Okay, so she was in love with her teacher, but it wasn't like her love was requited... so why was she getting these mixed signals?

She hated his beard. Absolutely hated it.

She was a vain person, always had been. She took good care of her body, watched what she ate, and always did her best to make sure she looked as good as she was strong. And though she was born into the life of a killer, she socialized with the common people enough to know what was "in" and what was "out" and what was "standard" of everything was according to the mainstream.

He was definitely not mainstream standard. Not clean shaven, clean cut, or clean health. Gods, she absolutely hated those death sticks of his. He was far from dream-boy bishies found in the shoujo manga so many girls adored. The kinds of men she adored.

He was a wonderful teacher, very devoted and caring, if not somewhat strict, but somehow lazy at the same time. But he wasn't the man she wanted him to be. Why didn't she just give up on him and find a more suitable guy? She wasn't sure. She'd tried to move on, but it wasn't as if she could remove him from her life, and so he was always there to draw her eye.

Parts of her were beginning to think that all those mentally scarring missions were finally going to her head. Most people likely expected her to have romantic feelings for someone closer to her age. For a while, she did, but in the end she knew it was just a childhood crush. It wasn't like the feelings she had for him.

Fact was, she just wasn't interested in anyone her age. They weren't mature enough. Not that she didn't have years of fighting under her belt: it was just that those her age only knew as much as she did. She wanted a guy who'd been there and done that and could render her speechless. He'd done a number of things that few shinobi ever got to experience, he had lessons to teach and stories to tell, and she did love a good story.

She owed him more than she owed any other man. He taught her to survive, how to react in a bad situation, and just where to hit a man (because in their line of work, rape was bound to happen if she wasn't educated). If it hadn't been for him, it was likely that she would still be obsessed with love instead of her career, starving herself in the name of beauty, and overall just a self-centered, noisy little brat.

He had his own set of quirks, he could debate for hours about religion and spirits. He had a special set of cigarettes he kept hidden in the sole of his left sandal, coconut-raspberry flavored, that he only smoked after a difficult mission. He always had a stick of incense hidden somewhere on his person. His fingernails were well manicured. Talking about his sibling, Konohamaru's parent, was very much taboo, and he tended to do the opposite of what his father, the Sandaime Hokage, told him.

If her back was turned to him when he was approaching, he'd reach out and pinch her side, making her squeal in surprise and yell in protest. He'd just laugh, and she'd blush furiously.

Sex was the last thing he was shy about. She and her team (more like her brothers, really) were taught early on about the risks and the missions they'd have to take when they got older and rose higher in the system. Sex was often used as a weapon among ninja, and women weren't the only ones who could be raped as a form of torture. They were taught how to recognize and utilize it.

She was fourteen when she was sent on her first seduction mission, and when she came home, tainted and tattered, it was him she went to and cried to. He was patient and silent, analyzing her questions and worries thoroughly before answering. Her father would have just exploded.

She wasn't sure why she hadn't pushed him away that night. Maybe her distress messed up her judgment, and a saucer of sake had messed up his (he never could hold his alcohol well), but when his hands started touching her body, and he began mumbling how sex wasn't just for causing a person pain, she didn't protest. They didn't go so far as to have sex sex, but she had ended up on his bed naked, his tongue in places that she reallydidn't think a tongue should go, and his beard tickling places that she didn't know were ticklish. She had left that night with a good number of hickeys, and she had left a few of her own, she was proud to admit.

Things after that night were awkward, breaking her heart bit by bit. He was suddenly distant from her, aloof, and every so often she'd catch him staring at her, at which point his head would turn to a different so quickly it was a miracle his neck didn't snap from the force. Shikamaru noticed, of course (that lazy ass noticed everything), and asked her about it, but she only shook her head and he didn't mention it again.

She moved on with life, dated other men and slept with them and kissed them and did her best to love them, but if she heard, or spotted him while on a date, she'd move so that she sat where she could see him, or walk by him purposefully. In a weird way, she supposed she did it because she hoped he'd get jealous. But, he never did, as far as she could tell, and she didn't talk to him about her love problems like she used to.

He had a new flame now, the young, beautiful Yuuhi Kurenai. She was jealous, incredibly so, but did her best to not let it show. He came into her family's flower shop, looking at all the flowers with dark, smoldering eyes. She greeted him with a forced, thin-lipped smile and rung up the price of the bouquet.

"Are these for Kurenai, sensei?" She teased, giving him a smirk.

He blushed a little, and smiled at her like he did when she was younger. "Maybe,"

She rolled her eyes. "Come on, just admit it! It's not like we don't know how much you like her." She handed him his change absently, and looked up when he didn't take the coins. "Asuma-?"

His rough hand brushed her cheek as he placed a red carnation above her ear and his lips planted a chaste kiss on her rosebud mouth. She was completely frozen, blue eyes wide, and cheeks hot and red.

"Yeah, I like Kurenai fine," he told her, "but she's more of a… distraction. To take my mind off the person I really like." He pulled away, grinning, and left the store, his thumb lingering on her chin. He turned back at the doors and waved, still smiling. She was still gawking like an idiot. "See you at training tomorrow, Ino!"