Disclaimer: Naruto is entirely the property of other people. Kishimoto's characters just happen to rock.

Notes: For Killerki, who's quite partial to some random-minor-character action; Sna, who kidnapped Suzume-sensei and made the character her own, and Telos, who was kind enough to give this a read-through. Originally posted on my LJ, I think... Thanks to everyone who's already commented on this!(especially sna andtelos for all their originalhelp)xxx

Suzume doesn't much like little girls.

The way they fuss over the oh-so pretty flowers she uses as her class lecture aids sickens her, and over the years she has wished more than once for any one of those little girls to grow backbone enough to rail against her. To assert themselves, or at least try to. To act like the kunoichi they will become and demand the answers to questions like; 'Why should I?' and 'What's the point?' But she knows they never will. She's taught them too well to expect a straight answer, and it's almost disappointing when, year after year, not one of them tries.

These questions are like little secrets, and Suzume knows the answers well. She prepares them in the same way she prepares her model bouquet to show the next class - with any luck made of next years' graduates and the slightly younger kids – and she's yet to meet the adolescent who will finally notice the knife carefully centred amongst the beatific blooms. Old habits die hard, after all, and some habits live forever.

Suzume doesn't much like teaching, either. It doesn't suit her, all that fannying about pretending to be polite, graceful and well behaved; rather than the often vulgar, headstrong control-freak her comrades know her to be. The Academy teachers are made up of the best replaceable field shinobi Konoha could persuade to give up their day jobs; and the fact that she was picked at all – deemed replaceable, despite being injured at her time of appointment – still stings like the slap of a harem whoremonger right before she slits his throat.

As a Gennin, in her hours off, Suzume would help her civilian grandmother make poultices and poisons, grinding sweet herbs and old world remedies in her 'little gift to the war effort.' Suzume had never found the heart to tell the woman it would take a lot more effort than that to win that terrible war, and the more jaded she became, the less she found she could say.

She used to dream of becoming the first Jounin of her family. She thought that if she could just survive the war she could move on, move up, move out of her clan's predictable stability. At thirty-one she's still a Chuunin, teaching twenty little girls with flowers in their hair how to correctly address an older man while in the guise of a whore, a peasant, and finally a rich woman, and feels like the wrong kind of liar.

"It is important for a kunoichi to know how to pass herself off as a normal woman." Suzume lectures, listening distantly to the way her class shifts in boredom. She knows exactly how they feel. "A kunoichi does not often possess the strength or weight of a male shinobi, and if physically weak can often be overcome by even a civilian male of decent size." Not one of the kids is listening; two little brats at the back play with a ribbon, while at least the older girls have learned how to feign attention. "Today we are going to learn how to make attractive bouquets."

Suzume has prepared flowers for many men. She has ground nightshade and poppy seeds into herbal teas, and folded pillow cases around her lovers' heads. She has slit her skirts high on her thighs and walked down the darkest alleys with many simpering, encouraging sighs; and while she may not be the most attractive woman in Konoha – with her four eyes and too-small mouth and short legs – she is Konoha's foremost expert on the art of being jailbait.

"Suzume-sensei? What's the point?" Suzume is startled at the piping voice; looks down almost scathingly at the careful, slightly lopsided buns atop the child's head. TenTen's skill with weaponry is pointedly perfect, and Suzume almost admires the girl's attitude. "I want to be a shinobi, not a flower seller."

"Were you not listening at all?" Suzume asks firmly, one thin eyebrow arching tersely over the rim of her glasses; and it's not really a question, more an introduction – an excuse – for the sharp zhing of steel as Suzume whips the knife from its hidden sheath within her bouquet's stems. "Manipulation and stealth are two very important aspects of most missions you will be given as a higher level female operative. It's not always as easy for us to go charging into a battle scene, and not nearly as effective as a confident stroll. If you wish to be a convincing killer, TenTen-kun, you should first be capable of making a convincing sale, no?"

Suzume can see echoes of herself in TenTen's ambition, in the future kunoichi's drive and skill. She isn't like the gaggle of girls who do as they're expected, hoping that one day perhaps they'll maybe pass for a half-decent medic, the ones that titter quietly as TenTen blushes stubbornly under Suzume's caustic instruction. TenTen wants to fight more than she wants to breathe, and Suzume refuses to think about it, to let herself care why.

Suzume is part of a generation of pure poison. None of her class mates discovered what they were looking for, and every one of them learned first hand about death; but if there's one thing they learned from it all it was ambition, and survival. TenTen wants to go as far as she can get, and until today Suzume is ashamed to realise she didn't really care at all. She hopes that her student makes it relatively unscathed. It'd be a first for this village.

At the end of the lesson, TenTen presents a near perfect bouquet.