uncle plans on doing first but I will make sure to keep you updated and in the loop about everything."

"Thank you so much," she grinned, taking his hand in both of hers and bowing her head. "I very much appreciate you being around."

"Under the circumstances, I have a hard time saying I'm glad I met you," he chuckled, letting go of her hands to lift her face. He very gently stroked the bruising on her jaw. "But...I am."

"I am glad I met you, too," she said softly. "And yes, the circumstances are not exactly ideal, but...I do not think we would have met otherwise."

"Who knows," Gaara grinned, pulling his hand away from her face. "Maybe we were fated to meet," he chuckled. "What are the odds of a noble lady versed in the sciences as well as you are winding up with one of the best, albeit evil, apothecaries in our country?"

"Well, when you put it that way," she chuckled, "I suppose it is fate then." She sighed and stretched a little, laying down on her side and holding her head up with her fist. "So..." she smirked, looking up at him, "you have learned a bit about me at the night market...and I do not know much about you other than you are a doctor and you come from a family of handsome men," she chuckled.

He laughed, shifting to lay down next to her. "Oh no," he grinned as he tucked his arms under his head. "You're going to find out how boring I am." He looked up at the stars then glanced at her.

"I do not think we have the same definition of boring," she smirked. "As a doctor, you must come across some insane things on a constant basis. But...maybe boring is something that is needed when you deal with someone like Lord Sasori on the regular."

"Well, when you put it that way," Gaara chuckled. "Our whole family is made up of people as talented as Sasori. But there's only one other person who comes close to being as bad as he is," he sighed with a slight yawn. "My father."

"Ah, the cursed one of Lord Sandaime's generation," she chuckled. "What makes him so bad?"

"Well, for one, he hates me," Gaara chuckled. "He has since I was born because I apparently killed my mom."

"Your mother died during childbirth?" she asked. She let out a heavy scoff and sat up. "What an asinine reason to hate your own son," she growled. "You had absolutely no control over that."

"That's my dear father for you," he chuckled. "He doesn't really get to me anymore but it was sort of hell growing up." He smiled up at her and gently pulled her back down. "But I had my older sister and brother...even Sasori protected me in his own way."

Azumi's face scrunched up a little. "Really?" she asked with a slight chuckle. "He is capable of doing that?" She resumed her position on her side, facing him.

"Surprising, isn't it," Gaara laughed, turning on his side to face her. "Sasori's the one who started to teach me about the body and herbs. He would keep me at his house for a long time just to keep me away from my father." He reached out and tucked a piece of her hair back. "It's sort of thanks to him that I realized I wanted to be a doctor."

"That is...very interesting," she hummed. "I did not think I would hear something...that pleasant about him," she chuckled. She looked at him and smiled. "I am glad you were able to realize what you wanted to do with your life."

"It's rare and if you ever mention that I said it to him, I will deny it," Gaara chuckled. "What about you? What were you going to be before your martyrdom?"

"Mm, I do not know exactly what I wanted to be," she hummed. "But as the daughter of the village head, I honestly only had a few options. One of which I was already doing. I worked in a lab, making medicines and such using animal venom—primarily snake." She chuckled softly. "I suppose that was obvious, though. I supplied our village's healer with the remedies that had a higher concentration of venom since they were not the most experienced with working with such an ingredient."

Gaara's expression was practically dreamy. "You're too good to be here, being a slave," he nearly whined. "Are you the oldest then?" he asked, noting she mentioned her limitations. "Were you supposed to take over the village?"

She shook her head. "I am the third child out of four. My oldest brother is the next in line to take over the village. And if he chooses to relinquish the position—as is sort of suspected of him—then it will go to my other older brother. The rest of us will remain on the council." She paused for a second. "Well, the rest of them," she chuckled.

Gaara gave her a sad looked when she corrected herself. "No," he shook his head. He reached out and took her hand. "You'll be on that council. Remember that. You'll be free soon," he said with conviction in his voice, squeezing her hand gently.

She looked down at their hands and then up at him, still smiling. "I cannot thank you enough," she said.

"You don't have to," he shook his head. "This is your human right," he smiled.

"It may be but I owe it to you and your uncle...for giving it back to me." She kissed the back of his hand. "Or else, I would be stuck as a slave until my early death."

He looked at her hard and bit his lip then smiled and nodded. "Are you getting tired?" he asked her gently.

"Just a little," she hummed, rolling onto her back and stretching a little. "I am sure you are," she said. "Since you probably need to get up very early in the morning."

"Tomorrow?" he smiled. "No, tomorrow I will be taking tea with my sister and her new fiance."

"Oh," she smiled. "That sounds nice. I hope you enjoy yourself. But you should still get some rest for that." She sat up. "I enjoyed the food you brought. It was really good."

"I'm glad you liked it," he smiled. "I like knowing you're eating something good and healthy." He sat up with her. "I'll tell you how it goes. I have a feeling Kankuro is about to take his brotherhood very seriously," he chuckled.

"As any brother should," she smirked. "I am sure all three of my brothers would do the same."

"I'm sure they would. But you seem to be a lot like Temari. Very capable of handling yourself," he chuckled as he stood up and offered her a hand.

She took his hand and stood up with him. "A quality that got stronger in me in just the couple of months of transport between sacrificing myself and becoming a slave," she smirked. Naga slithered up her leg to wrap around her waist and rested his head on her shoulder.

"It's unfortunate, but I'm glad you didn't have to gain if from scratch." He tugged her hand gently and pulled her into a firm hug, burying his face into her neck. "You'll see your home again. You'll have your freedom, you have my word," he promised her again. Her breath hitched quietly and she smiled against his shoulder, wrapping her arms around him to hug him back. He took a step back and began to clean up their little picnic.

She helped him gather everything back into the basket and smiled at him when they were done. "Shall we do this again soon?" she asked.

"Of course," Gaara grinned. "Any time you want." He started to walk with her back towards their homes. "We should make a codeword, shouldn't we, though?"

"A code word?" she hummed. "You understood my moon and river code," she smirked. "But I do think one we are aware of ahead of time would work." She thought of it as they approached Sasori's house. She leaned against the wall next to her window. "What is something that he would not suspect? Using the moon again could raise some suspicions."

He looked up at the sky in thought for a moment then grinned. "I...grow cacti," he told her. "Anytime we want to meet, either of us can ask about the welfare of my cacti," he offered.

"Oh!" she grinned. "That is perfect! I love it," she chuckled. Naga slithered through the window, hissing his goodnight to Gaara. "He says goodnight," she translated.

"Goodnight," he smiled fondly. "To both of you."

She smiled at him, stepping closer to hug him one more time. "Goodnight," she said softly. After a few moments, she pulled away to climb back through her window and into her room. Gaara lingered for a moment to make sure she got inside safely before walking home himself.

Inside her room, Azumi sat on her bed, unable to stop smiling as she pet Naga mindlessly. He hissed at her teasingly. "Shut up," she grinned, tapping his nose. She laid back on her bed, letting the snake coil up next to her. She laid there with him for almost an hour before finally falling asleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, she woke up with a slight gasp. The sun had been up for a while and no one had come to wake her. She wondered if Sasori was still asleep or if he just had no reason to call for her. Regardless, she got up and stretched. She changed her clothes and went to Sasori's room. He was still sleeping, which sort of shocked her. 'I suppose he was tired enough to sleep from sunset to sunrise,' she thought. She went into his bathroom to start his bath, knowing that he would feel her presence and wake up soon. She chose a different salt and oil scent this time, hoping he would not care much for it. Stepping back into his room, she saw him still asleep. 'I might as well get breakfast,' she thought. She went to the kitchen where only one of the three usual servants was.

"Good morning," they said to her.

"Good morning," she said back, grabbing a bowl and serving herself.

"How is the young lord today?"

"He is still asleep." She leaned against the counter and started eating, not bothering to sit at the table since she did not want to keep this conversation going for much longer.

"Huh..." they hummed. "That's unusual. He doesn't usually sleep in this late."

"He had not slept much in the last couple of days. His body probably just needed to catch up."

"Or his age is starting to catch up with him," the servant whispered with a smirk.

Azumi smirked back at them. "Is he not only twenty-nine?"

"That's when it starts," they chuckled. "You've been around him long enough to know he's practically an old man."

Azumi laughed softly as she finished eating and then served a bowl for Sasori. "You are not wrong," she told them.

Sasori slowly woke up to the scent of the oils Azumi had chosen for him. He buried his face deep into his pillows for a few more minutes before very slowly pulling himself from the bed. He stood up to slip his clothing off and he walked into the bathroom as he ran a hand through his messy hair. "Hmph," he grunted, being hit with the blinding light of the morning. Using his hand as a shield, he crossed the room and pulled the curtains shut. His eyes relaxed and he slipped into the tub, sinking lower into the heat of the water.

A couple of minutes later, Azumi entered Sasori's room with a bowl for him. She immediately noticed that he was not in bed. She grabbed his robe and set the bowl down on his desk for when he came out. She went into the bathroom, seeing how relaxed he was as she put his robe on its designated hook. "Good morning," she said. "You look well-rested."

"Mmm," he hummed, into further the water. His eyes opened slowly to look at her. He watched her move for a few minutes before sitting up in the tub. "How late did I sleep?" he asked. His voice was still a thick rasp of sleep.

"It is almost noon," she answered. "So...pretty late, I would say." She turned to look at him. "I brought you breakfast. It is on your desk when you are ready."

"Noon!" he gasped. Then he cleared his throat. "What a waste," he sighed, running a hand through his hair.

"You have not slept much," she frowned. "I understand you usually go without sleep but you should allow your body to catch up every now and then."

He narrowed his eyes at her then sighed. "The little snake cares about her master's well-being," he said in his husky tone. "How precious." He stretched hard and decided to get out of the tub. He walked over to pull a towel out and dry off. "Don't worry. I'm not going to snap on you this morning," he smirked at her over his shoulder. He walked up to her and gripped her chin very gently compared to the previous day. "Mm, I suppose I should treat you more delicately," he said, looking into her eyes.

She furrowed her brows, looking back at him. That sounded so untrustworthy to her. Especially with how quick he switched from being nice to slamming her head into the wall. "It does not matter how you treat me," she said. "My loyalty will remain."

His grin widened. "Now that's what I like to hear," he purred before letting her go. "I hope you got enough sleep last night yourself," he said as he dropped his towel to trade it for his robe. "There's a lot I wanted to get done today but I suppose we can work late."

She nodded as she followed him out to his room. "I slept very well last night, actually," she hummed, remembering she fell asleep in a very good mood after her outing with Gaara. "What will we be working on?" she asked, picking up his bowl from his desk and handing it to him.

Sasori took the bowl and walked into the workshop with her. "Mei sent me a request for a new body scrub and fragrance." He took a spoonful of his breakfast. "And I want to make something special for Lady Konan," he smirked.

"Lady Konan?" she asked softly. She remembered that Konan was not very fond of him and she was pretty sure he knew that too. She figured whatever it was he wanted to make her was not a true gift. "What are the scents that Lady Mei requested?"

"She wants the lotus blossom and sugar and then something manly for her plaything," Sasori said offhandedly. "And yes, Konan. I want her to do something for me so I'm going to make her a nice peace offering," he smirked, leaning against his desk as he ate.

She tilted her head a little and looked at him. "What do you want her to do?" she asked. She did not know Konan very well but her very brief interaction with her led her to believe it would take a lot more to get her to agree to anything for him.

"You needn't worry about that right now," he smirked. "If I need you to help with her I'll tell you. I'm interested to see what you come up for Mei. If I like it then we can add hers and the masculine scent to the shop, too."

She nodded and moved toward the different oils he had on a shelf. "What notes does Lady Mei dislike so I know what to avoid?" she asked as she grabbed a bowl.

"She doesn't like clove or bay leaf too much," Sasori hummed. "And she doesn't like things that are too herby."

She hummed in thought for a moment, looking at the different ingredients available. "I can work with that," she said, grabbing the ones she needed for the scent she had in mind.

Sasori hummed as he finished off his breakfast. "Good," he turned around to settle in at his desk. "Tell me, was there anything the women in your village couldn't live without?"

She started making the fragrance as she thought about her answer. "Something the women cannot live without?" she whispered to herself. "Most, if not all, of the women in my village dance, but I do not think that is something we cannot live without."

"Hmm." He tapped his chin with the end of his pencil. "Konan's village is centered around an oasis but I don't know the culture very well." He looked up at his shelves for a moment. "Oh," he grinned. "She likes paper crafting!"

"Are you thinking about what to give her as your...peace offering?" she asked. She chuckled softly. "My village is also in an oasis. We may have similar cultures. If you are thinking of doing something simple and she likes paper crafting, then I suggest a flower. Or a bird."

Sasori chuckled. "A peace offering," he parroted. "Yeah, something like that." He pulled down one of his jars and turned to look at her.

"A peace offering is what you called it," she hummed. She poured the first fragrance into a bottle and turned toward him. She sniffed the fragrance and grinned at it, holding it out for him to smell it as well.

"Hmm," his brows furrowed. "Maybe I do need more sleep," he muttered as he leaned forward to smell it. "Oh, she'll like that," he smirked. "The lingering effect," he breathed out through his nose, "is also nice."

"It is three different layers of notes," she smiled. "I sort of modeled it after what I always imagined my husband to smell like."

"Mm, I can't imagine a certain someone wearing that," he said with a smirk. "Tell me more," he ordered.

She ignored his first comment completely. "What else do you want to know?"

"Tell me anything."

She capped the bottle and set it down to settle then leaned against the counter and crossed her arms. "Well, now you know that my village is in an oasis and that all of the women dance," she hummed. "No one can really find my village unless someone from the inside brings them in. It has been like that for a very long time." She turned around to start making another scent, wanting a more concentrated and pure version of what she had just made.

"Why is your village so reclusive?" His eyes narrowed. "It must be something special to have you then. Every day your net value only gets higher." His smirk returned with another chuckle.

"Well, you are already aware of...people who look like me already being rare," she said, remembering that was one of the first things he said to her when they met the day he bought her. "We used to be hunted. I do not know why, though. We are human. But our eyes are a dead giveaway so it only made sense to hide, I suppose."

"Every part of you is average?" he asked, a little skeptical.

She paused for a moment. "Well, I suppose most humans do not have an immunity to snake venom...and cannot communicate with snakes...I do not think my high pain tolerance is exclusive to people like me, I think that is just a quality of mine. I am sure there are other people with similar pain tolerance." She turned to look at him and squinted curiously. "Do...other humans shed?"

Sasori folded his arms and he raised his eyebrow. "No, we don't," he smirked. "Not unless we are burned. How often do you shed?" He could not keep the amusement off of his face.

"Only as a child," she clarified. "It has only happened three times." She frowned, humming in slight disappointment. 'I have spent my entire twenty-three years thinking I was completely human,' she thought.

"Mm, yeah, that's not remotely human," Sasori chuckled. He turned back around. "I can see why you were hunted now. I can hazard a guess that there are more oddities to your anatomy and physiology."

She hummed quietly. "I would not be able to tell you," she frowned. "Since I do not really know." She finished the second fragrance and bottled it, stepping closer to him for him to smell it. "This is a more concentrated version of the one I just made."

"We can always play a game and find out," he grinned at her as he leaned in to take a whiff. His eyes rolled a little. "Very good," he nodded, sitting back. "Write down the recipe and if Mei likes it then we'll keep it."

'I would like to leave my anatomy a mystery,' she thought, taking one of his notepads and writing down the recipes for the two fragrances she made. "I can make a feminine version of this scent as well," she said. "If Lady Mei would like a set to match her...plaything, as you called him."

"Do whatever you want," he smirked. "This plaything seems to be sticking around," he hummed. "I'm actually surprised how hard he's hit Mei. She doesn't come around nearly as much anymore."

She looked at him, trying to hide her smirk. "Do you miss her?" she said, trying not to coo her question.

"Tch." He hid his own expression in the fringe of his hair. "If she wants to waste her time with the impish Uchiha who am I to call her back to better company?"

"Mm," she hummed, turning to go back to where she was working. "That sounds a little bit like jealousy," she said quietly, getting different ingredients to make another scent.

"If you think that's jealousy, you still have a lot to learn about me," he smirked.

"Sasori, jealous?" Komushi's voice called from the bedroom. "Are we talking about Mei and Shisui?"

"Who let you in?" Sasori groaned. "Don't you have anyone else at all to bother?"

"Nope," Komushi grinned, poking his head into the workshop. "You're my only friend," he said as he walked in.

"I believe it," Azumi mumbled.

"Oh," he grinned, sashaying over to Azumi. He wrapped his arms around her from behind and took a deep breath. Her body tensed up immediately. "That smells good." He rested his chin on her shoulder. "Is it for you?" He buried his face in her hair.

"No," she chuckled. "It is for Lady Mei." She picked up the two bottles with the masculine scents and held each close to his face so he could smell them. "And these are for, I do not know what he actually is to her."

"Oh, her boy toy," Komushi grinned, shoving his nose into the cologne. "Hey. Sasori, I think she's going to outdo you with these scents! That's amazing! Can you make me one!"

"Uh, sure," she said. She found the ingredients from the two fragrances and started on them again. "Do you want it to be layered or more concentrated?" she asked.

"Do whatever you want," he purred, shifting his arms from her shoulders down to her stomach and squeezing. Sasori sighed irritatedly. "What's got you bent out of shape?" Komushi brushed his fingers along Azumi's skin.

"I don't mind her making you a cologne, but get off of her," Sasori said. Azumi started making the more concentrated one for Komushi, not wanting to associate him with the layered scent of her imaginary husband.

"Oh, Sasori, if you wanted my affection all you had to do was ask," Komushi chuckled, releasing Azumi. He walked over to Sasori and parked it on his desk. Sasori swung his arm and knocked Komushi hard in the back.

"Get off my desk and use a damn stool," he growled.

Komushi grunted in pain and poured at his friend. "I thought you loved me, Sasori," he said, hopping off of the desk and pulling up a seat next to him. Azumi finished the cologne and placed it in Komushi's hand.

"You're still alive, aren't you?" Sasori grumbled. "And I don't want to give you a false perception. I hate you."

Komushi grinned down at the bottle. "Sure you do," he winked at Sasori, opening the bottle to take a whiff. "Ah, this is amazing, Azumi! I'll treasure it and think of your beauty when I wear it."

Azumi smirked at him before turning to go back to making more fragrances. She kept an extra bottle of the original masculine scent for herself. She was going to use the opportunity she had been given to make a few more fragrances for herself. She also decided that because she was in the mood to make different fragrances, she would make one for Sasori.

"Why are you here?" Sasori asked Komushi.

"I was bored," he hummed. "Your uncle is running me ragged so I left for the day," he said airily.

Sasori raised his eyebrow. "Rasa is going to have your head if you keep doing this," he smirked, writing something down.

"Eh, he's too busy reaming Gaara out over some family affair today," he shrugged. "I think 'Lil Temi is getting married," Komushi chuckled. "The guy looks half asleep from what I saw."

Azumi frowned, hearing that Gaara was enduring his shitty father. She decided to make a fragrance for him as well.

"I wonder if this marriage would even last," Sasori hummed. "I've only met the boy once and it's an odd match."

"If it works, it works," Komushi shrugged.

"She's always been...a little hard," Sasori chuckled. "Maybe this will be good for her."

Komushi hummed, leaning back on his stool. "And what about you," he grinned. "I know Mei was over recently. Are you two officially together or..."

"Absolutely not!" Sasori scoffed. "We would never and besides, I think the boy toy might actually propose."

Komushi's jaw dropped then split into a huge grin. "Noooo," he whispered conspiratorially. "Really!"

"She mentioned he might," Sasori nodded.

"Wow," Komushi whispered. "So she's serious about him."

Azumi rolled her eyes, listening to them gossip like old women.

"She's serious," Sasori nodded.

Komushi looked at Sasori hard. "You're jealous," he grinned. He started to laugh as Sasori continued to write and ignore him. "Oh, my god, you are!" Komushi cracked up.

"I am not!" Sasori growled. "Tch, Azumi!"

Azumi jumped slightly and turned toward him as she bottled another cologne, trying not to spill it. "Yes?" she hummed.

"Give him something to do!" Sasori ordered.

"What! I'm not your little toy," Komushi smirked.

Sasori looked at him out of the corner of his eye. "You forfeited free will the moment you walked in here," he said easily.

Azumi hummed in slight disappointment. She was having fun making perfumes and colognes and now she had to babysit a man older than her. She looked at Komushi and tried to think of something for him to do. Taking his hand, she pulled him back to her workstation. "What scents do you like?" she asked him. "You can design a fragrance."

Komushi gasped in excitement. "I like these!" he said very sure and soundly as he picked out seven or eight scents. "Wow, I feel like a kid again," he chuckled.

Azumi looked at the ones he picked and smelled them. It was a weird mix of different things. "Interesting..." she mumbled, trying to figure out how to make it work. She liked the challenge. She combined all of the more similar ones together and started on making another layered fragrance for him. It took her about ten minutes and when she was done, she bottled it. "Is this okay?" she asked, holding the bottle close to him.

"That was quick," Komushi grinned. He took the bottle and took a deep breath. "Hng," he groaned. "There it is. The new scent of my life!" His grinned widened. "You're too talented for this bastard." He jerked his head towards Sasori.

Sasori growled softly. "No," he said, turning around. "She is exactly what I've been needing this entire time! Someone more than half intelligent and fucking self-sufficient." He rolled his eyes in irritation.

"Sounds like everything you'd want in a wife," Komushi smirked.

Azumi frowned and groaned quietly at the mere thought of being married to this monster. 'As if,' she thought.

"Marriage is a waste of time," Sasori scoffed. "I don't have time to deal with another person's wants and needs when I have my own goals to achieve. And that aside from that, there aren't many I deem worthy of even touching me," he said with an arrogant flair.

"That sounds like someone is just a little salty over Mei possibly getting married," Komushi whispered to Azumi. She tried not to laugh, but the fact that he thought that dealing with another person's wants and needs was a waste of time when that was quite literally her life now. She was there to do exactly that for him. Sasori growled, picking up a wooden bowl and turning to throw it at Komushi's head. "Whoa." Komushi ducked, dodging the projectile with a laugh. "Touched a nerve, didn't we?"

"Maybe we should leave him be," Azumi said quietly to Komushi, placing her hand on his shoulder. She feared that he would go too far and Sasori would take his anger out on her.

"Aw, are you feeling bad for him?" Komushi cooed. "Relax. He won't hurt you when it comes to me," he reassured her. "Not when he can just take it out on me," he grinned, walking up behind Sasori to put him in a chokehold. "Isn't that right, Sa-so-riiii," he grinned, rocking the man from side to side.

"Get off of me!" Sasori growled, swinging his fist back and colliding with Komushi's temple. Azumi sighed and rubbed her face. It was like being around actual children. Komushi held on tight and pulled Sasori with him. They hit the ground hard, making Sasori growl louder. He elbowed Komushi hard in the ribs and rolled over, straddling him. "I swear, Komushi, I'm going to murder you!" Sasori yanked him by the front of his shirt.

Komushi just laughed holding his hands up in surrender. Azumi sat down on the stool Komushi vacated and watched them. "Alright, alright," Komushi said through his laugh. Sasori slammed his head into the ground before letting him go and getting up. "God, you're such an asshole," Komushi groaned with a grin. He rubbed his head, sitting up once Sasori sat back on his stool.

"And you're a piece of shit who has no comprehension of boundaries," Sasori clicked his tongue. "Your point?"

"I wasn't trying to make one," Komushi chuckled. He got up and Azumi moved from the stool so he could have his seat back.

"I hate you so much." Sasori pinched the bridge of his nose.

Komushi rested an elbow on the table Azumi was working on and pouted. "You don't mean that," he grinned. "Who else is going to counterbalance your grumpy old man act?" he teased.

"Act?" Sasori repeated.

'Oh, it is not an act,' Azumi thought, starting another fragrance. 'That is just him.' She turned toward Komushi and held two different scents in front of him. "Choose one," she told him.

"I was trying to give you a redeeming way out," Komushi hummed, leaning his head against his arm. He twisted a little to look at the two presented bottles. "Um...this one," he said, pointing to the left-hand bottle.

Azumi nodded and used his choice in the new fragrance. She was just having fun at this point with making new smells. She finished the perfume and held it to him for him to smell. "I think I should stop," she said quietly, more to herself.

"Did I tell you to stop?" Sasori asked, his eyes shifting from Komushi to her.

Komushi smelled the new scent and hummed happily. "You're really good at this," he smiled fondly at her.

Azumi smiled back at Komushi. "Thank you," she said with a slight nod. "It has always been a hobby of mine." She made a line of all of the different fragrances she made, separating the three that she wanted to keep for herself from the other ones.

Sasori looked over all of them before getting up. He grabbed a small container from one of the high shelves and then turned to pick up one of the bottles. He smelled each one in between placing them into the container.

"These all turned out amazing," he murmured.

Komushi gasped. "Wait...was that," he looked at Azumi. "Was that a compliment?!"

"Don't get used to it," Sasori said, rolling his eyes.

"Thank you," Azumi smiled.

"I didn't know you were capable of such a thing," Komushi smirked at him.

"It's rare for a reason," Sasori grumbled. "Now, can you repeat any of those scents?" He asked Azumi. "If you can and that first batch goes well, we'll make the scents and scrubs a permanent part of the shop."

"Oo-ho, look at you, Azumi," Komushi grinned, smelling his one scent again.

"I can remake them all if needed," she nodded. She started to clean up the station she was working on, unable to smell much anymore.

"Good," he said, turning around to place the jar back on the shelf before sitting back down.

"What are you working on so diligently over here?" Komushi asked, walking his stool over to Sasori's desk.

Sasori's eye twitched hard. "If you must know," he huffed. "It's going to be something for Konan."

"Ooh, Konan? Are you going to try to win her over since you lost Mei?" Komushi smirked. Azumi winced, wishing Komushi would stop bothering him.

"No," Sasori said through gritted teeth, clearly more than irritated with him. "I'm hoping she'll agree to test something out for me."

"Good luck with that." Komushi raised his eyebrow. "After the cold shoulder she gave us at the market, I'll be surprised if she even knows your name," he chuckled. He went to open his mouth again when Sasori suddenly stood up.

"Yes," Sasori took a deep breath. "I'm not entirely sure what's got her upset with me but hopefully this will change her mind." Komushi leaned in closer to see what Sasori was working on, nudging Sasori out of the way. Sasori ran his tongue over his teeth forcefully, took a deep breath and kicked Komushi hard off of his stool. "Leave," he growled. "Before I rat you out to my uncle and give away all of your hiding spots."

Komushi squinted at him. "You wouldn't," he said.

"Oh?" Sasori challenged.

Komushi stared at him from a moment. "I'm not going to test it," he chuckled, raising his hands in surrender.

"Good, wise choice," Sasori smirked. "Now get the hell out of my room." He turned to kick Komushi as the man scrambled to leave.

"You're the worst," Komushi laughed, dodging Sasori's kicks as he circled around to Azumi. "See you later, sweet stuff," he winked at her and grabbed the scent she made for him.

"Goodbye, Lord Komushi," Azumi said with a bow.

Komushi smirked at Sasori again before slipping out of the room. "You're an asshole," he laughed as he left.

Azumi waited a few moments before speaking. Once she was sure that Komushi was gone, she picked up the scent she made for Sasori. "I made one for you, too," she told him, crossing the workshop to hand him the bottle.

He looked at the bottle for a moment before taking it. Wordlessly, he opened it and took a deep breath. This...was going to be his new scent. "It's excellent," he uttered the second compliment softly. "Can you make it into the bath stuff too?" he asked her. This one would not be sold in the shop. This one was going to be his and his alone.

She smiled at his reaction and nodded. "Yes," she said. "I can. I am glad you like it." She grabbed all of the stuff to make the bath oil and salt in that scent, figuring she could make a bigger batch of it for him.

"When you're done, put them on the main shelf. I'll use them next time I take a bath," he said, turning back to his work. Unknown to him, his shoulder had started to hike up on one side as he worked.

Azumi worked quickly, making the salt and oil for him. It took her about twenty minutes to make both things. She set them on the counter to cool down before she would take them to the bathroom. She turned around and frowned, immediately noticing his stressed position. She stepped closer to him, waiting for a moment before hesitantly reaching her hands out and massaging his shoulders. "Is there something stressing you out?" she asked him softly.

His body tensed up under her touch, his eyes widening. He started to relax as she continued to move her hand, almost letting a moan slip as she hit a knot in his shoulder. "My uncle is planning something," he said softly. There was a roughness to his voice. "He's plotting, my mother is getting antsy for grandchildren, and I'm getting restless. I need a new project to get into." He relaxed more under her hands. "Not to mention Komushi makes things rowdy, too say the least, around here."

She moved her hands to a tense spot between his shoulder blades. "Does your mother know how you feel about marriage?" she asked him. "Or does that not make a difference?"

"Hhhhng," he groaned softly, closing his eyes. "It doesn't matter what I think," he told her. "Did it matter to your father? I'm sure growing up as a noble, you should know that love does not actually matter," he said cynically. "Of course, my mother would like for me to be in love because my parents married out of love."

She frowned and sighed quietly. "As soon as I turned eighteen, my father started to pressure me into marriage," she admitted. "I know love does not matter to most people...but I would rather love the person I marry...otherwise it would be a waste of time." She moved up to his neck, feeling for any more knots and then moved back to his shoulders.

"Love, in general, is a waste of time," Sasori scoffed. His eyes rolled a little as her hands worked on his neck. His muscles were tender and her fingers hurt in the best way as she dug into him. "It rarely provides any real benefits to the two involved. Rather, it serves the family as a whole and frankly, it's not my job to carry this family."

'Those are the words of a man who has never been in love,' she thought. "So what will you do about your mother's constant pressuring?" she asked. "Will you continue to ignore it or eventually give in?"

Sasori paused for a moment. He thought hard about his answer and hated it despite it being the truth. "I've always been a stubborn child," he started. "But there is little that I won't do for my mother."

She raised an eyebrow in slight shock. His answer surprised her a little and then her face softened, realizing she completely understood it. " the same way about my father," she said with a slight smile. She did not feel any more knots in his shoulders and back. "How does that feel now?" she asked, removing her hands from his shoulders.

He twisted his head and bent his neck. "Much better," he hummed. He turned to look at her hard. "Well, at least one of us won't have to worry about that kind of pressure anymore," he sighed, letting his shoulders relax entirely. If he was honest, he should have thanked her for being so skilled with her hands. He had not realized how bad his shoulders and neck had gotten but that felt amazing. It was purely on the principle that she was his slave that he did not thank her properly.

She took a step back from him, giving him some more personal space. "You said you needed a new project to get into," she hummed. "Have you not had any ideas recently?"

"I have a routine," he said, turning around to press his back to the edge of the table. "Routines are nice because I have a very steady and strong income but they are boring. And bored is on the top of my list for things I hate to be," he sighed, tilting his head back. "Komushi's been so busy with my uncle that he doesn't even have time to entertain me as often anymore."

"It seems you do not even want him around much," she noted. "You were very adamant about kicking him out today. I wish I could suggest something to you, but I do not know what you have and have not done yet. I am not like Lord Komushi where I can think of criteria for a composition to challenge you with."

"Usually he's fine," Sasori rolled his eyes. "I'm just not in the mood to be social today." He was also tired of sharing Azumi. He had had little time with her the entire night market. He was not sure why he cared about that because she was just a slave. Yet, it irked him that Gaara and Komushi had commandeered her for the better part of three days. "The night market usually saps my tolerance for humanity for at least a fortnight." This was a fact.

"That is very understandable," she nodded. "It was very crowded. And that sounds like the perfect amount of time needed to recuperate from a crowd that size." Just thinking about how many people were at the market started to make her anxious again.

"Glad we share the same sentiment," he said, playing with the bottle of the scent she had made for him.

She looked at the bottle in his hand and it reminded her that the oil was cooled down by now. "I made a bigger batch of bath oils and salts in that scent for you," she told him, closing the bottles of oils up and grabbing jars to grind the salts into. "It should last you a while."

He watched her close up each of the bottles and nodded. "Clever as always." He stood up to help her carry all of the bottles to the bathroom without saying anything.

Together, they took the bottles to the bathroom and placed them on his shelf. She saw how stressed he still seemed and figured the massage she gave him was not enough. "Will you be working on anything else?" she asked him as they went back into his workshop. She immediately started making a massage oil to give him a proper massage when he needed it. "Or are you still working on your idea for Lady Konan?"

"I want to spend the rest of today working on the gift," he said, running a hand through his hair. "I have a running list of what I want to make for her." He started to sit back down when he heard someone walk into his room. He looked straight ahead of him and took a slow, deep breath. "Who is—"

"Good afternoon, Nephew," Sandaime said easily as he strolled into the workshop.

Sasori's shoulder started to hike back up towards his ear. "Uncle," he ground out as he turned to look at his grinning uncle.

"Azumi," Sandaime smiled, nodding his head in her direction.

Azumi immediately grinned and bowed. "Hello, Lord Sandaime," she said.

"What brings you here?" Sasori sighed.

"I did say I would be back, didn't I?" Sandaime responded. Sasori bit his tongue to keep from sucking his teeth hard.

"Your mother and a young lady are here to discuss some matters with you."

Sasori narrowed his eyes. "Who?" he asked, not moving.

"Get ready and meet us in the tea room," was all Sandaime said before bowing again to Azumi and turning to leave. "And don't try to slip away. I'll know," he said warningly over his shoulder.

Once Sandaime was gone and Azumi was released from his allure she looked at Sasori and frowned. He looked even more stressed. "Will I be going with you?" she asked. She was not sure if it was necessary for her to attend a meeting with his mother since the matters to be discussed most likely had nothing to do with her.

Sasori's eyes slid over to her. "And I was just praising you for how clever you are," Sasori sighed. "Of course you'll be going. I'm not dealing with him, some random girl and my mother alone." He stood up to get ready.

She rolled her eyes. 'I do not want to deal with them either,' she thought. "Very well then," she sighed, bottling up the oil she made. She went out to his bedroom and waited for him to get dressed so they could get the meeting over with.

Chapter Text

Once Sasori was ready, he and Azumi started down the hall. "I'm tired of having to turn these women down," he grumbled. "Just stay close and, if anything, this will be a fine opportunity for you to meet my mother."

She nodded but did not say anything. They moved at a leisurely pace through the halls since he did not really want to go to this meeting.

Just before they entered the tea room, Sandaime stepped out. “Glad you made it,” he said.

“I didn’t have much of a choice,” Sasori grumbled, walking past him.

“Hello again, Lord Sandaime,” Azumi said softly with a bow.

"Sasori?" a woman's voice said from behind Sandaime. A woman with dark hair and Sasori's eyes poked her head out. "My beautiful, elusive son!" she smiled, opening her arms to pull Sasori into a hug.

Sasori wrapped his arms around his mother. "Hello, Mother," Sasori's voice softened.

Azumi tilted her head a little, watching him embrace his mother. She was used to him switching between himself and charming around other people but the switch between himself and endearing was different and interesting.

“I haven’t seen you in quite some time,” his mother said as she pulled back. She caressed his face gently. “Have you been eating? I know you forget sometimes.”

He chuckled softly and nuzzled into her hand. "Of course I have, Mother," he said, looking over his shoulder to Azumi. "My new slave has done excellent in seeing to my needs. She never lets me miss a meal or a bath."

His mother looked around him at Azumi. "You got a new one?" she asked. She gave Azumi a slight smile. "Thank you for taking care of my son."

Azumi gave her a polite nod. 'It is not like I have a choice,' she thought. "It is my pleasure, my Lady."

"Come," Sandaime said suddenly. "Let's not congregate in the doorway and sit down." He started to usher everyone into the room. Sasori narrowed his eyes slightly when he felt his uncle nudge him but the glare shifted to the pretty young woman about Sasori's age. She sat primly in her chair, back straight and a kind smile on her face. She stood as soon as they made eye contact.

"Lord Sasori," she bowed lowly.

"Sasori," his mother started, walking over to the young woman. "This is Lady Shizune."

Sasori gave her a bow. "Pleasure to meet you, Lady Shizune," he said. Everyone took their seats and Azumi stood behind Sasori.

"She is here as a suitor for you," Sasori's mother continued.

"Yes," he hummed. "Uncle mentioned that," he said, eyeing the woman coolly. She did not seem to shrink entirely away from Sasori's icy gaze but she withered a little around the edges.

"Your mother mentioned you run an apothecary as your profession," Shizune said brightly. "I actually work as a midwife alongside my village's doctor."

Sasori did his damndest not to roll his eyes. "Intriguing," he said, looking her over. ' How plain. ' He looked over his shoulder at Azumi for a moment then back to Shizune.

"Sasori!" his mother sighed, swatting his knee. "Where are your manners?"

Shizune swallowed quietly before continuing. "It isn't the most fascinating job, but it's quite rewarding," she said, her smile still in place. Azumi noticed her nervously tapping her finger gently against her leg. She was sure Sasori noticed it too. "Of course, it's not as interesting as what you do."

Azumi's brow furrowed. 'I am sure being a midwife is quite interesting,' she thought.

Sasori narrowed his eyes. "I don't like when someone downplays the significance of their job or the skill it takes to do it," he said frankly. "It leads me to believe they are either incompetent—which means they are lying about their skill in the first place—or have zero confidence in themselves, and I don't have time for building up a grown woman's self-esteem." He leveled her with an even cooler look. "You work under Tsunade," he said. "I've filled orders for her before. She is an impressive doctor. Don't disrespect her or your profession with these polite niceties."

Everyone in the room went silent except for Sasori's mother who gasped. "Sasori!" she said again. Azumi looked down at the floor, hoping her hair covered the grin that she fought so hard to keep off of her face. Sandaime just sighed. He expected this sort of thing to happen.

Shizune blinked a couple of times. "You're right," she said softly, lowering her head a little.

Sasori raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. "I know I am," he said, earning another glare from his mother.

"I appreciate your honesty," Shizune said softly, wringing her hands in her lap a little. "Everything you said about confidence is stuff that I am working on with Tsunade."

"Mm, then continue to work on it and when you think you've reached a point that you don’t need to lean on me for that then come back." There was no remorse in his tone.

"Right," Shizune said softly, keeping her eyes lowered. That only seemed to irritate Sasori more.

"I can't believe you," his mother scoffed at him. "How can you be so cold to a woman?"

'Are you not his mother?' Azumi thought. 'All he did was look at me and I knew he was like this.'

Sandaime sighed again. "We thank you for coming to meet, Lady Shizune," he said kindly.

Shizune lifted her eyes look at Sandaime and smiled weakly. "Thank you for considering me," she said softly as she stood. She walked to the door and bowed lowly before leaving the room.

Sasori did not bother to look at her. He waited for her to leave before speaking again. "If the both of you are going to play matchmaker then look for someone I will actually be compatible with," he grumbled. "I could have eaten her whole. I don't need a woman who can’t hold herself up."

"I really thought she would be the one," Sasori's mother grumbled quietly with a pout.

Sandaime took a sip of his tea and then hummed. "I am not sure there will be a one for him," he said.

Azumi resisted the urge to shrug and nod in agreement to his statement. 'Not with the way he is,' she thought.

"You must be more kind to these women," his mother scolded. "Even if they aren't to your liking.”

He huffed but there was no malice behind it. Just tired irritation.  "Mother," his expression softened as he looked at her, "I'm just not ready to settle down. I'm not that old and you and father are still in your prime." He placed a hand gently over his mother's. "And I know you'd never want me to settle for less than the best right?"

A small smile appeared on his mother's face. "You're right," she said. "I would never want you to be in an unhappy marriage."

Azumi and Sandaime shared a look and an eye roll. 'Spare me,' she thought. 'Of course, he charms his own mother.'

"But I don't remember raising such a spoiled brat." Her eyes narrowed as she pinched Sasori's cheek hard enough to turn it bright red. "You aren't the center of the universe, my love." Sasori's eye watered a little. "Stop acting like you are." She glanced at Azumi and there was a flicker of something in her eyes before she looked back at her son. "I want grandchildren at a reasonable age so I can actually enjoy them." She released his now throbbing cheek. Sandaime looked at Azumi again, doing his best to keep it together.

Once again, Azumi was also fighting a grin. She and Sandaime were having a conversation of their own with just their eyes. It was the most amusing thing to see the two people who treated Sasori like the child he was in the same room.

"Of course, you do," Sasori said with a nod. "Maybe give me time to find a woman myself," he suggested.

'Yeah, right,' Azumi thought. 'Because you actually go to other places than your room and the shop.'

His mother laughed humorlessly. Her face set in a way that screamed they that were related beyond a reasonable doubt. "Yeah, sure." She folded her arms. "Because you go to places other than your shop and home," she echoed Azumi's thoughts. Sasori almost winced. "And before you make your sad little attempt at convincing me otherwise," she cut her son's future plea off before he could even try, "I want to see you at more parties. I want you to prove to me that you're making a genuine effort."

Azumi deflated a little bit. That meant she had to also attend these parties and watch him fail at courting women. Sasori almost protested but stopped himself and sighed defeatedly. "Fine," he said.

"That's my boy," his mother smirked, patting his face gently. Azumi's jaw dropped slightly at the simple move.

Sasori sighed again but it bled away easily as he smiled at his mother. "You will have to give me some time, though," he said. "I don't think anyone is throwing a party in the near future," he said confidently.

"Actually there are a few parties coming up," Sandaime chimed in.

Sasori ground his teeth. "Are there?" he asked.

"Ooh, you're right," his mother grinned. "There is one in a couple of nights."

"We are all invited of course," Sandaime smirked.

"How lovely," Sasori choked on the words. "Where and by whom?"

"It's an engagement party," his mother smirked. "The Akimichi's son is engaged now. And Lord Oonoki was gracious enough to host it at his home."

"You want me to find a woman at someone else's engagement party?" Sasori asked.

'Oonoki?' Azumi thought. 'That little old man?' Then it dawned on her. 'That means that Deidara man will be there.' She deflated a little more, thinking about how someone would happen between him and Deidara and it would be taken out on her again.

“Love will be in the air,” his mother said easily. Her expression shifted to a sharp glare and a wide smile. One that sent a shiver up Sasori’s and Sandaime’s spines. “And if you get into another fight with the Deidara boy our next visit will not be so pleasant. Is that understood, my sweet baby boy?” Her voice was like sugared ice.

Sasori’s lips pursed and he nodded. “But Moth—“

His mother’s eyes narrowed. "I don't want to hear it from you," she said sharply. "I will see you at that party."

Sasori closed his mouth and nodded again. "Of course," he sighed.

"My brother picked a great one," Sandaime said to quietly Azumi with a smirk. She smiled and nodded in agreement.

"Good," Sasori’s mother said. She kissed his cheek sweetly. "Now what are you doing tomorrow?" She asked him, pulling his hand into her lap. She gently stroked the back of his hand as she waited for his answer.

"I am going to start selling new fragrances in my shop," Sasori said. "I wanted to take them in tomorrow."

"Oh!" she grinned. "You're making scents again! What have you made? I'm almost out of the one you made me a few years ago for my birthday.”

Sasori's brows furrowed. "You still have that?" he laughed, shaking his head. "These are all new scents she made," he said with a glance back at Azumi.

His mother looked at her. "You make perfumes?"

"I do," Azumi nodded. "If you wish, I can make you one."

She in her seat turned to look at Azumi fully. "I would love one," she smiled.

"If Sasori is vouching for you then you must be good," Sandaime chuckled.

Azumi smiled back at both of them. "Do you have specific notes you want?" she asked.

"If my son speaks of you like that, then I think I can trust you to pick them," Sasori's mother said.

"Absolutely, my Lady," Azumi nodded. She looked at Sandaime, her smile still in place. "Would you like one as well, Lord Sandaime?"

Sandaime tried his best to keep his boyish excitement off his face. "Yes," he grinned, failing easily. "Pick whatever you want," he grinned

"Consider it done," she told them. "I will have them done for you as soon as possible."

"If you come by the shop tomorrow, we'll have them there for you," Sasori said.

"I haven't been to your shop in a while," his mother said.

"Not too much has changed," he smiled at her. "I'll take you to lunch, too," he said softly.

She grinned wide and pulled him into a hug. "I also haven't been on a lunch date with you in a while!" she said.

Sasori chuckled, smiling as he hugged his mother back. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Mother," he said, pulling back.

She pulled away from him and sat back down in her seat. “I will stop by around the afternoon.” She stood up and Sasori rose with her. Sandaime took that as his cue to get ready to leave.

Sasori walked with his mother to the door and leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Tell father I say hello," he said with another small smile.

"I will," she said. "And you will also see him at the party."

"Father is coming too?" he hummed. "Then I'm being watched for real," he chuckled tightly.

Azumi walked next to Sandaime as they followed Sasori and his mother. "As always, it was nice to see you, Lord Sandaime," she said softly to him.

"Likewise," he smiled at her. "I hope to see you well and healthy at the party as well," he chuckled.

She smiled at him as he joined Sasori's mother by the door. She bowed to both of them. "It was a pleasure to meet you, my Lady," she said to Sasori's mother. "I will have your perfume ready for you when you come to the shop."

Sasori's mother looked Azumi over again, hard this time. She was quiet for a moment then smiled. "It was nice to meet you, too. I am eager to know what you come up with," she nodded to Azumi. It was not as formal as Gaara or Sandaime but still with a hint of human respect.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Mother," Sasori said one last time as she and Sandaime left. Once he and Azumi were alone, they both let out a quiet relieved sigh. "We're going to lay down now," he sighed again. He ran a hand through his hair, walking back to his room. "Tch, a party at that brat’s home again! And I have to find a wife no less!" he huffed, flopping down on his bed. He rolled onto his back and covered his eyes with his forearms. "I don't want to deal with this!"

Azumi frowned as she sat down on the daybed. She said nothing at first, knowing he wanted to sulk for a moment. After about a minute, she got up and went into the workshop and grabbed the oil she made earlier. "Your mother is a lovely woman," she said as she walked back to the daybed and sat down. She opened the bottle and smelled it, smiling at how good it was. 'I did a good job on this,' she thought.

"My mother," Sasori sighed, "is the reason everyone thinks I'm the devil," he chuckled, pulling his arm away from the eyes. He let both his arms relax over his head and tried to relax the rest of his body. "She was pretty tame just now but it was probably just because that Shizune girl and you were there."

Azumi hummed into a slight chuckle. "Interesting," she mumbled. She held the bottle out to him for him to smell it. "Do you like this?" she asked him.

He opened his eyes to look at what she was referring to. He curled up, reaching out for the bottle to bring it to his nose and took a deep breath. "How do you do this?" he breathed. It smelled amazing. No one should have been able to put together so many amazing scents like this. It was relaxing. The kind of scent you kept wanting to shove your face in and keep on your body.

"As I said before, this was a hobby of mine back home," she said, resting her elbows on his bed as she leaned on it. "On top of the research I did for my father, I spent time making things like this and developing the combinations of different notes to make perfect fragrances. If one does not become addicted—so to speak—to the scent, then I did not do a good job."

Sasori eyed her with his lips pressed thin before they pulled into a small smirk. He scoffed, shaking his head. "It would have been interesting if we met outside of your current circumstances," he mused aloud. "To answer your question: yes, I do like it. Very much. Not as much as the one you made me earlier, though, but I feel like that one is a little special."

"Ah," she chuckled. "I did make that one specifically to your scent. It smells good on its own, yes, but when you wear it, it will change and then that," she smirked, "that will be the perfect fragrance. All of the ones I made do that."

Sasori was more than impressed but he did not want her head getting big so he toned it down and posed his excitement as wanting to learn. "Show me how you determine and make all of that tomorrow," he demanded easily.

"I can do that," she nodded. She looked at the bottle still in his hand as he kept it close to his nose. "You will notice that that oil is a little thinner than the other ones because it is a massage oil. Would you like to use it now?" she asked, a little amused that he was still smelling it.

He went a little cross-eyed, looking down at the bottle. "Like earlier?" he asked, remembering how amazing it felt to have his shoulders rubbed out like that. He was a little hesitant to put himself in such a vulnerable state but he wanted that pain relief more. "Fine," he nodded, passing the bottle back to her.

She took the bottle from him and sat on his bed, smelling it one more time. Even she fell victim to the fragrances she made. "Where would you like me to focus?" she asked.

He laughed softly watching her smell the oil. He took a moment to think then turned over. “Here and here,” he said, placing his hand on his lower and mid back. He then moved his hand up to his shoulders. “Do this again, too.”

"Alright," she hummed. She poured a little bit of the oil into her hand and rubbed her hands together to warm the oil up as he removed his shirt. She moved to sit on him and pressed her hands to his back, shoulders, and neck to spread the oil. The scent of it hit them both immediately. She started with his lower back, frowning as she felt just how knotted up and twisted he was. 'How was he just living with this?' she thought.

"Hee-uh," Sasori grunted under her. He gripped his sheets tightly as she dug into his sore muscles. They were even worse than his shoulders and suddenly he was incredibly tender the more she moved her hands. He buried his face into the bed and focused on the scent of the oil.

She pressed harder into his back as she moved up a little bit. "I understand you do not deem most people worthy of touching you," she started softly, "but part of taking care of yourself is making sure you do not get like this." She pressed into a particularly large knot in his mid-back.

He groaned loudly, biting into the sheets beneath him. "Sh-shut up and do that again," he said, resisting the urge to squirm under her. It hurt but in the best way possible. He knew she was right but there was literally no one he trusted to do this. He barely trusted her but here he was, receiving a massage from his slave. She sighed, pressing into his back again and working the knot some more until it released. Then she moved up his back a little bit more. He honestly had not realized how bad his back had gotten. He used to keep his body finely tuned but a lot had gotten in the way and it slipped to the wayside. It irritated him to hear his slave lecture him on something he knew very intimately. "Let me guess," he said as he propped his head up by his chin on his hand. "You were also a masseuse in your village for fun, too?" he chuckled. "In between your responsibilities, dancing, and science?"

“No, not at all,” she chuckled softly. “As a dancer, I would have to get a massage every now and then to make sure I could still dance. I learned this from having it done for me multiple times.”

“Less and less you seem like a real person,” Sasori hummed. “Every time you showcase some new skill, I’m convinced more and more that I’m actually in a coma and you are my dream slave,” he snorted a little. This was not a lie. He was being totally honest but he was not sure how seriously she would take that.

'Your dream slave is just a caretaker who does not ask questions,' she thought, rolling her eyes. "I can assure you that you are awake," she told him. She moved further up his back, finding a tense spot between his shoulder blades again. 'That tensed up entirely too quickly,' she thought, remembering how he immediately recoiled when his uncle entered the room earlier.

He swallowed another grunt and grew quiet as she worked for a little while. His eyes rolled and he bit through his lip when she pressed into the knot. He felt it shoot up his neck, making him gasp. “Gah,” he breathed. “I hate my uncle,” he growled. He turned his head a little to look back at Azumi. “What...did you think of that girl?”

"Lady Shizune?" she hummed. She took a moment to think about her answer. "She was...a very nervous woman. For someone with a job like the one she has, one would think she would have more confidence in herself." She moved her hands up to his shoulders, reworking what she did earlier. "She was nice but she would not have lasted very long. And the nervous tapping started to irritate me, I will admit." Under the assumption that he would keep her around after marriage, she was hoping he would find a wife that she could handle being around. As his slave, she was technically also marrying whoever he married.

"Uuh," he groaned. "I'm so glad you saw what I did," he sighed. "If neither of us could deal with her then there was no way she could be considered to be my wife." He smiled, feeling validated. "She didn't even counter me when I was being 'too cold.’” He rolled his eyes. "I don't want my wife to be subservient with no bite at all. That's boring," he chuckled a little. "You're way more challenging than she was and you're not even supposed to be."

She moved her hands down his back again, checking for any more knots. "You clearly need someone who is much more confident," she said. "Someone who is not afraid of you to the point of just agreeing with everything you say...but someone who also respects your work..." She hummed in thought for a moment. "I think you need someone who is almost like your own mother. But maybe only half as scary."

"I was afraid you'd say that." Sasori laughed a genuine laugh. "You're too smart," he hummed, moaning softly as she moved her hands back down. It was not nearly as painful, now it was sore in the best sort of way.

"There is no such thing as too smart," she frowned. She did one last check for tense spots and found none. "I think we are done here," she said. She moved to the side of him, kneeling on the bed and picking up the bottle to put the cap back on. "How do you feel?"

He sat up, flashing a smirk at her as he sat back on his heels. He stretched his back, shifting back and forth. "The best I have in months," he told her honestly. "Put that on my nightstand," he said, gesturing to the small table that held the ledger he read from every night. "A slave can be too smart." His lips curved up again. "It's rare but so far I'm enjoying it," he hummed. "You're very entertaining."

She placed the bottle on the nightstand and crawled off of the bed. "I am glad you find my intelligence entertaining," she said flatly. She resisted the urge to scoff and roll her eyes. He knew full well she was a scientist before being a slave. Of course, she was smart. It just irked her that he was hinting at her being too smart for a slave. She shook her head, composing herself. "Will you be needing anything else?" she asked him.

His smirked lingered on his lips as he settled into the pillows at the top of his bed. He knew he struck a chord with that comment. "Not now. Have dinner," he waved her off, stretching a little. He felt amazing. Everything was relaxed and he was entertaining the idea of a nap.

She nodded and bowed slightly. She went into the workshop to grab the last remaining bottles of fragrances she made that she wanted to keep for herself and headed to her room to leave them there. Naga hissed softly and followed her out of her room, coiling around her body as she walked to the kitchen. The same three servants were in there, giving her the same looks as always. She was quickly growing tired of them.

"We heard the young Master had a meeting today," one of them spoke up with a grin.

"His mother was there, wasn't she?" the second joined in. "Did he cry? Or did he make the girl cry?" All three of them snickered.

"I love when his mother visits," the third joined in.

"Even better when his uncle is here, too," the first smirked.

"There was a meeting," Azumi said as she served herself. "And unfortunately, there were no tears shed. Still, she was...not the one for him. there even anyone for him?" Naga leaned in close to smell what she had in her bowl and she gently pushed his nose away as she ate. All three snorted. ‘Am I in a room full of pigs or servants?’ she thought.

"We can think of one or two but it will never happen," one of them grinned. The other two chuckled softly, taking a sip from their respective cups.

"Right," Azumi hummed. "I had a feeling that was the situation." She finished her food and cleaned up. She pet Naga on the head as she made two cups of tea. "Well, his mother is giving him no choice in finding a wife," she told them. "So we will see what happens." She gave them a nod as she backed out of the kitchen and headed back to Sasori's room.

Chapter Text

Sasori was still reveling in the loose feeling of his muscles. He picked up his ledger to write a few notes down but his thoughts slowly drifted back to the meeting. He did not need a wife right now. He did not want anything to distract him from his work. Especially not now since he now had such a competent slave at his disposal. Again, the thought that if he and Azumi had met as equals drifted through. Would they have become close? Would they have gotten along or would she still have gravitated towards his cousin? His mouth twisted into a small pout as he thought, closing his eyes.

Azumi walked into the room and around his bed to place the second cup of tea she brought on his nightstand. "I brought you tea," she said softly as she moved to the daybed and sat down on it. Naga coiled up in her lap, hissing softly at her. She smirked at him, knowing he just wanted attention and to be pet. So she did what he wanted.

Sasori opened his eyes, glancing at the tea on the nightstand. He picked it up before turning his attention towards her and Naga. "How is he?" he asked, looking at the snake.

"He is fine," she said. "He is just being needy because I leave him alone in my room."

"Mmm," Sasori hummed, sipping from his cup of tea. "So even snakes get needy, like cats," he smiled, amused by the general idea of it.

"It is not very common, but it happens. I am sure it happens with every living creature." She looked at him and smirked. "Even the ones that are known for being loners."

He tensed up, his eyes widening when what she was implying settled in. He narrowed his eyes and smirked. “You’re getting too cheeky,” he said. There as no real threat in his tone.

She hummed as she sipped her tea. "Too smart...too cheeky. My apologies for not being born into slavery." She looked back down at Naga and started petting him again.

Sasori cocked an eyebrow, hiding a smile in his cup of tea. “Inborn slaves are the worst to train in what I do,” he sighed. “I guess I can tolerate your cheek for now,” he said with another dramatic sigh. “And if you weren’t intelligent, I would have killed you off so I suppose it’s for the best that you aren’t a half-wit.”

She finished her tea and laid back on the daybed, continuing to pet Naga as she looked up at the sky through the window in the dome ceiling. She thought about the previously mentioned slaves he had and how now all of them are dead because they did something wrong that he did not like. She had not been doing this for very long, but it was quite simple. “Your first slave to die...” she started, “did they die of natural causes or did you kill them?”

Sasori sipped his tea again. “A mix of both. If you want to call stupidity a natural cause,” he said. “They poisoned themselves by accident. I saw them make the mistake but I was tired of correcting them so I just let them. It was a slow death.”

"I see..." She closed her eyes and sighed. She would not admit that she did consider stupidity to be a natural cause of death. She did not need him thinking she was anything like him. However, it was also his fault, for even trusting someone with poisons when he knew they were stupid. "And how many have you actually killed yourself again?" She was genuinely curious as to how he did it.

He took a deep breath and a moment to think. He started to count on his hand then recount. “Did you want to start from fourteen or more recently?” he asked her after he figured out a number. “Because fourteen to seventeen where mostly mistakes,” he chuckled like he was remembering fond memories and not the deaths of human lives. “Eighteen to now were mostly by my hand directly or indirectly.”

To think someone who was not even thirty years old yet had upwards of eighteen slaves in his lifetime baffled her. Why did he have so many incompetent people? She understood his standards so super high but they were achievable even by someone who did not have a background in science. Then it occurred to her that maybe they were very scared of him and they let their fear get the best of them, causing them to mess up a lot. It would be stupid to ask if he regretted actually murdering people. "You seem to be a very lucky man except when it comes to slaves," she hummed. She moved Naga to her chest and held her finger out in front of him for him to strike with his nose. Then she moved it somewhere else to repeat the action. It was like a little game.

Sasori watched her little game curiously. "It would seem so," he hummed. "Are you implying you plan to join that unlucky count?" He closed his ledger and placed it back on the nightstand. "Aside from you playing games with my cousin, I haven't had any issues with you. But if you want to have 'an accident,' I..." He paused and considered his words. "I'll have to stop you."

"I do not plan on being part of that count, but I figure it would not matter how competent I am and that eventually you will grow tired of my attitude and want to kill—wait," she cut herself off. "You would stop me?" He literally just admitted to not stopping the last ones that accidentally killed themselves, now he was admitting that he would stop her? 'Not that I would be so stupid to make such a mistake,' she thought.

"Of course," he said easily. He hid another smirk in his cup of tea. "You yourself just pointed out that I have quite the unlucky streak with slaves." He looked at her. "But it seems to have all been a build up to gaining you. And now that I have you, there is no way I'm letting anything or anyone take you from me," he emphasized that last part of his sentence. "If you start pulling stunts like that, I'll simply have to start training you," he shrugged.

"Hm," she hummed quietly through a frown. She was not sure what he meant by 'training' her but she did not want to ask or even find out. "Then I can assure you, I will not be doing anything like that." She noticed that Naga fell asleep on top of her. Despite not having eyelids, he was clearly asleep and it was cute.

"I'll hold you to that," he smirked. He looked back at Naga and chuckled. "Did he get tired of your game?"

"I suppose he did," she said softly, petting the snake's head again. It was like having a child. "The venomous ones are the neediest," she noted.

He snorted, shaking his head. "I suppose the most dangerous of us tend to be, don't they." He set his cup down and stretched. He watched her and Naga for a few more minutes before slipping off of the bed. "I'm restless."

She looked at him. "Is there something you have that you want to work on?" she asked. "We could make more fragrances if you want. I do still have to make the perfume for your mother and cologne for your uncle."

"We could start with that." He gave her a devilish smirk. "Show me how you make your scents addicting."

She nodded and gently moved Naga onto the daybed as she got up. She walked with Sasori into the workshop. "What scents does your mother not like?" she asked as she picked out the different ingredients. "Does she prefer sweet scents or more...subtle?"

"Um..." He leaned against the workbench. "Subtle," he said after some thought.

"Perfect," she hummed. "Those are my favorite to make. Also, making these fragrances is very simple." She separated the ones she wanted to use from all of the ones that could be considered sweet. She picked up one oil and held it out to him. "This has almost no scent on its own. But when applied to other scents, it amplifies them. You can make a good combination of notes and it will smell good. Once you add this, it will smell great."

He flared his nostrils a little, smelling the oil. "Interesting," he said softly, as he watched her intently. "So that isn't what you start with, it's just an add on?"

"If you start with it, it will not mix well," she said as she started to mix a couple of notes together. She chose the ones that she thought complemented each other the best without putting in too much. "The other scents would not be as potent if it was applied first." She did a second one, adding the amplifying oil before the other notes so he could smell the difference.

He smelled each of them and nodded, making mental notes of what she did to create the scent in general. "That is a marked difference," he noted.

"I noticed it looked very unused," she said, gesturing to the amplifier. She left the perfume to set and started working on the cologne for Sandaime. "Is that because it does not have much of a scent?" she smirked.

He looked at the bottle then squinted at her. "No..." he said softly. "Yes...I got it in a set but I didn't know what it was for," he shrugged. "But you know what it is so now it can be used."

"Very well, then," she nodded.  "Now you know how to make the ones you already make more addicting," she told him.

"Maybe I'll buy more of this." He looked at the little bottle again. "What of scent are you making for my heathen of an uncle?"

"Something a little similar to the masculine scent I made to be sold in your shop, but I'm taking out most of the spice notes so it smells cleaner," she answered. She spent a few minutes making Sandaime's cologne.

He scoffed as he watched her work. "He doesn't deserve something so nice," he clicked his teeth. He pushed himself up onto the table and picked up some of the notes she had picked out. "So your father...was he trying to set you up like my mother is or were you free to date?"

She did not answer at first, not exactly sure she wanted to tell him so much about herself in that way. After a couple of moments of silence, she finally answered. "I was not exactly free to date," she said. "But that did not stop me. I was in a relationship. At first, it was hidden from my father. He tried to set me up with different men. And when he finally met the man I was dating, he did not like him and continued to try and set me up with different men."

"Oooh, rough," he said teasingly. "Considering the boy you're trying to reel in here your father must be very picky," he smirked. "Good thing he doesn't have to worry about that anymore. But I do wonder what the boy was like. You don't strike me as the good boy kind."

She ignored his comment about Gaara. "If you are implying that I like rebellious men," she could not hide the smirk on her face, "you may be right."

He rolled his head to rest on his shoulder, looking at her with a lopsided smirk. "I wasn't implying anything. It's pretty easy to read what kind of men you like," he chuckled. "Everyone in my family is rebellious in their own way." He looked up at the ceiling. "We don't like to remain still or complacent. I can tell you're the same way."

"I may have been what my father would consider his trouble child," she hummed. "He would describe me as reckless but I do not do anything without thinking about it first. But if I do not consult him about it beforehand, then he thinks I did not think it through." She sighed and rolled her eyes, much like she remembered doing whenever her father lectured her about anything. "But all three of my brothers do everything he says so it makes it look like I am the rebellious one. Yet...there is still not much that I would not do for my father."

"He sounds very controlling," Sasori hummed. "My parents were strict when I was young but once I moved in with my grandmother to be her apprentice they haven't been very prying." He looked down at her again. He smirked, chuckling softly. "Sounds like you've almost been bred to become my slave," he said with a spark of joy in his eyes.

Azumi's brows furrowed. She did not like that he thought of it that way. She finished the cologne for Sandaime and closed the bottle and stepped away from the counter. "They are finished," she told him.

"We'll put them in some nice box tomorrow," he said, stretching again. "I'm still bored," he sighed.

"Then what is it you want to do?" she asked him. She felt like he was a child she needed to keep entertained. "I have already shown you how I make addicting fragrances. Everything else I know how to do, you most likely already know. There is not much else I can show you."

His face split into a grin. “Well, we could go for a walk or,” he pulled her close, “we could paint some more.” His voice was a low whisper. There was a crazed glint in his eye for a moment. He blinked and it was gone. She knew exactly what he meant by ‘paint some more.’ He released her, leaning back on his hands again. “If we go out for the walk then I can show you where to see the stars the best,” he hummed. “If you want a tame night.”

She blinked in shock for a moment, processing what just happened. "I do not understand why you are giving me the option to go for a walk or to have my body destroyed some more. Of course, I am going to opt for the walk." She took a step away from him. "It may actually be beneficial to a de-stressing type of way."

“Your justification is cute.” His grin curved with the promise that the other option was still on the table regardless of what she chose. He jumped off of the table and turned easily on his foot as he grabbed her hand and turned her, pinning her to the table’s edge. “The night is still young. Let’s see how I’m feeling by the time we get back,” he whispered in her ear.

She frowned, trying not to shudder with how close he was to her. She hoped he would be tired from the walk enough to not want to do anything. “Right...” she said softly. She knew full well that the choice was merely an illusion. He pulled away, flashing her the dangerous smirk again as he started to clean up their little mess. She helped him clean everything up and they moved out to his bedroom. Naga woke up and hissed quietly at her. She kneeled next to the daybed to pet him and he leaned in close to tap his nose against hers. “So where is the best place to see the stars?” she asked Sasori.

"Up on the rocks," he said, picking a shawl from a hook on the wall. "It's a little outside of the city but not too far." He looked at the snake. "You can bring him if you want."

Before he even finished his sentence, Naga was already coiling around her body as she stood up straight, resting his head on her shoulder. “He does not want to be left alone again,” she said.

He chuckled softly, walking to the door. "I didn't think he would," he said, walking out of the door silently. He started down the hall, towards the back of the mansion. She followed him just as silently. They passed almost no servants on their way out. Once they were outside, Azumi looked around. She had walked with Gaara this way the night before since the river curved behind the mansion. The sun had completely set and the nightlife in the city could be heard in the distance as it began. Sasori hummed softly the moment his feet touched the sand. "Komushi and I used to go for 'adventures' out here when we were kids," he said, wrapping the shawl around his shoulders.

Azumi smirked as they continued to walk. “Adventures?” she asked. “Dare I say that sounds quite precious.” Though, she did not know what these adventures entailed. For all she knew, they could have spent those adventures talking about murder like the psychopaths they were.

"If you find two teenaged boys hunting for scorpions in the night and plotting murder precious," he chuckled. He dragged his toes through the sand, making a long line in it. The moon reflected off of it, making it look almost white.

‘There it is,’ she thought, rolling her eyes. “It does not surprise me one bit that that is what you two did,” she hummed.

He chuckled, tipping his head back to look up at the expansive sky. "It was fun," he grinned. "We were still free and young," he sighed. "So naive."

"So who was the first one to bring up the topic of murder?" she smirked. "You or Lord Komushi?"

"Komushi," Sasori answered easily. "Well, it was more like he voiced the thoughts we were both having," he added. "It was his idea to start using the venom in the first place but it was my idea to milk the scorpions and concentrate the venom into poisons."

"Ah, I see..." she said. 'So neither one of them is more psychotic than the other,' she thought. "It sounds like you two are meant for each other," she deadpanned. She stopped for a second and dug her feet into the sand, enjoying the feeling of it for a few moments before moving to catch up with Sasori who had continued on.

"I guess you could say we're best friends." He rolled his eyes with a smile on his face. "Did you not have any friends in your village? Was it just work and family?"

"I had a few friends," she said. "None I was as close with as you are with Lord Komushi, however." She looked up at the sky in thought. She tried not to think about what her life was like before too much. She did miss her old life. She missed it a lot. But she did not want to express to Sasori in any way how much she missed it. Since she left, she tried to keep her thoughts away from her village and family. She tried to focus more on surviving.

"I can hear the longing in your voice," Sasori said over his shoulder. "It's cute," he smirked. "I don't think many get to have a pain in the ass who doesn't understand the concept of 'leave me alone' to themselves."

'I would consider myself to be lucky to not have one,' she thought. She looked behind them and noticed they were already out of the city. "How often do you come out here now as an adult?" she asked him softly.

"I don't," he said laughed. "I don't have time to and usually don't care to when I do have the time."

"Once again, I am not surprised," she hummed. She continued to follow him, noticing that the further out they went, the more she could see the stars in the sky. She did not pay much attention to it when she was being transported from her village. She did not have much of a chance to pay attention to it. "Wow..." she whispered.

"I'd say I might pick up the habit again but that would be a lie," he chuckled. He looked up as he walked and felt at ease, taking in the vast expanse of the sky. He was walking towards a large set of rocks set away from the river.

Azumi leaned against one of the rocks when they approached them, looking up at the sky still. She did not realize that she would be able to see so many stars and see the constellations as they were taught to her. "I would make it a habit," she mumbled to herself, forgetting for a moment that she was a slave and would not be able to do such a thing.

"I know you would," Sasori said casually. "But you're not really allowed to form habits I don't want," he chuckled.

"Is that not part of the challenge you like?" she asked, turning around to start climbing on the rock. Naga went ahead and slithered to the top of the rock.

"I'm allowing you to walk along the river bank at night, aren't I?" he said, walking up to the same large rock.

She froze halfway up the rock. 'He saw me coming back?' she thought. 'Did he see Gaara?' She looked down at him, keeping her composure. "I only sit by the river to clear my head," she said. He made it to her level and she looked him in the eyes. "I told you before, my loyalty to you remains. I would never stray too far."

"I know," he chuckled. "I can see you talking to your cobra from my tub." He sat down on the flat top of the rock.

She and Naga shared a look and a relieved sigh. She made it to the top of the rock and laid back to look up at the sky, resting her head on her arms as Naga coiled up next to her. She enjoyed the next few moments of silence as she looked for constellations she recognized. After a couple of minutes, she looked over at Sasori, who was also laying down and looking up. "Do you have a favorite constellation?" she asked.

"Scorpius," he said like it was the most obvious detail about him. "I thought that would be self-explanatory."

Azumi tried to stifle a laugh but ended up letting it out. "You are right," she said. "I should have expected that. My apologies for thinking you would like anything else."

"I'm glad you're finally catching on," Sasori chuckled, taking his shawl off to use as a pillow under his head. "I have a running theme about me. It would suit you well to catch onto that," he said teasingly.

"Oh, believe me, I have caught on," she said. "I was just wondering if I would ever receive a surprising answer from you. I was wrong." She hummed in thought. "I suppose it is safe to assume that I have a running theme," she muttered. She knew the scorpion was just as much his identity as the snake was her's.

"I'm original when I need to be," Sasori smirked. "I know your theme but humor me and tell anyway."

"My favorite constellation?" she asked. "Hydra," she said easily. "Which I am sure is of no surprise to you. It is just one of the multiple serpent constellations."

Sasori snorted. "Yeah, there's no surprise at all there."

"Mm," she hummed. "I guess we are both quite predictable then," she said softly. They stared up at the sky for a little while longer. Azumi had not realized how tired she actually was until she felt herself drifting off to sleep.

"You're anything but," he said softly, looking up at the sky. He folded his hands neatly on his stomach and let the silence between them stretch on. He noted the shift in the sound of her breathing. "Hfft," he chuckled softly through his nose. "Falling asleep before your master," he hummed, rolling on his side. Naga was coiled up neatly on her stomach. He suddenly wanted to burn this image into his mind. She looked so different asleep. He moved a little closer and ghosted his fingers down her nose, lips, and jaw. His eyes flickered to the burn he made on her chest that was peeking through her dress. This girl was almost too perfect. Too perfect to be a slave. Too perfect to have just been let go and conveniently stumble into his possession. There was something about her that made him want to push her to her limits. He needed to know more about her, break her but he also did not want to lose her.

She stirred a little, humming quietly as she shifted onto her side. Naga somehow stayed perfectly coiled on top of her, resting his head on her hip. Having become her familiar in just a matter of days, he already knew when and how she moved in her sleep and was able to adjust himself accordingly.

Sasori watched them move together. If she had been anyone else...he would have pushed her off. If he was honest with himself, had she been anyone else, they would not have been doing this at all. He watched her for a little longer before sighing and deciding they should go home. He shifted to scoop her up in her arms and pulled her close to his chest. He stood up slowly, letting Naga adjust to Azumi’s new position in his arms before turning to descend the rock formation the way they came.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Azumi woke up to Naga tapping her nose with his. She groaned softly. "Good morning to you, too," she said quietly without opening her eyes. She reached a hand out to pet him gently and then opened her eyes, realizing she was in Sasori's room, and instead of being on the daybed, she was in his bed. She did not even remember falling asleep on the rock. Sasori's sleeping form was very close to her body. He moaned softly in his sleep, his eyes squeezing a little. She turned around to look at him. 'Did he carry me here?' she thought. 'Why did he not wake me up?' She watched him for a few moments, wondering why he had been so nice to her. Naga shifted on her to look at Sasori. Sasori grunted in his sleep, throwing an arm over Azumi's stomach. Her breath hitched and she froze for a second. Naga hissed softly, trying to nudge Sasori's hand with his head. For fear that something would happen to the snake if Sasori woke up and saw what he was doing, she pushed him away. "Do not worry," she told Naga quietly. She gently lifted Sasori's arm in an attempt to move away.

A smirk started to curl Sasori's lips. "I can practically hear your heart racing," he rasped, pulling a little closer to her.

She tensed up a little when he pulled her closer. "Well, you are...very close. Good morning," she said softly. He was spatially invasive normally, but this felt different and she did not know if she liked it.

"I am," he hummed. "Good morning." He stretched gracefully, digging his nails into her side. "Run a bath, then get breakfast." He pressed his face into her thigh.

She was a little less gentle when she lifted his arm to unwrap it from her when she got out of the bed. She went into the bathroom and started his bath, using the salt and oil that she made for him the day before. She inhaled deeply, smirking at how well it turned out. Once it was ready, she stepped back into his room. "I will be right back with your breakfast," she told him.

"Make sure you eat this time," he said from his pillow. "Or I'll force feed you."

Azumi sighed as she walked out of his room and made her way through the halls to the kitchen. She smelled coffee and hummed. She looked around the kitchen for a tray and served two bowls then made two cups of coffee. One of the usual three servants entered the kitchen just as she finished making Sasori's coffee. "Good morning," she said to them. She did it to be polite but in reality, she did not want to have a conversation with them.

"Good morning," they said with a small grin. They walked over to grab their breakfast and make their own cup of tea. "You and the young master are really getting along, aren't you," they winked at her.

Her brow furrowed as she looked at them, knowing exactly what they were implying. "No," she said simply. "He is being nicer, but there is nothing more going on."

"Mm," they hummed, squinting at her. "The pool is only going to grow," they sipped their tea and took their seat at the table just as another one of them walked in.

"Pool?" she asked. "As in a betting pool?" She tried her best not to growl the question, but she was already growing annoyed with these servants, this was only making it worse.

"Duh," the third one said as they walked in. "You really think there wouldn't be one with how strangely the young master has been behaving with you?"

"We're honestly surprised every day how long you're living," the second one said, getting breakfast.

"And how nicely he's treating you," the first one chimed in. They squinted at her, with a grin.

"I can assure you that I have not slept with him," she said. "And I do not intend to."

"That doesn't mean he doesn't intend to," the second one smirked.

Azumi frowned, thinking about how he acted when they woke up. "It will not happen," she told them. She gave them a polite nod as she picked up the tray and went back to Sasori's room. She shook her head, trying not to let her anger get the best of her. "Disgusting," she muttered as she entered the room and set the tray down on his desk.

“Bring it in here,” Sasori called from the bath. “Both of them.” She took a second to regain her composure before picking up the tray and taking his breakfast to him in the bathroom. She handed him his bowl first, then set the coffee down next to him. “Eat,” he said, taking the bowl from her. “But strip first. I want to see something,” he grinned, taking a sip of his coffee.

She looked at him for a moment, before taking a step back. She started to take off her dress, letting it fall to the ground easily. It was not the first time she stripped in front of him. They had seen each other naked many times since she became his slave. But this was the first time since she had become his slave that she started to feel a little uncomfortable with it. She chalked it up to what the other servants said minutes ago starting to get into her head.

He noticed her body language instantly. His eyes narrowed as he put his cup down. “What is it?” he asked bluntly. He did not have time for getting shy all of a sudden.

"Mm," she hummed. "Nothing important. Just the other servants of the house getting on my nerves. I usually try not to let such things bother me."

“Which ones?” He did not mind having Chiyo’s servant reprimanded. It was fun to watch them cower when he walked by when he bothered to pay them any mind.

She thought for a second. " not even know their names," she said. "But they always seem to be in the kitchen. They gossip like old women. All three of them seem to have a hard time minding their own business."

Sasori’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “Oh, those three,” he grumbled. “Don’t pay attention to them. They are Chiyo’s personal servants and have a bad habit of running their mouths.”

"So I am gathering," she sighed. "I will try to limit my interactions with them."

“Good.” He continued to eat his food. “They seem to think they have an immunity to me but they don’t. Especially if they start messing with you.” He waved her closer to him.

She could not resist the smirk that appeared on her lips at the thought of them cowering. “I am sure they will learn,” she mumbled to herself as she stepped closer to him.

He reached out and traced his fingertips down along her snake tattoo. His eyes fixated on the shape and detail that went into it. He smirked, envisioning what he could do to it. He tapped her hip so she would turn around. She turned around for him, letting the anger over the other servants subside and then looked down at him. She had no idea what he was planning but the look on his face told her he was planning something. He ran a hand up her back and played with the end of her hair. “So much canvas,” he hummed with a grin.

‘Great, he is going to destroy my body some more,’ she thought, rolling her eyes.

“Take a bath once you’re done eating,” he said, giving her a small push.

She nodded and picked up her bowl to start eating. As she ate, she set up her bath so it would be ready by the time she was done. She used the newer salts and oil that Sasori made for her, unable to hide the smile when she smelled how good it was. She sat on the edge of the tub, dipping her feet into the pool as she ate. She looked out at the river, trying to figure out where she was when Sasori saw her and how to avoid being seen again.

"I'll leave you to add and set up all of the new scents in the shop," he said, finishing his breakfast. He sighed, leaning back in the tub. "I really don't want to deal with this stupid party," he nearly whined, as he stretched his legs out of the tub.

She looked at him and hummed. "All you have to do is look like you are making an effort," she told him. "She did not say you had to leave the party with a wife." She finished her food and slipped into the tub then took a sip of her coffee.

He turned his head to look at her hard. "She won't accept that at all," he sighed. "But it might keep me from murdering Deidara." He rested his head on the backs of his hands on the edge of the tub. He narrowed his eyes at her. "Mmm, yes," he grinned. "I'll use you to deflect ladies while 'making an effort,' and you can keep me from murdering Deidara."

"I do not think you need me to deflect them for you," she smirked. "You seem to be perfectly capable of doing that on your own. However, keeping you from murdering him, I can try to do."

"Either way, you're sticking close to me," he sighed. "I'm not dealing with that alone."

She leaned her head against the edge of her bath and sighed. "Alright," she said. She had been hoping to have the freedom to move around as he gave her during the first party. She had to admit to herself that she just wanted to hang around with Gaara. Then she realized she would be seeing Gaara later in the day when they went to the shop and she sipped her coffee excitedly.

Sasori sunk low into the bath to wash his hair. When he came back up, he pushed his hair all the way back and sighed. "I'll meet you in the room," he said, pushing himself out of the tub. He dried off before pulling on his robe.

Azumi watched him walk out of the bathroom and finished her coffee. She set the cup next to the bath and started to clean herself off, taking a couple of minutes to enjoy the scent of the water. When she was done, she stepped out carefully, grabbing a towel to wrap around herself. She picked up both of their empty bowls and cups and set them back on the tray. Stepping out into the room, she set the tray back on his desk.

Sasori was fully dressed when she walked out. "We should get there in time to do some work in the shop before my mother comes around."

She nodded as she found her clothes and dropped her towel to get dressed. Once she was dressed, she stepped into the workshop to put the cologne for Sandaime and the perfume for Sasori's mother into their respective boxes. She found the cologne she made for Gaara and put it into one of the folds of her dress. Seeing that she was ready, Sasori started for the door. They made their way to the shop easily without any interruption. Gaara was already in the workshop when Sasori pushed the door open.

"Good morning," Azumi grinned at Gaara as she walked into the shop. She set the two boxes down on the counter and immediately started tending to the snakes.

"Good morning," Gaara gave her a megawatt smile. "How are you this morning?"

"Could you turn that down, Sunshine?" Sasori grumbled as he walked up to the second floor.

Azumi and Gaara watched him go up to the second level and then shared a look. "What is his problem today?" Gaara smirked.

"He has lunch with his mother today," Azumi told him softly. "She wants him to find a wife at this upcoming party."

"Aah," Gaara nodded. "That's fair," he nodded. "My father is already getting on my case about it."

"About marriage?" she hummed. "It seems it is about that time for parents to bother their children about the subject. My father did the same to me before I left."

"Yeah," he hummed. "I think Kankuro has someone." He looked up in thought. "Or he's telling my father that to keep him off his case."

"That is one way to push the issue aside," she chuckled. "Have you considered doing the same or are you actually looking for someone?"

"I...can't play like that," he said, blushing a little. He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "I am interested in someone but they are a little tied up right now," he admitted.

"Oh," she frowned. "That is unfortunate. But I suppose that is not enough for your father." She started to take out the new colognes and perfumes meant to be sold in the shop from their boxes.

"It's not," he sighed. "He wants me out of his hair as soon as possible. As if I'm such a burden on him." He rolled his eyes then grinned, leaning in closer to see what she was pulling out. "What are these?" he asked brightly.

"Perfumes and colognes that Lord Sasori had me make," she smiled. "Would you like to smell them?" Without him answering, she pushed one of each fragrance toward him for him to smell. She could not keep the smirk off of her face.

He smirked, reaching for the bottle without looking away from her. He opened the bottle and waved it under his nose. "Whoa." His eyes widened. He took a deeper breath of it. "That's amazing," he breathed.

"I know," she smirked. She opened the second one and made the same motion for him to smell it.

He took a deep breath. His eyes practically rolled back. "How do you make this?" he groaned with a grin.

"Pretty easily," she hummed. "I like to think I have a good sense of what notes go well together. And then I add an amplifier." She picked up the rest of the bottles and nodded for him to follow her out to the shop so she could set up the display.

"You're amazing," he laughed, following her out. "Your talents are boundless," he grinned.

"You would be surprised at the number of things I cannot do," she chuckled softly. They worked on the display for a couple of minutes. Just as they finished, Sandaime and Sasori's mother entered the shop.

"Good morning, Uncle, Auntie," Gaara smiled, pausing to bow to his family.

"Good morning, Gaara, Azumi," Sandaime nodded.

Sasori's mother smiled, opening her arms and walking over to pull Gaara into a hug. "Good morning, my cute nephew." She kissed his cheeks.

Azumi bowed to both of them. "I have your fragrances," she told them. She stepped back into the workshop to grab the cologne and perfume, returning to hand each of them their respective boxes.

Neither of them waited long to open the boxes. They opened the bottles and took a deep breath. Sasori's mother gasped first. "This is astounding," she sighed. "I've never smelled anything like this before. Did you really just make this?"

"I did, my Lady," Azumi smiled. "I am glad you like it." She looked at Sandaime who was still nose deep in his cologne bottle. "Do you like yours?" she asked him.

He took another deep breath. "Aah, yes," he breathed with a grin. "I'm going to wear this every day from now on." Sasori walked out moments later. "I can't thank you enough." He took another whiff.

Sasori's mother pulled away from Gaara to hug her son. "Good morning, son of mine," she smiled, kissing his cheeks.

"I am glad you like it," Azumi grinned with a slight bow.

"Good morning," Sasori said softly to his mother as he hugged her.

"So where are you taking me for lunch?" she smirked at him.

Sasori chuckled, wrapping his arms around his mother's shoulders.

"I have the perfect place in mind," he grinned. "It's a new place and the food is right up your alley."

"Ooh! I can't wait!" she grinned, placing her hands over his.

"We'll leave in just a few minutes," Sasori told her. "I'm just finishing up a composition upstairs."

"I can finish it for you," Gaara told him.

"Well, then," Sasori chuckled. "Shall we go to an early lunch then, Mother?" He offered her his arm.

She grinned as she took his arm and giggled. "Let's do dessert first," she said, walking with him towards the door.

"Whatever you want," Sasori smiled as they left.

Azumi, Gaara, and Sandaime stood there for a couple of seconds in silence. Sandaime looked at Azumi. "Are you doing well?" he asked her.

She smiled and nodded at him. "I am doing very well," she told him. "Since your visit last night with his mother, he has been much more calm than normal."

"That's good to hear," he smiled kindly. "Let's hope it lasts."

"Hopefully, it's not the calm before the storm, though," Gaara said a little worried. "You know how he likes to plot and snap."

"I know," she hummed. "I am just enjoying it for now. But he is letting me indulge myself in making these fragrances. I even made a few for myself." She chuckled softly and looked back at Sandaime. "If you wear that every day, as you said, then just let me know when you are running low and I will make more for you."

"Will do," he smiled. "He handles pressure well, so he shouldn't snap any time soon. Not over something he's dealt with before."

"Let us just hope the upcoming party actually goes well for him," she sighed. They went into the workshop to sit down. Azumi started making coffee for her and Gaara and tea for Sandaime. "But it is interesting to see how he acts around his mother. But also how...very similar they are."

“Sasori’s always been a mama’s boy,” Sandaime chuckled, taking a seat. “He was very shy when he was little and would hide behind her whenever he’d come over or go out.”

“They used to go on weekly dates when he still lived at home,” Gaara smirked. He moved to close up a few boxes and put them on nearby shelves. “They’ve always been really close.”

“The party should not be an issue.”

“But Deidara might be.”

“Don’t worry about Deidara, he’ll be preoccupied,” Sandaime smirked deviously.

“That sounds a lot like you are going to ‘take care’ of him,” Azumi chuckled.

“Oh, no, once he realizes Sasori’s mother is there, then he’ll relax,” Sandaime clarified.

“Oh...” she hummed. “That is...interesting to know.” She was hoping that meant she would not have to worry too much about trying to stop Sasori from murdering Deidara.

“Sasori gave you free rein to roam the party last time, so we can watch both train wrecks together,” Gaara smiled.

"Mm, I would love to...I would prefer to," she hummed disappointedly. "But he told me to stay close to him for this one."

Both men frowned. “Did he say why?” Sandaime asked.

Gaara was trying his best not to pout. “He can handle ladies on his own,” he huffed.

"That is what I told him but he does not want to deal with them alone," she scoffed. "It feels like I am babysitting him." Once the water was boiling, she poured it over the beaker with the coffee and the rest into a cup of tea. She handed Sandaime his cup of tea as she waited for the coffee to finish filtering.

“Mm, it is always nicer to have a partner to field with the dating pool,” Sandaime sighed. “The women in this town can be scary.” Gaara pressed his lips, annoyed he could not deny this fact.

"But he could not get his best friend to work as a wingman for him?" she grumbled quietly, pouring the coffee for her and Gaara. She handed Gaara his cup and leaned against the counter. "Well, at least I know I would not have to deal with that and Deidara," she sighed.

Both men thanked her for their drinks. “That’s a relief,” Sandaime nodded.

“I don’t think Komushi is going to be at the party,” Gaara frowned, sipping his coffee.

She chuckled softly. "I think that is normally something I would find a bit relieving," she said.

"Yes, Komushi can be a little much sometimes," Sandaime smirked. Gaara went up to the second level to finish up the composition Sasori was working on. "I am going to treat you two for lunch. What would you like?"

Azumi looked up at Gaara who leaned over the railing to look at her. "Arayes?" Azumi suggested.

"And shawarma?" Gaara smirked.

They both looked at Sandaime who chuckled. "Alright," he said, finishing his tea. "Then I will get that for you."

"Thank you," Azumi grinned, bowing as he stood up. Sandaime nodded to her then slipped out of the back door of the shop.

“I’ll see if I can tear you away from my cousin at the party,” Gaara called down to her. “There is no way he’s going to hold onto you the whole night.”

"Hopefully, he will meet someone that he actually hits it off with and I then I will not be needed anymore," she chuckled as she made her way to the second level. She watched as he finished up whatever Sasori started. "However, I am also not getting my hopes up for that. He seems to be very adamant about not getting married."

Gaara looked up and pulled a stool over for her to sit with him. "Sasori's never seemed like the marrying type," he said easily. "Not even when he and Mei were heavily involved. Frankly, I don't think any woman should be stuck with him."

"Mm, I agree," she hummed. "He would not make a good husband." She leaned on the table and rested her head against her fist as she watched him bottle up whatever he was working on. "Oh!" she said, remembering the bottle she hid in her dress. "I made this for you." She pulled it out and handed it to him. "I was having a lot of fun making these. It is made to go well with your natural scent."

Gaara stopped what he was doing to take the bottle with a look of surprise. "You...made me this?" he grinned, taking the bottle. He opened it and took a deep, excited breath. "Oooooh," he breathed out. He felt his heart speed up and a giddy feeling bloom in his stomach. He looked at her and leaned in close. His lips pressed gently against hers before he gained a little confidence and pushed a little harder.

She hummed in surprise before relaxing and pushed gently back into the kiss and cupped his face. When they finally pulled apart, she chuckled softly, feeling her face get warm. " are welcome," she said.

Gaara's face was almost as red as his hair. "I..sorry," he laughed, looking away. "Thank you so much." He smelled the cologne again. "This is amazing."

"I am glad you like it," she smiled. She took the bottle from him, dabbing a little onto her finger and moving a little closer to him. "I want to smell it on you." She gently dragged her finger across his neck. He tilted his jaw up a little so she had better access to his skin. He smiled, looking up at a shelf as it dried on his skin, holding his position so she could smell her work on him. She closed the bottle and leaned in close to smell him, grinning wide at how good it was. "I love it," she whispered, taking his hand and placing the bottle in it and closing his fingers around it.

He curled his fingers around the bottle and turned his face back to look at her with a wide grin. "Then I'll have to wear it every day." He took her hand and kissed the back of it. "Thank you again."

"You are very much welcome," she smirked, leaning in to press a quick and gentle kiss to his lips as she stood up. She heard the back door to the shop open. "Your uncle is back," she whispered. Gaara smiled dreamily as he stood up. He pulled her into a tight hug then released her to walk over to the top of the ladder.

"I got a few extra things," Sandaime called up to them.

"Oh?" Gaara chuckled. "Do I smell...churros?"

"Churros?" Azumi asked excitedly, leaning over the railing. She followed Gaara down the ladder as Sandaime set the food down on a counter. She smelled the food as she approached it and groaned happily.

"They are in fact churros," Sandaime laughed. He pulled the food out and set each dish out.

Gaara walked over to a cabinet and pulled out dishes for them to eat off of.  "The one true weakness of our entire family," Gaara chuckled. "We can't resist them."

"They are a weakness of mine as well," Azumi admitted. She took the plate that Gaara handed her and served herself. She took a little bit of each dish and a couple of churros.

"No wonder you fit right in with us," Sandaime chuckled, dishing out a plate for himself. Gaara smirked, stepping between them to dish out some food. Sandaime noticed the scent on Gaara immediately. "Did you make something for Gaara, too?" he leaned over to look at Azumi with a grin.

"I did," she smiled as she sat down to eat. "I may have gotten a little too excited when I was asked to make these fragrances."

Sandaime chuckled as Gaara took a seat. “No such thing,” he smiled at her. “I’m glad you’re smiling and have something you can enjoy.”

Gaara nodded. “And we all got something one of a kind out of it.” He looked at her with another dreamy smile for a moment then turned back to his food. He hoped his uncle did not notice him slip just now. But Sandaime was a very sharp man. He definitely noticed.

“I am glad you enjoy them,” she chuckled. “I also made bath salts and oils for Lord Sasori, so if you are interested in those, I can do that for you as well.”

“How luxurious,” Gaara chuckled.

“I’ll put in a request,” Sandaime grinned. “I'm weak for things that smell good,” he smiled.

“Then you can expect them soon,” she smirked. “I already know which scents they will be.”

"I'm excited to try them out.” Azumi finished the arayes and shawarma she served herself and immediately started eating the churros. “You’re missing the best part,” Sandaime chuckled, handing her a small tub of icing.

She let out a small gasp as she took it and dipped the churros into it. “This was a very rare thing to have in my village.”

"Really? What kinds of foods are common where you lived?" He finished off his food. "Do you miss any of them?"

"We have an international shop here, we could maybe find some stuff if you miss something specific," Gaara smiled.

She hummed in thought for a moment. “There are a lot of foods here that are very similar or even the same. But churros were something that had to be specially imported so they were rare.”

"I almost can’t imagine this city without churros," Gaara smiled. "They are a scent of my childhood." He finished his food and picked up his own share of churros.

"Your mother made some of the best homemade churros," Sandaime hummed, chewing on his own.

“Ooh, making them,” Azumi hummed. “I never thought to make them myself.” She sat back in her seat as she finished her churros. She looked at Gaara. “Would you like to try making them?”

"I...would like that," he said softly. He looked hard at the churro in his hand, getting lost in thought. "I think Temari has her recipe," he said, snapping out of it and flashing her a big smile.

"If she doesn't, then Kankuro definitely will,” Sandaime hummed. “He cooked with her more often than Temari." He dipped his own churro into some icing.

Azumi smiled back at Gaara. “Get it from one of them and we will try to make it,” she said.

"You are welcome to use my house," Sandaime smiled. "I'm not sure your cousin will allow you to have his slave over."

Gaara nodded to his uncle. "Thank you," he smiled. "He's not fond of how human I treat you," he frowned, looking back at Azumi. "The question is how will we convince him to let you out of his sight."

“That would be impossible,” she frowned. “I cannot think of a reason for me to be able to leave his side. I was thinking of making them here,” she chuckled.

Gaara looked up at the second level, drumming his fingers on his chin. "It might be a challenge but I think we could manage it," he said with a smile. "I'll bring a few extra things from home. I should be able to get the recipe this week but you can tell me when you want to make it."

“Sounds like a date,” she smirked, completely forgetting that Sandaime was right there.

Gaara blushed a little, finishing his churro. "A date," he confirmed. Sandaime smiled discreetly, standing up to clean away the mess before Sasori returned.

Chapter Text

An hour later, Sasori returned with his mother. Her arm was still linked with his. Sandaime came out of the workshop to greet them. “How was your lunch date?” he smiled.

"It was wonderful," Sasori's mother patted her son's shoulder with her free hand. "It was very refreshing to catch up with my prodigal son."

Sasori rolled his eyes but smiled. "We went to the new place that opened up a month ago," Sasori said, kissing the back of his mother's hand before untangling them.

“Oh, a new place?” Sandaime hummed. “I may have to go there.” 

“Definitely,” Sasori’s mother grinned. 

Back in the workshop, Azumi was cleaning the enclosures for the snakes. She heard Sasori and his mother come back and hoped that his lunch date with his mother put him in a good mood.

"Okay, my love," his mother walked into the back. "Show me..." She stopped short, seeing the snakes. She turned around slowly to look at Sasori as he walked in behind her. "Since when did you start keeping snakes?"

“Since I found a use of their venom,” Sasori told her easily. “According to her, the different snakes produce different venom. And they are all useful.”

Her nose wrinkled a little, looking at the snakes before she moved closer. "How do you know?" she asked Azumi, bending over to look at them. 

"Mother, be careful please," Sasori warned. 

"She can handle herself," Sandaime chuckled, joining them back in the room. Sasori sighed, shaking his head. He climbed up the ladder to the second floor and to look over the work Gaara was finishing for him.

“I have worked with snakes my entire life,” Azumi answered her. “Each breed has a different composition in their venom that serves a different purpose.” She placed the snakes back into their original tanks.

"I see," she hummed. She eyed Azumi for a moment longer before turning on her foot. She walked up the ladder to lean over Sasori's shoulder to see what he was working on.

Sandaime looked at Azumi with a little concern. He had seen that look on his sister-in-law's face. There was the air of plotting in her eyes. He walked over to her and leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Has she said anything strange to you?" he asked.

“Not at all,” she whispered back. “Only those looks that seem a bit judgemental. But that is nothing a girl my age should not be used to.”

He nodded, glancing over his shoulder to the mother and son. Gaara shook his head, burying his nose in a book. "We should get going soon, Sister," Sandaime called up to her. 

"Why?" There was a pout to the woman's tone. "I'm not bothering them." She ruffled Sasori's hair. "Am I, darling?"

Sasori chuckled. “Not at all, Mother,” he said with a tight smile. 

“You’re kicking me out,” his mother gasped.

"He could never," Gaara called up to her with mirth in his voice. 

"No, a mother knows when her son is done with her," she sighed dramatically. "I miss the days my little boy would come find me to take walks and read to him." There was a pinch of real sadness to her voice.

Sasori sighed with a lopsided smile. "You'll need to make up your mind, Mother." He turned to pull her into a hug. "Are you marrying me off or am I your little boy?"

"Oh, you will get married," she said sternly, causing Sasori to tense up just a little bit. His mother's face softened and she wrapped her arms around him to hug him back. "But you will always be my little boy," she grinned.

He sighed again, relaxing against his mother. "Yes, Mother," he smiled, standing up to kiss her cheek.

She stepped back first to descend the ladder. Gaara and Sandaime just barely hid their grins. "Take me home," she sighed with a smile, reaching for Sandaime's offered arm. "And let's get churros on the way home," she giggled. 

"Absolutely," Sandaime chuckled. He nodded his goodbye to Azumi and Gaara. Azumi bowed as they turned to leave.

Once they were gone, Gaara let the laugh out that he was trying to hold in. "Aaah, you're still such a mama's boy, Cousin."

"Shut up," Sasori snapped. "Don't make me come down there."

"I think it is adorable," Azumi chuckled.

"I don't want to hear it from you," he told her. "You admitted to being a daddy's girl."

"That I did," she hummed.

Gaara giggled harder. "You're both pretty bad off then," he grinned cheekily at Azumi. He pulled a few more books and set them down on the workbench. 

"Please, if you had the chance you'd be the worst of us all," Sasori grumbled.

“Which there is absolutely nothing wrong with,” Azumi said. She smirked at Gaara and lowered her voice. “It would also be very cute.”

Gaara flashed her a smiled with a hint of sadness. He started to pull out ingredients and other containers. "Sasori..." he called up to his cousin without looking away from Azumi. He let his hand drift over to take hers. "Did you need me to write up any more schematics?"

"Hm?" Sasori hummed, shifting through a couple of papers. "Oh. Yeah. We need a few."

"Okay, leave them out for me and I will take them home with me tonight," Gaara said back as he lifted Azumi's hand and kissed her knuckles. She bit her lip in a smile, feeling her face get a little warm again.

"Have Kankuro doublecheck a few of these," Sasori said, getting up from his stool.

Gaara dropped her hand gracefully and made himself look busy. "Uh, I think he's away until the day of the party, but I'll pay him a visit to see if he's home."

"Just have them back by the end of the week," Sasori said as he descended the ladder. "I'm not exactly in a rush for them, but I also would like to have them done." He placed them on an empty counter for Gaara.

"They'll be on your desk the moment I'm done." Gaara refrained from rolling his eyes. Sasori paused to look at Azumi and Gaara. "Something wrong?" Gaara asked. He kept his face and body schooled.

Sasori's face pinched slightly. "No...did you eat?" he asked them both.

"We did," Gaara answered. "Uncle bought us food when you were out with your mother."

"Mmm," he hummed, looking at Azumi. "Good. Then when we get back, you can jump right into the new project I want to make for the party," he grinned evilly.

She hummed through a frown as she looked back at him. 'I do not like that look,' she thought. She said nothing to him but nodded.

"I'll leave you to close up the shop," Sasori waved over his shoulder as he started to clean up the other workbench. He grabbed a basket and filled it with various bottles. As he did that, Azumi and Gaara cleaned everything else to close the shop. When they were done, Azumi gave each of the six snakes a goodbye tap on the nose and then met Sasori by the door. Gaara said a soft goodnight to each of the snakes. He said goodbye to his cousin and Azumi before turning to lock up the front of the shop. Sasori rolled his eyes at the little display. He started to walk down their usual path towards the mansion. "I want you to wear your dancing outfit for the party," he told her.

"The red one?" she asked. "Alright..." She thought about it for a moment. "Will there be another 'surprise' performance?" She wanted to know ahead of time if he was going to make her perform so she could mentally prepare this time.

"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, now would it?" Sasori smirked. "I haven't decided. It's been a while since I've been asked to perform and I'm not particularly close to the Akimichis."

"I see," she hummed. They made it back to the mansion quickly, ignoring the other servants they passed through the halls on their way back to Sasori's room. Naga was coiled up on the daybed. He lifted his head when they walked in, bowing his head a little bit.

Sasori chuckled, seeing the small bow the snake gave them. He walked into the workshop. "Bring him with you if you want," he said, taking a seat. He flipped open a journal and started to write down a long ingredient list. 

Azumi looked at Naga who immediately started to move toward her, slithering up her body to take his normal position of being wrapped around her waist and resting his head on her shoulder. She followed Sasori into the workshop. "So, what is this project you want to work on?" she asked.

"Just a little something to keep the boredom at bay," he smirked. "And a little test for you."

"A test?" she asked. She stepped closer to him, peeking at the list he was writing. None of it was a recognizable composition to her. 'What is that?' she thought.

"Yes," he grinned. "You're going to make this and then we'll test it," he smirked.

"I...alright," she said, leaning against the desk next to him to look over the ingredients. She had no idea what this was supposed to be but putting it together seemed easy enough. She studied it for a minute before stepping away to gather the ingredients. 'He said this was for the party,' she thought. 'What could that possibly even mean?'

He could not keep the grin off of his face as he passed her the list. "Let's see what you can do," he chuckled. "I'll be right back." He stretched then stood up and left the room.

Azumi watched him leave then turned back to the ingredients in front of her. Carefully, she combined them into a container, setting it over a small flame to incorporate it all. She looked at the list one more time to make sure she got everything. She was missing one thing. "Mm," she hummed, picking up a small empty vile. She held it up to Naga. "Please?" she asked. Naga hissed softly and injected venom into the small vile. Once there was the right amount of venom, she added it to the rest of the ingredients and left it alone for a couple of minutes.

Sasori walked back in with a very large book labeled ‘Party.’ "If that works then it will be added to this book," he smirked, putting it down on the workbench. The full weight of it made things on the workbench jump.

"And this book is what?" she hummed as she lowered the flame gradually until it was off. She set the vessel down on the counter to let it cool and then looked over at the book Sasori brought in.

"It's everything Komushi and I have ever made that worked the way we wanted it to." He flipped open the book. "Just for party entertainment."

She looked down at the vessel on the counter. 'What did I just make?' she thought. She stepped closer to him to look at the book, reading over the details of each item and their effects as he flipped through the pages. "Poisons," she hummed. "I should have known." She glanced at the one she just made again. "So what does that one do?"

"We'll have to find a test subject," he grinned. "But first, go get dinner for us."

She nodded and left the workshop. She was about to set Naga down on the daybed but he coiled tightly around her, not wanting to be away from her. "Alright," she sighed, petting him as she left the bedroom and went to the kitchen. The three usual servants were practically waiting for her when she walked in.

"You and the young master are looking pretty happy," the first said with a smirk.

"We heard you made him personal scents!” the second whispered.

She and Naga shared a look and she looked back at them. “And who told you this?” she asked, making her way to the cabinet to grab dishes and serve herself and Sasori.

"Oh, you needn't worry," they grinned. There was a soft tinkling of coins being exchanged in the room.

"The point is that you just confirmed it for us," the third one giggled.

Azumi resisted the urge to slam the bowls onto the counter, tensing up a little as she set them down a little loudly. She turned around and looked at them. "Okay, I did make him some scents," she said. "But I also made them for his mother, his uncle and his cousin, so exactly what do you think is being proved?" Naga shifted to her other shoulder and hissed warningly as if acting as a meter for Azumi's rising anger which she tried to keep off of her face.

"Oooh," all three said in unison. There was another round of jingling. 

"No need to get worked up, dear," the first one gave her a smile. The other two hid their smiles behind a set of fans. 

She squinted hard at them. How many bets had they placed pertaining to her? However many it was, she hated it. "This is absolutely ridiculous," she growled softly. She turned around and picked up the bowls. "You all know how he is. I think you would find it in your best interest to mind your business," she told them as she walked out of the kitchen. Naga hissed at her softly, trying to calm her down as she walked through the halls back to Sasori's room. Once she was in there, she placed Sasori's food in front of him. "I think I have a few test subjects for you."

"Oh?" Sasori looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. "Who?" A grin slipped over his lips. His little snake was worked up. Who had pulled out such rage in her? Who had made her willing to play the game? He picked up his bowl and looked at her expectantly.

"Those three servants that seem to never leave the kitchen," she answered. "As I said earlier, I try not to let their comments get to me, but I draw a line at placing bets on me."

Sasori practically moaned. "I've been dying for a reason to punish them," he grinned. "And now they've upset my little snake." He breathed in with an excited glint in his eyes. "Prepare the poison and brew some tea." She let out a quiet angry huff through her nose and set her food down on the desk. She stepped into the workshop and started a small flame to boil water over for the tea. The poison she made was finally cooled down so she poured it into a bottle to be kept in. She still had no idea what the effects of it were but at that moment she did not care. Sasori could not keep the grin off his face watching her move about the workshop. He leaned his back against the workbench, picking up his bowl to eat. "You only need three drops of in each cup," he chuckled. "But you're welcome to make it stronger if you'd like." He was living to see her this wound up.

"Tempting," she said, putting three drops of the poison in each cup. Once the tea was done, she poured it into each cup as well. She did not want to be responsible for killing them if she put too much so she left it at three drops.

Sasori pouted a little. "How boring," he sighed, his smirk returning. "Let's go see them." He stood up and put his bowl down then made his way to the door. He was too excited to watch this unfold. Azumi found a small tray and placed the three cups on it. She tucked the bottle of the poison into a fold in her dress, in case she decided on the way there that she wanted to give them a higher dosage and then met Sasori by the door.

"Let's see your handiwork in action," he nearly giggled. Leading the way back to the kitchen, he did not bother to stifle his excitement. He leaned against the wall of the kitchen so he would not be seen. He nodded for her to enter, folding his arms. He could hear the servants still chattering in the kitchen.

She took a deep breath before entering the kitchen with the tray. The servants noticed her almost immediately, stopping their conversation to watch her. "You're back," the first one said.

"I am," she said with a nod. "And I realize my temper was a bit irrational. I came here to apologize," she lied, setting the tray down in front of them.

"Ooh," the second one smiled as she set the tray down. "It's alright, dear."

"We remember what it's like to be young," the third said.

"Ah, I wish we could be that hot-blooded again," the first sighed. "Is this one of Lord Sasori's blends? You must be careful with stealing from him like this!" they cautioned her.

Azumi nodded and took a step back. “I do not think he will mind,” she said. 

“Well, we won’t tell him if you won’t,” the third one chuckled.

All three servants giggled to themselves as they took a sip of the tea. "What a...different taste," the second one hummed.

“I believe it is one of his newer blends,” Azumi lied. “Imported from somewhere in the south.” They finished the cups and the moment their cups touched down on the table, their stomachs let out a nasty, loud, wet gurgling sound. All three of their faces dropped. Azumi tucked the tray under her arm and bowed slightly, a smirk forming on her lips. “Have a good night,” she told them before turning to leave the kitchen. They gave her horrified looks as she left the room.

Sasori grinned at her, holding up an arm to keep her from walking down the hall. He pulled her close. "Ready," he held the "y" for a moment. He pressed a finger to her lips so she could hear a gut-wrenching sloppy, wet sound hit the ground three separate times followed by screams.

"Ew," Azumi whispered, wrinkling her nose at just the sound of it. She knew exactly what happened and she could not help but chuckle at their suffering.

"That'll teach them," he chuckled softly. He nodded for her to follow him back to his room. Once they were inside, he turned to her, lifting her chin with his fingertips. "I'm so proud of you, little snake," he whispered, looking into her eyes.

She never thought she would hear those words come from him. It was not exactly what someone wants to be told about what she just did, but she knew this sort of niceness was rare from him so she was going to accept it. "I would be lying if I said that did not feel great," she hummed. She would not make this a common thing, however. Her own morality was grey so she did not have a problem doing this under specific circumstances. "How long does that last for them?"

"About an hour or two," he smirked. He pulled away to sit down on the edge of his bad. "They'll empty themselves out and then some," he grinned.

She raised an eyebrow. "And you want to use this at the party?" she smirked, pulling the bottle out of her dress and setting it on the desk next to the tray. She picked up her bowl and started eating the food that she almost forgot about.

"It's going to be unbelievably entertaining," he sighed with joy. "Too bad Komushi won't be around to witness the chaos," he hummed.

"And where will Lord Komushi be that he is missing out on all of this...exciting fun?" she asked. She finished her food quickly and placed the bowl back on the desk before moving to sit on the daybed.

"He's going to visit a girl his parents want him to marry," Sasori sighed, tucking his hands behind his head as he leaned back against the wall. "She's a higher status than him so he has to travel to meet her."

Her brow furrowed slightly. "Interesting..." she hummed. She thought about how it would have worked for her if she was in that situation. Then she remembered that she was the daughter of the village's leader. That was an automatic higher status. The few suitors her father suggested all came to her. A small smirk appeared on her lips at the thought of being of a higher nobility status than Sasori if she was not his slave. "Are his views on marriage the same as yours?" she asked.

"His change depending on the mood he's in," Sasori chuckled. "Some days, he wants to settle down and be a father," he hummed. "And other days, the very thought of matrimony is like being tied to a set of bricks at his feet and being made to swim in the river."

"I am hardly surprised," she said, laying back on the daybed. "He seems like a wild-swinging pendulum." She would not tell him that she thought the same of him as well in terms of his emotions.

Sasori laughed, nodding in agreement. "We both sort of are," he sighed. "I won't make a good husband." He rolled his eyes. "Not unless the woman is very impressive. And I don't know if there is a woman in the world who could handle Komushi in his full force." He smirked at her. "You can barely stomach him."

"So you have noticed," she deadpanned, looking through the skylight of the domed ceiling. "Speaking as a woman, he is hardly husband material. But that is not to say he cannot be groomed to be. It seems like it would take a while, but I think it could happen." She smirked and let out a soft chuckle. "You, on the other hand..." she started, "...your views on the subject are set in stone." There was no hope for him.

Sasori's eyes narrowed, his lips curving into a thin smirk. "You seem to think you've got us all figured out." He tilted his head. "Humans can be very unpredictable," he reminded her. "But you're mostly right. About me, that is. You're missing some information about Komushi."

"Oh?" she smirked, sitting up to look at him. "Like what information? He does not seem like the kind to have that much hidden information about him."

"What kind of scientist doesn't assume there is always more to something than meets the eye?" He folded his arms over his chest. "I won't give away all his of secrets but he's actually a hopeless romantic," Sasori chuckled. "He's always the one getting hurt in relationships." 

"I could deduce that he was a romantic from how much he touches me," she hummed. "It is unfortunate that he gets hurt but...I can only assume it is because he comes on a little too strong." Something she also deduced from how much he touches her.

Sasori chuckled again. "He does tend to come in a little too hot," he smirked. "But the girls that usually respond to him are only trying to get to me." His smile faltered. 

"Oh, that is very unfortunate," she hummed. "For each party, if I am honest. It is unfortunate for Lord Komushi to not get the girl, for the girl to not get you, and for you to have to be bothered in the first place," she smirked.

Sasori did not even try to stifle his laughter. He shook his head, taking deep breaths to calm down. "You are so right!" he grinned. "But I'm sure there is a sucker out there for him somewhere."

"Hopefully he is about to meet her," she said, laying back down.

"I'd like to think I have the same sentiment, but," he frowned, "from what I remember of the girl he described, this won't amount to much."

“I see...” she whispered with a frown. She was beginning to feel bad for Komushi. Other than him wanting to test a poison on her when they first met, he was not that bad of a guy. “How many relationships has he actually been in?”

He took a minute to think. “Three serious ones and a lot of flings.” He drummed his fingers on his lower lip. “Too many week-long ‘relationships’ to count.”

“Is his mother as...adamant as yours is about marriage?” She refrained from using the word ‘terrifying.’

"No, the lucky bastard," he grumbled. "His family is very different from mine. They are still well-off but they don't pressure Komushi to do anything beyond showing his face at gatherings." He rolled his eyes. "And I'm not entirely sure why considering we're usually causing some sort of ruckus."

"Is that so?" she hummed as she rolled onto her stomach and poked Naga's nose.

They sat in silence for a few moments before it was broken by the shrill voice of Chiyo. "Sasori!" she yelled.

Azumi looked at Sasori, immediately noticing the smirk on his face. "It's about time," he chuckled.

Chiyo came storming into the room. "What have you done?" she demanded.

"I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about," he grinned cheekily. "I've been here since I got home from the shop," he lied.

Chiyo glared at him. She took a long, slow breath. "I don't have time for this! I thought you outgrew this kind of behavior when you were fifteen but clearly, I overestimated you." She pinched her nose. "Go give my maids an antidote or I will tell your mother!"

Sasori squinted at her. "You wouldn't dare," he said.

"Oh, wouldn't I?" Chiyo challenged.

"I didn't even make an antidote."

"Then go make one!"

Azumi and Naga looked back and forth between them as they spoke to each other.

"They will be fine in twenty minutes!" Sasori snapped back. "Just get someone to bring them some damn water and salt soup!" He was sitting up now. "I'm not making them anything! They can deal with some diarrhea after what they've been spreading around!"

"What have they been spreading around that was so bad that you thought you needed to do this?" Chiyo asked, her anger toward her grandson still rising.

"That I plan on having sex with my slave," he narrowed his eyes. "If they have time to run their mouths and place bets then they can run to the bathroom and clean themselves up," he shrugged.

"You know better than to let such stupid rumors like that get to you," she said.

"They know better than to spread such stupid rumors," he countered. "They know to mind their own business."

Chiyo ground her teeth. "You never cease to amaze me." She shook her head, giving him a look of pure disappointment.

"I do my best," he smirked. "They'll be fine and hopefully they learned to not bother my property." He relaxed back into his pillows.

"If you pull another stunt like this that effects my own personal servants, then your mother will be hearing about it," Chiyo told him sternly.

Sasori rolled his eyes. "Keep your servants in line and we won't have to tell anyone anything," he grumbled.

Chiyo glared at him then sighed heavily as she left the room. "Shape up, Sasori!" she called over her shoulder.

Sasori rolled his eyes again, laying back on his bed. Azumi sat up to look at him. "Would she really tell your mother?" she asked softly.

"No," Sasori clicked his tongue. "She's been threatening that since I was twelve." He rolled onto his side. "She thinks she can lord my mother over me my whole life but one day, this mansion will be mine and I won't have to hear about it from her anymore," he shrugged.

"Would you like some tea?" she asked, hoping it would put him in a better mood.

He frowned, staring out of his window silently. "Fine," he said. "Use the container over the workbench to your left," he told her. "Make yourself a cup, too."

She nodded as she stood up and went into the workshop to start brewing the tea, using the exact one he told her too. "Hm," she hummed, noticing the pleasant scent it had. She poured two cups and went back out to his room, handing him his cup and then sitting down on the bed. "This smells nice," she hummed. "What is in it?"

"It's a blend of things," he said, accepting the cup. "Get changed first. You're staying here tonight." He took a sip of his tea, closing his eyes as the warmth traveled down his throat. She set her cup down on the side table and picked up her older dress to change into quickly then sat back down to drink her tea.

"It's good for when I need to de-stress fast but the ingredients are a little hard to come by," he told her. "So I stockpile them when I can."

She took her first sip and groaned contentedly. "This is really good," she hummed. "I like this a lot." She took another long sip. The immediate fatigue snuck up on her very hard.

"Good to know," he chuckled, finishing his own cup quickly and settled into his bed. He watched her finish her cup and smirked as she fell asleep before her head hit the pillow. He took her empty cup from her hand and placed it with his on the nightstand. He could feel the tea beginning to affect him as he moved her into a better sleeping position. He quickly got comfortable just before falling asleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Azumi woke up slowly, groaning softly as she clutched the sheets and rolled onto her stomach. She lifted her head a little and stretched hard, groaning again. Finally opening her eyes, she saw that she was, once again, in Sasori's bed. She looked over at him and saw just how close he was to her. 'It was that tea,' she thought, figuring out why she fell asleep so quickly. He knocked both of them out with it. She was starting to get used to sleeping in his bed. Admittedly, she preferred it over the daybed since it was much more comfortable. She watched him for a moment as he slept. 'He is much more handsome when he is unconscious and not being an asshole.' If only he could just stay asleep.

"If you plan on killing me while I sleep, you've missed your chance," he said softly. His voice was a thick rasp as he cracked open an eye.

She chuckled softly. "I assure you that the thought did not even cross my mind," she smirked, stretching again.

He stretched hard himself, arching his back high off of the bed. "I'm sure it didn't," he mumbled as he rolled over. "Coffee and breakfast," he muttered.

"Right," she hummed, getting out of the bed. She did not bother to change first and headed straight to the kitchen. She served two bowls for them and made two cups of coffee, finding a tray to put it all on.

"It still burns," she heard one of the three servants say from down the hall. The trio was making their way to the kitchen. Azumi paused for a second, unable to hide the smirk on her face.

"Lady Chiyo spoke with him," the second one said, their voices getting closer.

"You know how well that always goes," the third one groaned. "She's always too soft on him."

"I just can't believe he made that sweet girl do that to us," the first one sighed.

"Oh, I don't think he made her do—" the three stopped dead in the doorway when they saw her. The one speaking narrowed their eyes. The other two quickly made their way to the table.

"Good morning," Azumi said as sweetly as possible with a nod and a feigned smile. "How are you today?"

"Sore," the first one said flatly.

"Thanks to you and the monstrous young lord," the third sneered.

The second one elbowed the third. "Watch your tongue!" they hissed.

Azumi smirked at them as she turned to leave. "Maybe next time, you will think twice about betting on me," she said as she left.

The three of them simmered in their rage as she left. "I told you she was just as bad as him!" the third one screeched to the other two.

Sasori sat up as she walked in the room. He had pushed his hair back away from his face and, per his usual morning routine, got ready to move to the workshop. Azumi followed him into the workshop, setting his breakfast and coffee in front of him as he sat down at a desk, the smug look on her face still in place. Sasori raised an eyebrow, seeing her expression. "Something happen?" he asked, picking up his mug to sip his coffee.

"Nothing spectacular," she hummed. "I saw them in the kitchen, no surprise. They are still in pain."

"Oooh," Sasori chuckled. "They are going to be in pain for a day or two." He matched her smug expression. "Now that we know that it works perfectly, it will be the perfect source of entertainment." He put his mug down to start eating his breakfast. "And don't let them bother you. They'll die off soon anyway." He waved over his shoulder.

She picked up her bowl and started eating. "Shall I run your bath after you eat?" she asked him.

"Yes," he told her, picking up a beaker and a few powders. "We'll go into the shop after." He scratched the back of his neck.

She nodded as she continued to eat, watching him work. When she finished eating and finished her coffee, she went into the bathroom to set up his bath and one for her as well, knowing he would tell her to do it anyway. She used the new fragrances for both of them and then went back into the workshop. "It is ready when you are," she told him.

He looked up from his work. "Get changed and meet me in the front," he told her as he got up and started to strip down.

'Ugh, you asshole,' she thought. She went back into his room, grabbing her normal daily-wear dress and started to change. Naga hissed softly to her as she got dressed. She chuckled softly. "Sure, you can come," she whispered to him. "Just do not pick a fight with the other snakes." Naga hissed softly as he wound his way up her body. She headed to the front of the mansion to wait for Sasori as he told her to.

Sasori leaned against one of the pillars in front of the house. "It's about time," he grumbled.

"Did you even take your bath?" she asked him, almost like a mother would. She did not even see him walk past her to leave the room.

He breathed forcefully out through his nose as he pushed off of the pillar. "Are you questioning me and my bath habits?" he narrowed his eyes. "I am capable of bathing quickly. Not that it exactly matters if I did or didn't." He started down the stairs.

Azumi rolled her eyes as she walked down the stairs after him. They made their way to the shop quickly, avoiding the sun as much as possible as Sasori liked to do.

"Good morning," Gaara said, looking up from a specimen that was writhing on a glass dish. "I didn't expect you in today." He smiled at Azumi brightly.

"There was something I wanted to finish working on before this party," Sasori grumbled, making his way up the ladder.

Azumi stepped closer to Gaara and looked at the specimen he had in front of him. She could smell him wearing the cologne she made him and smiled. "What are you working on?" she asked softly. Naga shifted from her to the table and coiled up to look over what Gaara was doing.

He smiled, leaning in to sneak a kiss on her cheek. "One of my patients is dealing with...a bug," he said, looking down at the squirming worm he had pinned to his dish.

Naga leaned in close to look at it, hissing in slight disgust. Azumi chuckled softly. "A literal bug, I take it," she smirked, stepping away to check on the other snakes.

"Very literal," he chuckled at Naga's reaction. "I think I've got the medicine to solve his issue, though," he told her. "How was your night?" he asked her softly, covering the insect down. He crossed the room to peek in on the snakes. He took the time to greet them each by name.

"Quite amusing," she hummed, remembering what they did to the other servants. "And then I was knocked out by some weird tea blend."

"Oh, Sasori's sleep teas are no joke," Gaara chuckled. "But why did he need to use that on you?" he asked, the worry was instantly thick in his voice. "Are you having trouble sleeping? I can make you something gentler," he offered.

"No, no, I am fine," she chuckled, putting her hand over his. "It was for him, but he made me drink some too. I suppose he did not want me to be awake if he was asleep." Gaara's face pinched in irritation. He was suddenly hit with a cold feeling in his stomach. Was his cousin already starting to suspect them? Had he found out about their meetings by the river? He shook his head and took a quiet, deep breath. He reminded himself that if his cousin even had an inkling they had done anything beyond their usual flirting then one of them would have been dead already. Azumi saw the intense worry in his face and brought his hand up to kiss the back of it. He watched her kiss his hand and smiled. "Do not worry," she whispered. "Everything is fine." He relaxed a little after another deep breath.

"You two are way too quiet," Sasori called down. "Stop ogling each other and get to work!"

"If we are quiet does that not usually mean we are working?" Azumi whispered to Gaara with a smirk. She pulled away from him and moved to another counter to start working on a checklist she found. Gaara rolled his eyes, doing his best to stifle his laughter. He spun on his foot to return to his previous work. Above them, Sasori's stool scratched softly on the wood floor.

Azumi looked up at the second level as she heard Sasori walk over to the railing, no doubt to check on them. "We're going to have a visitor soon," he said, holding a bottle over the railing and releasing his grip to let it fall. Azumi extended her hands to catch the bottle and inspected it closely.

Gaara looked at the list of people who were supposed to come and pick up their orders. "Oh..." he said softly, earning a chuckle from Sasori.

"Yes," Sasori said. "Him." Before Gaara could warn Azumi about their new customer, someone entered the shop, the sound of metal hitting more metal with each step. "Looks like he's here," Sasori smirked.

Azumi looked out into the front of the shop. She did not know what to expect, but she had to admit that she was very surprised to see such a large bald man, standing in the middle of the shop. He had an immense amount of metal on and in his body, wearing a metal chain around his head like a crown and a large metal nose ring. "Whoa," she whispered, taking in the thick metal chokers he wore that draped over his chest and under his arm. He lifted his hand and she immediately noticed the metal bracelets and rings he had. "This is for him?" she asked softly.

"His name is Kenzou," Gaara told her just as softly. "Despite how he looks, he is actually a very nice guy."

Sasori came down the ladder and stepped through the curtains to the front of the shop. "Lord Sasori!" the man boomed jovially. "It has been a long time!" he said with a grin. The metal draped across his body clinked as he threw open his arms to pull Sasori into a very damp hug. The man was covered in sweat. Gaara snorted, fighting to keep his laughter down. Sasori glared at them over his shoulder but Gaara just shook his head.

"He hates when he does that," Gaara whispered to her.

Sasori's teeth were set and he was trying hard not to breath in the thick scent of metal and pure sweat. The man let Sasori go and Sasori took a couple of steps back immediately. "Good to see you as well, Kenzou," he said.

"I just arrived this morning. Your shop is my first stop in the city," Kenzou grinned.

"You don't say." He waved for Azumi to hand him the bottle and once she did, he placed it on the counter. "Your special order," he said.

Kenzou grinned as he picked up the bottle but his eyes fell on Azumi. "You've got a new girl." He smiled at her just as friendly as he had to Sasori. "Your master is the best apothecary in all of the lands!" he boasted. "I travel over many lands but I can never find anyone as good as him."

Azumi gave him a polite smile and a nod. "So I have been told," she said.

"I'm sure you hear it from every new person you meet," he chuckled. Sasori circled the counter, keeping a safe distance from the large jingling man. "Where is your cousin?" Kenzou boomed, looking around the shop. "Does he still come around or is he a full-time doctor now?" he asked.

"He's just fetching us some tea," Sasori smirked, catching Gaara's eye through the curtains. Kenzou gasped, his grin never fading.

Gaara rolled his eyes as moved to the other side of the workshop and started to make the tea. "Typical," he mumbled.

"Wonderful!" Kenzou grinned.

Azumi realized that Kenzou's voice never went lower than the thunderous boom that it was. He did not seem to have what would be considered an 'indoor voice.' She went back into the workshop and saw Gaara making the tea. Sasori glared at Azumi as slipped away to freedom from Kenzou. "I can finish it," she told him. "It is sort of my job."

Gaara smiled, risking a small hand squeeze as he thanked her. "I'll grab the cups then," he said softly.

"Gaara, come out here," Sasori called in a sickly sweet voice with a promising tone of pain if he did not join Sasori in his mild suffering.

Azumi looked at Gaara. "Good luck," she whispered. Gaara sighed and stepped out into the main shop to greet Kenzou.

"Gaara!" the man grinned, causing all three of them to flinch very slightly.

"Kenzou," Gaara bowed his head. "It's always so nice to see you," he said with restraint. Once again, the large man opened his arms wide to pull Gaara into an embrace.

"You've grown more mature looking since the last time I saw you!" he boomed once he released the young doctor. Gaara tried hard not to gasp for air. His face was bright red.

Sasori grinned like a desert fox. "That's just a nice way of saying you're getting old, little cousin," he teased.

"I suppose that means you're ancient," Gaara smirked at Sasori.

Azumi grabbed three cups and poured the tea, placing them on a small tray to bring out for all three men. She placed the tray on the counter and bowed before going back into the workshop to complete the checklist Sasori had.

"How long will your visit be?" Sasori asked Kenzou.

"Oh, I cannot stay too long," Kenzou said. "Maybe just a week."

"Will you be visiting anyone else while you're here?" Gaara asked half-jokingly.

Kenzou nodded, sipping his tea. He sighed as the liquid relieved the dryness from his throat. "I plan to make my rounds," he said, starting to wander about the shop. He noticed the new table of oils and scrubs instantly. "This is new," he grinned, picking up one of the jars. He opened it, taking a long sniff. "Oooh," he breathed. "Sasori, you never cease amazing me with what you can create!" He looked back at Sasori.

"Thank you, Kenzou," Sasori nodded, "but the credit should actually go to my slave," he smirked. "She made everything on that table."

'Oh, please do not ask me to make an antiperspirant for him,' Azumi thought. 'There is nothing that can help that man.'

"Your slave?" Kenzou's tone never waved from the jovial tone. "Aah, you've never had one capable of making things," he chuckled. "Clearly she is very talented if you are willing to showcase her wares." He looked into the back room.

Sasori nodded, following his line of sight out of the corner of his eyes. A small smile curved his mouth. "Azumi," he called out for her calmly. He turned to look back at Kenzou. "She is quite a rare find."

Azumi sighed, putting down what she was doing and walking back out to the front of the shop. "What can I do for you?" she asked.

Sasori grinned at her. He could see in her eyes that she knew what he was going to ask of her. But Kenzou spoke first. He walked over, taking Azumi's hand in his. He paused, that bright smile wavering for a moment. Sasori did not see the shift in his expression since Kenzou's back was to him but Gaara caught it. He blinked and the look was gone. The wide grin was back.

"Before I leave, would you make me an oil?" he requested. "As you can imagine, average colognes don't stick to me very well while I am walking but oil would work wonders. Would you make me one?" He put his other hand over hers.

Azumi nodded, giving him a polite smile. "Absolutely," she said. 'This is going to be a big challenge,' she thought. "Are there any scents you prefer?"

"I like flowers and fragrant woods," he told her. "I'm curious to see what you come up with," he grinned.

"That is all I need to know," she said. "I can have it done for you by tomorrow."

"You're amazing!" he chuckled.

"You can wear it to the Akamichi's party!" Sasori clapped his hands.

"Ah, what a wonderful idea!" Kenzou boomed, causing Azumi to flinch just a little.

"If you will be attending the party, then I can give it to you there," she said.

"No, have it done before then so he can bathe properly and put it on," Sasori ordered with a grin. He wanted to challenge her.

Azumi's gaze snapped to Sasori and she tried so hard not to glare at him or huff too hard. "Right," she said. She looked at Kenzou. "Give me one hour," she told him before looking back at Sasori. 'Challenge accepted, asshole,' she thought. Sasori's grin widened.

"One hour?" Kenzou and Gaara blinked with shock.

"Won't that risk the quality of the oil, Sasori?" Gaara whipped around to say to his cousin.

"No," Sasori shrugged. "She can do it." He drummed his fingers on the counter with one hand, the other supporting his head.

"It will still be great quality," Azumi said, putting her hair up. Something this challenging was going to make the workshop hotter than it already was. She gave them a slight bow as she went back into the workshop, grabbed Naga and letting him wrap around her, and then went up the ladder to the second level and started to work on making a super strong oil with layered scents.

"She put her hair up," Gaara said softly. He smiled dreamily for a moment before he came back to himself quickly. He schooled his face and cleared his throat. "I should go see if she needs—"

Sasori narrowed his eyes at his cousin. "She doesn't," he growled.

Kenzou chuckled, leaning on the counter, some of his chains tapping gently against the wood. "You haven't changed at all, Sasori," he smirked.

"I'm a strong believer that if something is working there is no need to change it," he said easily. Gaara strained not to roll his eyes.

"You must think highly of her work then," Kenzou nodded, his smirk still in place.

"You smelled it yourself," Sasori said, gesturing to the display. "You know it's good."

"That I did," Kenzou chuckled.

"So don't bother her," Sasori told Gaara. "You will only distract her and that will mess with the quality of it."

Gaara pressed his tongue hard into the roof of his mouth. "I said help her, not distract her." He lifted his nose.

Sasori rolled his eyes. "It's like I'm talking to a child right now." He started drumming his fingers again.

"Gaara, would you mind taking me for some coffee?" Kenzou asked. "We can catch up on the way!"

Gaara took a second to answer. He gave Kenzou a polite nod. "Sure," he said.

"Fantastic!" Kenzou boomed, leaning off of the counter.

Sasori smirked at him. "Have fun," he said.

The two men stepped out into the mid-day heat. Gaara used his hand to shield his eyes, squinting hard.

"Being in that darkness all day must do a number on your eyes," Kenzou smiled, undisturbed by the light. He towered over Gaara, requiring him to look up at the man to speak with him as they began to walk.

"It just makes them a little sensitive," he shrugged.

"Tell your cousin to open a window in the workshop," Kenzou chuckled. "It will make your eyes a bit less sensitive."

"He would never," Gaara smirked, shaking his head. "Sasori hates the sun."

"Odd for someone who lives in the desert."

Gaara snorted. "I don't think he was supposed to be born here," he laughed. "But this is where his parents had him," he shrugged.

"He could always leave."

"He could never," Gaara shook his head. "He loves his mother too much. And he's rich here."

Kenzou chuckled. "Fair points," he nodded. "How long has he had that new girl?" he asked, leaning his body to avoid a gaggle of small old women walking in the crowded street.

"Azumi? It's been...a little bit over a week, I think," he hummed. "Feels a bit longer."

"Only a week?" Kenzou asked, softer than his normal booming. "Interesting."

"She's really amazing," Gaara practically sighed.

Kenzou smiling knowingly. "She must be for her to receive so much praise from Lord Sasori," he chuckled. "Her people are a rare breed nowadays, too," he remarked. "I'm more than a little shocked to see her."

"She did mention that her people were slaughtered a long time ago," Gaara hummed, recalling their conversation at the night market. "Did you know any of them?"

"I knew a few in my travels," he nodded. "We became friends and often seek each other out if we knew the other would be in the area," he looked up at the sky. "They all had an insatiable thirst for knowledge," he smiled sadly. "But...that was a long time ago. They are all dead now."

"I see," Gaara hummed. He came to realize that Kenzou had no idea about the village Azumi was from and that her people are not all dead. They approached the coffee shop. It was the one that Sasori—and most people in the city—favored. It was instantly cooler inside, as usual.

"This probably should have been my first stop," Kenzou chuckled, enjoying the cooler air. They went up to the counter and ordered their coffee, finding a seat by the door once they had their drinks.

"Do you know why they were killed?" Gaara asked.

"Why else are unique people picked off?" Kenzou sipped his drink. "Their parts," he said, setting the cup down. "Well there's one who might have simply asked to many questions," he chuckled at a distant memory.

"Their parts?" Gaara frowned. "That's horrible," he mumbled. "You mean their eyes?"

"Their eyes, maybe their brains since they were all known to be versed in sciences. There was even a silly rumor for a while that they could produce venom like an actual snake," Kenzou chuckled. "But that was easily disproven. I wonder if she is a relative of the ones I knew," he hummed.

Gaara's stomach twisted at the very thought of Azumi's people being dismantled for parts. He set his cup down, curling his other fist below the table. He kept his face under control but his voice almost slipped. "I'm not sure about that," he said softly. "Maybe distant. She mentioned that her people are very hidden away from the rest of the world."

"Understandably," Kenzou said. "But her being alive today means there's at least one family still alive. Honestly, that makes me feel good." He took another sip of his drink.

Gaara hummed in agreement. "Have you met many people that are hunted like that?" Gaara asked.

"There are not too many unique breeds of people," Kenzou said. "I've met a couple in my life who may have been hunted, but they were either hunted to complete extinction or they were able to repopulate quickly and are no longer targeted today."

"Then there is still hope Azumi's people are repopulating," Gaara smiled. He knew she was not the last of her people but it still reassured him to think that they were not just surviving but thriving. "The world really is horrific, isn't it?"

Kenzou smiled over the edge of his cup. "That goes without saying," he smirked. "But it is filled with just as much wonder. You should try traveling sometimes, Doctor. It can broaden your horizons and let you experience something other than this city."

"Travel?" Gaara hummed. He had never given it much thought before since he had been doing well off in the city. "That sounds...I'm definitely going to consider it now."

"I'm glad to hear that," Kenzou grinned.

"We should probably bring back something for Sasori. Or he'll throw a fit that we came here and didn't," Gaara chuckled.

"He still has that churro obsession, right?" Kenzou chuckled. Gaara snorted a little, laughing as he nodded. "Perfect! Then It will be my treat. Does Azumi like them, too?"

"She does," he smiled. "Just as much as the rest of our family, it seems."

"Great!" Kenzou stood up and Gaara followed suit. "I'm also excited to see what she came up with for the oil." He finished off his cup and went to fetch the sweets while Gaara finished his coffee.

"Ready?" Kenzou asked as he came back with everything. Gaara nodded and the two men went back to the shop.

Sasori had moved back to the workshop but the scent of the churros drew him out of the back room. "You're back already?" he grinned, zeroing in on the churros.

"It was just coffee," Gaara shared a smirk with Kenzou.

"But we returned with an offering of thanks," Kenzou held up the package of churros.

Sasori went up to them and took the package from Kenzou. "I appreciate this," he said.

"It's the least I could do," Kenzou smiled.

Sasori moved back to the counter and started to dig into the bag. "There's icing in here," he said softly to himself, hiding a smile. Kenzou shared another grin with Gaara. Gaara walked over and shoved his hand in the bag, pulling out two piping hot churros. "Excuse me! This is my offering!" Sasori gasped, outraged.

"And?" Gaara smirked, biting into one. "I'm practically your little brother. It's mandatory that you share with me," he hummed, walking towards the workshop.

If Kenzou was not there, Sasori would have protested harder. He huffed, pulling the bag closer to himself and turning back to Kenzou. "Your oil should be done soon," he told him.

"I'm eager to know what she has come up with," Kenzou said as he pulled up a stool to sit across from Sasori. "Have you been up to anything yourself?" he asked.

In the workshop, Gaara crept up behind Azumi. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing a kiss to the back of her neck.

Azumi grinned, leaning back into him. "You are back," she said softly, tilting her head back to look at him.

"I am," he smirked, kissing her neck then jaw. He shifted a little to pull her into a kiss. "How is it going?" he asked, glancing down at the oil she was making.

"This was...a challenge," she sighed. "It was hard to figure out exactly what will help him and not just make it smell like...wood and flowers on top of sweat." She picked up the bottle of the oil and closed it up. "But I think...I think I did it. I am done with it," she chuckled.

He spun her around and pulled her into a deeper kiss. "I want to say I can't believe you did it," he whispered through a grin. "But I'm pretty sure only you could pull something like this off." He handed her the second churro in his hand.

She gasped slightly and took it, eating it happily. "I thank you for having that kind of faith in me," she smiled, wrapping her arms around him. "Shall we figure out if I did a good job?"

"We already know you did," he grinned. "Let's go rub it in Sasori's face." He took a step back after kissing her one more time.

They walked to the ladder and he let her go down first. She stepped out of the workshop and greeted Kenzou with a smile. "I hope you are satisfied with this, Lord Kenzou," she said, placing the bottle on the counter and then letting her hair down

"I can already tell I will!" he grinned, picking up the bottle. He held it up to the light, swirling the liquid inside. He popped open the bottle and brought it to his nose to take a long, deep breath. "This is perfection." He got up and pulled her into a crushing hug.

She grunted softly, feeling her back on the verge of cracking. Once he let her go, she gasped slightly for air. "Thank you, Lord Kenzou, but I think you should try it before you praise me," she chuckled. "Tomorrow, I await your verdict."

"And you shall receive it!" he grinned. He recapped the bottle and bowed low to Sasori. "Lord Sasori, Lord Gaara, I shall see you three tomorrow at the party."

They each gave him a bow as well. "Tomorrow," Sasori said with a smile. Kenzou smiled at them as he turned and left the shop, leaving the three of them alone.

"You are out of that amplifier," Azumi told Sasori as soon as Kenzou was gone.

"I'm not remotely surprised," Sasori laughed. "We can buy some more now," he said, sliding off of the stool. "Gaara, you run the shop," he ordered. He started for the door, not giving Gaara a moment to protest his cousin. "Let's go, Azumi."

Azumi hummed softly, noticing the scent of churros coming out of the bag on the counter. She unwrapped Naga from her body and placed him on the counter then grabbed a churro out of the bag and dipped it in the icing before following Sasori out of the shop.

Sasori opened his mouth then sighed. "You're only getting that because you actually finished that oil in an hour," he told her sternly.

She smirked at him, humming happily as she ate the churro. "You knew I could make it in an hour," she said. "Now we just need to know if it works." She appreciated the praise she received, but she had doubts that it would actually work for someone who perspired as much as Kenzou did.

"It probably won't," he said easily. "But it will work for the party tomorrow since he'll have a bath. Nothing can help him with all of that sweat." He shook his head. He turned down a side street that narrowed into an alleyway. He walked a little further then stopped by a side door that led to stairs that ascended upwards. He opened the door and started walking up the stairs. Azumi followed, closing the door behind her. The staircase was narrow as well, and if it had been any hotter, she would have started to panic. The wood of the stairs creaked as they went up and they eventually stopped on a landing. It opened up to a shop, about half the size of Sasori's with shelves of different essential oils and the ingredients that she used to make her perfumes and colognes. Sasori mentioned he got the amplifier in a set but she hoped they sold it on its own because that was all she needed. Sasori walked over to the desk and picked up the little bell to ring for the shop owner. "Look around and pull whatever else you like," he told her with a flippant wave of his hand. A few moments later a dark-haired man walked out. He looked like he had not seen the sun in years. "Good to see you, Utakata."

Azumi looked at the shop owner and hummed quietly. 'His eyes are gold, too,' she thought. However, she noticed the lack of vertical pupil. She moved around the shop, looking at what was on the shelves and finding the amplifier pretty quickly.

"It's been a while, Sasori," Utakata hummed. "I was wondering when I could supply the best apothecary in the world with more oils."

"I haven't had much time to play with such quality oils," he said, watching Utakata pick up his pipe and light it. "But my new girl over there has a knack for using them so you might be seeing us more often."

Utakata leaned over to glance at Azumi. "You're letting her touch your wares?" He raised an eyebrow, taking a drag from his pipe.

'I think I prefer to be called his slave than his girl,' Azumi thought, rolling her eyes as she moved to a new shelf.

"She knows what she's doing with them, that's why," Sasori told him.

"Praise from you," Utakata mused. There was a small tick of mirth in the man's smooth monotone voice. "She must be impressive."

"She is." Sasori looked over his shoulder at Azumi.

Azumi was reading the small labels of a few rare scents. 'I do not know what I can do with these,' she thought, 'but it would be interesting to see what goes with them.' She grabbed a few of the very rare ones and started to go up to the counter. On her way there, she noticed a label of another oil. It was the extract of a flower that grew in her village. She picked up the bottle and smelled it really quick, unable to hide the smile that appeared on her face. She gave it no second thought, taking it up to the counter with her and standing next to Sasori. "I think these few should do," she said. Sasori smirked, seeing the small armful of bottles she brought up.

Utakata spotted the rare bottle and set his pipe down. "What an intriguing selection," he said softly. He picked up the rare flower oil and held it up. "I've been trying to sell this one for months. The flower came in with a shipment of slaves." He wrapped it and the other bottles with paper.

"Oh?" Sasori looked at her from the corner of his eyes. "I'm interested to know how it smells," he said with a grin. "Put it on my tab," he told shop owner.

"And you're buying her things," Utakata mumbled as he placed all of the bottles in a small bag. "Here you go," he said, handing the bag to Azumi.

"Thank you," she said with a bow as she took the bag.

"She's making me money with what she makes," Sasori smirked. "I'll supply as long as she keeps producing and her wares keep selling."

Utakata nodded but the strange look in his eye did not leave. "Well, it was good to see you again, Lord Sasori. Please visit again sometime," he said with a slight bow.

"We will," Sasori nodded then turned to proceed back down the narrow stairs. Azumi gave Utakata one last bow before following Sasori down the stairs. Once they were out of the narrow staircase and the narrow alleyway, she sighed quietly, enjoying the feeling of not being suffocated by the narrow passageways. They made their way back to the shop quickly and she immediately started putting away the bottles they bought.

"Bring that rare one over here," he said, sitting at one of the workbenches. He was curious to know its scent. Clearly, she was excited about it and the fact that it came in with slaves meant it could be from any far off land.

She held onto the flower extract as she put the other ones away and then met him at the workbench, handing him the bottle. "I did not think I would see something like this here," she told him.

He opened it and took a deep breath. "You seem familiar with it," he hummed smelling the oil again. It was a mesmerizing scent. "Is it from your area?"

"It is," she nodded. "It is a flower that only grows within a two-month window. So it is rare even for me."

"A two-month, that is rare." He handed the bottle back to her. "I'm curious to see what you make with it."

"It will be interesting to figure out what complements it," she said. She held onto the bottle, wanting to put it with the oils he had in his home workshop so she could work on it later. She moved to the other side of the workshop and up the ladder to clean up the mess she had made when she was working on Kenzou's oil.

"Hurry up with that," he called up to her as he walked out to the front of the shop. "I want to go home the minute you're done."

She rolled her eyes as she came back down the ladder. Gaara was cleaning up the workshop with Naga wrapped around him, getting ready to leave as well. "How are your cacti doing?" she asked him softly with a smile as she unwrapped the snake and rehomed him to her body.

His face lit up. "They are doing well! I actually just got a new one from one of my patients!" he told her enthusiastically. "I wish I could show them to you." His smile wavered a bit.

"Maybe you can," she hummed. "I do not see why not." She heard Sasori grunt in irritation. "I must go now. Goodnight," she smiled.

"Goodnight," he smiled, feeling a jump of giddiness in his chest.

Sasori was waiting for her at the shop's front door when she walked out. "When we get home, run a bath for both of us and pick the strongest scented oil you've made," he practically demanded as they moved back towards the house. "I hate when that man hugs me."

"Rightfully so," she hummed as she followed him. They made it back home just before the sun set completely so there was a nice nightly breeze flowing through the house when they arrived. They immediately went to Sasori's room and without wasting a second, Azumi set up the baths for them as Naga took his usual spot on the daybed.

Without missing a beat, Sasori stripped down and stepped into the tub the moment the bath was ready. He sunk low into the water and sighed. His skin itched with his and Kenzou's lingering sweat. "Disgusting," he grumbled, scrubbing his skin.

As soon as he was in his bath, Azumi stripped and stepped into hers. "Despite that, he was very nice," Azumi hummed. She sunk below the surface of the water to get the gross feeling out of her hair as well and started washing up immediately.

"Oh, yes," Sasori rolled his eyes. "The kindest leader of a gang you'll probably ever meet," he huffed but smirked a little.

Azumi's eyes widened a little in slight as she combed her fingers through her hair. "He is a gang leader?" she asked softly. "I would have never guessed that—" She stopped herself as she gave it some thought. His appearance alone was enough to confirm something like that. "Oh, no...I can see it now."

He smirked, watching her reaction from the corner of his eye. "He is a vigilante of sorts," Sasori hummed. He rolled onto his side to look at her. "His gang protects...people like you," his voice darkened, dripping with mirth.

She narrowed her eyes a little. "What do you mean people like me?" she asked. She knew he could not have meant slaves because Kenzou made no indication that he was against slavery the way Sandaime made it clear.

Sasori chuckled, rolling back onto his back. "People who need help. People who are poor and abused." He raised his leg to wash it. "If he knew me better, I'd be dead." There was a small lick of delight in his tone. "He would have killed me off long ago and I doubt I could actually beat off his brute strength." He lowered his leg, pausing for a moment before speaking again. "But he will never know," he said warningly. "Because you are loyal to me."

She looked at him, resisting the chill that almost went up her spine. "Right," she said softly, sinking back into the water to finish washing her hair. 'Until your uncle abolishes slavery,' she thought.

"That's my girl." He leaned back in the tub, closing his eyes. "You'll sleep in your own room tonight," he told her as he rinsed his hair.

'Perfect,' she thought, hiding a smile. "Shall I get your dinner once you are finished?" she asked. She figured he would have forgotten to eat if she did not ask.

"No," he waved her off. "Don't bother. I'm not particularly hungry," he hummed. "Just make sure you eat. Those three shouldn't be in the kitchen tonight."

She nodded and took the next couple of minutes to enjoy her bath. Once she was finished bathing, she stepped out of the pool and grabbed a towel for herself then set one out for Sasori. It took her a couple of extra minutes to dry her hair enough so it was not dripping and then she got dressed. "Goodnight, Lord Sasori," she said with a bow before turning to head to the kitchen with Naga. She ate quickly, enjoying the quiet from the lack of those servants on account of them still recovering. After she finished, she headed back to her room to take a quick nap.

Chapter Text

Gaara walked along the water's edge with a basket tucked into the bend of his elbow. He smiled, thinking about having a moment alone with Azumi again. He was enjoying their stolen moments at the shop but he really wanted to freely express how he felt about her without the threat of his cousin hanging over them. They were playing a very risky game every time they got too close to each other at the shop. He stopped at the spot that they usually met in, reaching into the basket to pull out a palm mat and laying it out on the ground.

Azumi approached him just as he sat down on the mat. She crept up behind him and kneeled down, wrapping her arms around him just as he did to her earlier.

He tensed up before relaxing against her. He tilted his head back, letting his lips find hers. "You smell amazing," he said softly.

"Thank you," she smiled, still smelling the cologne she made for him. "As do you." She moved to sit next to him.

"All thanks to you," he grinned, opening the basket. "Did you have dinner?" he asked, as he pulled out a lidded dish and a small jug of wine.

"Very little," she answered. "And then I slept it off during my nap," she chuckled.

"Ah, I should have made something savory then," he said with a small pout. He pulled the top off of the dish to reveal a pile of zalabya.

Azumi's eyes widened a little as she looked at the dish. "You made this?" she asked softly. "This looks amazing."

"I brought wine too," he smiled. "But I forgot the cups so I hope you don't mind sharing the bottle." He looked at her a little worried.

She smirked at him, placing her finger under his chin and pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. He smiled dreamily, pushing back into the kiss. "I do not mind at all," she said softly. "I have not had a drink in..." She paused to think about how long it had been. "...months," she sighed.

"Then I'd say you deserve one and should get the first sip," he smirked. He picked up the bottle and broke the wax seal before passing it to her.

She chuckled softly, taking the bottle and taking her first sip of alcohol since she left her village. It left a dry burn in her throat and she grunted quietly. "Ah, that is so good," she groaned, tilting her head back a little bit and then handing him the bottle back.

"Did you drink often in your village?" he asked, popping one of the sweet pancake balls into his mouth. "I don't do it often but I like to keep a stash of my own stuff."

"Not very often," she hummed. "It was more occasional. During big social events, I would drink a little if I really did not want to be there. After I performed, I would drink a little to calm my nerves."

Gaara nodded thoughtfully. "I do the same thing for the parties here," he hummed. "I can't drink much for my nerves," he laughed. "I'll admit though...every time something happened to one of Sasori's slaves I...drank myself stupid. Like it made a difference." He paused, frowning. "Ah...I'm sorry. I got a little dark there." He popped another pancake. "Does it taste good?"

"It tastes amazing," she grinned, eating one of the sweets. "And so does this." He passed the bottle to her and she took another long sip. She had not realized how much she missed alcohol—or rather how much of her nerves she was suppressing. "I feel like we did not really get to spend much time together today," she chuckled. "Lord Kenzou took you away and then Lord Sasori took me away."

Gaara hummed softly. He slid his hand over to lace his fingers with her free hand. "But we're here together now," he smiled. "And no one is around to interrupt us." He kissed her cheek.

She grinned, squeezing his hand gently. "I value these moments," she hummed. "The ones where I do not have him hovering over me and we are free to be intimate and," she looked at him and smirked, "when you look absolutely amazing in the moonlight," she added casually.

"Shouldn't it be I who is saying that?" He flashed her a grin, lifting her hand to press a kiss to her knuckles. "When my uncle frees you...I hope we can have more of these moments."

She bit her lip, a touch of excitement coursing through her at the thought of being liberated from slavery and being free from the worry that she would get caught with him. "I hope so, too," she said softly. She ate another pancake sweet and looked out over the river. "Have you ever traveled?" she asked.

"I haven't, no," he admired, smiling at her still. He looked away from her up at the moon. "Kenzou suggested I give it a try today, though. Did you before all of this?"

She shook her head. "I have never left my village before this," she said. "I was always told it was too dangerous. But...during the months of being transported here, I saw quite a bit. The urge to travel and experience new things hit me very slightly but it died quickly at the realization that I was being sold into slavery." The smile never left her lips. "However, the possibility of being freed brings that urge to travel back."

His smile wavered for a moment. He pulled her close, taking both of her hands. "Let's travel together," he said seriously with wide, bright eyes. "When you're free, let's...just go! Anywhere! See the world and really experience it all. I...have never really thought about leaving this city. I have it all here but I realize I'm missing out on so much experience." He paused for a moment. "But there is no one else I would want to see it all more than with you now." A blush started to spread over his cheeks.

She let out a small gasp, staring back at him, her grin slowly widening. "I...would love to," she said, wrapping her arms around him in a hug.

He buried his face in her neck, smiling wide against her skin as they hugged. "I can't wait," he breathed.

"Neither can I," she said softly. She pulled away from him, kissing him gently before releasing him and sitting back down. She handed him the wine and ate another pancake ball. "If I am honest...I cannot wait to see the look on your cousin's face when he is told that he can no longer own slaves," she hummed.

Gaara practically moaned when she said that. He took a long drink of wine. "It will be one of the best days of our lives." He let out a laugh that bordered on darkness. "He's had this coming for so long and it will be sweeter than any wine or dessert to watch him struggle and have his life turned upside down."

She chuckled softly. "I will drink to that," she said, putting her hand over his on the wine and using him to take a sip from the jug. "To have my title again in his presence would feel amazing."

"You will always have your title as long as I'm in the vicinity, my Lady," he smirked. He leaned forward to pull her into another kiss. He pushed into it a little more passionately, licking some of the lingering wine from her lips.

She smiled against his lips, gently cupping his face and pushing into the kiss as well. She let out a small breathy chuckle as they pulled apart. "You really know how to make a girl swoon," she smirked.

He blushed a little brighter. "You're giving me too much credit." He smiled, squeezing her hand gently. "I hope tomorrow isn't too eventful," he said softly.

"I cannot get my hopes up too high for that," she chuckled, remembering Sasori's plan for the party with the composition she made and tested on the servants. "However, I do not think any fights will happen this time involving Lord Sasori since your aunt and uncle will be there."

"Oh, no. With them there, he will have to get a lot craftier to entertain himself," Gaara sighed. "I'm sure he's got some sort of tasteless prank concocted."

"Oh, he certainly does," she hummed, taking another sip of the wine. "You may want to bring one of these and drink only from that."

He raised an eyebrow. "Noted and will do." He took another sip. "Any other hints or plots I should be wary of?"

"None that I am aware of," she said. "But it would probably be safe not to eat any of the food either. I saw what this thing can do and while momentarily hilarious, it is not pretty. It would probably be best to eat beforehand," she chuckled.

"That sounds like him," he sighed. "We're lucky that Komushi won't be there." He cracked a smile again. "That party would be razed to the ground."

"Ugh, I can only imagine," she said. She sighed and took one last pancake sweet for herself. "I am also not getting my hopes up for him finding a woman but I am dreading the wrath from his mother."

"I don't think his mother has high hopes either," Gaara chuckled. "Actually...she has high hopes but a very real understanding of how terrible her son is with women." He laughed harder. "Which she really doesn't understand since women flock to him because he's got such a pretty face." He rolled his eyes.

"A pretty face does not make a good husband," she scoffed, laying down on her back. "He needs a woman at least half as scary as his mother. Someone who would keep him in his place. And it seems those types of women are not exactly fooled by his pretty face."

He scoffed, letting out a short laugh as he set the bottle of wine back in the basket. "No woman with that much sense would want to deal with him." He leaned back on one of his hands then used the other to gently stroke her hair. "But I would pay every wage I earn for the rest of my life to see Sasori with a woman like that."

"I think Lord Komushi may actually get a wife before Lord Sasori decides to finally court a woman," she chuckled.

"I'll believe that when I see it," he chuckled. "They might just marry each other."

"I knew it from the moment I saw them together that they were made for each other," she laughed as she stretched hard. "Are you a cuddler?" she smirked, opening her arms for him.

He chuckled, leaning down to kiss her once more. "I can be. Why? Are you?"

She bit her lip in a smile, wrapping her arms around him to pull him close and resting his head on her. He stifled a yelp as she pulled him down. "I am," she said softly, gently running her fingers through his hair. He blinked a few times before relaxing against her chest. He hummed softly, closing his eyes as she stroked his hair. They stayed like that for a while, enjoying the company of one another. Azumi got lost in her thoughts as she watched the scarce clouds move across the sky and the moon drift to the other side of them, mindlessly raking her fingers through Gaara's hair. She did not think she would get to experience moments such as this as a slave. She loved how she did not feel like she was a slave around him. He treated her like a human. She felt him shift on her a little, bringing her back from her thoughts. "Hm," she hummed. "Thank you for the zalabya," she said softly, kissing the top of his head, "and the wine."

"Always a pleasure, my Lady," he smiled up at her. He shifted his weight a little again to press a kiss to her jaw. "We should probably head back," he said softly, his voice almost sounding mournful. "I hope we can see each other at the party for more than a passing moment." He pushed himself up onto his hands so he could lean down and kiss her lips fully. It was a slow, lingering kiss. "And maybe do this again sooner."

"I would love to do this again," she whispered through a smile. She sat up with him, sliding her hand from his hair to cup his face. She leaned in to kiss him one more time before they both stood up. She helped him fold up the mat and he placed it back into the basket. She looked back at the mansion and hummed, noticing that they were in an almost perfect view from Sasori's bathroom. Had they been just a few feet over, they would have been seen. "He has seen me out here," she told him. "But he has not seen you. So I do not think he suspects anything."

Gaara's eyes flashed in fear. "He's seen you?" He took a deep breath, doing his best to stay calm. "We should move further down or back towards my house then," he said, packing the rest of the little picnic away.

"Moving a little further down is probably the better idea," she said. "If he notices me going too far in the direction of your home, it would make it worse. Right now, he does not seem bothered by me being out here because he suspects I am alone or with my snake. I need him to continue to trust that I will not leave." She took his hand and kissed his knuckles. "Do not worry too much about it for now."

He gave her another hard, worried look but it melted the instant her lips touched his knuckles. "I..." He looked like he wanted to say more but stopped short. He paused, thinking of his next sentence. "I just want you to be safe. We'll move down a little the next time we meet like this." He pulled her close and kissed her deeply. He smiled as he broke the kiss and kissed the tip of her nose softly before stepping back to pick up the basket. "Ready?" he asked, slipping his hand into hers.

"I am," she grinned, squeezing his hand gently as they started walking. They went back around the mansion to where her room was and stopped at her window. She pressed her back against the wall next to her window and pulled him into a kiss. Naga poked his head out of the window, watching silently.

When the broke apart Gaara chuckled softly. "I think someone has been waiting for you," he whispered, looking up at Naga. "I'll leave you to your needy snake," he teased, stealing one last kiss. "Sleep well, my Lady." He loved the way her title rolled off of his tongue.

She chuckled softly. "Goodnight," she smiled. She turned to climb through the window, letting Naga wrap around her as she moved. He hissed teasingly at her. "Shut up," she whispered, unable to hide her grin.

Below, Gaara grinned, drunker on love than the wine they had consumed could have made him. He chuckled to himself as he walked back to his own home.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Sasori rose with the sun. It was not often that he was up that early but he was feeling particularly irritated. He did not want to deal with going to the party that night. Knowing he would not be able to fall back asleep, he pulled himself from the bed and decided to fetch his own breakfast.

One of the three servants that usually harassed Azumi was in there, drinking tea. They looked up from their cup, a little surprised to see Sasori in there and not Azumi. "Getting food for yourself this morning, Lord Sasori?" they asked. "What happened to your slave?"

Sasori gave the servant a tired and deadly look. “What does it matter what happened to her?” he asked, the early morning rasp in his voice making him growl softly.

"I suppose it never matters what happens to any of them," they hummed. "But not seeing her today makes me think that you finally ended her life. As you seem to do often." The other two servants walked in and grabbed their own tea, mumbling their greetings to Sasori.

He wrinkled his nose at them. “Even if I did, again, it would not matter to you,” he grumbled, pouring him and Azumi cups of coffee and making a bowl of breakfast for each of them. “And you’ve made it rather uncomfortable for her to come in here, considering you three are so keen on placing bets on my business,” he hissed.

"In all of the years we've known you, you have not cared about how your slaves have felt," the first one scoffed. The second one elbowed them, trying to get them to stand down. "And you're bringing her breakfast and coffee."

“In all your years of knowing me,” he stalked towards the table, making the other two creep back as the first one did their best to hold their glare, “you have not learned a damn thing about me.” He kicked the leg of the table, making the whole thing jump and spilling their tea. “Stay out of my business or I will make you mine! I don’t care what my grandmother has to say about it!” His voice was a low hiss. “If you don’t want to wind up another one of my experiments, I suggest you heed this one and only warning.”

The second and third one put their hands on the shoulders of their friend, giving them a warning squeeze. "We will not pry anymore," the second one said. The glare from the first one did not waver.

“Glad we have an understanding.” His mouth turned up in a mockery of a smile. He turned and walked down the hall to Azumi’s room. He opened the door with no warning or announcement. “Get up,” he said just loud enough that he expected her to hear it as he put her coffee and bowl down on the window ledge. 

She was sitting on her bed with Naga coiled in her lap. His mouth was wide open and she was checking inside of it. She turned her head as Sasori set the bowl and mug down. "Good morning," she said to him. She looked at the bowl and mug. 'He brought that for me?' she thought, setting Naga to the side and standing up. "You are up early," she noted, looking at the sun that had only just begun to rise.

He raised an eyebrow, taking in what she was doing to Naga. “Yes, well I didn’t exactly want to be up too early but I am.” He took a sip of his coffee and stared at Naga. “What were you checking for just now?” he asked.

“I was checking to see if his venom gland was swollen,” she said. She picked up her bowl and started eating. “He said he felt pain behind his eyes. He may just be overproducing venom. Nothing milking him will not fix.” Naga hissed dramatically. “You will be fine,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Sasori raised an eyebrow, smiling a little at the dramatic snake. "His venom gland..." He looked Azumi over and the curious thought occurred to him. "Do your people have those?" Her eyes were an obvious mutation so it was not entirely out of scope that she could have other snake-like mutations.

She paused for a moment, sharing a look with Naga as she sipped her coffee. That was not information she was willing to disclose with someone who would clearly abuse it. “I have heard those rumors,” she said to Sasori. “And that is what they are. Rumors.”

Sasori narrowed his eyes. That was not a straight answer. "Mhm," he hummed. A smirk pulled at his lips. He would just have to explore and find out for himself. He filed the newly burning question away for later use. "We need to start getting ready for this party," he sighed. It was early but he was going to take a long time deciding what he wanted to wear and he wanted it out of the way quickly.

“Right...” she sighed, finishing her food quickly and sipping more of her coffee. She picked up Naga and wrapped him around her to follow Sasori to his room with her coffee in hand.

Sasori sat down on his bed and sighed. "Let's make this fun. You pick." He waved his hand in the direction of his wardrobe. "Pick three outfits and model them for me," he smirked.

Azumi stifled her laugh as she finished off her coffee. “Model your clothes for you,” she smirked. She unwrapped Naga from her and set him down on the daybed. “Alright,” she chuckled. It was dumb, but it seemed like fun. She went into his wardrobe and shifted through his different outfits. “This is a lot of the same thing,” she mumbled to herself. Sasori hardly ever wore any proper shirts, leaving his chest and torso area exposed most of the time. She was only going to try on pants, knowing whatever top she chose would be rejected by him. He watched her idly as she shifted through the clothes. She found an outfit that was mostly white with gold accents, much like what he made her wear on a daily basis. She took it out and stripped her own clothes off to put on her first choice.

 He chuckled, watching her strip. "It might get a little tight around the hip area," he warned, chuckling. "Try not to rip any seams."

She scoffed and looked at him. “Excuse me,” she said. “I will not rip any seams, thank you very much.” She continued to put on his clothes. “You are bigger than I am so I am drowning in this,” she mumbled.

"I took your measurements," he teased. "I'm not that much bigger than you," he countered, mildly offended. 

She frowned, looking him over. She had never given thought about his measurements and what they were compared to hers because she did not think she would ever have to model his clothes for him. 'I refuse to believe,' she thought. "You are taller than me," she said. "Your hips are not at the same height as mine."

"You're right," he grinned. Her calculating look was more than a little amusing. "However, my hips are far narrower than yours." He leaned over, reaching for his ledger. "Your rear is also much more pronounced than mine which will account for the material added for my height if not a little more." 

"More?" she scoffed. She looked down at her lower body, placing her hands firmly on her hips and then bringing them out to look at the gap between them. "Unbelievable," she mumbled, rolling her eyes. "Then is that a no to this outfit?"

Sasori chuckled, waving his hand dismissively. "I've worn that one too much this season," he said with pure mirth in his tone. "Try on another."

"Hmph." She went back into the wardrobe and took another outfit out. It was white and blue. She expected him to not choose it but because she liked it, she changed into it. He watched her pull the outfit out. His mouth started to twist in disapproval but he let her start to put it on. It had been a long time since that particular outfit had seen the light of day. As soon as she put it on, she knew it was not the one from the look on his face and the way it felt on her. She liked the outfit before she put it on. It was tight in the exact area he told her it would be but she would not admit it to him. She could hardly get it past her hips and she did not want to try to push further. "This is not the one," she said in agreement with his expression.

He raised an eyebrow, his smirk reappearing minutely. He knew why she had stopped. "Put it on all the way. I need to be sure." He flicked his hand in an upward motion. "I need to make sure this really isn't the one." 

"Hm," she hummed, not exactly wanting to put it on all the way. "I..." She stopped herself and sighed then proceeded to pull the pants on all the way. There was a very small tearing noise. "My apologies," she said, feeling for where the tear happened.

Sasori let out a low, soft laugh. He knew that would happen and it was oh, so satisfying. "Still think your hips aren't bigger than mine?" he taunted. "There is a thread and needle in that drawer." He pointed to the top left-hand drawer of his desk. "That outfit is a hard no," he sighed. "I only wear it when Mei is attending a party." He started to pout a little.

She sighed and started to remove the clothes. 'Then I suppose you will never wear this again since she actually has a man now,' she thought. She set the outfit to the side to fix it later. She went back into the wardrobe and chose another outfit. It was red with gold accents, something that would match the outfit he wanted her to wear. She thought about it for a moment, glancing at him before looking back at the outfit. 'He is supposed to be finding a wife, but he will not find one if he matches his slave.' She stared at it for another moment. 'He does not even want to find a wife.' She rolled her eyes and took the outfit out anyway, putting it on quickly.

He stared at her silently for a moment. He also considered the fact that they would be matching. It bothered him a little but not enough that he actually cared. They would look like a cohesive front. "Leave that one out," he told her. "Don't take it off yet. I need to pick jewelry, too."

She nodded and kept the outfit on, moving over to the dresser where he kept his jewelry. She looked at what was already laid out on it, finding mostly gold. "All of this would match," she muttered, picking up a long necklace. He was curious to see what she would pick. He knew he had an overwhelming amount of gold to choose from. It came with the territory but he did have a few pieces that he favored over others. She put the necklace on and looked at the rings, picking what she found matched it the best. "All you need is a pair of earrings," she smirked.

Sasori touched his earlobe as he looked her over. "I should have a few pairs in there," he said thoughtfully. "I haven't worn them in a long time. Pick something," he commanded again. 

She grinned, looking through the pairs of earrings he had. Finding the pair that best matched the necklace and rings, she put them on immediately. She had taken her earrings out before she left her village. It felt so good to be wearing earrings again.

He hummed softly, getting up slowly. He walked over to her and tapped his forefinger against her jaw to turn her head. He hummed again, taking his time to look over the choices she made. He moved his hand from her face to trace down her neck and chest. He picked up the pendant of the necklace. "This is will do," he finally said with a smirk. "Go get your clothes then come back and run a bath." She nodded, taking a step back to pick up the clothes she stripped out of and move toward the daybed to change back into her own clothes. She needed to grab the red outfit that she wore on the last day of the night market and the box of makeup that he gave her as well as take Naga back to her room because he was not going to the party with them. "Don't change back until you come back from your room," Sasori smirked. He looked over her half dressed form. He did not have a particular attraction to seeing her half naked. It would just amuse him because all of the other house's occupants would see her.

She frowned and looked back at him. 'You would find that amusing, you asshole,' she thought. She sighed heavily, picking Naga up and wrapping him around her. "I will be back then," she said, leaving the room. "Unbelievable," she grumbled as she walked through the halls, draping Naga over her shoulders in a way that he would cover her chest. Sasori leaned in the doorway, watching her walk down the hall with a grin. There were several servants passing her as she walked. Generally, they all had the same reaction to her. Eyes went wide then were quickly averted to anywhere that was not her. Azumi made it to her room quickly. She unwrapped Naga and set him on her bed. "Oh..." she said, realizing she would have to walk back without him covering her. She growled quietly to herself and grabbed her outfit and put the perfume she made for herself in the makeup box. "I will see you later," she said to Naga, kissing him on the top of his head and then heading back to Sasori's room with all of the things she grabbed.

Sasori grinned, watching her round the corner to his room in a hurry. He held up a hand. "Slow down there," he grinned. "There is no need to rush ," he chuckled through the words.

She huffed, looking up at him and holding her clothes and the box tighter to her. "I was not in a rush," she said.

"Really?" he smirked. "You were practically jingling down the hall. I could hear you all the way from your room." He rolled his eyes as he walked back into his room. He started to strip off his clothing, throwing them to the floor in his usual fashion. "So, back to this morning," he started. "You, as a daughter of the snake, have only heard rumors of your people having venom sacs like real snakes?" 

She narrowed her eyes at his back as she followed him into the bathroom. "Yes," she answered. "They were and are only rumors." She began to run his bath, using the new salt and oils she made for him. "We are human," she said unsurely. "And humans do not have venom sacs."

"Humans also don't have slitted pupils that blow wide when they smell something good," he reminded her. "Or golden irises. We've yet to have a chance to properly explore your anatomy." He sat down on a stool as he waited for the bath to fill. "For a child brought up in science, it's rather surprising."

"I focused on other things," she said as she started to strip. "The matter of my own anatomy did not take priority over making medicines and antivenoms." She walked out to the bedroom, stripping out of his clothes and setting the outfit and jewelry out on the bed for him then went back into the bathroom to set up her own bath.

Sasori was already sinking low into the bath when she walked back into the bathroom. "Well, now you don't have to worry about it," he bubbled into the water. "I will."

She frowned as she stepped into her own bath. 'So much for leaving things to be a mystery,' she thought. Of course, she knew she had a venom sac. She was not looking forward to his constant prying about it. It was not something that someone like him needed to know about. She sunk low into the water, sighing at how warm it was. Sasori settled deeper into the water and sighed as well, trying to mentally prepare himself to the evenings social promise. He honestly hated going to them and he knew his mother had probably pulled strings to have any eligible woman attempt to speak. He could feel himself getting irritated already. "How much of your mother's wrath would you endure if you left the party early?" Azumi asked, moving to the side of her bath that was closer to him and leaning over the edge, resting her chin on her arms.

Sasori groaned, it boarded on a whimper. "She'd skin us both alive. Me for leaving and you by association," he chuckled through gritted teeth. "And because you didn't rat me out that I was trying to leave."

"Mm," she hummed. "Terrifying." She sighed and sunk back into her water, pushing herself off of the wall to swim back a little. She leaned against the other wall of the pool. Suddenly, she heard someone walking into Sasori's room. She peeked over the edge of the pool and gasped quietly, seeing Chiyo walking into the bathroom.

"Oh, good, you're starting early," Chiyo chirped, looking at both Sasori and Azumi.

Sasori stiffened, curling close to the edge of the tub. "Grandmother," he growled. "We talked about you just barging in like this!"

Chiyo rolled her eyes, scoffing. "I've changed you, bathed you and was there the day you were born." She pulled up the stool that Sasori was sitting on earlier. "You'll survive." Azumi sunk a little lower, trying not to be seen too much by Chiyo. Chiyo's eyes snapped to Azumi, watching her sink. "Good morning," she said.

"Uh, good morning, Lady Chiyo," Azumi said, poking her head up a little. "My apologies, I would bow to you but I am—"

"Don't worry about it."

Azumi let out a quiet relieved sigh, sinking back below the water. Sasori glanced at Azumi from the corner of his eye. "Why are you here, Grandmother?" he huffed. 

"Because you're like your mother," she rolled her eyes. "I need to ensure you were starting to get ready so we won't be late." Sasori ground his teeth, glaring at Chiyo. "My son was never late until he married your mother."

Sasori clicked his teeth, earning a glare from Chiyo. "She is always on time. It's you who is always late, " he growled. " You were the one who was always asking her to do a million last minute things and running her ragged!"

"It's not that I ask her last minute, it's that she waits until the last minute to do it."

Azumi's jaw dropped, watching them argue back an forth. She knew Sasori would do just about anything for his mother. She would not be surprised if that meant hurting someone who insulted her. Even if that someone was his own grandmother.

"You literally have handed her a list of twenty fucking things to get done right before she was about to leave and expected them to be done!" His voice was starting to rise.

"Don't you dare take that one with me, boy."

Sasori tilted his head, blinking wildly. "I will take that tone!" he rasped. "You bitch about her being late but can never do your own shit. You always dump it on my mother and bitch about it!"

Chiyo stood up from her chair and it fell over, echoing in the large bathroom and making Azumi flinch. The rage between the grandson and grandmother pair made her extremely uncomfortable and she would rather have been thrown into the river than have to be around this.

"Your mother does a fair amount of bitching herself," Chiyo spat. "If only she could do things without having to be told."

Water sloshed out of the tub, spilling all over the floor as Sasori stood up rapidly. Azumi did her best to avert her eyes but there was so much going on and it started to get overwhelming. "She had every right to bitch when an old hag is chewing her out every chance she gets!" he growled, curling his fists tightly. "Get out! I would like to finish my bath in peace!" he snapped. 

"How dare you!" Chiyo's voice going shrill. "You live in my house still. You have as much power as that child!" She pointed to Azumi in the other bath. 

"It won't be your house for much longer!" Sasori countered. "You practically have one foot in the grave!"

"One thing your mother never taught you was respect !" Chiyo yelled. Azumi slowly moved to the other side of the pool, away from both of them and tried her best to slowly and quietly lift herself out to remove herself from the situation. Chiyo suddenly bent over, yanking one of her slippers from her foot. She threw it hard towards Azumi, hitting her square in the temple. "No one dismissed you, girl!" Chiyo snapped. Sasori's eyes went wide. His breath started to come up short as he felt his rage shake through him. Chiyo turned back to address her impudent grandson when she felt something hard to connect with her cheek. Her head snapped to the side and she stumbled back, losing her footing. She slipped on the water that was spilled around the tub and fell, hitting her head hard on the limestone floor.

Azumi heard the sound of the old woman's body hitting the ground and gasped, covering her mouth to stop a scream. Her gaze immediately moved up to Sasori, seeing that his reaction was nothing like hers. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm herself down as much as possible. She looked back at Chiyo. There was a small pool of blood forming around her. "What the fuck," she whispered. “What the fuck just happened.”

"Tch," Sasori sucked his teeth. "Fuck, I hate getting blood out of this floor," he groaned, stepping out of the tub. Chiyo groaned softly, in pain as Sasori nudged her onto her back with his foot. He smirked, seeing the light starting to fade from her eyes. "Azumi, get your snake," he said without looking away from his dying grandmother. 

Azumi took a second to process everything before getting up and wrapping a towel around herself. She did not bother to get dressed and ran straight to her room in her towel. "Naga..." she said softly. The snake looked up at her from his coil on the bed and immediately sensing her panic, moved quickly to slither toward her and up her body. Once he was securely wrapped around her, she ran back to Sasori's room, taking a deep breath before stepping into the room.

Sasori had moved Chiyo to his bedroom when she walked in. "Make him bite her," he demanded softly, putting his robe on.

She stroked Naga's head gently, moving toward the body. "Go on," she whispered, encouraging the snake to move in close to Chiyo. He looked at her and then back at Azumi who gave him an encouraging nod. Naga looked back at Chiyo and bared his fangs as Sasori lifted one of Chiyo's arms. Naga sunk his fangs into the arm and injected venom into the old woman. After a couple of seconds, he released her and moved back to Azumi.

Chiyo's eyes shot up, her body bucking hard upwards. She groaned, a tired sad ghost of a scream she could no longer produce before her body flopped back down hard onto the ground. Sasori rolled his eyes, ignoring the soft death rattle of his grandmother breathing. "Perfect." Sasori pushed her body back up and closed Chiyo's eyes. "Okay, now we need to sneak her into her room."

Azumi looked up at him, trying not to panic. "And how do you suppose we should carry her past the many servants that roam the halls?" she asked softly. He was so calm about this and she was having an internal conniption.

He rolled his eyes again. “For once I actually wish you were Komushi,” he grumbled. “We’re going to clean her up and then just carry her. We’ll make it look like she hurt her foot and we’re helping her back to her room.” He said it like it was obvious. Azumi tilted her head back and groaned softly, feeling more inconvenienced at this point. She did not even kill this woman. She went into the workshop to grab a rag to clean his grandmother up with. As they cleaned her up, Naga hissed softly in Azumi’s ear, trying to help her calm down. She kissed the top of his head and helped Sasori pull his grandmother up, slinging her arms around each of them and holding onto her to walk her body to her room. Sasori looked down each hall and bend before proceeding as they carried her. It went smoothly and uneventfully until they stepped in her chambers. One of the servants from the kitchen, the one with the particularly bad attitude, was laying out new linen curtains. "Shit," Sasori hissed. They would have to pass right under the servant to get to Chiyo's bedroom and he knew the servant would not simply let them go by without some sort of confrontation. He sighed heavily and looked at his grandmother's body and Azumi. They were going to have to bite down and deal with this. He tipped his head, pressing onward.

Azumi followed his lead, trying to remain as quiet as possible as they moved. They were halfway across when the servant turned and noticed them. "Oh," they said, no respect to their voice as soon as they saw Sasori, "what a surprise to see you on this side of—" They cut themselves off with a gasp as soon as they saw Chiyo between Azumi and Sasori. "Lady Chiyo!" they screamed.

"Naga!" Azumi whispered with a panicked hiss. Immediately, the cobra struck the servant, biting into their neck and injecting venom. His body coiled around the servant's to constrict it. The servant’s scream came out as a choked gurgle as Naga squeezed tight around their throat.

Sasori's eyes lit up, watching the display. He chuckled softly as he stepped over the servant's body with Azumi and Chiyo's. "Nice move," he complimented. "This actually works out even better for us," he grinned. "We just killed two birds with one stone and I know exactly how to stage it." Sasori gestured for Azumi to help him lay Chiyo in her bed. "We'll go to the party as usual. And when we come home, we'll discover this ‘unfortunate event.’ Of course, we'll have to tell my uncles," Sasori folded his arms, rolling his eyes. "And because Sandaime won't trust my word, Gaara will have to double check my diagnosis of the snake sneaking up on them and making Chiyo slam her head on her bedside table." He was now speaking more to himself than Azumi. He hummed softly as the gears turned rapidly in his head.

"What will happen to the snake?" Azumi asked, looking down as Naga as he uncoiled from around the servant and made his way back up Azumi's body. She did not want him taken away from her because they were pinning these two murders on him.

Sasori watched Naga cooly. He huffed heavily, drumming his fingers. This was another inconvenience. "Relax," he said, looking at the servant still collapsed in the doorway. "Gaara would never tell and I can easily play it off as some random snake." He frowned, leveling Azumi with a cool, hard look. "You need to keep him hidden until all of this cools down. They will want the snakes in the shop accounted for as well. Anything I say will be compared against Gaara's word since he's the only one who has any authority on the body and poisons aside from me." He reached for her hand, pulling her close. He grinned menacingly, laughing softly. "You just committed your first murder with me." He cupped her face, leaning in close to look into her eyes. "How does it feel?"

She breathed heavily through her nose. "The servant meant nothing to me," she said. "But your grandmother...I am not sure how I feel about that." Chiyo was not only Sasori’s grandmother but Gaara’s as well. She was Sandaime’s mother. Azumi recalled the moments before Chiyo died and how she started an argument with Sasori over his mother. Then she recalled the slipper flying at her face. "My only qualm with this is that we are not clothed," she said.

Sasori blinked at her then took a step back to look at them. They were only clothed in a towel and his robe. He laughed hard, the sound echoing off the walls. "Then I suggest we hurry back to the room and get dressed." He lowered his voice. "Before the other two show up." He started towards the door with a spring in his step. He felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He might actually enjoy this party.

Azumi followed him quickly. They made their way back to the room and cleaned themselves up. "It is still quite early," she hummed. Naga hissed at Azumi. "I am glad you no longer feel the pain." She stroked Naga's head gently. "Injecting them with venom helped reduce the swelling of your venom sac."

"Oh," Sasori grinned over his shoulder. "That means this whole situation was a three for one!" He laughed a genuine laugh again. It was a light, happy sound. Completely unfitting for the situation. "But you're right, it is still early. Let's re-rinse ourselves and maybe you can take your time making yourself look nice." He was practically floating with glee.

"I will clean up the spilled blood first," she told him. "Before it gets to a point where it is too hard to clean." She moved into the bathroom and drained his original bath to run him a new one. While she waited for it to fill, she cleaned up Chiyo's blood from the floor and dried up the areas where water was spilled. 'I cannot believe all of that just happened,' she thought. Once she was done, she drained her original bath and ran a new one for herself.

Sasori walked back into the bathroom, hanging up his robe once more. He sighed happily, looking at the freshly clean spot. "What a turn of events," he hummed. "Let's see..." He started to contemplate all the things that would have to happen once she was discovered. "This house is going to be a nightmare for a little while." He frowned but the grin quickly returned to his lips. "The other slaves are going to hate to find out that I own all of them now," he gasped with excitement. "And I will have access to all of the old hag's stores!"

"Do you think they will get suspicious?" she hummed, removing her towel to step into the bath. Just like the first of Chiyo's personal servants, she had no hesitations with getting rid of the other two.

"Without a doubt," he said easily. "They will think I did it regardless of this being the best accident of my life and I had planned it down to a T.”

She looked up at him, seeing how happy he was about the whole situation. She washed herself up and then relaxed in the water. On the outside, she tried to be as calm as Sasori was but on the inside, she was battling her own morality. She was not a trained killer but this was not her first murder. In self-defense, she would have had no problem. Chiyo was an accident. The servant was on purpose. From experience, she knew what was going to happen to her mental stability. There were going to be moments of extreme guilt and panic, at least for a little while. And then after about a week or so, it will all just be a distant memory. Until then, she needed a way to suppress it. 'I can make anxiety pills,' she thought. She had done it before and it worked for a while. She sighed heavily and sunk underneath the water's surface for a moment.

Sasori cleaned himself up once more. He smirked, watching Azumi try to maintain her cool. "You're bad at this," he purred. "You'll have to get it under control before we leave."

She came back up and scoffed, rolling her eyes. "I can do that," she said. She stepped out of the bath and grabbed a towel. As she dried herself off, she tried to recall the recipe she used last time she had to make something for her anxiety. Most of what she remembered she knew Sasori had in his workshop. She took a fresh towel out for Sasori and replaced his robe with a clean one that did not touch the body of a corpse. "I will be fine," she said.

He dried himself off and followed her out of the bathroom. He laid down on his bed, tucking his arms behind his head as she walked into the workshop. "I have concentrated valerian root on the upper left shelf if you need it," he called to her. 

She found all of the ingredients she needed and started working on making medication for her anxiety. It would help her get through the next week until she no longer felt anything about the situation. It was not the most healthy way to deal with her problems, but admittedly, she had more of a hard time coming to terms with her feelings than she did figuring out ways to suppress them. It took her about half an hour to make the pills. She only made enough to last her the next couple of days and as soon as they were done, she took one. Then she walked out of the workshop and fell onto the daybed with a sigh. "Maybe this will distract everyone from you having to find a wife," she said after a few moments of silence.

Sasori put his ledger down in his lap. "It might," he hummed. "For about a week. And then my mother will be back on my case the moment Grandmother's tombstone is rolled into place." He rolled his eyes as he pushed a hand through his hair. "I'll take what little reprieve I can get. She'll probably come at me a lot stronger since I'll be the one inheriting this house."

"I see," she frowned. She could feel the pills kicking in and her body started to relax. She sighed again and rolled onto her side. She took a couple of moments to clear her mind and relax. After a couple of minutes, she got up and moved toward the vanity so she could start doing her makeup. "Is there anything you wanted to work on before we leave?" she asked as she opened up the box of makeup he gave her.

Sasori looked up from his ledger again. He took a deep breath, tapping the cover of the book against his chin. "Did you have something in mind?"

"No," she hummed, looking at him in the mirror. "I think that your...'party trick' is enough for me," she said. She shifted through the items in the box and found kajal kohl eyeliner. She smiled at it and immediately started to tightline her eyes.

He chuckled, watching her line her eyes. "Do you like that kind of pencil?" he asked her, changing the subject.

"I do," she said. "It lasts longer than other ones. And it intensifies a gaze." She did her makeup as she used to do when wearing makeup was a daily thing for her. "Which I always appreciated."

"Intensifies a gaze," he parroted. "Adorable. I made some a while back but I don't wear it myself too often." He started to consider making some to sell in the shop. "Gaara wears it, though." Normal small talk. Like there was not a body rotting just across the house. 

"I have noticed," she smirked. "Do you make it for him?" Once she finished her eyes, she moved on to the rest of her face, keeping the rest of it light since it was too hot to wear heavy face makeup.

"It was a small project we did together," he nodded. "It started out as a test run for some art project Kankuro was working on and it sort of just became part of Gaara's look. Many others that live here wear a similar style. It's surprisingly common."

"It is a good look on him," she said softly with a smirk as she finished her makeup and moved on to her hair. Normally, she left it all out and did not bother with it much. But her normal go-to for events, when she was still a noble, was to just put half of it up. So that is what she did.

He continued to watch her intently. "I suppose it is," he murmured. "Tell me more about your village. Did you have these sort of parties, too?"

"Yes," she answered simply. "And as I mentioned before, I did not enjoy going to them. They were usually birthdays, engagements or wedding parties."

"Right," he laughed. Maybe he was a little more stressed than he was letting himself to believe. He stood up and stretched lazily. "What about funerals?" he smirked.

"Longevity is sort of something that runs in my village," she hummed, looking up at him through the mirror. "We did not usually have many funerals," she smirked. She stood up as well and unwrapped her towel from her, picking up the skirt of the red outfit and getting dressed.

This piqued Sasori's interest. "Really?" he breathed. "I wonder if it has something to do with your physiology," he grinned. "I'm convinced Chiyo would have kept living had that accident not happened." He filed the thought away with the venom sac question. He was excited to learn more about her body. 

She finished getting dressed and turned to him. "My physiology is the same as yours," she said. "As any other human's." He did not argue with her. He simply smirked at her as he began pulling on the outfit she chose for him. He sat down in front of the mirror as Azumi had earlier and pushed back part of his hair, clipping it back in his usual party style. They spent the next couple of hours getting ready and keeping themselves occupied before they had to leave.

Chapter Text

Later on that night, when it was finally time to leave for the party, Azumi walked Naga back to her room. "No one should come for you," she said softly to him, kissing the top of his head. "Just stay hidden." He hissed softly to her as she left. 'I would die before they could take him from me,' she thought as she walked through the halls and met Sasori at the front of the house.

Sasori waited for her on the front steps of the mansion. The moment he saw her, he started down the steps to the servants waiting to carry him on the platform. 

"My Lord, is Lady Chiyo not traveling with you?" one of the servants dared to ask. 

"No, she will be leaving separately," he said easily. He leaned back on the small back of the chair in the middle of the platform, the very picture of nonchalant tranquility. 

Azumi took her spot next to the platform. Once she was there, the other servants were given the command to start walking. The party was in the same place as the last one they went to—Oonoki's house. The same place Azumi and Gaara had their first real conversation, where Sasori got in a fight with Deidara, and where he dragged her home from to burn her chest with acid. Needless to say, the memories involved with the location were not the most pleasant for Azumi. However, she made her medications a little stronger than she normally would have so she was in a pretty neutral mood herself over it. They got to the party fairly quickly, just as the air started to cool down and the sun was not visible anymore but still cast a little bit of light. The servants lowered Sasori's platform just below the steps of the house.

"Welcome back," Kurostsuchi greeted Sasori as he walked up the steps.

He suppressed the overwhelming urge to trip her down the stairs and plastered on a friendly smile. "Always a pleasure," he said smoothly, focusing on the giddy feeling he got every time he thought of what was waiting at home. The mansion was already overflowing with people and music filled the air.

Azumi groaned softly, seeing the number of people already there. Once again, she recognized almost no one. She stayed close to Sasori as they made their way through the crowd. She knew her purpose there was to act as a deflector of other women so he did not really have to find a wife and she had no idea how to do that. They passed by a table laid out with drinks and food. She watched as Sasori discreetly contaminated random cups and plates with the poison he had Azumi make. The very poison that would cause the consumer to literally shit themselves. His face never wavered from the genial neutrality he had forced it into. He scanned the room to find a nice spot they could hide away in when he noticed someone beelining for them rapidly.

"Oh, son of mine," his mother called over the din of the crowd.

"Mother," Sasori bowed slightly, reaching for her hand to press a kiss to the back of it.

She grinned and wrapped her arms around him in a hug. "You smell amazing," she said when she pulled away.

"Thank you," he said with a chuckle.

"Have you had any luck finding a wife?" Somehow, both Azumi and Sasori expected that question next.

"Mother, I only just arrived."

“I noticed you were speaking with Kurotsuchi though.” Her tone was a little teasing.

Sasori sighed rubbing his face. “Your eyesight never ceases to amaze me, Mother.” He cracked a real smile. “Unfortunately, she is out of the running because she is practically still a child,” he whined just a little.

"Oh, I suppose she is rather young," his mother pouted slightly.

"I cannot marry someone with a ten-year age gap," he chuckled.

"I know, I know," she sighed. Her gaze fell on Azumi and then back to Sasori. She quickly noted the coordination in their outfits and again how striking Azumi was. Even more so now in the fine garment and her makeup done. She leaned in to whisper into her son’s ear.  “If I find you are hiding behind that little pet you bought,” her tone a pure threat, “I won’t hesitate to take her away and force to the floor alone.”

Sasori’s blood ran cold. The nursing of his grandmother was easier to deal with than the idea of facing socialization alone. "I would never," he said softly to her.

His mother hummed as she pulled away again. She gently patted his cheek. "I would hope not," she said with a smile. "For your sake."

“May I cut in?” His father said, walking up to them. He and Sasori looked exactly alike but their demeanors were drastically different.

His mother giggled, taking her husband’s offered arm. “Why, of course.” She opened a fan to hide her wide smile, polite and flirtatious.

Azumi gasped slightly, seeing Sasori's father. 'A family of handsome men, indeed,' she thought.

His eyes fell on her and she tried her best to keep her composure, at least in front of his wife. "And who might this young lady be?" he asked.

Azumi bowed to him. "My name is Azumi, my Lord," she answered.

"She's my slave," Sasori added.

He gave her an easygoing smile. It looked so much like Sasori’s without any of the menace or malice Sasori’s usually held. He nodded slightly to her. “It is a pleasure to meet you. I hope he's not making life too hard on you.” He gave a teasing smile to Sasori which made Sasori’s own expression twist into something lofty. 

“She’s a slave, Father?” Sasori said, stubbornly reminding him again.  

“I heard you the first time,” his father told him with a smirk. “Your mother tells me you’re looking for a wife.” His smirk turned into a genuine smile. “Good luck,” he said. He looked at his wife and nodded toward the dance floor. “Shall we?” he asked. 

Sasori’s mother giggled and Azumi knew exactly what was happening. Sandaime did the same thing to her whenever he smiled. “We shall,” she grinned, letting her husband lead her away. She gave Sasori one last warning look before disappearing.

Sasori rolled his eyes but could not keep the smile off of his face. "She's going to check in with me later," he sighed. "And she's going to trap me by dancing." He released another heavy sigh. "If the party makes it that far," he purred, glancing back at the refreshment table. "If you get hungry, tell me," he told her. "I don't want to risk you getting caught up in the fun."

She nodded and followed him further through the room to the corner he claimed. He sat down in a chair and she stood next to him, looking around at the crowd. She was looking for Gaara but she did not want to admit that to Sasori. She noticed a couple of women looking at Sasori, smiling flirtatiously at him. There was an audible scoff coming from both her and Sasori. They lingered like decor in the corner for the better part of twenty minutes into the party.

"If you stay over here much longer, I'm going to start thinking you're some sort of statue," Kankuro said as he sashayed over to them with a drink in his hand and a woman on his arm.

Sasori huffed, irritated that his family was pestering him again to socialize and that no one had stumbled across his little prank yet. "Leave me be, Kankuro," he grumbled. Another young lady giggled behind her fan as she passed by. 

Azumi looked at the woman that Kankuro was with. ‘So he does have someone,’ she thought, remembering Gaara mentioned it being a possible lie to deter their father. 

“The women want you, Sasori,” Kankuro smirked, nodding to the woman that walked by. 

“Unfortunate for them,” Sasori countered. 

‘Is it really, though?’ Azumi thought. 

“Aren’t you supposed to be wife hunting?” Kankuro asked. “Can’t efficiently do that sitting in the corner.”

The woman on Kankuro's arm giggled softly. Her eyes landed on Azumi. "Did you dress matching to your slave girl?" she dared to ask, stifling another giggle. "I'm surprised they are looking your way at all with you two looking so much like a married couple."

Kankuro blinked and finally looked at what his cousin and Azumi were wearing. "Wow," he laughed openly. "You're trying this hard and women are still throwing themselves at you. What a hard life you must live." He poked Sasori's nose.

Sasori's eye twitched hard and he swatted Kankuro's hand away. "I like things to be cohesive and uniform!" he snapped. 

"You like to match the woman you take to parties," Kankuro corrected. "And right now it looks like you're very taken."

Azumi looked at Kankuro and nodded in agreement, folding her arms. She sighed softly.

"What does it matter to you?" Sasori asked Kankuro.

"It doesn't," Kankuro smirked. "But you know your mother is going to get on your ass about it."

"Then that's my problem to deal with."

Kankuro raised his hands in surrender. "Hey, it's your funeral," he chuckled, linking arms with his date once more and turning to leave. "I'll make sure they wrap you up real nice," he called over his shoulder teasingly as he dove back into the crowd.

"Unbelievable," Sasori grumbled, folding his arms and sinking into his seat.

Azumi sighed and looked down at him. "You will have to make it look like you are at least putting in some effort," she said softly to him. "If your mother sees you sitting here the entire time, she will not let you off easily." She did not want to admit to him that she would find dying by his mother's hand because of him more embarrassing than just dying by his hand.

"Tch," he clicked his teeth. He felt like a petulant child with the way he was behaving but he really did not want to do this. However, he knew Azumi was right. He could feel his mother's gaze from across the room. He glanced up, seeing her watch him as she spoke to Sandaime. With a sigh heavier than it should have been, he stood up. He looked around and walked up to the closest young late who did not offend his senses. "Care for a dance?" he asked as smoothly as he could muster. 

The young lady gasped, a grin slowly appearing on her face. "Lord Sasori asking me for a dance?" she whispered. "How could I refuse?" She took his offered arm and followed him onto the dancefloor.

Azumi watched as he disappeared into the crowd and sighed in relief, leaning back against the wall and closing her eyes. "Finally," she whispered. She just wanted him to stage an effort so she did not have to endure his mother.

"I thought he would never get up," Gaara whispered in her ear the moment the crowd swallowed Sasori’s mop of red hair. He smiled at her, a bottle of wine tucked under his arm.

She could not help the grin that appeared on her face as soon as she heard his voice. She looked at him, resisting the urge to hug and kiss him. "It took talking to him like he was a child to finally get him up," she chuckled.

"That sounds about right," he chuckled, producing two small glasses. "Care for a drink?" he asked, holding up the bottle.

"Absolutely," she smiled. She took the glass he handed her and watched as he poured the wine for both of them. She took her first sip and sighed. "I needed this," she mumbled.

Gaara hummed, enjoying the burn of the wine. He smirked, raising the bottle a little. "Tell me when you want more." He risked leaning over and pressing a kiss to her neck. "You look beautiful by the way," he whispered in her ear.

She bit her lip in a smile. "Thank you," she giggled, feeling her face get warm. "You look amazing yourself." She took another sip of her wine. "As usual," she added with a smirk.

He smiled at her, subconsciously biting his lip as he looked at her. He wished they were sitting along the banks of the river again instead of whispering at a party. He pushed his thoughts down and forced out a small chuckle. "You're flattering me," he sighed, looking out over the crowd. "Do you know what he did?" he asked, referencing the prank he knew his cousin had lined up for the party. Just like he always did. He would admit that it was very mildly entertaining to see what he could come up with.

"He, uh...he spiked the drinks and some of the food with—" Before she could even finish her sentence, there was a nasty wet sound coming from someone on the other side of the room, followed by a couple more. It started. A few people already shit themselves. The entire room went dead silent, everyone standing in shock of what just happened, unable to actually process it. After a couple of seconds—which really felt like an eternity at the moment—the silence was broken by a very loud, obnoxious booming laugh.

"Uuuh..." Gaara winced. The smell hit them hard and the booming laughter was joined by a chorus of more horrific wet splattering sounds from across the room. The laughter echoed off of the walls, only getting worse as the sounds went on. Gaara sighed heavily, immediately regretting it while simultaneously looking like he wanted to die. There was a mix of more laughter and horrified screams throughout the room.

Sasori stumbled out of the crowd, grinning widely. He was giggling, nearly out of breath as he stumbled into his seat. He looked up at Gaara nearly in tears. "Your father's laugh always brings me such immeasurable joy."

" That laugh is your father?" Azumi chuckled. 

"It is," Gaara grimaced, covering his face as he spoke.

She looked at Sasori. "Should we move to another location before your mother mauls you to death?" She just wanted to get out of the room and be somewhere where there was not a diarrhea outbreak happening around her.

"Aah, we probably should," Sasori said, still laughing. He stood up, waving for them to both follow him out of the room and towards the back of the house. There were steps leading right up to the river's edge. The air was clean and fresh and just far enough removed from the hysteria ripping through the party.

"That is not going to be fun to clean up," Azumi hummed, taking another sip of her wine as the three of them sat down on the steps with her in between them and looked out over the river. For once, she was grateful that she was Sasori's slave and not one of the ones that lived in Oonoki's house.

"It most certainly won't be," Sasori grinned, reaching over to snag the bottle of wine from Gaara. He noted the glass in her hand but opted not to say anything. His night was going too well to be angry. He distinctly heard Deidara's screams and reveled in a small joy.

Gaara rolled his eyes when the bottle was taken for him. "You're welcome," he said flatly.

"It's the only thing here I can trust not to be contaminated," Sasori smirked. He leaned back against the steps and sighed. "I wish Komushi was here to see this," he chuckled.

"He would have walked around, handing drinks to everyone if he was," Gaara said.

"When does Lord Komushi return?" Azumi asked.

"He's only going to be gone for a few days," Gaara rolled his eyes. "Not even a full week. But I guess that's a long time to be away from your husband," he teased Sasori. Sasori glared at him, taking a long swig from the bottle.

Azumi smirked, offering her now-empty glass to Sasori. "Would you like a glass?" she asked.

He took the glass from her, glaring at her as he poured the wine into it. Though, the expression broke as he handed her the glass back. "Pass that to Gaara," he chuckled. "Give her your empty cup," he instructed. Without much question, Azumi handed Gaara the glass of wine and he gave her his empty glass. Sasori repeated the action and handed the glass back to Azumi and then lifted the bottle. "To an absolutely wonderful day," he laughed, knocking back the bottle.

Azumi chuckled and she and Gaara drank their wine. The three of them sat there in silence for a couple of seconds until there was a sound of metal clinking with every step as someone came down the stairs behind them. "I thought you would be out here after that," Kenzou chuckled. "That was quite an interesting party trick, Lord Sasori."

"Aaah, Kenzou." Sasori's cheeks were starting to pinken. "Did you enjoy it as much as we did?"

"It's always amusing to see Lord Rasa belt one out," he chuckled. 

"It gets me every time," Sasori hissed, laughing. "Drink?" He held up the bottle.

"Don't mind if I do," he smiled as he sat down, finishing the drink he had in his own glass and then holding it out for Sasori to pour the wine into it.

Azumi looked back at him. "How did that oil turn out for you, Lord Kenzou?" she asked.

Kenzou grinned, setting the glass down gently and opening his arms. He stood up, stepping down a few of the stairs so he was level with her and pulled her into a hug. "You tell me," he chuckled.

The hug was just as crushing as the last one but minus the waterfall of sweat. She could still smell the metal but the scent of the oil was much more prominent. "Great," she said. He finally let her go and she quietly gasped for air. "I used about twelve notes in it." She bent back a little to crack her back. "I am glad it works for you and that you are pleased with it."

"Twelve?" he chuckled. "I don't know much about fragrance making but I know that mine is one of a kind and judging by their faces," he chuckled, pointing out the varying levels of shock on Gaara and Sasori's faces, "that's more than average. Thank you again for this wonderful gift."

"Only three more than the average," she chuckled, waving it off. "Nothing too crazy. You are very much welcome." She gave him a bow and then sat back down between Gaara and Sasori.

"Will you be staying much longer?" Kenzou asked Sasori. "Or will you be disappearing into the night before they can find you."

"I'd say two more glasses of wine and then we've got to make ourselves scarce," Sasori nodded. "My mother is at the party and angry is an understatement for how she is probably feeling right now."

"Ah, haha, I did see your mother on my way out here," he chuckled. "You may have some spare time because getting through the room is...well, a shit show."

"Knowing my aunt," Gaara grinned. "That's not going to stop her remotely.” 

"SASORI!" Sasori’s mother roared.

"And that's our cue," Sasori laughed, handing the bottle back to Gaara. "Kenzou, Cousin," he bowed to both of them. "See you both tomorrow." He grabbed Azumi's upper arm harshly and started to pull her back toward the house.

Azumi waved at Gaara and Kenzou as she was being pulled. She ignored the pain in her arm from his tight grip the entire way back to Sasori's home. "That turned out quite well," she hummed. She enjoyed seeing him in a pleasant mood. She was a lot less on edge around him when he was like this. However, she did not know how long something like that would last and she was prepared for it to switch at any moment.

“Today turned out to be a rare treat!” He gave out a boyish giggle. He pulled her through the house quickly. He heard no whispers from the other servants. In fact, the whole house seemed startlingly normal. Sasori felt another wave of heady glee flush through him. He spun Azumi around by her arm and hard onto his bed so her body bounced on it. “All we need to do now is wait.” He crawled on the bed, a large predatory grin stretched over his lips. As if he was a massive cat who had just eaten their fill of a meal.

"Do you think they would have noticed your grandmother's absence among all of that commotion?" she asked. Someone was bound to notice. Chiyo seemed to be friends with Oonoki himself so he had to have noticed at least.

“My uncles noticed. And Oonki,” he confirmed. “I was asked by all of them on the dance floor and told them all the same thing: she sent me on ahead of her.” He rolled onto his back with a content sigh. “Gives us an alibi. She’s sent me ahead plenty of times. The real question is: have the other two hags noticed?”

"I think we would have been confronted by them when we arrived back if they did," she said, laying back on the bed. "I am sure by morning they will notice their friend not joining them for breakfast."

“She easily could have sent them away for something,” he said, the glee gleaming refreshed and anew in his eyes. “But you’re right, we won’t know until tomorrow morning. I’m almost too excited to sleep.”

She turned to look at him. The reason he was in this sort of mood was horrible, but she wanted this good mood to last as long as possible to ensure her own life would continue. "I know you already took two baths this morning, but what about another one?"

He chuckled, shaking his head. "No, not right now, but maybe," he shifted to look at her. "You can give me one of those back rubs again."

She chuckled softly as she sat up. "Of course," she said. He grabbed the oil from the bedside table and handed it to her. She waited for him to roll onto his stomach before straddling him and dripping the oil onto his back. Once she set the bottle aside, she started massaging him, starting with his shoulders and between his shoulder blades. Her brow furrowed at how quickly he had become tense again. 'Seriously?' she thought. 'Can you not be stressed for at least a week?' He hummed softly into his bedding as her hands worked his muscles. It had been a rather eventful day and before he even realized it he was starting to doze off. He idly he wondered as he slipped off how he had grown to trust her so quickly. She continued to move her hands, working the muscles in his lower back and getting lost in thought. After a couple of long minutes, she looked down and noticed he had completely fallen asleep. She smiled softly, removing the clip from his hair and setting it aside and then getting off of him. As she got off of him, she contemplated taking off his jewelry for him but she quickly dismissed the thought. She was not his mother and though he acted like a child, he was not one. She closed the bottle of oil and put it back on the bedside table. ‘I suppose I am sleeping in here tonight,’ she thought, getting off of the bed and changing her clothes. She sighed as she laid on the daybed and attempted to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Sasori slept soundly through the night, peacefully and very content. When he woke the next morning, he was refreshed and still felt the effects of Azumi's rub down from the night before. Languidly, he rolled onto his back and stretched, arching his back. He noticed Azumi curled up on the daybed. He was tempted to nudge her with his foot when he remembered the news he was expecting that morning. He felt a jolt of excitement race through him. His grandmother was dead and someone must have found her by now.

On the daybed, Azumi groaned quietly, feeling the sunlight pouring into the room and onto her face. She had a hard time falling asleep and when she finally did, it was not a night of good sleep. She felt more exhausted than she did the night before. She grunted softly, pulling the blanket over her head.

He watched her burrow further into the blanket and the urge to kick her only grew. He might have acted on it had a choked "Lord Sasori" not reached his ears. He knew the voice well. It was one of the younger slaves that belonged to Chiyo. He would bet Azumi's life that his grandmother's personal servants were weeping in her bedchamber.

Azumi groaned softly again, sitting up on the daybed and rubbing her face. She knew Sasori was ecstatic but she was exhausted. She threw the blankets off of her and stood up. The slave was too afraid to open the door. She looked at Sasori and moved toward the door to open it for them, maybe a little too harshly. The slave cowered just a little and then relaxed, seeing her and not Sasori, then cowered again at the death stare she was giving them.

"I-is Lord Sasori in?" they asked.

"Of course he is," she said, with maybe just a little more attitude than she intended. She was tired. But this was another slave she was speaking to. She did not have to be nice to them. She nodded for them to enter the room and they only took two steps in, too afraid to enter any further.

" Lo-Lord," they stammered. Sasori composed his face into a cool mask as best as he could. He rubbed his eyes for good measure to showcase how tired he was but inside, he was nearly vibrating with how fast his heart was racing. "Your grandmother has...Lady Chiyo, she..."

"Out with it," Sasori snapped when the slave started to stammer again.

They winced, stepping back towards the hall. "She has passed in the night," they finally slipped out.

Sasori fought hard against the grin that threatened to be plastered all over his face. "How?" he kept his composure. 

"I-I believe it was a snake bite," they said. "She and one of her p-personal servants...were found in her room this morning..."

Azumi rubbed her face again, hiding a yawn behind her hand. The slave looked at her and she glared back at them. 'What are you looking at?' she thought. Again, the younger slave flinched back, now fully in the hall. The word ‘monsters’ was clearly on the back of their tongue.

Sasori stood up gracefully from the bed and disappeared into his bathroom without another word. He re-emerged with his robe on. "Send word to my Uncles and call for Gaara," he told the quivering slave.

"Right," they said softly. "Y-yes, my Lord." They bowed and backed away to leave.

Azumi closed the door once they were gone and stretched hard. "Coffee?" she asked through the stretch groan.

"Make it extra strong," he nodded with a growing grin. 

She nodded and went to the kitchen to make their coffee. Because of the commotion with the rest of the house finding Chiyo and her servant, no one had brewed coffee yet. "Wonderful," she groaned, setting everything up to brew it herself. Once it was done, she poured it into two mugs, giving Sasori a bigger one than usual and went back to his room.

He had dressed in the time she had gone and come back. He leaned in the doorway waiting for her with a large grin still plastered to his face. "Hurry up and change. We have to go see my poor, dead granny." She handed him his coffee and put on her normal daily outfit. Once she was dressed, she chugged her coffee, hoping it would wake her up a little for what they were about to deal with. Sasori continued to sip his coffee slowly. “Let’s go,” he said as soon as they finished their coffee. He turned on his foot and started down the hall. He felt the giddy feeling rush through him once more. She followed behind him, not in any way excited the way he was. They moved through the halls quickly, only slowing down as they got closer to Chiyo's room as to not look too excited. The servants were gathered around Chiyo's bed in tears. Azumi rolled her eyes, listening to everyone cry. Sasori set his face in deep concern. The stench hit his nose and he fought the need to back out of the room. ‘Disgusting.’ He wrinkled his nose. Someone had moved the servant to the daybed and positioned his grandmother’s hands folded neatly over her chest.

“It was a snake bite, my Lord,” one of the servants said. A couple of them looked at Azumi at the mention of a snake to which she glared back at them.

‘Do not blame me for this,’ she thought. 

“So I’ve heard,” Sasori said, trying to sound as solemn as possible. 

“Lord Sandaime and Lord Gaara are on their way,” the slave from earlier said, entering the room.

He pushed past the circle of servants to look closer at his grandmother. “All of you,” he said in a low voice, “get food and coffee prepared. This place is about to be overrun.” Everyone took a moment to move. “Now!” He snapped. The whole group scattered out of the room in a hurry, leaving Azumi and Sasori alone with the two corpses. She watched him as his grin came back full force. She knew it hurt him to hold that in for as long as he did. He started to laugh, throwing his head back in pure joy. "Aaahahah, Azumi," he sighed, tilting his head to look at her. "I've finally won!" He grabbed a book from Chiyo's bedside table and turned her head with it to look at the fatal crack in her skull. "I wonder if we should stage her bathroom with blood to make it look like she cracked her skull in there," he hummed. "Gaara will know that snake bite isn't what killed her."

Azumi’s brow furrowed. They already cleaned Chiyo up. They could not just use her blood. “Where will you get the blood from?” she asked.

His smile shifted to something of an irritation. "I thought you were smarter than that," he sighed. He walked over and grabbed her wrist, pulling her into the bathroom. "Just when I think we're making progress," he sighed, stopping next to the edge of the pool like bath. "Stay," he commanded. He released her wrist and walked over to his grandmother's vanity to grab a small straight razor she used to shave. "Strip. If you get blood on your clothes, it will be more incriminating the just the snake bites."

'My blood?! Are you fucking serious right now?!' She sighed as she started to take off her dress. She was too tired for this.

Once she was fully undressed, he gripped her hip and slid the blade up her thigh. He squeezed the muscle, causing the blood to run down her leg faster. "We need to make this look like she slipped trying to escape the snake's attack," he told her. He started to move her around, making the blood fall just so. She let out a small pained squeak and covered her mouth to muffle it as he moved her. Once he stopped her, she looked around at her blood on the floor. Then she looked at the long cut on her thigh. Now she had to fight off a limp. Sasori rinsed off of the blade in the bath then returned it to where he retrieved it from. He then grabbed a box with gauze and creams. He knelt down next to Azumi, pulling her closer as he began to clean her wound and firmly wrap up her leg. "That should hold you over just fine," he muttered, tying it off with no fresh blood spillage.

She sighed, grabbing her dress and putting it back on. "Doing this yesterday would have been more beneficial," she mumbled. "We do not know if one of them came in here already. They will know it is staged if they did."

"Please," he rolled his eyes. "None of them had a reason to come in here so I know for certain they did not," he said easily. "They're idiots. However, my cousin is not. This was just for Gaara."

"Very well then," she grumbled, fixing her dress. They stepped back into the bedroom and only moments later, Gaara and Sandaime walked in.

Sandaime glanced at Sasori from the corner of his eye as he approached his mother. He frowned, cupping the top of her head. He looked her over, leaning down to press a kiss to the top of her head. "Good morning, Mother," he said softly. Gaara looked away from his grandmother to Sasori and Azumi. He glared at Sasori hard.

Sasori held up a hand. "Before you go spouting off that I did this," he defended himself, "you might want to actually look her body over and check out the bathroom."

Gaara moved to the bathroom, followed almost immediately by Sandaime. They scanned the bathroom for a few moments, taking in the blood all over the floor and how it was spilled. After about a minute or two, they returned to the bedroom and Gaara started looking over Chiyo’s body. Just as Sasori wanted, he noticed the crack in her skull and the snake bite in her arm. His attention moved to the servant on the daybed and he noticed the snake bite in their neck.

"So she fell," Sandaime said. Azumi closed her eyes and sighed. It bothered her that the two people she respected the most in this family were being tricked like this.

"She might have been escaping the snake from the bath and slipped," Gaara concluded. "Then the servant came to help and suffered the same fate."

"What a series of unfortunate events," Sandaime mumbled.

"Glad to know we've come to the same conclusion," Sasori muttered. Sandaime frowned, turning back to return to his mother's side. Gaara went back to the bathroom and frowned, kneeling down to get a better look at the blood and a line up of how it all fell across the ground. He hated how much Sasori’s story was checking out. He knew his cousin had something to do with her death. He just was not sure how.

"We will need to inform the rest of the family," Sandaime said. "I will start making arrangements for her service this evening." Azumi admired how professional he was being so immediately. Yet, she started to find it hard to look at him at the moment. She kept her eyes on the floor and stood in one spot. "Was it your snake, Azumi?" he asked, causing her to look up at him with a slight gasp.

"No, my Lord," she answered softly. "It could not have been. Naga cannot leave my room. He is also very docile."

"I can attest to that," Sasori confirmed. "She hasn't had him out since the day before yesterday." He lied with no effort. 

"This was not the right kind of bite, judging by her servant," Gaara chimed in. "The reaction isn't right for a king cobra." 

"Very well," Sandaime nodded in understanding. "I'll call for your father first, Sasori."

"Right," Sasori nodded. "I had the servants make food and coffee so you're welcomed to it." He turned to walk out of the room.

Azumi followed him, trying to hide her limp as best as possible. 'Oh, this hurts,' she thought. They went to the tea room where food was already being laid out on tables. The servants had laid out a large spread of food in the main tea room. It was still a flurry of tears and activity as they were bustling around to get everything ready for the family.

Sandaime stopped in to grab something to eat. "Since she's clearly been sitting out, she'll need to be wrapped up quickly," he said as he shoved a sweet roll into his mouth. 

"Get someone to come in tonight," Sasori told him. "The sooner we can get a service done and over with, the better." He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. Azumi poured another cup of coffee for Sasori and handed it to him. Sandaime nodded and pulled Sasori into a corner to further discuss the arrangements that needed to be made.

"Azumi," Gaara whispered as he walked over with his cup of coffee. "Come with me," he said softly. He led her away from the rest of the commotion, walking towards her room.

She followed him, wincing a little at the pain in her thigh. She wondered why he was leading her away, but most of her questioning was overshadowed by her concentration to not limp as she walked. She furrowed her brow as he found her room and opened the door. Following him in, she looked at Naga who was still coiled on the bed. "Are you doing okay?" she asked Gaara softly. She knew this was hard on him. Maybe he needed to let it out in private. She did not mind being the one he leaned on. Unlike Sasori, Gaara was not a heartless monster. This had to affect him like it would any normal person.

He pressed himself against the door to close it behind them, nodding as she asked the question. 

"Yes," he said softly, eyes falling on Naga. "I'll be fine. My biggest concern right now is to know why you are limping." He had noticed it even though it was only slight. He had not noticed her be in great pain at the party, so it must have happened earlier that day. "What did he do to you?" he asked, closing the space between them. He dropped to one knee to examine the side of her thigh. His mind was already racing, theorizing that his cousin was about to snap and he had only just started with his grandmother and was about to slaughter the rest of the household.

She took a moment to answer, keeping her gaze on the door. “He sliced my leg open,” she said softly. “You know how he is. He does not care.”

His eyes snapped up from her leg to meet her eyes. "Undress." His voice was still soft but there was a command in his tone now. A rage was burning in his eyes as he took a step back to give her the space to do as he asked. He needed to see the damage and assess whether or not he should throw his cousin down the stairs. He hesitated to ask why her leg had been sacrificed. He had a sinking feeling as to why. But it did not make sense. He was, without a doubt, certain the snake bite had only killed his grandmother's servant. But had Sasori really snapped and hit Chiyo like that? The blood in the bathroom, though dried, still seemed fresh. She sighed quietly, lowering her gaze to the floor as she removed her dress. She let it fall to the floor easily. There was no way to hide the bandages going up her thigh. He forced on his most professional doctor mask, zeroing in on the bandages around her leg. They were expertly wrapped but already starting to soak through. "I'm going to kill him," he growled lowly. He picked up the sheet from her bed and told her to raise her arms. With gentle hands, he wrapped the sheet around her upper body before squatting to take a closer look at the wound. "Why did he do this?" he breathed, just loud enough for her to hear. His voice was low and starting to get rough as he suppressed his building anger. The hand not on her thigh was curling into a white-knuckled fist. 

At this point, she was conflicted. She did not want to tell him the truth because though he was being professional about it, it was still his grandmother. However, she respected him too much to lie to him. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “He used my blood to stage your grandmother’s death being in her bathroom,” she said softly. “She did not die in there.”

He clenched his jaw hard, causing the bones to jut out with the force for a minute as he composed himself. She had confirmed his suspicions but now his heart, already heavy from the loss, needed to know something else. He would address everything else later but he needed to know this now: "Did you help kill her?" he asked her, rising to his full height to look her in the eyes. "I don't mean that bite after she was dead. I mean did he make you participate?" There was slight desperation in his voice. A small rush of hope that whatever was blooming between them would not be forcibly tainted by his monstrous cousin.

“No,” she said with a slight gasp. “I would rather him have killed me than make me participate in that.” She took a step back, holding the sheet around her up with her arm. “She came into his bathroom while we were in our baths...and she started speaking badly about his mother to which his temper rose immediately.” She paused for a second to recall the altercation that led to Chiyo’s death. “He slapped her after she threw her slipper at me...and she moved to retaliate but slipped on the water around the tub.”

Gaara froze in shock. His cousin...Sasori had not actually plotted to kill Chiyo. This whole thing was an accident. He took a step back and shook his head as he ran a hand through his hair. He looked back at Azumi, his face twisting in confusing and a little pain. He closed his eyes again hard, squeezing them tight. "Dammit," he bit out quietly. He needed to think. Or maybe just clear his head. He could not even hate his cousin for this. He shook his head, looking back at her leg. "Stay here. That needs to be redressed," he told her, slipping out of the room. He hurried down the hall, almost trying to outrun his thoughts when another weeping servant passed by, causing him to stop abruptly. They bowed low, repeating their apologies before Gaara shooed them away. He paused, taking a deep breath once they were gone. "Dammit!" he cursed again, louder, slamming his fist into a door. The wood cracked a little under the force. Gaara ran a hand over his face, trying to gather his thoughts as he continued down to Sasori's room. He gathered what he needed to fix up Azumi's leg and rushed back to her room. 

When he returned, she was still standing in the spot he left her in, speaking quietly to Naga and letting him know that everything was going to be fine for him. "I would never let anyone take you," she said softly. "You are also free to leave if you feel unsafe." The snake hissed frantically, pointing his nose at her leg. "I will be fine," she assured him.

Gaara shut the door softly behind him and watched them for a moment. His heart was still racing but for some reason, seeing the woman and snake interact, just watching them eased him. He put the bundle of things he brought to treat her down on the bed. "No one will touch you, Naga," he assured the snake. He stroked the snake gently from the tip of his head down his back. "Neither Sasori nor I will let them," his voice was softer now. His thoughts started to drift and he got lost for a moment in thought. "Sorry..." He shook his head, coming back to himself. "Let's get you cleaned up before this gets infected." He turned to Azumi and kneeled down again as he started to undo the bandages. He frowned deeply, seeing the deep cut in the large muscle. "Tch, I guess we can be grateful the blade he used was so sharp," he huffed. It was a clean cut which meant it would not leave a nasty scar and would heal relatively quickly. Though it would still sting.

She winced a little as he started to clean the cut. "I am a bit surprised he did it on that leg," she said softly. Sasori had dragged the blade through the scorpion he had burned onto her skin when she was first bought by him. "He does not seem like the kind to want to ruin his...'artwork,'" she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

Gaara hummed softly, glancing up at the burn. "It's not too damaged. And I'm assuming he used one of granny's blades which means it's sharper than it should be. This cut won't leave a mark." He pinched the skin around the cut together with one hand as he dipped the other into a small jar with a salve. "He knew what he was doing." Gaara also would not put it past his cousin to have something planned for the snake tattoo on her other leg. Something that he would want it to be in an untouched condition for.

She looked down at him and frowned. 'That sounds about right,' she thought. She helped maneuver the sheet around as he wrapped her leg up. "Thank you," she said when he was done. Naga hissed at him. "He says 'thank you,' as well," she translated. He smiled softly at Naga then stood up to pull her close. He still had a myriad of emotions rushing through him but he could not deny he was relieved to know she had no major part in his grandmother's death. There was hardly any blood on her or his cousin's hands. Feeling daring, he pulled her close to him by the waist and swiftly pulled her into a kiss before either of them could hesitate. The next week was going to be a rough one. He was going to take solace where he could find it. She hummed softly in the kiss, cupping his face with one hand and still holding the sheet around her up with the other. When they finally pulled apart, she smiled softly at him. "We should probably get back before suspicions are raised," she told him. 

He nodded, stepping back. He gathered up the things he had brought to use then made his way to the door. "I'll leave you to get dressed then," he said, bowing out of habit as he stepped out of the room. 

She watched as he left and once the door was closed, she threw the sheet back onto the bed and picked up her dress. She quickly got dressed, fixing the dress in place to hide the wound again. She stroked Naga's head and left her room. She did not doubt that Sasori noticed them slip off together and she was prepared for whatever questions he was going to throw at her.

Sasori caught the moment his cousin tiptoed back into the room. He quickly made his way over to his two older siblings and started talking to them as if he had not just disappeared with his slave. He glared at him from across the room, swirling the cup of coffee that he was not drinking. He knew the younger man would probably corner his slave to double-check the story. There was a small niggling doubt that his slave could have spun this situation to thoroughly incriminate him but he was, foolishly, trusting her words that she was loyal to him. 

"Come, Sasori," his father's soft-spoken voice was joined by one of his strong hands on his back. "We need to start the preparations." Sasori tore his eyes away from his cousin and followed his father out to his room.  "Do you have the necessary incense and herbs here or do you need to go to your shop?" his father asked, following him into the workshop.

"I should have everything here," Sasori said. He moved around the shop, taking down the items they would need from the shelves.

His father looked at all of the items that were brought down. "This should be enough," he said with a nod. He let out a heavy sigh. "I can't believe it took this long for anyone to notice. This had to have happened before the party last night."

Sasori turned away from his father, feigning the pain in his voice. "She told me to go ahead." He shook his head, grinning widely. "She's always been so resilient. I never thought a snake bite or a fall even could have affected her like this." He stifled a chuckle, making it seem as if he sniffled.

His father's eyes snapped up the moment Sasori's shoulders shook. He crossed the small space, spinning Sasori around and pulling him into a tight hug. "I'm sorry, Son," he said softly, holding him tight as he buried his face in the bend of Sasori's neck. "You two fought but I know you were close."

Sasori tensed up slightly and then relaxed, hugging his father back and rolling his eyes. "We argued before she died," he said, still feigning his sadness. "I keep thinking about the last thing I said to her...she tried to tell me something important and I just threw it in her face." He paused for a moment, thinking of a line that would secure his innocence if he continued the act. "I didn't even get to apologize."

Sasori felt his father tighten his arms around him. "You can say everything you need to now," his father said as he stepped out of their embrace. "This for saying goodbye. So say everything you need to as we prepare her for the next life." He smiled softly at his son, cupping his face and gently rubbing his thumb over his cheek. "Send her into the next life with no regrets."

"Right," Sasori said softly. "Thank you, Father."

His father nodded and kissed his forehead. "Let's go get this started," he said, picking up everything that Sasori brought down from the shelves. Together, they gathered up what they needed and crossed the house, weaving through family and servants to Chiyo's room. It was quiet, save for the two remaining servants who practically seemed to be standing guard outside of Chiyo's room. "I know this was your friend," Sasori's father told them quietly. "You are welcome to help with the preparations."

"Thank you," they both sobbed, followed by low bows.

Sasori and his father continued on into the room and began preparing Chiyo's body while the two servants prepared their friend's. A couple of minutes later, Sandaime walked in with his sobbing youngest brother. Upon seeing his mother's body, Rasa's sobs were just as loud and obnoxious as his laughs were at the party the night before.

Sasori's father pulled away from his mother's body to pull Rasa into a hug. Together, the three of them walked over to her bedside. Rasa dropped to his knees and took one of his mother's stiff hands in his, pressing it to his forehead as he continued to sob. Sasori watched his father rub Rasa's shoulders but could feel the way Sandaime's gaze was burning holes into him.

Sandaime rounded the bed and stood closely to Sasori, making the younger man bristle. "You seem to be holding up well," his uncle said just low enough for the two of them to hear. 

"Someone needs to be strong about it," Sasori countered. "Just about everyone else in this house is bawling their eyes out."

"Seeing as you lived with her, I'd say you were closest to her," Sandaime said. "You should be there next to your uncle."

"You're her firstborn," Sasori said. "Why aren't you breaking down? You've been with her the longest," he frowned. "I've never been much for tears and you know that. We all mourn differently." He kept his voice somber, training his eyes on his grandmother. "I know...why don't you three take care of preparing her. It only seems right."

Sasori's father looked up at him. "But Sas—" he started but Sasori shook his head.

"There is always time for goodbyes. This is too meaningful for you three not to be in charge of it."

Sasori's father sighed and then nodded. "Alright," he said.

"Let me know if you need more of any of those items," Sasori said before giving a bow to his father and uncles and then leaving.

Sandaime gave Sasori a hard look as he watched him leave the room. Once he was gone, he joined his brothers by their mother's side, trying to console Rasa as best as he could.

S asori rejoined everyone in the main tea room, scoping out the room immediately for his slave. She was not there but Gaara was which confused him only a little. He figured she must have been in his room or her own room. His room was closer so he decided to make his way there first and almost ran into her. "There you are," he grinned, grabbing her upper arm. "Where have you been, my little snake?"

She jumped a little, startled by suddenly being grabbed. She turned to him, not exactly relaxing when she saw him. "I was in the kitchen," she answered, "helping to set things up to be brought out."

"Mmm," he hummed, pulling her into his room and shutting the door. "What did you say to Gaara?" He pinned her to the door, staring into her eyes. "Did you stick to the truth or..." he trailed off, his fingers dancing down her side to her hip. He felt the new, thicker bandages on her leg as he pressed his fingers into the wound lightly.

She grunted quietly. "He knows it was an accident," she said. "He knows that you did not kill her. I have told you before that I am loyal to you. I would never say anything to go against you."

He was a little shocked that she did not try to save her own skin. Although, he did not let it show on his face. He nodded and stepped back, moving to sit on the edge of his bed. "I can't wait for all of this to blow over," he sighed, running his hand through his hair. He flopped back onto his bed, smiling still but it faltered a little. He hated having this many people in his house. It was going to quickly wear him out.

She sighed quietly and moved to the workshop. She had already been on her way there when Sasori found her. She picked up the bottle of pills she made and quickly took one. Looking out into his room, she noticed that seemed a bit stressed. 'Dare I?' she thought, looking between him and the bottle in her hand. With another sigh, she walked up to him and sat next to him on the bed, holding the bottle out to him. "You should only need one," she said.

He looked at her and then at the bottle. He nodded, sitting up to take the bottle from her and spill one little pill into his hand. He knocked it back, swallowing dry. "My uncles and my father are going to deal with the rest of Chiyo's preparations but the great Lord Sandaime still suspects me," he rolled his eyes. "So be prepared for him to pull you aside, too."

She hoped Sandaime would actually believe her and not suspect her of just covering for Sasori. "Right..." she hummed with a slight nod. She took the bottle from him and closed it up, setting it onto the daybed. Both of them laid back on the bed with a sigh, waiting for the pills they just took to start kicking in.

"That was fast," Sasori said, already feeling a bit mellowed out.

"I made them strong," she answered.

"I won't overdose, right?"

"Just do not take another one within the next twelve hours."

"Understood," he chuckled, suddenly very content to just lay there. " wonderful."

"What is?" she asked, feeling her pill kick in as well. "The pills or your grandmother dying?"

"Yes," he said contently, smiling dreamily.

Chapter Text

Nearly a week later, things seemed to have gone back to normal after the funeral services for Chiyo. It was a long week of Sasori purporting sorrow which by the third day of it, Azumi had wished she was thrown into the bath and drowned when Sasori cut her leg. Now that it was finally all over, the two of them did not speak a word of it to each other. They were in his shop, catching up on work that was missed from the week of mourning.

Azumi stayed in the workshop, working on replenishing whatever was low on stock in the main shop while Sasori was up on the second level, dealing with paperwork. Lost in thought as she stared at the boiling liquids in front of her, she was brought back by someone entering the shop. She lowered the flames and went out to greet them. "Oh," she said. "Welcome back, Lord Komushi." She bowed as he walked up to her.

Komushi, saying no words of greeting, walked straight over to Azumi and pulled her into a tight, firm hug. "I've missed you," he said softly.

Sasori heard the greeting and made his way down to the shop's front end. "Welcome back, prodigal best friend," he smirked, leaning in the doorway.

Komushi released Azumi and moved to pull Sasori into a hug. Sasori saw it coming and stepped out of the way just in time, causing Komushi to bump his forehead hard into the door frame. "Ouch," he pouted. "Azumiiii," he whined, pulling Azumi back into a hug.

Azumi frowned, hugging him back. "Something is wrong," she said softly. He was hugging her differently than he normally would. This was the hug of someone who just needed affection. "Are you alright?" Komushi buried his face into her hair, starting to sniffle.

Sasori shook his head. He saw his best friend's shoulders start to shake. "Oh, no, you don't." Sasori grabbed the back of Komushi's neck. "If you're going to do this, do it in the back!"

Komushi sniffled harder, taking Azumi's hand and pulling her into the back and into another tight hug. His face pressed into the bend of her neck and large hot tears started to flow out of him silently.

Azumi sighed, rubbing his back gently. She helped him to a chair and he pulled her into his lap, resuming the hug. "I just need to be held," he whispered to her.

"What happened?" she asked him quietly.

"I got rejected," he whimpered, resting his forehead on her shoulder. "She was beautiful and so perfect," he sighed heavily. "I've never been so interested in someone that my family picked out. And she just...picked someone else."

"I see," she frowned, wrapping both her arms around him to comfort him. "I am sorry to hear that," she said softly. She continued to rub his back.

"I understand you're heartbroken," Sasori said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes for the sake of his best friend’s feelings, "but she has work she needs to finish."

Komushi let out a low, suffering whine, hugging Azumi tightly. "You can't kick me out. I need her. She's my support snake," he pouted.

Sasori groaned, rolling his eyes. "Fine, just be useful!" he huffed.

"Alright," Komushi sighed with another sniffle. Sasori groaned quietly as he went back up the ladder.

Azumi ran her hand through Komushi's hair. "Would you like to help me replenish the shop to get your mind off of it?" she asked him softly. He nodded glumly, nuzzling into her hand as she moved it in his hair. He let her lead him back out to the front of the shop to help her with whatever she needed. He stayed close to her the whole time, hanging onto her whenever she sat down to work on anything at the bench and holding her hand whenever he was not acting as her cape. Around lunchtime, Kankuro came around for a visit. Azumi heard him coming through the door and stood up from the workbench. Komushi still had his arms wrapped around her and together, they walked out to the front of the shop. "Hello, Lord Kankuro," Azumi said. She went to bow but halfway down, she felt her body make more physical contact with Komushi beyond his arms being around her. Komushi hummed softly, pushing his hips a little closer to hers.

"Hello..." Kankuro raised his eyebrow, seeing the strange position the pair of them we in. He raised a hand, stopping her mid-bow. "It's nice to see you back, Komushi. You missed a hell of a week. How did that girl turn out?"

Azumi looked at Kankuro and shook her head very slightly. Kankuro saw the look on her face and then looked at Komushi who was on the verge of tears. Before he could say anything, Komushi dragged Azumi back into the workshop and pulled her into another hug. Azumi sighed, rubbing his back. Kankuro stepped into the workshop after them. "Needless to say, it did not go so well," Azumi said quietly to Kankuro.

"Mm, that's unfortunate," Kankuro frowned, taking a seat on a stool. "You...ah, seem to have a good fallback there, though," he said with a chuckle. 

"No, he doesn't," Sasori called from the upper floor. "He has a tissue for a few hours."

Kankuro snorted. "I think...we can all do for blowing off some steam." He ran a hand through his hair.

"How?" Komushi sniffled.

" have a hookah in your room, right?" Kankuro smirked. "A rather large one, if I'm correct. We can come over, have a small get together...let it all out."

"We?" Sasori asked from above.

"Yes, ' we,' you damn recluse!" Kankuro rolled his eyes.

Komushi hummed softly in Azumi's ear. "Sasori, come so I can hold my support snake for longer," he pouted.

"I don't recall my slave being your support snake," Sasori grumbled.

"Fine, come over and be my best friend and bring your slave so I can hold her!"

"Then it's settled," Kankuro smirked. "We'll be there tonight."

"I never said I would," Sasori muttered.

"We need a single guys' night," Komushi said.

"But Kankuro has a woman," Sasori smirked.

Komushi gasped as if offended and pulled Azumi further away from Kankuro as if he had a spreadable virus. "You can't come then. This is only for single guys."

"I'll bring new flavors," Kankuro said temptingly. Komushi squinted at him, still holding Azumi close. Kankuro wiggled his eyebrows enticingly.

"Fine," Komushi relented after a good solid minute of squinting. "Be there at sundown with the flavors and some of those zalabya that Gaara makes." 

"Say no more," Kankuro smirked. "I'll see you there tonight, Sasori." He turned and left the shop, leaving Komushi to hug Azumi some more.

"I still never said I was going," Sasori said.

"But you have to," Komushi whined.

"I really don't," Sasori sighed. 

"But you will," Komushi whined hopefully. "You will or I'll kidnap your slave and then you'll be forced to come over."

Azumi suddenly felt rope being tied around her thighs. She looked down and saw that Komushi was tying her up and then tying them together. She looked up at the second level. "He is tying me up, Lord Sasori," she sighed.

"Are you fucking serious, Komushi!" Sasori slammed his hands on his desk. He walked over to the railing and leaned over to look down. 

"Yes, I'm fucking serious! When have I ever been more serious in my life?" he shot back, tightening a knot.

Sasori stared at his friend hard. The two of them glared at each other, the tension thick in the air. "Fine, whatever!" Sasori relented. "Absolutely ridiculous," he growled. sitting back down heavily. 

"I win," Komushi whispered to Azumi with a smirk. He sat back down in his chair and pulled her into his lap again to hug her while she continued to work on stuff.

Hours later, just before the sun was about to set, Komushi finally released Azumi and untied her. "We'll be there soon," Sasori grumbled, coming down the ladder and taking the rope from him. Komushi gave him a shit-eating grin and hugged Azumi one more time before leaving to go home.

"It is too hot to be held all day long like that," Azumi muttered once Komushi was gone.

"I could only imagine," Sasori shook his head. "Whatever, you got your work done. I'm impressed you dealt with him that entire time. I would have given you permission to elbow him in the gut."

"Ah, normally, I would have," she hummed. "But...he was so heartbroken. I felt genuinely bad." She started to clean everything that she spent the day working on up. It took them about an hour to clean up the shop and then they headed to Komushi's house once the sun was fully set.

The mansion was not quite as big as Sasori's but it was still grand. Sasori walked up the steps to the house and made his way in as if he owned the place. Together, they walked down a long hall then stopped in front of a large curtained door. Sasori pulled them back and slipped inside. The room was large and ornate but very clean and neat. In the center of the room was a sunken sitting pit with a massive hookah set in the middle as if it was a piece of sculptural art. Azumi hummed, looking around the new area. She did not know what she was expecting from Komushi's room but she was pleasantly surprised by what it looked like.

"Welcome!" Komushi grinned, looking at them from the sitting pit. He got out of it and walked toward them, immediately pulling Azumi into a hug. He pulled her to the sitting pit and sat down with her, keeping his arms around her at all times.

Kankuro was already there, eating some of the zalabya. "Glad you two could make it," he chuckled, popping one of the pancakes in his mouth. Sasori rolled his eyes as he grabbed a floor cushion. It was marked with a scorpion and clearly his designated cushion. 

"Have you ever had these?" Komushi asked Azumi, reaching over for a zalabya. "Gaara really makes the best zalabya in the city." 

Azumi grinned, remembering how good it was from the night she and Gaara met by the river and ate them. "I have not," she lied. Komushi smirked and fed her the one he had picked up. "It is really good," she said after she swallowed it.

Kankuro chuckled, dipping on into a dark berry sauce. "He didn't want to be here so bad that he made an array of dipping sauces so Komushi wouldn't guilt him later." Sasori perked up. He leaned forward a little to peer over at the sauces, taking a zalabya and dipping it into one of the sauces. He was going to try each and every one of them. Kankuro stood up, opening a small drawstring pouch and placing a couple of coal cubes on the top dish of the hookah. "These new flavors will go pretty well with a couple of the different sauces," he said. In the background, music could be heard playing. Azumi tried not to focus too much on it, not wanting to be put into a trance so quickly.

"Oh, nice!" Komushi grinned, leaning over with Azumi to pick up another zalabya. He handed it to her and then picked up another for himself then leaned back against a cushion, pulling Azumi with him. "So, you really went and got a girlfriend?" he asked Kankuro. Sasori eyed Azumi intensely. He had picked up on the music the moment they walked into the room. He smirked discreetly, catching her eye. He wondered how intensely it would affect her.

"She's just someone I met a few weeks ago," Kankuro said as he sat back down. "I was going to keep it a secret for a bit but then my father started talking to me about marriage and that he was lining up suitors, so I had to tell my little secret."

"You didn't even introduce her at the party," Sasori hummed. "The entire time you were harassing me."

"Because harassing you took precedence," Kankuro smirked. "Her name is Ameno. She's actually pretty amazing."

"We have to meet her properly," Komushi grinned. "Our little Kankuro is growing up." He pinched Kankuro's cheek.

"About time you stopped being a virgin," Sasori smirked. He was still watching Azumi from his peripherals.  

"Please," Kankuro scoffed. "Me? A virgin. You're confusing me with Komushi."

"Hey, whoa, I'm not a virgin," Komushi defended. "And you know that! You've seen my last girlfriends."

"But...did we?" Kankuro smirked. He unwrapped three hoses from the hookah and handed one to Komushi and one to Sasori. Once it was heated up, the three of them started to smoke it.

"Whoa..." Komushi hummed after a few drags when the flavor finally hit him. "This does taste good. Where did you get this?"

"I know a guy."

Komushi rolled his eyes. "Care to share?"

"I think the cryptic nature of his response was so he didn't have to tell you," Sasori smirked. 

"Exactly," Kankuro mirrored Sasori's smirk. 

"Ugh, you are both assholes," Komushi grumbled. "I can easily tell how related you are."

"This is how we bond," Kankuro chuckled, taking a drag from his hose. "Teaming up on you."

Komushi put a hand to his heart. "In my time of weakness?” he asked dramatically. “When I am the most vulnerable?”

"You're fine. You'll find another woman who is more amazing and you'll forget all about this chick that just rejected you."

"You're so eloquent and encouraging," Komushi pouted. "Can you believe them, Azumi?" he sighed, nuzzling into her shoulder as he took a long drag.

Azumi had already started to slip into a trance but Komushi brought her back as soon as he started to nuzzle her. She blinked for a second. "Unreal," she muttered as if answering his question when really she was talking about how quickly she was falling.

"Leave her alone," Sasori smirked, taking a drag himself and blowing out a big cloud into Komushi's face. "Just relax and stop your complaining." He wanted to watch Azumi slip. 

Azumi hummed, taking another zalabya and eating it. ‘I cannot believe this is happening right now,’ she thought. She glanced at Sasori. ‘And he knows this is happening. Asshole.’ She sat back again, trying hard to concentrate on everything that was not the music but it was getting stronger and she could feel herself immediately slipping again.

"Azumi," Sasori hummed. "Why don't you give Komushi a dance?" He leaned back, relaxing even more into the cushion. "Kankuro has never seen you dance either."

Komushi lit up with a small gasp. "That's right! He didn't go with us to the night market!" he grinned. "Dance for us, Azumi!" he echoed Sasori excitedly.

Azumi groaned softly, feeling her mind get hazy as they spoke to her. The music somehow got louder—at least in her mind—and she could only make out her name and the word ‘dance’ from them. Before she realized it, she had fully slipped into a trance. She got up from her seat and started moving with the music that had taken over her mind and body.

Komushi leaned back with Sasori, eating the pancakes in between taking drags as he watched her move. Kankuro watched her move intently, impressed with how fluid and smooth she moved with the music. Sasori grinned, realizing she was completely lost to the music. 

"And Gaara stayed home to tend to his plants," Kankruo chuckled, shaking his head.

Sasori’s smile faltered a bit and he looked at his cousin. “He doesn’t need to be here,” he said. 

“Whoa, whoa, relax,” Kankuro chuckled. 

“Did you even tell him that Sasori would be here?” Komushi smirked at Kankuro. Kankuro shook his head. “That’s why. If he knew these two were going to be here then he probably would have come.”

Sasori clicked his teeth, settling back into his lounging position.

"Are you and him having a spat?" Kankuro chuckled. 

"No," Sasori rolled his eyes. "We aren't ten. But he's been getting to close to Azumi and has this bad habit of forgetting who she belongs to."

“Do you have any suspicions of her ‘consoling’ him since your grandmother just died?” Komushi asked. He was lowkey looking for some drama. Something to get his mind off of his own heartbreak. Azumi could not hear anything they were saying and he noticed she did not react to his comment.

Kankuro perked up. "Consoling him?" he asked. "There's no way. He has a very good handle on boundaries. He would never make moves on someone who is basically taken."

Komushi raised an eyebrow with a huge grin. "Are you sure about that?" he asked Kankuro. "What makes you so positive?"

“He’s my brother,” Kankuro said. “I should know. Plus, he usually tells me when he’s into a girl.” 

“Maybe he’s grown now and doesn’t need to tell you everything,” Komushi smirked. “You didn’t see them at the night market together.” 

“Stop trying to make my innocent baby brother sound bad.”

"Your baby brother isn't a baby anymore," Sasori reminded him. "And he is definitely showing too much interest in my slave."

"I think he's just being nice," Kankuro shook his head. "Women have a tendency to do that to him and Uncle Sandaime."

"I see your point about your uncle but seriously, he is practically making out with her with his eyes whenever they are at the shop together," Komushi chuckled.

Kankuro squinted. “I still don’t believe it. I have to see it for myself.” 

“Come by the shop one day when they’re both there,” Komushi challenged.

“I’ll be there tomorrow then,” Kankuro chuckled.

Sasori hummed. “They were also close through all of Granny’s services.” 

“They were?” Komushi got up, deciding he wanted to dance with Azumi.

“Now that I think of it,” Kankuro hummed, “I did hardly see either of them during the services. They were either both there or they weren’t.” He shook his head. “But that’s not really evidence.” 

“It’s evidence enough for me,” Sasori grumbled. “But I do not think Gaara is bold enough to act on it.” 

“As I said. He knows boundaries.”

Komushi pulled Azumi close and started to move with her. 

“Wish someone else knew boundaries,” Sasori muttered. Yet, could not hide his smirk. “Are you having fun?” he asked Komushi through a large cloud that he produced.

“I am,” Komushi chuckled. “But she seems...spaced out. She hasn’t responded to what we’ve been saying and she doesn’t seem to realize I’m dancing with her. I want her to tell me I’m good,” he pouted.

“She’s not going to lie to you,” Kankuro chuckled. “But is she okay? She hasn’t taken any drags. Did you give her something before coming here?” he asked Sasori. It was not accusatory, but he just wanted to be sure they were not overlooking anything that could be harmful.

Sasori grinned, shaking his head. “No,” he chuckled. “It’s the music,” he breathed. “The music put her in a trance.” 

“ an actual snake?” Komushi exclaimed. “You can’t be serious!” He laughed, looking at Azumi again.

"That explains why she moves like one," Kankuro noted, watching her move.

"How do you snap her out of it?" Komushi asked, waving his hand in front of her face.

"Just stop the music," Sasori answered. "She comes back pretty quickly."

"How did you figure this out? How long have you known?" Komushi let out a huge gasp. "Was she in a trance for your performance at the night market?"

Sasori’s grin stretched, still lazy but thoroughly enjoying himself. “I figured it out not too long before the night market,” he chuckled. “It’s how I kept her calm on the stage. Her anxiety is really bad. But I haven’t played with the intensity of music or types yet.”

Kankuro frowned. It did not sit well in his stomach to hear his cousin speak about controlling someone who was clearly in a trance like some sort of doll or puppet. “Something like that shouldn’t affect people,” he remarked.

Sasori’s eyes twinkled as he turned to his cousin. “It shouldn’t but it affects her.” 

“And it could have so much potential!” Komushi matched Sasori’s grin.

Kankuro was very harshly reminded in that moment of why he rarely hung out with his cousin anymore. These two were literal demons. Still, he said nothing. At least he was not going to say anything in front of them. He wondered if his brother knew about it since he worked closely with her. 

In the background, the music stopped and so did Azumi. She groaned softly, almost falling over but Komushi caught her before she could and sat back down with her. She rubbed her temples, feeling a massive headache beginning to form. When she looked at the three men she was with, they were all watching her. “Please stop staring at me,” she said softly. Komushi tucked her close to his chest and rubbed her back gently. 

Kankuro's stomach turned and bottomed out at the same time. "Do you...need some tea?" he asked, watching her rub her head.

Sasori shook his own. "Give her a moment to collect herself," he said easily. Kankuro frowned, still itching to get up. 

"You danced beautifully," Komushi whispered to her softly, kneading his fingers into her back.

She relaxed more against Komushi. "Thank you..." she said with a frown. 'I did not even know I was dancing,' she thought. She sighed heavily, running her hand down her face. "Um...I may actually need that tea," she said softly. Kankuro was on his feet before Sasori could protest. 

"I still have that valerian root tea," Komushi called. "Have the kitchen staff make it extra strong," he told Kankuro as he ducked out of the room.  

"I'm surprised," Sasori leaned forward, turning her head gently to face him but letting her still rest against Komushi. He looked into her eyes, studying her face. "You weren't this worn out after the night market," he was nearly whispering.

"This...was a bit stronger," she hummed. "I could not fight this one off." She was having a hard time understanding why. The music itself was not even that loud but no matter how much she tried to resist it, she still slipped. "I do not know how."

"Could it be the instruments or the flow of the song?" Komushi questioned. 

"Could be." Sasori hummed. "It would seem we'll need to do some experiments."

"Are you sure you don't know anything else about how the trance affects you?" Komushi asked, already getting excited by the idea of running tests.

Azumi furrowed her brow. She did not like the idea of them experimenting on her trances—or on her at all. "I think it might just be because I am tired," she suggested, hoping they would dismiss the subject. Most of her understood that was futile, however.

"We'll make sure to add that to one of the tests," Sasori nodded. Immediately, she deflated a little bit.

"Oh, does this mean I get to sleep over?" Komushi wiggled his eyebrows. He started to stroke Azumi's hair, gently pressing his fingertips into her skull to massage it.

"Yeah, why not," Sasori shrugged.

She groaned softly, pulling away from Komushi. "I—" she started.

"I have your tea," Kankuro cut her off as he walked into the room. He sat next to her in the pit.

Azumi looked at the cup he handed her. "Thank you," she said softly. She sat up a little straighter and started drinking it.

"That's going to you knock out," Kankuro frowned with concern. "I can carry her home if you don't want to," he told Sasori. He did not want her to get dumped somewhere or just left behind because she needed her pain eased.

"Thank you, Kankuro, but—" Sasori started but Kankuro pressed his lips firmly. It was rare for his younger cousin pressed him for anything. "Fine," he relented. "You and your brother are such saps," he grumbled, rolling his eyes.

Komushi continued to stroke her hair, pouting. "You don't trust me?" Komushi hissed softly in her ear.

She finished her tea and looked at him. "I do, but—" The tea kicked in immediately and just as Kankuro told her, she was knocked out, leaning against Komushi's chest again. He maneuvered her so her head rested in his lap.

"But I'll be carrying her," Kankuro finished for her with a small triumphant smirk.

Komushi scrunched up his nose, sticking his tongue out at the artist. "Whatever. She's in my lap right now." He rolled his eyes, continuing with his gentle strokes.

Sasori blew out a large cloud over Komushi and Kankuro. "I don't understand why you two are even fighting over this. She’s literally just a slave."

"But she's a girl," Komushi grinned.

"She's also a human," Kankuro deadpanned.

"A pretty human giiiirl," Komushi grinned, still stroking Azumi’s hair.

"Who is still a slave, " Sasori rolled his eyes. Still, he could not suppress the smirk pulling at his lips. He took another drag and sighed. "You know what...whatever." He tipped his head back, looking up at the ceiling.

"So when do you want to experiment?" Komushi smirked at Sasori, causing Kankuro to scoff and roll his eyes.

"I'm thinking we could do it this week," he hummed dreamily. "The middle of the week good for you?"

"Middle of the week sounds perfect," Komushi grinned.

'Disgusting,' Kankuro thought.

The three of them continued to smoke the hookah for a couple of hours until the coals in the dish were nothing more than just hot pebbles. Sasori let out a sigh. "Right. It's been fun, but I don't like being out, as we all know." He stood up and stretched hard.

"Tired already, old man?" Komushi smirked.

"No, I just hate you," Sasori said. "Hand the brat over to Mr. Galleant over there and let's go," he muttered. "Or I will drag her home myself. And I literally mean drag. "

"Yeah, we know you mean it literally," Kankuro mumbled, getting up as well. He picked Azumi up gently, carrying her in his arms. "Later, Komushi." He stepped out of the pit with Sasori.

"Stop by again," Komushi waved, standing to make his way to his own bed. "Both of you stop acting like strangers."

"You know this guy?" Kankuro smirked at Sasori.

"Who are you again?" Sasori asked Komushi.

"Haha, very funny," Komushi waved them off. "Bye," he said, laying back on his bed and holding both his arms up to flip off the pair of cousins. They both chuckled as they turned to leave.

The cool air of the night hit them the moment they were outside. Usually, it was sobering but Sasori felt too nice to let temperatures affect him. He and Kankuro moved along the vacant streets of the city back towards his house. "Tonight turned out to be pleasantly eventful," Sasori hummed. 

"You're in a fairly pleasant mood," Kankuro noted.

Sasori looked at him with the smallest hint of a glare. "Of course, I am," he said. "I just had a good time."

Kankuro shook his head slightly, trying not to sigh too hard. He looked down at Azumi for a moment and then straight ahead as they continued on to Sasori's home. They got there in good time since there was no traffic. Kankuro followed Sasori to his room and gently laid Azumi down on the daybed.

Sasori flopped down on this bed, pulling a pillow towards him and Kankuro turned to leave when Sasori stopped him. "Oh, and Kankuro?"

Kankuro froze. "Yes?" he asked hesitantly.

"When you tell Gaara about this," he smirked in the moonlit darkness and Kankuro could hear it in his cousin's tone, "do your best to keep the facts as straight as possible and maybe omit the whole trance dance, can you?"

Kankuro's brow furrowed. "Right," he said. "Goodnight, Sasori." Without another word, he left. 'Like hell, I'd do that.'

"Goodnight, baby cousin," Sasori slurred slightly as he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning came too early to Sasori. The household was still adjusting to the shift in how it was managed. It was not too much of a shift since Sasori kept much of the household dealings the same, but it was just enough to make people uneasy.

Azumi groaned softly as she opened her eyes. She gasped and sat up quickly, looking around to see she was in Sasori's room. Normally, she would relax a little when she saw that she was in a familiar setting but as she slowly recalled the night before, she found it hard to relax. She looked at him just as he was also waking up. "Good morning," she said softly to him. She stood up and stretched hard, getting ready to get his breakfast and coffee.

"Good morning," Sasori smirked. "How are you feeling today?" he asked, scooting up towards the wall.

She gave him a long, hard look. "Better," she said after a couple of seconds. "I will be back." She turned and left the room, heading toward the kitchen. Since Chiyo and the servant died, the remaining two servants had been avoiding her. They would not look at her or try to make conversation whenever they passed her in the halls or saw her in the kitchen. Not that Azumi minded, anyway. If she had it her way, she would have sent them with their friend. She quickly grabbed two bowls of breakfast and two cups of coffee, bringing them back to Sasori's room on a tray. 

Sasori had moved to his workshop in the time she had left and come back. He was writing down a list of things into a chart. "Azumi…” he hummed when she walked in, “give me any and all information you can about your trances. I need it to make sure we can test everything thoroughly." There was an excited tick to his husky morning voice.

She frowned as she set the tray down on a table for him. “My trances are not a thing I have too much experience in,” she said. “I have never had to deal with people purposefully putting me in a trance. That instrument that you have...that is the only thing I know that causes it. It was also used in the music for our performance at the night market. And I am sure it was in the music at Lord Komushi’s house.” She picked up her coffee and took a sip, trying to piece together all of the information that she did know. “Normally, I can fight it off and only get a headache from it. However, I do not know what exactly causes certain ones to be so strong that I cannot fight them.”

He wrote down everything she was saying and any other observations he himself had made during the three times he had experienced her trances. While this was going to be fun to experiment with, he also genuinely wanted to learn about them. There could be a possibility that this trance could be used against her or himself should anyone find out about it and he preferred to be as informed as possible to combat that.

She looked at what he was writing and deflated a little. She picked up his bowl and coffee and set them down in front of him. "I think maybe you should eat before you think too much about this," she said softly.

He glanced at the breakfast items then up at her with a smirk. He picked up the mug and took a long sip, downing half the cup in one go. He set it down, squinting at her then turned back to the notebook and flipped to a different section of the book, writing something down and underlining it sharply. "So, tell me more about your venom sac," he grinned. He knew she said it was only a rumor but he was nowhere near convinced.

"The venom sac that I told you does not exist?" she asked. "It is rumored that people like me have one and that we produce a venom. Although, if it were true, we do not have fangs so there would be no way for us to get it out. The entire theory is flawed. And that is how you know it is a rumor. A very stupid rumor."

Sasori nodded, writing something else down. His grin was growing and a small chuckle slipped out. "There's always some truth to rumors," he hummed. "Isn't there?" He stood up and started walking towards her. "And you really don't seem to be very informed about your body." He started to walk her back towards the table behind her. "So why don't we get informed ." He pressed her back against the edge of the workbench, placing his hands on either side of her and boxing her in.

Suddenly, she started to feel extremely uncomfortable around him the same way she was when he first bought her. She gently pressed her hand to his chest to push him away. ", thank you?" she said.

Sasori raised his eyebrow. "Mmm...too bad you don't have free will," he grinned, putting his hands on her hips. He lifted her straight up and pushed her back onto the table. "Ignorance is not tolerated in the room." He straddled her waist. There was still a little huskiness to his voice as he leaned down, speaking softly in her ear. His hands slid up her arms, pinning them over her head. With one hand, he clasped her wrists together while he used the other to reach down and pull up one of the straps he tied her down with last time. Switching hands, he repeated the action and restrained her hands entirely. “Open your mouth,” he told her.

She tried to recoil into the table in an attempt to keep a distance between their faces. "Mm," she groaned, turning her head to face away from him and keeping her mouth closed.

Sasori chuckled, gripping her jaw tightly and forcing her face back to look at him. "You really don't grasp the concept that none of these are suggestions or requests." He curled his nails until they bit into the skin of her cheeks. "Open. Your. Mouth," he growled. "If you make me get up, it will be much worse for you." She gasped softly with her mouth closed, looking into his eyes. She knew that was a promise. She opened her mouth for him, trying to ignore the fact that she could literally hear her own heartbeat with how fast it was. "Good girl," he purred. "If you try to bite me," he gently peeled back her upper lip to look at her teeth, "I'll rip your tongue out of your head," he said sweetly.

Her eyes widened slightly. She knew that was also a promise. She looked up at him as he continued invading her. The smallest involuntary whimper came out of her. He grinned like a small curious child as he used one hand to keep her mouth open and the other to gently prod around the soft wet cavern. His eyes fell on the longer than usual canines. He noticed an odd fold in the gum around the tops of the teeth. Tilting his head to the side, he took the tooth in between his forefinger and thumb and gently pulled. She shut her eyes and let out a soft pained groan. Her head moved a little in discomfort and she only felt his grip on her tighten.

He pulled the tooth until he felt it protest, taking that as an indication that it was fully extended. "Huh," he smirked, looking into her eyes. "Guess you have fangs," he purred. "There's our first grain of truth." He pulled the other tooth out to its full extension, earning another pained groan from her. He smirked, leaning back to examine them closely. He started to probe her soft palate, thinking of how she said a snake's venom sac was behind their eyes. He was making a jump, assuming it was in her mouth. 

She winced, feeling him examine her mouth some more. The further back he went, the more she started to panic. “Ugh,” she groaned, flinching when he touched the very thing she was hiding from him.

He hummed softly at her reaction. Rotating his finger gently, he began to press hard on the squishy little sac. He smirked, wondering if something would drip out of her teeth or shoot out from the gland. “You really are a little snake.” He dug his finger in harder.

The more he touched it, the more uncomfortable she felt. It started to irritate her sinuses and she inhaled sharply then sneezed. With the venom sac being provoked, she sneezed out the venom it produced. "Sorry," she said softly.

Sasori could not pull back fast enough. The venom and a little spit hit him square in the face. It fell dangerously close to his mouth. He reeled back, glaring at her. “You could have turned your head,” he growled softly, getting off of her to wipe his face. He was annoyed but he was too excited by the information that he was gathering.

She rolled her eyes. ‘You were holding my head in place,’ she thought. She turned her head away from him as he wiped his face and sighed. She figured eventually, he would have found out about it but she had hoped it would have been way later on. With his hands no longer in her mouth, she retracted her fangs back into their original position. ‘I never had to use them before...that is why it hurt when he pulled them...’ She closed her eyes for a moment. There was nothing she could say that would fool him into thinking they were regular teeth and that that was not a venom sac in the back of her mouth.

He caught her retracting her teeth just as he finished wiping his face. His smirk slowly returned. He scooted onto the edge of the table and looked down at her again. “A normal human, are we?”

She pouted slightly and looked away from him. “These are merely mutations,” she said. “Mutations I was born with but did not come naturally to those before me. Clearly, I am a descendant of people who were heavily experimented on. I am a human. I am just not a normal human. You asked me why my village is so hidden and reclusive.” She looked him up and down, indicating that he was the epitome of the reason. “This is why.”

He shook his head. His smirk gave her the sour promise that this little conclusion of hers was not at all a conclusion to his exploration. "All I am hearing is that you need someone to help you figure out all of those mutations. It's good to be aware of one's body," he murmured, dragging the tip of his finger down from her collar bones to her chest and lingering over the burn. His eyes fixed back on her mouth. "Your venom...I wonder if it's as potent as a real snake's." There was a glint in his eyes and suddenly, he was off the table's edge again, reaching up to grab a jar from one of his many shelves.

Her eyes widened when she saw the jar in his hand. “No,” she whispered. As he came back to her, she tried to keep her mouth closed.

Sasori set the jar down next to her head and tapped her lips. "Open," he said sweetly, looking into her eyes. He felt a giddy shock run through his body. He knew she would say no once more. Still, he wanted to hear it.

She looked up at him, keeping her mouth shut. “Mm-mm,” she hummed, shaking her head a little.

He chuckled lowly. "Wrong answer." He pressed her lips with his fingertip and reached under the table for something. There was a soft metal sound and then his hand re-emerged holding two small metal clamps. They each had two prongs that, on one end came to a set of hooks and the other ended in a bolt that could be twisted to expand the prongs out. "I'll give you one last chance, he smirked. " Open, " he growled softly with a malicious smile. She opened her mouth with a gasp when she saw the instruments in his hand. Another small whimper came out of her. “I knew you had a sensible head,” he hummed. The jar was quickly pressed to her lips, the glass cooler than her skin. He slipped his finger into her mouth again. Over the glass and started to tease the sac once more. She grunted in discomfort and closed her eyes tight. Her sinuses were irritated again and she let out a small cough before sneezing out only a little bit of venom. Sasori caught the telltale signs of the sneeze and raise one hand to shield her mouth. He made sure to catch the little bit of leakage into the jar. "I know you can give more than that," he said coaxingly. His voice might have been encouraging or even kind had it been under any other circumstances. 

‘This cannot be how he milks snakes,’ she thought. She stared up at him and shook her head. “You will not get much by just making me sneeze it out,” she told him. He pulled back to glare down at her then looked away, trying to recall how he had seen her do it. Milking a snake and a scorpion was similar but was milking a human the same? He got up, his eyes roaming his desk to spot a piece of cloth to put over the jar for her to bite down on. She stared up at him for a moment. She did not know what he intended to do with her venom but she could only imagine it was horrible. Yet, what he would do to her if she did not give him her venom would no doubt be way worse. She sighed heavily, maneuvering her fang through the cloth and into the jar. With a bit of struggle— because she had only ever forced her venom out twice in her life—she filled the jar halfway.

Realizing she could not give anymore, he pulled the jar away from her mouth and held it up to the light. "What an interesting color," he whispered, giving the jar a swirl. He let out a soft hum that nearly sounded like he was vibrating. He was excited to see what this substance could do. "This just might convince me snake venom is better than scorpion venom," he said teasingly, cupping her cheek. He slid off the edge of the table and capped the jar, taking his time to label it before tucking it away from the sun. He turned back to her and tilted his head.

She flinched slightly when he looked at her again. ‘What more does he want?’ she thought. She watched him closely, afraid of what he was going to ‘experiment’ on next.

He circled her, rounding to the side of her that had her large snake tattoo. He placed his hand on her hip, rubbing his thumb into the bone where the snake's head rested. He grew quiet as he dug his nail in, tracing the scales. "We haven't had much time to paint lately."

She gasped quietly, her eyes widening a little. Suddenly, his first threat to her about taking her identity away echoed in her mind. ‘He is going to ruin it.’ She moved her leg away from him, not wanting to go through that pain for the third time.

He grinned, pinning her leg down by the knee with his other hand. He dug his nails in hard into her skin. "Don't you dare," he smirked. He pulled her leg back to its original positions and turned to reach under the table for the strap. She struggled against him a little before he held her down and strapped her legs to the table. Another whimper came out of her and she bit her lip, realizing she had no way out of this. Silently, he made his way back to the workbench and returned what he need to ‘paint.’ He stood over her, mixing together the horrible concoction. She could immediately smell the acid and wanted to vomit.

“Let’s see,” he whispered, tapping the end of the brush he was using to his lip. “Where should I start?” He pulled up a stool without looking away from her as he studied her leg. “Mm, here,” he grinned, pressing the brush clean to her skin with no warning. Before she could even realize it, she started to let out a pained scream. She bit her lip to hold it in. The burn was much worse than she remembered. Sasori sighed in pleasure at the sound. He gripped her leg with his other hand as the muscle started to tremor a bit. They were small, detailed strokes. “I wonder how long you can keep that sweet sound up,” he said as he paused to dip his brush again. This particular design was going to take a while. He decided that he might do it in parts but he would not tell her that.

When the brush touched her skin again, she let out a small whimper, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of a full scream. Once he lifted the brush, the cool air hit it straight on and she inhaled sharply. “Fuck,” she grunted through teeth.

"Such language," he gasped with a grin when she cursed. "I'm starting to doubt you truly are a lady," he teased, continuing to paint the small intricate shapes. 

She glared at him, her fear instantly converting into rage. “I could say the same about you,” she growled. “I recall a couple of instances where you have uttered such words.”

"Never denied it," he hummed, laughing quietly at her sudden burst of rage. "But it's not my nobility that is in question. And don't men usually have a tendency towards those sort of words?" He cocked an eyebrow questioningly. "Not to mention, as far as I know, I have the free will to say whatever I want whenever I want. You one the other hand," he flipped the end of the brush and dug the blunt rounded point of the brush into the fresh burn. "Will say what I want you to say when I want you to say it."

Her breath hitched and she almost let out a scream. “Right,” she grunted, exhaling hard and looking away from him.

He frowned a little. He wanted that scream. He had every right to the scream she had stifled. He moved back to one of the earlier burns he made on her thigh, going over the skin again. He dragged the brush slowly, blistering the skin worse than the first time. Blood started to drip from the burn. Sasori wrinkled his nose a little at the smell of the flesh burning a little but his eyes trained on the droplet of blood. It slipped down the curve of her thigh and was about to disappear before he caught it with his finger. It burned a little since it had mixed with the acid. He rubbed it between his fingers as he looked up at her. 

She shut her eyes tight, letting a couple of tears fall from her eyes. She refused to give him any satisfaction of making her scream again. She bit her lip harder, tearing into the skin and drawing a little blood. If she was not strapped to the table, she would have moved much more.

He watched the pain twist on her face and narrowed his eyes. He simply took her resistance as a challenge. He quite enjoyed that she did not cave so quickly. He had had plenty of other slaves who would have passed out by this point. It was more entertaining than she realized to watch her struggle. He continued to paint, going over spots over and over again. He did not bother to clean the blood as he moved halfway down her leg.

As the hours went by, Azumi had grown numb to the sensations. She kept her eyes averted from him, sniffling every now and then from the crying she had done earlier. Sasori set the brush down finally with a heavy sigh. “We’ll finish this later. There’s no entertainment in you sniveling like a child,” he said with irritation. He pulled away to grab the salve and wrappings.

'Finish it later?!' she thought. She huffed, having the urge to wipe her face but not being able to because her hands were tied up. She watched his hands as he wiped her leg down. He applied the cooling agent and she immediately felt the relief. 

He undid the strap that held down the leg so he could wrap it snugly with the fresh gauze. "Once that heals we'll see how you like it," he smirked, patting the fresh burns. "No peeking until then," he whispered, pressing a finger to his lips. She rolled her eyes and looked away from him as she bent her leg once he was done wrapping it. She arched her back a little, feeling how stiff it was from laying on the table for hours. He moved to undo her other leg when they heard someone walk into his room. Sasori paused, the buckles keeping Azumi’s leg in place still strapped in. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He knew those footsteps all too well. "Too soon," he mouthed.

Before the person even spoke, Azumi was also already irritated. "Where's my favorite slave and master pair?" Komushi asked, the grin on his face clear in his voice. Azumi rolled her eyes again and then Komushi walked into the workshop. "There they are! Ooh, what's going on here?" The grin stayed plastered to his face.

Sasori kept his back turned to Komushi for a moment longer. He dug his nails into Azumi's ankle as he squeezed his eyes tightly before answering. "We were just having some fun," he pushed out between clenched teeth. He took a subtle deep breath then continued to loosen Azumi's leg. "What brought you over? Wasn't our recent visit sufficient enough?" he asked, finally turning to look at his best friend.

Komushi pouted. "I was gone for the better part of a month, had my heart broken, and you think one baby visit is going to soothe my soul or mend my heart?" Komushi gushed dramatically. He placed the back of his hand on his forehead for added flair. "It's like you don't know me at all anymore!" He skirted around the table to look at Azumi's wrapped leg. "Aw," he pouted. "What design did you do? I want to see!"

"You were gone for barely even an entire week," Sasori said, placing his hand on Azumi's leg to stop Komushi from unwrapping it. "And you will see it when it's healed."

"I should've come earlier," Komushi muttered. "So I could've seen it."

"Mm, but knowing you, you were still wrapped up in bed," Sasori grumbled. He huffed heavily. "I suppose it's okay you came over since I have something to show you."

Komushi perked up instantly. A dark glint of excitement flashed across both of their eyes. "Oooh?" Komushi's demeanor switched. Sasori much preferred this version of his friend. Leaving Azumi's hands tied down, he beckoned his friend to follow him over to his workbench where the jar of her venom sat. Sasori picked the jar up and held it in front of Komushi who inspected it closely. "Venom?" he whispered, grinning wide still. He let out a small gasp. "Did this come out of her?" Sasori simply nodded. Komushi squeaked in delight, taking the jar from him to look at the liquid more closely. He let out a shuddering breath. "Who should we test it on! What should we put it in!" He moaned, clutching the jar to his chest. "So much potential." He handed the jar back to Sasori and vaulted over the edge of the table, straddling Azumi easily.

She let out a small grunt when he straddled her. Immediately, she noticed that he was just a little heavier than Sasori. That, or he had no problem just sitting all of his weight on her whereas Sasori would carry some of his own weight. ‘Why do they insist on sitting on me?’ she thought.

"Show me," he demanded in a husky voice. "Open your mouth," he cupped her face. The pad of his thumb dragged her along the swell of her lower lip, gently pulling it back. 

She looked up at Komushi and frowned then turned her face away from him. ‘Like hell,’ she thought.

He pouted, leaning down. "Ooh, don't be that way, little snake," he cooed. He was gentler than Sasori was when he turned her face back towards his. "I just want to know what your body can do. You're a natural wonder!" She stared up at him for a moment before letting out a heavy sigh through her nose. She opened her mouth for him, hoping he would not shove his fingers into it the way Sasori had. "Thank you," he whispered. His eyes zeroed in on the small fangs in her mouth. He was like a small child seeing a wonder for the first time. 

"Her fangs are retractable," Sasori said from the stool he had sat down on.

Komushi's eyes widened. "Can you extend them?" he asked her, looking directly into her eyes. She hummed, concentrating on pushing them out to their full length—a very uncomfortable length for her since she hardly ever extended them.

Komushi let out a hushed moan. "They are beautiful," he whispered, cupping her face. He pulled her lip back a little with his thumb so he could see her gums. "I can't believe you've been hiding this. Sasori, we have to test that venom!" he said without looking away from her. "How often can you produce your venom?" His voice was starting to get that rushed enthusiasm again.

She retracted her fangs and frowned. "I have never done this before," she said softly. "I have never had my venom sac milked completely. I do not know how long it takes for me to produce more after it has been depleted."

"Really," both men said.

Komushi leaned in a little closer. "So, how does it feel to be so...empty?" Komushi asked her curiously. Sasori folded his hands in his lap, thinking about Naga's headache a week before. 

She took a moment to answer. "It feels like a pressure that I did not even realize was there has been relieved," she said.

"So, this would be beneficial to you if we continued to do it to you?" Komushi asked for clarification. Sasori leaned back, pulling the notebook he had been writing in earlier to write down her response.

Azumi shook her head. "There is no need to deplete a snake's venom sac unless it is in pain from overproduction and even then, you should only remove the excess, not all of it," she said. "I was not overproducing. I had just the right amount to fill the sac."

Komushi giggled a little at her description. "Would something cause you to overproduce?" he asked.

Sasori made another notation. "My guess would be something going wrong with her endocrine system," he spoke up. 

"That would be my guess as well," she muttered, rolling her eyes. "Which, as we can see, there is nothing wrong. My body is functioning normally."

"But there is no harm in milking you anyway, right?" Komushi pouted a little. He was too excited to know the effects of her venom.

"I suppose not," she said softly with a frown. "However, you would have to wait and as I said, I do not know how long it takes."

"That's fine," Sasori said, closing the notebook with a soft tap. "We can track it and have a definitive answer rather than a guess. Certainty is always preferable and I trust my notations more than anyone else's."

"I trust them, too," Komushi grinned.

"As you should," Sasori deadpanned. "They're always accurate."

Azumi sighed, looking away from Komushi again. She hated this. She hated that she was being experimented on and there was nothing she could do about it that would not eventually end in her own death. This was the very thing her father founded their village to prevent and it was happening to her.

"Can I?" Komushi asked above her. He slid his hands up the length of her arms, lacing his fingers into hers. However, he was not looking at her. He had turned his head towards Sasori. Sasori flicked his wrist in permission. Komushi smiled, undoing her bindings. As soon as the leather straps fell away, he gently massaged the harsh indentations they had made. "Damn, Sasori, you're really bent on damaging her, aren't you?" He picked up one of her wrists and pressed a gentle kiss to the skin.

"She can handle it," Sasori waved off. "Her body can probably take much worse."

Azumi scoffed and rolled her eyes again. 'Of course, that is your response,' she thought.

Komushi smirked against her skin. He looked past her hand to look her in the eyes. "She must be able to if she's still functioning this well after your painting session."

"After the first hour, she stopped feeling everything I was doing," Sasori huffed in disappointment.

"Aw, poor, bored sadist." Komushi released Azumi's hand. He got off of her and sat on the edge of the table. "I'm sure you'll come up with something better and more painful soon," he teased. "Maybe you need to up the acidity."

Azumi sat up, twisting her body to crack her back. She sighed at Komushi's suggestion, hating that he was just as much of a monster as Sasori after being so gentle with her.

"Not a bad idea," Sasori hummed.

"Maybe you can mix some sort of plant-based poison!" Komushi grinned. "They could add a touch of color!"

Sasori nodded. "All of these suggestions are being considered. I'll figure something out."

Suddenly, Azumi was hit with the urge to kick Komushi off of the table. "Please, stop," she whispered.

Komushi's ear twitched, catching the whisper. His eyes rolled to the very corners of their sockets to look at her without turning his head. "Stop?" he grinned, the husky tone back in his voice. Sasori glanced at her. "But you're our prized plaything," Komushi cooed in a mocking tone.

She scoffed and glared at him. "I would cooperate better without the torture," she muttered.

"Oh, but the torture is a good motivator to keep you cooperating," Sasori smirked.

"Not to mention you get all of this lovely art to grace your body," Komushi's said, flicking his finger out to slide between her breasts and trace the very top of the burn on her chest. 

" Komushi, " Sasori growled warningly.

"Yes?" Komushi smirked, not moving his finger away from her. Azumi frowned and took his wrist, pulling his hand away from her.

"Remember the thing about boundaries?" Sasori asked. "And how you need to learn them?"

"Yes, yes," Komushi rolled his eyes. "A city isn't built in a night," he scoffed. "I'm sure I'll learn them."

"Learn them soon," Sasori said. "I wouldn't hesitate to torture you either."

"I know you wouldn't," Komushi smirked. "I like the thrill of the possibility." Sasori rolled his eyes, but the smirk was not missed by Komushi. "So, what do you have planned for the rest of the day?" he asked, eager to use the venom.

"Nothing," Sasori sighed. "Discovering her venom and painting on her took up my whole morning and a bit of the afternoon. I didn't even finish the painting."

“Ah,” Komushi nodded sagely. “Then why don’t we hit the town and look for a victim to test our new ingredient on!” he said enthusiastically. “Clearly you have nothing to do so don’t even try to come up with a lame excuse.”

Sasori flared nostrils as he took a deep breath. “I suppose we could.” He folded his arms.

"There we go," Komushi smirked. "Let me see your list of possible victims. I know you have it here somewhere."

Sasori did not move at first, narrowing his eyes at Komushi for a moment before relenting and opening a drawer with a list of names. They were people Sasori had not much care for so needless to say, the list was considerably lengthy. He handed the list to Komushi to pick their first sacrifice.

Azumi frowned at how long it was yet she was not surprised there were that many people Sasori would be willing to kill. In fact, she was a bit surprised that it was not longer. She moved to get off of the table, taking a moment to find her balance with the awkward feeling in her leg from the numbing agent Sasori used on the burn.

Komushi hummed as he looked over the options. He swung his feet in a child-like manner. He glanced over his shoulder, catching Azumi’s slight stumble. “Just sit next to me,” he chuckled, reaching a hand out for her to take.

Sasori got up in a flash, putting her on the stool that he was just sitting on. “You should have stayed laying down,” he grumbled.

"I am fine," she said, getting off of the stool. 'As if you even care,' she thought, rolling her eyes. "I have dealt with this before." She left the workshop and went into the bathroom to wash her face, wanting to hurry up and get rid of the leftover sensations of crying.

"Why am I on this list?" Komushi asked. He paused for a second. "Why am I on it twice?"

"You're actually on it three times," Sasori said.

"That doesn't answer my question," Komushi stressed the word.

Sasori rolled his eyes. "It really doesn't matter. Just pick someone," he huffed.

Komushi gave him a hurt pout but looked back at the list. "You really put Rasa on here?" he chuckled. "Fine, uh, Menō," he said. 

"Mmm, no, let's kill her father. I think I can groom Menō."

"Ibushi it is then!"

"I believe he is usually in the market around this time or on his way home from it," Sasori hummed.

"Great! We can sneak up on him, catch him off guard and administer the venom," Komushi grinned. "If he dies, we just get rid of him. If he doesn't die, we act like heroes."

"As usual," Sasori smirked.

"I can ready the vial here you go get dressed," Komushi grinned. "Oh, wait, do you think regular antivenom will work in case we need it?" he asked, looking up from the list.

"I don't see why it shouldn't. It's still a snake based venom so it should behave the same way."

"But not all snake venom does the same thing, so this could also be different," Komushi said. "We need to figure out which type of snake her venom would be closest to and bring the antivenom for that."

Sasori folded his arms. He hated when Komushi was right. "I'm sure she knows what she is actually closest to," he hummed.

"Are you sure about that?"

"Very. She hides things but she isn't an idiot. Especially when it comes to her snake information."

"Well, she won't tell you easily," Komushi laughed. "After what you just did to her. I'll find out from her."

Sasori rolled his eyes. "Fine, but don't waste mine or her time." He glared at him. "I won't hesitate to chop your hands and a few other choice limbs off."

Komushi held his hands up in surrender. "Relax. I never do anything beyond harmless teasing," he chuckled.

"I find that hard to believe," Sasori scoffed.

"Believe what you want," Komushi shrugged as he started preparing the vile of venom to take with them. "Now go get ready and I'll ask her what type of snake she is."

"I don't even take that long to get ready," he grumbled as he got up to go to his room.

Komushi snorted softly, filling the vial then closing the jar up as it had been before. "And I'm your favorite person," he said sarcastically. He crossed the room, passing Sasori to walk into the bathroom. He walked up behind Azumi, pushing his hands over her shoulders and pulling her flush to his chest. "I wonder what he marked you with this time," he whispered into her hair just behind her ear.

She tensed up against him and then huffed. "No doubt some scorpions," she grunted, rolling her eyes. "The strokes felt like the larger one he put on my other leg but smaller and more intricate." She shrugged his hands off of her and picked up a towel to dry her face off.

"That man has no originality," he sighed, running a hand through his hair. He waited for her to finish drying her face. He watched her intently as she folded the towel back up and replaced it. "I have a question for you, little snake," he smirked, once again closing the space between them. He walked her backward until her back hit the wall and lifted her chin on a curved forefinger. His lips nearly brushed hers as he spoke. "Just what kind of snake are you?" he asked, catching her hand with his and pinning it over her head by the wrist.

She breathed hard through her nose and tried to move her face as far away from his as possible. "May I ask why you need to know this?" she asked softly.

Komushi extended his finger, turning her face back towards his gently. "Your darling little lord needs to know what kind of antivenom to either make or bring with him." His voice softened while the grip on her wrist tightened. "We don't want to be caught unprepared to be the hero now, do we?" he chuckled. "It would make us look pretty bad. Especially Sasori," he chuckled softly, tilting his head a little to kiss her jaw. "What kind of apothecary can't even cure a snake bite?" He kissed the corner of her mouth.

Her eyes widened and she pushed his face away with her free hand. "My venom is similar to the venom of a viper," she said, trying to pull her other hand out of his grasp.

"That makes sense," he chuckled, tightening his grip on her wrist. "Are you in such a hurry to kill someone?" His lips did brush hers now.

"No," she said, trying her face away from his again which he continued to prevent her from doing. "I am not. Unlike you and Lord Sasori, I do not find killing people to be a hobby."

"Then why are you trying to run from me?" His grin was nothing but mischief. He dared to bite her lower lip just enough to taste a little blood from her biting it earlier.

She gasped and without thinking, slapped him with her free hand. "I can give you several reasons why," she said. "The first being this." She tried to pull her wrist from him again.

He laughed a little, touching his cheek with his free hand. "That was a good smack, little snake," he hummed softly. "Mmm, but that might also earn you a punishment," he whispered in her ear.

"It does not take twenty minutes to ask the girl what kind of venom she produces," Sasori's irritated tone called out from the bedroom. He walked into the bathroom just after Komushi pulled away smoothly. 

"Viper," Komushi smirked. 

Sasori took a long, hard look at her and hummed. "That makes sense," he said.

"That's what I said," Komushi chuckled.

Azumi scoffed and rolled her eyes, turning to wipe her face down again. Never in her life did she instantly want to kill people, but these two men were really pushing her toward it. She stepped away from Komushi and walked past Sasori into the bedroom to change her dress.

"She's still pretty cranky," Komushi said when she disappeared into the bedroom. 

"I can see that," Sasori squinted at her. "You didn't do anything did you?" his voice was a low threat. He did not look away from his bedroom door.

Komushi gasped dramatically, putting his hand to his chest as if he had been wounded. "Never," he said. "Nothing beyond gently asking her what kind of snake she is," he smirked.

“I wouldn’t believe that if you bet my life on it,” Sasori squinted harder at him. However, he could not prove anything. He shook his head and joined Azumi in the bedroom. Komushi shrugged, following suit. She had just finished getting dressed when they walked in and sat down on the daybed, waiting for them to hurry up. Komushi sat down next to her, much closer than she would have preferred. She scoffed and moved further down the daybed to be away from him. "I should have an antivenom for a viper," Sasori said, stepping into the workshop and shifting through different jars on a shelf. "We won't need too much if we do need it." He grabbed a second small vile, filling it with the antivenom and tucking it away in the folds of his clothes.

“This is going to be so much fun!” Komushi practically squealed. Sasori did not wait for them to get up as he strode past them towards the door. Komushi bounced onto his feet and pulled Azumi with him, linking their arms as they walked. Azumi immediately glared at him, sliding her arm out of his and maintaining a distance between them. He was the last person she wanted to be touching her. She did not want to be around either of them, barely even looking at them as she followed them out of the house and toward the market where they suspected their victim to be.

Chapter Text

Komushi stepped up to stand with Sasori as they walked into the bustling area. "Ooh, mid-day traffic," he hummed, scanning the crowd of people.

Sasori's lips were set in a determined line. "This doesn't matter," he said easily, waving it off. "We both know he goes to the coffee and hookah shops then stops by food stands for shawarma and falafel."

Komushi looked up at the sky for a moment, determining the time and at what point in the routine Ibushi would be in. "He might be on his way to the food stands right now," he said.

"We'll walk by the coffee shop just to be sure," Sasori hummed, walking in said direction. "Sometimes he lingers there longer than normal, no doubt scoping out girls three generations younger than him."

"Gross, he has a daughter."

Sasori hummed, raising his eyebrows as if to say, ' believe me, I know. ' The man was just slipping out the door when they walked up. 

"Well, would you look at that," Komushi wrinkled his nose. The man had a young pretty woman on his arm that was chattering his ear off. The old man looked like a picture of serenity.

"Disgusting," they both muttered, watching the pair walk down the street.

Azumi rolled her eyes. 'As if the vices you two have are any better,' she thought.

The three of them started following Ibushi and his young companion, keeping a safe distance. "What do you say?" Komushi grinned. "We use the girl, too? Make it a two for one?"

"Why not," Sasori smirked. "We haven't played this particular game in a while."

"Perfect." The predatory grin spread over Komushi's lips. "Split them up? You take the girl and I take the old man?"

"Sounds like a plan," Sasori smirked, discreetly taking out two syringes. Like the skilled apothecary he was, he filled each one up and handed the second one to Komushi. Ibushi and the young girl took a turn down a narrow street where there was hardly anyone else. "It's almost like they want us to do this," he chuckled.

"We shouldn't keep them waiting then," Komushi grinned. He and Sasori walked faster, rounding the couple on either side. With terrifying and graceful ease, they armed their syringes and plunged them deep into the jugular.

Both Ibushi and the young girl seized up, their bodies stiffening as they felt the venom start to take over their nervous systems. In only a matter of seconds, they both collapsed, unaware of what just happened to them and who did it to them. "It works a little faster than an actual viper's venom," Sasori said softly as he and Komushi stared down at their victims.

“Whoa!” Komushi giggled. “This is perfect! There is so much we can do with this!” He squatted down to look over their victims up close. “You’re really amazing, Azumi,” he said, looking up at her. “Should we move them somewhere fun before giving them the antidote?” he asked Sasori.

“Where did you have in mind?” Sasori asked. “My shop isn’t close enough to get them there without drawing attention to ourselves.”

“There’s a side stairway not far from here,” Komushi grinned. “Help me get them there and I’ll switch their clothing,” he chuckled. “A nice surprise on top of their surprise!”

Sasori chuckled. “Alright,” he said, matching Komushi’s grin. He moved to pick up the girl as Komushi picked up Ibushi then followed Komushi to the location he mentioned.

Together they rested the two bodies down and Komushi quickly changed their clothes around. "How fast-acting is the antivenom?" he asked Sasori, stepping back to admire his work.

"We'll be able to get away with no problem," Sasori hummed, making mental notes of how the pair appeared to be and how the venom seemed to be initially affecting them.

“My venom will not kill them,” Azumi said from the bottom of the stairs. “Do not waste you antivenom on this. They will only be paralyzed for a little while and then they will not remember what happened.”

Komushi audibly moaned when she said that. “So much potential! Sasoriiii!” He put his hands on his friend’s shoulders, swooning with excitement. “The possibilities just became endless!”

“Get off of me,” Sasori sighed, shrugging Komushi’s hands off. “How can you be so sure about that?” he asked Azumi. 

“The viper my venom is most similar to does the same thing,” she answered, completely disinterested in the whole ordeal. “The only difference between the two venoms is that mine acts a little faster.”

“Interesting.” Sasori filed the information away for later. “We better get out of here now. I’m not in the mood to ‘save them’ if they don’t need it.” He started to walk back up the alleyway, towards the market.

Komushi followed quickly behind him and Azumi followed at her own leisurely pace behind the both of them. They exited the alleyway and headed down the street, blending into the crowds easily. “Ooh, let’s stop for coffee!” Komushi grinned.

Sasori thought for a second. “I could go for some coffee.” They turned the corner, starting towards Sasori’s favored shop.

The trio stepped in and Komushi walked up to the counter. “You two find a seat, I know your order,” he winked at Sasori. Sasori nodded and looked around for a table that was away from most of the crowd. Azumi followed him and they sat down to wait for Komushi. She looked around at the other people in the shop and thought about how unsuspecting they were to what just happened a couple of blocks away. Komushi walked over a few moments later, grinning as usual. “I ordered extra churros.” He rubbed his hands in excitement.

Sasori made a poor attempt at not looking excited. However, it faded quickly when he spotted an unwelcome pair stepping into the bustling shop. “I swear my family is inescapable,” he grumbled.

Komushi looked over at the door and saw them. “He probably sensed you were up to something and sniffed you out,” he laughed. Azumi looked at who they were talking about and immediately grinned when she saw Gaara and Sandaime walk into the shop.

“Sounds like him.” Sasori sucked his teeth and shot Azumi a glare. His face pinched in irritation. “I bet he has someone watching me now. Or he’s trying to,” he grumbled. He put his hand on her new burn and squeezed. She looked too happy and he hated it.

“Let’s hope you go unnoticed,” Komushi smirked. Just as he said that Sandaime turned and looked Sasori in the eyes. It was as if he did know Sasori was there.

“Komushi, you jinxed it,” Sasori sighed.

Azumi could not help but chuckle a little. She loved watching him get put in his place. Sandaime whispered something into Gaara's ear and the younger man's head snapped in their direction. His face instantly lit up, spotting Azumi.

Komushi stifled a laugh behind his hand. "Wow, can he be any more obvious?" he hummed.

Sasori clicked his teeth again. "At least he can respect boundaries better than you," he snapped.

“Or maybe he’s just not as blatant about it as I am,” Komushi teased. Azumi kept her composure, not wanting to seem suspicious with how much that comment bothered her.

“Gaara wouldn’t dare,” Sasori countered.

"You sure about that?" Komushi chuckled, letting the doubt hang in the air for a moment. Sasori squinted at him, suddenly wondering if his best friend knew something that he did not. That was until Komushi broke down in more laughter. 

"My gods, Sasori, you're so predictable! I bet you were wondering if I knew something you didn't," he smirked. Sasori grunted, rolling his eyes. "I'll take that as a yes."

“Whatever,” he growled. “I know she wouldn’t dare,” he said threateningly. He squeezed her burn again and she sighed heavily.

"You constipated there, Cousin?" Gaara asked softly, seeing the frustrated look on Sasori's face as he walked up. Komushi sputtered, covering his mouth again.

"What? Is that how you greet people?" Sasori snapped, raising his eyebrow.

"I hardly count you as a person," Gaara smirked mischievously. He turned to Azumi. His face softened instantly. "Good afternoon."

She smiled at him, ignoring Sasori’s hand on her injury. “Hello,” she said with a slight giggle. 

“What was that you said about boundaries and they wouldn’t dare?” Komushi asked Sasori quietly. Sasori bit his tongue behind his teeth. He shifted, kicking Komushi hard in the shin. Komushi jerked forward with a grunt. "Be cranky all you want," he hissed with a smirk. "I'm still right."

Sandaime walked up to the group and handed Gaara a coffee. “Hello, Nephew,” he said to Sasori. He looked at Komushi. “Nephew’s friend.” 

“I’m wounded,” Komushi laughed, putting a hand to his chest.

Sandaime ignored him, pulling up a seat for himself. "Azumi," he smiled, nodding his head to her.

"Whoa, wait, she gets her name and we don't?" Komushi pouted. Gaara chuckled, sitting down with his uncle. 

The waitress walked over with the order Komushi placed as the group spoke to each other. Sasori glared at his family members as they made themselves comfortable uninvited. He frowned, reaching for a hot churro.

"You're the only person I know who can look that upset while eating a churro," Gaara said over his coffee.

“Consider it a talent of mine,” Sasori grumbled. 

“Not saying I’m surprised to see you here,” Sandaime said. “But I didn’t expect to see you here while the sun was still up,” he smirked at Sasori, earning a stifled laugh from Azumi.

"I can run on surprisingly minimal amounts of sleep," Sasori countered. 

"A man of endless and many talents," Komushi chuckled, taking a churro of his own. "Please help yourself. I got a few extra so maybe it was a sign." Sasori blinked wide-eyed. He felt utterly betrayed.

Gaara wasted no time in taking one for himself. Sandaime chuckled softly. “No, thank you,” he said politely. “If I have one, my wife will smell it on me and ask why I ate them without her.” 

“Suit yourself,” Komushi laughed.

"She always did have you wrapped around her finger," Sasori smirked. 

"Mmm, she does but I don't mind," he smirked dreamily. 

"Ew," Komushi laughed. "Is that the look of a love?"

“It is,” Sandaime said. 

“Gross,” Komushi smirked. 

“You could look like that too if you didn’t get your heart broken all the time,” Gaara told him.

Komushi pouted hard. He looked down at the table, eating his churro like a sad kicked animal.

"I don't mean to...they just never like me as much as I like them!"

“Remember our recurring conversations about boundaries?” Sasori asked. “That’s probably why.”

"Mmm, you do have a problem with those," Gaara nodded in agreement. 

"I'd dare say its something you've had a hard time with since you were a kid," Sandaime chuckled. "It was cute when you were little but now..." he trailed off, wincing a little. Komushi was being ganged up on.

“Now you know the root of the problem,” Sasori said, patting Komushi on the shoulder. He looked at his uncle and cousin. “Now that we’ve had this intervention...” he said, hinting that he wanted them to leave.

"Oh," Sandaime tilted his head to his other nephew. "I think we're being kicked out," he chuckled. Gaara nodded, slipping his hand under the table to give Azumi's hand a squeeze as discreetly as he could manage. 

"Glad to see your age hasn't dulled your capacity to read a hint," Sasori snarled. 

“Was it a hint?” Sandaime smirked. “Or a blatant ‘leave?’” 

Azumi looked at Gaara and smiled. “I hope your cacti are doing well,” she said softly.

He cracked a smile and squeezed her hand once more. He nodded his head slightly. "They are doing well." He released her hand. "Maybe I'll show you the new one I got soon." He received her message and made sure she knew. 

"She is not going over your house," Sasori grumbled.

"Plants move, Sasori." Gaara rolled his eyes and stood up with Sandaime.

"We have a few matters to attend to anyway," Sandaime said. He nodded at them. "But expect another visit soon," he told Sasori.

"I look forward to it," Sasori said through clenched teeth.

"Goodbye, Lord Sandaime," Azumi grinned.

“See you soon,” Sandaime gave her a small bow that made Sasori’s mouth press together.

She looked at Gaara, the grin staying in place. "I hope you enjoy the rest of your day," she said to him.

Gaara smiled a little wider at her. “And you the same, Azumi.” He said her name with as much reverence as he was allowed in public. The pair of them left together.

The moment they were out of the shop, Komushi swooned. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your day," he fluttered his eyelashes. “Seems like I’m not the only one with weak boundaries.

Sasori’s lips pressed into a thin white line. “You’re really pushing me today, Komushi,” he grumbled.

"Fine, fine, I'll lay off," Komushi sighed. "I'm just saying, you keep attacking me for my lack of boundaries, but—"

Azumi leaned in close, keeping her voice low. "My telling him to have a nice day cannot be classified as sexual harassment," she told him. "I am very familiar with the concept of boundaries."

He smirked back at her, not missing a beat. “The difference between you and I, though, is that you are under ownership and I am not,” he countered.

“I am fully aware of my situation but even before I became a slave—mind you, it was only a few weeks ago—I understood the concept of boundaries. The fact of the matter, Lord Komushi, is that nobody wants to be touched.” Sasori snorted, pathetically stifling a laugh. 

“Tch,” Komushi rolled his eyes, backing off. He leaned back in his seat and downed the rest of his coffee. “You two were really made for each other, weren’t you,” he huffed. 

“I’d say maybe you’ll find someone as clingy as you one day but I don’t think there is anyone as clingy as you,” Sasori smirked.

Komushi scoffed. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked. 

“You are the only one of your kind,” Azumi smirked. 

“I thought we were having a great day.” 

“My day has been ruined since this morning.” 

“My day was ruined when my uncle and cousin showed up,” Sasori added. 

“It is your turn.”

“Man, I don’t want to be dragged down with you two,” he pouted. “I’m surprised you haven’t slipped your uncle something by now, honestly,” he said glumly.

"It would seem too suspicious," Sasori said. "The first person to suspect me would be Gaara and everyone would listen to him."

"What if you slipped him something, too?" Komushi smirked. "Get them both out of the way."

Sasori gave him a deadpanned look. “You’re smarter than this,” he drawled. “That’s just asking to be hunted down. No, I'd have to poison at least one of them over time and then kill off the other one quickly.”

“Well, then,” Komushi rolled his eyes. The two of them were like an old married couple discussing why the other had not started some domestic and innocent house project rather than plotting murder.

Azumi rolled her eyes and sat back in her seat. She crossed her arms and looked around, drowning out their ridiculous conversation.

“Alright, let’s get out of here,” Sasori said after a few minutes. “I still have some things I want to get done.” He stood up and stretched and Azumi stood up with him, ready to leave the moment Gaara and Sandaime left. Komushi lingered in his seat for a moment, eating the last of the churros. “Before I turn thirty.”

“Alright, alright,” Komushi sighed, finally getting up. The three of them left the shop. “And your body is only turning thirty. The rest of you is just as old as your great uncle.”

“Then you should know better than to test my patience.” Sasori pressed his lips. He turned down a side street the moment they were out of the market and started for home. “It really is a constant with you.”

Komushi chuckled, jogging a little to catch up to his friend. “At least you can say I’m consistent,” he reasoned.

They made it back to Sasori's house pretty quickly as the evening traffic began to die down. "So what are we going to mix the venom with to make it even more fun?" Komushi grinned once they were in Sasori's room.

Azumi sat down on the daybed while the other two went into the workshop like it was some sort of secret clubhouse. 'They are actual children,' she thought, rolling her eyes.

"Maybe some form of a paralytic," Sasori hummed. "Or psychedelic."

"Why not both?" Komushi grinned. "It sounds like you could induce some horrific man-made sleep paralysis!"

The two of them stood there for a moment in silence as Sasori thought it over. “Give me three days,” he said suddenly.

Komushi grinned, already anticipating the fun of whatever Sasori made. "Oh, I do so love that look in your eyes," he swooned teasingly.

“Leave. I’m going to start on it tonight.” He took the syringe that Komushi had and the bottle of venom away. “As usual, come to the shop when I’m done with it and we’ll test it. Think of who you want our next victim to be.”

"As you command, my Lord," he grinned, giving Sasori an exaggerated and flourished bow as he backed out of the room. Sasori rolled his eyes, taking a seat at his workbench. Komushi straightened up when he passed through the threshold into the bedroom. His eyes fell on Azumi immediately. He walked up to her and slid his hand up her bandaged thigh. "I can't wait to see the new edition," he smirked, leaning in close to whisper in her ear.

She groaned, backing away a little bit and ending up on Sasori’s bed. She put her hand on his chest to push him away and create some sort of distance between them. “Some of us are not as excited,” she said softly. 

He pulled back, frowning a little. "Stop fighting it," he said with a shrug. His body language said light and airy but his voice held something more serious. "The faster you do that, the less all of this will hurt."

"My apologies if I do not cooperate with my body being damaged by acid or situations that make me uncomfortable," she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

Komushi folded his arms over his chest. "That acid can...feel good," he said slowly. "And please, don't act like you haven't been having a good time at the shop. Also, you and Sasori get along surprisingly well." He looked back into the workshop. His expression softened a little before he looked back at her. "Just try to make this place your home." He reached out and ruffled her hair. "It could always be worse. You could have been owned by Kakuzu," he laughed, walking out of the room.

“Tolerance of each other is not the same thing as getting along,” she muttered to herself as she got up. “And I am finding it hard to tolerate him now.” She started Sasori’s bath when she realized the sun was going down. As she waited for it to fill, she went to the kitchen and got food for Sasori then went into his workshop to give it to him. “Your bath is ready,” she told him, setting the bowl in front of him on the table.

He looked at the food in slight surprise then smirked and looked up at her as he began to eat. "You really are efficient," he said thoughtfully. "How is your leg?" he asked after a few moments of quiet chewing.

“I started to feel it again when we were in the coffee shop,” she told him. She moved to the other side of the workshop and leaned against the other worktable, wanting to be as far away from him as possible. She was not in the mood to make conversation with him and she awaited the moment he would tell her that she was dismissed.

“I’ll reapply the cooling agent and rewrap your leg after our bath then,” he said as he stood up. His dinner was only half-finished but he stretched languidly anyway and sighed as he started for the door. The day had been more eventful than he had anticipated.

She waited for him to be out of the workshop before following him to the bathroom and placing his robe on its hook. As he undressed and settled into his bath, she ran one for herself. She undressed quickly and stepped into it, once it was ready, sinking low into the water and doing her best to ignore his presence. Sasori did not seem the least bit disturbed by her lack of interaction. He knew that if he needed something from her he could merely take it from her. He rolled over in the bath, facing away from her and closed his eyes. After a couple of silent and peaceful minutes, Azumi finally decided to wash up. She quietly held her breath, sinking underneath the surface of the water to wash her hair. She made sure to use an extra couple of drops of oil and an extra scoop of the salt to smell extra good for her meeting with Gaara. She came up after a minute, combing her fingers through her hair.

Sasori had shifted to rest on his back. His eyes were still closed but he heard her emerge from the water. “You can leave when you’re done,” he waved his hand. He raked a hand through his hair then settled back into the water.

She turned away from him, grinning wide. That was the best thing she heard him say all day. She quickly finished washing up and stepped out of the bath, grabbing a towel and wrapping herself in it. She felt the burn in her leg as soon as the air hit it and grunted softly as she walked into the workshop to grab the cooling agent and the wrappings for it. She went back into the bathroom and stood over Sasori for a moment, waiting for him to open his eyes. She held out the balm and dressing to him so he could apply and wrap. “You told me not to look at it until it was healed,” she said.

He looked at the balm and the dressing then sighed. He hoisted himself out of the water with another long sigh. “Come,” he waved her closer, spreading his legs so she would have room. His face was set in slight irritation at having been disturbed but he really did not want her to see it yet. She got closer to him, turning a little so he could do what he needed to do, looking straight ahead as she moved the towel out of the way for him so he could see what he was doing. “You really heal beautifully,” he murmured. His fingertips were light and dexterous as he spread the balm on her leg but they took their time tracing out the ‘art’ he had graced her with.

She tried not to roll her eyes too hard or shudder as he moved his fingers. "So I have been told," she mumbled, looking out the window at the river toward the spot she and Gaara usually met.

He gave her a look through his lashes as he began to wrap her up. "Sleep that nasty attitude off, will you?" he said with a nudge from his hand indicating he was finished. "I'm not dealing with it tomorrow."

'Stop bringing it out of me then,' she thought, picking up the balm and the rest of the roll. "Goodnight." She left the bathroom and went into the workshop to put the cooling agent and wrapping away. She quickly grabbed her clothes and got dressed then went back to her room.

Chapter Text

As usual, Naga was coiled on Azumi’s bed. He hissed a soft greeting to her when she walked in. "Hello," she smiled at him. "Would you like to get out of here for a little while?" She sat down on her bed and pet him gently. He hissed again. "I know...I am sorry you have been stuck in here...especially after the whole situation with Lady Chiyo..." She stayed quiet for a moment and sighed heavily. "But it is okay." She extended her arm out for him to slither up to her shoulder and wrap around her body. "We are going to see Gaara," she smiled, kissing the top of the snake's head as she stood up and moved toward the window. She made it out easily and quickly headed toward the river, moving a bit further down so they could not be seen by Sasori. She sat down on the bank, slipping her feet into the water while she waited.

The moon started to rise, reflecting as brightly off of the water as it did the white the sand around her. Gaara slowed, dragging his feet a little through the sand gracefully as he walked up to her. He did not even try to control the smile that tugged his lips the moment he saw her. Like the last time they met, he had a basket tucked into his arm but this time he had snuck out a large rug for them to sit on.

A small hiss from Naga prompted Azumi to look up as Gaara approached her. She grinned and stood up, immediately cupping his face and pulling him into a kiss. Naga moved to wrap around the both of them as if constricting them together then took his usual position around just her body. "Hello," she said softly when they pulled apart.

"Hello," he said with a soft chuckle. As soon as Naga returned to Azumi's waist he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her again slowly. "How was my favorite desert rose's day?" he asked. He pulled away to roll out the carpet and set the basket down.

She smiled as she sat down on the rug with him. "The only time I was in a good mood all day was when I saw you earlier...and right now," she chuckled. "It is hard to have a good day when you spend it entirely with an insufferable twink and his equally insufferable twink best friend," she groaned, laying back on the carpet as Naga moved and coiled up next to her.

He frowned, laying down with her. He ran his hand up her stomach and settled his head on her chest gently. "I'm sorry you have to deal with them," he snorted a little at the term. "Do I even want to know what they were in town for today?" His other hand brushed over her hip. He felt the top of the bandage. He breathed out hard and lowly. There was a slight growl to the rush of air. "Did he hurt you again?" 

She frowned, placing her hand over his on her hip. "He painted on me with acid again," she said softly. "And he...invasively discovered a couple of things about my body..."

" He did what!" Gaara's eyes caught the moonlight, making them gleam in an eerie way. He pushed himself up to look her over, inspecting her body for any more damage other than the burn. He tilted her jaw up, looking for scratches or bite marks. His fingers moved down to her chest and stomach to feel for any raised scratches or wounds. "What did he do to you?" he demanded softly through his teeth, ready to kill his cousin.

She looked up at him, reaching up to caress his face. "I am sure you are aware that I am different from other humans," she started. "People like me...can produce venom." She sighed heavily. "And today your cousin found that out by tying me down and shoving his hands into my mouth."

"I figured as much but..." This time, he placed his hand over hers. He squeezed her hand gently. His face twisted in barely controlled rage. "Can...I'm so sorry," his voice was hushed. His words meant nothing but they were all he could come up with. He leaned in to press his forehead to hers. He moved her hand to his chest. "I'm so sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for," she said softly, tilting his face a little to kiss him. He pushed back into the kiss a little rougher than he meant. "It was bound to happen. I just did not think it would happen so soon." She hummed quietly, running her other hand through his hair. "My only fear is that he will try to figure out more things with the same force because I hid this from him. There is not much else to figure out, but he may not believe that and will want to see for himself."

  "I...won't be able to handle it if he hurts you again." He leaned into her hand. "Your body is still yours." His other hand moved to grip the carpet harshly next to her, ripping up some of the threads. "He has no right to do this to you!" He was a little breathless with anger.

"You are right, but we both know he does not see it that way," she said. "The last thing I want is for you to get hurt in my defense...I know he would not normally do anything to you...but if he saw that you were actively trying to defend me, that can change." She slid her hands down his arms and laced her fingers with his, placing them on either side of her head.

He bit his lip, looking hard into her eyes. "I want...I need to protect you," he said softly. He let their noses touch. "It's only been a couple of weeks but...I...I feel so close to you. I can't stand the idea of him doing this anymore!"

"Hopefully, it will not last much longer," she said. "I am sure your uncle is getting closer to abolishing slavery as a whole." She smirked and gave him a quick kiss. "And then we would not have to sneak around," she chuckled.

“Yes,” he smiled, kissing her again. “I hope I can hold you on that day. I want to see the look on Sasori’s face when he sees how happy you are.” His lips found her jaw and he kissed along it to her earlobe then moved down to press soft kisses to her neck.

She chuckled softly, feeling a shiver run down her spine as he kissed her neck. “It will be a glorious day,” she grinned. “To see the look on his face when all of this hits him at once.” She sighed dreamily at just the thought.

He smiled against her skin. He licked her lightly before coming back up to kiss her lips. “I should plan a celebration,” he grinned. “Just to rub salt in the wound,” he chuckled.

“Ugh,” she practically moaned, “that would be amazing,” she chuckled. “Especially if you make zalabya for the celebration. By the way, the zalabya you made the other night for your brother to bring over to Lord Komushi’s house was great.”

He chuckled, grinning with a slight blush on his cheeks. “I’m glad you liked them,” he said with a shy pride but it was quickly replaced with shock. “Wait, you...Sasori brought you to that?” He should have expected it yet he was still surprised. He was starting to go into worry overdrive but held a tight grip on his emotions. “They didn’t do anything to you, did they?” Kankuro had gone but his cousin did not listen to his brother.

"Not that...I know of..." she hummed, thinking back to that night. She remembered nothing from when she was in a trance and she was put to sleep with that tea shortly after. She had no idea if they did anything to her in between the time of her being knocked out and waking up in Sasori's room. She had not told Gaara about the trances yet but she trusted him. "Another unique thing about me is that I can be charmed like a snake," she said softly. "Lord Sasori found out quite early on that I can basically be put into a trance...and it happened that night."

The rage was back in his eyes. He had seen snake charming before and how the snake had no control over themselves. “I’m going to kill him,” he growled, pushing off of her quickly. Sasori had taken her freedom and now he was abusing a power he should have never been given. Gaara could only imagine the terror she must have felt losing her bodily agency. He suddenly hated himself for not going to Komushi’s. For not thinking Sasori would bring her. He stood up and moved to storm off towards his cousin’s mansion.

It took Azumi a quick second to process that he was no longer on top of her and where he was headed. "Wait, Gaara!" she gasped, getting up just as quickly and going after him. Naga slithered quickly behind them, cheering Gaara on excitedly with loud hisses. She caught up to him and grabbed his hand. "Confronting him about it, especially right now, can only make matters worse and cause other problems," she told him. She knew that the argument would only work so much but the thought of Sasori’s suspicions about them being confirmed terrified her and she did not even want to think about what he would do to her.

He glared at her, taking a long, shuddering breath. He shook his head, pulling his hand out of her grasp. He knew she was right but he could not brush this off. He pulled away from her and kicked the sand hard, letting out a scream. He ground his teeth as he ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "I can't," he spoke softly. "I can't stand back and knowingly let this happen to you." His voice was low and rough.

"Believe me, it is harder to just take it and not fight back," she said softly. She stepped closer to him, gently placing her hand on his jaw and turning his face toward her. "But enduring it is what I have to do to stay alive for right now." She tried to stay as calm as possible for him.

He wrapped his arms around her waist again, pulling her close. "I..." He stopped himself and pulled her flush to his body and bent his head to kiss her passionately. His fingers gripped the cloth of her dress tightly as he kissed her. He took a step forward and started to walk them back towards the rug without breaking the kiss. Carefully, he eased her back down onto the rug and slid his hands out from behind her. They laced with hers and pinned them beside her head. "I will ensure you won't have to bear this much longer." His voice was still rough as he looked into her eyes.

She smiled up at him. "I have faith that it will be over soon," she said softly. "Because it is not just me that needs this. It is everyone else who is enslaved in this city."

He reeled back in a little, coming back to himself. "You're right," he nodded. "Though people like Hidan...might never leave their masters," he said with a touch of sadness to his tone. "People like him know no other life. He probably would not function well without Lord Kakazu as awful as that is to say."

"Mm, I understand," she hummed. She leaned up and kissed him softly. "But on a lighter note," she said with another smile, "how was your day? I assume you spent a good portion of it with Lord Sandaime," she chuckled.

He chuckled softly at the shift in subject. "It was pretty standard," he hummed softly. "Until I got to see you and then it was a good day."

Her smile widened a bit. "I am glad I can make your day go from average to good," she laughed.

"Actually you make my day go from average to amazing," he laughed a little lighter. 

She heard something shifting and tilted her head back to see Naga rummaging through the basket that Gaara brought with him. "Naga!" she hissed softly, scolding the snake.

"Oh." He looked over at Naga. "Guess he found my treat for him."

Naga dove into the basket and came out with his treat, eating it on the corner of the rug. "You are too kind to us," she chuckled. "But I suppose he needs it...he has been alone for a couple of days." She sighed heavily through her nose and ran her fingers through his hair again. "Thank you..." she said softly.

He leaned into her touch once more. "It's the least I can do," he smiled. "I can imagine he's feeling a little neglected if he's been locked up," he said softly. "Naga...was only protecting you."

"I know," she said. "And I appreciate it but I do not want anything to happen to him either. Lord Sasori threatened his life once and I do not want to take any chances..." She looked at Naga who hissed softly at her. "I love you, too," she chuckled.

The little interaction between them made Gaara's heart swell. "As I said," he smiled at her and then Naga. "I won't let anything happen to you if I can help it. I...feel very protective of you both," he said in surprising honesty.

Naga moved closer to them, lifting his upper body high enough to nuzzle his face against Gaara's jaw, hissing his thanks and appreciation. "He is not used to people wanting to protect him," Azumi said softly. She looked up at Gaara. "I suppose neither am I," she said. "I spent the past couple of months protecting myself."

He smiled, laughing softly as he felt the cool scales on his jaw. "You're welcome," he said to Naga. He looked back at Azumi and lifted one of his hands to stroke her cheek gently. "I've never wanted to protect someone the way I want to protect you. Maybe it's from the years of watching Sasori murder or...maybe more but I feel it in my bones. I can't let him destroy you or anyone else ever again."

"You do not need to give a reason," she smiled. "You are just a good person." She kissed him softly.

He pushed back into the kiss and smiled. "If you say so," he whispered. He leaned in to kiss her again, feeling anything he had to say would become redundant. The rage was still boiling in his chest but being with Azumi, feeling her under him eased the tightness and kept him grounded. He wanted to enjoy being with her for as long as he could.

She hummed softly against his lips, pushing back into the kiss. She gently bit his bottom lip before pulling away. "I am sure you are aware that your cousin is very suspicious about us," she chuckled. "And his best friend is not easing any of that.”

He breathed out hard through his nose. "No, Komushi wouldn't," he sighed away from her face. "If anything, he's going to be the main reason Sasori actually thinks we're together at all."

"Mm...I would not be upset if he disappeared," she said softly. "He seems to be causing more problems for me than I would prefer." She continued to run her hands through his hair as they fell into silence. It was a peaceful silence with nothing but the river's water moving softly behind them.

Gaara had shifted to rest his head on her chest, enjoying the feeling of her fingers in his hair. “How much of the city have you seen?” he asked softly. He had closed his eyes while they were basking in each other.

“Not very much,” she hummed. “I have only seen the routes to and from the shop. And everywhere else we have gone was always close by. He does not go anywhere else.” She rolled her eyes. “Like an actual old man.”

"Sasori has always been a creature of habit," he laughed, shifting his head to rest his chin on her sternum.  "Would you like a tour then?" he grinned. "It's actually really nice and has a bit of nightlife to it."

“Ooh, that is a very dangerous game to play,” she smirked. Her hand slid from his hair to his back and she gently scratched up and down his skin. “But I do crave adventure...and I trust you.” She chuckled softly. “So, yes. I would like a tour.”

He hummed softly when she scratched his back. He bit his lip slightly as he leaned in to kiss her again. "Then let's go." He bit her lip this time. His arms slipped under her, pulling her close to his body as he sat up then stood with her still in his arms. "We should be okay to leave this here." He looked down at the rug and basket. "I'll take care of it." His face was lighting up with excitement. "Let's see..." He looked up at the moon to guess the time. "The botanical gardens should still be open. And all of the bathhouses." He started to walk with her in his arms as he thought of different places they could go.

She let out a small squeal as she held onto him. “I am actually very excited,” she grinned, watching as they strayed further from Sasori’s house. Part of her was terrified of being caught, but the other part of her did not care. Sasori never left his house unless he was going to his shop and his shop was closed. So there was no reason for him to leave. She looked at Gaara and smiled, leaning in to kiss his cheek.

He laughed, giving her a squeeze as they walked. "It's been a long time since I had someone to go out with," he told her. "It's usually just me by myself. Did you eat yet? We can go to this really great restaurant that only opens at night! Do you like rose sweets?" he asked in an excited rush. "They make all of their pastries in house and it has the best view." He blushed a little, realizing he was starting to ramble.

She chuckled softly and kissed his cheek again. "I have not eaten yet and I love rose sweets," she smiled. "Take me wherever you want. As I said, I trust you."

He grinned and started for the building. "I have to put you down," he said almost sadly. "The stairs are a little narrow," he told her as he eased her down to the ground. He kissed her again and slipped his hand into hers, lacing their fingers.

She brought his hand up to kiss the back of it and followed him as he led her up the stairs to the restaurant. Immediately, she was hit with the most intense scents of different foods at once. "Whoa," she whispered, feeling her stomach growl shortly after.

He grinned, kissing her cheek. "I'm sort of a regular here," he said softly, leading her through the restaurant and up another short set of stairs. It was a quiet balcony that overlooked the open sky and desert. He released her hand and pulled out her chair for her. A pair of small candles flickered on the table along with a few lanterns that threw a soft glowing light.

His eyes did not drift over the sweeping landscape. Instead, they fixed on Azumi. His fingers laced into her hands again but he pulled back a little. "It's always peaceful here and since the night is a cover for most people an air of confidentiality for anything that goes on here," he said with a small hum.

"Lord Gaara," a waitress said as she walked up with a tray of tea in a glass teapot. There was only one cup and saucer on the little metal disk. "Oh, you have a guest," she gasped. "I'll be right back!" She smiled widely at Azumi, giving her a small bow as she set the tray down. "My apologies!"

Azumi smiled at the waitress as she backed away and turned around to grab another cup. " Sort of a regular," she chuckled, looking back at Gaara. "But that confidentiality puts any anxiety I had about being caught to ease," she sighed.

"Okay," he chuckled. "I am very much a regular here," he smiled shyly.

The waitress poured out their tea and giggled. "Lord Gaara is one of our best customers," she announced. "Did you want two orders of your regular order?" she asked him. "Or would you like to try something new?"

Gaara blushed a little. "Um, one order is fine but could you also bring a menu for her to look at?" he gestured to Azumi.

"Absolutely," she grinned. She turned and went to grab a menu, coming back and handing it to Azumi. "Here you go."

"Thank you," Azumi smiled back as she took it and looked it over. "Oh," she hummed, taking in the number of items and their descriptions. In the meantime, the waitress went and grabbed a small basket of pita chips and a bowl of hummus, setting it down on the table. After about a minute, she chuckled. "All of this sounds great, it is a bit overwhelming."

Gaara laughed softly, licking some crumbs from his lips. “Would you like a recommendation?” he offered.

"Please," she chuckled.

"Well, you have one order of his usual coming up," the waitress grinned. "I also recommend shakshouka. It's a bit heavier but I think this place makes it the best."

"Oh, yes, bring an order of that and some kofta," Gaara grinned. "Do you like fish?" he asked Azumi.

Azumi scrunched her face a little. "Mm, not...really," she said sheepishly. "Sorry. I am not a big fan of things that come from the ocean."

The waitress giggled and shook her head. "It's fine, I'm not fond of the stuff either. I'll bring all of that and a little something extra," she winked. "But I'll leave the menu for dessert if you can handle it once  you're done."

"Thank you," Azumi smiled. The waitress bowed and left them alone. "She is sweet," she hummed and then looked back at Gaara.

"She is," he smiled, resting his cheek on the back of one of his hands.

"This is the kind of place one would want to be a regular at," she chuckled.

 "A lot of different people pass through here so you get to hear a lot of stories and characters," he said.

"I bet you know a lot about everyone then," she smirked, sitting back and crossing her arms. "A trusted doctor and a knower of all secrets. You are not one to be messed with."

He pressed one of his fingers to his lips and winked. "Ssssh," he laughed. "I do tend to know more than most people expect. I think collecting secrets is a family thing," he chuckled. "It's also good for networking. Do you have anywhere like this in your village?"

"Mm," she hummed in thought. "There was a cafe I frequented a lot. I guess you could say I was a regular. But it was nothing like this place. My village is not very large and this city...from what I have seen from the outside on my way in is massive."

"Oh, like the one we go to for coffee?" he smiled, looking out over the desert. "It is pretty large. And a central hub for travelers. I can't imagine what it must have been like to come here for the first time." He took a sip of his tea and relaxed back. 

"From the outside, it looks very intimidating and entering it and seeing the number of people moving about was...extremely overwhelming," she said. "The caravan I was brought here with stopped at a bunch of different places for slave auctions before this one and none of them were as big." She looked down and chuckled softly. "Of course, the one that made me the most nervous was the one I got sold in."

His smile softened into a look of concern. "I...know you'll probably go home once you are freed but tonight I hope I can show you the better side of this city." The waitress returned with another waiter and arms full of food. Gaara's jaw dropped. "What is...all this," he laughed. 

"Okay, so Shira...went a little...overboard," she giggled. 

"This one blabbed that you have a guest with you," the waiter ratted her out with a smirk.

"I did not! I just...mentioned it," she huffed as she set the dishes down.

"But just mentioning it is all it takes," the waiter smirked, setting some more down. "You know how he is." He looked at Gaara and smiled. "He also said he'll be out here soon to see you."

Gaara shook his head, looking over all of the food. "I hope you brought your appetite then," he laughed, looking over to Azumi.

"Do either of you want drin—"

"I brought drinks!" a new voice called up. A large handsome man emerged from the lower level with three jugs on his arms and a tray stacked with glasses balanced on his head. His grin was wide and kind. The two servers shook their heads but laughed as they stepped out of his way so he could set the jugs and glasses down. 

"I'll grab you a chair," the waitress said. 

"When I heard you brought someone, I was shocked," the newcomer grinned at Gaara. "But now that I see we are dining with a goddess herself, I am curious to know how you swooned her," he teased, bowing slightly to Azumi. "What did he woo you with, talk of his patients or his sweet cacti?"

Azumi chuckled as the man took a seat at their table, grinning wide at her. "Mm, the cacti," she smirked.

"No way!" he gasped. "That actually worked?"

"Indeed it did."

Gaara blushed and punched Shira gently in the arm. "I told you the ladies love plants!"

"I'm seeing now that they do," the man chuckled, rubbing his arm.

"The way to any woman's heart," Azumi smirked.

"I'm skeptical," he chuckled. "I think you just fell for his cute face.” He reached over and squished Gaara's cheeks between his hands just as he went to take a sip of tea.

Gaara sighed and gently swatted his friend's hands away. "Maybe that was the first thing to win me over," Azumi chuckled.

"That's what I thought," he smirked. "Ah! I'm so rude. I'm Shira.” He took Azumi’s hand and pressed a soft kiss to the back of it.

Azumi chuckled and nodded politely. “My name is Azumi,” she smiled.

“I made all of this food when I heard my best friend had a girl with him," he grinned. Gaara pouted, looking at his friend scandalized. "It's not often that he has anyone with him," Shira continued. "Which is probably why he's friends with me," he chuckled. "I get so worried about him during the day," he whispered. "He can be a real loner, you know."

"Shira!" Gaara gasped. He sighed heavily and opened one of the jugs. The strong scent of sangria filled the air.

"Am I embarrassing you?" Shira chuckled. "I'm sorry."

"Is that not what a best friend is supposed to do?" Azumi smirked. She looked at Gaara and took his hand. "It just means that he cares," she said to him.

Gaara sighed but his pout turned to a smile. "I know." He flicked Shira. "Doesn't mean he's any less the worst," he chuckled.

It was Shira's turn to gasp. "That better be a capital W," he chuckled. "It's a title I wear proudly." He poured himself and Azumi a glass of sangria then lifted his glass. "A toast!"

Azumi and Gaara lifted their glasses with him and the three of them took a long sip of their sangria. "Oh, this is really good," Azumi hummed. "Did you make this as well?"

"Every drop," he smiled proudly. "I'm glad you like it. It's a little different each time, depending on what the market has to offer."

"It's my favorite in the whole city," Gaara smiled.

"Not the whole world?" Shira pouted.

"I've not been to the whole world," Gaara countered, sipping from his glass.

"And here I thought I was your whole world."

"You're part of my world, but not the whole thing.”

"I'll take it," Shira grinned. Azumi smiled at their interaction. This pair of best friends was a breath of fresh air compared to Komushi and Sasori. This was a much more wholesome relationship. "So where are you two off to tonight?" Shira asked with a slightly cheeky smirk.

Gaara rolled his eyes, smiling into his cup. "I'm taking her out on the town. She hasn't been able to see much of the city and she's been here for a couple of weeks already."

"A couple of weeks and no sightseeing!" Shira shook his head. "A sin!" he said dramatically. "Well, then thank the Gods you have the best tour guide around."

"What a title to live up to," Azumi smirked at Gaara.

"If there was an award for it, he'd have won it over and over," Shira chuckled, refilling their glasses with more sangria. "So, if you are only seeing the sights, then where are you from?"

"A village a couple of regions from here," Azumi answered. "Tucked behind a mountain pass and settled on an oasis. Very different from this city."

"A deep desert girl," he chuckled. "And how do you like our humble city so far? Does it suit you or are you ready to head back to your village?" Gaara tensed up a little. He forced himself to relax and schooled his face into a mild curiosity. A stark contrast to the burning version inside of him. Did she like it here despite Sasori? Would she want to stay with him?

"It was a bit overwhelming at first but there is definitely...a charm to it," she smirked, looking at Gaara. Shira followed her face with his eyes to Gaara. A genuine smile formed on his lips. Then she looked back at Shira. "I can say that I do find this place fascinating. Many different characters here. And it has definitely opened my mind up to the idea of traveling more."

"A city is a good place to ignite a dormant wanderlust," Shira nodded. "But seeing the world with someone else is always better." 

"This is true," she smiled. "And someone with the title of best tour guide must also be able to hold the title of best travel companion. At least I would think so," she chuckled. Gaara blushed a little.

"He can ride horses and camels, too," Shira winked. "He'll be perfect for you."

"Mm, I don't know about all of that but I can certainly try."

"So humble." Shira threw an arm around Gaara's shoulders and poured them each another glass. The three of them drank through the first jug of sangria and opened up the second one as they started eating. "So how exactly did you two meet?" Shira asked. Azumi coughed slightly on her drink when she heard the question. She completely forgot she was a slave and she was not sure if Gaara wanted to share that information.

"She's...working for my cousin," Gaara said after some thought. He chose his words and tone carefully.

Shira looked at him a little funny and then it dawned on him. His mouth dropped open as he looked back at her wide-eyed. "I...are you sure it's safe?" he asked in a hushed tone to Gaara as if suddenly the walls had eyes and ears.

"It's risky but I know nothing can happen here," Gaara said.

"But what about outside of here?" Shira asked softly.

"The chances of us running into someone who would rat us out are very slim."

"You don't think your cousin is going to notice she's gone?"

"Once Lord Sasori goes to bed, he is not seen until the sun rises," Azumi assured him. "And I have given him no real reason to be suspicious of my absence. He will not have much of a reason to check if I am there."

Shira gave them both a long, stern look as he topped off their glasses. "Fine," he finally broke the silence. " careful."

"We will and always are," Gaara smiled at him.

"So, how are you doing dealing with a monster like Sasori?" Shira asked Azumi.

"It is...not the easiest task I have been given," she hummed. "However, I think I am faring quite well, seeing as I am still alive," she smirked.

"That is a...wait you said a few weeks?" Shira gasped. "Holy...that must be a record!" 

"It is," Gaara nodded and sipped his drink again. "And what's worse...Sasori really likes her."

"Likes me," Azumi scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Is that what you call it?" she asked.

"I take it you're not fond of him," Shira chuckled.

"It is hard to be fond of someone who justifies damaging your body with 'I own you,'" she said. "I tolerate him at most. And even that is difficult."

Shira blinked for a moment and then laughed softly. "I like her," he said to Gaara. "Sasori's always been a piece of scarab shit." He downed his glass. "It's about time he found someone who could tolerate him."

"Hopefully she won't have to for much longer though," Gaara said, taking her hand.

"You're not planning on breaking her out are you?" Shira asked, going back to his hushed tone.

"My uncle is working on abolishing slavery in the city in general," Gaara answered.

"Ah, I did hear whispers of that," Shira smirked. "His wife was here a couple of nights ago and she might have mentioned something like that."

"Lord Sandaime has a wife?" Azumi asked with a shocked grin. It should not have surprised her because Sandaime was amazing so of course he was married. Yet, she had not heard any mentions of him being married.

"Oh, he has a wife," Shira sighed dreamily. "She's beautiful, talented, kind, and wonderful," he listed off.

"Shira has a crush on my aunt," Gaara chuckled.

"She sounds amazing," Azumi smiled. "I am sure she and Lord Sandaime are perfect together."

"Great power couple," Gaara nodded. "I'm sure she comes here often because she gets free food."

"Of course!" Shira said. "I can't make someone as wonderful as her pay .”

"Does Sandaime get free food, too?" Gaara chuckled.

"He gets a discount,"  Shira shrugged. "He insists on paying anyway."

"I'm sure he knows you give his wife everything for free," Gaara said. "And he probably finds it amusing."

"That is quite precious," Azumi smirked. They finished their second jug of sangria and moved onto the third one. She was starting to feel a slight buzz, something she had not felt in a long time. She was not going to stop herself, however, because she was enjoying herself and having a great time.

After almost an hour, they ate most of the food Shira had made for them and finished their third jug of wine. A fourth one was brought up to them and they were well into it when Shira decided he should probably get back to work. "Have you decided on any desserts?" he asked them.

Azumi looked over the menu for a moment, scanning the dessert section. "Lokum?" she suggested to Gaara. "Unless you have something else you recommend."

"I'll bring up a few others for you as well," Shira said with a wink. He took Azumi's hand and pressed a kiss to it. "In this restaurant, you will always be considered free." With that, he disappeared back into the rest of the restaurant to make their desserts.

Azumi looked at Gaara and grinned. "I like him," she chuckled. "He is very nice. That is what a best friend should be and I am glad you have him." She took his hand and kissed his knuckles.

Gaara smiled and leaned across the table to cup her face with his free hand. He pulled her into a slow kiss, tasting the wine on her lips. "I'm glad I have him, too," he said softly. "And you."

"I am glad I have you, too," she whispered. She was truly grateful for him. If he had not been around, her time being Sasori's slave would without a doubt be much more miserable than it was. She kissed him again, biting his lip gently. He pressed into the kiss, lacing their fingers together as they kissed. They only pulled apart when there was a soft tap of ceramic on the metal table they were sitting at. Their waitress was giggling silently as she placed down their sweets.

"Oh! Sorry," she said as she quickly put the rest of it down. "Please enjoy these." She smiled widely and disappeared back downstairs. Gaara's face was flushed.

Azumi chuckled softly, kissing the tip of Gaara's nose before sitting back in her seat. "Four jugs of wine in," she smirked, "I may or may not be just a little bit drunk." Her slight buzz from earlier had escalated closer to the bottom of the fourth bottle of sangria. "I apologize."

He laughed softly, a little breathless and very flushed. “ drunk,” he laughed again, leaning in to kiss her once more. “So there is no apologize.” He paused between his words, grinning as he did. “But are you tired?”

She bit her lip in a smile and shook her head. "No," she answered. "I can last a little longer." She looked down at the desserts that were brought to them and picked up a lokum cube. "Unless you are tired," she smirked, feeding it to him.

He grinned, pulling her finger into his mouth a little to kiss it as she fed him the sweet. “No, I can last as long as you,” he grinned. “There’s somewhere we can go for more drinks and music,” he told her. “It can be a little crowded but it’s a lot of fun and you can dance. Freely,” he added hastily.

"I would love to," she smiled, eating a cube herself. "Can you dance?" she asked. She did not care what his answer was. She was going to make him dance with her anyway.

He shook his head, feeling it spin a little and grinned as he picked up another cube. "I'm a terrible dancer when I’m sober," he hummed. "And would probably crush your feet too much when drunk."

She chuckled as she tried another dessert that Shira made for them. “It is hard to look bad when you are dancing with someone who knows how to dance,” she smirked.

"Fair point," he hummed, licking his fingers of the light sugar sticking to them. "But I think you deserve a better dance partner," he chuckled.

She grinned, taking the final sip of the sangria in her glass. “You can try to get out of it all you want,” she said. “But you are going to dance with me.”

He laughed a little uneasily but leaned in and kissed her with sugar on his lips. "As you wish, milady," he told her softly.

The finished off the jug of sangria and ate the rest of the desserts that Shira made for them and got up. The waitress and waiter from earlier approached them with wide grins and cleared their table. “Shira says it’s on the house,” the waitress said. 

“As usual,” the waiter chuckled. 

“Thank you,” Azumi smiled, giving the servers a slight bow.

Gaara shook his head and tipped a large wage of money into each of their hands. "Thank you for everything," he told them softly with a kind smile. The waitress giggled and the waiter bowed in return. Gaara held Azumi’s hand as he led her back down into the restaurant and then the stairs. He stopped on the last step, where they still had a shadow of cover and pushed her up against the wall of the building gently. His hands found her waist as he pulled her into a deep, passionate kiss.

She hummed softly, pushing back into the kiss and resting her arms on his shoulders. Her fingers laced into his hair and bit his lip before pulling away ever so slightly. "Thank you for bringing me here," she whispered against his lips.

"Thank you for letting me," he whispered back. "We'll visit again for sure," he promised. He kissed her one more time before pulling away and tugging her gently back on to the streets of the city. It was still lively despite the hour. He walked with her, hand in hand, breathing in the night air with a huge grin on his face. It felt nice to have someone to be with and drink with other than himself alone with his thoughts. He turned down an alleyway and slipped out to a new street. It was even more bustling with a line of people wrapped around the building. Not even glancing at the line, Gaara walked to the front and nodded to the pair of bouncers who happened to be twins. Their grins stretch widely across identical faces. 

"Lord Gaara!" one said with a slight bounce to him as he spoke.

"It's always good to see you Tobi, Obito."

"It's been a while," the second added. His face was heavily scarred but just as handsome as his brother's.

"It has been," Gaara chuckled.

"And I see you've brought a friend," Obito smirked.

"Is he treating you right?" Tobi teased.

Azumi laughed and nodded. "He is treating me perfectly," she told him.

"Please," Obito chuckled. "Lord Gaara doesn't have a bad bone in his body."

Tobi chuckled, shaking his head. "You're right, Brother," he said. Obito winked at Azumi. "I think you got the most gentlemanly man in all of the city."

"Second only to maybe Lord Sandaime," Obito smirked.

"Oh, no, he is definitely more than Lord Sandaime." 

"We've been through this before." Obito rolled his eyes.

Gaara chuckled, holding up his hands to keep them from getting into it. "Guys, it doesn't really matter, does it?" he tired.

"See!" Tobi jutted a hand out toward Gaara. "The finest gentleman!"

"I may have to agree with you on that," Azumi said.

The twins stepped aside to let them into the building. "Have fun, you two," Obito smirked.

"Don't get too wild now," Tobi chuckled.

"Never any promises," Gaara chuckled over his shoulder.

"Ooooh," both twins chuckled as they returned to work. Inside, the club was two levels. They enter through the second level where people seemed to be mostly hanging out with drinks in their hands and having conversations or using the shadows as cover. Music bumped from the lower level. It was on the lower level where most of the action was taking place. People danced and intermingled with drinks sloshing a little in their hands. There was the thick scent of incense and something else on the air.

Azumi looked around as they made their way through the crowd. She looked at the one below and was pretty fine with the less dense one on the upper level. She followed him as he led her to the bar and let him order the drinks. They occupied a small section against the railing, overlooking the lower level and watching the dance crowd move. "I see what you meant when you said it can be a little crowded," she chuckled, taking a sip of her drink.

He chuckled softly, watching with her. "It ebbs and flows with the music. So it might thin out with the next song," he told her. "This is usually more my brother's scene than it is mine."

"Ah, I can definitely see this being his scene," she said. She leaned over the railing a little to scan the crowd below. "How often does he come here?"

"Most nights," Gaara hummed. "Father doesn't pester him too much to do well with much of anything since he's such a successful artist."

"Does he bother you?" she frowned. "You seem to be a successful doctor." She took his hand and pulled him closer, wrapping his arms around her and pressing her back against his chest. "You mentioned your relationship with him not being the best."

He smiled, nuzzling his face into the bend of her neck. He kissed her softly and sighed. "He does," he admitted. "He wanted all of his children in politics. And my sister, Temari, is the only one who followed his wishes. Kankuro won a challenge against my father and got to be whatever he wanted. Me, however," he paused, wrapping his arms a little tighter. "My profession is the only thing I can genuinely say Sasori did for me."

She frowned, turning her head to kiss him. "That is unfortunate," she said. "He should be content with you being successful in any way. Parents that force a dream onto their children are the worst. I am sorry you have to deal with that."

"You're too kind for the fate the Gods have given you," he said against her lips. He kissed her again, shifting one of his hands up to lace into her hair. "I don't mind him. I live in my own place and the rest of my family won't let him hurt me." He touched the tips of their noses together as he spoke. He got lost in her eyes for a few minutes. "What about your father? Did he have great plans for you?"

"He had plans for all of us," she sighed and then frowned. "I was already doing what he wanted me to do with the lab work."

"Did you want to do that kind of work?" he asked quietly.

"I think as a child I may have shown enough interest for him to think it was what I wanted to do so I cannot blame him," she hummed. "As I got older, I did not exactly hate it, but I knew it was not what I really wanted to do. So I got into dancing."

"And is dancing what pulls and calls to your heart?" he asked her, moving his hands to wrap around her waist. He kissed her neck, aching a little to bite down.

"I suppose you could say that," she smirked, pressing her hips against his. "It is something I find myself being passionate about."

He pressed back against her, chuckling softly. "You moved beautifully at the night market," he told her but then frowned a little. "Did he...force you to do that?"

She did not answer at first, resting her head back against him. "He...did," she said. "But the first part, when I danced with him was okay...then he made it so the music put me in a trance for the second half." She hummed softly. "I know he did it to calm my nerves, though."

Gaara strained so he would not grind his teeth. "And...did it?" He wanted to scoff and doubt Sasori actually did anything for anyone's nerves but he thought back to the night and her reaction to the crowds. Maybe his cousin could still be considerate.

“It did,” she assured him. She pressed her body back against his and started to move very slightly, making him move with her. “I am not going to teach you how to dance,” she smirked. “But I am going to make you look like you know what you are doing.”

"Somehow," he laughed, letting his body move with her. "That sounds so much harder."

“Worry not,” she chuckled, finishing her drink and setting the glass down on the nearest surface. “I am a professional.” She started off slow, following the music that played so he would be able to get it at first. “You will find that it is much easier than you anticipated.”

"I trust you," he chuckled nervously. He set his own glass down so he could give her his whole body to use.

She smirked, turning around in his arms to lead him around the small area they occupied to the music that played below. “You are much better than you think you are,” she said softly as they moved.

"Am I?" he smiled, leaning down to kiss her properly. "I'll take your word for it," he grinned. "If you let go though I won't know a since step."

“Then I will not let go,” she chuckled. They continued to move, him following her lead as she changed how they moved with the music. Much to his own surprise, he followed her well. 

After a couple of songs, they finally stopped. Gaara grinned, pulling her close as they drifted back to the rails. He leaned against the railing and pulled her into a deep kiss. "That was amazing." He pressed his forehead to hers. "You're amazing." 

"Mm, I would not say I am amazing," she chuckled, wrapping her arms around him. "That title should go to you for doing as well as you did for someone who does not know how."

"Let's agree we're a perfect pair then," he chuckled. "The right student for the right teacher." He ran his hands up her sides and kissed her again, biting her lip gently. He was suddenly struck with all of his desire for her and hated how restricted they both were. "Did you want to stay for another dance or drink?" he asked softly.

She chuckled quietly, kissing him again. "Let us have one more drink," she smirked against his lips, "and then we go."

"Sounds like a plan," he smiled, pecking her lips once more before shifting so he could untangle them. He made his way over to the bar and ordered them two more drinks.

Across the room, leaning over the other side of the railing that overlooked the dance floor below, Komushi watched them with a drink in his hand. A sinister grin spread across his lips and he took a sip every time he saw them kiss. He had been watching them since they started dancing and had not taken his eyes off of them. He had not expected his night of dancing and drinking with strangers to take a turn like this, but he was not complaining. This was rich. He finished off his drink and grabbed another as he watched them leave. “It seems the little snake also has a problem with boundaries,” he smirked.

Chapter Text

As they left the club, the night air was beyond refreshing. Azumi laced her fingers with Gaara's, letting him lead her through the streets that were much less crowded than they were earlier. She had no idea how much time had passed but it seemed like all the late-night places were closing so it had to be very, very late. She leaned against Gaara as they walked. He took her to a small hole-in-the-wall shawarma shop. The perfect late-night drunk snack. Then they headed back out to head home once they finished eating. "I never thought I would get to enjoy a night like this," she hummed.

He smiled down at her, lifting her hand to kiss her knuckles. "You deserve it," he said softly. "You deserve anything that makes you smile the way you're smiling right now," he said, leading her back to where they started their night by the river. He reached over and took her other hand, spinning her a little as he laughed. "I can't wait to take you on another date," he giggled, pulling her close when they stopped spinning.

"I am already looking forward to it," she giggled. She tilted her head back and groaned through a wide. "Ugh, I have not felt so free in such a long time," she said.

He smiled, shifting to sweep her off her feet and spin her again as he kissed her. "I'll plan it all out and make sure it's even better than this one!" He ran with her in his arms to the rug, laughing like a little kid. He smoothly lowered them down to the rug, keeping her close in a hug. "I can't wait for this feeling to be permanent again for you."

She grinned, running her hand through his hair. "Thank you," she said softly. "For everything." She kissed him again, practically rolling on top of him. A small hiss came from inside the basket that was on the corner of the rug. Naga had slithered into it when they left. He poked his head out and hissed again. "Yes, we had fun," she told him.

"Did you enjoy your snack?" Gaara smiled at Naga. He hissed again, slithering over to gently bump his nose against Gaara's. "I'll take that as a yes," he chuckled. He hummed, softly stretching a little under her. "We should get you home soon."

Azumi pouted slightly, looking up at the moon and noticing its significant change in position. "I suppose," she mumbled. "I know I am going to have the worst headache tomorrow," she chuckled. She leaned down and kissed him. "But it was worth it."

"I can stop by with a little something," he told her with a smile. "Shira and I make the perfect hangover breakfast."

"Mm, that sounds amazing," she said. Naga hissed at them again, a little anxious. "The sun is going to rise soon," she translated. "He is nervous that we will get caught out here." She sighed, sitting up and stretching a little before getting off of Gaara.

"We'll be alright," he assured Naga. "You climb on Azumi and I can clean everything up," he smiled. He waited for Naga to do as he was told before shaking the rug out and rolling it up. He tucked it under his arm and the basket into his elbow. "Milady," he said, offering his other arm to her. She giggled as she took his arm and they walked back to Sasori's mansion together, heading straight for the window to her room. She pressed her back against the wall next to the window and pulled him into a kiss. He smiled into the kiss, dropping the rug and the basket against the house and resting his hands on her hips. He pushed deeper into the kiss, biting her lip again, a little harder than earlier. Then they heard another hiss. "Alright," Gaara chuckled. "I think your warden is saying let's get you inside."

"I think you are right," she smiled. She sighed and kissed him again before turning to climb through the window. Naga immediately got off of her and moved to the bed, taking up his usual corner.

Surprisingly, Gaara followed in after her. Naga hissed frantically. "Relax, Naga, it's okay," he chuckled softly, petting the snake's head gently. He turned and pulled Azumi to him, sitting down on the bed with her in his lap.

"This is another dangerous game," she whispered, getting a little worried. "Lord Sasori gives no warning as to when he will enter. Catching you in here would be just as bad, if not worse, than catching us going out."

"Then I guess we just have to make up some rules," he smirked. He moved her onto the bed and grabbed the lone chair in her room. He pressed it up under the doorknob to jam it. "Now he'll have to knock," he smirked.

Azumi's eyes widened a little and she gasped. "Gaara, no!" she whispered in a panicked hiss.

He cupped her face, lifting it to pull her into a kiss. He leaned forward, easing her down without breaking the kiss. "You said you trust me. And I'm not in the business of breaking my promises. I will keep you safe."

She gasped softly, wrapping her arms around him and looking into his eyes, searching them for a moment. "I..." She stopped herself, opting to pull him into another kiss. "Thank you," she whispered against his lips, lacing her fingers into his hair.

He grinned, pushing back into the kiss. They kissed for a little while longer before Gaara trailed down her neck then settled his head on her chest. "I'll make you breakfast as soon as I wake up," he promised with a yawn. The first rays of sunlight were starting to shine through her window. She bit her lip in a smile and kissed the top of his head, gently scratching his scalp as they laid there and fell asleep together.

Hours later, the sun was fully up and the light was entirely too bright. Azumi groaned softly, feeling the pounding headache she had been anticipating. Gaara groaned also, burying his face deeper into her chest to get away from the offending light. He sighed, wincing in pain at the dryness in his throat and the throbbing in his head. "What time is it?" he croaked. Naga hissed right next to his ear, flicking into it a little. Gaara's eyes snapped open at the weird feeling. "Too close!" he whispered.

The snake hissed his apology and then tapped Azumi's nose with his own, hissing softly to wake her up. "No," she groaned at him. He hissed at her again, letting her know that it was well into the day, practically noon. "Noon?!" she gasped, grunting quietly as she felt her head pound even harder.

"Noon!" Gaara wheezed. "And Sasori hasn't come around yet?" He sat up in a panic. His head was pounding harder now and the blood was rushing through his ears. Naga shook his head. "That's...strange," he bit his lip and got up. "I'm going to sneak around the front," he told her. "I don't trust him to not do anything and I can't leave you alone." He leaned down and kissed her before climbing out through the window.

In the midst of her own silent panic, she chuckled a little as she sat up. 'Sneak around the front,' she thought. 'It is as if we are teenagers.' She groaned and held her head, covering her eyes for a moment before deciding to get up and get dressed. The burn she was given the day before started to hurt a little bit. She wrapped Naga around her body and went to Sasori's room, anticipating the worst from him. The house felt much brighter than normal as she walked through the halls, but that was probably because she was severely hungover and beginning to feel nauseous. She approached Sasori's door and took a deep, calming breath to prepare for dealing with him and then entered the room.

He was lounging on his bed, reading his ledger when she walked in. "So you aren't dead," he smirked, writing something down in the log. "And here I thought I'd have to start budgeting for a new slave." He flashed her a smile and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. Getting up with a long stretch, he walked over to her and took her by the chin in his typical fashion. "Are you sick? What took you so long?" he asked, looking into her eyes. He noticed how she was avoiding the light. "Clearly, you didn't sleep well," he frowned.

"I slept fine," she groaned. It was the truth. She actually slept great. Especially because she slept with Gaara. "Once I did fall asleep," she added with a stretch. "It just took me a while to fall asleep."

"Was the burn bothering you?" he asked, pulling her over to the bathroom.

"Not too bad," she hummed, squinting a little as the light hit her face. "I actually only started to feel it a couple of minutes ago."

He squinted at her. Something was not adding up. He walked over and started both of their baths. "Then what made you so restless?" He added the salts and oils then rounded back to her. "Strip," he demanded, folding his arms.

She shrugged and Naga slithered off of her body, heading into the bedroom as she started taking off her dress. "Just a lot on my mind," she hummed. "Nothing important." She let her dress fall to the floor easily. He squinted harder at her. He started to check her over, leaning in to gently press into her muscles to feel for any issues. Just then Gaara passed outside. Sasori stood up and turned to grab the cooling salve. Gaara's eyes widened seeing him prodding and likening Azumi. Azumi sighed, feeling the relief of the cooling agent. She looked outside and saw Gaara. Her breath hitched and she looked back at Sasori who was busy tending to her burn. Looking back at Gaara, she gestured with her hand for him to get out of sight for fear of being caught by Sasori. "Go," she mouthed to him.

He gestured to her full form and looked pointedly at Sasori. "What!" he mouthed back. Sasori stood, turning to get the gauze and almost catching Gaara. Gaara scrambled to the next window. "Help?" he mouthed and drew out the question mark.

Her eyes widened at him almost getting caught and she shook her head. "No," she mouthed. "I am fine." She looked down at Sasori to see that he was almost done. She looked back at Gaara and gestured for him to leave again. Gaara ran to the front of the house and rushed to the kitchen. He started to make coffee and put together breakfast.

Sasori stood up and squinted at her again. "The salts and oils aren't good for the wound so we'll keep it covered for your bath then rewrap it once you're out."

She nodded and brought her hand up to cover her mouth as she yawned. "Alright," she said. He took a step back from her and she turned to get into her bath as he stripped his clothes and got into his. The water felt amazing and she let out a soft groan as she sunk deeper into it.

He watched her through the whole bath, still confused as to why she was so tired. It almost seemed like she was hungover. Which was impossible because she had no money to go drinking even if she snuck out. And he had not shown her where they kept the alcohol in the mansion. They got out of the bath after a few minutes and he sighed. "Let's go eat," he told her once her leg was re-bandaged and they were dressed.

She hummed softly, following him to the kitchen as she rubbed her temples. 'Ugh, I need coffee,' she thought. She tilted her head back, keeping her eyes closed for a moment and trying to curve her nausea, only to be brought back to the realm by bumping into Sasori who had stopped abruptly in the doorway of the kitchen. "Mm, sorry," she mumbled.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, seeing Gaara in the kitchen.

"I thought I'd stop over for some lunch," Gaara smiled, leaning against the counter with a cup of coffee in his hand. "The servants told me you hadn't been down to eat yet so I made breakfast."

Sasori squinted at him just as he squinted at Azumi earlier. Azumi peeked around Sasori and smiled at Gaara. "Hello," she said as if she did not just get out of bed with him.

"Good morning, Azumi," he smiled at her. "Coffee?" he asked them both. It was rhetorical as he was already pouring out a cup each for them. Laid out on the kitchen table was a breakfast far healthier than what Sasori would have made for himself as a lunch.

"You look tired, Cousin," Sasori noted, accepting the mug. His squint remained.

Gaara laughed sheepishly. "Do I?" he sighed. "I was up all night with a pretty bad case but when I got home, I just couldn't sleep," he lied.

Sasori grunted. "And you thought to come here," he said, sitting down at the table.

"I was in the area. The patient was a child a few streets from here," he shrugged. Azumi accepted her mug of coffee from Gaara and sat down, immediately drinking half of the cup in a few seconds. She let out a quiet sigh as she looked at the food he made as she started to serve herself, hoping her nausea would go away soon.

"That kid again?" Sasori grumbled as he served himself. "He's always sick."

Gaara hummed, nodding over his mug. "I'm afraid it's going to follow him into adulthood," he continued the charade. He sat down to start eating with them. Sasori started to eat and the second the food touched his lips, he realized how ravenous he was.

"So, are you going into the shop today?" Gaara asked, pouring out another cup of coffee for himself.

Sasori hummed as he swallowed his food. "I am. I'm working on something and I have a deadline of three days. There are things I need at the shop that I don't have enough of here." Azumi resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She knew it was the poison that Komushi challenged him to make with her venom. She was too tired to be upset about it, however. She just continued eating and finished her coffee quicker than she expected.

Without missing a beat, Gaara refilled her cup for her. She hummed her thanks and started drinking it immediately. "Three days? Is it a big order? Do you need help?" Gaara asked, not knowing the true nature of this project.

Sasori sipped more of his coffee and chuckled a little. "It's not an order," he said. "Just something Komushi and I are working on."

"Ah," Gaara forced his tone to stay light and looked away from Sasori. He knew he could not control the look in his eye. He hated the games his cousin played.

"Another one of those challenges he's always putting me up to," he said casually.

"Will you be going to the shop?" Azumi asked Gaara. "Or do you have patients to tend to today?" On top of wanting to just keep the conversation going and avoid an awkward silence full of suspicion, she wanted to know what her own workload at the shop was going to look like. Gaara frowned, thinking for a moment.

"We don't really need your help today. Azumi should be able to handle everything," Sasori said flippantly. "Mmm, but you weren't feeling well this morning," he frowned, looking her over. "How are you feeling now?"

"I feel fine," she said.

"I can come in anyway," Gaara assured both of them. "I'm not up to anything today." He looked at Azumi. "Would you like me to take a look and make sure everything is okay?" He smiled at her.

She chuckled softly and took a sip of her coffee, pacing herself this time. "I will be fine," she smiled. "Thank you, though." Gaara nodded graciously.

Sasori sighed, shaking his head. He was going to give himself a headache if he kept trying to read into their movements. He was not going to complain about the food and extra help even if it seemed everyone around him was having boundary issues. He finished off his food first and stood up. "Right, then the three of us can head down to the shop once you're done," he said to them. He turned and left the room to head back to his own.

Once he was gone, Gaara let out a sigh and Azumi groaned quietly, rubbing her face a little. "He only thinks I just had a hard time falling asleep," she said softly. "I do not think he suspects much else."

"Well, thank the Gods for that," he groaned then smiled at her. "I'm sorry," he chuckled. "I shouldn't have let Shira drink us out like that." He ran a hand through his hair. "Did you like breakfast, though?"

"I did," she smiled. "It was amazing. And so was the coffee. Thank you." She made sure no one else was around as she grabbed his hand and kissed his knuckles gently.

His smile widened and he lifted her chin to pull her into a proper kiss. "I'm glad," he said softly. He jerked back when they heard someone shift down the hall.

"How much longer are you two going to take?" Sasori asked impatiently. Ignoring her now racing heart from almost being caught again, Azumi stood up, grabbing the dishes on the table to clean them. "Leave them," Sasori told her. "The servants can clean everything."

"Right," she hummed. As he told her to, she left everything there and the three of them left for the shop.

Gaara made a point of walking ahead with Sasori as they made their way to the shop. "What kind of poison are you working with?" Gaara asked conversationally. He knew it was Azumi's venom and he had half a mind to steal it away but that would just cause Sasori to forcibly milk Azumi again. Nothing would stop him from doing it and that would break Gaara's heart even more.

"A new one we've discovered," Sasori answered, a small smirk ghosting his lips. "It paralyzes on its own so we will see what we can do to make it do more."

Gaara bit the inside of his lip to keep it from twisting into a scowl. "It must be pretty strong then."

"It's interesting, to say the least," Sasori nodded, unlocking the shop as they walked up.

Once they were inside, Azumi went straight to the tanks to take care of the snakes. All six of them immediately started hissing excitedly. "You are all hungry?" she whispered to them. She sighed quietly, allowing them to slither out of their tanks and to the ground She opened the door for them so they could leave and propped it open so they could come back. "Be quick," she told them.

Sasori took his usual place up on the second level and watched the snakes slither out. "Azumi, Gaara, can you reorganize the front and make sure we have enough inventory out?"

They both nodded and headed to the front of the shop to do as he asked. Gaara brought the log to check the inventory as Azumi moved everything around. The shop was thankfully darker than Sasori's house so Azumi's headache was beginning to subside. "We are taking a lot of risks at one time," she whispered to Gaara with a slight chuckle.

"We are," Gaara agreed. "But I think it's a little pent up and about time." He flashed her a smirk. "But we can tone it down if you are getting nervous. I don't think Sasori has noticed anything different so we should be alright."

She hummed softly and smiled at him. "I think I like the thrill," she said. She looked at the display of fragrances she made and took note of how many more she needed to make to replenish it.

He flashed her a devilish smirk. "It is pretty exciting." He was inventorying the shelves behind the counter. He put down his paperwork and peeked into the back room to make sure Sasori had not moved. When he saw his cousin was still safely upstairs, Gaara stepped around the counter to wrap his arms around Azumi from behind. He wasted no time in pulling her into a deep kiss.

She smiled against his lips, lacing her fingers into his hair and pushing into the kiss. "I see we love living on the edge," she chuckled softly.

"I think we all need it once in a while," he grinned, whispering against her lips. "Otherwise, this life could get very stale." He kissed her neck softly, wishing badly to bite down.

"Mm, you are very right," she hummed, suppressing a shudder as he kissed her neck. There was a collective hiss from all the snakes behind them. All six were in the doorway to the back room, watching them and hissing teasingly. "Shut up," she whispered to them.

Gaara turned to look at them and chuckled. "Are we being teased?" he asked her, pulling away. He liked risk but he did not want to push it too bad. At least not yet.

"We are," she scoffed, heading into the workshop. "Get back in your tanks," she ordered them, the slightest hint of a threat to her tone. "Worse than my brothers," she mumbled as the six snakes moved into their respective homes.

They hissed again, still snickering a little. Sasori raised an eyebrow after hearing the sharp tone in her voice. "Did they misbehave?" he called down to her. He was curious to know what would make his slave sound so stern.

"No," she answered as she gathered all of the ingredients for the fragrances she needed to replenish and set a small pot over a fire. "They just spoke out of turn."

"I see," he hummed. In the shop's front, Gaara stifled a chuckle behind his hands. "Never thought I'd hear you be so stern," Sasori smirked.

"I rarely ever am. I never have much of a reason to be. But if they act out of turn, I will treat them like a mother treats her child."

"Precious," Sasori drawled. He moved his stool so he could lean against the railing and continue to work as he watched her. "Are you making something new?"

"I am only replenishing the scents that are low," she answered. She looked up at him. "Do you want me to make something new?"

Sasori shook his head. "You can do whatever you want with those," he hummed. "Since they are doing well, I'll trust you with them. They are your project now."

"Very well then," she said, turning back to her work. She looked at the oils she had. "I am running low on that amplifier," she hummed. "They will not be as strong as normal."

"You know where the shop is," Sasori said, standing up. He turned back to the desk and returned with a small pouch. He tossed it down to her. "Get whatever you need," he told her.

She caught the pouch with both hands. "I will be back then," she said, lowering the fire so it did not boil over while she was gone.

"Would you like me to come with you?" Gaara asked.

"She can go alone," Sasori said. "I need you to finish the inventory."

Azumi looked at Gaara and smiled. "Thank you, though," she said.

Gaara sneered at Sasori then looked to Azumi. He walked her to the door and kissed her cheek. "Be careful," he said softly. She was just going up the street but he still worried.

"I should only be gone for ten minutes," she whispered with a smile. With that said, she stepped out of the shop, tucking the small pouch Sasori gave her into a fold of her dress and headed to the shop Sasori usually bought his oils from. The light did not bother her as much as it did earlier so she actually enjoyed the walk.

The walk was short but not short enough for her to gain a companion. An arm slipped through hers and pulled her close. "Good morning, Little Snake," Komushi grinned down at her.

She sighed heavily as soon as she heard his voice. "Hello, Lord Komushi," she said, gently sliding her arm out of his and looking at him. "Lord Sasori is still at the shop if you are looking for him."

"Mm, I'm not interested in him right now," he hummed. "Unless...there was something you wanted me to share with him."

She furrowed her brow, stopping in front of Utakata's shop. "I cannot think of anything I would want you to share with him that I cannot do myself," she said. She began to head up the stairs into the shop, already smelling the incense being burned upstairs.

"Mmm," he hummed again. "And did you sleep well last night? You and Lord Gaara?" he hissed in her ear as they walked up the narrow steps. He reached over her head, pushing the door to the shop open for her.

She paused in the doorway, turning to look at him. "I did," she said a little confused. Her heart started to race but she fought to keep her composure. "But if you are concerned about how he slept, maybe you should ask him."

"Oh?" he smirked. "I thought it was safe to assume you two went home together after last night." Across the room, Utakata had slipped out from the back of his shop to greet his customers. Pipe in hand, he narrowed his eyes at Komushi.

"What are you talking about?" she asked, lowering her voice to a near whisper. She was starting to feel nauseous again and it was not from the hangover. Taking a quiet deep breath, she continued on into the shop toward the shelf that had what she was there for.

Komushi hovered over her. "Don't play dumb," he sighed. "It doesn't suit you." He slid his arms around her from behind to whisper in her ear. "Did that false freedom taste good on his lips?" Utakata stepped out from behind his counter, taking a long drag from his pipe.

Her eyes widened and she unwrapped his arms from her. 'He was there?' she thought. "I do not—" she started.

Utakata cut her off by placing his hand on Komushi's shoulder and turning him around. "I've cleansed this shop this morning and your vibes are undoing my work," he said.

Komushi clicked his teeth, irritated that he was being touched and interrupted. "The vibes?" he snorted.

Utakata's face remained passive. "Yes, the vibes," he repeated, taking a long drag from his pipe.

"Fine then, Azumi, come along." He slid his hand into hers. Utakata's eyes flickered to her.

Azumi looked at Utakata and frowned as she pulled her hand away from Komushi's and took a few steps away from him. She could not get very far because the shop was small. "Lord Sasori sent me here to get something," she said.

Utakata nodded. "She is a paying customer." He tilted his head towards her. "You are not and as this is my shop, I have the right the throw you out."

Komushi narrowed his eyes. He was not going to be thrown out by the likes of some cave-dwelling shop owner. He took Azumi's hand once more and pressed a kiss to the back of her hand. "I'll—" he started but Utakata blew a large plume of smoke into his face.


Komushi smirked at her before turning and leaving the shop. Azumi and Utakata stood there for a moment, listening to make sure he went all the way down the stairs. Once she was sure she was safe, she bowed. "Thank you so much, Lord Utakata," she said softly. She covered her mouth, still feeling nauseous as she came up from the bow and grabbed a larger bottle of the amplifier she was there for. She was afraid to leave the shop. Komushi could easily wait for her outside.

Utakata waved it off. "I'm not a Lord," he rolled his eyes. He walked over to one of the shelves and opened a bottle. "Here, this should help your stomach. You're looking a little green," he said, sticking the bottle under her nose.

"Thank you," she said, taking the bottle from him. She set the oil she picked up on the counter. "I hope you do not mind if I linger a few moments longer," she told him. "I fear he might be waiting for me."

"Linger as long as you like. I'll make tea," he told her as he slipped into the back. "Actually, just follow me." He poked his head back out. She nodded and followed him into the back room. He gestured to a seat for her to sit in at a table and she did so, looking around the room. There was a nice breeze back there and she could not figure out where it was coming from. The back room turned out to be a small two-floor loft he lived in. He walked over to the small kitchen and put a kettle on to boil. There was a soft hiss from above them. Above them was a trellis with climbing vines and hanging down from it was a snake, trying to nuzzle Utakata. "I was gone for ten minutes, Kaida," he chuckled, picking her up.

Azumi smiled at the snake. "She is beautiful," she said softly. As she looked around, she noticed a couple of different things that were very familiar to her. Things that could be seen everywhere around her village. 'Who is this guy?' she thought.

"Thank you," he smiled, kissing the snake's nose gently. "She's been with me since I was born." She slithered over his shoulders, coiling loosely around him. He set cups down on the table and poured out the water over a tea that bloomed in their cups. "Is Orochimaru still head of the village?" he asked nonchalantly.

She looked up at him confused. "Y-yes, he is," she said. She squinted a little. "You know my father?" She took a sip of her tea, instantly calming down from dealing with Komushi just a few minutes ago.

"I'm surprised," he frowned. "I did know him but he must have changed since I left. The Orochimaru I knew would never have let his only daughter become enslaved."

She frowned and looked down at the table for a moment before looking back up at him. "He did not know about it," she said. She was sure her father knew by now since it had been a few months since she left. "I am in this situation in place of someone else and I made the decision quickly to prevent any more issues."

Utakata's frown deepened. "Oh..." He looked at her hard. "He's going to raze this city to the ground."

"I know," she sighed, closing her eyes for a second. "I am hoping to be back before he can get here."

"Be back?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Lord Sandaime is working to abolish slavery here," she said. "It would work out for the better if that happened before my father could figure out where I am."

"I mean, if he did manage to find you, Lord Sasori wouldn't be a problem, abolishment or otherwise," he chuckled, setting the cup down. "Lord Komushi seems to be very...attached to you. Would you like something to try and fend him off?"

"He is an entirely different problem," she muttered, looking away. She could feel her expression change instantly. Since the day before, she had only grown more disgusted with Komushi. "One that I need to deal with carefully because he is my master's best friend." She looked back at Utakata. "What did you have in mind?"

"Sasori isn't the only person in the village who can play with poisons," he said with a devilish smirk. He stood up and walked over to a cabinet filled with bottles and containers. His fingers traveled over each bottle before settling on a squat container. "Ah," he grinned. He turned around to place the dish on the table. "This should be fun," he smiled at her. She picked up the container and inspected the liquid inside, a small smile appeared on her lips. She was not going to ask what it was. She wanted to find out for herself. "He doesn't need to consume the whole thing," Utakata said. "Just a little should do the trick."

Azumi chuckled softly. "Will the whole thing kill him?" she asked.

"Not kill him, but he'd be...out of commission for some time."

"Amazing," she smirked. "Thank you."

He shook his head. "It's fine," he smirked. "Anything for the princess of my home village," he teased. "I'll walk you back. Komushi should be gone but he also seems very persistent."

"Extremely persistent," she scoffed, rolling her eyes. She finished her tea and stood up. "But how much do I owe you for this?" she asked as they walked out to the main shop. She picked up the bottle of the amplifier to show him.

"Take Kaida out for a hunt and we'll call it even." He bagged up the amplifier and gave her a small pouch to put his gift to her in. "We can spend that money on something else," he smirked.

She smiled and looked at Kaida, still wrapped around Utakata's shoulders. "Whenever you are ready," she said softly to the snake. "I think you would like Naga." They made their way down the steps and outside to walk down the street to Sasori's shop.

"They should meet," he smiled. "Where did he come from?" he asked, knowing full well there was no way the slave traders would have let her keep any personal belongings.

"He was in the caravan that brought me here. A snake used for charming and nomadic shows. When I was sold, they put him in front of me and had us dance together. I just...took him with me when Lord Sasori bought me."

He nodded, frowning slightly. "They made you dance," he said softly. "I saw you dance often at parties. They didn't deserve to see that." A small flicker of anger for his kinsman snapped to life in his chest.

"Dancing is not the worst thing I have been made to do," she said. "In fact, I am a bit grateful for each opportunity I have been given to dance since becoming a slave." They approached the shop and stopped in front of the door. "Thank you for walking with me," she said. "It is nice to see someone who is from the same place. It actually eases something in me."

His frown deepened. "Me too," he said softly. "Come back anytime you want," he told her. "I...cannot offer much help but I—" He was not sure what he was trying to offer. He could not stand very tall against someone like Sasori but looking into her eyes, eyes so familiar, he could not just do nothing.

She smiled at him. "I will be back," she said. She gave him a bow before heading into the shop. Gaara was at the counter, finishing up the last of the inventory paperwork. "I told you I would not be long," she said softly to him.

Gaara's face lit up. "I knew you wouldn't be," he grinned. He glanced quickly at the back room before leaning in to kiss her very quickly. "Komushi is here," he whispered as he rounded the counter. "Did he bother you? He's been complaining loudly to Sasori since he came in about five or ten minutes ago." He resisted pulling her close.

She gasped softly. "He is here?" she whispered. "What has he been saying?" She looked into the back room and leaned in closer to Gaara. "He saw us last night."

All the color drained from Gaara's face. "He what!" he hissed. "When?" His eyes snapped to the back room. His hand slipped into hers. "You...he didn't hurt you, did he? As far as I know, he's just pouting that Utakata kicked him out of his shop." His heart was beating wildly. He tried to rack his brains to recall if he had seen Komushi. "I won't let him or Sasori hurt you," he promised again.

"I do not know exactly when," she said, keeping her voice low. "But he saw us kiss." She gently retracted her hand, not wanting to make the situation worse. "He approached me on my way to Utakata's shop and harassed me about it until Utakata told him to leave."

"Fuck!" The curse was low and sharp. "He...Sasori would have done something by now," he frowned. "There's no way he would wait for you to come back." He shook his head, running his hand through hair. "We'll...have to keep an eye on him. If I get the feeling he might out us and cause you harm, I'll take care of him," he said looking her dead in the eyes.

She set the bag in her hand on the counter and took the container Utakata gave her out. "I do not know what it does, but Utakata gave it to me after he had to intervene. If you are willing to find out with me, then we may have a solution for a little while."

He looked down at the container then back to her. "Let's do it," he smirked. "We should be able to figure out how to slip it to him easily. When did you want to?"

"Why not now?" she hummed. "I am a firm believer in eradicating problems before they spread." She thought for a second. "We can slip it into his tea."

"You really are devilish," he smirked. "Okay, let's do it. I don't think they've had any yet so you can go in to offer them some and I'll distract them."

She smiled and nodded, lifting his hand to kiss his knuckles then went into the workshop to start brewing the tea. She grabbed four cups and set them out on the worktable then went up the ladder, poking her head up to the second level. "I am making tea," she said. "Would you like some?" Her gaze fell on Komushi who seemed to be wearing the same smirk he left Utakata's shop with.

"You're back," Sasori noted. "Tea would be nice." He gave Komushi a confused sidelong glance. "Did you get what you needed from the shop? Did he price gouge again?"

"As always," Komushi sighed. "I didn't buy anything though since he was going to be like that."

Azumi stared at Komushi for a moment. "Would you like tea as well?" she asked him.

"You aren't going to spike it, right?" he asked with a smirk.

Sasori gave him another hard look. "She would never," he scoffed. "If either of us was notably poisoned after this, I'd have to kill her." He said it like it was a minor irritation.

Azumi scoffed and rolled her eyes, annoyed that Komushi could not just answer her question. "I will make you some anyway," she said, heading back down the ladder. She grabbed the container Utakata gave her and put a couple of drops of what was in it into one of the four cups she set out. Once the tea was ready she poured it and pointed out to Gaara which one was spiked so he could give Komushi the correct one.

Gaara nodded and took the cups on a tray to the second level, setting down Sasori's cup next to him on his desk and offering Komushi's to him on the tray.

Komushi eyed it then chuckled before knocking back a big gulp. "Our little snake would never poison me," Komushi cooed. "She loves me too much. Right, Azumi?"

"Right," Azumi deadpanned, rolling her eyes as she went back to making her fragrances and a couple of other things that needed to be restocked in the front.

"Leave her alone," Sasori grumbled. "You're starting to annoy me."

Komushi tilted his head, looking at him. "When am I not annoying you?" he countered.

"Good point," Sasori muttered. "I told you to come here in a couple of days for the experiment. You should leave."

Azumi deflated a little bit. She wanted Komushi to leave but she was still very curious to know what the liquid that Utakata gave her would do.

"You're kicking me out already?" He suddenly yawned hard. He was hit with a heavy wave of exhaustion. He frowned, leaning against the railing to brace himself. "Have you made any progress—" His eyes started to draw heavy. He could not fight the heavy tiredness. His body became dead weight and he started to fall over the edge of the railing. Sasori's eyes widened, whatever retort he had for his friend lost as he bolted across the small space to stop him from hitting the ground but he was a moment too late. Komushi hit the lower floor with a hard thud.

"Oh," Gaara winced. "I think the floor's damaged."

'It knocked him out?' Azumi thought, turning to look at Komushi who had fallen behind her. She kneeled down next to him, checking to see if he had cracked his head open. He did not, but there was a crack in the floor as Gaara predicted. "Well, he is alive," she said. "So much for him leaving," she muttered.

Sasori got up and leaned over. "Are you serious!" he growled. "What the hell did you put in the tea?" he glared at Azumi.

"You're seriously about to blame her when sticky fingers over there could have easily poisoned himself?" Gaara cut in. "He was playing with the belladonna extract earlier. Don't needlessly start pinning blames."

Sasori shot him a glare but could not deny this was a likely possibility. Komushi had done it before. "Annoying. Move him to the corner and we'll watch him," he practically whined, running a hand through his hair.

Gaara sighed and moved to lift Komushi into a chair that Azumi brought over. Once he was in the chair, Azumi traced the bruises that started to form on his cheek and shoulder. "He is going to feel that as soon as he wakes up," she hummed. She looked at the crack in the floor. "And he will have the worst headache."

"All of those are meaningless and treatable," Sasori rolled his eyes. "I'm more concerned about my floor! This wood was expensive and imported," he grumbled, coming down to check on the damage.

"Make him fix it," Gaara muttered. "He cracked it." Azumi went back to her work, not at all concerned about Komushi or Sasori's floor.

Sasori rolled his eyes. "I'm going to. Doesn't make it any less annoying." He climbed back up to the second floor and resumed his work as Azumi and Gaara resumed theirs. They went about their day while they ignored Komushi's unconscious presence.

Chapter Text

For nearly a full twenty minutes Komushi sat ignored in the corner. He came to with a panicked and loud gasp. "Wha-aaarugh, my head!" he groaned. "What happened?"

Azumi was the only one near him when he woke up. She turned to face him, lowering the fire she was working with. "Good morning, sleeping beauty," she smirked. "Did you enjoy your nap?" She walked up to him with an ice pack for the headache she knew he had.

"What did you do?" he growled, accepting the ice pack and pressing it to his head.

"I did nothing," she said, making a smaller ice pack and pressing it gently to the bruise on his face. "Lord Gaara and Lord Sasori said you were messing with an extract that might have done this."

His head hurt too much to even remember what he had touched earlier. He ached down his whole right side. "Did I fall from up there?" He glanced up at the second floor, wincing slightly.

She looked up at the railing and nodded. "You did." Her gaze lowered to where he fell. "And you did that," she said, pointing to the crack in the floor.

"Ooooh," he winced again. "Sasori's going to make me fix that, isn't he?" he sighed heavily.

"He did say he would."

"Where did they go?" he asked, trying not to move too much.

"They went to get food," she hummed, sitting back on her stool to go back to her work. "I told them to bring something back for you in case you woke up." She started bottling the fragrances she made and writing labels for them.

"I see." He closed his eyes. "How sweet of you, despite you knowing what I know." He tried to rotate his arm. His breath caught in his throat as he did.

She turned back to him and frowned. "What good would it do me to get back at you?" she asked. Whether he believed her charade or not did not concern her. She only needed Sasori to believe her. He was the one that could kill her. However, she was sure Sasori did not care that much about him. "Had I done it, it would not have worked in my favor in the long run."

He narrowed his eyes. For a split second, he wondered if Sasori would even bother to kill her if she had poisoned him. He leaned back in the chair, deciding it was not worth it to push it. "Sasori has painkillers in the cabinet. Give me two," he demanded lazily.

She nodded and got up to head over to the cabinet, looking for the painkillers he mentioned. Once she found them, she poured two into her hand and replaced the bottle. "I will get you water," she said softly, handing him the two pills. She grabbed a glass and filled it with water then set it down next to him before sitting back down in her seat. She moved all of the bottles aside to let them cool.

"Yeah, no, I can get it myself," he said to her, very slowly standing up. He grunted in pain as he crossed over to pour himself water in a new teacup. He knocked back the pills and closed his eyes. "These are going to feel great in a few minutes."

She chuckled softly at his blatant distrust for her, resting her chin on her hand as she leaned against the worktable. "I am sure the shawarma you are about to get will help as well." She knew there was no way to avoid suspicion so she played it off as best she could.

He grunted again in slight agreement. He did love shawarma. He sat back down on the chair and deflated. "Fuck, this hurts." He could not wait for the painkillers to kick in.

"Yes, falling from another floor tends to hurt," she hummed, closing each of the bottles and setting them on a tray to take them out front. She looked at him and noticed he was slumped in the chair, just holding the ice pack. "Put the ice pack to your head," she sighed.

He begrudgingly did as he was told, knowing full well it would feel amazing. "You really know how to run your mouth," he murmured.

"I see it more as agreeing with you," she said as she set up everything for another batch of fragrances. "But take it as you wish."

"I hope you don't think this little incident will deter me from telling him," he said after a minute. He started to feel lightheaded and the pain began to dilute.

She turned to look at him, not saying anything for a moment. "Then should I think of something else?" she smirked. She knew that he knew that she poisoned him. However, if he told Sasori, there was a good chance he would not even believe him.

Komushi's face twisted into a sneer. He pushed himself up and pushed her back hard into the edge of the table. "You're really pushing your luck with me, Little Snake," he whispered, looking into her eyes as he leaned in close. He slid his hand up her throat and traced his fingertips along her jaw to tilt her lips to his. Their lips brushed as he spoke again. "But I'm patient," his voice was low as he spoke. He licked her lip just as they heard Sasori and Gaara return.

"You fucking..." Gaara growled, nearly dropping the food when he saw them.

Komushi turned his head, flashing a toothy grin. "Look, your desert prince has returned." Gaara put the food down and slammed a fist into Komushi's bad arm.

Azumi gasped, processing everything that just happened as she backed away from both Gaara and Komushi, wiping her mouth.

Sasori looked at her and frowned. "How many of those pills did he take?" he asked. He could see immediately that Komushi was high on painkillers.

"Two," she groaned. "That is how many he asked for."

Gaara growled again, knocking Komushi to the ground hard. "You idiot," Sasori huffed. "One. I don't know how many times I need to tell you that." He rolled his eyes. He did not even bat an eye as Gaara started to punch Komushi hard and repeatedly in the gut. He looked back at Azumi. "He licked you, didn't he?" he asked her, moving to the cabinet with the pills to pull a bottle out. "Here." She took the bottle and went to the counter at the front of the shop to clean her entire face. There was a dumb laugh coming from Komushi on the ground. He was very high off of the pills. The laugh only spurred Gaara's rage. His punches came down harder. Sasori looked over at them for a moment and sighed. "I'm surrounded by children. He walked over to Azumi to give her a once over. "Did he do anything else?"

"No," she said softly. "Had you and Lord Gaara not come in at the moment you did, he would have," she huffed, pouring a little of the liquid onto a cloth and wiping her mouth. Her disgust with Komushi only grew more. Especially when she thought about what he would do to her if he was given even the slightest chance. She started to feel more nauseous than before. "I am going to vomit," she groaned, putting her head on the counter.

Sasori clicked his teeth and pulled a vile out of the cabinet. "No, you aren't." He shoved the vile under her nose and grabbed a bin. "At least not on my counter, you aren't." He pulled her to the floor with him and pulled her into his lap, leaning her over the bin. "You're being a little dramatic now."

"I have been feeling nauseous all day," she sighed, grabbing onto the bin and inhaling the contents of the bottle and exhaling slowly. She almost felt like she was going to actually vomit but a quiet groan forced it back down. She leaned up, inhaling the bottle again. Sasori rolled his eyes a little but started to rub her back. He was starting to worry something was actually wrong with her. He considered for a moment that the food and atmosphere were starting to catch up with her. The region they were in was presumably very different from where she originated. Drastic changes like that could make a person very sick. On top of that, he had two literal children fighting in the back. She cleared her throat and took the bottle from him, keeping it under her nose. "I will be fine," she groaned. She moved to sit against the counter instead of against his chest, pulling the bin toward her. "You should deal with your pet scarab," she said, looking at Komushi taking every punch from Gaara with a grin.

Sasori groaned lowly. "I guess I should." He pulled himself from the floor slowly. Crossing the room, he wrenched Gaara back by the scruff of his neck. "Go take a walk." He pushed Gaara back.

Gaara's mouth twisted into a snarl. "Why! He deserves it!" Gaara pushed off the ground, prepared to step on Komushi with his full weight.

"Well, aside from me not wanting to deal with another dead body, he's knocked out again and I can't see that being very for filling for you," he deadpanned.

Gaara's eyes snapped down to the sleeping, bruised man. He clicked his tongue and turned on his foot, heading out to the front. He stopped at the counter and looked down at Azumi. He kneeled next to her. "Are you alright?" he asked her softly.

She nodded, keeping the bottle close to her face. "He did not do much else to me," she said. She stood up slowly. "It seems to put him to sleep in intervals," she said. "I wonder how long it lasts."

"Seems so. Hopefully, it's a permanent effect. Fucking bastard," he spat.

Sasori poked his head out. "I said take a walk. I can tend to my slave," he drawled with a warning in his tone. Gaara sighed and turned to leave. Azumi went back into the workshop. She looked down at Komushi and scoffed, stepping on him to cross the room to brew more tea to help with her nausea. Sasori snorted, watching her step on Komushi. He sighed, stooping to pull one of Komushi's arms over his shoulders and up off the floor. He pushed him back into the seat he had been in earlier. "We'll close the shop for the day once you're done with that tea," he said to her.

She nodded and sat down in her usual stool. "I take it he is usually like that when he gets high," she huffed, getting her cup ready once she heard the water begin to boil.

"His behavior is pretty standard, yes," he nodded. "The almost kiss and lick included. If it assures you, he's tried to do it to me several times on the grounds that my lips 'look very soft,'" he air quoted.

She hummed, pouring her tea into her cup. "They are," she said, more to herself. There have been enough times where he got close enough to her for her to be able to attest to that fact.

The corner of his mouth ticked up in a smirk. He sat down on his stool and leaned against the railing. "If this nausea persists, I'll have to do something about it," he hummed. " you get your period?" he asked her, suddenly perking up.

"," she said. She took a sip of her tea. "I suppose that is what is happening," she hummed.

He groaned and stood up again. He started to grab several jars. "What are your usual symptoms?"

"Headaches, nausea, cramps that incapacitate me for almost a day." She hummed in thought. "I tend to crave lokum..."

"Lokum?" he chuckled. "Okay, all of this is pretty standard. He started to grind up herbs into a fine powder. "You'll take this as soon as you think it's starting. Mix it into your tea."

She watched as he ground up the powder and placed it into a small container. He handed the container to her and she set it down on the worktable next to her. "Thank you," she said softly and then downed the rest of her tea.

"Mei has really nasty periods. I just made you what I usually make her," he shrugged. "I'll adjust it to what you need if that doesn't work for you."

"Right..." she hummed, nodding a little. She did not care about Mei or her periods. She knew the source of her nausea. She stood up from her stool and picked up the container again. "Are you going to leave him here?" she asked, gesturing to Komushi.

He squinted hard. So hard his eyes closed. "No," he sighed. "We'll have to bring him home," he ran a hand through his hair.

"We are taking him?" she asked with a groan. The last thing she wanted was to deal with him longer. Taking him home would mean she would have to keep an eye on him to make sure he did not reveal anything to Sasori about what he saw the night before. They heard Gaara walk back into the shop.

"We'll have to," Sasori shrugged. "I don't want to but no one from his house will come to get him and I'm not in the mood to have him wake up here. Too many risks that he'll destroy something." He rolled his eyes.

"I suppose," she grumbled.

Gaara walked into the workshop and barely spared Komushi a glance. "Help me get this asshole to my house," Sasori told him.

"I'll get the rope," Gaara huffed. He gripped the counter and squatted low to open a cabinet.

"We aren't dragging him," Sasori said with finality. "We can carry him. You take one arm and I'll take the other."

"I suppose we could be humane about it," Gaara sighed as he stood up straight. Azumi stifled a laugh at how the roles briefly switched. As Gaara and Sasori picked Komushi up, she gathered everything that Sasori usually took home when they closed the shop. She quickly cleaned everything up and locked up the front then met them at the back door to walk home with them. The walk home was long and hot. By the time they reached the mansion, both men were drenched in uncomfortable sticky sweat.

"I swear he got heavier," Gaara grunted as they threw Komushi down onto the bed.

Sasori pressed his hand hard into Komushi's back to keep him from bouncing off the bed. "He might have." He wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead. "He's not worth this fucking effort. We all need baths now."

Without missing a beat, Azumi went straight into the bathroom and started running both baths. Assuming Sasori was going to make Gaara use the one she usually used, she used different salts and oils than what she normally would use for herself. If there was no time to rerun the bath for herself when Gaara was finished, she did not mind using those scents as well. If she was honest with herself, she would have preferred to bathe somewhere else in the house while they bathed in Sasori's bathroom.

"All three of us are going to bathe together?" Gaara asked, a bit surprised.

Sasori did not miss the hurried way Azumi ran off. "No, you're going to bathe with me and Azumi can use Chiyo's bath." He folded his arms. He was not going to let that happiness happen on his watch.

Azumi nodded as she walked back into the room with her usual salt and oils in her hands. "That is what I figured," she said. 'A private bath!' She was ready to live this small luxury.

"There are fresh towels over there for you to use," Sasori told her.

"Come on, Naga," she whispered excitedly as she walked to the door. Naga, who had been coiled up on the daybed the entire day, followed her quickly as she made her way to the other side of the mansion to bathe. 'It is going to be so quiet!'

Gaara and Sasori settled into their baths, enjoying them in silence. About fifteen blissful minutes of peace went by before they heard the unfortunate sound of an even more unfortunate creature groan.

"Your gremlin is awake," Gaara grumbled.

Sasori sighed heavily, sinking lower into his tub and hoping that Komushi would not call for him.

"Sasoriiii," Komushi whined like a helpless child, earning a groan from Sasori. A moment later, Komushi entered the bathroom. "Aw, you're bathing without me?"

Like the cousins they were, Sasori and Gaara drew in a long-suffering breath. "Just get in the pool," Sasori ordered. "The water is still warm enough."

Komushi was already stripping as Sasori spoke. Gaara let out another groan as he was joined in the pool by Komushi and moved to the other side to be as far away from him as possible. Komushi sighed loudly as he sunk into the water. "Ugh, this feels amazing," he moaned. "Wait." He perked up. "Where is the little snake?" Gaara's eyes narrowed.

"You think I would force her to deal with you and have a naked Gaara in one go?" Sasori muttered. "Not a chance."

Komushi pouted, sinking lower into the water. His gaze fell upon Gaara and he smirked.

"Stop looking at me," Gaara grumbled. Sasori sighed, ignoring the two children in the other bath. Gaara sighed and stood up a few minutes later. "I'll go check on Azumi," he said, walking over to dry off.

Sasori snorted. "You can sit back down," he said with a lazy command. Gaara frowned at him. "She's grown enough to not die in a bath. Unlike you two." Gaara nearly sputtered and Komushi chuckled into the water then looked at Sasori just offended. Gaara rolled his eyes, drying off and moving to the bedroom to sit and wait for everyone to finish their baths.

"Thanks for bringing me here," Komushi said, relaxing more in the pool now that he was in it alone. "You really do care," he smirked.

"Don't get it wrong," Sasori said. "I didn't want you in my shop unsupervised."

"It's okay," Komushi chuckled. "You don't need to hurt yourself. Whatever you want to say, I know you care," he grinned.

Sasori rolled his eyes and started to get out of his tub. "You get dumber every day," he grumbled. "You know where everything is. Just meet us in the room when you're done." He dried off and pulled on his robe.

Komushi's pout returned full force. "You're leaving me?"

"I've been in the water for a while," Sasori said, leaving the bathroom before Komushi could say anything else. He let out a sigh, enjoying the feeling of being clean and laid out on his bed. "Now that he's awake we can get rid of him," he hummed.

"But how?" Gaara flopped back next to his cousin. "He's going to want to hang out."

"Easily," Sasori grinned devilishly.

"Absolutely not," Gaara deadpanned. "I will not walk him home."

"Why not?" Sasori smirked. "It's on the way to yours."

"Except it's not," Gaara scoffed. "I live in the opposite direction. Remember, I live on my own now?"

Sasori clicked his tongue. "That's right." He, in all honesty, had forgotten his little cousin had moved out. "Well, I'll just get the servants to take him I guess." He rolled his eyes. He did not like having them leave the house if it was not with him because Chiyo had given them too much freedom in the past and they took forever to return to their posts.

"Since neither of us wants to do it, that might be the best idea," Gaara muttered. A few minutes went by as they waited in silence.

Komushi emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist and laid down on the daybed. "That bath smelled good," he hummed. He was starting to feel tired again. Slowly, he could feel himself about to fall asleep.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Sasori snapped, kicking Komushi off of the daybed. Except, it was too late. He was snoring again. "Fucking..." Sasori's rage flared then simmered almost instantly. "I don't have time for him to have some weird sleeping sickness!" He rubbed his face. "We need to check him for bites. This isn't acting like any poison I know." He ground his teeth.

"Or maybe your best friend's a narcoleptic now," Gaara sighed. "Can't be good for the mischief you two like to cause."

"I can cause mischief with or without him," Sasori scoffed. "We'll take samples from him to test and as soon as he wakes up, we send him home."

"And if he falls asleep on the way there?"

"Not my problem." Gaara shook his head and walked over to the workshop to grab what was need to take samples. Sasori clicked his teeth again. Gaara had moved too fast and now he was saddled with moving the sleeping ass back onto the daybed. "You owe me," he muttered, hoisting Komushi up and back onto the hard cushion. Gaara came back with all of the tools he needed and handed them to Sasori. Sasori looked at the tools and then at Gaara. "You're the doctor," he said.

"He's your best friend," Gaara countered with a smirk. Sasori scoffed and handed one of the tools back to Gaara so they could get the samples at the same time and get it over with.

Once they were taken and tucked away in the workshop, Sasori walked to the door. "I'll be right back," he sighed. He made his way over to Azumi first. With no announcement or warning, he walked into his grandmother's bath. "Out," he ordered, finding his slave all too blissfully enjoying her alone time with Naga.

Azumi groaned, sinking below the surface of the water at the same time that Naga let out a dramatic whiny hiss. Sasori rolled his eyes at their reactions. "It was nice while it lasted," she muttered to herself as she came up and moved to get out of the tub. As she stepped out and wrapped the towel around herself, Naga moved to coil around her. "Did he wake up?" she asked.

"He did. Long enough to be annoying and now he's asleep again." There was the smallest hint of concern in his tone. It was a bit amusing to Azumi to see Sasori sound concerned. "We took samples so you and I will be up late running some tests. I'm not dealing with this for the rest of his life," he said, turning on his foot to leave.

'But I do not want to test his samples!' Azumi thought, resisting the urge to act like an actual child. She did not care what happened to Komushi. She quickly got dressed and gathered her things to put back into Sasori's bathroom then followed him across the mansion to his side. She noticed Komushi was still in his towel which meant he was awake long enough to take a bath. She put her things back where they belonged then approached Komushi, pulling his eyelids back and chuckled softly. "Can we draw on him?" she asked.

" know what, sure," Sasori chuckled. "He deserves at least that after getting himself poisoned." He rolled his eyes.

Gaara blinked, a little surprised but grinned, walking over to grab Sasori's makeup for Azumi. "Think you can make him sort of easy to look at?" he teased.

"I can try my best," she chuckled. She took the makeup Gaara handed her and straddled Komushi's stomach. Looking through what she had to work with, she grinned wide. "How mad do you think he would be if we plucked his eyebrows?"

"Do it!" both men said in unison.

"We've been trying to get him to do it for years!" Gaara giggled.

"This may be the only time we can get him to stay still enough," Sasori snorted.

Azumi chuckled and leaned in close, starting her masterpiece on Komushi's face. She began with his eyebrows, making them significantly less thick then moved on to his eyes, finding colors that worked for him and matched what he usually wore. The whole process took about ten minutes as she got lost in her work. "You are going to be the most beautiful lady at the party," she hummed softly as she winged out eyeliner on his eyes. "And you will definitely find a husband." She leaned back, taking in her work. "I think I am done here."

Sasori and Gaara were fighting back tears of laughter. They both leaned in to take in her work. "Oh yes. The men will trip over themselves to get to him," Sasori said through strangled laughter.

"I can't..." A tear escaped Gaara's eye. "His eyebrows...he actually looks nice," he wheezed.

"Of course he does," Azumi smirked. "I take great pride in my work. You have seen how I do my makeup." She looked down at Komushi, adding a couple of finishing touches. Komushi let out a soft groan, his face scrunching up a little. "Oh," she hummed, realizing he was waking up.

His hands started to slip up her thighs. He squeezed his fingers around the thickest part and hummed. "I've died," he mumbled. "And gone straight to heaven." He smiled dreamily. He cracked his eyes open just as a hand came flying in fast to flick between his eyes hard. "What the fuck, Gaara!"

"You're such a predator!" Gaara snapped.

Azumi quickly got off of Komushi, standing next to Sasori as Komushi sat up. She watched as he lifted his hand to rub his eyes and she gasped. "No, you will ruin my work," she growled.

Komushi paused to give her a confused look. "Your work?" He looked at Sasori and Gaara for an explanation.

Sasori smirked and Gaara was still rolling his eyes. "Go look at yourself," Sasori told him.

Komushi's confused look did not move as he got up and went to the bathroom to look at what they were talking about. A chorus of stifled laughs came from the other three as they awaited his reaction.

"He better appreciate it, he looks great," Azumi muttered, folding her arms.

After a solid minute of silence, the cry of "MY EYEBROWS!" echoed into the room. "What have you dooooone!" He ran back into the room, a hand dramatically thrown over his forehead. "They have been sculpted! My boyish thick charm."

"Boyish for sure," both Gaara and Sasori grumbled.

"Charm?" Azumi asked, raising an eyebrow. "I did you a service," she scoffed.

He pouted, folding his arms. "Well," he snapped. "At least I look better than these two mudpies now." He stuck his nose in the air. "This shade is perfect for my eyes. Thank you, Azumi, for knowing me so well!"

"You are welcome," she smirked. "I will give you a tattoo next but before you fall asleep again, what do you want? I can only do snakes," she laughed. Gaara snickered again behind his hand.

Komushi's eyes widened in horror. "How could you, Azumi!" he sighed.

"You're not giving him a tattoo," Sasori said.

Komushi held a hand up to Sasori. "No, if she wants to touch me that bad, then let her."

Sasori sucked his teeth loudly and grabbed Komushi by the ear. "That's it!" he growled, tugging him into the workshop.

Gaara's eyes widened as he drifted over to Azumi. " he actually getting in trouble?" he hummed in her ear softly.

"It looks like it," she said as they watched the other two disappear. They sat down on the daybed together and listened for what was happening. "It is about time," she said. "Lord Sasori has warned him enough times and he has only gotten worse. I slapped him once and each time after that, he has gotten bolder with how he touches me."

Gaara slipped his hand into hers and squeezed it. He glanced at the workshop and risked pressing a kiss to her knuckles. "Maybe now he'll get it through his thick head he can't do as he pleases."

In the workshop, Sasori backed Komushi into a seat. "Who do you think you are?" he asked with a hiss to his voice.

Komushi was baffled by the sudden anger in his friend. "Your best friend?"

"Not for long if you keep pushing me the way you are!" Sasori snapped.

"What do you—"

"You know exactly what I mean," Sasori said. "There is a line between teasing and blatant sexual harassment. And you've crossed that line and kept going."

Komushi's lips twitched into a scowl. "It's not like you've cared in the past. And I haven't been that pushy!" he defended. "How would you react to finding a woman as beautiful as her straddling you the minute you woke up?"

"You've been extremely pushy. You've never gone this far with other slaves," Sasori said. "I feel like I need to keep you on a leash and five feet away from her at all times."

Komushi's nose wrinkled. "You're very overprotective of her." He circumvented everything Sasori said.

"Well, I own her and you're bothering my property so I don't see how that's remotely surprising."

In the room, Azumi and Gaara tensed up as they listened to the conversation, hoping Komushi would not bring up Gaara and how he saw them at the club the night before.

"You should be having this conversation with your—" Komushi cut himself off, feeling tired again. "What the fuck is happening to me?" he mumbled.

"I don't know but we're going to run some tests," Sasori said when Komushi's eyes started drooping once more.

"This is" He yawned and was soon asleep.

Sasori caught him as his body tip forward. "You and me both," he grumbled. "Gaara, help me get him to Chiyo's room. He can sleep there for now. I'm not letting him sleep in my room," he called from the workshop.

Gaara slid his hand out of hers quickly. "He only knows how to be annoying. That's his only talent," he grumbled, taking long steps to the workshop. Once he was finally in there, they each took one of Komushi's arms and lifted him out of the chair. They walked out of the workshop and started carrying him to the other side of the mansion to Chiyo's room. Azumi followed them, bringing the clothes he left in Sasori's bathroom. "Are you going to dress him?" Gaara asked Sasori.

"He's can dress himself when he wakes up," Sasori grumbled.

"That towel is very secure," Azumi hummed, trying not to laugh.

Sasori grunted in acknowledgment. They laid Komushi out in the bed. "Let's go. I'm tired of dealing with him." He ran a hand through his hair. "He's not worth all this effort. Let's go start those tests."

Azumi folded up Komushi's clothes and set them next to him before following them back to Sasori's room. The three of them went into the workshop and Sasori took out the samples that were taken from Komushi earlier. "Maybe he is just narcoleptic now," Azumi hummed, repeating what Gaara said earlier.

Gaara frowned, looking over their samples. "It can happen," he hummed. "But it's not common." He did not care much about Komushi but his duty as a doctor told him he needed to at least pretend to help. "It doesn't run in his family either."

Azumi hummed, folding her arms. She knew what was wrong with Komushi but she was very curious as to what was in the stuff she gave him. She looked around at the samples they took and then grabbed the blood sample. She looked through a couple of drawers and cabinets, knowing for a fact that Sasori had a microscope somewhere. Once she found it in the back of a low cabinet and picked it up, she sneezed from how dusty it was. "I take it you never use this," she chuckled.

Sasori looked over with a raised eyebrow. "No, I don't have a reason to most of the time. At least not here."

"We use the one at the shop more often," Gaara elaborated.

She set it up on a worktable and sat down in front of it, wiping it down before sliding the sample underneath it. She hummed softly as she inspected the sample, looking at what she poisoned Komushi with. 'Well, it entered his bloodstream very quickly,' she thought. 'Where did Utakata get this?' She lifted her head and found a piece of paper to write her observations down. She planned on asking Utakata about it at some later point.

Gaara and Sasori looked at each other then at Azumi. They both crept over to read her notes. "Do you perhaps know something about this poison?" Sasori asked, pulling a stool over.

Gaara's brow furrowed. "So it is a poison? You don't have anything like this in the shop?"

Sasori shook his head. "No, I don't," he frowned. He glanced at Azumi out of the corner of his eye. Could she have poisoned Komushi? She had the motive to—not that he blamed her—but where would she have gotten her hands on something like this?

"It is just as foreign to me as it is to you," she said. She pushed the microscope in front of Sasori. "It looks nothing like any poison or venom I have ever seen." She chuckled softly. "But it makes a pretty pattern." Gaara chuckled a little at the comment of the poison's aesthetics.

Sasori hummed as he pressed his eye to the glass and nodded. "This...could have come from an insect." His brows furrowed harder. A hard line pressed between them and he shook his head. "Only that idiot would contract something so irritating. If we can figure out the type of insect I can make anti-venom."

"That's only assuming it is an insect," Gaara commented, taking the microscope from his cousin to take a look at the sample.

"There are not many insects that I know of that are poisonous or venomous in the desert," Azumi hummed. "It could be another arachnid like a spider. And in that case," she smirked at Sasori, "that would be your area. Spiders are basically a scorpion's cousins. Like lizards are a snake's."

Sasori's nose wrinkled. "I don't like spiders," he mumbled. He looked at the poison again then sighed as he got up to get a book off of the shelf. He put the large tome down on the desk and turned to a section of spiders. They scanned the pages, looking at the examples of different patterns that each venom composition made. After a couple of minutes of it, Sasori found it. "Brown recluse," he said, tapping the section.

"Ugh," Azumi groaned, unable to suppress the shudder that went up her spine.

Gaara's eyes widened. "How the hell?" he asked, looking back at the microscope. "Those aren't native to this area."

"No, they aren't," Sasori frowned. "Which means it's going to be very difficult to make antivenom." He paused in deep thought. A low whine escaped his throat in the silence. "There is...that cave."

Gaara grimaced. "That place is infested!" he shuddered.

"I do not want to deal with spiders," Azumi whined. "Arachnids are gross."

"Whoa, watch it," Sasori warned.

"Is he even worth any of that?"

Sasori pouted, drumming his fingers on the books.

"Ugh," Gaara huffed. "You owe me," he told Sasori. "I'll go." He was willing to sacrifice himself so Azumi would not have to.

"You should not have to," Azumi said. "Let him be a narcoleptic for the rest of his life. It is not like he is dying."

"Yeah, but I use him for stuff," Sasori whined. "Otherwise, I get bored."

"Gods forbid you're bored," Gaara rolled his eyes, folding his arms.

Azumi groaned, tilting her head back. As she gave it a bit of thought, she realized she would rather let Komushi be used for Sasori's weird experiments than herself when he was bored. "Where is this cave?" she asked.

"Not far from the city," Sasori said. "We'll have to take a camel."

"We don't. You're just being a priss," Gaara countered with a smirk. "It's a ten-minute walk."

"And three minutes by camel."

"You're not even going into the cave."

"Doesn't mean I want to walk out there," Sasori sniffed with finality. "We still have to go out there together. But we should go at night. The spiders at more active and it's less hot." There was a collective sigh among the three of them and then they sat there in silence for a moment, contemplating if Komushi was worth traveling to a cave infested with brown recluses. While Azumi and Gaara agreed that he was not, Sasori's opinion made the decision. "Until the sun goes down, I will start on making the antivenom so the last ingredient we need is the venom from the spider."

Just the word 'spider' made Azumi shudder again. 'Disgusting,' she thought.

The moment the decision was made, it seemed like the sun was in a hurry to set. Sasori was still reluctant to go. He worked on the antidote slowly. Komushi was surprisingly still soundly asleep which was the only thing pushing Sasori to even go. This was the longest stint he had slept. "I'm going to check on him first. This will be all for nothing if he's dead." He started for the door. "I'll be right back," he told them.

As soon as he was gone, Azumi groaned again. "This is his best friend," she said. "He should be the one to do it."

"Yes, that's not remotely like Sasori at all," Gaara grumbled, bracing himself for the nasty job he was about to deal with. "Where would he have gotten bitten by one of those? He's such an idiot."

"Yes, he is an idiot, but you know he did not get bitten by one," she said. "This is the poison that Utakata gave me. I did not even put a lot of it into his tea so it is a bit surprising that it has lasted this long." She stood up and stretched hard. "I wonder how much longer it will last or if the only way to counteract it is with an antidote. On another note, it could have been so much worse for him. He is lucky that falling in and out of sleep is all that this poison is doing to him."

Gaara's head whipped around. "THAT'S what Utakata gave you!" He blinked wide-eyed. "I didn't think he'd give you something so strong! You could easily have killed both of them!" Gaara's heart picked up a little. "You...still could," he said softly. "No one would ever know." He said the words but instantly felt a sick sensation at the very thought of killing his cousin. Could he be just as bad as Sasori?

She looked at him and smirked, reaching a hand out to run her fingers through his hair. "That would be entirely too suspicious," she said. "As if this was not suspicious enough. Plus, it would not be satisfying to kill them both with a poison. That is your cousin's game, not mine."

He sighed, leaning into her hand. He ached to hold her again. "I know," he pouted a little. "It's just so easy. The tools are right there but you're right." He slipped his hand once more into her free one, gently rubbing his thumb over the back of hers. "It would attract a lot of attention."

She gripped his hair gently to tilt his face up and kiss him. "This poison was only given to me by Utakata to keep him from bothering me for a while," she said. "I do not intend to kill either of them." She kissed him again. "At least not yet," she said against his lips.

He smiled slightly, pushing back into the kiss. "I will have to personally thank him then." He kissed her again then pulled away. "You don't think Utakata has an antidote, does he?"

"Ooh, he might," she hummed. "But...I think it is a bit funny to see how far Lord Sasori is willing to go for his best friend. To see how much he cares is interesting."

"You're pretty evil," Gaara chuckled. He kissed her cheek once more just as they heard Sasori coming up the hall. Gaara pulled away, putting a healthy distance between them.

"He's still knocked out," Sasori rolled his eyes. "Let's go."

Azumi grabbed the vile that they were going to collect the spider venom in and Sasori grabbed the container he started the antidote in. The three of them left the room and went to the front of the mansion. "Do you have camels or do you have to go to stables here?" Azumi asked.

"We have them," Sasori said as he rolled his eyes. "The stables are around back," he told them, heading out. Gaara rolled his eyes at her, flashing a smirk. The walk was not too long and the stables were absurdly large. Inside were stalls upon stalls of camels and horses.

Azumi smiled at the horses, walking up to one to pet it. "Hello," she said softly to it. "You are beautiful." She peeked around the horse, noticing all of its defined muscles. "And probably very strong," she hummed. Another horse made a noise, wanting attention. She walked up to it and pet it the same way. Then another horse made a noise and she went up to it.

Both redheads watched her move down to each horse. "We should take them instead," Gaara said softly to Sasori.

Sasori hummed softly, running a hand through his hair. "I suppose they are faster. But we only have one saddle right now."

"I'm fine riding bareback," Gaara smirked.

Azumi had moved to three more horses when she heard that. She shared a look with the horse she was petting and then whipped around with a quiet gasp. 'That is one of the sexiest things I have heard,' she thought.

"Fine," Sasori relented. "Azumi," he called out to her. "Can you ride bareback?"

"I...can," she said. 'It has been a very long time, though,' she thought. She went up to the horse that was the tamest when she pet it.

"Then you can ride with Gaara." Sasori waved his hand towards them as he readied his saddle.

Gaara walked up next to her and put his hand over hers. "Do you like this one?" he smiled at her.

"I do," she grinned. She watched as he opened the stall and walked the horse out. The horse remained calm and she moved her hand down the horse's body. "She is perfect."

"She seems to like you," Gaara smiled, walking into her stall to grab the reigns, bridle and bit.

"Hurry up, you two," Sasori said, riding past them on his horse. "Don't keep me waiting," he snapped. Gaara rolled his eyes and set up everything on the horse. He walked to the other side of the horse and helped Azumi onto it before climbing on himself. Then they met Sasori right outside the stables. The moment Sasori saw them riding up, he took off down the road towards the cave. "It won't take that long to get there," he said over his shoulder.

"For someone who doesn't want to deal with any of this," Gaara spoke lowly in her ear, "he sure is moving fast."

"He cares," she chuckled. They followed quickly after him. Just as Sasori predicted, they reached the cave quickly. The two horses stopped right outside the mouth of the cave. They stayed quiet for a moment, listening to the noises inside the cave. There was the sound of the entire world's population of brown recluses moving around inside. Azumi shuddered again. "It is not worth it," she groaned.

Gaara chuckled, kissing the back of her neck. "Good thing you two are staying out here then," he smirked, halting the horse.

Sasori circled his horse back around to stand next to Azumi and Gaara's. "Well, if you die in there, at least you were doing it for science," Sasori smirked. "And you got to ride with my very sought-after slave."

Gaara rolled his eyes as he slid off. "Be back soon," he promised, slipping his hand into Azumi's just long enough to squeeze it. He took what he needed off Sasori's horse and walked into the cave fearlessly.

Azumi and Sasori watched him disappear into the darkness. "You just sent your cousin to his death," she hissed at him.

"He volunteered," Sasori said, shaking his head. "Maybe...I'll have you make him something nice if he comes back."

Gaara was in there for nearly ten whole minutes. He looked around for the choicest spider to milk. Once he found it, he easily plucked it off a nest of webs and went about milking it into the vial he brought with him. Once he was done, he turned on his foot and walked back out like it was nothing.

Azumi gasped softly when she saw him emerge from the darkness. "You lived," she grinned.

"Try not to fall off the horse," Sasori sighed, noticing how far forward she was leaning.

Gaara chuckled, picking a few spiders out of his hair. "Don't sound so thrilled, Cousin," he teased.

Sasori rolled his eyes, jumping down from his horse. "Shut up or I'll make you travel back naked," he folded his arms.

'I would not complain about that,' Azumi thought.

"Arms up," Sasori said to Gaara. "I'm not risking you bringing any of those monsters home with us."

Gaara held his arms up and Sasori circled him, gently patting him down to look for any more spiders. He found one and pointed it out to Gaara. "You're not going to take it off of me?" Gaara chuckled.

"No," Sasori scoffed.

Gaara smirked and pulled the spider off of himself and any other ones that Sasori pointed out. Azumi chuckled softly, watching the interaction. Once he was sufficiently debugged, the cousins climbed back onto their respective horses. Sasori pulled ahead once more on the way home.

Gaara slowed down a bit behind him. He leaned in and kissed Azumi's shoulder. "Were you two okay out here?" he asked, wrapping his arms around her to keep her 'secure.'

"Yes," she said softly. "I only worried about you." She leaned back against him and checked to see if Sasori was looking at them. He seemed focused on getting back so she risked a kiss to Gaara's jaw.

He smiled, burying his face in her hair. "Thank you." He hugged her a little closer, kissing her cheek. "Let's hope that was enough to 'save' his precious princess," he chuckled. "Do you...want to meet up tonight?" he asked her softly as they approached the house.

"I would love to," she said just as softly. He got off of the horse first and then helped her down.

Sasori got off of his horse and took the spider venom from Gaara. He immediately started to mix it into the container he had with him that he started the antidote in. "Put the horses back and then meet me in Chiyo's room," he told them.

Azumi took the reins of Sasori's horse and started to walk it back to the stables. The horse she and Gaara rode on just followed. Sasori wasted no time in making his way back into the house, leaving her and Gaara alone.

Gaara raised an eyebrow. "Wow, he cares enough about Komushi to not care about us being left alone together," he chuckled. He waited for her to put the horses away before pulling her into a real, soft, heated kiss.

She hummed softly, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her body against his. "Let us just take every chance we get," she smirked, biting his lip.

"Agreed," he grinned, kissing her again as he laced his fingers into her hair. He used his other hand to press their bodies closer as they kissed. "With Komushi like this, he won't have a chance to say anything to Sasori. Maybe we should...sabotage the antidote," he said softly, cupping her face.

"Sabotage it?" she asked, placing her hands over his. "How so? He has already taken it to him. Chances are by the time we get there, he will have already administered it."

"You have more of the poison right?" He asked her. "We'll just dose the antidote too," he grinned. "Just enough to keep Komushi sick and Sasori worried. He'll be too distracted to pay attention to us and Komushi won't be able to stay awake long enough to say anything."

"And you called me evil," she chuckled. She kissed him again. "It is worth a shot." She pulled his hands from her face and kissed his knuckles. "Now, we should get back before he gets even more suspicious."

He gave her a devilish grin before kissing her once last time. He pushed a little more into it this time. "Is it evil when they are the ones who kill for fun?" he asked, walking back towards the house with her.

"Mm," she hummed through a chuckle. "I suppose you are right."

Chapter Text

Just as Sasori got the antidote into a syringe and was about to administer it to Komushi, he heard his cousin and slave walk into the room. “Took you long enough,” he grumbled.

“Sorry,” Gaara said with a shrug.

Sasori narrowed his eyes, shaking his head and then stuck Komushi in the arm. “Azumi, bottle the rest of the antidote and label it,” he said with a sigh. “We’ll have to observe him and see if there are any side effects.” Azumi nodded and took the container with the antidote from him then went to his workshop to bottle it. “I’m going to have someone come check on him every hour or so,” Sasori told Gaara. “If he wakes up on his own, then I’ll test him to see if it worked or if he’ll fall asleep again.” He dropped Komushi’s arm and stood up.

Gaara nodded, looking down at Komushi. “Only you would have this happen to you,” he said.

“We should probably check the shop for any more in case they are making a nest,” Sasori said with a shudder. “I’ll leave that to you, Gaara.”

“Of course.” The young doctor rolled his eyes. Sasori sighed and started heading towards his room and Gaara followed. “I didn’t think you cared this much for him,” Gaara said with a slight chuckle.

Sasori’s eye twitched. “Yeah, well,” he shrugged it off, “it would not look very good for the best friend of an apothecary shop owner to die of poisoning.”

“You can admit that you’re a human being sometimes, you know,” Gaara grumbled.

"That would hurt me just the same as saying I can be patient," Sasori scoffed.

"I forgot," Gaara smirked. "You take damage from admitting to being nice."

"Don't use that language around me."

“I don’t know how you’re a grown man,” Gaara scoffed. “This is the reason you’re still single.” He folded his arms.

Sasori narrowed his eyes. “No, I’m still single because no one has met my expectations!”

“They’re probably too high and nearly impossible,” Gaara said as they entered Sasori’s room. “Not all of us are willing to set ours in the dirt,” Sasori countered. “And it’s not like you’ve found yourself a wife. You seem to be content pushing the limits with my slave.”

Gaara paused. "I just treat her like a human," he defended. "Unlike your best friend who has no idea how to keep his hands to himself." He lied as best as he could. Azumi walked out of the workshop, drinking another cup of tea.

Sasori narrowed his eyes. He was not going to cover for Komushi. He could not now. Not after reaming him out for his behavior so publicly. However, Sasori was nothing if not prideful. “His hands, your eyes,” Sasori said as he cocked an eyebrow. “You speak so righteously about not owning her and yet the way you look at her says you’d like nothing more,” he snorted.

Gaara’s eyelids nearly flew off with how fast he was blinking. “You’re kidding me!” Gaara snarled. His temper flared for a moment. “You literally bought her! I’m not the one threatening people’s lives for just being a decent human being to another HUMAN BEING!” His voice raised. Sasori stood up, getting very close to Gaara.

“She is mine and I have every right to do what I want with her,” he hissed. “You nor Komushi have any say in what or how I treat her. You do not get to look at her,” he jabbed Gaara in the chest hard, “speak with her or so much as be in the same room with her unless I wish it! Because I allow her to be!” He pushed Gaara hard then his gaze snapped to Azumi. “Is that understood! You still live by my rules! Do not allow me to think I’ve given you too much leeway or I will take it all away!”

Azumi tried her best not to flinch but took a step back when he looked at her. She nodded, thinking for a moment that he found out that she went out with Gaara the night before. Then it dawned on her that she would have experienced something worse than him just yelling at them if he did find out. "Yes, Lord Sasori," she said softly, trying to hide her fear behind another sip of her tea.

Gaara’s body went stock still. It was taking every fiber of his being to not lunge at his cousin and slam his head hard into anything his body connected with. He clenched his jaw tightly, picturing the scene before his eyes.

Sasori glared at his property for a moment longer then nodded. He ignored the strong killing intent rolling off his younger cousin. It suddenly felt like there were two large cats vying for the top spot but Sasori knew well enough Gaara would never do anything.

“Best you leave now, Doctor,” he sneered the title. Gaara’s eye twitched. Without a word, Gaara nodded to Azumi politely, rage still boiling just below the surface, then turned to leave. His fists curling and uncurling as he did.

He shot her a nasty look as he rubbed his temples. “Don’t ask stupid questions,” he snapped. “Of course it is!”

She flinched again, watching him cross the room. " sorry," she mumbled, standing up. She went into the workshop and poured him a cup of tea.

He accepted the cup when she offered it to him. He took a sip then rolled his shoulders. “Stupid fools. Both of them!” he growled. “I’m getting really tired of people butting into my business and life!”

"That is understandable," she hummed. She watched him sit down and run a hand through his hair. She sighed and walked up behind him then started to rub his shoulders. "If it is any consolation..." she started, "at least he is not dead."

“Thank the gods for small miracles,” Sasori tried to grumble but it came out as a soft moan as she worked his shoulders. “I mean it, Azumi, I won’t let either of them touch you,” he warned.

She frowned and nodded even though he could not see her nod. “Right...” she said softly. She pressed harder into his muscles then moved between his shoulder blades.

He moaned softly, relaxing under her hands. “You tell me if Komushi tries anything again,” he told her. His voice lost some of its intensity but he meant it. “I don’t care how he drives off his own personal conquests. I need you focused on tasks at hand and having you skittish around him will be irritating.” He relaxed further.

She appreciated that he helped keep Komushi away from her. However, it bothered her that he was also keeping Gaara away from her. “Alright,” she said. She sighed softly and retracted her hands. “Would you like a proper massage before we run tests on Lord Komushi?”

Sasori stifled a pout when her hands disappeared. “No, let’s do that after the tests. I’ll just tense back up. Might as well go to bed as close to relaxed as I can for once in my life.” He ran a hand through his hair again as he stood up and went into his room. He paused to strip down and pulled on his robe before leaving the room. Azumi followed him, figuring that she was going to be stuck dealing with this all night and that she would not be able to sneak away to see Gaara. They made their way through the halls to the other side of the mansion. As they entered Chiyo’s room, Komushi was just waking up.

“How—“ Komushi went to speak but his throat was hoarse and dry.

“The longest you’ve been out so far,” Sasori told him. “Bring us some tea,” he told Azumi. “And water,” he added as he placed a hand on Komushi’s head and pulled back his eyelids to check his pupils. Azumi nodded and left to get tea and water.

“Have you figured out what’s happening?” Komushi rasped. He was pretty positive he was poisoned by Azumi, but he would not jump to the conclusion just yet.

“Not yet,” Sasori hummed and then pulled away. “I made an antidote so you should be awake for a while.”

“I trust you,” Komushi gave him a genuine smile. “You’ll figure this out.”

Sasori looked into his still done up eyes. He laughed softly, shaking his head. “You better. Who else do you know that could help you?” He chuckled as he went through the rest of the tests.

Komushi’s smile lingered. “No one half-decent. Or that really gives a shit about me,” he shrugged. “Guess we’re stuck with each other.”

“Yeah, I guess so, too,” Sasori sighed.

Azumi returned with a tray with tea and water. She walked up to Komushi and set the tray down next to him. She would have handed him the cup but she was unsure if he still did not trust her. Not that she would blame him. She definitely poisoned him. Komushi did indeed tense up when she set the tray down. He watched her intently as she poured out the tea in plain view. Sasori held his hand out for the cup first with a slight eye roll. Komushi watched him take a sip first. They sat for a few minutes and when Sasori was fine he refilled the cup and handed it to Komushi. 'Wow,' Azumi thought, rolling her eyes. She moved to stand behind Sasori as he continued his tests on Komushi. She watched him, considering the idea of being nice and helping him wipe off his makeup but opting not to and letting him continue to look like a pretty fool. Instead, she poured another cup of tea.

"Let me know if you're starting to feel tired again," Sasori told Komushi.

Komushi nodded and went to rub his eyes when he stopped himself. “I’m still wearing makeup, aren’t I?” he sighed.

Sasori shook his head. “Nope,” he lied.

“I’m convinced you’re a compulsive liar,” Komushi sighed. “I can feel it on my face.”

“If you knew then why did you ask?” Sasori countered.

"I trusted you to tell me the truth," Komushi smirked.

Azumi sighed softly and went into the bathroom, finding a small cloth and a bottle of micellar water. She came back out, wetting the cloth a little bit and handed it to Komushi. "You can remove it if you wish," she said.

“But then how will I find a husband?” Komushi chuckled as he took the offered cloth. “You don’t seem too pleased that I want to remove your work.”

“I think she just wants you to shut up about it,” Sasori said as he pinched his friend’s arm hard. “Besides, who wants to look at such an ugly mug?” he grinned.

Komushi yelped, rubbing his arm hard. “You do!” he pouted.

"It got a little ruined when you slept on it anyway," Azumi said, folding her arms. "And if you end up falling asleep again, it is not good to sleep with makeup on your face. I will not be responsible for your face breaking out. Go ahead and wipe it off."

“Yes, ma’am,” Komushi chuckled as he started to wipe his face. Sasori finished up his tests and stood up. “So how am I, Doc?”

“You seem to be fine...for now. But as I said, if you start to feel tired again or off, tell me right away.”

"Will do," Komushi grinned. He was not doing a great job with wiping his makeup off so Azumi grabbed a small mirror to hold in front of him so he could watch himself ruin her work.

“Oh, thanks,” he chuckled, finally able to properly wipe away the black and brown smudges he had made of her work. “Jeez, this kohl stuff really sticks. No wonder Gaara uses it.” He rolled his eye up to wipe the eyeliner away as best he could.

Sasori smirked. “That stuff’s going to linger for a few days,” he teased. “Most people just clean it up and reapply it.”

"It took a week of washing my face in a river to remove it when I was being brought here," Azumi said softly. "But what you are using right now should get it off in a couple of days." Once he got off what he could, she put the mirror back where she found it.

“You should let her wear makeup,” Komushi pursed his lips at Sasori.

Sasori gave him a blank look. “No,” he deadpanned. “It’s a waste of time and I need her energy focused on more important things.”

Komushi clicked his tongue. “Can you make your own cosmetics?” Komushi asked Azumi. Sasori would not have been remotely surprised if she said yes but he was still curious to know.

"I can make some things," she said softly. "Mainly eyeliners and eyeshadows. But I do not want to waste his resources on that."

“Aw, come on, Sasori! Let the lady make and wear makeup! Women love that stuff and there are enough men in this city who are always looking for quality kohl.”

Sasori shook his head, running a hand down his face. “I’ll consider it,” he said with a tone of finality. “I’m an apothecary, not a general store.”

"In his defense, he has let me wear makeup and he has given me a box of makeup to keep," she said. "I am fine with only wearing it to parties. I do not need to wear it every day."

“So shut up and keep your nose in your own business,” Sasori folded his arms over his chest, giving Komushi a pointed look.

The other man held his hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright,” he chuckled. His stomach growled loudly suddenly.

Sasori sighed. “I guess we should feed you,” he grumbled.

Komushi grinned sheepishly. “Being poisoned sure takes a toll on you,” he laughed again.

"Can you move?" Sasori asked. Komushi nodded and got up from the bed. His body felt stiff from all of the sleeping he had done. He stretched hard, feeling his back crack.

Azumi winced, hearing the sound go up his whole spine. 'I bet that felt amazing,' she thought. It was confirmed by the audible moan Komushi let out.

"We'll head to the kitchen then," Sasori said.

The trio made their way down to the kitchen. The other servants had made enough food for all of the expected guests in the house but since Gaara had left there was a little extra. Komushi took a deep breath and his stomach roared. “This is going to be amazing,” he groaned, honing in on the food quickly.

"Have at it," Sasori said. Without missing a beat, Komushi sat down and started serving himself. "With civility," Sasori sighed.

"Why?" Komushi asked. "It's just you here," he laughed. Sasori shook his head as he sat down at the table as well and began to serve himself. “Come join us!” Komushi said to Azumi when she did not sit down with them.

Sasori rolled his eyes, sighing in irritation. “You may sit,” he told her stiffly, glaring at Komushi.

“Oh, save the glare. Where was she supposed to eat otherwise?” He shoved food into his mouth. Sasori could not answer that. He never made her eat with the other servants. Azumi sat down next to Sasori and started to serve herself. “Where’s Gaara?” Komushi asked, remembering he was around the last time he woke up.

“He went home for the night,” Sasori said easily. “He and I had a talk just like you and I had. You both have been pushing my buttons and boundaries.”

Komushi’s eyebrows shot up. He looked at Azumi. “I see,” he as he narrowed his eyes. He smirked darkly at Azumi. Sasori’s eye twitched and he smacked the back of Komushi's head. Azumi frowned, looking away from Komushi to start eating. She had not yet dosed the antidote with the poison but if he was going to give her any more problems, she would not hesitate to poison him again. Komushi’s smirk barely wavered as he began to eat again.

“I swear, I will kick you out!” Sasori huffed. “You’ve baited me enough today.”

“Calm yourself, friend,” Komushi chuckled. “I’m not in the mood to die just yet. Though, winning over Azumi would be a noble death.” He winked at her.

Azumi’s brow furrowed. “As if,” she scoffed quietly. “You will die unhappy if that is your goal.”

“Ouch!” Komushi winced, chuckling. “You’d be surprised. I’m full of secrets and tricks.”

“Komushi, this is your final warning,” Sasori growled lowly.

“Right, right,” he smirked. “The ‘boundaries,’” he said in a mocking tone.

“It would be in your best interest to grasp that concept very soon,” Sasori told him.

“You two are so alike,” Komushi smiled at them. “So demanding and authoritative,” he mocked.

"It proves that she is competent enough," Sasori said.

"Minus the killing, the work I do with Lord Sasori is similar to the work I did back in my village," Azumi told Komushi.

"Only proves my point further," Komushi smirked. They ate dinner with less hostile and more comfortable conversation for a change. As they finished up, Komushi stretched contently. “We should eat like this more often.”

“No,” Sasori deadpanned. “And before you start pouting, I don’t need people over my house every week while I am trying to work!”

"Ugh, you're such a hermit," Komushi smirked.

"Not everyone has the drive to go out to a club every night," Sasori muttered.

'Every night?' Azumi thought.

"I don't go every night," Komushi chuckled. "Just most nights."

“Yeah, you and Kankuro. And you know who else has their own designated booths?” Sasori raised an eyebrow with pursed lips. “You and Kankuro.”

Komushi said the statement with Sasori a little glumly. “It gets boring at home and you’re always so busy,” he said as he folded his arms.

“I’m sorry I’m a functioning adult,” Sasori rolled his eyes.

"I'm a functioning adult, too," Komushi pouted.

"Could've fooled me," Sasori scoffed. "Look at the situation you're in now. I have to talk to you like a child and you got yourself poisoned."

“You just like to baby me. Which is your own issue and what was I even poisoned by?” Komushi shot a very indiscreet glare at Azumi once more.

“I don’t do anything unwarranted. You act like a baby and I treat you as such.” Sasori folded his hands. “As for your poisoning, you were apparently somehow bitten by a brown recluse spider.”

"Is that what it was?" Komushi asked, very skeptical. "Those aren't native to this area. Where would I even have come across one?"

“There is a cave not too far from the city. I’m theorizing one of the customers brought it in with them. In all honesty, it was probably Kenzou. I don’t know why he would be near a cave like that but he’s the only traveler we’ve had in a long while.”

"That place?" Komushi shuddered. "Gross." He was surprised there was a plausible reason for his poisoning even though he was certain that Azumi poisoned him. She even admitted it to his face but that could have easily been a joke and a plot to get him in trouble with Sasori. "I see," he hummed.

Sasori nodded in agreement. “I’m surprised they haven’t sent someone out there to destroy it.” He sighed, standing up.

Komushi hummed, still eyeing Azumi from the corner of his eye. He was not going to let this rest easily. “How neat and tidy,” he muttered under his breath. This was not sitting right in his gut at all.

“You’re staying the night by the way,” Sasori told him, snapping him out of his thoughts.

Komushi blinked wide and his usual grin returned. “My sweet guardian wants to keep me close.” He batted his lashes.

“Well, I still have to run tests on you,” Sasori muttered. “There is still a chance of you falling asleep again.”

“Ugh, you’re always so sensible. Where is your sense of romance!” Komushi sighed dramatically.

Sasori ignored him. He started down the hall towards his room. “You will sleep in Granny’s old room and if you need anything,” he paused and looked hard at Komushi, “ and try very, very hard not to need me, you can come to my room.”

Komushi grinned. "Right," he said. "Goodnight, then." He made his way back to Chiyo's room. Since he had slept all day, he was not tired and super restless. He was probably going to soak in the bath, despite taking a bath earlier.

Azumi followed Sasori back to his room. "He seems to be doing fine," she said.

“He has always had a knack for bouncing back.” Sasori rolled his eyes but inside he was relieved. He sat down heavily on his bed and laid on his stomach. “We’ll keep running tests. He should be fine though.” He stretched out like a cat. “Now...about that massage.”

"Right," she chuckled. She grabbed the massage oil from his bedside table and got on the bed to straddle him. She dripped a little of the oil onto his back and put the bottle aside then started the massage, beginning where she left off between his shoulder blades.

He moaned into the pillow he had reached for and bunched up under his chest. “How did you get so good at this? Was this part of your training as the village heiress too?” he grunted softly.

"I am not the village heiress," she said. "My oldest brother is the next head. And as I said before, I learned this from having it done to me. I used to receive massages after my performances." She moved her hands a little further down his back, frowning at just how tense he was from having to deal with Komushi.

“Right,” he groaned again. “You did tell me all—“ He stopped short when she pressed into a particularly nasty knot. It took his breath away. “Oh, gods.” He bit his lip hard to compose himself.

She noted his reaction and pressed hard into it. This was one he needed to get rid of. It was probably bothering him the most. "Almost there," she whispered, working it until it released. He gripped the sheets tightly and moaned even louder into the pillow. He cursed between breaths as she worked it.

Down the hall, Komushi had grown to restless to stay in bed. He doubted his best friend was asleep yet and he had deemed his boredom reason enough to pay his room a visit. He stopped short when he heard Sasori cry out suddenly. He knew that sort of cry. The vocalization of pure pleasure. His eyes nearly popped out of his head. The only person with him was Azumi! He nearly ran to the door. If she was the one making him make those noises then he had so much more blackmail. He pressed his ear to the door, listening intently and gasping when he heard Sasori moan again. He crept into the room, standing at the door as he bore witness to Azumi giving Sasori a very intimate massage. "It all makes sense now," he said, unable to hide his grin.

Azumi flinched, not expecting him to be there and then growled softly as soon as she saw him. She wanted to slap that stupid grin off of his face. Sasori’s brows drew together. He craned his neck to look back at her. “Something wrong?” he asked, his voice a little rough.

"Nothing other than the fact that you couldn't just tell me why you were being so protective of her," Komushi said to him with a chuckle. "You clearly have something very special going on."

The instant Sasori heard Komushi’s voice, his eyes slid closed very, very slowly. His head dropped back into his pillow. He tapped Azumi’s leg, indicating for her to get off. He waited until she was seated next to him to roll over and level Komushi with a glare. “What is it that you needed so urgently that you needed to come to my room and bother me why my slave gave me a massage?” he asked with plain and blatant irritation in his tone.

Komushi held his hands up. “Boredom,” he admitted. “But I can clearly see I interrupted a very important master-slave interaction,” he grinned.

“You’re reading into this.” Sasori was already tensing back up.

"Am I?" Komushi laughed. "Or am I finally seeing something that so many people suspected?" He looked at Azumi. "Are you having a hard time choosing?"

Azumi scoffed, almost vaulting over the bed to attack him but Sasori put his arm out to stop her.

“If there is nothing you need from us right now,” Sasori got up, pushing a hand against Komushi’s chest. Komushi did not take his eyes off of Azumi. “You can go back to bed. Or walk yourself home since you seem to be in such good health.” He has noted the comment about choosing. He shoved Komushi hard, making the man stumble back a bit.

Komushi did not answer at first. He and Azumi continued to glare at each other for a few moments before his grin faded into a smirk. “I suppose I can go back to bed,” he said. “I’m starting to feel tired again,” he lied. He backed out of the room and went back to the other side of the house.

Meanwhile, on the bed, Azumi was trying to not let her rage get the best of her and doing a poor job of talking herself out of sending Naga to kill Komushi.

With shoulders nearly hiked to his ears, Sasori turned around to look at Azumi. “Go,” he snapped. “I just want to sleep,” he huffed. “And if I wake up and he’s dead, I’m not asking questions. It’ll be your head,” he said, flopping onto his bed heavily.

She growled softly as she got off of the bed and made her way to her room. She hated that no matter how shitty Komushi was, Sasori would always protect him. “Fucking ridiculous,” she huffed as she entered her room and pressed her back to the door as it closed.

“That sounds like he’s awake,” Gaara said from her bed. He had climbed in through her window when Sasori told him to leave.

“Yes, he is awake,” she sighed. “And he is only causing more problems.”

He could see the rage visibly radiating off of her. He reached out for her to take his hand. “What did he do?” he asked, his own temper ready to flare at any mention of him laying a hand on her. “I can take care of him right now if you want me to,” he said, pulling her into his lap. He tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear.

“He almost outed us to your cousin, for one,” she said. “He walked in on me giving him a massage and assumed it meant we were sleeping together.” She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “As if I would ever sleep with either of those fucking monsters. Then he asked me if I am having a hard time choosing between you and Lord Sasori.”

His heart nearly stopped. “In front of Sasori?” He clutched her closer. “Did...did Sasori say anything?” His blood was starting to run cold. He could lose her. She could die or worse. Sasori would do unspeakable things to her if he did know. His fingers curled into the fabric of her dress. He shook his head. “This might be good. If Komushi starts to think you and Sasori are sleeping together, he might forget all about us...” His face twisted in disgust. “Sorry.” He looked away from her. “That felt wrong just thinking that.”

She looked up at him and frowned, gently turning his face back to hers. “He would not assume I have chosen,” she said. “He would continue to think I am sleeping with both of you. In truth, I have never slept with either of you, but that would not change his mind. He lives to cause problems.”

He pressed his hand over hers, leaning his cheek into her hand. “He’s always been like that.” He held her gaze. “But I won’t let him hurt you. We’ll just have to poison him sooner,” he said seriously.

“I left it at the shop,” she frowned. “We will not be able to do it tonight. Plus, since he is still awake, it will be a bit hard to sneak it into his tea again.”

“It’s fine.” He shook his head. “If it’s you who is around and makes him sick, it will look suspicious. Next time we’re at the shop, I’ll grab it and take care of it,” he assured her. He leaned in and pressed their foreheads together. “I won’t give them any excuse to look your way.”

She kept his gaze for a moment before softly pressing her lips to his and sliding her hand into his hair, gripping it gently. "It will also be hard to be kept away from you," she hummed.

He pulled her a little closer to his body, kissing her again. “We’ll figure it out,” he whispered against her lips. “I don’t want to stay away. He won’t keep you every night,” his lips quirked up.

“The risks have only gotten higher,” she chuckled. There was a hiss coming from the window. She looked over and saw Naga slithering back into her room. “And where have you been?” she asked him. He hissed softly at her as he coiled up on the dresser. “With friends?” she laughed.

Gaara laughed softly with her. “I think your snake gets out more than you do,” he said half-teasingly. Naga hissed again, slithering between them. Gaara shivered a little when he brushed up against his stomach.

“Yes, well, it is easier for him to sneak out,” she smirked, petting Naga’s head. “He is technically free. He does not exactly belong to me and he can leave whenever he wants. He stays because he worries about me.”

Naga hissed once more, nuzzling into her hand. Gaara’s smile softened and he leaned in to capture her lips in a soft kiss once more. “I’m glad he stays then,” he said softly as they broke apart. “I wish it was under better circumstances but I’m glad all three of us left,” he told her honestly. Naga wrapped around Azumi’s stomach and gave her a light squeeze.

She gently pushed Gaara backward until he laid down as Naga moved to coil on the corner of the bed. She leaned down and kissed him again then leaned back up and straddled his waist. “Are you staying the night again?” she smirked. “Are we not letting up on the risk-taking?”

“Would you like me to?” he asked her with a cheeky grin. “There’s no one waiting for me at home.” He ran his hands up her thighs, careful to avoid the bandages.

“That depends,” she chuckled, leaning back down, “are you tired of me yet?” She kissed up his neck softly and then trailed along his jaw.

“Has the river outside run dry?” he countered with a smirk. Naga lifted his head to look out the window and shook his head. With a small laugh, Gaara looked from Naga back to her. “Then there’s your answer.” He moved his hands up to her hips, tightening his grip a little. He tilted his head to give her better access to his neck.

“Then yes,” she hummed, trailing her kisses up to his lips, “I would love for you to stay and continue our risk-taking streak,” she smirked, biting his lip.

Perfect,” he breathed against her lips, pushing back against them. He moved one of his hands to lace into her hair, curling his fingers slightly as he pulled her back into the kiss. He bit her lip a little harder, sucking on it gently. His other arm pulled her down a little closer. “We should jam the door again,” he said breathlessly.

She chuckled softly, pressing her forehead against his. She completely got lost in the moment. “Right,” she said. “Good idea.” She leaned up, tilting her head back a little before getting off of him and positioning the chair against the door under the handle. “Cannot forget that,” she smirked. The moment the door was jammed, he pulled her back onto the bed and switched their positions, pinning her under him. He pushed his hands up her arms and pinned them over her head as he leaned down to kiss her slowly. He was crossed between wanting to savor every moment with her and rush to enjoy their time together. She hummed softly in the kiss, biting his lip gently. She smirked against his lips and wrapped her legs around him as she pushed back further