Happy Valentine's Day!

Whew! Fast update this time.

Ohohoho. Yes, I'm purposely torturing both reader and this couple with endless cockblock. Tee hee.

(Also, why do I keep getting inspiration from other series? A lot of this reminds me of the Graceling series, while "Shorty" just reminds me of Fairy Tail's Gajeel and Levy...Levy is ironically also a blunette, and small, but looks nothing like Mariko.)

Note: I ate a lot of candy today, and I hate homework.

Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me, but instead, Kishi-sensei who needs to be able to use Kage Bunshin to draw faster.


Chapter 6: Beware - Powers and Women


.x.X.x.


Dear Momma,

The rain has stopped today, and I encountered the very thing you seem to despise – Ninjutsu. There's three children I'd like to mention. One is Sarutobi Hiruzen, and he's quite the amusing boy. The second is his teammate, Mitokado Homura, a quiet, studious boy somewhat like Kell and a teeny bit like Ryo. He's the sensible one. Lastly, the girl – Utatane Koharu. I'm not sure what to think of her, because she has hardly talked to me. She talks, just…not to me. Maybe because I don't know her well?


.x.X.x.


If Tobirama was alive in the morning, Mariko decided that she might go and see him. These reasons were solely guided by the strong tug in her gut, the tendency of her body to drift towards the kitchen and his quarters in search of him. Her mind, however, screamed profanities at her disobedient limbs. She was caught between her consciousness and the underlying emotions that were leading her in a direction she wasn't sure was the right one.

What were her emotions telling her? She supposed that it was the thing she read in all those books of love stories, but she adamantly refused to acknowledge it. The one part of her brain sulked heavily, convinced that he was just toying with her. It was highly likely, for he was inconsistent; one moment playful with her, the next terse and snappish.

It turned out that Tobirama had survived the night, all body parts intact – something he was grateful for – and was up early, as per usual.

She paused that the doorway of his bedroom, wondering if she should knock. She heard him rummaging through a drawer, and was quite sure he knew she was currently standing outside his door. How it must've amused him, her standing motionless outside his room, frozen, maybe confused, maybe asking why she was here at all.

"Door's not locked," he called lightly.

Mariko wasn't sure how to respond. Obviously, she should open the door.

"Are you decent?" she said instead, a lame statement, to say the least. She heard him scoff, and could picture the slight quirk in his eyebrows and the shaking of his head.

"If I wasn't, I wouldn't have invited you in."

The blunette turned the doorknob and entered his room. It was a quiet one, rather bland, to her surprise. The walls were a soft burgundy-tinted cream, something that reminded her of mild red tea. His sheets were a similar shade, but with mahogany and deep red coverlets. It was not neat, but rather thrown together elegantly. Mariko had imagined a deep-sea sort of room for him, given his propensity for Suiton jutsu. On the other hand, she'd also pictured an cold room, not temperature-wise, but in colors. Brisk green or blue and white, with crisp sheets that were clean as snow. This was because of his albino characteristics and the light fur collar he wore on his armor – he belonged in the snowy habitat of an arctic fox.

"Is there an elephant in my room, or something?" he said flatly.

"Yes, there is," she mused, still glancing round, before her eyes settled on him. "I'm looking at him right now."

He shot her a sardonic look that wasn't warm or cold or anything, really. An expression that he put on his face simply because she was making early morning jokes.

"What brings you to the lair of the water king?" he asked boldly, feigning grandness. Though he sat on his bed and he slouched, he puffed himself up to look high and mighty.

"You look like a hunchbacked gargoyle," she informed him blandly.

"Thank you," he replied just as gracefully. "And you look like a blue walrus."

That made absolutely no sense, but her reaction was his goal. She warily glanced at herself quickly, almost alarmed, but then scowled at him.

"Now, now," he said, as if scolding a child. "Down frown so much, you'll get wrinkles."

"Coming from you, that's ironic," she replied tartly.

"Sit." Again, the inconsistencies that swept over him like high and low tides. He'd turned instantly from teasing to ordering, his voice firm though his hand casually patted the area next to him with a practiced nonchalance.

"You might eat my face, I'd rather not."

He styled a face of mock horror onto his features, as if he was greatly offended.

"You've got the most terrible morning jokes," he said. "Suit yourself."

He then laid back on his bed, lounging lazily in a sea of pillows befitting a "water king". Mariko hated herself, for her body moved towards the other side of the bed, but she allowed her body a moment's peace without her brain's obstinate objections.

"Beware, the water king may eat your face," he said, throwing at arm dramatically over his head. Mariko really wondered where this sudden personality change originated from, because he looked all of bored, amused, tired, and completely out of his mind at the moment.

"Are you all right?" she asked, stopping on the right side of the bed, the far side from where he laid.

"Finer than a happy duck," he quipped, making a jab at her explanation for bad mood the time before. She held her tongue and completely controlled her face. She didn't frown, only stared.

"You're clearly insane," she told him.

"Hmm," he said, interested. He stared at his hands. As if there were alien growths sprouting from his skin, he held his palms up to inspect them. "You're right, I feel loopy."

"You are loopy. I'm not sure if you have multiple personalities, or what, but you're clearly not right in the head."

"That's so kind of you," he muttered, rolling over so that his face was in his pillows. From Mariko's standpoint, he looked absolutely ridiculous. Then, the source of his agonizing strangeness: "I'm going to die today."

"Don't say that," the blunette snapped. Words spoken in that manner were detested because it was bad luck. One must think positively. At least, that's what her mother had always told her. Then again, Mariko supposed, a shinobi's life was probably vastly different from her princess activities on an eastern island. She also wondered where in the world any of her manners had gone. She spoke to him like she spoke to Katsurou – endless banter, comfortable jokes. "What do you mean, you'll die?" she inquired. "Did you drink something last night?"

"No. You wouldn't happen to have any experience in shopping for shoes, would you?"

She was getting tired of his apparent ease in either not answering or changing the subject. Especially when he was a little cuckoo, like now. He definitely drank something, but she wasn't sure what. A heavy wine, perhaps.

"Maybe," she said. "Any particular person you're shopping for?"

"The person who will kill me today," he mumbled into his pillow. She had to lean in closer to hear him clearly. The sudden turn of his head to stare at her startled her, so much so that she leapt backwards. His face turned into a smirk. "You are so easy to scare. It's ridiculous."

"You're ridiculous."

"Am I?" He flipped over again, eyes on the ceiling. "So, Lady Princess, will you help me shop for a woman that may kill me today? Maybe it'll lessen the pain."

He grimaced, as if imagining something terrible. Then: "Maybe we could get the Uchiha to get in trouble and distract her. Always the Uchiha."

Having no idea what he meant, she sighed and threatened to leave. In fact, she saw no reason why not, for he seemed to be mulling over things by himself just fine. She made for the door, but just as he had every single time, he was up like a flash and his hand clamped down on her shoulder, spinning her around.

"Will you stop doing that?!" she exclaimed, infuriated. The first time she'd tried running away from him, it had been an odd moment in the hallway, with her trying to get back to a room. The second time was just the opposite, and his tactic of escape was maddening. The third time she'd been discombobulated and rendered an incoherent blob, before Toka slammed in and saved the day. Mariko wasn't sure whether or not she'd liked that, what with the sensuous tingle zipping up and down her spine, her lips and neck and face all on fire…

No, she decided that it was a gift from the lord of river horses, because without Toka, who knows what would have happened. That, and she wanted to knock Etsuko's baby-making comment out of her mind at the very least.

"Stop doing what?" he asked, mildly amused but seemingly suffering from a headache. He winced, and his grip on her loosened.

"Grabbing me out of nowhere," she answered. "You don't just–"

"Snatch a Hurricane princess and eat her face? I think I gathered that."

She stared at him now, bewildered. The expression on his face was a mixture of fatigue and amusement, the latter of which she wanted to push off his lips. No, that was a bad idea, because the moment her eyes drifted down to his mouth, she had a recurrence of thoughts that had plagued her the night before.

"Oh, so you do have a shred of intelligence?" Mariko blinked, forcefully drawing her gaze back up to meet his. But she'd been too slow, and the flash in his eyes let her know that he knew; and oh, was he enjoying it.

"I'm more intelligent than you think, Lady Princess," he slurred, coming dangerously close. She smelled it then, the slight, intoxicating aroma of a heavy, sweet drink.

"You're drunk," she accused, eyes narrowing.

"That was yesterday, my dear," he said, waving his hand in a failed imitation of his older brother's nonchalance. "Today, I am hung over. There's a difference."

"I don't know and I don't care," she said, shoving him away harshly. What she failed to realize was that his hand was still on her shoulder, and when he went down, he dragged her with him.

They fell backwards onto the bed, which was pleasantly soft with a slight bounce. He laughed then, a tired, throaty noise that sounded more like a frog's croak. Maybe he sounded so strangely because she had fallen on his chest, and was now stuffing a pillow in his face, or maybe he was truly too exhausted to function properly.

"Of course you don't know," he said, suddenly with a streak of soberness. "You're only nineteen, aren't you."

She was about to comment on how they had just celebrated her birthday, and how could he possibly forget? But then, she watched the hesitation play out in his muscles, as he tensed and wasn't sure where to put his hands. He was wary, hands floating just short of her waist. In a moment's decision, he'd adjusted himself and his hand touched her shoulders instead of the small of her back, and he slid out from underneath her, rolling her onto her back on the bed. Mariko expected something that would scare her brain right out of her head again, but instead, he moved away.

"Do me a favor?" he asked wearily.

"What?"

"If Mito comes to kill me, well…" he paused, then smirked. "There's not much you can do about that, is there? Oh well."

Folding his arms, his face became stony and serious. There it was, the mood change. This was the face he wore the most, the narrowed, solemn stare that he shot at everyone in range. The expression he had the first day she met him, and for most of the month after that.

"Why did you start talking to me?" she asked randomly, out of curiosity. The question seemed to irk him, for he made to move away. He didn't, though.

"I was told to." He glanced back at her to see her reaction, but there was none.

"Was is Hashirama?"

"Yes."

"Did you want to?"

"Not in particular." The soft expression that briefly crossed the firm set of his mouth indicated that he didn't hate their friendly jibes, but it wasn't his initial intention.

"Then why did you –"

She was cut off by a string of unspeakable oaths from his mouth. Dismayed yet relieved, for she had been about to ask why he'd kissed her, she sat up and asked what was wrong.

"Mito's coming."

Sometimes Mito came for Mariko to wake her and summon her to breakfast, but the redhead probably had no intentions of kindly knocking on Tobirama's door and telling him that his morning meal was to be served soon. Instead, she pretty much knocked the door down in the advent of her fury.

And seeing Mariko sitting patiently on his bed, her facial expression grew morphed into that of a terrible, beautiful demon.

"You. Out. Now." She pointed at Tobirama, then pointed out the door. Tobirama stood, but he sulkily dragged his feet, seemingly relaxed about his impending doom. As the door closed, Mariko found herself laying down in the downy comforters, wondering what in the world made Mito so fearsome. Then, the Uzumaki's purpose.

Wasn't this what they were supposed to do? Weren't they supposed to be together, since they were engaged? People were engaged either because they had to, they were in love, or both. The second idea still struck the blunette as appalling, because she couldn't sort out what emotions were what in her jumbled mind. It seemed that her body knew very clearly what she innately wanted, while her brain still balked like Katrina on a bad day.

Tobirama stepped back in, live and whole. Well, mostly whole. He had a nasty bruise on his cheek, and looked like he'd been kicked in the groin, which he probably had. That would explain the extra loud exclamations from their — was it an argument? — discussion.

"You're alive."

"Hardly," he replied. He was more sober now, but still groggy, and it seemed that the ill-fated talk with Mito had drained him. "Move."

She obliged, sliding over so that he could sit. However, he plopped himself unceremoniously onto the mattress, bouncing her at the other end. His forehead was shiny with sweat, and he looked paler than usual, even with his ghostly complexion.

Mariko took it upon herself to wiggled over and cradle his head in her lap. He was surprised, but he didn't fight her movements. Her fingers ran circular, massaging movements along his temples, and he closed his eyes. This was something she used to do for Katsurou and Ryouichi, when their diplomatic lessons became too much. Sometimes, Katsurou fell ill, scaring all of them, and the two sisters would spend hours clucking over him, cold towels on his forehead and massaging sore muscles.

One time, when both boys were exhausted, and Ryouichi had spent so many hours at his desk that his back had screwed into a tight knot, the First Princess made it their duty to relieve the Princes. Sumiko rubbed Ryouichi's shoulders, something he was immensely glad for, while Mariko rubbed Katsurou's temples. It was at times like this that they worried, because the way he paled and could hardly lift his own glass reminded them terribly of the queen's last year. They never said anything about it, though, and Katsurou was nowhere near the severity of their mother's unexplained illness. It had taken her heart, and even the skilled healers from Whirlpool were mystified.

Mariko's fingers fell into a regular rhythm, fingertips pressing on the dip of Tobirama's temples. Eventually, she found that he'd fallen asleep, chest rising and falling at a slow, steady rate. Resting against the headboard, hands resting lightly by the Senju's face, touching his jaw, the little blunette fell asleep as well.

When she came to, not realizing that she'd fallen asleep, she found a pillow stuffed behind her back and the blankets drawn up around a still-sleeping Tobirama. Finding comfort in Mito's acceptance of their time together, Mariko dozed off again.


.x.X.x.


Ninjutsu is a curious thing. I'm still trying to figure out how water, fire, earth, and wind can be blown from the mouth so easily, as if there is a battery in your throat.


.x.X.x.


After lunch, both Aokami princess and Senju albino refreshed from their nap, Tobirama tugged her — almost meekly — to the training grounds, where his team impatiently waited.

"Tobirama-sensei!" exclaimed Hiruzen, hands planted on his hips. "You're late."

"Not my fault," answered the white-headed man flatly. He jerked a thumb at Mariko. "Blame this one."

"I didn't do anything, for the record," Mariko quickly put in.

"Lady Princess, what brings you here?" Homura, the boy in glasses, asked softly. Mariko offered him a kind, open smile and poked Tobirama hard in the ribs. The Senju didn't even flinch, only blinked lazily at her.

"I think he means," Tobirama said, "why are you here in Konoha?"

"Don't tell me they don't know," Mariko exclaimed.

"They don't know," Tobirama drawled.

"Don't know what?" asked Hiruzen blankly. Then, as if forgetting the subject for one of greater importance, he demanded that they begin training now.

"You can go sit over there," Tobirama informed Mariko in a low voice, leaning down and pushing her towards a copse of trees. Mariko obeyed, though the entire time she felt his eyes on her back, where his hand had brushed her shoulder blades.

Without even waiting, Hiruzen spat out a fire jutsu so incredibly hot, Mariko could feel the blaze even from a distance. Out of the flame leapt the girl, whose hair was immaculately pinned up into buns, and never seemed to fall. Mariko thought she would be singed, but Hiruzen recalled his fire, the last licks of flame falling short of the kunoichi. The girl threw many senbon needles, but none ever connected with Tobirama.

Mariko held her breath. These were ninja.

"Above!" shrieked the girl, drawing a knife. Tobirama arched a brow at her and didn't even spare a glance above his head. Instead, he whipped around and intercepted Homura, who clashed so hard with Tobirama kunai-to-kunai, his glasses slipped down his face.

"Nice try, Koharu," called the Senju, leaping out of the way before the girl could connect her blade to his flesh. He then kicked Homura, who was fumbling with his glasses, square in the chest. The sound was a hard thump, and Homura flew as far as the river on Mariko's other side. Her mouth opened in a silent gasp, amazed at the power.

Then, to her further amazement, Homura skidded along the surface of the raging river and stood up, defying the laws of physics and floating atop the water. He performed a sequence of hand seals, some of which Mariko recognized from Katsurou's brief, excited lessons, and a snake of water flew from his feet. Mariko saw the head of a dragon form, and in that instant, Homura became Katsurou, demonstrating to a delighted Second Princess the magic of ninjutsu.

A second water dragon appeared, however, that dwarfed the first one. This jutsu was immense, towering over Homura's, and it engulfed it all whole. Homura bit his lip and dove out of the way of the crashing waves, risking a glance at his sensei. Tobirama simply held one hand up, and the dragon looped through the air and came crashing down on the bespectacled genin.

Hiruzen was at his teammate's side as soon as the water cleared away, whilst Koharu tried her hand in close combat. Not amused, Tobirama, deflected each of her blows with ease. He flicked her in the forehead, hard, and she flew backwards, scrabbling in the dust. She held her forehead; it was bound to leave a nasty bruise.

"Slow," Tobirama commented.

Meanwhile, Hiruzen had taken another deep breath of air, and was readying himself to let loose a fireball. He didn't notice the thin serpent of water that crept up behind him. The moment before he let fly his jutsu, the serpent wrapped itself around him and splashed his face, negating his jutsu.

Mariko, trapped in wonder, tried to figure out how water could wrap around a person like physical ropes and whips. Wouldn't it just slip through? Or was this the power of chakra within nature? Perhaps there was shinobi energy flowing through the very molecules of water, supporting it and allowing one to manipulate it into a physical weapon.

"Time," called Tobirama. Hiruzen, dismayed, spluttered the water out of his face and shook his head, hair soaked. "That was disappointing," added Tobirama. "I hardly moved."

"It's not our fault our sensei's an insane shinobi," muttered Hiruzen. "You know, if we had a different sensei, we would've won."

"But?" prompted the Senju.

"We're glad we don't," admitted Hiruzen, shooting his teacher a satisfied grin. "I almost got you this time."

"Not really," spat the girl, still rubbing her forehead. She had a tendency to skirt around the boys and try to deal with their teacher on their own, but it wasn't very effective. Clearly, teamwork was the key here. "You never got close."

"At least I didn't get stuck in the river within the first five seconds this time," grumbled the boy, harrumphing and scuffing his toe in the mud. Homura, dripping just as much as Hiruzen, if not more, shuffled up to them and shivered.

"Think about it," Tobirama told them. "None of you helped Koharu, and Koharu, you didn't help the other two."

Hiruzen sniggered, Homura sighed, and—Koharu's face softened? Unexpectedly, the girl's harsh expression turned into one of embarrassment, and Mariko wondered at the change. However, she didn't have enough time to think more heavily on that topic, because Hiruzen had turned on his heel to face her.

"Lady Princess, do you know ninjutsu?" he called to her. Startled, Mariko stared at him, then glanced at Tobirama. The white-haired Senju folded his arms and offered her an encouraging nod. Though she wasn't reassured, Mariko stood and walked over.

"Less than the basics," she told him frankly. "A little bit."

"Can you show us?" Hiruzen's face was kind and warm, a friendly child who was willing to make friends with this blue-haired foreigner. He quite enjoyed it when she conversed with him and didn't wear her paints.

Mariko thought hard. She hadn't much experience, let alone practice. What could she do? Nothing, basically. An image of Katsurou surfaced, his hand molding a simple blade of ice, easily a lethal weapon. It was one of the first and only things he taught her, in order to have some form of self-defense.

Chakra. She focused on the chakra that flowed invisibly through her veins, an unusual power that she didn't feel on a normal basis. When she found what she believed to be an artery of energy, she channeled it to her hand and thought hard. Imagery was what Katsurou claimed helped form element molding jutsus. Soon enough, a solid knife made of ice built itself into her hand.

The children stared at her.

Tobirama stared at her.

"I can't do much more than some molding," Mariko told them timidly. She was a bit unsettled by their constant staring; was it silly? It was simple and basic, a novice mold.

"You have a Kekkei Genkai," Hiruzen stated, astounded. The expression of wonderthat passed through all the faces, even Koharu's, startled Mariko. Tobirama, even, marveled at the ice in her hands.

"It isn't cold?" asked Homura.

"No."

Tobirama strode up to her then, and took her hand. He lifted it and studied it, the fine crystal — the result of a wind and water chakra unison. When he let go of her hand, she let the blade dissipate into nothing, its only remainders a few droplets on her fingers and a chilly breeze.

"Can you do any other jutsu?" asked the Senju.

Mariko showed them a weak manipulation of water, and then one of air, but no real, solid jutsus. The most she could do was make a puddle float and a breeze pick up fallen leaves, with the addition of her fundamentally built knife. Tobirama nodded throughout all of this, and then considered.

"Join our training," he told her plainly.

It was Mariko's turn to stare.

A wolf, Katsurou. Flip it all child, do you know what you have done?

Promise me you'll stop learning ninjutsu.

She shook her head.

"I'm fine," she whispered, so quietly that only Tobirama could hear. He took note of the melancholy flicker that revealed itself in her face, and didn't bother her about it.

Katsurou may rebel and learn ninjutsu, but Mariko would obey for him.


.x.X.x.


Dear Momma,

I saw amazing ninjutsu, but I myself can hardly do anything. Sumiko never had any interest in the use of chakra, and I'm not sure about Ryo. I turned down an offer to learn, and I think it was the right thing. Maybe I can learn hand-to-hand combat, though. I think it'd be useful to defend myself. Tomorrow, I'll ask.


.x.X.x.


Mariko yelped. She had tripped over a rock that turned out to be something other than a rock. When the "stone" moved and scrambled up a willow tree, she almost had a heart attack. Then, upon further inspection, she realized that it was a poor cat, a scrawny thing that could've have been more than half a year old. It was a brown and black tabby, with white feet, a white belly, a white nose, and a white-capped tail.

She immediately named him Tenzou, because Tenzou seemed like a nice name for the skinny feline, and eventually coaxed him into her arms. The cat decided that he liked the smell of the Hurricane girl, and curled up, purring. Mariko was fond of animals, and she was glad that they seemed to feel the same way of her.

First, she brought the cat to the barn, where Yodel sniffed the cat curiously. Tenzou was patient, and didn't claw at the horse's soft muzzle. Instead, he sniffed back, ears forward.

Next, Mariko introduced Tenzou to Arata, who dropped his currycomb and came to fondle the cat's soft ears.

"You should get him something to eat," suggested the horseman. Always concerned for animal welfare, Arata was on top of things. He pulled a can of tuna from out of nowhere — not out of nowhere, but Mariko had no idea where he got it on such short notice — and peeled the top back. Tenzou eagerly padded to the can and lapped up the fish, meowing adorably for more.

Deciding to take him inside, Mariko marched into the kitchen with an armful of cat.

Mito stared, and then gushed over the kitty, tickling Tenzou's chin and petting him for the longest time. Hashirama stared at his wife incredulously, as if he couldn't believe that the hot-tempered Uzumaki could coo over anything or anyone other than himself. Tobirama folded his arms and scoffed, asking why she brought a cat.

"I found him," Mariko explained. "His name is Tenzou."

"Tenzou, that's adorable," Mito giggled, fussing over the new Senju pet. "He'll have to be the outdoors type, though," she concluded sadly. "Unfortunately, we can't keep him inside here because no one's home, and not at the Hokage office either. Though I'd like that."

"I'd like it too," Hashirama piped up. "But it's messy enough in there without a pet."

"Let's not," said Tobirama flatly. He quickly shut up when Mariko shot him a malevolent glare that let him know that they were keeping the cat. Suddenly, he glanced out the window and announced: "Sasuke's back."

Indeed, Sarutobi Sasuke sauntered into the kitchen again, but this time his face was somber and lacked the laughter of his first visit.

"Danzo, again?" asked Hashirama. Sasuke nodded, leaning tiredly against the doorway.

"That child," Sasuke said, "tries to make it seem like he doesn't want friends, yet he clearly enjoys his time with Hiruzen. Then again, I think Hiruzen is the one looking after Danzo of his own account, because Danzo would keep away otherwise."

"Saru tends to have that nature," agreed Tobirama.

"Would you mind asking Hiruzen about it?" Sasuke asked. "I don't want to seem prying, because he's already accused me of spying on him. I don't get the big deal, though."

"Teenagers," stated Hashirama. "Tobirama was the same."

A glower from the albino, a chuckle from the brunet.

"He's ten," deadpanned Tobirama.

"You were an annoying ten-year-old," Hashirama told his brother. He turned to Sasuke. "I'll ask Toka to tell me anything she's learned. Last time, she said there was nothing in particular that was strange about Danzo."

"I've been looking after that child and his mother ever since Shimura sacrificed himself," Sasuke said rather sadly. One could tell that he'd had a connection to Shimura, who Mariko imagined would be Danzo's father. (If only she could figure out which of the several children was Danzo, first.)

"You're doing well," Hashirama commended.

"It's hard for them," Sasuke continued. "Danzo feels the need to be a sacrificial piece, for his pride and honor. It's a twisted nationalism, the kind that those Shimura have. His mother says nothing, and knows that her son will die a brutal death in war one day for Konoha."

"He's young — he must grow up first," Mito said wisely. "Then, maybe, he can pass on his legacy to a younger generation and sacrifice himself at that time."

"Well," Sasuke said, pulling a smile onto his face and reverting to the recognizable cheer from last time. "At least I know the kid has friends. I believe that they're all good chums," he laughed, "Danzo's just a bit touchy when it comes to showing it."

"Sounds familiar," quipped Mariko with a quick elbow jab into Tobirama's arm.

"I like your sense of humor, Lady Princess," chuckled Sasuke, before swinging around to leave.

"I don't," muttered Tobirama, folding his arms.


The fact that Mariko kept cuddling the cat seemed to be a major annoyance to the white-haired Senju. At dinner, Mariko finally let Tenzou go — he jogged outside and clawed his way up the willow tree — and Etsuko found herself highly entertained by the exchange between her cousin and the blunette. Kell also watched the following exchange with a glimmer of amusement.

"Finally done with the cat?" lilted Tobirama, plunking a glass of water down in front of her.

"No, I've exchanged you for him," Mariko answered smoothly.

"You'd rather have the cat than me?"

"When did I ever want you?" Mariko smirked and took the glass, elegantly taking a sip that exuded a royally snobbish air. Mito gave the younger girl a grin of approval.

"Tobirama thinks everyone wants him," snorted Etsuko. Kell sneakily snatched a slip of cooked and salted meat from her plate. They were at a central hotpot, dropping various foods into the boiling pot of hot water, and waiting for them to cook. Not wanting to have to go through a process of picking up a slice of raw meat, letting it sit in the hotpot for a while, and then bringing it out and seasoning it for more taste, Kell took the easy go and snatched his fiancée's.

"That's surprising," Mariko replied. "He's a clumsy drunk who accidentally grabs people on his way to finding the floor."

Another scowl, and Mariko battled off Tobirama's grumpy attempts to imitate Kell and steal food off her plate. When did they progress to the point where they were fondly and silently arguing over the food on their plates?

"Drunk?" Mito said. Tobirama blinked at her owlishly, feigning innocence.

"So that's where my wine went," Toka drawled, making a face. "Seriously, Tobirama, if you're afraid of me cutting off your manliness, then the last thing you should do is steal from my cellar."

"You weren't going to drink it any time soon," reasoned Tobirama.

"Wait, what is this about my brother's manliness?" interrupted Hashirama, completely lost as to what the conversation was referring to.

"So, today we witnessed Mariko's Kekkei Genkai," Tobirama suddenly blurted, swapping topics in an attempt to divert the conversation.

"Interesting," Mito said, then growled, "but we'll hear about that later. Hashirama, your brother—"

"Team Tobirama is exceptionally skilled for their age," Etsuko forcefully said across the table, far too loudly. "What are they, like almost eleven years old? That's impressive, they even use high-level element jutsus."

"Nice try, Etsuko," Toka drawled. "But you're not doing Tobi any good on this one."

Etsuko shrugged; at least she tried.

Tobirama stood.

"Sit, boy, you're not going anywhere near my wine cellar," Toka snapped, pointing an accusatory finger at the albino.

"Just have Hash grow the grapes and ferment them for you," proffered Tobirama, slowly squeaking his chair backwards.

"Mariko, grab him," hissed Toka. To the pale woman's delight, the little blunette grabbed her fiancé's shirt sleeve and tugged.

He was pulled off center, but it didn't get him to sit. A simple hand on the sleeve was not about to stop the mighty Tobirama from escaping. He made a lunge for the door.

"Nugget, you get back here!" screeched Toka. It would've sounded hilarious, had he not been running for his manhood. Then, to Toka's glee, Mariko stood.

She jumped on him.

Arms wrapped around the man's waist, she dragged him down. Tobirama grunted, surprised to suddenly have a small pair of hands wrapped around his midsection. His eyes widened, and Mariko took the chance to swing around him, kick the door closed, and glare.

"That's my cowgirl," Mito sang proudly. "You've got nothing on her, Tobi."

Tobirama, at a loss, looked to Hashirama for help. It was a younger brother's plea, with the most uncharacteristic but convincing puppy eyes a grown man could make.

"Sorry, Tobi, but I want to know why Toka was after your lower regions," Hashirama informed his sibling flatly.

"I wasn't after them," snarled Toka, taking the way he phrased his sentence the wrong way in her rage. "I was going to destroy them."

"That sounds unpleasant," Etsuko commented, with as straight a face as she could. Kell patted her leg, and she threatened to burst into giggles.

"That is unpleasant," Hashirama agreed.

"If it makes you feel any better," Mito offered, "I kicked him in the crotch this morning."

"That only makes me feel slightly better," Toka replied.

"What is going on, someone tell me," Hashirama called, exasperated.

Toka was about to open her mouth, but in that instant, Tobirama vanished in a puff of white smoke, a cloud that hailed the dispelling of a clone jutsu. The two women cursed, Hashirama shrugged, while the engaged couple let their laughter resound throughout the room. Mariko stared at the now-empty chair, incredulous.


.x.X.x.


He needs to stop scaring me half to death, seriously. Did Dad ever creep up on you in the halls consistently and try to surprise you? I'm not sure where he's going with this. It's becoming like a stalking game, now. In the morning, I look for him, and later, he looks for me. It's like we're confused all the time.


.x.X.x.


A hand snaked around her waist and pulled her into the piano room. She opened her mouth, but his second hand clamped around her face so that she couldn't utter a word. He shushed her, murmuring something about Mito coming to lecture him again, as she had the night before.

"Let go," she hissed when he released the hold on her mouth. Her back was lined along the curve of his chest, and she was terribly conscious of the lean, muscled arm around her body. He was warm, and smelled like soap, his hair slightly damp from a very recent shower. He was clad in a terribly thin shirt, an old white tee that had the sleeves ripped off neatly for summer wear. She could feel the hardness of his toned chest and abdomen right through it, and her if her mind controlled her vocal chords, she would've been screaming at him.

He didn't let go, but rather, spun her around in his arms and studied her, too closely for comfort. A moment of hesitation, where he seemed to be struggling internally, and couldn't decide what to do next. She tried pushing him away, but he had a firm grasp on her shoulders, and was now staring at the blue sash that ran around her morning robe.

"You look like you just got out of bed," he stated.

"I did," she grumbled.

"Are you always this grumpy in the morning?"

"Answer that yourself."

"I think Shorty needs some coffee."

"I don't drink coffee, and don't call me that."

"Fine, Shorty, I'll get you some orange juice. Would you like a kid's size?"

He said this so directly, into her face, that she couldn't really say anything. Mariko wanted to spit a fancifully smart retort at him, but couldn't quite think of one. Instead, she pursed her lips into a frustrated pout, and didn't realize the effect it had on him. At the same time her eyes dropped from his eyes to his nose to his lips, they were already on hers, and she went rigid with conflicting desire and shock.

There was no Toka to walk in on them, this time, because her back was to a closed door, and Mito had long since passed. She had a feeling that Tobirama's skill in the sensory apartment was well aware of who was around and who was not, and if he was kissing her, then he was sure that no one would bust down the door and rip him to pieces.

"To—"

He silenced her, despite wanting badly to hear her say his name, be it in a confused, angry, or practically melting manner.

"Shorty," he said when they pulled apart for a split second, before his hands began to slide down to her waist and her arms timidly came around his neck. She shivered pleasantly at his touch, and relished the warmth of his hands, surprised that they weren't icy this one time. The skin of his neck was hot, and she reached her fingers to the nape of his neck, where his still-damp hair glistened water onto her hands.

"Mm?" Her hands roamed back down and traced his collarbone, then circled to his throat, then his jaw, then the sides of his face.

"You sure you've never done this?" It came out as a mashed sort of mumble, as he was currently trying to dance his tongue with hers, pressing the princess against the door firmly.

"I'm—" She gasped when his left hand ran up her thigh suggestively. "—sure."

"Could've fooled me."

"I can't fool anyone." And it was true, because she was horribly honest at times, and plotting and conniving never turned out successful for her. She'd concocted a strategy in which she'd ride to the southern coast and somehow find passage to Uzushiogakure, but clearly it hadn't come to fruition. In fact, it had gaping holes and there was no way she could've pulled such a stunt without falling into some sort of trouble or the other. The one time her mother asked if she'd studied, when she didn't, she tried to lie, and was caught almost immediately. It was the soft face and the kind eyes, nothing like the cunning of Katsurou or the manipulative ways of a foxy, sly Sumiko.

Her hands were on his face, which was clean-shaven and had a strong, defined jaw. His hands were touching places she never knew could be so on fire, and suddenly her fluffy morning robe, a rather embarrassing outfit to be caught in, was far too stuffy.

Of course, instead of Toka, this time another hindrance got in their way.

Late for special taijutsu training that day, Tobirama had left Hiruzen and company marooned at Training Grounds 5. If, perhaps, he'd arranged for one of the farther training areas, the couple might've had a few minutes more of passion. But, as fate would deem appropriate, the thunder of a ten-year-old was unmistakable, and his voice boomed loudly down the hall.

"Damn Saru," swore Tobirama, fishing a rather amused, bewildered expression onto Mariko's face. He'd shifted the moment they'd entered the house, but even then, they were already pressed on the couch, hands intertwined and lips locked. When the footsteps of three children were heard passing the kitchen, Tobirama hastily pulled himself up. The tiny whimper of dismay that came from beneath him nearly pulled him back, and he would've happily buried himself in pleasure, but Hiruzen was bounding at a frighteningly high speed towards the piano room.

"Training," muttered Mariko, through a few last kisses, light as a feather while his hands rubbed her back. She wasn't quite sure, but somehow, her legs were straddling his waist and she was sitting on his lap, and they were still rocking back and forth on the loveseat. "Can I come with you?"

"Mm, yes," he agreed, one hand subtly sleeking itself up her stomach, tracing the curve of her breast, and then settling on her collarbone.

When Hiruzen, who was busy checking nearly every doorway, found them in the room, Mariko was seated at the piano bench, and Tobirama was lounged in an artfully lazy pose on the couch. The princess's hands touched middle C, and then glided up in an arpeggio. She feigned surprise at seeing Hiruzen, and then welcomed the other two that appeared behind him.

The only thing that bothered her was the eyes Koharu made when she glanced from Tobirama to Mariko, making the blunette wonder if there was something on her face that screamed make-out session. A mark, ruffled appearance, messy hair?

"I play the trumpet," Hiruzen told her, a random piece of information that jolted her back to reality. She was currently replaying the fascinating spark of hotness that had ignited in her core when his hands hand graced the curve of her hips.

"That's lovely," she commented.

"Hiruzen, you don't play the trumpet," Homura said sincerely. "You can hardly play anything, and even if you tried, it would sound like a dying cow."

"Just because I'm not musically talented doesn't mean I'm not talented," Hiruzen replied indignantly. A very true fact, and Mariko admired his bout of eloquence on the subject. However, Koharu seemed set on backing up Homura's statement with her own jab at the middle boy.

"No, it just means you can't do anything quite right," she sneered. "Which is true."

"It's not."

"It is."

"No, just ask Kagami or Shiro or Danzo or Torifu or—"

"Or Biwako?" Koharu planted her hands on her hips. There was something that Mariko recognized in Hiruzen's horror, a glimmer of hurt in his wide eyes that told her this comment hurt in particular.

"Anyone up for dango?" called Tobirama, wiping his face on his shirt.

"In the morning? I just ate breakfast," Mariko said. He made a face at her that seemed to say: You just ate my face, are you calling me breakfast?

It was enough to provoke a smile from her, but then she noticed Koharu again. She was stealing quick glances at Tobirama, almost as if it was forbidden for her to do so. In the practice fields, she was focused to a fault and determined to take the upper hand. If it meant staring down the white-haired Senju, she did so without a problem, and she made quite the intimidating face. But here, in a casual setting, she had trouble looking at him straight, as the boys did easily.

Mariko recognized that, too.

So she smiled at Koharu, receiving a startled grimace and a defiant shift towards the door, the girl seemingly resolute in her decision not to meet Mariko's gaze.

"I did too, but can we go later?" inquired Hiruzen, leader of the trio.

"Sure, why not," Tobirama said. Homura was obviously suspicious of their teacher's uncharacteristically bright attitude this fine morning, though any of his guesses as to why this was happening were far, far off the mark. Tobirama was irked that he'd been interrupted again, but his lip-lock had been satisfying enough — he would later tell her she tasted like raspberries, if that was even possible, effectively turning her face into something of a similar shade — and he was pleasantly letting his team feel its results. "That is," he abruptly added, "If you can catch me."

He ran out the door.

Shrieking with laughter, Hiruzen followed, while Homura and Koharu moaned in unison and chased their troublesome teammate and teacher outside.

Perhaps, Mariko thought, if she took Yodel without a saddle and only a quickly thrown on bridle, she could beat them to their destination.

Stopping by her room quickly to throw on some appropriate clothes before rushing to the stables, Mariko raced them there.


I ended with a yummy scene (what stupid interference? I see none, only a monkey and two grumpy hokage advisors =3= )

after treating you to...

Hung over Tobirama.

Angry, protective women.

Ah, don't forget moody Tobirama.

Sexual jokes, the lolz.

Emo Danzo.

And no plot, bwahaha.

Plot shall return, though. XD

Microsoft Word report: 92 pages, and then some. Whoo! \\(w)/