AN: A random idea that I sort of got while watching one of the more kunoichi-centric episodes of the anime. This one shouldn't be too long - one chapter per female character, one specific area of a kunoichi's life/expertise expressed through each. One cohesive storyline, I hope.


"These women, or kunoichi as they were called, were given special training in psychological skills and intuition. Taught to manipulate men high-up in the enemy hierarchy, they were extremely talented in the more delicate arts of manipulation."
- Ellen Pearlman

It was a bright, beautiful morning in Konoha. Birds were singing gaily, a soft spring breeze was blowing, the sun was shining in a cloudless sky, and the citizens of the village were pleasantly occupied going about their lives. It was, in all, a lovely, cheerful, perfect morning.

Damn it.

Tsunade rubbed at the gunk in her red-rimmed eyes, yawning widely without bothering to politely cover her mouth. Not like it mattered, or anything. No one was around – well, no one that she needed to impress at the moment. "That's an attractive expression," her fluff-headed comrade remarked, grinning at her. No, Tsunade corrected. Leering at her, as she reached to adjust her shirt. Pervert.

She grunted in response, forbearing to reply with any of the nastier comments she'd have liked to make. It was too early to lose her temper. Way too early. She'd stayed up all damn night on her paperwork, and she also had a hangover the size of the Hokage Monument, and if she were anything except the Hokage, she'd call in sick today and go back to bed. A real bed, not the nest of papers and scattered sake bottles that was her desk.

But Tsunade was the Hokage, and whatever else she might have been, she was a responsible person. She had to be.

"You really ought to wear something a little more formal, you know," Jiraiya offered, perching himself on a chair as she stumbled up to her feet, scrubbing at her face with her hands. "Maybe it'll keep you from falling asleep in your office so often. Not to mention it might make you look more like a respectable Hokage and less like a cheap casino prostitu - "

He was forced to choke off the rest of his commentary and duck under the desk to avoid a barrage of flaming shuriken. Tsunade glowered at him when he re-emerged, patting at his hair to put out the small flame on one fuzzy white lock. "Good morning to you, too," he grunted, still smiling nonetheless. "Jeez, a guy tries to be helpful…"

"What are you doing here?" Tsunade grit her teeth. Must not kill subordinate. Must not kill subordinate. Well, sort of subordinate. He's still technically a Leaf shinobi – but the day he obeys my orders is the day Shikamaru decides to join a marathon team for the sake of the exercise. She eyed that stupid perverted face and its stupid perverted grin under all that stupid perverted hair. Maybe if I just maim him a little, it doesn't really count…

Oblivious to her mental musings, Jiraiya leaned back in the chair again. "Got some interesting news for you," he said at last, watching with obvious amusement as his former teammate shuffled around her office, absently unearthing a wooden tray buried under the mess of papers and scrolls.

"What?" She yawned again and scooped up the sake bottles and a few outdated scrolls that ought to be thrown away.

"Got rumors of unrest at the Fire Country court," he told her casually as she dumped the trash onto the tray and set the whole thing near the door for Shizune or someone to cart off.

"What kind of unrest?" Her posture remained relaxed, her face utterly unconcerned, but her carefully-casual tone hid an edge that told him he'd finally gotten her full attention.

His own voice relaxed, as if he were merely relating the weather, Jiraiya scratched his ear and shrugged. "Oh, you know. Assassination plots on the Fire Lord. Scheming political parties. Pretty messy."

"One of the political parties working the assassination?" She seated herself behind her desk again, putting her feet up on the wood and attempting to comb down her sleep-mussed hair with her slightly-too-sharp fingernails. Jiraiya shuddered at the thought of those nails at his throat (not that such a thing had ever happened . . . well, not for a few years, anyway).

"Seems like it," he agreed, with another disinterested shrug. "There's a few courtesan clans in particular that are more or less locked in a sort of power struggle for the influence behind the throne. Could be any of them."

Tsunade allowed herself to frown a little. This was potentially bad news. Two clans, probably with faint bloodline ties to the throne, vying for control of the monarchy was never good for a country. Should anything happen to the current ruler, it would be all too easy for the two clans to attempt to claim succession, which would lead to civil war.

It didn't help the situation that the current Fire Lord wasn't exactly an astute or even desirable leader. The kid was, what, eighteen? Nineteen? She had Chunins older than him, and much more capable of handling the political affairs of a country, come to think of it. He had a reputation for being somewhat foolish, careless, and a little too fond of his own creature comforts. Tsunade had seen him once during her free-roaming years, and he had been a soft, plump, spoiled child of eleven then. She didn't imagine that the years following his father's death and his own ascension to power had done much for his character. But then again, there were worse things a leader could be besides chubby and self-indulgent. At least he was no tyrant.

And he was infinitely preferable to civil war, that was for damn sure.

Tsunade rubbed her forehead again. "Which clans?" She asked at last.

"Some of the more prominent ones. That's really all I've got." Jiraiya stood up. "I saw a messenger coming in the door when I was coming in," he added, jerking his head to the office door. "I'll bet they bring him up here in a minute or two."

"Alright," she waved a hand lazily, occupied with rooting through her desk for a pen that actually worked.

"You know, flat-chest," he poked her in the back of the head. "I meant it about not sleeping at your desk all the time. It's pretty unattractive to watch you drool all over yourself."

He leapt for the window and dodged out through the opening just in time to avoid the fist that otherwise would have shattered his skull.

"And one more thing," his voice floated back to her on the breeze. "You've got ink marks on your cheek again."

Definitely maiming him, Tsunade growled to herself, stomping to the mirror and scrubbing vigorously at her cheek.

By the time Shizine escorted the small, timid-looking old man to her office, the Gondaime Hokage was sitting correctly behind her now-tidy desk, as composed as if she had just arrived bright and early from a good night's sleep. Shizune rolled her eyes knowingly, but stayed quiet as she showed the messenger to a chair and bowed her leave, taking the tray with her.

"Hokage-sama," the man greeted her with a quavering voice. His dark little eyes darted around the room, looking everywhere but at her.

"Good morning," she replied calmly, and watched with mild irritation as his lower lip trembled. He looked like a child being scolded for tracking mud in the house. She offered him an agreeable smile, trying to look non-threatening and pleasant. "Not many people make the trip all the way out to Konohagakure personally. Your business must be very urgent indeed. How can I help you?"

"Hokage-sama," he said again, settling his roving eyes at last on his wrinkled hands.

Tsunade waited. "Yes?" She asked after a beat.

"I am Morita Naoki, most trusted servant and chamberlain for the Honorable Hamano Kaito, head of the renowned Hamano clan in the court of the Admirable and Worthy Fire Lord Nakamura Masahiro." His voice was slow and careful, as if he were actually pausing to think between every few words. Tsunade raised her eyebrows and waited, again. She'd have loved dearly to shake the little man, force him to stop dragging this out with formal titles and flattering comments and just get to the point, but he seemed determined to carry on with his ridiculously flowery introduction. "My most merciful lord and master, Hamano Kaito, has instructed me to come to this village and seek audience with your most patient and wise person, Hokage-sama, so that I may convey to you the urgent news and the most serious request that Hamano-sama must make to you."

I am the Hokage, Tsunade reminded herself, trying not to fidget as he made his careful way through the long, winding sentence. I am the highest representative of this village which I have sworn to protect. And besides, it's still too early to lose my temper.

"What exactly does he need to tell me?" She asked aloud. "More importantly, what does he request?"

"The eminent and discerning Hamano-sama feels that it is necessary and honorable to inform the mighty and powerful Godaime Hokage that there is evidence of an abominable assassination attempt on the most reverently adored Fire Lord," the old man's voice dropped to a frightened whisper, as if the very idea offended and disgusted him. Tsunade remained unmoved.She studied the messenger with seemingly sleepy, unconcerned eyes.

"I see."

The old man fidgeted his hands, but he seemed momentarily to forget his frightened demeanor, even leaning forward a little in his chair. "Hokage-sama, the honored Hamano-sama requests that you send your skilled and astute shinobi to investigate this appalling conspiracy. He has heard through many extensive and accurate sources that the vile assassination may be originating from a group of hotheaded youths among the other courtesan families."

Other courtesan families? Specifically, one other courtesan family? Tsunade almost, but not quite, smirked bitterly. This was where he would try to innocently pin the suspicions on the rival family within the court, so that the shinobi would be all over the doubtlessly corrupt family, leaving the equally corrupt Hamano clan to carry on its plan of conquest unmolested.

"Which families in particular might be a good place to start the search?" She prodded gently.

"Oh, the Ishimaru clan has been known to deal with less than savory characters from time to time," he said carefully, now making it a point to let his eyes skitter nervously around the room. It kept him from looking her directly in the eye, she knew, and he probably hoped it would make him appear frightened and therefore non-threatening. It had worked, the first few minutes. But she was not the legendary sannin kunoichi for nothing. "The Kuroda clan has shown a particular sort of ambition of late," he went on, speaking more quickly than before. Tsunade committed the names to memory, but had little doubt that she was more likely to find that they were guilty of little more than irritating the Hamano nobles at some point.

"My wise and serene master even fears in his noble heart that the treachery may even be among the greater houses of the court." The old man was still trying to appear frightened and horrified by the very idea of political manipulation, but to her he now merely looked shifty and calculating. "It might even be from among the lower ranks of the Tamayuki clan," he all but whispered, hand coming up to cover his mouth in shock and stunned realization.

Tsunade wanted to snort at his dramatics. But she had to appear concerned, intelligent, and mature. She had a reputation, not necessarily her own, but that of Konoha. She had to appear like this message, possibly a plant, was a real warning, and that she would take his fears into complete and serious consideration. She had a responsibility to keep her eyes from rolling, to keep the sarcastic remarks in the back of her head and not on her tongue.

But she also had a responsibility to make sure this assassination conspiracy wasn't a real threat, either. Civil war between political clans after brutal regicide would do her village or her country no good.

This responsibility thing could be a real pain sometimes.

Tsunade managed to keep her face composed until the little man was out her door and on his way again, and when Shizune came in, she relayed the gathered information with an equally calm demeanor.

"We'll send people to do some research in the court," Shizune offered. "Find out what they can about assassination contracts, or maybe rebellious groups inside the political clans."

"Not yet," Tsunade shook her head. "Let's try to be a little more subtle than just sending a flood of spies into the court. That's a political web I'd rather not tangle my people in unless I absolutely have to." She tapped a thoughtful finger to her chin. "We'll send someone to check out Tamayuki first. Get close to him, see what kind of information she can squeeze out of him."

"She?" Shizune asked lightly.

"This is going to call for a little more subtlety than just sneaking in and listening to his conversations," Tsunade told her, studying the ceiling. "Right, Sakura?"

"Yes, sensei," Sakura answered coolly from the door, stepping into the room. "When would you like me to leave?"

Shizune stared. "How long have you been listening out there?"

"Since about three seconds after you came in," Tsunade told her lazily.

"She didn't stop me," Sakura told the still slightly stunned Shizune. "So I assumed she must have me in mind for this one."

"You'll need to get information concerning assassination plots or rebellious political groups within the court as quickly as possible. The only way to do that will probably be a more direct approach. It could take months if you just eavesdrop in on his conversations. Sakura," Tsunade looked down from the ceiling abruptly, her face suddenly becoming very serious. "You know what kind of mission this is probably going to be."

Sakura bowed her pink head, face unreadable. "Yes, Hokage-sama." She glanced up briefly, green eyes meeting golden-brown. "I'm a shinobi," she said quietly. "I know my duty."

"Very well," Tsunade dismissed her. "You leave within the hour. Get a horse from the nearest farm village, it'll get you to the Imperial City faster than walking. This could be a time-sensitive issue. Target is Tamayuki Shigure, head of the Tamayuki clan."

"Yes, sensei," Sakura bowed again, flashed a smile to Shizune, and left.

"What did you mean, 'what kind of mission this is going to be'?" Shizine demanded. "Why did she look so serious about it? I thought it was just a reconnaissance mission."

Tsunade sighed, very softly. As a teacher, she didn't like sending her young (though more than capable) student on a mission that would, in all likelihood, end up being very unpleasant and painful for her. As a woman, she shuddered to think of what Sakura might end up doing in order to get information from an unsuspecting political pig like Tamayuki Shigure. But as Hokage, she was responsible for the welfare of all the people of Konoha, not just the mental conditions of one kunoichi.

And Tsunade was a responsible person. She had to be.