Basically, in which the English language is complicated, Kimimaro traumatizes some Genin with Kakashi's help and bestows a power-hack for laughs(and also plot. Probably. Most likely).

Probation Month No.10

Of Crows, Grammar and Hide-and-seek

"I can't really call him an asshole, can I?" I ask wearily and only half-joking. Itachi, used to my antics, doesn't even look up from his paper.

"No, you can't."

I lean my head back until it hits the wall with a 'thump' and groan aloud. Bo~ored.

First of all, it's the Chunin Exams. You know, the one that gets held roughly twice a year? The last one was six months ago, so of course I saw all of the candidates leave for Iwagakure. This year being Konoha's turn to host, naturally the town is swarming with foreign shinobi. Including Kirigakure shinobi; from the Village who my Clan attacked. Not to mention, I'm not exactly inconspicuous and may or may not have taken out a few of their prized Apprentice Swordsmen singlehandedly while in the midst of a Berserker Rage. Hence the ANBU being extra vigilant to make sure I don't run into any foreigners while I'm out and about. And even if I put on a Henge and seal it on, my chakra reserves are way too advanced too pass unnoticed and questions will get asked. Even if I Henged to an adult, I still don't act quite right; I'm told my gait and spatial awareness is a bit off because of me being used to a kid's body.

And now the editor for our story is being nit-picky to an unreasonable degree. I mean, we've rewritten those paragraphs four times already and now the changes he wants is getting ridiculous. Which is what led to Itachi and I trying to draft a letter to tell him to shut up but politely. I'm failing at the politely part. And getting the urge to do something stupid and reckless. Meanwhile, Itachi is testing out his English skills.

"It is I will go, isn't it?" Itachi asks out of the blue.

"Yep," I confirm. "You're really getting better at it. Got your head wrapped around tenses yet?"

"Nearly. But if shouldn't, couldn't and wouldn't are already shortened versions, why do you need shan't, can't and won't? Well, I understand it's shall not and cannot but for would not you already have wouldn't. How come?"

"That is a very good question. Basically, won't is more will not, as present tense about a future event, than would not, as past tense talking about a future event. So you can have 'I said I wouldn't', 'I said I wouldn't' and 'I won't', 'I won't'.

"And that little flicky thing called an apostrophe is the one where there's one or more characters missing?"

"Uh-huh. And also when something belongs to someone or something."

"And if I'm writing piece,-"

"Which one? As in no fighting or as in a part of something?"

"There's a different spelling? But how can they sound the same?

"Well, first of all, peace as in no fighting is spelled puh-eh-ah-cee-eh. Piece as in a part of something is part of the bullshit that is 'i before e, except after c but only when the sound is ee'. Brace yourself."

I explain it all, and Itachi throws up his arms in despair.

"But why do you...there are more exceptions to this rule than there are holes in a sieve!"

Because other languages snuck up on English in a dark alleyway and stabbed it with senbon, which English proceeded to keep and forget that it almost died."

Whatever Itachi and I are has definitely settled down into something more stable ever since Shisui got us to talk to each other. For about two weeks or so, we gave each other some space; in the sense that we didn't physically touch each other unless it was necessary. Without all the hugging and leaning against each other, it's given both of us space to think. It's not that we care less about each other now, but it's drifted into a more friend/family-type of caring. He's started calling me Ani-chan. I honestly don't know whether to be politely offended or honoured.

But seriously, Shishi told me about a conversation he and Itachi had, and I looked over it as well as the talk Itachi and I had.

It's not a crush.

If it was a crush then we could get through it easily enough. But it's not a crush. It's about the pressure from the Uchiha Clan and Danzo and the Hokage and possibly also Masked Obito.

'"I don't...I've always focused on the Village, the Clan, Sasuke!...And then Kimimaro comes. He doesn't care and he's strange and laughs at things and suddenly he shows me there's more to life than just duty."'
'"You're the only non-Uchiha who'll willingly look me in the eye, and not many of my Clan even do that. Then you started asking me things, like how I felt about something, if I found this thing funny, what I wanted...It's like another world when I'm with you; I can pretend that nothing matters other than being myself."'

There, right there. He likes me because I'm the freedom he doesn't get at home. Being with his Clan doesn't feel safe because he's spying on them as the perfect Uchiha Heir, but with me he's just Itachi. With me, he's just another kid and of course he likes that. I represent freedom and safety and being himself and having his own wonder he's fastened himself onto me. No wonder he's protective of me.

And my stupid, stupid hugging habit confused it all into looking so much like a childhood-friend-crush.

"By the way, I signed a summoning contract," Itachi says blithely. I jump in surprise, but only slam my head against the wall.

"Ow! Shit! Sorry, what did you get? Did your Clan give you one, did you find one or did you just do the hand-signs and chance it? And what type of contract did you get? Grand, Family or Personal?"

"It's a Family-type one, and I was approached. As for I'll show you." He runs through the hand-signs and there's a poof of smoke.

"Yeeerrk! I wonder where I am, yes I do!" A large black crow twitched it's beady eyes. "Itachi-bo! You have summoned me, yes you have!"

"I'm sorry for pulling you away, Karasutaro," Itachi apologised. "But I'd like to introduce you to a good friend of mine. Ani-chan, this is Karasutaro, he's my main contact for the Crows."
Karasutaro turns towards me, sharp talons clattering against the wooden flooring. "Itachi has told us much about the Corpse Goat, yes he has!"

"What did you call me?"

"Itachi-bo showed us pictures and told us about you, yes he did. Horns, hair the colour of bone, eyes like pools of blood, collecting and protecting a flock; Crows call you Corpse Goat, yes we do!"

Breathe, breathe, take a deep breath, ignore how awesome that nickname is, ignore, ignore...dammit, it's too cool.

"I am sorry," Itachi ventures apologetically.

"Don't worry, I'm not angry. I just didn't expect to get a Bingo Book name before I even got in it." Itachi shifts uncomfortably. Oh, great. "Itachi, please tell me I'm not in the Bingo Book."

"You're not in the Bingo Book." Then he wilts slightly. "Kind of. More like an Unknown of Interest. Apparently Kirigakure noticed that you weren't among the pile of bodies when they killed the rest of your Clan. There's a page saying to keep an eye out for a boy with white hair and red around his eyes with retractable spines coming out of his back."

"Oh joy," I spit. It explains why the ANBU aren't letting me near anyone. "No, I'm fine, just...aargh! I don't know if it's good or bad."

"But to have them fear you is a good thing, yes it is!" Karasutaro squawks.

"They don't fear me, they're prepared to find me," I groan. "Yep, it's a disadvantage, I'm screwed."

"I don't know what that word was, but I guessing it means bad."

"Close enough." I get up and walk over to the door to pull on my shoes. "I need to go for walk and maybe punch some trees. Hi," I nod to Hound, who's standing waiting for me.

"Uh, hello," Shigure gulps as the blank black eyes of the upside-down ANBU bore into him. Hopefully his team would get out of this encounter without injury or pissing someone off. "We were told that we could use Training Ground 21 for some pre-Exam training? Is-is that okay, should we wait or we could go back and ask-"

"It's fine." The ANBU's flat voice cuts him off. "My charge can move to the next Ground. Wait here." A swirl of leaves and the figure is gone. The next five minutes are a limbo of indecisiveness as the three Ame Genin stand around nervously.

The dog-masked ANBU reappears, then looks over the three of them. "Well? Come on then."

"You're from Amegakure," a quiet voice states behind them. They spin round, weapons clutched at the ready. not what they had expected.

They're much younger than them, ten years old at least, and it's impossible to tell from figure or voice if they are male or female. The brown haircut is unisex, so no clues there, but the green eyes staring up at them hungrily are incredibly unnerving.
"I hear that in Amegakure, the dead walk in fields of paper flowers," they say cryptically.

"Let's go. I won't ask again-" the ANBU's call is cut off with a sharp smile in his direction with a flick of a too-pink tongue. He flinches.
An ANBU. Flinches.

"I'm sorry about him," the child say apologetically. "He forgets that it's impolite to interrupt. Honestly, it's like people have no manners these days. But you're polite, aren't you?"

Behind Shigure, Kaede muffles a whimper. "Y-yes!" Tomi stutters. "I'm Tomi, this is Shigure and Kaede. Can we u-uh, know your name?"

The thin face creases in mild distaste. "Name, names, na-ames...'" the child rolls the word on their tongue like a morsel of food from an unusual dish. "Hm. Don't have one. Don't need one. I am me, I am no other and there is no other like me. And names, names...oh, they have power." They leer at Tomi. "Red, red like the blood-water of your mother on your tender skin as you screamed in her arms for the first time." The hungry eyes turn to Kaede. "Maple tree. Blessings and a peaceful sanctuary. Peace indeed; your hands are as red as the leaves you're named for. But then, you can always water trees with blood." Then to Shigure. "The autumn rains, how...fitting. Bringing cold winds and stripping all beauty from the hills. How many will be dashed away to stain the water in the floods you bring?"

The laughter is cold and high. Shigure had always mocked the superstitions of the older generations, but maybe there was something to the old tales of the yokai. Because now he really looked, the jaw was too narrow, the tip of the nose too thin.
"And the Child in Red was bathed in red and the blind giant stretched it's maw forth and it's tongue was a great serpent that stripped the souls of the mighty warriors. And the Child in Red looked upon the field he had seeded with red and felt the daggers in his back and proclaimed it good. And so the Child in Red grew up."

The strange proclamation is delivered in an absent-minded, sing-song tone, before the thing turns sharply on it's heel and strides over to the ANBU. They vanish in a whirl of leaves, leaving a cold chill in the spines of the Amegakure Genin behind them.

"I'm impressed," Hound comments as I remove the part of the Henge that makes my facial features just about inhumanly long and pointed.

"Hey, I'm good at acting," I shrug. "I should be thanking you for playing along. You absolute troll."

He shrugs. "What can I say? It's funny. Were those speeches some of your story, or what?"

"It was a story," I non-answer. "But the real beauty is in the expression, you see. The right mix of not-all-there, superiority and that-looks-tasty is key. Add in some slightly-off anatomical proportions and you've got a barely-restrained monster at your service."

"I'm no good at acting," he protests good-naturedly. "Acting a character, anyway."

"So is the Child in Red," I shrug. "Or rather, so is the God in Red. The towers of Amegakure hold many secrets, you know?"

"Amegakure has had it's borders closed for nearly two decades!" Hound retorts. I say nothing as the blank eye-holes of his mask bore into me.
"Oh," he finally says. "Well, thank you for giving me that information." He doesn't question any further.

Reverse Engineering

'...After just a few moments, maybe 30 seconds, the change was truly startling. Markings began to fade into existence around Hashirama-sama's eyes and cheekbones, sharp and dark. The skin itself was changing in colour of it's own accord, but the lines were clean and distinct, not blurred as one would expect. Overall, the pattern was reminiscent of Suji-kuma Kumadori paint from the Kabuki theatres. Please see the sketch depicted below.

I had already had the pleasure of seeing great Mokuton jutsu cast, so I could see the differences when the same jutsu were performed during this Sage Mode. Most noticeably, every one seemed to have more...potential to it. Usually, Great Forest Creation merely grows towering trees in order to disrupt a home environment advantage, with some limited control over the branches during growth. In Sage Mode, the ground and sky becomes a morass of writhing, coiling wood, constantly in motion. With Great Forest Bloom, the giant blossoms are much larger, as big as the Hokage Tower instead of house-sized, and spew clouds of choking pollen.

After Sage Mode had faded from Hashirama-sama, a thought came to me. How was it that, even without Sage Mode, it merely took him a thought to raise towering trees from the ground and shape wood to his liking? How was it even possible to transform his own flesh into such a different material? His answers to my questions were rather cryptic, but revealed further details about how he had learnt Sage Mode.

'It was quite dangerous once I started making headway; full-grown trees began exploding from my flesh and bark tore itself from underneath my skin. It was agony. Had it not been for Tobi and Mito-chan disrupting the flow, I would likely have been subsumed completely. But during that pain, I finally learnt something. I have always felt at home among the trees, as has Tobirama. Even as children, we could meditate for hours on end but feel like only minutes had passed. It was like we could feel the pulse of the earth beneath our feet. Two of the Senju Elders also had this gift, but Tobi and I were the only ones who dared to reach out and touch it, with any success, it seemed. At least, now we know where all those old Clan tales of Elders turning into trees came from.''

-excerpt from the personal accounts of Ieyasu Hyuuga


That's what the Senju Clan were hiding and it makes so much sense! They have the innate ability to resonate with Nature energy itself and through that, their environment! Hashirama had Mokuton, Tobirama could pull water out of thin air and Tsunade, despite being only part-Senju, is an incredible healer with her understanding of anatomy in general.
Mokuton clearly makes use of Yang Chakra as well, what with creating plant life from the ground. And what was mentioned about disrupting the flow to stop an unwanted transformation fits with how the toads whack Naruto on the head to stop him petrifying into a frog. And it also runs with how Danzo's synthetic arm suddenly exploded into a tree and he couldn't stop it.

Because it's easy to join the dots once you notice that in canon both Naruto and Kabuto are taught Sage Mode by their respective summons, during which their eyes change with coloured markings around them. Kabuto used Sage Mode with an Orochimaru Curse Mark on top of some disturbing physical experiments, so that horned white snake form probably doesn't count as a baseline. But Hashirama didn't have a summon to learn from and his eyes didn't change and the markings went all over his cheeks and forehead as well as around his eyes. He must have just experimented with more and more Nature energy until he got it right.

Oh wait,, I'm going to theorise on Hashirama's strange hundred-handed Buddha summon being related to that spiritual-glowy-hundred-handed-demon-Buddha thing the monk at the Fire Temple can do later on.

Tenzo...Going by the things I just thought through, my very loose theory is that he survived the procedures done to him because he had some Yang affinity. But it cannot be enough, not having access to Nature energy must put tremendous strain on his body. The fact that he gets such drastic exhaustion so quickly without it being Chakra Exhaustion slots in nicely there. I mean, Chakra Exhaustion is just extreme hunger and passing out to sleep for a day or so. Not the coughing, wheezing and sunken face Tenzo gets. And sure, Mokuton is immensely overpowered, but Tenzo just does Moku-bunshin, basic defensive structures and sprouting beams from his body, essentially.

Okay, Juugo gets the specially adapted Curse Mark Jiraiya and I cooked up put on him tomorrow. Hopefully I can go over the idea I have after that, while he's still around. In the meantime...I grab a fresh sheet of paper and start sketching out some lines.

That night after dinner, I roll it out in front of ANBU Bear and he glances it over. "What's this for?"

"For you." He glances up in surprise and I explain.

"You know that I know about what Orochimaru gave you. Sure, you have it, but what you can do doesn't match up with what it should be able to do. So there had to be something more, the thing that did give the Senju an edge over the Uchiha and other clans. Turns out that Senju can instinctively tap into Nature energy, and Hashirama also had a Yang Affinity to some degree that allowed him to create cellulose and plant cells from plain water and earth and even his own flesh. I think you were the only one who survived the experiments because you have a Yang Affinity as well as Water and Earth; you have used iryo-jutsu with some ease before. But you get exhausted the way you do because your body can't channel Nature energy like the Senju can."

He broods over my words for a few seconds, before tapping the paper. "You said this is for me. I recognise some of these patterns from the one you're giving to Juugo," he prompts.

"This is just a rough idea, but essentially I've reversed Juugo's one. It will take in Nature energy for you. And because it's going to be a Curse Mark, it will filter it directly into your Network in manageable amounts. Hopefully I can figure out a clause for it to increase the input according to what jutsu you want to do. What do you think?"

All he does is stare at the paper. Then Hound materializes behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder, and he looks up. "What do I...?"

"If this works," Hound begins. "Then your position within the Village will change; you and your world will change. But if this can give your jutsu the edge it should have, or at least stop you getting those terrible bouts of exhaustion, then those are good things."

"So, I'd be normal again?"

"Like there's any Jounin that falls under the bounds of 'normality'," I mutter. Bear looks at me again.

"But Kimimaro...what is normal?" I think he's joking to distract himself.

"It's not about being normal, it's about finally having the ability to choose. Choice is important." I lick my lips nervously and go for it. "And if I have a chance to examine it, I could probably do something about Kakashi's eye as well."

Dead, thick silence. "How did you know my name?" Hound growls. I start counting on my fingers.
"Spiky whitish hair. Lightning Affinity chakra. I can feel that one of your eyes has been transplanted. It was kind of straightforward to figure out, but I still have no clue what Bear's real name is, don't worry about that."

The tension lessens a little, but it's still wary. "Sometimes I wonder what you're really doing, Kimimaro," Kakashi says flatly. "You know so much, can do so much, and care so much about the oddest of people...yet you only act when you choose to. How much could you do if you just acted, instead of sitting back and watching?"

"So much." My voice is hoarse for some reason. "I could do so much but I don't because I'm scared of not being in control. And I don't just mean being strapped to a table, I mean not knowing what's going to happen and having nothing left to bargain with! What happens to me then, huh? I'm just another warm body to be thrown at the enemy, aren't I?!"

"YOU'RE NOT!" Bear roars, roars, catching me off guard. "That will never happen! If this Village ever turned their backs on a friend and comrade like you and spat on the Will of Fire, I'll gladly scratch a line through my headband and leave!"

" well," Hound adds. "I have promises to keep but...yeah, that's not the Village I'd fight, and those I loved died, for. You've touched a lot of people's lives for the better, more than you know. Or maybe you do know; you always know more than you let on, it seems. The point is, everyone can sense that you're a controlling, secret-hoarding little shit and we don't have a problem with that. Hell, the T&I Department is like that and they all still have friends and social lives somehow."

"What senpai is saying in a very roundabout way," Bear says exasperatedly. "Is that you do have friends here in spite of your weirdness."

"Dear Kami above, I'm so sorry," I reply in exaggerated solemnity, slowly patting Bear on the shoulder. "You two have finally lost what's left of your sanities if you've actually become friends with me. My condolences for your loss." They look at me askance. "What's that look for?"

"You're not going to have a crying breakdown?"

"Nah. Don't get me wrong, I know that crying's good for emotional health and all, but it's gotten to the stage where I'm kind of too apathetic to waste all that energy now. I'd rather just...stare at the ceiling and contemplate the futility of life for an hour or two. After all, it's lot of energy corrupting Itachi and my friends at the Academy."

"...Is it possible friends anymore?" Bears asks, half-joking.

"No, you two are stuck with me now. But if you don't want to be my friend, I can always demote you to evil minion."

"'Evil' minion." Hound not-asks, resignation in his tone.

"Explain how shinobi are supposed to be remotely virtuous soldiers of all that is good and pure?"

"Point. But still...'minion'?"

"Oh yeah, I can't really steal the Hokage's minions, that's just rude and probably not conducive to my continued health. Accomplices?"

"Much better."

"Behold! Your new, and improved, Curse Mark design!" I ham, unrolling the scroll with great aplomb.

But with all seriousness, this is my best work yet. I have no idea if it will end up with a particular colour once tied to the skin, but it now looks like a curved tree root design. There's a main line that splits off into narrower lines, that curve around into a circle that would be encompassing, but the main line sticks out of it a little bit. Don't worry, that's on purpose, to be the input for the Nature energy.

"Well, that's all well and good," Hound huffs exasperatedly. "I get why Jiraiya-sama and Hokage-sama are here. But what is she doing here?!" He points at Yuyu, who merely spares him a glance before sitting down on the grass and proceeds to pull a bowl, spoon, bottle of milk and a cereal box out of a bag.

"She invited herself and I'm too scared to tell her to leave," I reply stolidly. And this isn't one of my many issues or anything like that, Yuyu is legitimately terrifying when she wants to be for someone who barely hits 4ft 2in and therefore looks two years younger than she really is. You know how in some manga and anime, there are characters so scary, sometimes you see ghostly apparitions of wild animals or demons hovering behind their heads? Like Zabuza? Well, she's one of those. And her spirit-animal-apparition-thing looks like the unholy lovechild of a xenomorph and a stag-beetle. Fortunately, I've never been on the receiving end of it, but her black humour...that I'm the only person who finds it hilarious is probably a cause for concern, but I'll ignore that.

The sound of cereal tinkling into a bowl breaks the silence. "What?" She asks indignantly. "I didn't eat much last night, and I'm not missing this. I missed Juugo's." She fixes her gaze on me. "I will stab out your eyes with a rusty spoon."
Because I didn't invite her to Juugo's sealing. I think there's room for forgiveness though, since that threat isn't as bad as her usual ones. Also, the fact that she feels comfortable enough to threaten me is kind of sweet because it means she knows I know she's being friendly. In her own way.

"I'll get you a box of Karinto." It's her favourite snack.


"One, and I'll throw in a pound of butterfly pasta."

"Done. Forgiven."

I spin back around to the two ANBU, Jiraiya and the Hokage. "Now then, shall we get started?"

"I'm ready." Bear says, raising his hand.

"Okay, you're going to need to take off your shirt and lay face-down on the ground. And it's probably in your best interest to remove your mask, since your breathing being obstructed in any way is the last thing we need. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone what you look like."

A quiet crunching of cereal provides a very odd background sound as Bear sheds his vest, undershirt, chain-mail and lastly and hesitantly, his mask. While all that's going on, I unseal from a scroll a bone dagger I grew especially for the purpose of applying curse seals.
Because chakra-conductive alloy is very expensive, so biological material is the next best option for transferring a specific seal matrix. Since this has been soaking in a basic nutrient fluid for 24 hours, in order to fully permeate the inside which I left slightly porous, it'll shunt chakra quickly and cleanly. The nutrient fluid will provide the fix, as that will fasten the matrix into the nearby cells as it's absorbed from the bloodstream. That initial concentration is where the mark will be.

Bear looks nervous as he lays down, and I don't blame him. He's exposing his back and neck so I can essentially stab him.
"Just so you know what to expect," I say as calmly as possible. "It's going in the trapezius muscle right here," I poke him in that spot, so he knows, and he shivers, "since there's some major blood vessels nearby and that will get it through your body faster. Obviously, there's going to be some initial pain from the actual stabbing, and it's got to go quite deep otherwise it might not take. Then there should be a sharp stinging sensation as the Mark appears. From then on, it's going to hurt like a bitch. After all, it's going to work into your whole Network and painkillers are out since it needs full access to your nerves and brain and the pain is going to be a good indicator of how well it's working."

"I-I can handle it," he breathes harshly. "Go ahead. Do it."

I know exactly how hard to push and get it over with quickly, but I hesitate. Why? I've checked and rechecked everything, made contingency after contingency and it will be a benefit for him, for everyone, in the long run. It's just a little pain. He'll just be in pain for a little while, no biggie.
But I'm still going to be hurting him on purpose. And it's leaving a bad taste on the back of my tongue.

Yang chakra surges through my brain, my misgivings fall away and I bring the knife down.

"Aw~w!" Kimimaro coos at the beetle in his hand. "Who's an adorable genetic mutation? Yes you are!"

Yuyu does not smile beneath her half-mask. Absolutely not. It is not absurdly endearing to see one of her experimental kikaichu fawned over like an infant. The twitch in her lips is just an itch, she swears.

"Thank you. I worked hard on them," she acknowledges. "They can chew through an inch of steel in five seconds. Thanks to the new ladybird genes, they have a higher reproductive rate and cold resistance." Obaa-san had been very proud of the splicing.

"Yeah, they've still got the spots," he comments, running a finger along the dappled carapace of the one he's holding. "You could sink a fleet with these little things. Planning anything anytime soon?"

"What if I was? Would you try and stop me?" She asks, honestly curious. He smiles at her, half self-deprecating, half amused.
"In all actuality, I'd probably bring food and a picnic blanket. And a camera. It would be awesome to watch. Of course, I'd have to offer up token resistance, but strategic surrender would be the most viable option. Since, you know, you're scary."

"I will skin you with a broken teacup," she hisses. Normally, people look perturbed when she threatens them so and it's funny; it's why she does it, without fearing rejection from those she's closest to because they know her better than that. But Kimimaro just grins like an idiot, like she just complimented him. He's obviously touched in the head, anyone would be after what he's been through.

A screaming groan breaks the air, and they both look over to where ANBU Bear is writhing on the ground, visible greenish-white chakra coiling around him. It takes every bit of Yuyu's willpower to restrain her kikaichu from venturing over to taste; bad enough they're already crawling over her coat in anticipation. She looks away from the sight and thinks about other things like kikaichu breeding cycles and genotypes and keeps eating her cereal. And that's when she sees the oddest thing.

Kimimaro is looking intently at ANBU Bear, eyes locked and face drawn with worry. He doesn't seem to notice that he's chewing on his own fingers until blood starts trickling down his knuckles. She sees the quiet gleam of iryo-jutsu as he takes them from his mouth, eyes wide in embarrassment and shock, and heals the teeth marks without even blinking.
He smiles to himself in fond curiosity as she sends kikaichu to crawl over his hands; he doesn't realise that they are telling her that his fingers, especially the pads, are calloused with tiny scars from myriads of tooth-marks.

It's not uncommon for shinobi to have physical coping mechanisms; they can range from clutching good-luck charms to, indeed, biting objects or themselves. It's definitely a long-term symptom of underlying issues, but they can have their uses, like breaking genjutsu through small increments of pain. She knows it's when it becomes compulsively self-harming that it becomes a serious issue warranting the Yamanaka. She'll have to keep an eye on him.

"Bleeding," she points out to him, pointing to the smears of red still on his hand. He looks abashed, ducking his head. "Yeah, sorry. Old habit I'm trying to break. It's just that...he's hurting and this all feels like a bad dream. I can't quite believe I'm doing this."

She's not good at reassurance. "It will have long-term benefits," she points out. "He chose this. All precautions were taken."

His shoulders slump. "Yeah. Okay; good points. Just got to keep watching and pray nothing goes wrong."
Maybe she's not as bad as reassurance as she thought. Or maybe they're just both weird.

"Hey, Aburame-chan?"

What now? Kami, she was turning into a regular chatterbox around him, wasn't she? She just wanted to eat her cereal. Stupid genome sequence refusing to code and making her miss a meal. "What?"

"Hypothetically...if something...happened to me, would you miss me?"

Fuck his Issues. Seriously, how many times did she and the others have to show they appreciated him before he got it through his thick-as-horse-glue skull? When she got her hands on the people who hurt him, it would take them days to die for putting all of them through this. Did they know how jarring his mood-swings were?! "Yes. We all promised that you wouldn't be hurt again. Including by yourself. Of course we'd miss you. Then we'd dismember whoever hurt you."

At least, he smiles. "Oh. I didn't think Toshiki or Erumi had the stomach for dismemberment?"

"Torusuke and Erumi do. Toshiki can be in charge of mailing the box with the head in." She sees the question on his face before he can ask it. He's too transparent like that. "I promised to protect you, so you're part of my Hive now. And nobody touches my Hive. Unless they want to be skinned alive and used as a food-host for my experiments."

He laughs. Properly; shoulders shaking and loud barks of hilarity. "I can live with that," he gasps, green eyes dancing with vindictive mirth, "my Queen."
Her kikaichu queens rustle inside her at the acknowledgement, but she ignores them. "Good Soldier," she says dryly, patting him condescendingly on the shoulder. "Anything else you'd like to mention?"

"Before today, I never knew you had freckles." His eyes are fixed on her lower face, where she'd slid down her face-mask to eat.

"Fuck you very much too, now let me finish my soggy cereal."

His mouth feels like a compost heap, is the first thing Tenzo realises when his mind surfaces from the inky pool of unconsciousness. Second is that his body feels. So. Light. He had never realised how tired he had always felt, how...stagnant. Third is that the hand holding his, feels like the sound of crunching glass and the sharp smell of ozone. It's amplified, but it's as recognisable as his own.
'Kakashi' he tries to say but only comes out as something more like 'k-ssh'.
So instead he sits bolt upright and opens his eyes. Despite the harsh glare, he hears a shriek of "HOLY SHIT!" and the sound of a chair falling over. Once his eyes finally adjust, he sees Kimimaro sticking to the ceiling, looking down with wide eyes. Which quickly furrow into a good-natured scowl.

"Don't do that," he mutters, scuttling down the wall and flipping onto his feet, onto the floor. "But hey, at least you're up!"

Kakashi slips a plastic cup of water into Tenzo's hand. He sips it slowly. "How long?" He manages to rasp.

"Thirteen hours and seventeen minutes until you just scared the living daylights out of Kimimaro," says Kakas-no, Hound, they were still on-duty. "You're chakra feels much better now, but you control has been shot to shit. Not to mention, that training ground we did the procedure in is now impenetrable jungle."

"Your Network was so used to siphon every scrap of Nature Energy it could touch that the sudden access meant that your chakra levels surged just as you lost consciousness," Kimimaro explained. "Since it was uncontrolled Mokuton chakra, we now have a few-dozen more trees than we used to. Also, you are going to be very very very very very out-of-balance, because the surge was so strong that you opened at least five of the Eight Inner Gates and once equilibrium was finally re-established, your chakra reserve had doubled in capacity. You're now very close to Kakashi's level and I'm pretty sure he's Kage-level. Congratulations."

"And no," he continued, preempting the question "opening those Inner Gates did not tear you apart because you weren't using them to fight and they were fulfilling their actual purpose as Network valves. Why they don't teach this stuff anymore, I have no fucking clue," he finished with a disgruntled mutter. "If you'll excuse me," he stood up. "My day at the Academy starts in less than an hour, I haven't slept in 48 hours and I'm going to need lots and lots of caffeine and sugar to get through this."

Next Time...

Moving on

"This is starting to sound like a break-up from a cliche romance novel-" "Why can't you just LISTEN TO ME!"

Barracks Gossip

"I will stuff this sake jar where the sun doesn't shine."

Before people jump on my ass about the habits thing:

It is apparently taught to prepubescent children that stabbing/biting yourself is a reasonable precaution against genjutsu.
During the Chuunin Exams, Kiba bites his own hand to calm himself down while fighting Naruto.
Genma chews toothpicks and senbon.
Shikamaru has his meditation-hands.
Kakashi reads porn and deliberately wallows in guilt.
Gai wears green and his hair in a bowl-cut.
Jiraiya writes porn and violates the privacy of bathing women.
Tsunade drinks and gambles.

Kimimaro acknowledges that it is a habit, not a compulsive need.

Read, enjoy, leave a review.

P.S Expect our Main Character to show up at month 12.