A/N: I wrote this waaay back for Naruto Yuri Week, which was a bust aside from writing when I hadn't in some time and finally tackling some ideas I'd had for some time. This fic was born of one such idea. Opposite of how Well, We Tried ended up much shorter than the original idea suggested, this one ended up longer. Yes, I know, it's not very long, but I was expecting a few hundred words out of it at most. I wasn't sure what I thought of it back when I wrote it, in no small part due to that very reason, but I've since grown rather fond of it. I hope you like it too.
Kurenai only half pays attention to lunch preparations. The rest of her attention is on the sounds from the other room, where Anko is entertaining Mirai while Kurenai works. No, that isn't true– perhaps a quarter of her attention is on the sounds from the other room. The last quarter is devoted to trying to work out how she feels about Anko entertaining Mirai, about Anko being there at all, about… Anko.
Anko is not a subtle woman, but she is still a shinobi and she can play tact when she needs to. It's only recently that her overtures have begun to press firm, that her flirtations have taken on an edge of true intent. This is something else entirely. Inviting herself to lunch isn't new– hasn't been new for some time– but it's the first time she's offered to keep Mirai busy and out of Kurenai's way. It's the first time she's offered Mirai real attention. Oh, she's made all the appropriate remarks, smiled at all the right times, never done a thing to dismiss Mirai's importance in Kurenai's life– Anko's presence, whole and unafraid, in Kurenai's home can attest to that much– but she tends to tread that ground with caution. It's always seemed before as though Anko saw Mirai as some trap to trip into, some obstacle standing between them.
It was, Kurenai thinks, easier to read Anko that way, as someone interested in Kurenai's time but not so much her life. Kurenai is still trying to smooth out the wrinkles in her plans now, still trying to decide what she wants from her life as it is now. She knows beyond doubt that she isn't interested in what she thought Anko was offering, not now. It was easy to accept Anko's companionship and dismiss the possibility of anything else. This… Kurenai doesn't know what she feels about this. She hadn't thought she needed to think about it just yet. Asuma is dead, has been dead, and Kurenai knows she shouldn't be ashamed to think of moving on, but she loved him dearly– loves him dearly– and the fact that she would still be a married woman if he were alive makes even thinking of Anko in that light feel like a betrayal.
"Hey!" Anko calls sudden and just a little sharp; it sets Kurenai immediately on edge, but Mirai's happy burbling keeps the panic at bay. "Hey, she's walking! Sort of…"
A smile curls at the corners of Kurenai's lips and she rolls the tension from her shoulders. "She does that now, sometimes," she calls back. "Just don't let her get into anything."
"Can she?" Anko asks. She sounds almost casual now, but Kurenai can pick out the hints of disquiet in her words. "She's awfully wobbly…"
"That doesn't stop her from trying, just makes it easier for her to hurt herself."
Anko doesn't answer this time, but something in the atmosphere shifts that Kurenai can feel even a room away. The only thing left to do for lunch is to dish out the food, so Kurenai makes sure the stove is off (she's been double- and triple-checking since bringing Mirai home) and heads for the main room. The sight waiting for her stops her in the doorway.
Sure enough, Mirai is balanced carefully on her unsteady little legs, one hand just shy of the support of the coffee table. She's looking with an expression of uncertain concentration at Anko, who's knelt on the floor a few paces away with lips upturned and arms held out towards Mirai, fingers wiggling in invitation. Someone less adept at reading people– someone who doesn't know Anko as well– might think Anko is relaxed. Kurenai notes the stiffness in her pose, however, and the intent look in her eyes; she caught the way Anko wound herself just a little tighter when Kurenai appeared in the doorway.
"Come on, kiddo," Anko says when Mirai holds her ground, a playful lilt in her voice that doesn't hide her anxiety from Kurenai. Curious. "C'mere."
At last, Mirai takes a shaky step towards Anko. Then another. Three more in rapid succession, toddling just a little too far to one side; she stops to try to regain her balance as Anko looks on, still as stone. Kurenai knows what's about to happen; Anko should, too, but she still looks taken by surprise when Mirai falls victim to gravity and her own underdeveloped muscles and her diaper-padded bottom hits the carpet.
Mirai's eyes go wide.
Anko's eyes go wide.
Kurenai bites back a grin.
A fraction of a second later, Anko has pushed up onto her knees and surged forward, only to stop short when she finds herself hovering over Mirai, hands hanging around her in the air like Mirai will fall apart if touched. Mirai, for her part, takes one second to process Anko's pale face hanging over her like some frantic moon and her own little face scrunches up. She wails, loud and piercing, and Anko rears back as though from an explosion. Kurenai can't – doesn't bother to– hold back a laugh even as she crosses the room in long strides.
Anko jerks at the sound, turning to stare up at Kurenai in something like disbelief. Kurenai only shakes her head– to think this is the bane of the chuunin hopefuls who's sitting on her floor and looking like a little misstep is the end of the world– and devotes her attention to her fussing daughter. She scoops Mirai into her arms and spins in a circle all in one motion. Mirai reaches out for Kurenai's face and Kurenai evades her to rain kisses upon the chubby cheeks.
"There, now," she coos, smiling and keeping the laughter in her voice. "What's all this fuss, hm? What's Anko being so silly about?"
That earns a huff of indignance from Anko, but Kurenai just leans to rub her nose against Mirai's, spins another circle and says again, "What's Anko being so silly about? Did you see her being so silly? Can you believe it?" More kisses, more nuzzling.
Less than a minute into these attentions, Mirai is giggling into Kurenai's shoulder and yet squirming to escape her mother's coddling arms.
"Oh, no, you don't," Kurenai declares, catching Mirai under the arms and bouncing her into the air a few times to keep her from getting restless. "Time for lunch– you can play some more after you've eaten."
Mirai only squeals with laughter, reacting more to the way she's being handled than to what Kurenai is saying.
By this time, Anko is on her feet, holding herself just out of arm's reach. The color is back in her cheeks and Kurenai wouldn't have imagined she was so shaken if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes. The embarrassment is still plain to see, though, buzzing around in the cloud of Anko's annoyance as she looks at Mirai askance and mutters, "Little faker."
Kurenai breathes a laugh and breezes past her towards the kitchen; she could easily get by without touching, but she lets her shoulder brush Anko's anyway. Anko's eyes snap to hers and Kurenai offers a smile.
"No," she says, "those almost-tears were real– but you started it."
Anko scoffs at the accusation a second too late to be natural, following in Kurenai's wake. There's a different sort of tension about her now; an air of having failed. Her back to Anko, Kurenai allows herself another smile.
One look at the food not yet served and Anko steps towards the cupboards. Kurenai stops her before she can get past that one step, settling Mirai into Anko's arms. Anko freezes and Mirai looks between them, babbling her curiosity at the switch.
"Get her settled at the table, won't you?" Kurenai asks as though it's a perfectly natural request, not sparing a second glance as she goes for the dishes herself.
To her credit, Anko hesitates only a moment before doing as she's asked. Kurenai watches from the corner of her eye as Anko tries to slot the squirming child in her arms into the high chair. Anko huffs and complains and Mirai laughs, squirming with renewed vigor in order to spur on the whining from her playmate (or perhaps plaything, to her own mind).
"Now, listen here, you," Anko says and she lifts Mirai again for another go at it. The next attempt is firmer, more authoritative, more forceful without being at all violent. It's also successful, and there's a moment that Anko doesn't seem certain how Mirai came to be properly seated. Mirai burbles and bangs cheerful little fists on the chair's tray, and Anko steps back, hands on her hips, to declare, "I thought so." Then, to Kurenai, "Hey, you need any help over there?"
Just finishing dishing up the last portion, Kurenai says, "If you would." She presses Mirai's food into Anko's hand when Anko reaches for her own, says, "I appreciate it."
This time, Anko doesn't hesitate at all before turning back to Mirai and setting the food before her on the tray. "Look at you, all spoiled," Anko says, quickly leaning out of the way of Mirai's triumphant arm waves.
"You're one to talk," Kurenai answers back in her daughter's stead, passing Anko her serving before taking her seat at Mirai's side.
A beat, then Anko pulls around a chair and settles herself at Mirai's other side instead of going around to sit beside Kurenai. She shoots Kurenai a grin; there's a question in it, a need for approval, and Kurenai answers it with a softer smile of her own.
"What can I say," Anko says, almost with her usual boisterousness, "you spoil me."
Mirai chooses that moment to throw her food on either side, squealing laughter. Anko and Kurenai both jump, then both lean in to stop the next assault before it starts. The moment between them doesn't end, however, so much as it's set aside. In its stead, it seems, is a new moment.
Anko doesn't know what she's doing here, it's clear, but she could be doing a lot worse.
Kurenai doesn't know what she wants here, exactly, but she could do a lot worse than this.