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Tsundoku

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What exactly was it that she was doing wrong?

Her follow through procedure was just as it had been described to her, the very same as what the scrolls she’d been given depicted, but…

It wasn’t exactly turning out the way it was supposed to. 

So, she was obviously messing something up in the process. Well, either that or this jutsu really wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, which she doubted. She'd seen other people use it and have it do exactly what it was supposed to do. Which is what had interested her in it in the first place.

Gah, so frustrating

“Yo.” 

Pulling herself out of exasperated thoughts at the sound of the unknown gruff, deep scratchy voice, she turned around quickly with a glance to the surrounding area in confusion. Walking down the street and preoccupied thinking about her failure to – yet again – perform a jutsu that she’d been working on. Which wasn’t exactly high level, though she’d never particularly used the element before for more than chakra tricks. 

Having not sensed anyone approaching, she was a little irritated with herself for being so focused that she was unaware of her surroundings. A scowl twitched on her face as she looked down to where she heard the soft, somewhat pointed clearing of the throat... 

Into the face of the cutest pug she had ever seen in her life .

Any feelings of ill will she had were disappearing like a leaf on the wind. Pun totally not intended, but she appreciated her own thought processes for a pitiful moment, before her brain completely became a pile of mush at the sight of so much cute .

Her fingers twitched with a sudden, near overwhelming urge to rub the tips over his oh-so soft-looking floppy little ears, and wrinkled skin. To touch those tiny, tiny paws. Somehow, she managed to hold herself back.

Honestly, she needed to control herself better. Just ogling random dogs like that! She was probably being rude.

Still, he was just adorable.

“Um, yes?” her voice was a tad bit higher than it usually was, due to tension in her body as she restrained herself. “Can I help you with something?”

“Got any water?” 

At the question, she took a closer look at the dog. Summon , she realized after a moment of scrutiny. One with a rather distinctive mark on his tiny doggy vest.  

Realized that he was rather bedraggled and panting with exertion.

His squished face was so solemn, dark eyes so doleful, that she couldn’t help her internal squeal at the sight of it, as he panted softly. The tiny pink tongue stuck out ridiculously from between small, needle-sharp fangs. Beige and gray sides heaved beneath the light blue cloth, small black paws, that were slightly turned in towards the center of his chest, were supporting his less than substantial weight. That enticingly velvety black nose reflected wetly in the sunlight, a key sign of health.

Without thought she popped a bowl, normally used for rice, out of one of her scrolls with a flick of her chakra. A snap of her fingers pulled some water from the particles in the air to fill it, as she squatted flat-footed down on the ground to set it down before him. She wrapped her arms around her legs quickly after to better control her urges. This wasn’t just some dog, she couldn’t reach out and fondle those adorable features like he was a mindless animal. This was an intelligent fellow shinobi of Konohagakure, and she would not – would not – reach out and pull at the rolls on his face, no matter how enticing they were.

“Thanks,” was the gruff reply as he started to lap it up rather quickly.

“Hatake-san have you working hard today?” she queried, squeezing her fingers tightly into fists as they twitched towards him. “Even with the heat?”

His face was so serious and it was so cute… all those marvelous little wrinkles

“Aa, he’s got brats now, apparently.” 

He stared forlornly down at the empty bowl before gazing up at her with wet, dark eyes. She strangled the noise in her throat before it escaped, causing her left eye and cheek to tick a few times with strain, before she managed to snap her fingers for more water to refill it. 

The gesture wasn’t necessary, but it helped people to know that she was doing something. She’d startled more than one mission partner that way, and there was only so much she felt like dodging at a time.

“Thanks.”

“Well,” she started, after sealing away the empty bowl covered in slobber.  Trying to give her hands something to do. Normally, she’d have at least rinsed it out after having someone else use it – even just a dog – but she was too focused on keeping her hands to herself. “Keep up the good work.”

“Hmm,” he nodded at her, dark eyes considering, and oddly solemn. “Go ahead, give me a pet.”

Her hands spasmed at her sides and she bit her lip, eyeing him with consideration, unaware of the girlish hope glimmering in her green eyes. Voice uncharacteristically almost-shy.

“…Really?”

“Aa.”

Slowly, so as to keep her composure to some extent, she extended her fingers and smoothed them over his silky skull just behind his forehead protector. Gently sliding the tips over his floppy ears, before moving to give him a little scratch behind his ears that he leaned into with a doggy groan. The sound caused an uncharacteristically warm smile to move over her stiffly stoic features and her cheeks to pink. 

It had been a long time since she’d been able to pet any animals, let alone a dog. The last had been a bird, she was pretty sure, a messenger hawk relaying mission details to her. 

The fact that she was doing so was made all the sweeter by the fact that she had been given permission to do so by the animal himself, rather than by an owner making the decision. She contemplated going underneath his chin to give that a rub as well, before he sighed and reluctantly pulled away from her hands, doggy face seemingly even more forlorn than before.

“Well, thanks for the water, and the scratch, kunoichi-san.”

“No problem,” none at all. Oh, that had been the perfect cure for stress, an honest relief right there if she’d ever had one. “And it’s Nagisa Asuka, if you ever happen to run into me again,” she couldn’t get rid of the smile that was playing over her features, and she pressed her hands together to keep from reaching out to touch those soft, velvety ears. “There’s no need for formalities, ninken-san.”

“Asuka, then. The name’s Pakkun.” 

He nodded to her before running off down the road again, away from the edge of the shopping district he’d caught her at.

“Pakkun,” she muttered to herself with a dreamy sigh as she stood again, unnecessarily dusting off the back of her pants to keep her hands occupied, her lips still quirked. “So cute.”

With that, she turned and went back to her search for a place to have a late lunch. One that didn’t involve much in the way of cost, considering the fact that the pay for her last mission had yet to be deposited in her account. 

Hmm, well, there was also the fact that she had needed to restock her knockout and smoke tags. While Asuka could handle some basic explosive tags with little problem, the other kinds of tags were beyond her. Oh, she should probably get a new set of storage scrolls as well, since hers were getting dated and would likely wear out before long. It wouldn’t do to be unable to unseal her supplies because of laziness or procrastination…

“Hmm…” Asuka sighed, tilting her head back to look at the bright blue sky and the few wisps of cloud that fluttered in the high stratosphere. “Well, it looks like it’s yakitori and miso again tonight,” she scowled a little. “I really need to go shopping.”

The amount of time she wasn’t in her apartment was getting expensive, especially when she wasn’t just training and needed to feed herself as well.

~*~

It wasn’t a week later that she ran into the Summoned dog again, and this time on the training grounds.

With sweat dampening her brow behind her bangs, which she pushed back with an errant hand clenched into a fist, before stretching to pop her stiff, slightly aching from strained muscles, back. 

The courier mission she’d taken the day before to pay for the aforementioned tags had ended with one of her teammates getting himself injured. And poisoned on an old, forgotten trap that’d been ground laid. Luckily for him, she’d been able to extract it for study and further analyses by the Poison Control Squad, and then treat the most important breaks and seal the wound. Even though the idiot had an allergic reaction to the aged toxin. 

What kind of luck was that? Who did that? 

It just made everything more irritatingly complicated and used up her chakra. How was he even allowed in the field when he was allergic to a common poison ingredient? Was that some kind of oxymoron, being allergic to poisons? That just made the initial fact that he’d been poisoned that much worse to deal with and him more likely to die in the field. It boggles the mind. 

Also, because he was almost twice her size, it had been awkward to carry him back to Konoha, giving her a backache that burned. The muscles clenching in a way that told of stubborn unhappiness, something that she could honestly agree with. 

She sympathized with those who were even smaller than she was who had to deal with those kinds of situations, and she was one of the taller women in the field.

It was always awkward having to carry someone whose body type was so fundamentally different than your own. The fact that she’d been the only one strong enough to carry him the distance was still irksome. Her other teammate was a man who was similar in size to their injured comrade, was extremely embarrassed by this fact. Rather defensive, too, though she’d given him little attention once they’d found this out.

So what if they were just chuunin?

Who cares if you didn’t specialize in or utilize any strength-based taijutsu?

That didn’t mean that you could slack off on your training just because you’d hit a rank higher than genin ! Did the relief of not being sucked into the Genin Corps rot your brain? No! Did that mean that since you weren’t the weakest of the bunch that you could slack off in training? No! Bah, sometimes the others frustrated her to no end.

If you couldn’t carry an injured nin back to Konoha, back home , you were pretty useless in her book.

With a sigh she swiped the back of her hand over her forehead, reaching into her kunai pouch for a few pins, which she kept in a little pocket she’d sewn into the flap to pull her bangs back. Idly thinking that it would be best to not have two different skin tones due to a tan line on her forehead, what with her bangs covering everything from eyebrow above.

Yeah, this really wasn’t working out as well as she’d hoped.

“Yo, Asuka.” 

That same gruff voice called to her, and she glanced over to see the cute pug from the other day. Who she hadn’t sensed again, she really needed to work on that, no matter how distracted she was. The sight caused a smile to spread over her slightly sweat dampened features, despite her wry thoughts. 

“Good training?”

Those weren’t exactly the words she would use to describe it.

Honestly, she’d have described it with more frustrated snarls and strangling motions than articulation, anyway.

There were no words.

“Hey, Pakkun,” she returned, before eyeing the slightly misshapen shape to the mound she’d been struggling with miserable disdain. It almost seemed as if she was getting worse at Earth natured jutsu, which she hadn’t thought was possible. “Well, it could be… sort of worse.”

Probably, she thought wryly. Though I’m not sure exactly how.

“Affinity training?”

“Working on a second, actually,” she stated.

As if that made it better that she was embarrassing herself like a newly minted genin. Honestly, Asuka was pretty sure she hadn’t been this bad when she’d been a genin, but she’d let it lay to waste as it were.

Squatting down as she had before in front of the ninken she automatically pulled out her rice bowl again. She sighed at the familiar, comforting – much more natural – action of pulling water from the air, before setting the filled bowl down before him.

“Hmm, thanks,” he took a couple of gulps before sitting down and regarding her. “Water-type, huh?”

“Yeah,” she nodded, eyeing the dirt mound that was supposed to be a spike ruefully. “If this were my main affinity… well, I’d probably cry.”

Yeah, Earth was… Definitely not her element of choice.

“I’m next closest to Earth, but it doesn’t seem to be working out just yet,” she pinned her bangs back again, shaking her head to make sure that they were secure. Enjoying the sound of her finger length ornamental kunai earrings. Well, as ornamental as blades were, anyway. They tapped lightly against the senbon she had holding her braided buns in place on the back of her skull. “But, it’s not like I’ve been working on it for long. Not even two weeks yet,” she gave a wry smile, cocking her head to the side, chin propped up on her knee. “I try not to judge myself by other people’s standards since a good few ninja I know tend to pick it up quicker, but it does get irritating. I should have started on it when I was younger but, well,” and expansive shrug. “It wasn’t exactly a priority at the time. War and all that, then there were other things to do.”

Like, so many missions and so little time.

A lack of drive or need, as well.

It was simple paranoia that had her looking for new avenues in which to defend herself, a tickling sensation on the back of her neck like she was a target. Most nin got that way once in a while, and at least training was a productive way to deal with it.

Looking back at the Summons, she crossed her arms and settled them on her bent knees, pressing her chin into her forearms to stall reaching out to pet him. At least until he maybe, once again, gives her permission to do so.

“Go ahead,” he stated as if reading her mind.

That smile shot across her face again as she went for his ears and gave him a good scratch, before moving below his chin like she’d thought to do before, careful not to press too hard under his chin. Because having a finger jammed up underneath the soft spot beneath the tongue wasn’t fun for any species, she was sure.

“Ah, you’re good at this,” he panted out, melting against her callused hands, giving out a soft woof of content.

“Thanks!” 

She laughed softly, petting her hands back over his skull, barely pausing at his hitai-ate, before massaging against his back with her fingers through the Henohenomoheji symbol on his blue vest. 

“I’ve got ninja fingers,” she playfully fluttered them against his sides to give an example, enjoying the groan he gave at the same time as a cute little wriggle. Tiny paws scrabbled in enjoyment against the ground as he did so. “I’m sure you’re used to them.”

“Well, Kakashi doesn’t always have time for rubs,” he sounded despondent, and yet oddly petulant at the same time, as he rubbed his wrinkled forehead against her wrist guard lazily. “So, this is nice.”

“Glad to be of service,” her fingers traveled up to his ears and head again as she sighed with regret. “But I’ve got to cut this short. I’ve still got enough chakra to keep at this stupid jutsu for a while, and I can’t excuse not finishing my training,” her lips twisted wryly. “No matter how much I’d rather sit here petting you.”

Despite her words, she continued to do so for several more minutes. So what, she wanted to and he wasn’t protesting. It wasn’t long before the Summons himself pulled back, glancing behind himself in the direction he’d come from with a sniff, before slumping dejectedly.

So… so cute

“Looks like they’ve caught up,” he grumbled, standing and shaking his body out of the relaxed state it had been in for a few enjoyable minutes. Dipping his head for a few more drinks from the bowl of water, emptying it, he saluted her with a paw. “See ya later, Asuka.”

“Bye-bye!” 

Asuka waved as he took off, sealing away the bowl once again and standing, just in time to see three genin come running onto the training ground.

Oh, she tilted her head curiously as she took them in, one brow cocked slightly. This must be Hatake-san’s genin team. 

She knew the jinchuuriki right off the bat, and couldn’t help the scowl that settled lightly onto her previously pleased lips. 

They still hadn’t fixed her regular Laundromat from when he’d done one of his idiotic pranks in the water tanks. Though, she admitted, it hadn’t been meant to be malicious, the kid wasn’t that kind of person, didn’t have the brains for it, exactly. The paint he’d dumped in had clogged up several pipes, and they couldn’t get the itching powder out of the dryer vents no matter how hard they tried. 

She’d picked her apartment complex for its closeness to the Laundromat, because when she got home from a mission and had blood and nasty shit all over her clothes, she was either tired or injured. Didn’t want to have to walk extra when she didn’t have to, and before she had only needed to go right across the street, but after that prank…

So much walking

Well, she didn’t have any real problems with him, other than the fact that he’d needlessly complicated her normal routine. Which forced her to take a route she would prefer not to, is all, so she wouldn’t rough him up for it. It wasn’t like she was in the habit of beating the snot out of children anyway, and he was no exception to the rule.

Well, that and… the orange was a little… eh… 

Asuka may not have been the most fashionable or feminine of kunoichi, but she still wasn’t colorblind .

The Uchiha was obvious as well, and she almost rolled her eyes at the arrogance and petulance that seemed to ooze off of that one. Honestly, the kid should go for a little originality, but there was little she could say about it in his case. 

It just reminded her in the back of her head just how different Chitose and Haruka had been from the expectations she’d held for them. The fact that it was rare for a Clan member not to conform to their Elders' wishes, despite the repercussions. This boy was certainly no Uchiha Obito, or even Shisui, though, as they were the most outlandish Uchiha she’d ever seen. While both were deceased, she’d found them equally entertaining and heartwarming. 

Also, Shisui had been a bit of a cutie, even if he’d turned handsome when he’d grown up. Completely adorable in all reality – curly hair on a Clan pretty boy? Fantastic ! – especially with how he’d drag his less sociable friend around with him. Like he was a particularly beloved toy, more touchy-feely with that kid than pretty much anyone else that she’d ever met. 

The fact that this boy didn’t seem to be trying to hide how angry and twisted up he was inside seemed to show the fact that he wasn’t nearly emotionally aware, or composed, as a genin should be. Even a newly graduated one.

Politics, huh?

The girl was an unknown, though she may have seen her in the market a time or two. She was sure that pink hair was familiar. 

Hmm, perhaps in one of the sweet shops? 

She couldn’t help the slight stiffening of her lips as she caught the scent of perfume on the air, drifting towards her. If that wasn’t a beacon shouting ‘Here I am!’ for anyone looking, she didn’t know what was. Honestly, Asuka didn’t even have any sort of heightened senses and she could probably pinpoint the girl from the scent alone, just because it was so strong. She cringed a little inside because it was well known that Hatake Kakashi had some sort of affinity with canines, something that had been passed down in his Clan. Not unlike the Inuzuka, but instead of some sort of obscure bloodline, it had to do with a Summoning contract. 

Or at least, she was pretty sure that was it; Asuka was admittedly no expert when it came to most of the Clans. 

The poor man must have been weeping himself to sleep at night. Or perhaps drowning himself in sake to hold off the inevitable breakdown that being swathed in fabricated scents would bring him too, as it did for several Inuzuka who were around civilians for too long.

They started to act strange, a little deranged because of the chemicals.

While amusing, it was also a bit of a problem.

Having an Inuzuka cackling like mad, or either flirting or picking fights with plant life was more than a little bit of a setback on a mission. She’d once been on a mission that had a civilian born kunoichi who was infiltrating a small group of bandits and an Inuzuka. Watching as the man had gotten strangely close to the ferns where they set up camp had been… well, not quite traumatizing, but it had been up there.

“Hey, Lady!” jeez, did he have to be so loud? “Have you seen a talking dog come running through here?”

Well, he hadn’t run through. 

And ‘talking dog’? Seriously? Could the kid not even identify a Summons, or had Hatake Summoned him out of sight?

Was he really that rude?

“No,” she raised her brows, scowl fading into a tight, resigned line.

Well, she finally decided that she was just going to have to put in a D-rank request about the kid fixing the damned Laundromat and be done with it. Even having to fill out the specialized forms for requisition of a genin team, especially a specific one, and then deal with the scrutiny of requesting anything dealing with the jinchuuriki would be worth it. 

Mostly, that is. He needed to learn from his actions, dammit, she just wouldn’t have this happening again. 

Perhaps once she reached that stage, she would find ire again, but in those moments, it was just too hot to be irritated. 

She still lamented, though.

All the walking

“Naruto!” the girl hollered and Asuka winced at the combined decibels, sticking a finger in her ear to even out her hearing again. “Don’t be so rude!”

Surprisingly, and perhaps a little amusingly, the snarl that had been on the genin girl’s features disappeared as quickly as it had come. Those pale, pretty features twisting into a sweet smile when the girl turned to face her. 

Well, this one was going to be dangerously bipolar, she could already tell, even though she was about as unprofessional as you could get at the moment. Perhaps she would benefit in an infiltration specialization, like a lot of civilian born kunoichi did, where you didn’t need many combat skills? 

Depending on what you were infiltrating at least…

“I’m sorry for him, Kunoichi-san, he’s a little bit of an idiot. Are you sure you haven’t seen a dog come through here?”

“Ah, sorry, genin-chan,” she smiled back, turning back towards her mound with a critical eye and a much calmer air to her, because that canine therapy session had done wonders on her nerves. “But I can’t help you.”

This is surely some kind of training exercise, and I’m not going to interfere, she felt a tiny smirk shiver over her lips. Especially with the pity I feel for that poor Hatake bastard. 

Dealing with this doomed squad must have given him ulcers already, and she was sure that the Academy exams hadn’t ended that long ago. It had only been recently that the jounin had been lamenting having to test the new blood, hadn’t it? 

Hmm, she couldn’t quite remember when the last time she’d run into Asuma was, and she knew that had been when she’d heard about him being assigned a team… As for the Copy-nin, this was the first time she’d heard of him passing any genin, so there must have been something good about them. Well, either that, or the Council had insisted on the Uchiha being passed on to genin, and there really wasn’t anyone else they would trust with the boy. Or who could either defend against, or protect, the jinchuuriki quite as effectively. 

Not anyone who was taking on genin teams, or was in the village, anyway.

She was a little sorry for Pakkun, though, getting this shoved off on him. She assumed it was some sort of tracking exercise, though, because considering their sensei, it had to be, right?

Well, either that or some twisted, sadistic way of getting rid of them, but she shouldn’t just believe rumors, should she?

Either way, the poor kids didn’t stand a chance.

Taking a slow breath as she gathered her chakra, she planted her feet firmly, before pushing just enough into the ground that she could feel the earth beneath and then

Pushing her hand sharply up and out, she was pleased to note a den of spikes better than what she had been managing, perhaps not quite as high as she should aim for, or as dense. A fraction of a second later, a presence appeared behind her.

Unknown.

Needles of highly pressurized water senbon formed behind her, just before she remembered that she did indeed know this chakra signature. If only faintly, with the Konoha regulation chakra broadcast that shifted into perception the moment she felt something like hesitation. As well as the familiar scent of dog wafting over her nose, causing her to relax her battle-ready muscles and the needles to dissipate once again into the air. 

Honestly, she was within the confines of Konoha, so she really shouldn’t be nearly as twitchy as she was, with such hair-trigger reactions. For some reason she just couldn’t seem to help it lately, feeling a constant strain of unease, almost like she had eyes on her all the time.

The chuunin turned around with severe a frown on her face, ready to chew whoever it was out. 

Only to be faced with that silly smiling eye sitting above a mask, a closed orange book held against his chest with one hand and the other held up palm out to signal peace. 

Right. She was sure he was harmless. 

Her shoulders were already slumping and her brows quirking exasperatedly – with only a touch of unease – at that ridiculously unthreatening aura. Even though she knew he could rip her limb from limb with both hands behind his back, it was irritating how unassuming this man could seem.

Stupid jounin.

“Ah, how nice to see you again, Nagisa-san,” the cheer in his deep, smooth voice was mildly disturbing. “Lovely weather we’re having.”

From out of the corner of her eye where she stood regarding the taller adult, she could see the gawking jinchuuriki, the shocked girl, and the sullenly trying not to look interested Uchiha staring at her. As if she were the most interesting thing they’d ever seen. Well, either that or the most scandalous. Like the Sandaime in the nude or something. Which… that was a disturbing thought. 

Urgh. 

Not that she didn’t love the Hokage with all of the fierce burning of the Will of Fire, but that was just… not an image that she was interested in in the least.

Oh, right, she’d done jutsu in front of impressionable genin. Hadn’t she always been interested in cool jutsu when she was their age? She couldn’t quite remember, but she might have been more interested in weapons at the time, or perhaps it was taijutsu… no, no, it was her brief – very, very brief – stint with condensed explosive tags and complex Fuuinjutsu, wasn’t it? Time just flew by.

Like her hand almost had with the tags.

Yes, it had been a very brief interest . Almost nonexistent. Not worth mentioning at all.

Hence why she bought her high-grade explosive tags now, instead of making them herself like some nin.

There was still a crater in Training Ground 36 though, and she was always very careful to avoid the bets about where it must have come from. If only because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep a straight face. Disturbing childhood traumas and all that. Plus, some of the stories that bored off duty ninja could come up with were just marvelously ludicrous, completely and totally ridiculous. 

It was pretty great.

“Hatake-san.” 

Her returned greeting was doused with some level of dry exasperation, her brow furrowing as she wondered what exactly it was that the jounin wanted from her.

The man had totally startled her on purpose. Well, either that or he lacked a propensity for spatial awareness – she sincerely doubted that – or he lacked social awareness that startling another ninja while they are training is not okay .

The latter theory was the least hard to believe, if only because his social retardation was a thing of legend. 

It was likely that regulation was something that he was familiar with, but was ignoring with all the aplomb of an Elite Jounin who really just didn’t have anything to fear from a chuunin of any rank. Still, it was completely outside of the normal for him to have approached her like this.

He wasn’t exactly one for pleasantries from what she’d discerned, and she certainly wouldn’t have felt him if he hadn’t wanted her to, so clearly something was up. 

They both knew that he hadn't even needed to have shown up seeing as the kids could, and would, have continued on their search like good little genin drones, but it looked like he was interrupting that expected routine. For some reason, she had the momentary, out of the blue and quite sudden thought that perhaps this was going to be some sort of extortion. That perhaps he would try and bully something out of her, and then immediately she shook it off. 

Even if some jounin were useless pricks – puffed up bastards a good portion of the lower ranks of jounin were – she had never gotten that sort of vibe from the lazy pervert before her. And even the worst of jounin wouldn’t do something that low in front of impressionable – talkative and loud – genin.

“I was wondering –”

“No. Whatever it is, I’d really much rather not.”

Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

She blanched internally at a sudden, disturbing thought.

It didn’t have anything to do with a challenge from Maito Gai, did it? 

Oh gods, she sure hoped not. The man was infamously monstrous

She’d rather deal with the infuriating, grating, more than a little awkward personality of the Copy-nin over the highly exuberant, bright and frighteningly dangerous Green Beast at any time or any place. The man was possibly deranged, no one was quite sure and no one wanted to ask. Heck, she’d rather be obscurely blackmailed within an inch of her life and sanity than have to deal with that frightening eyesore of a man for any length of time. 

He just didn’t know his strength. She’d seen him accidentally shatter a man’s ribs by hugging him when he’d been so very happy for a reason no one could understand. Another time, while patting a woman on the back, he had thrown her spine right out of place and she’d been off duty for a month .

Asuka just didn’t have that kind of padding in her bank account to go without mission pay for that long, or the levels of masochism to be able to deal with that man.

“Ah,” he rubbed the back of his head and put away the Icha Icha before gesturing to the far side of the training grounds, the opposite side that the genin were on. “You kids go on and find Pakkun, alright?” 

He waved them away without a care and proceeded to ignore them as he herded her away from their hearing, but not before she heard the sound of their grumbling as they continued on their way. After the kids had disappeared into the tree line he turned to her and leaned against a nearby tree trunk, shoulders slightly slumped, eyeing her thoughtfully.

“Hear me out,” he held up a hand to forestall her as she opened her mouth to deny whatever it was that he wanted, before placing it in his pocket as he had the opposing one. “You are a very competent kunoichi, Nagisa-san.”

She blinked at him, her brows drawing together as she stared.

… Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. Actually, there wasn’t much I was expecting, but this is certainly better than anything else I could have come up with.

Better than a challenge from Gai, she had to admit.

Pretty much anything was.

There was a tiny – not so tiny, really, she could admit to herself – part of her that was pleased and, admittedly, a little embarrassed at the blunt praise. It wasn’t often that she was complimented on her skills as a ninja of Konoha. 

Actually, it wasn’t often that she was complimented at all. Not in ways that were, you know, complimentary. She would have had to speak to more people for compliments to come into the equation, and she rarely found the need. She found her time was much more practically and usefully spent to train, or read in relaxation, and puzzle over jutsu that she’d never be able to perform. 

Sometimes she would let Anko drag her to dango every once in a while and let her vent about the horrible crush she had on Ibiki. About how she really wished that Kurenai would just bang Asuma already to get the man to loosen up a little and stop giving the Hokage such a hard time.

She agreed with that last bit, anyway.

Everyone had known since they were children that it was more than likely that Asuma and Kurenai would become an item, but it seemed they were putting off the inevitable.

Plus, he had been holding that grudge for an absolutely ridiculous amount of time.

“Thank you?” she returned after a brief pause.

“There are very few truly competent kunoichi that one would trust with children –” Oh. She could almost see where this was going, and she felt her brows rising incredulously. “– and I have no idea how to make that girl into an able-bodied kunoichi, and while I would normally turn towards Kurenai at anything female related, she has her own brats to look after.”

The girl’s scent must have been killing him for him to ask her for help.

It was… a little sad, really.

Poor man.

“You want me to work on the girl,” she deadpanned, rocking back on her heels and setting her hands on her hips, lips pursed with thought. “Make it so that she doesn’t get herself killed.”

Well, it wasn’t like she didn’t want to help the future generation, she’d just never thought of herself as someone who was very good with children at all. 

She hadn’t been good with them even when she was one. 

Hmm, neither had the jounin before her, and he was a sensei even after having been a much worse adolescent than she had been, attitude-wise, if she remembered correctly. The rumors of his horribly bratty attitude and icy demeanor had reached even her lesser ears through her gossipy, downright rumormonger, teammates back when she’d been a genin and then a chuunin. Hell, she’d heard more than she’d ever wanted to about him out of Obito. More than once, back in the day, but back then all she’d really wanted to do was make that doofus smile at her, so she’d kind of zoned out sometimes and made commiserating noises.

She’d never met the Hatake until they were older, after all, and that was after the Kyuubi attack. And, well… everyone was a different person after that day.

The girl could certainly do with a stern talking to, she could see that. Any ninja worth their salt could see that the girl wasn’t in any way preparing herself emotionally or physically for the life she’d chosen for herself. That she wasn’t taking this line of work seriously at all, not really. She had fangirl written all over her pretty little face, and while being girly wasn’t a bad thing, you could still be kickass and dress well at the same time. 

It was apparent that this girl had yet to learn this lesson.

Still, she wouldn’t be able to do much in any case, what with having to take her own missions, as well as train – 

Wait.

She smiled when the thought struck, unaware of the slight darkening of her eyes as they half-lidded, as if in threat, causing the jounin before her to shift a little uncomfortably.

Who better to have helping her when developing a secondary affinity than the Copy-nin? The man who used several – if not all – of the affinities himself? Who had needed to build them up?

“Sure,” she nodded, turning back to him from where she’d looked away in thought. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

“Oh?” he raised his own visible brow in question, relaxing slightly, a movement that was imperceptible to her. 

With a frustrated wave, she showcased her abysmal earth technique that was already crumbling, somehow having gotten wet on the inside, causing her shoulders to droop a bit. Ah, well, that hadn’t happened before. 

She rubbed a hand over her face before turning back to the incredulous looking jounin. His visible eye slightly scrunched, as was his brow, as if wondering what in the world she had done to have results such as those.

She wondered this as well.

“Help me with my affinity training on occasion, and I’ll do what I can for the girl when I’ve got time.”

A dark eye considered her for a moment, and then the deteriorating state of the jutsu she’d cast, before shrugging and nodding at the same time. A move that should have looked positively awkward as he stood straight, but didn’t look it in the slightest on his lean frame as she looked up at him. 

Jounin , she thought amusedly, shaking her head a little with a small smile. They are so ridiculous.

“Sounds good,” as he spoke they both glanced over towards where there was a spike in chakra.

At the same time as the jolt of chakra, there were the echoing cries of several of the same voice and the distinct poof-squeak noise of poorly constructed Shadow Clones being extinguished. 

Before a familiar small form darted out of the woods and to her feet, leaning against her combat flats clad foot comfortably and staring up at his Summoner.

“They suck,” he stated plainly to the pale-haired man, causing her to snicker and squat next to him in a position that was beginning to feel familiar. She placed her hand on his head after his doleful glance up at her, and scratching him softly behind his ear. “The – ah, that’s nice – orange boy has a good sense of smell, but he doesn’t know how to use it, and the cat-boy didn’t even try,” she snorted at the moniker for the Uchiha. Well, several of the Clan were known to use Cat Summons back in the day. “The stinky girl just followed along behind the boys, who were following the crappy directions of the orange boy.”

Asuka sighed.

“Well, looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me,” she muttered, shifting to scratch the Summon beneath the chin again.

She shared a commiserating glance with the pug.

That man sure knew how to shove of work on to others. 

The epitome of laziness.

~*~ 

When his Summon had returned to him smelling of a Konoha kunoichi he’d thought little of it, even though the pug looked a little more relaxed than usual. One who didn’t even bear the slightest scent of chemicals as most women did, which was a mild relief. As if he’d gotten spoiled with a good pat down and some rubs. 

It wasn’t unlikely that whoever this mystery woman was she had given in to Pakkun’s dangerous wiles and petted him to his little heart’s content. He had taken an idle breath, wondering if the familiarity of it would click, though it didn’t, the scent too faded. The fact that his Summon was a bit more effective and pleasant to be around was a bonus. Especially since Kakashi rarely had time to comfort or connect with his pack in between missions for either ANBU or for the increasingly more common jounin lounge handouts. 

The time they did manage to scrounge up was usually used for training, and that didn’t exactly lead to too much in the way of bonding. Kakashi fondly remembered the days of relaxation and lying about with his dogs and Sensei before the Kyuubi attack had decimated their ranks.

Days like those were few and far between, and the missing human factions of his pack were an empty chill that shuddered over his soul as he hardened and numbed the heart. That it was still stubbornly beating in his chest, dulling the comfort and warmth that his canine pack mates brought with them whenever Summoned.

 Sometimes he felt the ghost of callused, elegantly ink-stained hands shifting through his hair or a leanly muscled arm thrown around his shoulder. Other times the warm safe feeling of a soft chest and heated pale skin wrapping him in a hug, a curtain of crimson ghosting over the bared corner of his features… 

Ghosts, ghosts everywhere.

The fact that they’d given him Sensei’s son was something he didn’t miss, couldn’t have missed if he’d been deaf, dumb and blind. He knew it was likely that they’d given him to Kakashi because they knew he was the least likely jounin to intentionally ruin him.

It hurt, to look at that kid.

He looked just like them, Minato-sensei and Kushina-san, a perfect blend of them. 

That golden sunshine bright hair that spiked everywhere without direction or cause, those blue, glimmering eyes were his father’s set into his mother’s softer, rounder features. He was tanner than both of his parents had been, Sensei having been a much paler man with sharper, more defined features. Though what color he’d had was a soft golden tan, and his eyes had been a tad lighter, less of a deep-sea and much more of an icy, all-seeing blue that pierced deep within, like he knew the very heart of you. 

There was no point in his memories where he could actually remember seeing the Uzumaki woman with anything like color to her skin. Other than the red of a flush when she’d either been enraged or when Sensei had done something that had softened the shell she kept around her heart. 

Kushina’s boisterous attitude had taken over whatever personality traits he may have gotten from his father because of her abrasive personality. As she had done when they were together and alive, taking over the man who was her husband with her liveliness and joy. 

Apparently, his looks hadn’t really delved inward. So he wasn’t all that bright but he had the horrifying verbal tics that his mother had, only a little altered, and it made Kakashi twitch every time he heard it. His parents had been an intellectually inclined battle prodigy and a rather, if raucous, intelligent woman. 

He was getting a terrible crick in his neck from tensing every time that ‘ dattebayo’ left the boy’s mouth and it made his habitual slump a little more uncomfortable every time he saw those hellish brats. There was also the very real fear that this boy would look at him one day with features that spelled out betrayal. 

Kakashi hadn’t figured out the scene it would be in, not yet. 

He knew that if that ever happened, the mixture of two of the most important people in his life’s features unhappy with him in that boy would kill him.

The Uchiha boy was just a big ball of angry hurt it was plain as day that he had no idea what to do with all of the rage, hate and pain that was wrapped up inside of him, and the Copy-nin was just as clueless. 

Just looking at him made his chest ache with memory. 

He felt great fear that he was going to ruin this boy the way he’d ruined himself as a child. They’d foisted him off on him with the excuse that he had the Sharingan, but it appeared that the boy wasn’t aware enough of his fellow shinobi to even know that. It didn’t really occur to him until later that the Academy curriculum hadn’t exactly been as up to par as it should have been. The last Hatake was well aware that the Uchiha Clan gave basic training to all of their members even before they activated their Sharingan, and then had them figure it out mostly on their own as a rite of passage. Every Sharingan was different.

Obito had ranted on it enough when arguing that when he got his Sharingan he’d be able to best the Hatake prodigy. Even if other Uchiha in their age group had not been able to, because his Sharingan would be the best and most powerful . Yes, that he remembered.

Vividly.

The civilian girl was going to give him an aneurysm though, and possibly deaden his sense of smell with whatever monstrosity it was that she coated herself with every day. 

The conflicting scents of her shampoo and whatever skin products and oils she used made him want to vomit or burn out his nostrils. Even his covered eye watered at the combination whenever he had to bite back the urge to sneeze or pinch his nostrils closed just to get a moment or two of relief. He had taken to mouth breathing through his mask whenever he was around his team whilst standing the farthest away from her as he could. While it wasn’t as bad, the scent clung to the back of his nose and mouth like ash. 

There was little he could do but put strong chakra filters on the inside of his mask every day, because otherwise he might go mad. Every day he had to swap out his masks to make sure that none of the stench from the previous day clung to him and drove him up the wall with acid on his face. Dealing with her was a lot like torture really, and it reminded him of his training when he’d first been pulled into ANBU. When he’d needed to be able to pass psychological and physical torture regimes fitted for someone with enhanced senses, but well… 

That had ended, and this hadn’t. 

It bothered his instincts to no end that he couldn’t smell her chakra at all beneath that disgusting and powerful concoction that emanated from her form. What made it worse was that he couldn’t tell if that was because she had so little that it barely escaped her skin like a civilian. Unlikely, considering the fact that she had graduated after all. Or if she was extremely unhealthy and therefore her chakra was working to keep her alive, and so didn’t move outward to conserve itself or if whatever it was that she wore was just that bad. 

A possibility, he’d rarely seen her eat, and he remembers Rin eating almost twice as much as he and Obito when they were growing up.

With the fact that the three were under his care he was supposed to ingrain their chakra scents into his psyche so that he could protect them better and be able to find them. Like young in a pack, pups he was teaching to hunt and pounce for the first time. To know them as well as he could, so as to be able to help them when they were injured or ill. 

Part of the reason he had avoided having a genin team thrust upon him was the fact that he would automatically take them under his wing. Pulling together a patchwork pack of the likes he hadn’t had in years, and he didn’t know what to do with that. He didn’t know if he could do it again, deal with the very real possibility of losing that feeling of wholeness, of not being alone. Again. 

If he wasn’t already so broken, he’d shatter.

Before, he had always been a Beta in his pack, the second in command, never an Alpha, never in the lead, never in charge of the others and above all. That wasn’t what he was before, he wasn’t born to lead. Always following, always a follower. 

Kakashi had never needed to ingrain the scents of his subordinates into his subconscious on such a deep level, never given them the power over him. No matter how abstract. To control his reactions by giving him the need to suss out whatever caused them distress, and to destroy it, as his Hatake instincts dictated. 

Hell, he’d never even taken in Obito’s scent until his dying moments. So even the memory of it was poisonous and tainted with blood and pain, taking in Rin’s after that because he couldn’t stand the thought of forgetting her too.

He regretted that.

He always would.

It was an ingrained action though, taking the lead, and he was mildly gladdened by his family’s particular affinities with canines that made it so that he didn’t have to ask Pakkun for help in sorting out the hierarchy in his infantile new pack. The willful pug that was his lifelong companion never would have let him live that down. 

Still, with those ingrained needs from ascending to pack Alpha, he needed to know the ins and outs of his new… young.

Guh, even thinking about it was disturbing in new and intensely nauseating ways. 

Despite the nerve-wracking disconcerting realization that he had pups, it was still more distressing that he couldn’t tell anything beneath the scents with the girl, and it messed with his instincts like mad. Sweet kami, just kill him already, he was too young for this.

Half the time he had to stop himself from grabbing her and pressing his face to her skin, to try and find her real scent beneath the filth she wore that she apparently thought was attractive. The other half, Kakashi had to resist the internal demand that he throws the girl from his new pack because she smelt wrong. Either one of his urges would likely cause a reaction that he had no desire to deal with. 

The repercussions of whatever accusations would be thrown at him would be complicated and exhausting in a way that even paperwork wasn’t.

Being a jounin instructor was turning out to be very stressful. And they hadn’t even left the village yet. Kami help him.

His already considerable respect for Sensei grew every day.

Kakashi’s Team 7 wasn’t nearly as bad as his had been.

Well… at least Rin had been a quiet fangirl, and always the professional medic when needed. That may have just been the wartime seriousness though. He’d never really tried to figure it out, or get to know her, because losing her after Kannabi would have hurt that much worse, especially with their little four-person pack being all that remained.

Not that he hadn’t ripped open his own chest that same day as he had hers even though he’d tried to be distant without being distant , anyway.

When he’d halfheartedly sent the kids after Pakkun to track him down it was with the halfhearted excuse that he was a nin who did a lot of tracking as a specialization… so it was not really a lie. He’d firmly ignored the betrayed look on his longtime friend’s canine features. When he had then followed them lackadaisically as they clamored all over Konoha, to observe their progress while analyzing their abilities. Providing himself some mild entertainment. To make sure they didn’t somehow kill themselves, he hadn’t expected to run into the kunoichi that his Summon had before. 

He solemnly, and perhaps a little hysterically if he was being honest, which was rare, swore that Naruto would lead them into inter-village anarchy somehow. Kakashi just wasn’t sure how yet, and he added the combined decibels that the blonde and pink haired genin released to another fact he hated about his team. 

He was mildly concerned about retaliation on the woman’s part but was sure that she wouldn’t physically attack them. Probably. 

Even if she did, he was more than capable of stopping her, despite his rather lengthy distance. Being speedy and agile was something that he had learned from the best, after all. To be honest, there was no one in Konoha today that could beat him when it came to battle reactionary reflexes. 

Not even Gai, though he came close with sheer speed. His ability to perceive and distinguish things at top speed was still not quite up to par with the Copy-nin’s just yet. Although Kakashi was sure that he’d have it down in a year or two and then likely be faster than him. 

Without chakra boosts, anyway.

It made him uncomfortable, made his chest heavy and tight. Even though he’d rarely used them there were several Hatake tricks he still had up his sleeve that he’d only pull out if he were facing someone where that speed was a necessity.

Like the Raikage.

Which, to be frank, was a rather unlikely situation. 

The chuunin his genin team had interrupted so rudely was perfectly within her rights to meet out punishment for the kids for bothering her. Especially when she was clearly their superior her posture and bearing all but screaming military experience. The observation course at the Academy was apparently not as demanding as he remembered it. 

There was also the fact that while she was practicing jutsu, it was very easy for them as the god awful disaster team to bungle it up with their very presence. Just barging into a training field without going through the proper procedure to enter when someone else was using it. It was dangerous to enter when it was unknown what kind of battle or jutsu that could be walked into. Those kids were just asking to get stabbed or fried, really. 

He was so young – no matter the cracks that Sensei’s son said about his hair – and he was sure he was beginning to get an ulcer.

There was a reason that people reserved training fields and it was so that when you looked at the roster to find one open or to share. It was easier to see if your training would mess with someone else’s who had a prior claim. Since his Summon had chosen to run through her chosen reserved field, it was unlikely that she was one of those hoity-toity know-it-alls like the chuunin that manned the mission desk. 

Still it was never wrong to be safe rather than sorry. A good dose of paranoia in a shinobi was healthy.

More or less.

It was debatable, he had been told.

Even still, he felt a little sympathetic when the kunoichi stuck her finger in her ear to make sure she hadn’t gone deaf. What was her name? Hmm. He knew her name, he did, they’d been on a mission together before, more than one, though not any time recently… Ah, right, Nagisa… um… Nagisa Aiko? Nagisa… Arata? No, no… Nagisa… um… Asuka! Right, Nagisa Asuka. 

She was easy going and relaxed enough with those less experienced than her so as not to get on their cases for going against protocol. Still, there were others that wouldn’t be and would take it out of their hides and possibly put in a formal complaint. Depending on how they reacted to his interference, should it be required. 

There were two extremes should that occur with other ninja they could have come across. Either ridiculous devotion or they would despise him and take it out on the kids, making it that much worse for two of his young pack than it already was. Possible trying to schmooze the kids, which was actually unlikely to work at all since they were kind of canny, despite being idiots in pretty much everything.

Somehow he was going to have to bring that up to them and he was really beginning to wonder at the standards of graduating from the Academy even when not in times of war. The fact that they could get into trouble for those kinds of things now that they were considered adults as genin. This was getting ridiculous, the number of things that they didn’t know or blatantly seemed to ignore.

The look of disbelief and vaguely pinched discomfort on her face was one he knew well.

He wore it under his own mask often enough, although his was tempered with weary, resigned horror a good portion of the time as well.

The thing was that he was beginning to worry that his face might get stuck that way, with his luck.

It was such a handsome face too. Such a tragedy to ruin it with the pain of the children that were wrecking his senses of hearing, smell, by association, taste, and his intestinal tract with their inordinately bad luck and chaotic nonsense.

Sandaime owed him for wasting his youth on these brats.

He’d noted the amusement she regarded his genin with, the mild exasperation and distaste she looked at each of them equally. Kakashi felt mildly relieved that she wasn’t glaring at Naruto with hate and disgust the way some did. 

It pained him to see his comrades look at his Sensei’s son like that, the people he’d… sacrificed for… for them to hate and fear his child like that… it was agony, it was… exhausting . Some eyeing the Uchiha boy like a piece of meat. 

That was a little disturbing thing he’d taken note of in several females when he’d been observing the kids and how they interacted with others when they thought they were alone. Even those up to ten years older than the boy. A number of women, mainly civilians, eyed the orphan as if he were their next meal ticket, their claim to fame. It was more than a little disgusting, and he’d found himself improving on the traps set about the section of the Compound the boy lived in. When he found some of them lurking about. 

Even kunoichi around his age. 

Disgusting.

Gold diggers were disturbing in so many ways it wasn’t even a little bit amusing, especially when there was an unhealthy dose of pedophilia thrown into the mix. Not that any dose of pedophilia was not a bad thing.

It didn’t take long before epiphany struck as she was eyeing Sakura with distaste, and a little awkward worry. Like when one was waiting for an accident to happen or witnessing someone as they blithely walked into a trap involving explosive tags or untested poisons. Those were protective instincts that she had no idea what to do with blooming, he was sure, dealing with pups – er, young, no youths… children, sweet kami his brain… 

That were unprepared for being weaned or separated from an adult’s protective shielding. She didn’t seem the type to have a soft spot for children in general but for the potential future comrades before her. He didn’t know for sure though, he’d never bothered to look into her before. The current liabilities that she’d diagnosed relatively easily in less than five seconds, made her uneasy and worried for their survival.

These were future pack mates and she saw that they stood on shaky thin legs and were more fluff than muscle, looking puffed up and smug. Yet with no idea what to do with budding claws and fangs, other than to bear them in a way that wasn’t really threatening, that they couldn’t even back.

Of course! He thought. I’m a genius!

Even as he watched her perform a rather nice Earth Spike without hand signs once she had dismissed the genin, an action he much preferred when the other options were considered, Kakashi mentally preened. Though there was something odd about the jutsu, and used shunshin to appear behind her with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. 

When her reflexes and chuunin honed chakra sense caused her to nearly attack him, he’d been mildly impressed with the water needles that had materialized before him. Kakashi had taken her blanching at his appearance in good nature, even as she dismissed her jutsu without a thought and eyed him warily. 

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a wise move to appear so suddenly himself, and to be so rude about it as well, without even a flicker of chakra to warn her. Heck, he’d just been mentally reprimanding the kids for not using proper procedure to approach an occupied training field, and he’d tossed it out the window without a second thought himself. Hypocrisy at its finest, really.

The fact that she didn’t look at him with awe or the strangely disturbing trepidation that some of his fellow shinobi did, gave something in him reason to relax and he eye-smiled at her. The corners creasing just a touch more than usual in regards to his innate genius with these type of things, the features beneath his mask matching the movement with genuine replied and cheer instead of bullshit.

Really, he was so smart.

He didn’t know what to do with himself sometimes.

Ah, the burden of genius…

“Ah, how nice to see you again, Nagisa-san,” he stated cheerily, enjoying the way her eyes narrowed suspiciously, and the way the kids off to the side were staring with some rather badly concealed interest. “Lovely weather we’re having.”

With the ease of growing resigned practice he ignored the hollow pang in his chest as the genin gave him the stink eye. Clearly mistrustful of his presence, despite the fact that he had in no way threatened them bodily or otherwise since they had passed his exam. It was his job to protect them, and they didn’t trust him to do that, sometimes seeming to find him the biggest threat. Kakashi really had no idea what to do with that because the last thing he wanted to do was harm a member of his pack. 

He was Alpha, and their innate leeriness of his very presence had his hackles raised, because they felt threatened and it was his duty to get rid of threats, but it wasn’t as if he could get rid of himself. Well, he could , but, that was… not an option. It baffled and twisted him, and while he knew that they just didn’t know him very well, and a part of him approved their wariness when encountering a potential threat. He wasn’t exactly an open book, he would admit, and yet most of him didn’t know how to take it because he would never hurt them.

No matter how reluctantly he had taken them on, or how forcefully they had been shoved onto him.

They were still his , despite the fact that he lacked experience in the role of teacher and protector. Despite the fact that the very idea terrified him and made his nights long with nightmares and memories he’d rather forget. Pulled forth the strong desire to hide behind a porcelain mask; where things were easier, simpler. 

One dimensional. 

Sleep was hard to come by, peace when he managed to do so also a precious commodity, making his hours at the Memorial Stone that much sharper and colder. Kakashi’s mind was that much more numb and apathetic in thoughts.

It was like they sensed the failure in him.

Saw the stains on his hands.

“Hatake-san,” she returned shortly, still wary, pulling him from his dark, useless thoughts.

Well, this wasn’t going so bad.

“I was wondering –” he started with some optimism which was alarmingly out of character, and seemed to put her off even more.

“No. Whatever it is, I’d really much rather not.”

Ah, there it was.

For some reason, he felt mildly relieved.

He’d remembered her to be somewhat blunt from their few interactions, a personality trait that he could appreciate the chuunin kunoichi for. Whereas he normally was confronted with effusive prattling and political knots of subterfuge with most everyone he encountered in the upper echelon of Konoha’s ranks. It didn’t really depend on who you were with this particular chuunin, though he was sure she was nothing if not polite to the Sandaime. 

Even if he’d never heard her debrief from a mission, because there wasn’t a member of the active-duty roster he could think of that didn’t worship the ground the Professor walked on as a leader, if not a person. He’d also noted on their few joint missions that this rather equalizing aspect of her personality was something that some of the other chuunin he’d heard speaking to her had found odd about her, since she didn’t socialize much. 

It was rare for a kunoichi to spend so much time training, to hold herself apart from the rest of her comrades as much as she did. As most kunoichi – and shinobi – were social creatures. It was rather interesting that it appeared she hadn’t adopted the social norms of her station because of this habit, wasn’t doing the usual chuunin act. 

Most below his own jounin status he came in contact with either tried to butter up to him something awful.  Frankly, it made him uncomfortable as well as more than a little embarrassed for their fervency and ridiculousness. Or they felt insulted, snubbed or perhaps disgusted at his very presence, as if he were the reason that they weren’t jounin.

Technically, to some extent, he probably was, but it wasn’t his fault that their ability didn’t match up to his.

Still, he managed to convince her to speak with him, and studied her as she thought about his proposal, her eyes a little distant as she pondered.

Nagisa was one of the more utilitarian kunoichi he’d come across. One of the most competent in her abilities he’d seen below the rank of jounin who had not sacrificed their femininity completely; something that his female student wouldn’t respond to at all. She had a no-nonsense kind of air to her, but if the way she treated everyone equally stretched over to his most painfully troublesome child he could definitely take advantage of that. 

Some nin disliked being around civilian born, and he didn’t know if she was one of those or not.

When her eyes narrowed and darkened into a look that either spoke of extreme desire to cause pain, or uncomfortable and dark arousal, he’d felt his nerves spike.

S-sadism…? Ah, no, don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t one of Jiraiya’s books.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea?

No, no, I’m a genius, right? This should be fine, right?

Sometimes, though, he did wonder…

His mental Tenzō was giving him a look that didn't deserve comment.

“Sure,” she stated with a nod. 

She turned to him as she spoke, her expression relaxing as she turned to him with clear, rather pretty, green eyes as the corners of her lips turned up slightly. 

The action completely changed her features into something much warmer and more open, causing his gaze to catch on a small scar on one side of her mouth. That had to have been an impressive backhand to leave a scar like that, because, by the look of it, it had split her lip right open to the teeth and then been sewn back shut, instead of treated with iryō-jutsu. She had rather pleasant features, attractive in a way he could appreciate without much thought. 

When she wasn’t staring blankly or looking at someone like they were the scum of the earth, as if they weren’t good enough to grace the sole of her shoe, that is. 

Although, to be fair, he thought that those were her factory settings for expressions and he doubted she knew that she had a rather intimidating mien even outside of a mission. If only because she wasn’t a very open person and her features rarely reflected her thoughts. 

To some, he rather thought that it was generally thought that they did and that was what made her fellows avoid her.

Another reason that Kakashi would rather not show his own face.

“You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

“Oh?” 

All things considered, he was a little interested in what she would want from him, what it was that a self-sufficient woman like herself couldn’t do or get on her own. A not so small part of him was waiting for the disappointment that came with people wanting to use his rank for something, or to get in the good graces of the famous Hatake Kakashi.

Ugh .

When she’d indicated with some frustration her previously proper seeming, rather nice Earth jutsu, he found himself gobsmacked. Taking bewildered note of the actual water that was dripping out of the center of a deteriorating spike. He was sure that it had been a perfectly respectable Earth Spike last he’d checked. 

Was… was that supposed to happen? He had never… No, no, he’d done something similar when he’d first started using different affinities, hadn’t he?

Right, his Lightning had completely destroyed his Earth jutsu, until he’d learned to separate his affinities properly, something that had amused his Sensei to no end. 

Don’t even get him started on learning even basic Wind… he could almost hear the hysterical laughter whenever a particularly strong draft passed through wherever he was. The gasping chokes and snorts that the golden-haired man had released when he’d nearly blew his hand off with a Gale Palm… 

Yes, affinity training could be problematic.

“Sounds good,” he managed, a little relieved that assistance with training was all she asked for. 

Training, he could do. At least, with other mature nin.

He had no idea what he was doing with these genin.

Oh gods, he was going to ruin them.

He mourned his fading youth.

~*~ 

“Wow, you really are here,” the chuunin mused aloud, a little amused at the fact that all three genin were sitting at the training grounds waiting for their jounin-sensei. Despite the fact that they must have learned that he wouldn’t show up for at least another three hours. Even the civilians – who could care less, unless they were females of marriageable age – knew of his terrible habit of tardiness. “I didn’t think you would be.”

“Eh?” a squinty-eyed stare from the yellow-haired nuisance who made it so that she had to go an extra twenty minutes to get her laundry done after his evil prank. “Who’re you?”

“Baka!” the pink-haired girl – Haruno Sakura – smacked a fist into the back of the jinchuuriki’s head. “That’s the kunoichi from the other day, when we were tracking Pakkun-san!”

“Eeeh?” he looked at her with a frown, before the metaphorical light turned on. “Oh, right! Hey, Lady, what are you doing here?”

Lady… ugh. This kid has horrible manners.

“Standing,” she stated dryly, turning to examine her would-be student. She dismissed him with a wry smile, entirely missing the shocked, confused look, that had suddenly started to cross his mobile features. “Haruno Sakura, right?”

The girl blinked light, jade green eyes at the older female, something like confusion and surprise crossing her features.

“Yes, that’s me.”

At the clarification, Asuka nodded her head as she studied the girl.

“Right, I’m Nagisa Asuka, Hatake-san asked me to work with you for a time,” she gestured towards the opposing side of the training grounds. “Shall we discuss this in private?”

After staring at the chuunin with something like shock for a moment, the girl nodded shyly and tucked a long lock of pink hair behind her ear.

“Of course, kunoichi-san!”

They hadn’t even started to move towards the semi-privacy that the other side of the training grounds could bring, when the orange-clad genin burst in.

“Eh? Sakura-chan gets extra training? Why does she get extra training?” he scowled at Asuka with surprising ferocity, and she blinked at him in astonishment. “I want to train too!”

Brows furrowed, she glanced at the glowering Uchiha, to see something like disgruntled agreement on his pale, pretty boy features.

Oh, something like sympathy and confused discomfort squirmed in her chest at the odd, flinching kind of loneliness and awkwardness, in those two pairs of bright and dark eyes set in young features. They just don’t know what to do with themselves, do they?

That’s… familiar.

“Here’s the deal,” she set her hands on her hips, considering the two boys and the flushing girl who stood next to her staring at the ground and playing with her hair nervously. “I only spoke to Hatake-san about kunoichi training, and considering the fact that only one of the genin before me is a kunoichi – unless one of you spontaneously loses a piece of your anatomy and sprouts something else – you should speak to your jounin-sensei about any additional training that might be up for grabs, alright? Negotiate it out with him, okay?”

“Oh,” there was something endearing about the sheepish shrug of orange-clad shoulders and shuffled feet as the boy rubbed the back of his hand. “Eheh, sorry. Good luck, Sakura-chan! Do your best!”

“Of course!” she shot back, looking pleased nonetheless, even if that expression melted away into dejection at the indifference that had taken over the Uchiha’s features.

That, Asuka thought with absolute certainty. Has to be one of the first things to go , she took a breath and grit her teeth against the urge to sneeze. The overwhelming power of perfume smacking her in the face as the direction of the wind changed, causing her to press her tongue to the roof of her mouth uncomfortably to hold it in. That too.

Once the two females had sat themselves down on the other side of the field, the chuunin found herself quizzing the genin on the basics. Gound herself rather pleased and relieved that the girl at least knew theory… well, most of it.

Some of the holes in her knowledge were, quite frankly, alarming.

“You’re dieting, why?” was the first thing that came out of her mouth after the girl had finished speaking.

“Eh?” she flushed a little, playing with her hair. “Well, I want to be thin for…” she snuck a glance over at the surviving Uchiha. “It’s bad to eat too much.”

“Eat too much?” the thought had never occurred to Asuka, not really, not with the basic nutritional outline given to the students after the first year of chakra exercises were introduced in the Academy. “Sakura, dear, do you know how much you should be eating as a kunoichi, in a day? While using chakra and doing a lot of physical work, and still growing?”

“Um,” the girl's brows furrowed and she looked up with something like confusion on her features. “No? Three meals?”

The chuunin was already shaking her head even as the words came out of the girl’s mouth, kunai and senbon clinking together like chimes in the wind.

“Well, first off, using your chakra takes a lot of your stamina, right?” a nod. “And how do you regain energy?”

“Eating and sleeping.”

“Yes, so, a kunoichi or shinobi should be eating up to – or potentially even more than – three times the amount of a civilian. Due to growing chakra stores, as well as a good deal of muscle mass, the body needs significantly more fuel.” 

At the wide-eyed look being directed at her, she found herself much more perturbed. Wasn’t this taught in the Academy? She remembered this course from her own years, and it was definitely something that wouldn’t have been forgotten once taught, but… 

“I myself, eat perhaps five or six full meals packed with calories and protein in a day, as well as snacks. Considering I’m a chuunin, with mostly settled physical abilities, this is actually more than I strictly need as I’m not a chakra intensive jutsu heavy kunoichi; the jutsu that I do use don’t take a lot of chakra. Those who reach the rank of jounin usually need to take in more nutrients in a day to keep peak efficiency and most also have the ability to regulate their metabolism to use their nutritional intake to the best of their ability. But you, a growing girl who hasn’t yet settled your hormones or physical capabilities, need a lot. Even when you aren’t doing a dangerous mission, which is why even D-ranked missions have considerable pay, to feed the growing coils and bodies of newly minted genin.”

That stare was really bothering her. Did no one ever tell her any of this? Really? Asuka remembered units on nutrition and diet. Like, units and units of study on the subject because the basic action of feeding yourself was doubly important when things like chakra got involved. 

During wartime, there were even segments in learning what nutrition you can go without when short on rations, which losses will harm you the most in the long run vs. the short run. There had been distinct lessons in both her kunoichi and basic classes in the Academy.

Peacetime couldn’t have changed the curriculum that much, could it?

“If not properly fed and cared for, a ninja could collapse their coils by over-exerting themselves when out of energy, because, due to dieting or lack of calorie intake, the physical aspect of chakra cannot hold up to the spiritual – can’t support it – causing an overall smaller chakra store. The older you get, the more food you are going to need and the larger your chakra stores are going to want to grow which, considering the lack of protein and vitamins you take in a day, could either kill you outright or possibly stunt your growth. Eventually, your body could even prevent you from having children by sacrificing the unnecessary organs – generally starting with your uterus and ovaries – by cannibalizing the internal chakra stores that are keeping them healthy, all to ensure your survival.”

A moment of silence, and something like fearful, shocked sadness trembled through jade green eyes and over wobbling lips.

“Oh,” was the soft whisper, an audible click loud as she swallowed. “You won’t get…” her gaze flickered up to meet the darker, emerald green of the woman before her. “Fat?”

The small, amused, patient smile that crossed her features stayed for a moment before she gestured to her own, toned, athletic physique, decked out in almost zero battle attire as it was, considering she had the day free.

“Do I seem fat to you, Sakura dear?”

“No,” she shook her head as she said it, pink hair flickering around her as she did so. “You don’t at all.”

“No, I don’t.” 

With a considering look at the girl before her, Asuka reached into her kunai pouch and brought out a small packet of calorie-rich rice crackers designed and created with kunoichi in mind, and handed them to the girl. 

“Here, you’re hungry, aren’t you?” the genin flushed, but nodded, taking the bag but not opening it. Baby steps… “As a kunoichi, you’ll find it hard to gain weight after you hit your physical peak, and very easy to lose it, especially when your life is busy with training and missions; you always have to make sure that you make time for meals or carry several snacks around with you. You also must make sure to balance your nutritional plan with how much physical training you do, otherwise you either won’t be eating enough, or you’ll gain muscle too quickly and possibly hamper your growth. Hatake-san mentioned that you were the top in your class in theoretical testing?” the girl squirmed a little but nodded, her cheeks flushed a little brighter, something like shocked, fragile pleasure alighting in jade eyes. “There are a number of scrolls or books you could either purchase from a ninja geared store, or check out from the genin section of the library, that contains information to help you calculate your own dietary needs. I’ll give you a list of them that I made for you when we’re done today, so that you can work on that.”

When the bag opened with a crinkle, the chuunin felt something like satisfaction settle in her chest.

Baby steps…

“Also,” she considered the girl before her as she ate the cutesy, animal shaped crackers with restrained hunger. The panda shaped ones were Asuka’s favorite, but she’d never say that out loud. “You should perhaps wait until you’ve gained some weight, but consider getting wrist and ankle weights, nothing too heavy, but enough to passively work on strengthening yourself until you can actually have taijutsu training do anything for you. I’d rather you gain at least a solid ten to twenty pounds before doing this, but it is your body so the decision, ultimately, is yours. I will, however, warn you that doing so too early could damage your ligaments and growth plates. There are a number of texts concerning this that will also be on the list I’ll give you.”

“Hai, sensei.” 

It took a moment as the girl stared down at her hands, but the girl looked up from the snacks she’d been eating, something like determination settling into those lightly colored eyes.

Sensei, huh? She raised a mental eyebrow, feeling oddly uncomfortable and almost equally pleased with the title. Well, it’ll do. 

“Also,” she frowned severely, taking some satisfaction as she stared into the girl’s eyes that she had riveted on the woman’s resolute, hard expression. “I will have no talking of crushes when you give me an explanation for whatever ineptitude or attitude – be it lacking or superficial – that I find in your training, do you understand me? I’m doing this as a favor to Hatake-san, and to save your life . That boy over there is of no interest to me,” her frown softened at wide, shocked eyes, dark green eyes warming in a way that had the pink-haired girl blinking and swallowing with sudden emotion. “ You are. I’m not here for him, I’m here for you. No matter what Hatake-san might ask in the future regarding those two boys over there, here – now and later – when it is just you and me, you are my priority, do you understand?”

When those lovely jade green eyes trembled and watered, the girl staring down at her bag of snacks, Asuka ran a tender, callused hand over that silky – ridiculously so – pink hair in comfort. Pulsing her chakra warmly over the girl to sooth, even as tears dripped onto the plastic of the cracker packaging.

“Do you understand, Sakura?” she asked softly.

“Hai,” she sniffled, quickly rubbing her hands over her face before smiling brightly up at the chuunin, despite her still wet eyes. “I understand, Asuka-sensei.”

“Good.”

She took a breath that was spoiled by an acidic tang and wrinkled her nose a bit in distaste.

“Now, about that perfume …”

~*~

“The Hokage will see you now.”

Looking up at the chuunin at the desk, when she spoke, Asuka stood and nodded her thanks before entering the office. It was a chuunin that she was unfamiliar with, which meant it likely wasn’t a chuunin, probably some ANBU who had gotten onto the Sandaime’s shit list.

“Hokage-sama.” 

She bowed at the waist before straightening, taking in the slightly tired looked to those wizened dark eyes as they regarded her from where he smoked his pipe, leaning back in his seat. 

“Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.”

“Asuka-kun, how good to see you,” the warmth and affection she remembered from her youth caused her to smile warmly at the grandfather of Konoha. Her own cheeks warming slightly in something like pointless embarrassment and fondness. “There was something you wished to discuss?”

“Ah, yes sir,” she nodded and shifted to stand in a more comfortable position, features smoothing. “It’s in regards to the Academy curriculum.”

Those dark, tired eyes sharpened as he stared at her, and she realized that perhaps there was more going on there than she had previously realized or considered. 

She knew that Mizuki had turned traitor and that he’d been a teacher at the Academy. That he had tried to use an Academy student to steal the Forbidden Scroll, but he certainly hadn’t been situated there for that long, not long enough to affect the curriculum, had he? 

He hadn’t been a member of the senior staff, so he would have had little effect on things, other than giving suggestions to those who were in charge of class arrangements. If he hadn’t, did that mean that there was someone from before that mess who was, and had been, sabotaging the future nin of Konoha? Or had the curriculum switched something out – even something as important as diet and physical health – after having deemed it unnecessary?

She really needed to speak to other ninja more often, if she were missing things like this.

Still, she felt a bit mollified in her dislike of the other chuunin who had been revealed to be a traitor, even if the thought was distasteful.

“Oh?” he extinguished his pipe and set it aside, interlocking his fingers and leaning forward on his desk. “Please, explain.”

So she did.

His expression grew grim as she explained her concern over the complete lack of knowledge in regards to the effect that chakra had on the body of a kunoichi. Likely on a shinobi as well, and perhaps a complete section regarding physical health having been removed from the curriculum. The fact that stealth training, as well as a regard for other Konoha nin with enhanced senses, hadn’t been completely instilled, causing perhaps some dissension in the ranks as well as animosity towards civilian born nin. Who didn’t have the ideals taught to them that could possibly cause ninja like the Inuzuka to not want to work with them. 

There were enough problems with animosity between the ranks and that subtle sort of disregard for females in general, that when faced with civilians got worse. Konoha didn’t need anymore of these issues growing roots when they had enough enemies and issues to deal with outside of their walls.

They didn’t need potential undermining from within by their own.

It would certainly explain the lack of civilian graduates in the past years; direct sabotage, and wouldn’t the civilian council just be so thrilled by that? As well as a drop in kunoichi who were viable for fieldwork, seeing that most were civilian born and first generation ninja. Which was making her job that much harder by giving her a heavier load of missions that not only needed a female presence, but also required battle specialists.

Not that Asuka minded all of the missions that ended up foisted upon her because of her somewhat in-demand skill set. It would, however, be nice to have been able to split it between more than the three other kunoichi who matched the criteria, especially since one of them was a jounin who had other missions to tend to as well. 

It was just concerning that there weren't more people with the necessary skill sets to give her and others a break. And if they are injured, well… that's a loss for the village of those kinds of contracts.

“Well,” his lips pressed together tightly at the corners, showing his displeasure, and the lines on his face lengthened. “Asuka-kun, please tell my secretary to bring forth all the Academy instructors for a meeting as soon as possible.”

“Hai, Hokage-sama,” she bowed as she had when entering and turned to leave.

“Oh, and Asuka-kun?”

“Sir?” 

She turned back, her expression inquiring, brows slightly furrowed with discontent. 

Something inside her relaxed at the smile he sent her, despite the weariness in his dark gaze, and she recognized it as her distress at having caused him unhappiness.

“Thank you for coming to me with this.”

“Of course, Hokage-sama.”