I do not own Naruto

Haruno Sakura feels that, perhaps, Naruto's sister is something straight out of a fairytale.

Not a two days ago she was sickly, pushed to exhaustion by the mere presence of others inside her hospital room. There were dark lines beneath her eyes, and her breath wheezed every time she inhaled or exhaled. Now, she's standing tall and proud, and to Sakura's eyes, she looks like a queen, coming right from the pages of a bedtime story. Her purple and white Rice Country robes are resplendent in color and quality, draped along her body like a well-fitting glove, and her black hair is sleek and straight in a way that would make Ino drool.

She isn't sure how it has come to pass, or why, but the complications of her health seem to have taken a turn for the better, and… and Sakura really isn't sure just who Naruto's sister is. No missing-nin gets this sort of treatment.

Sakura's never seen anything so extravagant in her life. When she went to training this morning, she thought they might run another message to an outpost, or some D-ranks, but this is… insane. Their entrance made her feel under-dressed, not to mention the tea room they are all sitting in. The cushion Sakura is on must be worth more than her entire outfit, and the tea set looks to be some sort of artisan crafted piece from Waterfall.

Sakura sits in her seiza, hoping she makes it look half as good as the handmaiden behind Watanabe-san, let alone the woman herself. Beside her, Sasuke and Kakashi do the same. Naruto elects to ignore decorum, and unlike Zabuza-san -who looks the picture of a fierce shinobi with one leg bent at the knee and folded inward, the other propped up to rest his arm on- Naruto looks like a buffoon, already reaching into one of the snack bowls.

"Nice," he comments in the quiet. "The senbei have little designs on them. Fancy."

Sakura feels the her anger spike, because Naruto is making them look so bad. She knows Sasuke shares this sentiment, because he tugs the moron back down beside them.

The blond gives them both a withering glare, his mouth and right hand full of rice crackers. If he could yell at them while chewing, Sakura knows he would, but that's one bad manner he mostly doesn't have. Still, his crunching on the crispy treat is so loud that even with his mouth closed it fills the room.

Sakura tries to communicate with her eyes alone, but inside her head she is screaming at him. Can't he read the atmosphere? It's so fancy here! Has he seen the garden outside the screen door? There's a koi pond and a garden Ino would cry over, not to mention the fountain? Isn't he aware of what is going on?

"Try the Youkan," Watanabe-san offers politely, pouring them cups of tea with a serene grace. "The Amanatto is also very good, as is the wagashi, but if you are looking for something savory, there is also nikuman and gyōza."

"Isn't that a bit much for tea?" asks Kakashi-sensei, and Sakura wants to smack him. Questioning the hostess is rude. Sure, it's a bit of a spread, but she's going above and beyond the call of duty! Look at how stylishly and beautifully everything is presented, contrasting elegantly with the carefully minimalist yet cozy design of the room! Look at the sleek grain on the designs standing out on this table, perfectly stained to be aesthetically pleasing in their simplicity and yet ornate enough for a noble! Can he not smell the tea, a perfectly dried green with hints of jasmine, a careful balance between stimulating and relaxing?!

"Yah, it's a bit much, but these are all staples in the Land of Rice and I'm pretty sure that the Otokage wants to shove his culture and wealth into Konoha's face," Watanabe admits crassly, settling the teapot down with tranquil calm.

Beside her, Sasuke chokes on his gyōza.

"The Otokage, who—along with you—founded a village," Kakashi says dryly, and this time Naruto joins Sasuke in his choking, and Sakura spills the tea she just picked up over her fingers. The scalding liquid makes her hiss when it touches her skin.

"Surprise," Ryuishi says with a smile. "I'm both a wanted criminal and a legitimate foreign dignitary. Apparently, Zabuza is too."

Kakashi looks like the statement physically pains him, his lone eye scrunching up in the corner.

Ryuishi takes a careful sip from her tea, and Sakura thinks that her scars are well hidden by the silk. It's a clever, useful thing to note. Never judge by appearance.

"You know, Hatake-san, since you've been treating with her so long, I suppose you also count as a diplomat now," Haku states genially from his seat, delicately taking a small bite of the sweet jelly on his plate. Sakura can only hope she looks half as pretty as him right now.

The comment succeeds in making the lines on the masked man's face even deeper, which may have been its intended purpose. Few people carry a grudge as well as Haku.

Naruto finishes hacking up rice cracker crumbs all over the floor, and he whips his head up to face his sister, his blue eyes wide and his expression demanding.

"Are you a princess? A missing ninja princess?" he asks, his volume increasing.

"No," Watanabe-san (sama?) answers immediately.

"In a way," chimes in the woman sitting behind her.

Watanabe-sama turns and levels a powerful glare at the woman, her lips twisted into a scowl.

"Orochimaru is a Kage and you are actually a legitimate founder of a Hidden Village," Kakashi says in a false calm, his tone flat. "Alright, while we're all here, what else?"

"Yah! What else, Misaki-nee?!" Naruto insists, and Sakura takes a better look at the woman sitting behind Watanabe-sama. She looks beautiful in her kimono, and Sakura would have never guessed she was a prostitute.

"Your handmaiden is actually a prostitute who helped raise Naruto, go on," Kakashi-sensei encourages calmly. Sakura worries about him for a moment, because there is a vein on his temple that looks like it's throbbing quite painfully.

"Misaki," Watanabe states in an equal, warning calm.

"Haku!" Naruto tries, knowing that the battle is lost in that arena.

"She's also the Rakki Ryuu, and Zabuza-san is the Odayaka Oni," the young man says breezily. The names go right over her head, but Naruto literally shrieks, and he continues shrieking as he turns back to look at his sister and the swordsman.

"Haku!" Watanabe reprimands, and her tone is so threatening that Sakura shrinks back.

"She has hands in most production and trade," Zabuza states in a deadpan, reaching out for for the gently steaming white buns.

"Zabuza!" Ryuishi protests over Naruto, who hasn't taken a breath in yet, but somehow is continuing his screaming.

"This is good," Sakura hears Kakashi-sensei mumble to himself. "Like a wound, you have to rip the kunai out before you can bandage it."

"Is this real?" Sakura wonders to herself quietly.

Sasuke turns toward her, and usually she'd be pleased as punch, but the surreal quality of the moment is ruining it for her. "I'm fairly certain everything this team is involved in is reality protesting it's existence," Sasuke informs her seriously. She slaps his arm hard enough for him to grit his teeth because it's a rude thing to say, but she doesn't actually deny that there is a good possibility that it's true.

"UZUMAKI NARUTO, IF YOU DON'T QUITE SCREAMING RIGHT NOW I WILL TAN YOUR HIDE, SO HELP ME!" Ryuishi roars, and like magic, Naruto stops. Sure his face is red from holding his noise in, and he looks like a kettle boiling over, but he's quiet. Haku is as well, and he seems to be regretting his earlier comment, sweating nervously on his cushion.

Watanabe-sama takes a deep breath in, visibly composing herself. Her hand reaches out, and she takes a sip from her tea, carefully drawing the moment out. When she places the cup on the table once more, she seems bolstered by the liquid, her fierce calm set back in place and her voice even once more.

"That," she says slowly, "was far more than I wanted them to know."

"But still not everything," Zabuza-san mentions calmly, and she spares him a truly frightening glare, which he ignores.

"You're the Rakki Ryuu?" Naruto blurts, unable to hold himself back, and Sakura watches as both Haku and the now named Misaki seem to slink down in their seats, avoiding her eyes.

"It's a very long story, and it's very complicated," Watanabe-sama deflects.

"I think we deserve to hear it," Kakashi-sensei replies, and she casts her eyes outside, her jaw clenched tight.

"Do you?" she says venomously.

"Maybe I don't," Kakashi amends quietly. "But what have they done to deserve your distrust?"

Sakura holds her breath, because the woman's eyes flicker around the room at a rapid pace, and her resolve seems to waver. Her hand tightens into a fist before drawing back in her sleeve, the rustling of silk filling the room.

What they do not see is the helplessness that Ryuishi shelters inside herself. They don't know the heaviness of her tongue, or the dryness of her mouth. She doesn't want them to know, because if they know, then they might realize what she knows. They would see her, and they would hate her.

"I can't," she pleads. "Not everything."

Because even she doesn't acknowledge everything. She still represses and ignores, and she compartmentalizes until each piece grows a life of its own inside her head and tears at her from the inside out. She's toxic to herself, and she doesn't want the others to know how poisonous she is.

"Then say what you can," Zabuza says, and it is almost gentle.

Ryuishi is afraid in that moment. She looks out to see all those eyes watching her, and she knows that it's not okay that she knows their stories, while nobody knows hers. She knows she's manipulative and damaged and sort of fucked up.

"Where would I start?" she asks, and she means it to sound sarcastic, but it isn't. It sounds lost, and whoop, here she is, feeling detached from the situation, like it's far away.

"Kiri," says Zabuza, and she winces. Kiri is… Kiri was

"It's always cold in Kiri," she says, because she knows that's true at least. She doesn't remember one sunny day in that asscrack. "There was never enough food, and everyone was too busy being dicks to each other to do anything. Nobody gave a damn about the corpses in the alleyways, or the kids walking like skeletons in the fog. I thought that was fucked up. I thought the whole system was fucked up."

It's dangerous, but she feels old bitterness on her tongue, the taste of rice gruel and injustice. She could be scared and sad, she could be angry and violent, but she just feels bitter. Yes, she fears losing everything, because she knows what it's like. She's not sorry, and she's also super sorry, but doubly tired of feeling that way. She's a goddamn fucking mess.

"I used to think I was mad because it was a military dictatorship, but you know what? That's wrong. I was mad because Kiri was shitty, and Kiri was cruel, and nobody was stepping up to do a damn thing to change it. I decided if it could be done, I would do it," she states, and she lifts her head. She knows her sins, she never ignored them. She's taken responsibility every goddamn day since trying to fix the mess.

"Man, so much shit went down in Kiri. I was gonna be a prostitute like my mom but then some pedo tried to nab me in an alleyway, and when I killed him, they saw potential. Isn't that fucked up? That they wouldn't have stopped it, but they would recruit me after I killed my assaulter? It's almost as fucked up as the time Zabuza killed everybody in our class, then attempted to kill me. Almost as fucked up as sending a seven-year-old genin who specialized in mid-range combat and genjutsu out in a war with a frontal assault unit, but that was the village, and most the people thought it was okay. They never questioned if what they were doing was fucked up, or they never acted on their knowledge that it was wrong. That's fine though, Kiri would have killed them if they had," she spits, and it feels like something that's been building up inside her is leaking out. Like air from a balloon, or fire from an explosion.

"It's why I forgive my unit, because they don't know better, and they are my heart and soul. I need that unit like the air I breathe. It's the only thing I have, that keeps me safe and warm. When everything else is blood and fire and fear, the unit is home. I regret not trying to convince them of my thoughts everyday, but I was so afraid, because I needed my unit, and Kiri could take them from me."

She laughs, and alright, she's probably a bit more angry than she needs to be, but damn, she has had so many nightmares about this. Orders coming for Kisame and Zabuza but not her. She wanted to tell them, but they had every reason to inform superiors and she was scared of involving them.

"I'm pretty sure I started going crazy, and the unit was the only thing that was keeping me afloat. On one hand, I was working so hard to help those people I saw, to tell them that Kiri was wrong, and they weren't trash or garbage. That people were people, no matter what blood they had. On the other, I was killing people off on the front lines like flies, desperate to stay alive and keep my unit safe."

"Ryuishi," Zabuza interrupts, but she ignores him. He wanted this. He wanted this and he can have it, because she is tired of carrying it alone.

"So I lose my mind, somewhere in between trying to figure out morality and loyalty and love and a bunch of other esoteric concepts. After a couple of years, I come home, and you know what? Some shinobi decided the brothel that my mother worked in was a great place to get drunk and brawl. I come home, and there is rubble in the place where I grew up, littered with bodies. One of them is hers, her head smashed in like a rotten pumpkin, and nobody cares because it was just some Oiran. Just some akasenko and lowlives. I look down at the battered remains of the woman who used to smell like cinnamon, the lady who taught me how to walk in geta and tie an obi, and just like that, I break," she admits.

The room is deathly quiet, and she breathes in. The garden outside is truly beautiful, a part of her observes idly. The wisteria is masterfully pruned.

(She feels so dead inside.)

"I lose it, because I can't fix Kiri. I can't even fix myself, but I can't leave the people behind. They deserve better, everyone deserves better, and they can get it somewhere else. They mean something. I ask them if they want to leave, and they say yes, so I help them do that. For the great power of having common decency, they call me Rakki Ryuu, but all I know is that I rip my heart out as I say my last goodbyes, and I stumble as they take vengeance on Kiri for every alleyway assault, every pincushioned corpse in the trash and tiny body in the gutter. For overwork, subjugation, and plain murder. But, get this, as I try and leave, my unit commander comes after me. He calls me a liar and a traitor, and he tries to straight up kill me, because that's Kiri. That's what that village used to be," she spits, and sweet infant angels, she is so salty about that. To this day, she knows she will hold a flaming grudge in her heart for the older generation of Water Country for teaching that shit.

"Ryuishi—" Kakashi tries, but she pins him with her eyes. He doesn't get to interrupt her. He practically begged for this shit and he can take it. She's… tired. Tired of trying to be everything everybody wants her to be, and ending up nothing at all. Tired of being judged and questioned and fighting at every turn, tired of being tired.

"And you know who was there when I was alone and crazy? When I couldn't tell the difference between reality and hallucination? Orochimaru. Yes, he's amoral and kind of a dick. Yes he's done some fucked up things, and yes, whatever else you have to say. But I was alone, I was in need, and he fixed me. Not my unit, not my village, not the daimyo or the system, Orochimaru. He made me well enough to get back up and keep helping people, finding ways to make sure that shit like what happened in Kiri didn't happen again, and kids that could have grown up like me and my unit had better options," she states.

Her hand fiddles with her cup, and she looks down again, slowing her rapid-fire pace. She's still conflicted and anxious. She's still scared and angry, and she still hates talking about this. She's a big fat mess, and she suspects she might always be one. She's not exactly okay with that, but she's beginning to understand that she's not ever going to stop cleaning up the mess she is. There won't be a single day where she isn't picking up pieces of herself, and it's been so exhausting. She just wants to be done.

"In the end, I build myself up, and I keep trying because it's the only option I have. I scheme and I plan, and sometimes it works out. I keep trying to find a way to do things better, and I'm not even sure what better is. Maybe I don't have the right to attempt to control so much, and maybe I don't know where the line is between good and evil. Maybe I'm justifying nonsense and spewing crazy, and there is a lot I am editing out of this story, but damn, if I had to tell it all we would be here for weeks. So that's that. The Rakki Ryuu, the Kiri no Ningyo, Watanabe Ryuishi, they are all the same person doing their damndest to figure it all out, keep their shit together, and keep the people they love safe," she finishes.

It doesn't feel good to have said it all. It doesn't feel relieving or safe or warm, she just feels sort of empty. She's a facade of a person, and she didn't even brush up on half the shit in her life. Like, this was the fucking clean version. She only brushed on the fact that all her friends have tried to kill her, and she didn't even touch the fact that she's been hunted for years. She never said a word about the isolation, the loneliness, the anxiety, grief, and torment. Hell, she didn't bring up her old life at all, or how almost everybody has tried to use her, and she can practically hear the room around her forming opinions.

She feels hollow, not like the Void, but like the moment right before you fall asleep, when there are no thoughts at all. When there is only that weariness taking over, and the cessation of self.

At least, she thinks, I didn't cry.

Because man, at least she has that. She can go to her grave knowing that she did not fuck up her really nice makeup by crying. For all she feels hollow and gross and sort of regrets telling them already, at least she didn't bring tears into this.

She hears a sniffle, and she looks up.

Apparently, she would not have been out of place if she was crying, because the occupants of the tea room are caught between sending her meaningful looks she can't really interpret and bawling openly.

"Hey," she starts awkwardly. She takes in Naruto's messy sobbing, Sakura's rapid sniffling, and Haku's discreet but repetitive eyes swipes with guilt in her heart. Behind her, Misaki is probably managing delicate, beautiful tears, because she can hear it, but oh Vishnu, she feels guilty.

"Hey now," she tries to soothe, too far away to pat them on the back. "Stop that you guys, it's really alright—"

"It isn't alright," Sasuke snaps at her, and his voice cracks so bad in the middle of his sentence if hurts her ears. He's blinking pretty fast, and seems to be swallowing a lot as well. "None of that was alright."

"No, just… um… try the nikuman, kid, it's pretty good," she says, gently pushing the food over, because food is always helpful, right?

"Stop t-t-trying t-to deflect," Haku stutters out, and Ryushi can't even look at him without feeling the need to comfort him and also wash her soul or something.

"Shhhh," she attempts. "Just... come here. I'll get some tissues and—"

"You're the one that need to be comforted!" Sakura protests, her little hand rubbing at her eye. It's both adorable and heart-wrenching.

Ryuishi moves to protest, but she gets her mouth open and that's about it. She doesn't need to be comforted, the thought of it is strange and mildly uncomfortable—

"Y uv oohh!" Naruto exclaims in a shuddering voice, taking a deep breath. She roughly translates that to an 'I love you,' which is always good to hear, but also confusing. She could be wrong, as she isn't fluent in crying child, but hey, whatever.

Meanwhile, Zabuza and Kakashi are giving her these looks and she isn't really sure how to interpret them, which is strange, because she's usually pretty good at it. All she knows is that they are pretty intense, and also maybe there is some jaw clenching of fist tightening or whatever, but it's fucked up and everything is weird.

Ryuishi has never regretted talking this much before. It resonates with her, because she feels like she messed up. She doesn't get it. There isn't an inkling of understanding there. Only the vague discomfort caused by kids crying, bone deep tiredness, and regret for opening her stupid fat mouth.

Kakashi sits there, and he watches her sit with her awkward, forced smile, and he wonders if this is the edited version, how she still manages to do anything at all. She sits alone in her heartbreak and bitterness, and she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Eight years, he thinks. Eight years I've known her, but at the same time I never really knew her at all.

It's not a justification for her actions. It's not an appeal she's making, it's an explanation. How can she do what is right if she never knew what was right at all? How can she know things like trust or truth when there has been nothing but her, working toward her goals, alone?

I decided if it could be done, I would do it, she said. Somewhere, even as a child, she saw the hurt in others and she tried to make it stop, tried to take it away. She didn't expect help from anyone, not her teachers or family or teammates. It was just her, and she accepted that. Accepted that her village could kill her, could take her, could tear her apart, but so long as the people she sheltered were safe, she was alright with that.

Ryuishi had been born, and she had accepted her death. Not quietly, not without a fight, but in a bid for something she considered greater than herself, and what she considered greater was almost everything else.

Adjacent to him, Kakashi doesn't notice Zabuza burning holes in her with his eyes alone, his hands clenched into fists. He knew the story, or most of it, but seeing her undervalue herself always manages to piss him off.

She's alive, and she's there, and she means something. More than anybody else she knows, she means something. She says the unit kept her afloat, but there would have never been a unit without her. There would have been two apprentices in a competition, repetitively following orders. Him and Kisame would have never had half as much as they did without her, because she… she let them be human. When Kirigakure told them to be tools, she wanted them to be themselves.

Without her, he would have known what it was like to be cared for, to know warmth in his ribs at the feel of cool hands. He wouldn't know how to laugh, or what safety felt like, surrounded by his unit. Hers were the only hands that reached out and touched for the sake of touch without pain, and her emotions let them know that what they were experiencing was alright.

To know that the whole time she was taking blows on the battlefield, she was also sheltering them from the village as well, it galls him. They could have helped. They could have—

He grits his teeth, because no, he doesn't know what would have happened. When she needed them most, when she shattered like an poorly tempered blade, they weren't there. He wasn't there. Why would they have been there before?

They failed her, and she feels like she's failed them.

"That s-s-story sucks!" proclaims a wet, stuffy voice, and Zabuza recognizes it as Naruto.

The child draws his sleeve across the bottom of his face, and he inhales, producing a truly awful noise. When he looks up, his eye are red and puffy, and still producing tears, but his teeth are gritted together in determination.

"W-when I w-was alone, you found me! W-when I needed h-help, you l-loved me!" he tells her, and her face falls.

"Maybe I was lying, or using you—" she starts, but the boy cuts her off before she can continue.

"Bullshit!" he interjects, and she looks startled. "N-no one can lie all the time!"

He sniffs once more, and his hands ball into fists by his side.

"I can't imagine… I can't imagine w-what it was like. Everything you just said was so screwed up, and I get it now, why you look so s-sad sometimes: it's because you are. Y-You're sad, and you're a-angry, and you're hurt. You're a big ball of s-stuff, and I can't… I can't go back in time and fix it. I can't change what you went through," he says slowly, stuttering on certain words.

"All I can do is get s-strong enough to make sure you n-never have to go through it again."

Ryuishi's face turns stone-like, but Zabuza finds himself agreeing with the boy. He can't change the past, but he can get stronger. He can grow powerful enough to keep her safe, to cut down and one else who thinks that they can mark her, or tear her down. Strong enough to bring back their wayward teammate, so they can have some peace.

"That's not your responsibility—" she tries, but once again she is cut off.

"You decided that if nobody else was, you would change things," Kakashi says calmly. "Which, while entirely controlling and manipulative, is along the same lines of making sure yet another traumatic event doesn't occur in your life."

The comment throws her, and her face morphs once more, this time into one of confoundment.

"To make sure that you won't be alone," murmurs Haku. "That if you slip, someone is there to catch you."

"To stop you from making friends with people who have tried to kill you," Sasuke adds on. Not because he feels obligated to do it, but because it seems like it needs to be pointed out. He may not be able to absolve the relationships she already established, but creating anymore on that principle seems like a bad decision.

A weary smile pulls at Ryuishi's lips. "That's sweet you guys, but I'll take care of it—"

"And we'll help," Sakura cuts in.

"Not even Izanagi c-created the earth alone," Misaki chokes, dabbing the tears from her eyes daintily. "Nobody s-should have to shoulder s-so much."

Zabuza stares at Ryuishi, and he thinks of her long sleep, her wounds, her tiredness, and her troubles. He thinks of all her faults and all her qualities, and he decides that he should have come to this decision earlier.

She goes to open her mouth once more—

"No," he tells her. No protesting, no fighting, no wordplay. "You're getting help."

Because he's not great at people stuff, but these people are. He's not perfect, and he can't cover every angle all the time, especially if he's going to start training again.

She's dug her own grave on this one. If she didn't want people interfering, or stepping up, or getting involved, than perhaps she shouldn't have done exactly the same thing.

There are flaws and problems, yes, but she's important. She's water, and there is no life without her.

Ryuishi closes her mouth, and she looks around the room once more. She can't tell if she's scared that people actually care, or if she's relieved. Actually, she's kind of emotionally drained, and she...she doesn't know. It doesn't feel right. It feels incredibly wrong, and they won't make it. They just won't.

"I'm not a good person," she reminds them, because it needs to be said.

"You're still a person," Naruto fires back, and he shines like the sun, radiant in his determination.

She breathes in, and she worries. She loves them more than she can describe, but even she realizes she's a mess. They have no idea what they are getting into when it comes to not only her, but the world of politics and subtleties. Words...words are easy and she...she-

-A knock interrupts them, and there is a flurry of young children wiping their eyes and taking their proper seats. It's as if everyone is eager to hide the activities that occurred within this room from the outside world, and Ryuishi is tired enough to let it slide without comment. She feels an itch in her chest, and she wants to forget this happened.

Misaki rises from behind her, and she makes her way towards the sliding doors with tiny steps as Ryuishi stares out at the garden, letting her mind empty out. She stares at the verdant greenery interspersed with bright bursts of color, and she wonders how this could get any messier.

There are quiet murmurs at the door, and Misaki's sweet tone mixes with somebody else's. The door shuts once more, and Misaki smiles charmingly at the room.

"Ryuu-sama, your doctor is here," she announces to the room at large.

Ryuishi closes her eyes with a sigh as the whole room seems to remember all at once that she is not, in fact, in peak physical condition.

Of course it can get more complicated, she thinks to herself sarcastically. Of course it can.

"I distinctly remember telling you to remain away from stressors and take it easy," Senju Tsunade tells her, and Ryuishi grits her teeth, her hand clenched into a fist.

Having somebody fuck around inside your ribcage is strange and unsettling. Even if it's not actually the woman's hands, but specialized chakra, it feels awful. Things that aren't supposed to be moving are shifting around, and it feels like she's inhaled steam and smoke all at once.

"I did," Ryuishi hisses between her clenched teeth.

On the other side of the shoji screen (and seriously, why is that even there? Ryuishi isn't undressed or anything, noble decorum is weird) a voice speaks up to call her out.

"That's a lie," comes the deadpan voice of Sasuke, who seems to have recovered nicely for a punk who was on the verge of tears not fifteen minutes ago.

"She was pressured into revealing some traumatic experiences," chimes in Sakura's voice, and honestly. Take the children elsewhere, please.

"Many traumatic experiences," stresses Kakashi, and you know what, Ryuishi will knock this screen over and kick all of their asses—.

"Her life is really sad," adds Naruto unhelpfully.

She inhales deeply, and regrets it when the warm buzz of medical chakra swirls around something in her lungs. Sweet Bothica, the sensation is unpleasant.

"Yes, well, it would be even sadder if it included psychogenic blackouts and she began pleural effusion," Tsunade informs the room dryly, and Ryuishi squints at her, because she is not a doctor, but those words sound ominous.

"Fainting and fluid buildup in the lungs should be avoided," agrees Haku, and she knew it. She knew those sounded bad!

"All in favor of not letting our trusted diplomat and friend stress herself out?" Kakashi asks the room at large.

"Aye," says just about everybody at once, and she bares her teeth at them even though they can't see. She is a grown woman and she can (mostly) take care of herself.

"Delightful as the running commentary has been, you all are going to have to leave. Now. Her blood pressure has shot up six points in the last minute and a half alone," Tsunade informs them all sternly. Her tone brooks no argument from anybody at all, and there is a quiet procession of feet, followed by silhouettes on the screen. The last, and tallest of the group stands on the other side of the screen for a moment longer than the rest, casting his shadow on the thin white paper comfortingly.

"Just outside the door," Zabuza rumbles, and she can't help but smile to herself, relaxing in her seat.

"I'll meet up with you soon," she promises, and only after she gives her consent does he follow after the ragtag gang, sliding the door behind him closed with an audible click.

For a long moment, there is only the quiet sounds of the room, which Ryuishi relishes in. Everything has been hurried and rushed since she woke back up, ripe with tension and danger. She spent almost all of last night sending out missives and codes to her failsafes, assuring them all she was still alive. Not only that, but she had demanded the information she had missed out on during her little sleeping beauty stunt, and spent hours poring over it until her body gave out in the bed she was in.

She needs to know how the Akatsuki found her, and what they needed her for. She needs to know how the markets are doing, and how her populations are. There's so much she needs to keep track of, and for all their well-wishing, she doesn't trust anybody else to do it. Her body needs to quit being a little bitch and suck it up. She feels better than she has in months, maybe years. If she would stop occasionally getting dizzy or breathless, she would be fine.

"That last one, he was your teammate," Tsunade states, and it's not so much a question as it is an observation.

Ryuishi stares at the older woman through half-lidded eyes. The woman is certainly striking, with an ample bosom and curved figure. Fair skinned, fair haired, and powerful enough to smash her into last week, she would usually be right up Ryuishi's 'inappropriate crush' list, but for some reason, she isn't.

"Is that really the question you want to ask?" she fired back.

The woman pauses in her ministrations, the green energy around her hands flickering out around her palms. The buzzing sensation leaves her innards, and she breathes freely, enjoying the time without it.

"You sent them out for a reason. I know how to keep my blood pressure under control, there wasn't any huge spikes," Ryuishi explains, fibbing just a bit. She has a hunch.

Amber eyes flick up at her, holding her own gaze, and Ryuishi is aware of her chances, but she remains unbothered by them. She's too tired, emotionally and physically, to play more games today.

"Straight to the point, eh?" Tsunade smirks, standing tall. "Not what I would have expected from a student of his."

"I'm not his student," Ryuishi states yet again.

"No, I don't think you are," Tsunade agrees thoughtfully. "I was in Otogakure, you see, and there were things there that a man like Orochimaru would never think to endorse. Sentimental things, cultural things, a sense of community. Orochimaru may be clever as hell, but he never saw the use of those."

Ryuishi eyes Tsunade, and she inclines her head, because yes, those were her additions, among various others. She accepts that.

Tsunade nods, as if confirming something to herself. "See what I don't get, is what changed his mind? Oh sure, I bet you're clever, but you aren't the smart in the ways he recognizes as smart."

Ryuishi waves her hand, and her sleeve tracks the movement of the appendage, drifting elegantly.

"See, in a way, you're right. I'm not great at science, or an insanely strong ninja," Ryuishi agrees. "However, I am fairly good at blurring lines."

Tsunade observes her carefully, and Ryuishi has no idea what her goal is. She's a woman caught between one really shady choice and another equally grey option. For someone who works in absolutes, or at least, someone who likes idealist goals as much as Tsunade, it's a bad place to be.

"When you get down to it, Orochimaru is really all about entertainment and curiosity. He might say he's about progress and efficiency, and in his own way he is, but the reason he never did well with things like culture, sentiment, and community is no one ever made it understandable to him. When he asked why, people just rattled off some more sentiment," Ryuishi explains.

"So you blurred the lines," Tsunade states slowly, understanding. "You made it into something quantifiable, something he could study and interact with. Oto is just an experiment on a grand scale."

"I mean, on some level it is, but to me it's the work of a lifetime, so if we could not call it that I'd be pretty appreciative," Ryuishi drawls.

Tsunade looks her over again, and Ryuishi idly wonders how much a medic like her can tell about her life from the treatments she's been giving. Considering that she's had access to her medical history, Tsunade probably knows a lot as it is.

"Seems like a lot of your life works have a tendency of ending poorly," Tsunade comments lightly, and Ryuishi raises her brows. She has no idea what the woman is referencing, exactly, but it seems to be a lot of shade to be throwing at a stranger.

"Do you have a goal here, are you trying to figure me out by throwing questions and suspicion at me?" Ryuishi asks pointedly.

"Alright, I'll be even blunter. Do you have any idea what you are doing? You seem to be taking on several battles all at once, and the stress is quite literally draining you. I can't tell if you're more clever than all of us, or a madwoman," Tsunade says without flinching, and Ryuishi looks her dead in the eye.

"I like to think I have an idea," she lies smoothly.

Tsunade stares at her then, long and hard. If she were any less tired, Ryuishi might be intimidated, or scared, or aggravated, but she honestly is exhausted.

"There's no chance that you're staying away from stressors, is there?" Tsunade says blandly, and this, at least, makes her smile.

"Nope," she agrees. "Any chance you'll tell me what it is you were actually trying to learn?"

"Nope," Tsunade echoes, and the two of them stand there, at an impasse. It's vaguely unsatisfying.

The quiet returns, and Tsunade leans forward to shove the uncomfortable, warm energy inside her once again while Ryuishi tries to figure the angles out. She knows Tsunade is here because of Orochimaru's manipulations. Honest manipulations, but manipulations none the less. She also knows that Tsunade is smart enough to recognize what is going on, if she ever truly knew Orochimaru at all. Hell, if she spent any time with him at all. You don't have to understand him to realize he can sort of be a dick.

The healing session passes, and though she has lost her headache and her shortness of breath, Ryuishi is still wiped. Her hands are cold, despite the warm air, and she still hasn't drank enough caffeine to keep her going. She has mountains of data to go through still, and rumors to check up on. She also has Tsunade's motives to worry about now, and how they concern her.

"Get some rest," Tsunade tells her, standing straight, and she nods without really listening at all.

Tsunade seems to know that, though, because she doesn't just walk away. No, she walks toward the door, her heels clicking on the floor, and she throws it open without shame.

"She needs sleep," Tsunade tells the audience outside, and Ryuishi narrows her eyes, because that's foul play.

"Understood," comes Zabuza's low voice.

"I'm not tired, the day is only beginning," she protests, but the three advancing figures give her no room to argue, and the blond in the doorway seems to smirk at her.

"Just a quick nap," Tsunade assures her, and then she's gone, flitting off into the hallways without an escort, free of confusing conversations and mother henning companions. Free, after vindictively setting others onto her patient, because she's a medic, and medics can do that.

"Where's the others?" Ryushi asks, half hoping to use it as a distraction, half genuinely curious.

"They had to go train," Haku tells her. "Though they won't be in this Chuunin Exam, they are hoping to enter the next one."

Ryuishi blanks, hard. What does he mean they aren't going to be in this examination? Ryuishi busted her ass to make sure this examination would be the safest one in fucking history. Not that she isn't sort of relieved, because they honestly aren't ready, but dear Sage, what the fuck is he talking about?

Zabuza narrows his eyes at her, catching the expression on her face. He knows when she begins to think about things too hard and worry about them, and the doctor just said she was facing too much stress. Does she want to go back into the hospital?

"Sleep," he commands her, and she settles her eyes on him.

"What do you mean Team Seven isn't going to the chuunin exams?" she demands.

"Hatake-san said that it was discussed, but after the events in River, the team was unwilling to attempt promotion at this time. It's unsurprising, as they are all rookies," Haku explains in lieu of his master.

"Yes, but—" she starts, and then stops. But what? She thought things would stick to canon after she fucked everything up? She thought that anything would be remotely the same after the amount of force she had been using to make sure that exact thing didn't happen. Yes, but things didn't usually go her way?

She shuts her eyes, lifting her hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. Maybe Tsunade, despite all her cryptic bullshit, was right. She could probably use a nap. Just a quick one.

"Sleep," Zabuza intones again, and this time his large hand is on her arm, jerking her up into a standing position and herding her toward her her rooms.

"Alright, alright," she submits, and when he drags her to her rooms, she sticks by her word. She doesn't collapse, per se, but she does drape herself over the elegant-looking chaise and fall asleep fairly fast.

Which leaves Misaki there, smiling to herself as she drapes a light blanket over her worn leader, and Zabuza and Haku watching over her.

AN: I didn't intend for Ryuishi to have a 'let me tell you my sad anime backstory' moment, but here it is. Mostly because the characters have to understand her on some level at least, and they have to have motivations for certain events to occur. Also, It needed to be revealed that Ryuishi is coming to a point of not only physical exhaustion, but emotional and mental as well. She's worn thinner than she ever has been, and she has her group and they know now, but Ryuishi has always been secretive and duplicitous. They say they want to help, but she doesn't know how to let that happen. Also, punches keep coming. Gaara next chapter.

A shout out to my lurker,s favoriters and followers. A big old party for my reviewers, who have boosted this story incredibly high and deserve a cool day of fun with loved ones.

TO ENBI, MY OVERWORKED BETA: FRIEND, U R 2 COOL. NO, seriously, even when they were super busy they managed to get this chapter to me and I cannot be thankful enough. #bless

Questions: How do you forsee Ryuishi reacting to everyone's 'help'? OR Why the fresh hell did Tsunade discover in their little conversation?