Am I fast or what? Sometimes. To make up for leaving you with a cliff hanger for so long, only to follow up with another one. Oops, my bad.

At the end there's your extra, btw – the idea hit me while writing this:)

There's no pain.

Logic tells her it should hurt – the cursed seal is a foreign entity, invasive, aggressive. At the very least there should be the shock of the bite itself as Orochimaru's fangs pierce cleanly through the palm of her hand. But there's nothing; only a cool numbness that leaves her head feeling fuzzy and a little euphoric. The Sannin grins into her face, evidently pleased with himself, before climbing to his feet.

"I find, I'm really looking forward to testing you out."

The words make no sense to Hisana. Nothing makes sense; right now even remembering what she needs to do is difficult – she's high, she realizes dimly. This is … bad. She lifts her hand to her face and tries to blink the fog away, but for some reason the appendage stays milky and … stripy. It's tingling now and she whacks it against the ground, chest constricting with aimless anxiety. This can't be happening – this must be fake. But there's no genjutsu that could fool her like this, no trick that could possibly make her feel like this.

Orochimaru's quiet snicker fades away as she clenches her fist, bangs it against the ground again, just to make the feeling stop. Once, twice, and then there's a crack, but she's still not feeling anything so she keeps going, conscious only of her own breathing and the increasingly wet sound of her left hand as it smears against the grass. The world narrows down to just this one thing she needs to do. It feels urgent somehow, even though with every passing second she forgets a little more why.

The sound of her name only distracts her momentarily.

"Hisana! What - … fuck, what's this? What – Hisana! Stop that, stop." The instructions make a bit more sense, but she shakes her head because they're also stupid. Can't this person see she's … doing something important? A hand grips her wrist firmly.

Hisana's head jerks up, fixing on the intruder's face – it looks familiar but that doesn't matter. She lashes out, simmering anxiety turning into desperation and anger. "I need – I need - !" She has to.

More people step out of the trees and she can feel the numbness crank up to unbearable levels; it feels as if someone dunked her heart into ice water and then forgot it there. The remains of her blade, jagged and chipped where it collided with Kusanagi, glints on the ground and she dives for it. It's pure instinct to fight and eliminate the threat and right now instinct is all that's driving her. The world makes little sense beyond the blare of danger danger.

Control yourself, something says tells her, and it might be her or it might be someone else. But it's just so, so hard.

"Anko keep your people away," the closest enemy growls. The others hesitate but finally retreat into the trees on one of the women's command.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Hatake. Look at her." Hisana's eyes meet a singular red one head on.

"Go," he says. "You're not doing any good here."

And then he turns back to Hisana, eye flashing in such a familiar way that she flinches.

"Yes," he hums, "I thought so. Let's see what you can do like this."

A noise startles her awake. Adrenaline and a ninja's startle reflex make for a rather explosive combination. Hisana shoots out of bed and across the room in the blink of an eye.

From the other side of the hospital room, Naruto gapes.

"Nee-chan, should you be doing that?" His eyes wander to where her hand is gripping the arm of a chair, ready to rip it apart and weaponize it if necessary. There's a neat, firm bandage wrapped around it.

"Naruto," she rasps, feeling a little overwhelmed, "what are you doing here?" Her head swims with pieces of information that won't quite fit together.

If hiding behind the cracked door makes him look like a naughty ten-year-old, then the awkward blush pushes him down to somewhere around toddler age.

"I'm in the room across the hall," he confesses and opens the door all the way to reveal a hospital gown and a wad of gauze taped over his ear. "I'm fine – obviously! But the doctor still said I've got to sit down and wait till Jiji says I can go." He glances over his shoulder. "Sakura-chan is with Kakashi-senpai and Sasuke-baka with the scary lady." He rather vulgarly mimes Anko's generous bust and Hisana grits her teeth. The fragmented pictures of her own encounter with Orochimaru surface and are summarily shoved to the side.

"Is … he ok?"

"Yeah, yeah – a little banged up, but a bunch of jounin picked us up real quick. But I think –" He breaks off, looking as uncertain as she's ever seen him. Hisana reluctantly pries her hand off the chair and steps towards him, suddenly concious of her own awkward hospital gown. She touches his bandaged ear, aware that the fox demon must have already healed it, then cards her fingers through his dirty hair.


"He looked really afraid, I think." In her mind's eye, Hisana can see him in similar circumstances, saying these words and looking gleeful. Right now he looks sick, as if his entire world tilted just a little to the left. And why wouldn't he? – Sasuke is never afraid. Rarely afraid, she corrects herself. Always afraid in a way, but never when others can see.

"Did that man – bite him?" The moments the words leave her mouth she wonders if that's classified information; whether anyone knows what Orochimaru's bite does. But Naruto only looks a little weirded out.

"Nah – ick. He's like, a snake guy, right? Sasuke-teme isn't poisoned or anything." Hisana swallows thickly. There's relief at first, followed by another wave of anxiety, because now her thoughts are clear enough to wander towards her own problem.

"Do me a favor, will you?"

"Sure! I'm super bored anyway." She pinches him half-heartedly.

"Go and find Kakashi-senpai. I need to talk to him. And then go find Anko" – and here she lowers herself to also mime the tokujou's conspicuous shape – "and tell her to give me my cousin back."

Naruto snickers. "Got it!"

As his blond head disappears out the door, Hisana falls back onto the hospital bed. She has a few minutes at most before a nurse comes to check on her, maybe ten before Naruto finds Kakashi. Part of her itches to take off the bandage and look at what must be the seal. But it's neither achy nor numb, so she assumes someone has already healed it properly and the bandages might hide provisory containment seals. Prying them open would be monumentally stupid. Instead her mind wanders towards her make shift team. If any of them were seriously hurt, surely someone would tell her right away? But if so, why is nobody here?

Reports, a quiet voice insists in her head. Calm down, they're probably all down in T&I. Guilt still gnaws at her, especially when she thinks about Sora, who undoubtedly got his ass beaten the most. She'll owe him strawberry mochi until the day she dies. Hanada is going to be unbearable about it too.

Kakashi is actually faster than the nurses. Hisana isn't sure if that surprises her. There are flashes of a fight, a brief scuffle, scratching at her memory and she winces. But her team leader looks as unruffled as always.

"How are you feeling?" he demands in lieu of a greeting.

"Never one for niceties," she observes, but the teasing lilt in her voice only garners a stern look. "Yes, I know. I'm … ok. That worries me."

"It should," he asserts, deftly unwrapping her hand. "You were beat all to hell and none of our medics could force their healing chakra into you – it wouldn't stick. And yet, here we are."

Hisana's right reflexively finds her chest where Kusanagi pierced it, just below the collar bone. There's nothing there, not even a bandage. She tugs down the collar of her gown and yes, not even a scar.

The back of her hand, however, is marked by something far uglier than a scar.

"What the hell is that?" And for once her surprise isn't even faked. The mark staining her skin looks almost delicate: three slim, curved lines spiraling outward. It looks nothing like Sasuke's cursed seal.

"A seal," Kakashi says and Hisana tries not to snap at him for stating the obvious.

"Yes! But what does it do? What – how the hell do you seal someone by biting them?" The mark looks like any other seal, like a tattoo, but for some reason it disgusts her. Maybe it's the thought that Orochimaru's chakra is somewhere inside her. Or maybe it's the future it promises. Both, she decides. Definitely both.

"We'll figure it out," Kakashi promises. "Whatever it does, I already have a few ideas how to keep it under wraps." He waves her bandages at her and Hisana snorts.

"So you can make stupid jokes, but I can't?"

"I didn't nearly get killed by a legendary ninja. I don't want to hear any jokes from you until … I don't even know. You've lost your joke privileges." He looks tired. Ibiki and the Hokage are probably running everyone ragged.

"What about my team?" she finally dares to ask. To her relief he flicks her ear.

"Alive, if suddenly very aware of their own mortality. Your Nara friend is down the hall though, so you might want to visit."

Shiki's hospital room is crowded. Her mother is flitting about, adjusting flowers and silly stuffed animals everywhere, and Shikano is asleep on the only chair in the room; on the floor several Yamanaka and Akimichi children are playing rather noisily. On her bed, Shiki lounges like a queen, a piece of cake on her lap and a mug that smells suspiciously like coffee balanced on the mattress. Nara Sachiko is the first to notice Hisana. It's a testament to how terrible she must still look that the woman takes a few hurried steps towards her before she falters, not daring to actually touch.

"Uchiha-chan! Oh dear, you look – should you be up yet?"

"I'm fine," she assures her, trying for a smile even though her voice still sounds like sandpaper.

"Took you long enough," Shiki complains loudly, a weird note of humor in her voice. "I thought you'd be up and about hours ago – lazy." Her friend turns her head, and Hisana's breath catches in her throat. For a moment she gropes for words but comes up empty.

"Neat, huh?"

A slim, silvery line draws from Shiki's right temple to her left cheek. It looks as if she's barely escaped a blade, thicker in some places and hardly visible in others, but it neatly sliced through her upper lip, pulling it tight across the tough tissue. It gives her a permanent sneer, that … actually looks very much like her.

"Who pissed in your cornflakes?" Hisana says, instead of 'I'm sorry' or 'This is my fault'. On his chair, Shikano gives up any pretense of sleep and chortles.

"That's what I said," he drawls and yawns. "Finally her outsides match her insides." Shiki throws a flower at him, stem neatly aimed for his eye. He yelps and dodges dramatically enough to make the children laugh. Hisana makes her way over to Shiki's bed, suddenly feeling exhausted, and sits, careful not to upset the coffee.

"But that's not why you're here."

"Naw – chakra exhaustion. As it turns out, clan techniques are nothing to scoff at." She looks a little sheepish but mostly pleased with herself. Hisana rolls her eyes, suddenly feeling especially fond of the girl.

"But you're all right?" The scar is superficial, nothing to keep Shiki from her duty, and the longer Hisana looks at it the less it seems to stand out. But it's still not exactly pretty – one of the those things ninja acquire along the way that make civilians stare at them.

"I'm good," Shiki assures her, somewhat more seriously. "Not everyone can say they messed with a Sannin and got away with only a scar. I'm going to have nightmares for weeks, but at least I didn't have to fight him alone." She shoots Hisana a pointed look before her eyes dart down to her friend's only bandage.

Hisana shrugs uncomfortably.

"I think this might be … classified? I don't even know. I'm waiting for Anko and Kakashi-senpai to get some things in order before I can say anything."

Shiki frowns as if she already expected something like this. From the corner of her eyes Hisana can seen the rest of the Nara family watch them covertly, so she steals Shiki's coffee and downs it before something truly classified can leave her mouth. "This is nice," she comments, smacking her lips. "I think I'm going to wait for Anko right here. Hospital coffee is disgusting."

"Yeah sure, you moocher."

Anko doesn't turn up. Neither do Sasuke or Naruto. It's Kakashi again who collects her, long after all the coffee is gone, Sachiko has left and Shikano has truly fallen asleep. Shiki is dozing against her shoulder, occasionally jerking awake before a nightmare has time to fully form.

"I've got to go," she whispers to her friend when his familiar lanky form appears at the door. Shiki makes an unhappy noise and slaps her arm. "You're a terrible friend," she slurs. "Who's going to wake me up now?"

"I can kick your brother awake?"

"No – just go already." The complaining is whiny enough that Hisana knows not to take it too seriously. She blows her friend a kiss and gets a snore in return. Well then.

Kakashi still looks disturbingly serious as he walks her through the hospital and down into the basement rooms. She knows, not just from the manga, that the sealing rooms are down there. Powerful seals can be incredibly corrosive; painting them on structurally important surfaces, let's say the ground of the second level rooms, would have chunks of ceiling come crashing down in no time. It's the reason why putting seals on people is so difficult; one mistake and the damage would be considerable.

The only reason why the thought of being marked up some more with potentially lethal chakra web is because she trusts Kakashi to know what the hell he's doing. The only other two people she'd let anywhere near her with this sort of ink are probably both drunk right now and very unavailable.

Her team leader pulls an old fashioned key out of his pocket to unlock one of the operating theatres where jars of ink already line the wall. He motions for her to step inside. Hisana cracks her neck, takes a breath and follows.


4 Stories from Training Ground 44

1. During her own formative years, read: genin and below, Anko spent a lot of time on training ground 44. This was, contrary to popular belief, not because Orochimaru was particularly fond of the place. Anko herself relished in the mindless pleasure of crushing monstrous insects and punching tigers. Her teacher thought the entire thing a waste of his time, only marginally interested in the occasional trinkets she brought back. He preferred the training grounds 20 through 30, reserved for specialized training and usually only accessible to jounin.

2. There is actually a crew of tokujou that maintains the forest. These 'maintenance' tasks are mostly comprised of keeping the animal population in check, combing the forest for left over bodies and checking the safety precautions. These are necessary because for a while it was a sport among young chuunin to jump the unguarded fences and hunt for mammoth carps in the murky ponds.

As a result, a worrisome number of them lost an arm or a leg to the giant catfish that eat these carps. The security measures have been updated since.

3. The number 44 ( 4 = shì = death) is not a happy coincidence bestowed on the actual 44th training area. Rather, it's a title given to the terrain that is the most difficult to navigate. The former training ground 44 was a network of caves adjacent to the Nara forest that caved in during the second shinobi war. The Forest of Death is officially listed as the 27th training ground. In fact, there are only forty public training grounds in Konoha.

4. The Forest of Death is the source of constant petitions for removal by Konoha's civilians. This is due to an incidence where a baby giant tiger managed to squeeze through a hole in the fencing and wandered into the village. Nobody was hurt, mostly because the tiger was only the size of a pony and appeared more scared of the people than vice versa; but since then all of Konoha has been aware that there are dangerous animals kept close to the village. The tiger was captured (picked up and calmly carried away) by Maito Gai, much to the amusement of the general shinobi populace.

It's been over fifteen years since, but civilians appear to have a long memory. The Hokage has been able to stem any overt dissent only because nobody deemed it necessary to inform the civilians that this tiger was, in fact, not a fully grown specimen.