Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter nor Naruto. I don't own any of the mentioned rabbits either.

A muddy beginning

Eight years ago

15th July, 1987, Headmaster's office of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore is pacing. It isn't a habit he indulges in often, but in this case…

Two days ago, in the dead of night, all the surveillance charms monitoring young Jasmine Potter's health went haywire while the tracking charm on her simply deactivated. Not because she was injured or even killed (and he hates to even consider such a thought); the charms would have told him such a thing.

No, their going out of control means that an event has occurred that cannot be interpreted.

Naturally, Dumbledore had immediately dropped all his previous occupations to ascertain himself of young Jasmine's well-being, secretly hoping that maybe, she had activated The Power He Knows Not.

Unfortunately, nothing could have prepared him for the circumstances he found. Young Jasmine, gone, vanished into thin air! And not because of accidental apparition but because of something else – the cupboard the event had occurred in had been positively humming with residual magic, all of which he'd collected after running diagnostics and scans over the scene.

(A cupboard. Petunia had been keeping her niece, her own blood, in a cupboard! And Vernon – he'd been abusing the child! How could it have slipped past his notice? Had the blood wards addled the surveillance charms' results? But he hadn't accounted for dear Jasmine being at risk in her aunt's house.)

Dozens of tracking charms hadn't been able to find the girl. He'd spent all of yesterday trying to interpret the strange residual magic and the results of his scans, to no avail. But if he wants to find the girl, then he must understand the magic she used.

Then, in the dead of night, a terrifying possibility had made itself known in his, if he may say so himself, rather brilliant mind.

A brilliant mind can be a curse, sometimes.

The possibility had to be taken in consideration, and Dumbledore had dropped everything and apparated to the Ministry of Magic. Hidden under the invisibility cloak he'd borrowed so long ago from young James Potter – and he'd deeply regretted it as the item could have saved the family – he'd made haste in heading down into the Department of Mysteries where he had then entered the Death Chamber. Ignoring the whispers of the Veil of Death, he'd performed the necessary spells to either verify or (hopefully) contradict his suspicion.

The results were devastating. The Veil of Death radiated a similar signature to the residual magic found in the location of young Jasmine's disappearance. Not identical, thankfully, but the conclusion was obvious.

Jasmine Jamie Potter had somehow been whisked to another dimension. Either by her own doing of by forces beyond his knowledge.

But the responsible party mattered not.

Jasmine Potter would have to be located and retrieved. Her destiny must come to pass, and Dumbledore would be the only one capable of making it so.

Grim-faced, Dumbledore stops his pacing and sets to work.

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

Present day, in the middle of nowhere, one of the countless islands of Water Country

The man with the eyepatch and the blue hair is unable to walk. Blood seeps through bandages wrapped around his left upper thigh. But his expression and the way he holds himself show him to be a formidable opponent even with his injury and obvious blood loss.

The man's name is Ao. Currently, he is hidden among the spindly trees of a swampy forest, ten miles away from Outpost Kappa of the Kirigakure ninja forces on one of the many islands that the Country of Water is comprised of.

In his mind, he probably curses the partner he has been assigned for this mission. He should have known that something would go wrong. Missions with her always have something go ridiculously out of control. Always.

His enemies drop down in front of him, a safe distance away. Even unable to stand, Ao is a dangerous enemy.

"Well, well," one of Ao's opponents drawls, grinning smugly. "The great Ao, on the ground. What a sad place to die for you."

"Pah!" Another spits. "Death to the traitor!"

"Agreed," the third one says with a monotonous voice. "The likelihood of support coming for him increases with every moment we wait."

"You and your likelihoods," the first one says dismissively. "Who wants to do the honours?"

"I do," I say as I appear in the middle of the three. With a glint of steel, Shingi To Giri whistles through the air. A moment later, the enemies fall down, blood spurting from their necks.

"Took your time, didn't you?" Ao gripes while I wipe the blood off my katana that used to belong to Sasuke's father, then spare a look at the three bodies. For a moment, my mouth curls in remorse at the sight. Ao speaks up again. "Shouldn't you be desensitised to killing by now? Did you not receive any emotional conditioning?"

"Sure I did," I reply as I step over to him. "Tremble in awe, you're sitting before the one ninja immune to desensitisation."

Lucky me. I'm glad Ibiki wasn't in charge of that part of preparing me for my extended stay in Water Country. He would have noticed I was faking my responses. Or in that case, my non-responses.

"Right," Ao deadpans.

"So," I muse. "I think those were the last ones. Let's go back."

"Behind you," Ao warns, just as I sense a spike of chakra. In an instant, I've turned around, drawn my blade again, and launched myself at the enemy – a pale-skinned woman with short white hair. She drops to the side and throws a volley of senbon at me. Shingi To Giri slices once again and the senbon are sent back at her. The woman curses and replaces herself, appearing just steps away from me.

Her hands speed through handseals. "Water Style: Meat Grinder!" she yells while I sheathe my katana. Around her, a column of water surges up, spinning rapidly with a screeching sound. Another wall of water billows around the both of us, spinning in the opposite direction. She smirks at me triumphantly, secure in her victory. The water wall behind me starts to close in, if I don't do something about that, I'll be flayed between the two spinning water walls.

"Meat Grinder, I see," I comment. "Crudely named, but fitting. A-rank technique?"

She smirks. "Scum, you can't talk your way out of this. In a minute, all that'll be left of you will be a pile of red mush."

"That's disgusting," I retort flatly. "How about we don't do that. You can surrender, you know?"

"Ha!" she spits out. "Like I'll listen to you, bloodline-scum!"

The spinning water wall behind me is closing in. If I had claustrophobia, I'd probably be getting anxious right about now. Thankfully, I don't. Still, I don't want to end up shredded to death, so I should probably do something about that technique.

"I warned you," I sigh and pull out a kunai with an explosive tag. With a twitch of my chakra, I activate it. My opponent's widen in panic.

"You can't do that! You'll blow both of us up!" she screams.

"Ahh," I say, watching the fire travel along the tag. "I'm from Konoha. We're a special kind of stupid over there."

I flick the kunai a the inner water wall just before it goes off. Then we're engulfed by fire. When it's over, I step out of the ensuing dust cloud, a water armour covering my whole body. As I move back to Ao, it flows off my skin into the ground.

"Okay," I say. "But that was the last one."

Ao glares at me. "You used me as bait for them!" he growls at me.

"Oh come off it!" I scoff. "I wouldn't have let you die."

"Right, because I'm, I quote, 'the only decent shogi player in all of Water Country'," he answers.

"Actually, it's because you're practically a national treasure," I quip. "Your sense of humour is the driest thing in all of this vast, muddy place."

Ao stares me down. Considering he's on the ground while I'm standing, that's an impressive feat.

"I do not have a sense of humour," he replies in a measured tone. I grin at him.

"That's not something you should go around advertising, and you're funny anyways," I answer.

"You lack respect," Ao gripes. "Your entire generation-"

"You do realise that saying things like that only makes you sound like a grumpy old man?" I ask, kneeling down beside him. "Hold still, I'm going to heal you. I'm in no mood to carry you for miles through all this mud. I swear, you should rename this place into Mud Country. There's more mud than water."

"Tch, always complaining. When I was your age-"

I roll my eyes as my hand lights up green. "Not this again. Seriously, making you the bait was the best plan, and you know it. Besides, you were in no danger. I have a reputation to uphold, after all."

"What, that all the missions you go on tend to go ridiculously out of control?" Ao asks with a raised eyebrow.

"And here you claim to have no sense of humour." My lips quirk in amusement. "I was talking about my other reputation, you know, the one that makes me so popular to go on missions with. I don't let my teammates die."

Ao snorts derisively. "Idealistic fool."

"Grumpy old man." I finish healing him. "Done. You should get that checked out though when we get back. It's only a patch job."

"Understood," Ao says and gets to his feet. "I'll clean up the bodies. Take a rest."

"Yes, old man," I mutter.

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

Outpost Kappa. When Ao and I get back, Hōzuki Suigetsu is on guard duty.

"Yo, Midget," he greets me by his nickname for me with a smirk, revealing his pointy teeth. "Took ya long enough. You were only supposed to scout."

I don't even react to the nickname. I've heard it often enough from him. Besides, it's kind of true. I've grown strong. I have not grown tall.

"I live up to my reputation," I deadpan instead. "On a side note, by our estimation the loyalist forces in this area have been decimated by a third, which means the information we gathered is mostly inaccurate by now. Not all of it, though. We know where their hideouts are."

"Damn," Suigetsu whistles. "I volunteer to be your partner on your next mission, Ren."

"See?" I say, turning to Ao. "I'm popular." Then I turn back to Suigetsu. "Forget it. I haven't forgiven you yet."

"Aww, but Midget!" Suigetsu pouts. "It was your jounin promotion! You were supposed to get drunk!"

I snort. "Jounin promotion, right. Like it actually counts. I won't forgive you until you have suffered what I have suffered the morning after that."

Suigetsu, who is among the most brutal and bloodthirsty people I have ever met, actually winces. Even Ao looks uncomfortable.

Because yes, it was that bad.

"You fight a lot better when you're hung over," Suigetsu finally says. I glare at him darkly.

"Have you ever been so hung over that you could barely open your eyes because the light hurt so fucking bad that it felt like you were being stabbed in the brain with a lightning bolt?" I ask. "Have you ever had a flash tag go off right in front of you while in that state? And an explosive tag right after? And, I don't know, experienced a surprise attack of about fifty crazy bloodline-racists at the same time? Have you?"

Long story short, I got (fake) promoted to jounin, which Suigetsu and a few others decided we had to celebrate by getting me drunk. The next morning, the loyalists staged a surprise attack.

Not fun. At all.

"Uh, no," Suigetsu says, obviously looking for a different topic to switch to. "Haku and Chōjūrō are here!"

That brightens my mood instantly. "Really?"

"Yeah, orders are to take those bastards down." Suigetsu grins bloodthirstily, caressing the hilt of Shibuki, the oversized sword that has hundreds of explosive seals incorporated in it and marks him as one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, like Zabuza, Haku, and Chōjūrō. "Can't wait!"

"Right," I say. "And hopefully I'll be reassigned after that and won't ever have to see you again."

"But Ren-chan!" Suigetsu exclaims. "You know you loooove me! You've seen me naked and all!"

I cringe. "Don't remind me."

Ao and I were tracking an A-rank missin-nin that had been a thorn in the side of our forces for ages. We'd already injured the guy, but he got away and fled to the mainland. We eventually caught up and dealt with him, but then Ao detected an underground shelter right under our feet with his implanted Byakugan. And naturally, we decided to sneak in and check it out. Turns out, we stumbled right over one of Orochimaru's underground labs. And while I was hiding behind one of many tanks filled with water…

"Hello, beautiful," a voice croons. I blink in surprise and stare at the boy that has appeared in the tank that appeared previously empty of anything except water. Then I jump back ten metres, crash into another tank, and yell,

"Holy shit put on some clothes!"

"I can't, I'm locked up in this damn tank you stupid bitch!" he yells back. Meanwhile, I turn away and rub furiously at my eyes.

"Eww! It was right in front of my face," I gag.

Needless to say, we brought down every ninja in the whole damn facility on us with our yelling. It was not one of my shining moments, and Suigetsu has never let me live it down, the asshole. And for some idiotic reason he got attached to me during the course of the battle at the lab. Something about me letting him out of his tank and then cutting down every single one of Orochimaru's researchers currently in that room. And letting him have my spare katana so he could do some cutting, too. And throwing a lab coat into his face. He thought it was 'sweet and charming'. The cutting-people-down thing, that is.

Then Ao recognised him as a former Kiri shinobi and we ended up taking him back with us like some stray kitten.

"Good times," Suigetsu sighs.

"I still have nightmares about that thing right in front of my eyes," I mutter darkly. "A kingdom for brain-bleach."

Ao snorts derisively and strides past us. "You're wasting time with your inane prattle. We have a report to make."

"Later, Suigetsu," I say, hurrying after Ao. "The usual place."

"Got it, Midget!"

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

Akagi Ren. That was the name I chose for myself after leaving for Kirigakure with only my blade Shingi to Giri at my side. No one back home in Konoha even knows what my name here is – a safety measure, just in case. I was given a way to contact Dad if I ever needed help, but only the most dire of emergencies count as a reason for doing so. So in essence, when I arrived, I was completely on my own, and I wanted my name to have at least some sort of meaning.

Akagi. Red tree.

Ren. Water lily.

It's been almost two years since then. I turn fifteen in a month.

Back then, I made my way to the meeting point, where I was promptly snatched up by Zabuza and Haku who brought me before the Godaime Mizukage Terumi Mei and some of her most trusted jounin, Ao among them. After that, I was thrown into a reception camp for those homeless ninja wishing to join Kirigakure. There were endless tests and brutal trainings from the jounin there, and manipulations and backstabbing among the contenders; because while Kirigakure did accept almost any ninja into their forces, they hardly put them in favourable positions – only the ones that were outstanding had the chance to make it to something other than cannon fodder and would get a chance at a decent life. So the competition between the contenders was harsh and brutal, and it was not uncommon to find someone dead in the mornings, or permanently crippled. After all, most all of the people there were some sort of criminals – either missing-nin or homeless kids that never had anybody teach them morals and kept themselves alive through sheer viciousness.

It was hell. A muddy, bloody hell. I was later told the jounin in charge of the Slums, as the reception camp was fondly called, had orders to make sure I didn't die, but I certainly never saw evidence of that. They sure as hell never prevented assassination attempts, and there were a lot of those after it became clear that I wasn't just some half-starved brat with nothing to lose; no, I was some half-starved brat with nothing to lose with a shit ton of potential , high intelligence, and an extremely valuable sword. Which made me the target of anger, jealousy, and various attempts to kill me.

Those were the dark days.

I was not in a good place mentally back then. I'd just left everything I'd ever loved, no, I had been made to leave. I'd felt abandoned and lonely and hopeless, and I was this close to breaking. The reason I didn't… well.

But I lived. I clung to life. Did some things I wasn't proud of. And I made it out of the Slums; harder and stronger than before, and still possessing something akin to sanity, which was more than what most of the other graduates could say for themselves.

After that, I was absorbed into Kirigakure's forces, just one new genin among many. I was assigned to one of the numerous outposts on one of Water Country's numerous islands, one that was still crawling with followers of the bloodline limit-hating Yondaime Mizukage Yagura. We were expected to fight them, try not to die; and if we failed at the not-dying part to take as many enemies down with us as we could.

I'd have fallen in the first battle if it hadn't been for the fact that Zabuza and Haku had also been stationed at that outpost. But again, I didn't die. And if I fell down, I got up. I got stronger. I survived. Sliced my way through the enemy forces, clawed my way to strength. I didn't really have any teacher, but some of the jounin at the outpost didn't mind sharing some tips, and Zabuza was always up for a spar, so I managed to accumulate some serious skill, and soon some of the other genin started to follow my lead when they got the memo that people that stuck to me tended to live through battles. I got a field promotion to chunin – the irony – and from then on, things got better.

After the area was cleared of the Yagura-loyalists, I was assigned to another outpost. It was there that I was assigned a partner, a freshly minted jounin named Chōjūrō, who was also one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, like Zabuza. Unlike almost every other Kiri-nin, he was shy and gentle despite being a fearsome fighter, and we became friends. Fought side by side and made names for ourselves. I also became known as a decent strategist and from then on was involved into planning attacks, which is how I met Ao. Who was a complete bastard to me at first, but tolerated me because I was just about the only one who made a challenging shogi opponent.

It was around that time that I became known as the Bloody Flower of the Mist. Even got ranked A in the bingo books.

I hate that name.

I wonder if it should amuse me that while Orochimaru's henchmen are probably scouring the nations for me and infiltrating every secret training facility affiliated with Konoha, here I am, famous and fighting at the front lines of another village, appearance altered just enough to look like a different person.

It took about another year for my next field promotion. By then, I was part of the group of Kiri-nin that was constantly sent from outpost to outpost to support the troupes there; either with strategies or combat force. Others are Ao, Haku, Chōjūrō, and Zabuza. Suigetsu will probably soon be, too. Though lately, the fights have been dying down. There are hardly any loyalists left.

Since my time at the Slums, I've only set foot into the village of Kirigakure a total of five times. The rest, I spent surviving whatever battle I was thrown into, and making sure those near me survived, too.

It kept me from thinking about… things. And thinking about things is bad. I did that the first few months. Wallowed in self-pity a lot, too. Not really a good time.

I don't regret coming to Kiri. Even if I was miserable more often than not, there are some moments that I wouldn't trade for anything. I've made friends here, made memories, saved lives, accomplished things.

Life as a Kirigakure ninja may not be a happy one. But it certainly has its moments.

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

We give our report to a tank of a man named Yoshiaki. He also happens to be an enormous asshole, like most Kiri-ninja, and he can stand neither Ao nor me, simply because we are smarter and better than him. Technically, I'm of equal rank as him, and Ao as an elite jounin outranks him, but since we tend to get shuffled from outpost to outpost and Yoshiaki has pretty much been here for his entire career, the bastard has gotten a superiority complex and thinks he's better than us.

He's not.

But he is in charge of the outpost, and therefore he can make report-giving extremely troublesome by questioning our actions and being an asshole in general. The current conversation goes much like every one before it.

"So you disobeyed my orders and engaged the enemy in combat," he states snootily. I roll my eyes.

"Maybe you should give your orders to the enemies and tell them not to attack us. I'm sure they'll be open to discussions," I retort.

"Do not get smart with me, you bratty little-!"

"Oh fuck off," I snap. "Like you'd recognise Smart if it hit you in the face." He bristles.

"Now, see here! I've been keeping quiet about your attitude, but I will do that no longer!" he thunders. Ao and I look at each other and simultaneously roll our eyes.

Here we go again.

"Since you have come here, you have been nothing but a thorn in my side. Wherever you go, you cause trouble-"

"I don't cause it, it finds me."

"And pretend to be oh-so innocent-"

"Because it's not my fault."

"Insult your superiors-"

"I don't insult my superiors. I insult you."

"You disobey the rules-"

"I could tell you shit about rules that would blow your mind."

"Fuck up your missions-"

"I complete them and bring everybody back alive. How is that fucking up?"

"WILL YOU SHUT UP?!" he explodes. Spit flies from his mouth as he yells. "Are you even loyal to Kirigakure?!"

One moment he towers over me, the next he flies through his desk into the wall of his office. His head hits the stone with a crack. I lower the hand holding a water whip and look at Ao. "He shouldn't have said that," I say.

Ao nods grimly. "He shouldn't have."

Questioning a Kiri-nin's loyalty to the village is Taboo. It's something you just don't do without hard evidence. Even if I'm not really a Kiri-nin, most of the time I feel like I am. Even when I go back, as long as it doesn't compromise Konoha, I will remain an ally of Kirigakure.

Kami, I hope Konoha will never become an enemy of Kiri.

"So I guess while he's out, you take charge and come up with a plan to raid the loyalists' stronghold?" I ask. "Do you need help planning?"

Ao gives me a disdainful look. "Of course not."

I nod. "Then I'll go and meet the others. Later, Ao. Remember to get that leg checked out."

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

I told Suigetsu to meet me at the usual place. Considering I hardly stay at any outpost for longer than a month, it's a bit hard to determine a 'usual place'. So as it is, the 'usual place' is a glorified description for, 'That shitty dive where you can get wasted, stoned, and possibly laid, though you probably won't remember it the next morning'. It's not a place any of us except Suigetsu would normally frequent, but every outpost has at least one, so it makes for a decent meeting place, as long as one brings their own drinks. If not, it ends like my farce of a jounin promotion did.

In pain.

Outpost Kappa consists of an assortment of huts, barracks, and tents hidden under a genjutsu barrier. The Usual Place in this case is to be found in the basement of one of the barracks. I suspect it used to be a storage room, but now it contains a shoddily built bar, a few benches and chairs, a few rickety tables, and cheap alcohol. Lots of that. Also, an assortment of ninja in various stages of drunkenness.

"Yo," I greet. "You're here already."

"Ren!" Suigetsu cries out, a flush to his cheeks, a bottle of sake in his hands. "It's been so long!"

"Two hours, however did I survive without you?" I ask blandly, then turn around to the other two. "Haku, Chōjūrō-kun. It's good to see you two." I pull out a chair and swiftly sit down, surreptitiously slapping a privacy seal on the table's surface. A moment later, it is activated.

"Riko-san," Haku greets me with a serene smile. Still ethereally beautiful with his long, silky black hair, wearing a dark green kimono, the only thing that has changed about him is the blade he carries. Nuibari, the longsword in the shape of a sewing needle, another weapon of the Seven Swordsmen. In Haku's hands, it's not a tool for killing, but for binding and stitching his enemies together. He's probably the most peaceful person to ever have been one of the Seven. Scratch that, he's the most peaceful person in all of Kirigakure, Water Country, and possibly the world. "It has been a while."

"It's… ah, it's good to see you, too," Chōjūrō adds shyly.

Haku, Chōjūrō and Suigetsu. These three are my best friends in Kirigakure, and they are among the few who know who I really am. Haku, because he already knew before. Chōjūrō found out when I was hurt on a mission, got a fever, and started talking gibberish in my fever-induced dream. Suigetsu knew from the start, because one of those bastards at the underground lab we found him in recognised me – didn't live to tell the tale, of course.

I think one of the reasons Suigetsu got so attached to me is that Orochimaru fucked both of our lives over. Add to that the fact that I was probably the first in a long time to actually treat him like a human being, the fact that I'm the one that freed him, and the love of swords we have in common, and it really doesn't come as a surprise that we ended up as comrades. I can even overlook his love for killing and chopping off the limbs of his victims. It's not like he kills indiscriminately, after all. And I'm not all that innocent, either. Not anymore.

"So what have you guys been up to?" I ask while pulling out a small cup from my bag, filling it with hot water, and putting a tea bag in it – water ninjutsu is so useful. Haku holds out a cup of his own to me, and I fill it for him.

"We're in a bar," Suigetsu gripes, eyeing our cups with distaste.

"And we are drinking," I retort. "Tea."

"It is very calming," Haku adds serenely. Suigetsu sticks out his tongue in distaste and takes a deep swig from his sake bottle. "I have been stationed at outpost Yuki-onna for the last month," Haku remarks.

I snort. "Really? The guy assigning us has a really weird sense of humour."

Haku smiles. "I'm afraid that I do not understand what you are talking about, Riko-san."

"Yeah right," Suigetsu snorts. "Like it's a coincidence that you ended up at the one outpost named after a snow demon that appears as a beautiful woman."

Haku's smile gains an edge, and his eyes shine mysteriously as he gazes at Suigetsu. "I still do not understand."

Suigetsu's eyes shift around nervously. "Uh, I mean. Yes." He holds out his bottle. "Sake?"

"No, thank you. I do not drink."

I swear there's something going on between them. Something like this happens every time we get together. Not that that happens often.

"I-I believe Zabuza-senpai is stationed at outpost Oni right now," Chōjūrō adds softly. "Uhm… I think Riko-san might be right. A-about the guy assigning us, I mean. Except, I think it's a girl." He suddenly blushes heavily. I resist the urge to pat his head.

Looking at Chōjūrō's demeanour, no one would ever guess how strong an opponent he can be.

Suigetsu snorts. "Outpost Oni, really? The Demon of the Mist at Outpost Demon?"

"Ahh, Zabuza-sama has returned to Kirigakure," Haku informs us. "About three weeks ago, I believe."

Chōjūrō gets a wistful look on his face. "It would be nice to return home," he says softly.

"It would," I agree.

"Oi, Ren, which home're you talking about?" Suigetsu asks with a sharp-toothed grin. I merely shrug in response.

"What have you been doing, Riko-san?" Haku asks me.

"The usual. Lots of missions going funny," I answer with a sheepish grin. "And today, I may or may not have slammed that bastard Yoshiaki into a wall. Ao is in charge now."

Suigetsu barks a laugh. "Bastard had it coming!"

Suddenly, a pretty pale pink rabbit hops elegantly into the bar and lands neatly on the table before Haku. I twitch, but refrain from saying something.

With a look at us, Haku explains. "I left Ume-chan at my previous post. There were preparations being made for another battle. I worried about the outcome. Please speak, Ume-chan."

I nearly gag seeing the adoring look he gifts the rabbit with.

"Our troupes were successful," Ume says primly, her straight ears laid back neatly. "The commander wishes you well."

"Very good," Haku answers. "Thank you for your hard work, Ume-chan. Please rest now." Ume thanks him and poofs away. I glare at the small smoke cloud.

Some guys have all the luck with their summons.

"What's that glare for?" Suigetsu asks with a grin. "Oh right. You have a rabbit contract, too, right? Except…" he makes a dramatic pause.

"Go to hell," I snap.

"Except his are better," he finishes with an evil grin. I punch him in the face. It's entirely unsatisfying seeing as it turns into water and offers no resistance to my fist at all.

"Um, there is more than one rabbit contract?" Chōjūrō asks.

I steal Suigetsu's bottle and take a deep swig. "Yep," I say. "There's a story behind it. As everything that has anything to do with rabbits, it's completely crackbrained."

"Riko-san," Haku admonishes and looks at me with his sad, sad eyes.

"I meant, as everything that has to do with my rabbits," I amend. Damn it, aren't puppy eyes supposed to become less effective the older the user gets? And when did my resistance get so low? "Anyone want to hear the story?"

"…Yes?" Chōjūrō asks uncertainly. Suigetsu attempts to snatch his sake bottle back, but I pull it out of the way. If we're going to talk about rabbits, I need alcohol.

"Alright," I take a deep swig and start in an unctuous voice. "Long ago, there was only one clan of the noble Leporidae, standing united against any foe. Few matched them in strength." I take another deep swig from the bottle under Suigetsu's reproachful glare.

"…And?" Chōjūrō asks when I don't say anything further. I snort.

"And then some idiot started a fight over who stole his mama's carrot, the whole thing got blown up into insane proportions, some idiot used a grenade to blow up the Rabbit of Caerbannog who was the boss of everyone at the time, and the rabbits divided into two rivalling clans: The Floppy Ears and the Straight Ears." I snort derisively. "Haku got the Straight Ears. I got the Floppy Ears."

Suigetsu suddenly pauses in his glaring. "Wait, I've seen the boss of Haku's rabbits! It has floppy ears!"

"You've seen Bun-Bun and you're still alive?!" I ask incredulously.

"I turn into water, I'm hard to kill," he deadpans. "So, your story doesn't add up!"

"It wasn't finished yet," I say morosely and take another swig from the bottle. "See, the rabbits now consisted of two rivalling clans, but they weren't too happy. The Straight Ears wanted more discipline and training, but their boss was a bit of a free spirit and only cared for playing. The Floppy Ears wanted more freedom, but their boss was a murderous tyrant."

I pause and glare at the bottle in my hands.

"…what happened next?" Chōjūrō asks timidly.

"They swapped bosses," I snort. Suigetsu spits out tea – when did he steal my cup from me?

"You're kidding," he says.

"I assure you, I am not."

"But it doesn't work like that!" he protests. "Summons can't just-!" He waves his arms around.

"Rabbits are very surprising creatures," Haku says serenely.

I open my mouth to say something insulting. Then I pause, reconsider, and decide not to blow Haku's bubble. "Anyway," I continue. "The Straight Ears ended up a disciplined clan with decent training and manners. The Floppy Ears descended into anarchy and madness under the Flying Mint Bunny's rule. Guess who ended up with what summoning contract?" I give him a tight smile.

"Ugh," Suigetsu says. "I know why I don't have a summon."

"Screw you," I mutter, and finish the bottle.

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

Chōjūrō and Haku end up sleeping in the room Suigetsu and I share.

It's probably not exactly proper to share a room with the guy when I have a boyfriend, but I don't want to get murdered in my sleep and I trust Suigetsu to watch my back. I've shared sleeping space with Chōjūrō and Haku before, too. Sometimes it gets cold on missions.

It's fine. We're comrades. Anyone who has a problem with it can shove it. Also, modesty completely flies out of the window after a while, what with the constant fighting and injuries. Having medical abilities, Suigetsu isn't the only person I've seen undressed.

No one here cares who sleeps with who, anyway. As long as they can be found during emergencies, it's all good.

Besides, it's nice to not have to worry about having my throat slit while I'm sleeping.

"Night, guys," I mumble. The others mumble their answers, and I let myself fall asleep. There'll be a battle tomorrow, it wouldn't do to be tired out.

▬▬ι═══════ﺤ -═══════ι▬▬

I dream.

It's one of those dreams.

I appear in a room that has the distinct feel of a hospital room, but doesn't actually look like one, with wooden floor and dark walls. The surroundings are blurry, though, so I can't tell for sure.

The girl that is me but not is lying on a bed, sleeping like the dead. Except, it appears to be around noon, if the light coming through the window is any indication. And her sleeping form looks… odd. The only thing that moves is her chest, rising and sinking almost imperceptibly with light breaths. Anything else appears frozen. Not a muscle move in her face, not a finger twitches.

She's too pale. Too thin. Her lips are dry and chapped, her long red hair which normally looks so wild and vibrant hangs limply and has lost its shine.

On a table next to her bed, flowers and gifts are lined up. I think there are chocolate boxes, too. Can't really identify anything, though.

"Coma, huh?" I murmur, and at my words, the scene is swallowed up by darkness.