As always, characters and settings belong to one Masahi Kishimoto. I'll just continue to occasionally add in my own two cents.
Thank you so much to those who have sent me Reviews and PM's! I wish that I could apologize enough for my lengthy absence, but I hope that this update to chapter 5 is enough.
Oh! And I have a Beta now! Thank you to Arabmorgan for helping me review and get this chapter back on track!
'...group discussion on the new concealed weapon policies and the resulting negative impact on civilian safety... all responsible parties denied the charges of slander against the Kazekage's policies while under the effects of truth serum...'
Already familiar with the rest of the report summary, Temari's eyes jumped to the bottom of the page to scan the names of the reporting agents, the time, location, and the closing verdict: 'Questioned parties declared innocent. No suspects identified nor apprehended.'
Taking the week-old ANBU report, Temari carefully placed the page in one of the small piles to her right as she continued yet another search for a correlation between assorted mission details and the tenuous signs of enemy activity. She turned to her left to glare blackly at the remaining collection of ANBU, peacekeeper, and shinobi reports from all domestic patrols over the past two months, as if she could intimidate them into sorting themselves. It had been bad enough the first time she had waded through the collection when she had prepared her summary for Shikamaru's arrival: carefully considering every detail and trying to differentiate the ordinary, everyday disturbances from deliberate attacks on Gaara's reputation. Now she also had to factor in Hideaki's involvement by filtering out any reports that he could have doctored and repeating the whole process to see what patterns could have changed. The process was maddening, and was only compounded by a persistent feeling of obliviousness; as if a part of her mind had already figured out the puzzle before her and was taunting her to catch up. She was pretty sure that it was that same part of her mind that was subtly reminding her that, as this was the third time she had combed through the reports since waking up that morning, Shikamaru's prediction from the previous evening was correct. One night. One night and he's already getting under my skin. Kami, I almost told him about the flashbacks just to shake that smirk from his face...
She grit her teeth in frustration while she thought back to their conversation the night before. Despite feeling a small measure of relief at seeing Shikamaru acting his usual self, she had recognized the shadows in his eyes and the fresh signs of mourning. She also couldn't deny the slight clenching in her abdominals as she thought about the letter that she had sent late one night after waking from one of her nightmares only to find the Konohan messenger hawk at her window. Although the two had frequently written one another over the years, the conversations had always been focused on Chuunin exam preparations, and had always been initiated from Temari's end. Although the letter had seemed innocent enough, she couldn't help but feel like there was a slight change in the balance that existed between them.
Her frown only deepened as another thought took its place. It had been hard enough to hide the effects of her constant battle with her subconscious from her brothers; constantly working herself to the point of exhaustion every day and subsequently burying the inevitable nightmares beneath the stress of her extra duties. They suspected, but she also knew that between their varying responsibilities and their own emotional barriers, they would only confront her directly if they had concrete evidence. Shikamaru however… although it was true that she had more than enough experience with the indolent genius to know that he would never actually stand up against her, she also knew that he had a knack for blindsiding her when she least expected it.
'What if I was just asking out of honest concern for your wellbeing?'
Breaking back to the present, she pushed away from the table, letting her movements clear her head. I should have known better than to start that train of thought when I'm still recovering from the nightmares. Besides, with all the work that we have ahead of us, the crybaby will probably spend too much of his free time grumbling to pay too much attention to anything else. Quirking a small smile at her own joke, Temari looked to the clock suspended above the double doors and felt a small measure of relief. 06:45. While she couldn't do anything to help her bone-deep exhaustion, she knew that Ebizo would be nearly finished with breakfast after all but throwing her out of the kitchen a half hour ago. And maybe... he'll have some real coffee. Quickly storing the assorted reports on a small side table under one of the windows, Temari left the room, eagerly anticipating a quiet meal with her newest tutor.
She should have known better than to form any sort of expectation of peace with the Konohan shinobi around.
"Ohayo Temari!" The Sunan kunoichi tried to hide her wince as she waved back to the brunette kunoichi and her usual, stoic companion; both appearing far more fresh than two 'travel-weary' guests had any right to be. Neji gave her a small nod in greeting while Temari carefully climbed over the bench at the brightly patterned mosaic table to seat herself across from the pair.
"Ohayo Tenten. Don't tell me that you guys woke up early just to go running around the perimeter of the village on your hands… again."
She quirked a small grin when she saw Tenten blanch and Neji's lips turn into a small frown. "No, nothing so- drastic, Temari-taichou" the Hyuuga replied, "I'm sure that you understand that we are not as- exuberant- as our teammates."
"Oh Kami." The Sunan kunoichi watched, first alarmedly, and then bemusedly as Tenten buried her face face in her hands, elbows propped on the table. "Neji- she's only seen them on their good days. She doesn't even know."
As Tenten launched into a rambling story about her absent teammate and sensei, Temari felt her nerves slowly release the tension that had been building through the morning. She had spent her life eschewing the 'mundane experiences that would only impede her progress and growth as a shinobi' (words she remembered hearing many times from the Yondaime Kazekage), and was still admittedly uncertain in casual interactions; her utilitarian and driven mindset often questioning the point to such 'frivolities'. However, listening to humorous accounts about Gai and Lee while soaking in the soft morning light that filtered through the brightly colored curtains, Temari felt like she was finally beginning to understand the appeal. It was not enough to completely still the persistent whirlwind of thoughts in her mind, nor the lingering tension from her nightmares the night before, but it was enough that, when Ebizo entered the room with a cart filled with food, dishware, and (Kami, bless) coffee, her face split into a full smile.
"Ebizo-jiisan, Sunan coffee and shakshouka (1)? Have I ever mentioned that, of all the shinobi council members, you're my favorite?"
"Good morning to you too, Temari-san," the elder said with a small chuckle. The young blonde stood up from her seat and helped the elder arrange the various plates and mugs on the table while she willed her mouth to stay firmly clamped shut. The last thing she wanted to do was to start drooling.
"Temari... aren't you forgetting that Kankuro and Baki are both on the council as well?" Tenten asked good naturedly, enjoying the opportunity to see her rival-turned-friend at her most relaxed of moments.
Temari let out a small, derisive snort but held back on her answer until she finished with the preparations and had the chance to sit down and enjoy her first reverent sip of the hot drink. "I think that my memory's working just fine. They're the ones who forget that Sunan coffee is the fastest way to my heart."
After formally re-introducing the Konohan shinobi to Ebizo and teaching them the traditional Sunan blessings, the group dug into the food, enveloping the room in an extended silence broken only by the sound of utensils on dishware and requests to pass different dishes or condiments. It was only after they finished that Temari happily sipped at her water in polite silence while Tenten and Neji tried to endure the elder's attentions, or as Temari liked to refer to it, 'verbal sparring'.
"Tenten-san, Neji-san it's wonderful to see you both again."
Tenten, as usual was the first to respond. "Same to you, Ebizo-jiisama! Thank you so much for breakfast and hosting us for the mission."
"Of course, of course. I could never let fine, young shinobi such as yourselves be left to share a rented room and undoubtedly fall prey to the political extremists and their rumor mill."
While Tenten looked perplexed, Neji's lips tightened in realization. "Ebizo-jiisama, I am merely a branch house member of the Hyuuga clan, and as such I hold no more political standing than any other Konohan jounin. Similarly, Tenten's name is tied solely to her position as a Konohan chuunin and a budding weapon's master. Considering the number of foreign shinobi you have traveling through your city every day, there must be other, more interesting, targets for gossip."
Ebizo's mouth stayed fixed in an innocent, bemused smile that Temari had grown to recognize too well. "Oh Neji-san, this maybe true as individual shinobi, but to the public eye, but as two foreign adults, the local perception of your choices to travel unchaperoned after spending your previous visit accompanied by your sensei would lead the general public to make some rather hasty assumptions."
Although Neji's facial expression remained as controlled as ever, Tenten's eyes sparked with an emotional intensity that Temari recognized from their bout at the Chuunin exams. However, before the young brunette could open her mouth to interject, Ebizo continued, his gaze still focused on the statuesque prodigy. "In addition, in regards to your status in the Hyuuga clan, always remember that among the Sunan aristocracy, your standing as a branch member would only serve as a detriment to your cause since logic would follow that you would not be held to an even lower moral standard than your main branch relatives. If left unchecked, you'll find that the imaginations of the morally repressed can be rather... inventive." With some surprise, Temari noticed a slight blush spread across Neji's face before being hidden by his water glass, making her wonder what sort of accusations and suggestions the young man had faced in the past. Conversely, Tenten seemed to relax her aggression as she casually waved her hand in a false air of dismission.
"Ebizo-jiisama, no need to worry about that. Gossip about the peeping Byakugan is definitely nothing new." she ignored the sound of Neji choking on his water.
Temari continued to smile, taking care to hide her amusement while Neji slowly lowered his water glass and stared at Ebizo in a state of silent conflict; torn between his desire to defend the honor of his clan and years of being trained to respect elders. Conversely, Tenten seemed to be enjoying herself, ignorant to the fact that, by interrupting the course of the conversation, she had put herself right in the line of fire. As if on cue, Ebizo turned his hooded eyes to look at the young kunoichi. "Oh, such rumors about recreational use of the Byakugan are most definitely nothing new, Tenten-san. I was more concerned with the lingering rumors from your previous visit regarding the... nature of teammate partnerships amongst foreign shinobi, especially considering that those rumors arose even with your sensei present to intervene in any… unbecoming behavior."
To Tenten's credit, although she did blush slightly, her expression remained steady. "Neji and I have been teammates for almost five years now. As I told some of your shinobi the last time I was here, I've traveled with him unchaperoned as many times as I have with Lee, so unless there are the same rumors going around..." she trailed off when Ebizo's smile widened, a look of horror suddenly catching her features. "Oh Kami, don't tell me..."
Ebizo's smile remained constant. "Don't worry, once word begins to spread that you have taken residence in my home, I'm sure that most of the stories surrounding the supposed 'relationships' between yourself and your teammates will quiet down." The elder suddenly shifted his expression from the fixed, fake smile that Temari had learned to recognize over the past two months of training with the senior to a gentler, more genuine look. "In the future, I'd just recommend that you be a little more cautious of the implications of your comments and actions while here in Suna- even information shared in a casual environment could be used against you. You must learn to consider conversations the same way you would a battle: never give up your advantage unless you have a planned counterattack." Tenten considered his words carefully before smiling back at him in understanding and appreciation. When Ebizo turned to Neji, the Hyuuga prodigy looked more like an embarrassed schoolboy than a top ranked jounin; a situation with which Temari could sympathize. "Neji-san, while I understand your loyalties to your clan, you must be able to release your pride so that it does not distract you." Neji's face relaxed into a blank expression as he nodded back, but his eyes were filled with respect for the Sunan elder.
As the easy flow of conversation returned to the group, Temari continued to silently consider the elder's 'observations' on her companions, glad that neither seemed to be any wiser to the fact that their brief conversation was in fact a personality test that Temari had requested. During one of her first conversations with the Sunan senior, Ebizo had subjected her to a similar analysis, and explained how, after spending years playing the game of 'truth and lie' with Chiyo, he had become adept at reading even the most reserved shinobi and, subsequently, determining the strengths and weaknesses of their self-control. Although Temari was confident in her knowledge about the Sunan team's abilities, her limited familiarity with the natures of her newest teammates had pushed her into asking the elder to run a similar brand of tests on the Konohan shinobi.
Not that she didn't also enjoy watching someone as stoic as Hyuuga Neji squirm like a genin.
Following the elder's brief interrogation, the earlier peace returned, only rarely interrupted by the occasional comment or question as if everyone present realized how precious and few such moments would be in the coming months.
A peace that was overcome only moments later by the sound of giggling voices.
"...and then he said, 'I didn't know that this was going to be a real mission, I thought you were asking me out'!"
In a flash of color and energy, Matsuri and Ino stepped into the sunlit room and sat themselves to the left of Temari, naturally drawing the attention of everyone in the room and dissipating the calm and peaceful ambiance. Despite the initial shock at the noise the two brought with them, Temari was happy to see the two adjust rather quickly to the group dynamic, quickly adapting their conversation until everyone was energetically participating in their own conversations.
While Matsuri had quickly engaged Neji and Tenten about the varying practices between the Sunan and Konohan academies, Temari quietly sipped her water as she watched Ino go through a similar series of verbal tests with Ebizo, surprised to see that the young girl was able to hold her own rather well. However, the wind-user quickly redirected her attention when Ino's face flushed an angry shade of purple after a particularly pointed comment about how her exposed midriff and short skirt would give the Sunan 'ladies of the night' a run for their money. Even though she knew that the Sunan elder was a master at pinpointing weaknesses in a shinobi's patience, Temari couldn't help but feel disappointed that the young woman would lose control of her emotions so easily. Whoever ran the emotional training lessons in Konoha must have been an idiot.
As the conversations continued around her, Temari felt herself grow restless, pulling her attention away from her immediate surroundings and back to what she still needed to be do before the meeting. 1) Wake up Kankuro and review the events from yesterday 2) Get updates on the interrogations. 3) Follow up with Ebizo 4) Run mission debrief.
"I'm going to go and check on my darling baby brother. Kami knows that if Kankuro finds out that he missed out on Ebizo-jiisan's shakshouka, we're going to be left listening to him bitch and moan all day." While the others shared a small chuckle, Ino suddenly spoke up.
"Ahh, how could I forget! Sorry Matsuri, I left my diet shake with my stuff. I'll be back in a second, so feel free to start without me!" Once she left the dining room, Temari leaned against the wall to wait for her. She knew that the timing was too convenient to be coincidence.
As soon as the curtain fell back into place over the doorway behind the Konohan kunoichi, Temari quietly cleared her throat. "You wanted to talk to me?"
Ino looked surprised for a moment before her lips turned into a small smile. "I should have figured that you'd know. Really, sometimes you remind me so much of-," catching herself rambling, Ino suddenly shook her head to regain her train of thought. "-ah, but nevermind. First off, you need to come with me. If I don't get some make-up to cover those bags under your eyes, I won't be able to focus for the rest of the day." Before Temari could fully comprehend her intentions, Ino had grabbed her wrist and was pulling her down the corridor back towards the kunoichis' rooms. Where does she come up with this stuff?
"B- But I don't wear make-up," was Temari's brilliant response when Ino dragged her into the Konohan's own modest apartment.
The younger kunoichi let out a brief peal of laughter before releasing Temari's wrist and disappearing into the bathroom, leaving the wind-user to puzzle over what had been funny in the first place. Ino quickly returned and continued, "Don't worry, I've spent years around Tenten and Hinata, so I'm familiar with the sentiment. Now, shall I do the honors, or do you want to?"
Temari squared her shoulders and crossed her arms, feeling her face instinctively shift into and expression that she often used to intimidate others into submission. "Is this really necessary?"
"Absolutely!" Ino responded, taking advantage of Temari's surprise to invade the wind-user's personal space.
As the boisterous blonde began to dab a bit of the unknown cream on her face, Temari felt her mind suddenly return along with a healthy dose of exasperation for the situation. "This seriously can't be the only reason why you brought me here." Despite her words and her sharp tone, the younger blonde continued to ignore her protests, and moved on to give her other eye the same treatment. It wasn't until Ino backed away to inspect her handiwork that Temari could see the shift in her demeanor; her face set in a neutral expression and her bright, blue orbs turned serious. The effect was rather startling, but it reminded the her of a conversation she had once had with Shikamaru sometime in the past. 'Ino may not always be the smartest shinobi when it comes to strategies, but when it comes to reading and influencing people... well let's just say that the Yamanaka clan isn't renowned for their skills as interrogators just because of their Shintenshin (Mind - Body Switch) technique.' Seeing this new side of Ino's personality, Temari finally felt like she understood his meaning.
As the silence between them began to stretch, Temari found herself instinctively responding to the unspoken challenge she found within the shrewd, blue orbs before her. No longer were they two women sharing a casual conversation, but two kunoichi measuring each other's resolve like two sand cats circling each other before a fight.
"So, what do you know about the situation?" Ino asked, her voice low and calm. Temari kept her expression neutral while her mind analyzed the situation and her opponent. If there was ever a time to test her diplomatic abilities, she knew that now was it. After taking a second to consider Ino's question and think through her best angle of approach, she decided to keep her response vague.
"I know most of it. It was easy enough to piece together the parts that weren't communicated directly."
She was surprised, again, when Ino gave a low, feral chuckle in return. "Oh, honey, you need to do better than that. You think that I don't know that you and Shikamaru have been exchanging missives?" She leveled a knowing look at Temari's obvious distaste for the mocking use of the nickname. "Fine. If you're so set on playing, I'll play. What was 'communicated directly'?" Although the wind-user was mildly frustrated that she had been unable to curb Ino's questions, at the same time she felt a burgeoning respect for the other kunoichi. Still, she hesitated. She knew without a doubt that continuing their conversation would reopen emotional wounds that had yet to heal, and if the younger woman was unable to work through her pain, the entire mission could be jeopardized. However, as she continued to look into Ino's piercing gaze, Temari couldn't help but recognize something of herself in their depths. She knew that Shikamaru and Ino shared a connection that rivaled her own relationship with her brothers, and she also knew that if their roles were reversed, being denied such answers would be more damaging than the pain they would bring.
"Asuma executed the climbing silver. The knight will capture the enemy rook." Temari carefully analyzed Ino's reaction; the slight widening of the eyes before her lids clenched shut, the haggard intake of air into lungs that forgot how to function, the hands that turned to fists in helpless anger at an event that she had been unable to affect. The Sunan tried to keep her mind focused on the present, on the younger kunoichi's responses, in order to keep herself from recalling how strikingly similar her own reaction had been two weeks earlier when she read the words for the first time. Ino smiled sadly and finally turned away to put away her make up.
"What a dork. He would say something like that. What did you write back in your response?"
"What response?" Temari answered defensively as her emotional barriers slammed back into place; her voice once again turning cold. She was willing to share information that would help alleviate the younger blonde's worries for her teammate, but she would be damned before she'd give the shrewd kunoichi any more information than she needed. Her mood worsened when she saw another knowing smile grace the other's lips.
"Again, you're going to have to do better than that. Unless you're trying to tell me that you had nothing to do with the note that he's been carrying around in his pocket for the last week and a half?"
"And how would I know anything about his habits from the last week and a half?," Temari replied quickly. With this new information, her focus wavered from the conversation at hand, and she unintentionally spoke without first thinking through her words. "I only sent an official missive from Suna to confirm our support for Konoha's counterattack." When she saw Ino's lips curve in a triumphant grin, her mind caught back up in the conversation, causing her to mentally wince at falling for such a basic tactic.
"Ahh, so you did send a response. Well I'm so glad that Shikamaru can count on you for your support." Temari again regulated her facial expression in order to suppress the annoyed grimace that tried to dance across her face. "But that wasn't the only reason I wanted to talk to you." At this, Temari grew cautious, especially when Ino's face turned slightly hesitant, her eyes growing unfocused in thought. Kami, this girl is like a walking mood swing. "Temari-san, I know that you'll do almost anything to keep your village and us, as your teammates, safe. However," the blue eyes flickered back to meet her own, "I'm asking you to promise that you'll do your best keep yourself safe too."
Temari looked back into her eyes in open confusion, trying, and failing, to find the hidden driver to her request. Although her relationship with the Konoha kunoichi was much improved over the years as she learned to look beyond the younger blonde's baffling obsession with material possessions, she also knew that Ino would never make such a personal appeal to her without some ulterior purpose. As Ino began chewing at her lip in an uncharacteristic display of emotional tension, Temari felt her patience and her nerves begin to wear.
"Ino, this better not be about Shikamaru," she said carefully.
The young kunoichi winced while Temari swore to herself, feeling her anger spike. "I just… knowing what happened yesterday and how you two are… not to mention everything that's happened in Konoha recently… well, honestly I don't know what he would do if something were to happen to you, and-"
With that, Temari felt all her anger and frustration from the early morning return tenfold. "I thank you for your input, Yamanaka-san," she watched as Ino's eyes narrowed into slits at the formality, but Temari continued, "and your words will be considered. However, I'll have you remember that we are shinobi and, as such, we put our lives on the line each time we accept a mission. As a captain, I must be able to objectively-"
Although she saw it coming, Temari willed herself to remain still as Ino's palm struck her cheek a moment before the platinum blonde began speaking; the hissing anger in her voice a sharp contrast to Temari's emotionless drawl. "How dare you say that to me, especially about him. You weren't there. You didn't see him walking around the village like he had lost his soul. You didn't see him chain smoking every second he could. And I know that you didn't see him when he refused to let anyone see him cry because he believed that those tears would brand him a coward." Ino stopped to take a deep ragged breath before continuing in a softer voice that was still filled with a biting anger. "No, you didn't see any of it... but I know that you know, and I know that you understand, and yet, heartless bitch that you are, all you do is send one letter and expect him to pretend like nothing happened. So you can take your 'objectivity'-"
"Enough." Temari felt her emotions roil inside her chest, but she stubbornly refused to let the slim blonde see the how much her outburst and her words were affecting her. She couldn't afford to succumb to her emotions; not on a mission, and especially not now when she finally had reached the heart of the issue. "Yamanaka-san," she began carefully, "I will let your previous insubordination slide, but if you raise your hand against me again, I will have you pulled from this mission." She could not help but feel a quick burst of selfish satisfaction when Ino grimaced in realization of her actions. "Do you have any idea why we go through emotional training?"
Once again, Ino's eyes flashed with anger. Good. At least I know she's not going to start sulking on me. "You can skip your lecture, Temari-taichou, I'm not in the mood to listen about how Sunan shinobi are so much stronger than those of Konoha, and how we do not understand that sacrifice is inevitable in the shinobi lifestyle."
Temari continued to coolly stare at her, letting the silence fill the room until the younger kunoichi dropped her eyes, her animosity fading. Anger she would tolerate, but she would not let Ino hold onto her feelings of bitterness in risk of it evolving into some petty grudge. "If you're done, I'll continue. My point is that, while it may be true that sacrifice is inevitable in the life of a shinobi, if we hold on to the regret from a comrade's sacrifice, we only serve to weaken ourselves and belittle the faith that they put in us." Temari stopped when Ino's eyes dropped to the floor in front of her and, by all appearances, searched the hard, packed sandstone for the answers that she so desperately needed.
"So, what? We're not allowed to mourn someone if they sacrifice themselves?" Ino interjected quietly.
"Of course you're 'allowed'," Temari snapped back quickly before she stopped to take a breath and regain control of her temper. She always managed to forget how taxing it was to have these sorts of conversations. After a beat, she continued, "but if you stop to mourn a comrade at a time when there is still more to do, you're giving up on the purpose of their sacrifice; the underlying source of our strength and unity as shinobi."
Temari waited until Ino's eyes had lifted back up to meet her own before she answered the unspoken question. "Trust. Trust in the kages to assign the right teams for the right missions, trust in our teammates to never give up on each other, nor our objectives, and, most importantly, trust in ourselves and our decisions so that, when needed, our minds can stay clear from all distractions. Every mission, every choice we make is tinged with the knowledge that we have complete faith in our team and that they have the same trust in us and our abilities." She took a breath and thought back to that moment, only months before, when Naruto showed to her the true strength one could gain when fighting for something more than just a mission objective. It only added to the conviction in her voice and her eyes. "That being said, I would never think of promising that I won't risk my life on a mission. My Kazekage, my brothers, my village, and yes, even you and your crybaby teammate trust me to give everything that I can and I will not- no- I can not fail. In the same way that I trust you to do the same." She waited a moment until Ino's eyes finally raised to once again meet her own and Temari found herself satisfied with the hard strength she saw shining through the unshed tears.
Having said what she needed to say, Temari turned to look out the window in order to gauge the hour from the light outside and bit back a small curse as she realized how little she had accomplished since leaving the dining room. Kankuro, updates on the interrogations, Ebizo, debrief. With her mind once again focused, she strode past Ino, reaching for the door before the younger blonde finally responded. "I know that you have to go, but- I want you to know that I will think hard on what you've said. You and I may not always see eye to eye, and we'll never completely agree on everything, but- I know that you're not as heartless as you act, and- I trust you too."
Temari kept her back turned to her teammate, but, understanding the greater meaning behind Ino's words, she felt a small smile grace her lips before she pulled the door open and disappeared into the darkness.
(1) : Sunan coffee is my imaginary version of Turkish coffee in the Narutoverse (and before anyone says anything, I imagine that, while Temari likes coffee, she would never drink so much that she would get addicted. Bad for missions.) Shakshouka is a typical middle eastern breakfast made of spiced, stewed tomatoes and topped with eggs. It's delicious. Because we know very little about Sunan culture, for the sake of this story, I'm going to roughly base it on what little I know about Israeli culture and then just fill in the blanks with my own imagination.
A/N: Edited and updated this chapter because I wanted to fix several very small details that were inherently blocking my muse from doing anything more than bitch at me for the past year (can a person have writer's OCD? Because I think that I might be that person).
OMFG SHIKATEMA IS CANON. Ok, that is all.
I hope that my writer's inspiration continues this week and I'm able to get the next chapter together in the next month (and then get back to some sort of semi-regular updating schedule).
As always, read and review!