This story evolved out of a question: "Tayuya survives, but no one is there to help her, so how did she?". There are a couple stories where she gets rescued by Jiraiya and/or Naruto, but I wanted to see what would happen with her as the main character. Enjoy! (And don't forget to review, every comment helps!)

If Love's a Sweet Passion, why does it torment?
If a Bitter, oh tell me whence comes my content?
Since I suffer with pleasure, why should I complain,
Or grieve at my Fate, when I know 'tis in vain?
Yet so pleasing the Pain is, so soft is the Dart,
That at once it both wounds me, and Tickles my Heart.

- The Fairy-Queen


Did Naruto ever need to choose between the lesser of two evils, and then find out later he'd chosen wrong? If not, I don't own Naruto, nor any of the associated universe.

Part 1: Life

Chapter 1:
The Bonds That Bind Us

Dying… was not what Tayuya had expected.

Or what she had hoped.

Instead it was black and inky, with vague feelings of malcontent and worry. She had no sight, but her hearing wavered in and out.

"She's the most compatible we've seen! If we don't take this opportunity, we may never get another chance!"

Whispered mutters filled her ears.

A clear, feminine voice rose up, and rang out in the dark like a bell.

"Do it. We have no other choice." It seemed to grow weary. "We cannot allow her to succeed."

The voice seemed to turn in Tayuya's direction. "I only hope she can forgive us."

Then there was silence. And Tayuya was thrown back into the void.

A spot appeared on the dark empty canvas, and expanded, appearing to rush towards her. And then she could see.

… What had she been doing? Something niggled at the back of her awareness, but she couldn't recall what it was. It was like a gap, but even the knowledge that there was a gap slowly sifted out of her mind…

Blinking, Tayuya blearily opened her eyes. Her vision was swarmed with browns and greens, and she realized that her head was lying down sideways, her face directly next to a giant tree.

Whipping her head up, she cleared her eyes with her hands and looked around.

She had been in a fight… with a some pineapple-haired asshole of a shadow user. And he had caught her, but she had him on the ropes. And then…

Tayuya struggled to remember, closing her eyes .

There was a girl. With weird blond hair like a clover. And a Suna hita-ite. And a fucking gigantic fan. Riiiiight.

She had used that fan. And… she had summoned something, like Tayuya's dokis. A weasel? With one eye. And sickle. Who the fuck gives a one-eyed weasel a sickle?

And then she had been thrown into the air. Her flute had been sliced to pieces in front of her. The entire world had rotated beneath her, and Tayuya could have sworn she had seen the Valley of the End. She had been sure she was going to die. She had watched the bisected tree trunks fall on her.

Note to self. Do not attempt to engage wind users who know their shit in the middle of a forest.

But why wasn't she dead?

That seemed to be the question of the moment. She opened her eyes from her concentration, and continued surveying the situation.

Right until her eyes hit the large segments of wood that were crushing her entire lower half.


She continued to let loose a stream of profanities until it registered that she wasn't feeling anything.

…Where was the pain? She knew there was a lot of adrenaline in her system, but not nearly enough to deal with the fuck-ton of pain she should be feeling. She'd have to practically be sedated not to feel this. She pinched her arm. Well, she could still feel that just fine. And then she poked the little bit of exposed flesh she could below her waist. Nothing.

Well, that was curious. Orochimaru-sama would no doubt be interested in this development. She sobered as she realized the rest of the Sound Four were probably dead and they had more than likely failed the mission. She did not want to be the one to tell him those things. Especially the last one.

The segment of tree that was pinning her legs down You know they aren't pinned, they're flattened. was about four feet wide in diameter. And it probably weighed half a ton.

She tried to move it. Yeah, not moving that without any help.

She laid back, just thinking for a moment. Why hadn't he come looking for her? Or any of them? At the very least, he should have come to collect their bodies. They were his personal guard, after all. So where the fuck was he?

She knew that he was absolutely obsessed with the Uchiha boy, but not to the extent that he would just toss them aside like some old, used toy. Right? She was one of the Sound fucking Four. So when she finally got into a situation where she needed a bit of help, where the hell was he?

Her subconscious noted that she was questioning Orochimaru. Something that she hadn't done in years.

Ugh. It looked like she'd need to use the curse seal.

She hated it.

She hated the concept of it.

She hated the realization of it.

She avoided it all costs. Every time she used it, it felt like her entire body had been dunked in something slimy like oil, and whenever she came out of it, she always had a terrible headache, and the sense that something had been violating her in the worst ways.

It was an incredible high. Addicting, even. It made you feel absolutely invincible. But the drawbacks she felt completely soured the experience. Orochimaru had taken note of her complaints.

And then done absolutely nothing about it, simply telling her to deal with it.

But she just couldn't get over the feeling she had now that every time she had used it, the headache was because it had been doing something.

When she'd first taken the curse seal when she was thirteen, he had promised that all it did was give their chakra an extra 'kick'. Like adding a catalyst to a reaction. He'd even shown her notes on how it absorbed some kind of chakra from around her, stabilized it, and processed it so that her own chakra system would be able to handle it. But now she was getting the feeling he had left a few things out.

Why now?

She pushed the questions aside. She had more immediate problems to deal with.

Level one should be more than enough to handle this. She reached for the familiar tendril of black, oily taint that persisted in her chakra reserves, the link back to the curse seal, resigned to the terribly uncomfortable sensation in order to try and move the piece of wood that was trapping her.

"What. The. Fuck." It wasn't there.

She delved deeper, thinking maybe she had missed it, and her blackout had somehow screwed with her internal senses. But she hadn't been wrong. It was just… missing. Like it had never existed in the first place.

She scrabbled at the edge of her neckline and ran her fingers over the back of her neck, trying to feel for the burning right-angle hooks of the triskelion that was the surface mark of her curse seal. She vaguely realized her hands were shaking. Why?

There… there was nothing there. A nervous giggle bubbled up from her gut.

She was happy? Why was she happy? He would be furious! In fact, he'd probably make her into an experiment just to see how the fuck she had managed to get rid of it, hoping that it would happen again. She would never see the light of day again. And yet, she couldn't stop laughing.

That'll only happen if he finds out.

Yes. If was good.

Why is if good?

Tayuya clutched at her head in frustration. It was like there were two voices battling for supremacy in her mind.

It should be physically impossible to remove the curse seal. Removing it from you did nothing. Even grafting skin to replace the external symbol did nothing, as that only solved a symptom, not the cause. And the symbol would just float back to the top anyways.

The way the curse seal worked was that it grew into your chakra network, threading through all of your pathways until it hit your reserves in your midsection. That included going through the paths that were intrinsically attached to vital organs. Like your heart. And your brain.

Even in the subjects that failed the application (the ones who died, dumbass), there was still those telltale microscopic black tendrils and roots, twisting around in the body upon Orochimaru's scientific autopsy.

When you drew on it, it siphoned chakra out of your reserves, modified it, and then injected it straight back in, like some sort of weird purification system. Except it didn't purify. It tainted, using that external source. Using the modified chakra had always felt like alcohol, addicting, fun, and great until the next day. Combustible, poisonous, and deadly were a few other similarities she could draw there. That was a great analogy.

So why was she thinking about the downsides so much now? She'd never really done that, she'd just avoided using it when she could. The only thing that had changed was the disappearance of the curse seal. Orochimaru hadn't done anything with mind-altering seals…

Except for a decade ago.

The blood drained from her face. "Oh Kami." There had been something in the seal. Some sort of loyalty and obedience directive. She vaguely recalled that some of the research notes she had read through covered suppressing both higher-level brain functions and the capability to question the person it was attuned to.

Fucking shit on a stick.

Why hadn't she made that connection before now? Well, obviously the seal had been tampering and sabotaging her in that regard, but it had been obvious. A simple one-jump correlation!

Had she not wanted to believe he would do that to them? Subconsciously ignoring all of the little hints and things that pointed to him not being as considerate as she had thought?

That… was disturbing. But then again, none of the other Sound Four had ever seemed to have trouble with it. But they had also worshiped the ground upon which "Orochimaru-sama" had walked.

Oh, she had done it too. Before the Konoha chunin exams, she'd seen him as some sort of invincible figure. A god. Anything he wanted, he got. It had been that charisma that had drawn her to him. Made her accept his offer. But when he had been defeated at the hands of the Third Hokage, she had started feeling like something was amiss.

Apparently he cared more about having loyal tools than ninja who could think their way out of a maze. It actually kind of explained a lot. Had they seriously believed that infiltrating a hidden village, and stealing one of its most prominent members wouldn't be noted?

Well, perhaps it wouldn't have for long enough. But then! They had been defeated by six genin. (7 if she counted that wind bitch.) It was a bit insulting to her abilities. All the Sound Four were supposed to be jounin-level.

But that wasn't the point.

The seal had been subtly warping their minds and brainwashing them, blocking and crushing thoughts of disloyalty or questions of his decisions.

There had been a few instances where she had seen him be rather cruel prior to the seal being applied, and the suspicions that he didn't have their best interests in mind must have persisted even after its application.

And then there were a few other things to consider. After the Konoha Invasion, while they had been escaping, she had run past Jiraiya. The one man that Orochimaru had warned them never to engage, outside of that weird group with the black cloaks. That sort of attention was not the kind she wanted.

So what now?

She could go back to him, and he would put her right back where she had been, or worse experiment on her (and she had seen the things that had happened to those people. Not pretty.) Or what? Run away?

Her mind, newly freed from a pressure it hadn't even known existed, struggled with the concept of freedom.

She had been with Orochimaru for the past 7 years. And since she couldn't remember anything before she was seven or eight, that technically accounted for more than half her life. What else did she know besides working for him?

Tayuya vaguely noted that if the curse seal had still been applied, she probably would have jumped at the chance of returning to him. But now that she had full control of her mental faculties, especially those that dealt with self-preservation and logic, she was questioning the purpose of that path.

This was some really tough shit.


She had two options:

On the one hand, she could go back to him.

On the other, she could head in a different direction, living her life trying to stay under his radar, hoping he'd never catch notice of him.

Tayuya realized her mind was still automatically prioritizing going against him as 'bad'.

Let's try that again.

She had two options:

She could go back, and at best hope for a life of servitude, bound to a man that conducted highly questionable and unethical experiments.


She could leave, and attempt to live a new life, working towards attaining something meaningful.

Huh. It really seemed like a dumb question when put like that.

…So what, she was just going to betray him now?

He had given her food and shelter! Clothing! Training! Resources!

But, he had also lied to her. He'd sworn not to do anything to harm her when she joined him, and this was obviously in direct violation of that.

That argument seemed to shut up the remaining part of her that still thought going back to him was the best course of action.

I need to look out for myself, first. Just like before he came into my life.

Her mind was made up, and everything was quiet inside her mind.

It was strange. Her whole life had revolved around him. And now he was just… didn't matter.

Exorcised from her life like a tumor by a simple decision now that there was no curse seal clouding her thoughts.

She yelled out to the heavens, reveling in her new-found ability to oppose him.

"You're a fucking slimy cunt, Orochimaru!"

That was nice. She needed that.

Now she had to get these fucking logs off of her.

No curse seal. Alright. She could work with that. She could temporarily reinforce her arms to let her lift them off, but it wouldn't last very long. Seconds long. So she'd need to be quick. She drew on some chakra, and threaded it to the muscles in her arms.

"Ouuuufff." Trees were heavy. No matter what anybody said. (An echo of 'YOUTH!' came from the direction of Konoha) Even for a seventeen year-old kunoichi. Maybe someone with more muscles would have done better, but it was difficult for her.

Tayuya maneuvered the trunk over her head and to the right, putting it down on the piece she was on top of, releasing the chakra from her arms.

She almost didn't want to look. She knew it wouldn't be pretty. But she had to.

She glanced down.

Oh. Oh fuck. That… that was not good.

Her legs were, quite literally, mush.

The muscle had been mashed to a paste, and she could see white shards of bone in places she knew it shouldn't be.

In some areas, it appeared as if the entire bone had been crushed at once, leaving radial fractures and exposing pink marrow to the air, at least until there was another sharp break in the bone.

Her knees were gone, nothing more than fragments showing there had even been something there. Her feet were only connected to her lower legs by thin strips of meat.

She was feeling pretty lightheaded. Was… was this what shock felt like?

It was hard associating this image with her own body, especially when she couldn't feel any pain.

Where the hell was it.?

Tayuya just sat there, in a daze. There was really nothing else she could do at this point.

She was more surprised she hadn't bled out. Both her femoral arteries were exposed. She could see them. So where was the blood that should have been coming out?

Something in her chest warmed up, and tugged on the chakra in her core, pulling it closer to her heart.

Unnerved, she focused inward and tried to figure out what was happening. Something out of the corner of her eye moved, and she yanked her attention back to reality.

Her legs were healing.

Tayuya watched in fascination as they began to knit back together, slowly picking up speed. She'd heard tales of Tsunade's Sozo Saisen from Orochimaru, and how it could regenerate even lost limbs as if like magic.

But seeing her own body just fix itself from a (most definitely) fatal wound, with only a minimal drain on her chakra threw Tayuya for a loop.

She looked closer, entranced by the morbid beauty of the sight. It seemed to be less healing, and more… something else.

Shards of bone flew out of muscle, reassembling themselves into recognizable shapes before sinew, ligaments, and tendons flowed back over the bone.

Torn muscle reconnected itself, the blood pooled around her sucked itself back into her femoral arteries and veins.

Shredded skin moved like liquid, flattening itself out to perfect smoothness.

The best way she could think to describe it was that something had reversed what had happened to her legs. But that was insane. Time-space ninjutsu were notoriously finicky, and people who mastered them were (more often than not) considered gods among men. The Yellow Flash had fought the Kyuubi, and won.

The end result was that Tayuya was left with two flawless, perfect legs. There was no hint of the scars she'd had before, not even the large slash on her thigh (from one of Kidōmaru's arrows) that she'd gotten in a training session.

She slowly moved them around, almost disbelieving her eyes. There was full mobility, even if there was a bit of tightness.

"Well, fuck."

It felt too good to be true.

Every technique had its drawbacks. And just because she couldn't immediately identify anything that was wrong, didn't mean that there wasn't some sort of terrible price. Especially since the chakra cost had been so low. For all she knew, it could be using her life-force or something, shortening her lifespan by years.

Brain kicking into gear, she resolved to deal with this new development when she was safer. Right now, she was in enemy territory, and uncomfortably close to Rice Country. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and the bastard snake as she could.

Slowly propping herself up, Tayuya swung her (new? old? healed?) legs over the side of the trunk she had been on top of and landed silently on the soft forest floor, stumbling slightly from the tensing in her leg muscles.

Not at all shocking considering they had looked like ground beef less than five minutes ago.

Tayuya leaned against another nearby (upright!) tree trunk, and thought about her options.

She wasn't going back to him. She had made up her mind. And the longer she thought about that decision, the more she was determined it was the correct one. Orochimaru's hold on her mind almost seemed like it was still lessening. If that was even possible.

Now the question was where to go.

Her first thought was the further away from him the better.

That pointed to Wind Country.

But to get to Wind, she'd have to travel through the heart of Fire Country, passing close by Konoha. And they were probably like an angry bee's nest right now. They would be on guard for a while. The Sound Four had woken the sleeping beast. And it was not happy.

She did not want to throw herself right back into where she had come from.

They'd put her in irons, throw her in a cell, and interrogate her for weeks. And while she would be more than willing to give them information, if word leaked back to Orochimaru, he'd have someone kill her in the dead of night.

And he did have sources in Konoha. So that wasn't an option.

Traveling east would bring her closer to Rice Country and, by proxy, Orochimaru.

That was also not an option.

Until she figured out exactly what sort of damage the curse seal had done to her psyche, she was going to be trying to stay as far away from that bastard as possible.

The furthest she could go west in a single day was somewhere like Waterfall Country, if she kept to the borders.

The capital of Waterfall was actually near the border with Fire Country. And it would definitely have things she needed. Like somewhere to sleep. And food.

That was looking like it might be the best course of action. She could get there in three hours… maybe two if she really pushed herself.

Waterfall it was.

Tree running gave her the chance to think over her life the past few years.

Orochimaru had always been a bit of a gamble.

Now that she was out from under the influence of the seal, she could recognize that he was a cruel bastard. A fucking brilliant one, but a bastard nonetheless.

She had also thought he didn't throw away the things that he had put effort into.

…Not that she was thinking of going back now.

It was just… her beliefs about the snake were being called into question. Obviously.

She had also thought him to be a man of his word, but the side-effects of the curse mark had shown her how wrong that was.

What else had he lied about?

She knew that the Sound Four had been little more than tools to him, but she thought he would at least honor his side of the oath to her.

Then again, he had shown himself to stab partners in the back as long as it suited his goals.

She had fooled herself into believing that the same wouldn't happen to her. Not helped at all by the curse seal whispering sweet nothings in her mind, of course.

Everything came back to the seal.

She could explain being naïve at ten.

But to be so deluded as to believe that Orochimaru wouldn't, couldn't betray her like she had seen countless times? Either she was naturally delusional, or artificially.

And based on how lucid and clear her mind felt now, she could definitely count this in the 'artificial' column.

Suddenly, the trees came to a clearing. It wasn't the lack of trees, but the sight in front of her that had Tayuya halt and nearly fall off of the branch she was perched on.

Holy shit. What the hell happened here?

For as far as the eye could see, until the beginning of trees on the opposite side, was a sea of white things. It was like some god had decided to turn this part of the land into a personal pincushion.

On second glance, they appeared almost organic. But nothing organic looked this white… except bone.

"KIMIMARO!" Against her mind screaming at her to run away, she ran towards the only shape that marred the perfect white sea.

She had never seen him in his cursed seal form. Ever. Before contracting his illness, he had been able to take on all the Sound Four at once while they were in Stage One without needing it.

What could have pushed you to go so far?

She drew up to mutated form of the Kaguya.

His eyes were still open, focused on something that must have been only a few feet in front of him. Dry blood colored the corners of his mouth.

So… it finally did you in.

Kimimaro's illness was honestly the only thing she could imagine him succumbing to. Everything else was just a goal to be completed, given to him by his 'Orochimaru-sama'. He had never failed, never been defeated.

"You fucking idiot." She sighed.

Kimimaro had been hopelessly loyal to Orochimaru, even before the curse seal. If he was still alive now, there was no doubt that he would have been the one that Orochimaru sent to kill her, and he would have happily ended her life with his own hands, just because it was a task personally given to him.

Closing his eyes, she clapped her hands and said a prayer of ease in passing to the next life.

She could afford him this much respect as a former comrade, and if not, at least for the way he had died in battle.

This had been her, only days ago. Completely devoted to Orochimaru: mind, body, and soul. Delusional to the point of blindly following and clinging to his every word. Submitting to his every whim.

Those thoughts now chilled her to the core.

Making her way to the other edge of the clearing, she looked back once, and shuddered. If there was someone who could push Kimimaro that far, she wanted nothing to do with them, especially be on the other side of a fight.

All the more reason to get away from Konoha as quickly as possible.

Jumping through foliage once more, slowly making her way west, she thought about what she'd need to do.

She would have to be wary of Orochimaru's retribution for abandoning him. If he became aware she was still alive, he would more than likely send someone to kill her. If not just out of spite, then to ensure that she didn't reveal any of his secrets. She would need to lay low for a while, avoiding any and all attention. Especially from shinobi.

First things first, a change of clothes.

Her hat had fallen off in the middle of the fight, so there was nothing to do about that, which pissed her off to no end. And her rope belt had been ripped apart when those trees had fallen on her. But it was her shirt and pants that had taken the most damage.

Her shirt was torn and bloodied, the Sound Four's signature yang-yang emblem missing from the apron-like front.

That's one good thing at least One less identifier for anyone to catch onto.

The real problem was that her skintight black shorts were completely shredded.

At this point, they barely served the purpose of preserving her dignity. She might not care much about modesty (growing up with four other guys tended to do that), but it would still be hard to explain walking into a town without any pants on.

After she had got some new clothes, room and board would be next. While she could fast for a few days and not suffer any bad effects, it wasn't comfortable, and something soft to sleep on for the night would be go a long way to making her muscles feel less sore after being pulped.

But then what?

She had no real skills outside combat.

It was times like these that she really regretted not branching out.

Some of the more obscure ninja arts, like fūinjutsu or iryōjutsu were very useful outside of battle, and could even bring in a sizable income.

Unfortunately, Tayuya had personally learned from Kabuto that she did not have the temperament for being a medic.

Fūinjutsu, on the other hand, had to be taught by a seal master. Or the one learning tended to blow themselves up with a malformed seal. And while fūinjutsu was something she was interested in, the number of seal masters she knew of could be counted on one hand, and the ones who would be willing to teach her on none.

Music was the only real marketable skill she had, but playing for other people? Baring her songs for the masses? She would be more comfortable with waltzing naked through Konoha this very second. The ones she used to control her doki were simple tunes (comparatively). But the ones she wrote, that no one but her had every heard, they were her soul. Literally. She could not compose a song that did not reflect herself at some base, inner level. And she would die before anyone knew the contents of those.

So music was clearly out. Maybe she could ask around at the place she stayed and see if anyone needed help.

…As long as it wasn't dealing with customers.

Tayuya was well aware of her language problems, as Jirōbō was more than willing to remind her of.

She just didn't give a shit.

Yeah, dealing with a couple of bad customers would have her fired faster than she could say "fuck".

She'd just have to cross her fingers and hope for the best.

The light that filtered through the trees slowly began to take on an orange hue, and Tayuya noted that she'd been running for close to 3 hours now, long enough that she would soon cross the invisible border into Waterfall Country.

Since she was crossing from the edges of Iron (where it wasn't tits-freezing cold), the village that she was aiming for would be slightly less than half an hour away.

The tightness in her legs had eased, but the hours of running were beginning to catch up to her.

She'd had no water, except for a couple streams she'd come across early in her journey. With no way to transport it, she'd only been able to drink a little before needing to move on.

She wasn't feeling hungry, but that was normal. Part of her training had required going for long periods of time without food, and she had developed a distinct lack of appetite during that time.

A ninja couldn't be distracted by hunger in the middle of a battle, so she had trained herself to not feel hunger. Eating was instead done on a schedule when not on a mission, and when convenient on one. If the Sound Four had known they were going into a dangerous situation, they didn't eat at all for a day before that.

There were downsides to not feeling hunger, such as the potential to starve to death without noticing, but Tayuya hadn't ever really had any problems with it so far.

Thirst was easier to deal with, simply carrying enough water to last a day, and then replenishing that whenever there was an available water source.

Unfortunately, since that Sasuke-prick's abduction was supposed to be a quick in-and-out, she'd neglected to bring her water pouch with her. And since that was at Orochimaru's base with the rest of her (admittedly few) things, there was no chance of her ever seeing it again.

The snake-face had required them to live simply, ready to pick up and leave to another of his hidey-holes at a moment's notice, so the thing she had treasured the most, her flute, had always been on her.

The only other things she really had were ninja tools and a couple scrolls on music as a vehicle for auditory genjutsu intended for beginners. She was so far beyond them that it was laughable.

So there wasn't anything that she really regretted leaving behind.

Her flute, though.

She took a moment to feel sadness at its loss and anger at herself for letting her pride get the best of her. It had slipped from her fingers just as the tree she had been standing on was hit by that girl's attack. And then only a few feet in front of her face, a blade of wind had sliced it in half.

I'm lucky it wasn't me that got hit by that.

It wasn't that the flute itself was special, in fact, it was actually fairly simple and low-quality. But it had been with her for years, and she had grown attached to it.

Tayuya didn't blame the bitch for its destruction, but she still resented the fact that it happened. And if they were ever on opposite sides of a fight again, that fan would make a great battle trophy. Otherwise, she'd let it go.

One of the core tenants of being a ninja that most people seemed to forget was that a shinobi had to let go of their emotions on the battlefield. This included petty things like revenge. Unfortunately, even the most experienced shinobi sometimes succumbed to their emotions, leading to things as terrible as war.

She'd seen it first hand.

Had felt it.

She'd never forget the bloodline purges of Kiri. How because 'normal' shinobi succumbed to their fear of the power of a family's bloodline, they committed mass genocide in the name of 'cleansing the ranks'.

It had been one of her first missions as a ninja for Orochimaru. Go and 'collect' bloodline samples. She had selectively ignored that the samples were living humans, to be transported in the dead of night to a designated drop off area.

As a new ninja, she was unprepared for the terrible things she witnessed. Sure, she had killed (in the sterile environment of one of Orochimaru's labs), but seeing families turn against each other? Sister against brother, parent against child? Killing as though those gifted with special abilities were nothing more than a diseased dog that needed to be put down, simply from fear?

She had never been more glad than in that moment that Orochimaru had found her.

Because this could have been her.

And because of that, she had sworn to never let emotions compromise her ability as a ninja or influence her decisions. As a shinobi, she was a living breathing weapon. And weapons did not have emotions. But when not acting as an official ninja, she was a person. And people did have emotions.

Her two sides were separate, and she worked never to let them overlap. Whenever she was in a fight, it was like a switch was flipped. She was no longer 'Tayuya', she was 'The North Gate'. She had relied on Orochimaru's hand to direct her, because she herself had no will when acting as a shinobi.

Unlike what most people assumed, the personality she used in battle had no true feelings behind it. It was merely a hollow façade modeled after her normal self. Inside, she became cold, logical, and calculating.

It had never failed her, until now.

She had lost control in her fight with the shadow user, and became arrogant in her abilities. And it had led to her defeat.

It was a mistake she wouldn't let happen again.

The trees in front of Tayuya parted, and houses and shops sprung up in her sight. A short, small booth sat in the middle of the road, and in it stood a man who looked more an assistant than a guard. She decided not to deal with him, and hopped down onto the road just beyond it.

The capital appeared to be laid out well, with inns and restaurants for travelers near the edge.

On a second look, they also appeared to be the most expensive.

She decided to look around further in to see if there was anything cheaper. The limited amount of money she had for emergencies that was carried in the small storage scroll secured inside her breast bindings on her right would not be able to fund both clothes and a nights rest at prices like that.

Wandering around the main roads, she finally found a shop that had simple synthetic leggings, close enough to what she was already wearing that she wouldn't notice the difference.

When she entered, the woman at the counter had looked down her nose disdainfully at the sight of her shorts, and Tayuya made a concerted effort to ignore the hag, so that her mouth wouldn't get her thrown out. After paying the cashier, she counted her money and groaned.

They had required a third of her funds. And had been the cheapest she could find in the area.

Taking the pair of pants from the counter, she stepped into the dressing room and tore the price tag from them, removing her sandals and her (almost nonexistent) shorts.

And then she saw the state of her underwear.

Biting her tongue so the cashier wouldn't hear the stream of obscenities flowing through her mind, she thought about what her options were. They weren't really any better off than her pants. That is to say, completely shredded. But she couldn't afford a new pair and still find a place stay. And that was what clinched it. She would just have to go commando for a few days.

Moving to take off the offending pair of boyshorts, she just sighed as they disintegrated beneath her touch. Slipping into her new pants, she stretched them out so that the her skin would get used to the material quicker. It wasn't like this was the first time she had gone underwear-less, but it was still annoying.

Quickly exiting the shop, she moved off of the main roads. She would have better luck with cheaper lodges away from centers of economic activity. Slowly making her way down a small, dirt road lined by western-style two-story houses, she saw one that appeared to have a sign in front of it. Moving across the street, she could read the sign that proudly proclaimed "Izumo Inn".

Well, at least it should be cheaper than some of the places on the main street

Walking up to the door, she could hear muffled arguing coming from inside.

A loud, warm baritone echoed through the door as footsteps seemed to be coming closer.

"Be quiet, woman. I said I'd do it, and I'll damn well do it. I'll get to it when I– Oh. Hello there, pretty lady. Sorry, didn't even hear you knock." The apparent owner of the voice was a wrinkled man with fading grey hair and warm brown eyes that seemed to sparkle as soon as they had seen her. "Are you looking for a room?"

Tayuya blushed despite herself. It wasn't often she was called pretty, even in passing. She had been caught off guard. "Y-Yeah. I am. And I didn't. Knock." She stumbled over her words, forcing them out by sheer will.

"Maaaa. No matter. What matters is you're here, and you need a place to stay." He turned back towards the genkan. "YOMI! WE GOT A LIVE ONE!"

"Um, I don't have much to pay you wi–"

"Don't need it. We'd put you up even if you couldn't." With that, the man's eyes hardened, allowing her no room to argue. And then quickly shifted back to warm. "We just like helpin' people."

A short woman came around the corner into the entryway. She appeared to be close to the same age as the man in front of Tayuya, but her hair fell in waves of amber to her shoulders, while her eyes were a sharp blue. "Oooh isn't she adorable! You just come in. Don't mind Shin."

The man, now identified as Shin, stepped aside to let her into the doorway, closing the door as she entered. Remembering her manners (the few that she still had), she slipped her sandals off her feet and stepped onto the small ledge.

The woman, who she assumed was Yomi, spoke up. "Why don't we go to the front room so we can discuss your stay, hm? I'll just go get some tea." With that, she disappeared around the corner again.

Shin moved around Tayuya and began walking towards one of the rooms on the right. "We don't really get much use for the room, so Yomi jumps at every opportunity to use it."

Caught up in their actions, it was all she could do to go along.

He slid open the door and motioned for her to move in. Inside, there were cushions arranged around a table that rose to about mid-calf.

Damn. Seiza was not a position she enjoyed being in.

Shin walked around to the other side of the table, and lowered himself into sitting cross-legged with a satisfied sigh. Looking up, he saw Tayuya's expression of relief. "What, you didn't think we were gonna make you sit on your knees did ya? Hell, I can't stand it even if I could still sit like that."

Taking a seat at the cushion on the opposite side of the table, she allowed her muscles to slowly relax. Not too much, she still needed to be ready if anything happened, but enough that she didn't feel like a wound spring anymore. The door to the left of Tayuya slid open, and Yomi entered with a tray of earthenware cups.

Setting the tray on the table, she shut the door behind her, and then took the next to Shin, sitting with her legs to her side. Taking a cup off of the tray, she passed it to Tayuya. She gave the next one to Shin, and then put the last one in front of herself.

Shin opened his mouth "So wha–". Yomi swatted his leg, cutting him off.

"Be quiet and drink your tea first. Don't let it go cold."

Rolling his eyes, Shin picked up his cup, and motioned for Tayuya to do the same. Cautiously, minding the temperature of the liquid (and in case it had any poisons), she took a sip. Her eyes shot open.

"Good stuff, huh? Yomi makes the best tea."

"Oh, hush you. Flattery will get you nowhere." But a smile still curled at the edges of her mouth.

They sat for a few minutes, merely enjoying the tea before it grew cold.

"So. As I was saying. What brings you to Se-shi, the 'city of raging water'?" Shin asked, putting air quotes around the title.

Being mindful of her language, Tayuya thought up an appropriate response. "I'm just passing through. I only wanted to rest for a few days before leaving."

Shin nodded sagely. "We can easily put you up for a few days." He narrowed his eyes and looked at her. Tayuya shifted uncomfortably beneath his gaze. "But it seems like you've got something else to ask, too."

She was slightly disconcerted by how easily this old man was reading her. "I was thinking about looking for somewhere to work. I, uh, don't really have any money, and these are my only clothes due to an …unfortunate event."

"Well, we'll do what we can to help."

Tayuya's face betrayed her shock at their apparent ease of assisting her when she had nothing to give in return.

"Is that really so hard to believe? I already told you: we like helping people. Anyways, about the job. I don't really know anyone in the city who's looking for work, but a friend of mine up in Takigakure usually needs help around this time of year. Something about some kind of festival."

Tayuya froze.

Going to Takigakure would be pushing her luck. As far as she knew, she hadn't made it into their bingo book, but the place was still swarming with potential enemy ninja.

Shin must have misread her, because he simply waved a hand and continued. "No need to be nervous, I'm sure you'd do just fine."

Yomi, who had been silently listening to Shin talk, spoke up. "Thinking about it, we might have some clothes left from when Sei-chan was still living here. I'd have to look in the attic to be sure."

Shin nodded, his eyes closed. "Seikyo's clothes would probably fit you. You're about the same size."

"About paying–"

He held up his hand and stopped her. "Don't worry about it. Really. The money would be better of with you anyways, from what I can tell." Yomi 'hm-ed' in agreement. "If that's all, Yomi can show you your room."

"Just follow me, dear"

Standing up, Shin collected the empty cups and the tray. Tayuya followed Yomi through the door that led to the hallway, and then further back into the house to a set of stairs. "Your room will be the first door on the left just at the top. Not that there's anyone else. Dinner is at 8." Yomi walked away towards another part of the house in the opposite direction.

Tayuya felt like she had just walked through a tornado.

What the hell had just happened? It had gone too quickly for her to even say anything against them.

Tayuya walked up the staircase, and was surprised at the number of doors on the second floor. There must have been eight or nine.

And all of these are empty?

Opening the first door on the left, she entered a modest size-room with a simple layout. A single bed sat in the back corner, with a dresser as the foot of it. Curtains hung over a window that looked out on the backyard of the house. The room was colored a pale yellow, warm, but not blinding.

There wasn't much to do, except just sit and wait until dinner.

Well, she could go take a bath.

Tayuya eyed the bloodstains on her arms.

Yeah. A bath would do her some good.


Lots of excitement for our favorite foul-mouthed female.

Yes. There are OCs in this story. There are almost no canon characters from the Land of Waterfall.

However, OCs do not get much focus in comparison to canon characters. They're simply used as vehicles for the plot and to push character development. Don't expect them to start whipping out techniques or fighting.

It's one of the perils of writing with minor characters as your leads.

I'm curious if anybody notices what I did with Shin, Yomi, and Seikyo's names. Heh.

If you've managed to make it this far, chances are you're considering giving this an honest read. Fair warning, this is a character-interaction driven fic, so it starts out slow, but eventually the pace picks up significantly.