Hi! Sorry for the wait, I'm in the middle of exams at the minute! Anyway, hope you like it! And thanks to anyone that reviewed!

Chapter 2 – The Siblings & the Sensei

Kankuro paced around the small examination room irritably. He was tired, dirty and emotionally drained. The only thing that was kept him moving was the unbearably tense atmosphere that seemed to suffocate the village. More than anything he just wanted to go home, curl up and black out for a couple of hours. But before he could do that he had to have a pointless check up by some medic that was due over three hours ago.

Snarling his frustration he turned to face his elder sister, who was currently lounging on the examination table, a bored expression playing on her face.

"This is ridiculous!" he spat, "lets just leave!" Letting out an exasperated sigh, Temari glared at her temperamental brother. Every bit as drained as he, this was the last thing she wanted to be doing.

"Kankuro, sit down and shut up. Neither of us will be going anywhere. Baki-sensei's orders are to remain here until we have been given the all clear by a medic."

"And when is THAT going to happen?" he snapped back, "So far no-one has even worked up the nerve to be in the same room as us!" Kankuro gave a short bitter laugh, "as if death is catching!' Temari growled her annoyance, but said nothing. Kankuro had a point.

"And when someone does finally get round to seeing us you can bet it'll be some drunken, dried up old hack, because you know that there's no way any competent doctor is going to be willing to come near us!"

The puppet master was about to continue his rant when he heard the door creak open behind him. "Finally!" he snapped whirling round, "What the hell took you so..." His voice trailed off in shock as he stared at the newcomer. In front of him stood a petite girl who appeared to be no older than 15, nervously clutching two medical charts. As she walked the oversized white lab coat she wore over her clothing swished bout her knees.

Temari lifted an eyebrow as she looked over the kid in the doorway. 'Blue hair?' she observed in vague interest. Such a thing was an oddity in general, let alone in a dreary dessert village like Suna.

Her brother's eyes however were less focused on the female's novel hair colour and instead fixed on what looked like some kind of small furry creature curled sleeping around her neck. 'What the hell is with this girl?!' thought Kankuro in disgust as he took in her bizarre appearance.

"Who the hell are you?" he snapped, glaring at her through narrowed eyes.

"Kankuro..." his sister warned him, but her eyes too remained on the stranger. Aoi shifted uncomfortably under the intense gazes of the siblings. With hair like hers, she was more than used to people staring at her, but these two were just… frightening…

"Umm... Hello. I'm Kimura Aoi, I'm here to give you your check ups," she smiled timidly as she bravely attempted to meet the twin glares which greeted her.

Kankuro's lip curled as he considered the peculiar kunoichi before him.

"You? Huh, please. I don't have the patience to humour a wannabe brat like you," he sneered, "Hurry up and get a real medic in here." At his statement, Aoi flushed a vibrant shade of red that clashed spectacularly with her hair.

"Kankuro's right," snorted Temari dismissively, "Find us an actual medic, then run back to mopping floors or whatever it is you do round here."

Steeling herself Aoi bit back a frustrated sigh and slowly lifted her head to meet the blonde shinobi's harsh gaze.

"Under different circumstances I would be more than happy to do that Temari-san, but I'm afraid that I am the only available medic here right now and am likely to remain so for several more hours. I realize that I am young, but I assure you I am competent. However if you insist on seeing a different medic then you are of course free to remain here until Tomasu-sensei returns tomorrow morning."

Aoi paused a moment to let her words sink in before continuing. As she spoke she made sure to keep her tone gentle and compassionate,

"I am really very sorry that you have been kept here as long as you have. I do realize that you have other more important things you need to be doing in light of the circumstances, but as I said before I am the only available medic, and I have just this moment finished seeing to your brother." Biting her lip, Aoi awaited the sibling's reactions, hoping that what she had said would be enough to convince the two prickly shinobi. Several moments silence followed her little outburst, before an angry voice lashed out.

"What!? You really mean to tell us that a kid like you was sent to deal with Gaara? What a load of crap!" Frowning, the young medic turned to face the incensed puppeteer.

"I'm sorry?" she asked the scornful youth as the small animal on her shoulders began yipping angrily at him.

"Look at you!" Kankuro snarled, an ugly look of contempt dancing over his painted features, "You wouldn't last three minutes in a room with Gaara!"

Soothing the irate animal by gently massaging his head with her fingers, Aoi watched the ninja before her with a benign expression carefully plastered on her face.

"Kankuro enough," snapped Temari shooting her grumbling brother a dark glare as he made to rant again before turning her gaze back to the young girl in front of her. "You, kid," she addressed Aoi who looked at her calmly, "you were the medic that saw to Gaara?" Aoi nodded. Temari watched her silently for a while, sizing her up. "...Is he... alright?" At this Kankuro fell silent, watching the two female ninja carefully.

"Yes. He was in pretty bad shape when I saw him... but I manage to close all his wounds and repair the internal damage. Now more than anything he just need to rest." Slowly Temari nodded, relief flicking in her eyes.

"Alright," she growled, "lets get this over with." Standing up, the blonde kunoichi nodded her permission for Aoi to approach her. Grateful that was to finally be allowed to do her job, the girl immediately set to.

The sun was setting over the desert when Aoi finally made it out of the hospital. Her furry companion had long since give up and had resorted to emptying her weapon pouch and converting it into a makeshift bed – a favourite trick of his after a long day. Pausing to lean her exhausted frame against the wall of the building, (careful not to squash Toshi's 'bedroom' in the process) she watched the sky in a weary appreciation as it became awash with a vibrant bloody red. Idly she noted that it was the exact same shade as Gaara's hair.

Closing her eyes, Aoi let out a soft sigh. Finally she was able to enjoy the peace that she had been craving all day.

A harsh voice abruptly interrupted from her daze.

"You, girl!" Jumping slightly in surprise, Aoi snapped her eyes open only to find herself confronted with a stony faced jonin wearing a grim expression on what was visible of his face - the right side being obscured by a veil.

"Who me?" she found herself asking dumbly as she stared apprehensively at the intimidating man. The ninja raised an unimpressed eyebrow.

"Yes, you," he growled as his single, kohl rimmed eye narrowed slightly in annoyance. "Do you work here?" Eyes widening slightly Aoi nodded.

"Y-yes, I do," she gulped as she watched the man cross his arms over his broad chest.

"Good, then you can help me," he informed her.

'But I just got off!' Aoi wailed in her head as she bit her lip in frustration. One glance at her companion however, told her she didn't have much choice in the matter. Letting out an exhausted sigh, the girl let her shoulders slump in defeat.

"Of course. How can I help you?" she muttered.

"I'm looking for my students," he told her briskly, blatantly ignoring her lack of enthusiasm. Students? Wait… did that mean that this man was…

"Baki-dono?" asked Aoi hesitantly looking up at the elite ninja before her. His elegant brow arched as he regarded her coolly.

"That's correct." A tiny bit of relief flowed through the bluenette at the news. Perhaps this wouldn't be as difficult as she thought. Only a tiny bit though, after all, Baki was still a very scary man.

"Oh, well in that case I really can help you," she said as she met his penetrating gaze in a calm, clinical manner, "Temari-san and Kankuro-san were released a few hours ago after they were given the all clear after their examinations as per your request. I believe they went straight home. Gaara-san was also released after he had undergone treatment for his wounds." Breaking eye contact, the jonin turned his head to look out over the village in, what Aoi assumed, was the direction of the siblings abode.

"Very well," he murmured absently, before turning back to the young kunoichi before him. "I realise that the meeting must have left you short staffed today, tell me who was it that conducted the examinations?"

Aoi gave a mental wince at the question. She had been really hoping to avoid this question. Up until now she had been deliberately phrasing her sentences to make it sound as though some other medic had treated the three to avoid a scene like the one she had with Temari and Kankuro. A non-confrontational person at the best of times, after the emotional roller-coaster that was dealing with the siblings, the exhausting hours of paper work she had just completed and the severe drain treating Gaara had caused on her chakra reserves (not to mention the bruises from her flying episode), Aoi really did not have the energy to try to convince this man of her abilities. Letting out another heartfelt sigh, the young medic readied herself for the inevitable.

"I did sensei," Baki's eyebrow snapped down in a deep frown as he regarded the teenager in front of him.

"You?" he repeated coldly as his eyes bored holes in her skull. Aoi nodded. "Then who was it that treated Gaara?" The medic closed her eyes in exasperation.

"That would also be me sensei," she murmured wearily trying her best to ignore the intensity of the gaze he was directing at her.

"Do you expect me to believe that a genin such as yourself was sent to treat Gaara?" the man's tone suggested he found it hard to believe. Aoi pinched the bridge of her nose in vexation as she considered how best to escape this conversation.

"Baki-dono, I apologise if I have done anything inappropriate," she began, meeting his eyes placidly, her best clinical expression on her face, "but as you said, we were very short staffed and it was felt that his injuries could not wait any longer. I would not have attempted anything I felt were beyond my abilities. However if anything I have done has upset you in any way, or you have questions regarding my competence then please feel free to discuss it with Tomasu-sensei. I am after all his apprentice." Baki stared at her for several moments, an unreadable look on his face.

Aoi began to shift nervously under the intense scrutiny she was receiving, her calm facade crumbling under his gaze. After the silence had stretched for several minutes, Aoi decided that if she wanted to get home before it was completely dark she would have to say something.

"Erm… Baki-dono?" she asked meeting his gaze hesitantly, "Unless you have any further need of me, I think really ought to be going. My sister will be wondering where I have gotten to."

Silence. The jonin remained standing, arms crossed over his chest as he continued to stare at her, the same indecipherable expression on his face as the visible side of his mouth twitched slightly.

"No, that will be all," he said at last, his voice measured and cool. Nodding in relief, Aoi moved off in the direction of her home.

Baki carefully watched the young medic slip off into the dusk. He waited until she was out of sight before he let the smile he had been fighting break on his face. Lifting a hand in wonder, he traced his lips with a finger.

A smile. One of genuine amusement.

It was a small one to be certain, but it was there. He had forgotten how long it had been since someone had last made him smile. But somehow that nervous young girl had done it.

He couldn't be certain if it was the idea of someone so obviously fragile acting as an apprentice to a sadist like Tomasu, or the thought of how she somehow survived an up close encounter with a wounded – and no doubt irate – Gaara, when she couldn't even withstand one of his own glares.

'Still,' he mused to himself, 'there may be more to her than meets the eye. After all, she has managed to withstand Tomasu this long. And if what she said is true about Gaara… She may come in useful…' Slowly he let the smile drop from his lips as the memory of the recent meeting came flooding back to him. 'Kami knows we will need as many good shinobi as we can get if we want to make it out of this mess in one piece.'

Resolving to approach Tomasu about her first thing in the morning, the jonin turned and began his journey to his students' home.

"Toshi, what's is it?"asked a perplexed Aoi as she watched her small friend balance precariously on her shoulder, chest puffed out and hackles raised as his tiny black nose twitching madly.

"Why has that Neko-teme come back here?!" snarled the ferret, "I smell no blood. He is not hurt, so why is he here?!" Ah, the Neko-teme. Kankuro. So that's why he was so upset. Shaking her head, Aoi knocked on the door leading to her mentor's office. Toshi had not forgiven the puppeteer for his rude behavior from a week ago and did not hesitate to make his dislike for the boy known.

'Still,' she conceded silently to herself, 'he does have a point. What is Kankuro-san doing here?' On hearing a call to enter, she quickly shrugged her speculation away for later.

As she pushed open the door, Aoi froze momentarily as she took in the scene in front of her. There, sitting at the desk across from her sensei, was the ninja in question. Trying her best to hide her surprise, Aoi timidly walked into the room. Why was it she suddenly felt like she was about to get into trouble? On seeing the 'Neko-teme' Toshi dug his claws into her shoulder as he let out a soft grumble and eyed him warily.

"You sent for me sensei?" asked the young medic politely as she approached the desk, eyes trained on her mentor. Tomasu leaned back in his chair watching his student carefully.

"Indeed I did," he murmured as he idly stroked the neatly trimmed beard that framed his angular face. "As you know," he began as he observed her through shrewd black eyes, "the village is in a precarious position following the failed Konoha invasion and the death of the late Kazekage." Slightly confused as to where this was going, Aoi nodded hesitantly.

"In times such as these, the village needs its shinobi more than ever," slowly Tomasu leaned forward in his seat, eyes locking with Aoi's. "Team Baki have an upcoming mission; to wipe out a group of missing-nin which are plaguing a mountain village out near our southern border. However as Baki-san is unable to leave the village due to the present circumstances, it was decided that the mission would benefit most from the presence of a medical-nin in his stead." One of Tomasu's thin eyebrows arched upwards. "You have been selected to accompany them."

Aoi let out a gasp of horror as she considered what was being asked of her.

"But sensei! I haven't had a mission outside of the village for the past two years! And even then, surely with my previous mission success rates I am the last person that should be considered!"

Letting out an irritated sigh Tomasu looked down his nose at his distressed pupil.

"My dear pupil," he intoned sardonically, "As you so aptly pointed out, you have not been on a mission for years, since coming under my tutelage as it happens. All your previous mission success rates are no longer relevant as you are no longer a run of the mill kunoichi. You are a medical-ninja. My apprentice." The medic's soft tone harshened slightly as he continued. "You have a duty to your village in its hour of need, and I expect you to fulfil it without question." The bluenette hung her head in defeat.

"Gomen Tomasu-sensei. I will do my best to meet your expectations," she mumbled.

"I would hope so" he murmured leaning back in his seat once more as he inspected his perfectly manicured fingernails for dirt. "Besides which Baki-san himself requested your presence on this mission himself. Evidently you have done something to impress him. Although I couldn't imagine what you could possibly have done to win his favour."

A loud snort caused Aoi's head to snap up. Kankuro lounged in his chair, his lip curled in scorn.

"She managed to survive an encounter with Gaara, that's what" he drawled lazily, "apparently sensei wants to know if she can do the same thing twice. My money's on not." A lazy smirk flickered over his painted face as he watched the blue haired medic beside him for a reaction.

"Shut your trap you face-painted freak, or I'll make sure you won't be able to have children!" barked an enraged Toshi from his perch on Aoi's shoulder. Kankuro gave the small animal a look of irritated contempt as Toshi continued to chatter at him unintelligibly.

"Hmm, knowing Baki-san, you're probably correct," agreed Tomasu thoughtfully. "Still whatever his reasons, you have been assigned to go Aoi. While doubtless you are going to embarrass me somehow, I ask that you do try not to do anything too foolish, as difficult as I realise that may be for you."

"Yes Sensei," the girl answered obediently, long since used to her sensei's insulting mannerisms.

Aoi gave a muffled squeak as Toshi small sharp claws bit through the thin fabric of her top and into the soft flesh of her shoulder. Leaning even further forward, the infuriated mustelid launched off on a enraged tirade of high pitched chattering.

"Whatever," muttered Kankuro as he stood up and walked to the door. "I have to get going. We're heading off first thing tomorrow. Meet us by the village gates," he called idly over his shoulder as he let himself out.

"I think that concludes this little discussion of ours," noted Tomasu dryly, "you are dismissed Aoi. You may take the rest of the day off to prepare for your mission."

"Thank you sensei," the bluenette replied with a respectful inclination of her head. Toshi's response however, was decidedly less respectful. After the small animal had at last ended his profanity laced farewell of the puppeteer by poking his tongue from between his teeth in a decidedly human gesture, he had taken it upon himself to turn his attention to the head medic.

A look of panic flickering over her face, Aoi desperately tried to convince the ferret to quieten down before Tomasu was irritated into doing it himself – no doubt by much less pleasant methods (he was not a man known for his patience). Noting the increasing look of annoyance on her mentor's face, the girl quickly wrapped a hand around Toshi's muzzle, temporarily muting the now thrashing and growling little beast.

"Oh and Aoi?" called the jonin as his student hastily made to exit, battling with her noisy companion as she went. The young medic turned around to face her mentor expectantly as she desperately tried to keep hold of the wriggling animal in her arms. "Do try not to get yourself killed. Considering the amount of time that I have already been forced to waste on you, it would be troublesome to have to go to the effort of training a new apprentice from scratch," he drawled. The girl suppressed a smile.

"I'll do my best sensei."