C Sharp
Spoilers for the Sound Five. Set post-attack, pre-Sasuke.

It's been ten days.

More than that, she says. It's been fifteen.

Tayuya hates it when missions tail-end into nothingness.

She is a possible second-in-command of the Sound Five ever since Kimimaro was struck down. Potentially, she is the rightful leader. Not out of any particular skill of her own save her ability to browbeat, and the longer the team goes without direct orders, the longer dominance comes into question. Arguments erupt. Tayuya knows she cannot stand up against more than two of her teammates together, and the third will throw their vote against her if only for amusement.

Sometimes Sakon takes charge and Tayuya can't stop him, can't stop either of the twins due to their sheer power alone. Sakon calls himself the one in charge. Tayuya debates this point. Kidoumaru rules in his own favor. Words fly. There is no stable leader among them. They are rudderless.

Where Kimimaro used to be is only a rest beat now, a dead silence that skips every time a person might expect a measure performed.

After another round of days without hearing from Orochimaru, Tayuya gives up. It's too early for her to consider permanency of any sort, of being able to expect consideration from a Kage whose most distinctive feature is his willingness to leave discarded sheddings behind. The Sound Five were left on hold once Orochimaru was safely escaped, established in a secure location, and they all know they have been forgotten. For now.

Orochimaru will tell them what to do eventually.

The problem lies in staying alive until then.

Tayuya could send a message back to Kimimaro, possibly request an order that might rein the errant members of the team together, but she is canny enough not to invite disaster willingly. She could let someone else take charge. She could allow the entire team to slide into total disorder, but Orochimaru's wrath is one of the few things Tayuya remains afraid of, and likes even less than Kimimaro's.

Traveling occupies them all. They dodge patrols. Rest is taken several hours distant from Konoha. The pack has been circling the Leaf Village for days, avoiding the Anbu, coming across their own tracks when full rotations are made.

Tayuya announces their call-out each morning with a clearing of her lungs and they depart, performing another useless lap around a half-ruined Village.

Those who are worthy of the Sound's name don't need to shape the air with their lips. When the pack is moving, they speak in clicks of their throat. Subvocalizations that never make it to full birth. Taps of their tongues in parts of their mouths that represent what shape the wet muscle would make at any given time. Interpretations.

Around noon of a day uncounted, Tayuya signals the team to stop through use of a hushed cough. She drops to the ground. The brushcover is thick. Her weight is muffled readily; the moss-crunch of noise remains loud enough that her team triangulates upon her with no difficulty whatsoever.

The sun is their only clock. They spend the hottest hours in silence.

Jiroubou is the greatest drain on their rations, and uses the time to replenish his stamina by snacking upon the supplies.

Tayuya listens to him eat. The professionalism of her ears measures exactly how hard he is chewing, how much saliva is in his mouth when he swallows. It makes her lose her appetite each time--not out of true revulsion of the man, but because every habit of her teammates is beginning to grate upon her nerves and she can't stop her ears from listening.

Jiroubou. Him and his sickening belief that girls shouldn't swear, girls shouldn't toss their short-cropped hair back along with their sake when they match rounds, drink for drink.

Girls shouldn't get mud all over their elbows and knees while they're wrestling their prey into the dirt when the hot summer rain's coming down, baptizing them in a mixture of water sweet and salty once the kunai finally finds its mark.

Girls shouldn't kill.

Girls shouldn't do a lot of things.

Only when Jiroubou blinks back unsteadily does Tayuya realize that she is studying him directly. Her head tilted to the side like an animal's. Focused.

Tayuya pulls away from him in the same manner. Shoulders back, two inches, and then she turns her face away in the low indifference of a wolf. Jiroubou isn't worth killing. Yet. But she isn't weak for sparing him either.


Days of this, blurring together. Tayuya wonders how long it will take before the first of them come to blows. She wonders if she should bet for herself. Probably against.

Sakon and Ukon gossip to one another late at night in the clicking cant of the Sound twisted into a more private speech, and Tayuya hates them, loathes them for their twin-born intimacy. Such closeness comes too far, she suspects, trained keenest of them all to identify the air-waves of sound. Minute ripples of air that come at the precise timbre of a groan. Pants. Moans.

Fingers in the night distorted by the irregular mergings of skin, and Tayuya rolls over and hums old half-forgotten lullabies to herself until she can no longer hear the twins in the dark.

Tayuya is ruthlessly proud. She must be, in order to survive--some shinobi sneer at kunoichi, make comments about the strength of her arms in comparison to the size of her breasts. She tapes the shapes down; if she could, she would rip them off and throw the bloody lumps in challenge at Jiroubou's feet, but Tayuya knows that it would make little difference anyone so biased. Besides, Orochimaru's personal medic has no time for such a request--so she suspects she will be told if she inquires of her master, however deftly.

Maybe she should give them to Sakon.

When the orders finally come, mobilizing the Sound Five with their ghost-beat of Kimimaro hovering unsung nearby, Tayuya is only too glad of the change. Sitting too long makes her nervous. It coops her up in proximity with the others, the Seal itching on her skin. She imagines that it can sense the other markings, but that there is no love lost; if it can take all rival Seals down, seizing them by the throat like a rabid wolf, then perhaps it will rise to the top.

At last.

Orbit broken, the team penetrates Konoha as easily as a change in keys, slipping from a circle major to a circle minor in seconds. The target's name is passed in whispers. Identity is unsurprising. It was only a matter of time before Orochimaru entered full obsession with a new favorite, after all, and they have heard of the Uchiha heir for months.

Enough to drive Tayuya crazy--or crazier, as she suspects they all are at this point. Each of them, swallowing more and more of snake-poison until they learn how to beg for it, are unable to fight. They can no longer say no. Except to each other.

And through that, they make up in excess.

Finding the heir takes so little effort that Tayuya wonders if she is disappointed.

Orochimaru and little boys, she spits, bitter-cough under her breath as she turns away. The image of Sasuke Uchiha in repose upon the tree is more than she can stomach. Looking at this one, this Uchiha as he plays sulk-all on the branch, Tayuya wonders just what the appeal is of the legally underage.

He'll be our new leader if he chooses to come, Kidoumaru reminds her with a sneer. Simplicity solves the matter for Kidoumaru, regulates it to base instincts. Hungers. Sadisms. Our master wants him.

Not much on Kimimaro. This, Sakon's comment.

Behind the trails of his words, Tayuya can hear a softer hiss.

Give him a few years.

Ignoring Ukon is problematic, but Tayuya has practice.

She doesn't need to formulate her words aloud, but she speaks anyway. Her voice is a vulgar slash through their dolphin-clack song.

"Doesn't fucking matter." Her declaration is the end-all in this irregular pack. Or so Tayuya hopes, desperately enough inside that she quashes the feeling under resentment and hate. "The rest beat's over. We take him. We go now."