This is the first chapter since the movie arc to be different on AO3 and ff. By about a thousand words content this time.

Also, can I just say that 1. the reviews lately have been amazing and make me so happy to see and 2. I should stop trying to predict reader reaction, because I thought everyone would hate the movie thing and it actually seemed to go over really well. I mean, I thought that though it was really fun to play with, the premise of the movie was a bit silly and out-there, but then again, this is a story about ninjas who vomit fire and can summon inter-dimensional wind-natured weasels (god bless Temari).


"Kami, you look awful." Shizune didn't bother to ask for permission before she invaded Aiko's personal space and brusquely checked for fever. Her pale pink lips curved into a frown. "Hmm." As if the displeased tone wasn't enough, the older girl made a spectacle out of going through medical checks and giving her a barrage of questions (when was the last time she'd smoked? Um, never).

Eventually, she managed to interrupt. "Shizune-san? I was just here for whatever this is."

Shizune gave her a stern glare, but took the paper and read it over. Her expression changed immediately. "Really?" she asked, mildly incredulous. "They get younger every year," she mumbled under her breath, bustling to the cupboards along the wall and gathering up a frightening assortment of small bottles and needles. Aiko wasn't particularly bothered by needles, but the sheer number that the other girl picked up was a bit unnerving.

"Alright," Shizune started professionally, slipping a bit of hair behind her ear and holding up the first shot. "This is a standard inoculation against some infections you might be at risk for. Roll up your sleeve, please."

Looking at the needle go into her flesh made her feel a bit queasy (it was just unnatural to let someone else stick her with a blade, and every reflex she had was screaming 'fight') so Aiko turned her face away and let Shizune's methodical checklist rush over her.

"Are you sexually active?" Shizune hardly waited for her response before she followed up with, "Do you plan to become pregnant in the next six months? Do you have a medical or mental condition that would complicate the use of birth control? Do you consent to receive the standard doses?"

Bewildering, and it only got worse from there. Aiko got vaccinations for what she recognized with horror as various STI's, sleeping agents, and even a compound mentioned as an aphrodisiac from an Icha Icha volume.

"Do you know who you'll be meeting tonight?"

Aiko shook her head, stunned wordless. That hadn't been an encouraging assortment at all.

Shizune rolled her eyes, exasperated. "Oh, Tsunade-sama," she muttered under her breath before clearing her throat and straightening up. "I don't think your mentor will mind me telling you this much. You're about to go through ANBU sex-specific, right?" At the nervous nod, Shizune gave her a soothing smile. "Don't worry. Most of this stuff is completely unrelated." (Here, she gestured to all the inoculations). "You're old enough that this is about the standard time that policy recommends a lot of these shots. I don't want you thinking all day that this is going to be some horrific, invasive training. As far as seduction goes, agents are almost never actually expected to do more than cursory touching. It's not about engaging in relations with your target—it's learning how to use their emotions or desires against them. The real complications come with the possibility that romance could be used both by you and on you in your career. A lot of what you're going to go over is material you already know—profiling targets."

"That is a huge relief, actually," Aiko sighed, giving a faint but real smile.

It was. For a while there, she'd thought that Konoha as a whole wasn't any better than Danzo. The idea that she might be expected to manipulate strangers by feigning attraction to get information out of them or to weasel access to secured locations was much less traumatizing than the crudity of using her body in a literal sense for any goal. Mind games, she could do.

She might not even need this training. Aiko was relatively confident that she could spot someone attempting to manipulate her emotions.

'Don't be cocky,' she reminded herself, even as she traded smiles and good-byes with the medic. 'Unearned self-confidence kills. Right now, I know nothing.'

That was, she knew nothing except that the training she was getting would be expected to be used against one of the few people she genuinely liked. Aiko didn't mind manipulating Gaara, (manipulation was part and parcel of being a shinobi and anyone who thought otherwise was lying to themselves) but in such a selfish way that didn't provide mutual benefit? Fuck that shit.

She'd just have to look like she was trying, and hurry to get Danzo out of power. At worst, she might end up much closer friends with Gaara. That could be nice.

No matter what, she couldn't allow there to be any reason for Gaara to believe that she was working towards a romantic relationship. If she did and the stupid orders from Danzo came out, he would never forgive her. He couldn't know about this at all. Either he would know that Tsunade couldn't control a powerful rebel faction within Konoha, or he would think the order had really come from official channels and Danzo was just a scapegoat. Either way, letting Gaara have any clue about Danzo's stupid plot would undermine their countries' diplomatic status.

"You're here too?"

When she turned, her little brother was pushing his way past a disgruntled nurse, eyes nearly shut sleepily. "Naruto, good morning," she greeted calmly.

He snorted. "How long have you been here?" he mocked lightly, jabbing her in the side with a thumb (and ignoring the way that she jolted and wriggled away). "It's eleven thirty. Did you have shots too?" Aiko gave him a sharp look, wondering if there was a similar battery for boys hitting mid teenage years, and then remembered that a lot of the things she would be getting follow-up shots for were actual wartime precautions—cocktails that would reduce vulnerability to various poisons and infections, generally.

"I did," she agreed mildly, giving a cutesy pout and rubbing at the panda-covered bandaid on her upper arm.

"I bet that makes you want ramen," he wheedled.

"Not really."

"Raaaaaaa-mennnnn," Naruto sung under his breath enticingly, hooking an arm through her elbow and giving her a naughty little smile as he began to tug her out of the doors. "Ramen. Raaameeeeeen. Ramen! Ram-"

"Okay, okay," she cut him off, pulling her arm away and thwacking him upside the head with it, limp-wristed so that there wasn't really any force behind the blow. "I give in. Ramen it is."

Not surprisingly, they were the only ones to show up at the ramen stand so ridiculously early. At least the soup should be really fresh. "Aiko-san," Teuchi greeted politely, before he gave a real smile to Naruto, one that crinkled the corners of his eyes. "Naruto-kun! It's been a while."

"Almost a week!" he agreed mournfully, before flashing his teeth at the older man and slapping his hand down on the counter.

He didn't even have to ask— Teuchi ladled out a bowl and artfully piled it high with the few things Naruto would lower himself to eat (everything that wasn't a vegetable, really) before getting Aiko a less specialized portion. At first, they didn't say anything. Naruto never liked to talk before his first bowl.

"Naruto?"

"Hmm?" He tilted his head back to slurp down the last broth, eyes darting over to where she was stirring at her own noodles. Aiko had picked out all the beef and vegetables, but she just wasn't in the mood for the rest.

Wordlessly, she pushed her bowl over with a scrape, letting him snatch it up. With the space in front of her cleared, Aiko rested her elbows on the counter and pursed her lips. It was a little galling to her pride after having made such a big deal of this, but… "Would you teach me Rasengan?"

His chopsticks stopped, and Naruto blinked down at her, straightening on his stool. "Well, I guess I could," he started uncertainly. "I've been working on that lately, too. Trying to make it wind-natured instead of just a pure elemental transformation."

An ironic little smile quirked her lips up to one side. "Well, that's a path I cannot follow, but I think I could learn the original."

Naruto seemed to think for a moment, before giving her a mischievous smirk. "Alright then. We're going to need a lot of balloons. And a rubber ball."

"We're only going to need like two, believe it," she shot back a little mockingly, not really believing that herself. But she couldn't let her otouto show her up. He was operating on a ridiculous handicap in regards to chakra control, after all, and she had a lot of experience with that. How long had it taken him to learn the original version, again?

"Boss! You're back!"

At first, Aiko didn't even consider that the slightly raspy little-boy-voice on the verge of breaking was directed at anyone she knew. It wasn't until Naruto swiveled on his stool that she registered it might be relevant. She let her hands drop and twisted to open her chest up towards the voice, looking partially over her shoulder at three children—a genin team by the looks of them.

"Oh hey, Konohamaru," Naruto greeted idly.

'That's familiar. I had no idea they'd actually met.'

Curious, she examined the adorable brown-haired boy who stood at the center of the small group. He was going to be a heart-breaker, that one.

A sharp gasp drew her attention to the little kunoichi of the team, a cutesy little carrot-top confection with a high ponytail. "She's- she's real!"

Aiko recoiled, incredulously turning to see if there was someone behind her that the girl was staring at. Nope. "Me?" She put a hand to her chest, just to check.

The boy who was apparently Konohamaru was staring at her with a vivid blush across his cheeks, hands clutched in fists against his chest. "Boss… I didn't realize…"

"This is my sister!" Naruto interrupted, voice dangerously high. He seemed strangely nervous. "Ah, Aiko, meet Konohama-"

"We're the Konohamaru squad!" the three children in front of them interrupted with a well-practiced ease.

Apparently, Udon liked math, Moegi was the sexiest kunoichi in Konoha, and Konohamaru was their leader.

Konohamaru gave a rude snort and nudged his teammate. "Hey Moegi, if she's real, doesn't that bump you down to the second sexiest kunoichi?"

'Ohhhhh. They thought Naruto's sexy no jutsu was just abstract. They didn't realize that there was anyone in Konoha with those stunning good looks.'

Aiko preened a little. They had excellent taste.

"I don't do that anymore!" Naruto interjected, hand nervously twitching towards his hair as if he wanted to run his hands through it. "There's no artistic integrity in recreating what already exists, after all!" He threw his head back and gave a very fake laugh. "Watch this now!" Naruto slid off the stool and crossed his fingers in a familiar sign. "Sexy no jutsu!"

Aiko tilted her head, mildly disappointed. "That's not what it used to look like," she mournfully noted, examining the blonde girl she could only describe as 'Naruko'. "I liked the other version better."

"Yeah, well." Naruko interlaced her fingers and put them behind her head. "I realized- Ouch!" With a puff of smoke, he regressed to his natural form, already turning to pout at the man who had just hit him over the head with a ladle. "What was that for?"

"Not in my shop," Teuchi scolded mildly, putting the ill-used implement in the sink and extracting a clean one from a drawer to settle back into the shrimp ramen. "This is a family establishment, Naruto-kun."

He blushed. "Sorry, sir."

"Don't apologize, there was no harm done this time. But I want you to remember that discussion about situational appropriateness." He lifted his eyebrows meaningfully at the teen.

"R-right!" Naruto saluted him, grinning. "We'll go practice somewhere else!" He turned to her almost as an afterthought. "The first thing is to get water balloons and practice spinning the water inside in as many directions as you can with only your chakra. When you have it right, the balloon should break."

He scampered off, genin in tow, leaving Aiko with a perplexed look on her face.

That's…

'That's weird. I mean, I know that Naruto uses it without handsigns, as did Minato, but I thought that was a mark of mastery and not an integral property. That's usually how it goes. A jutsu is taught with handsigns, and experience and chakra control enables a user to make shortcuts. Is that part of what makes Rasengan so powerful? It's a pure shape transformation without internal aid to guide it? A direct manifestation of the user's will on the environment?'

Then again, it could also be that Naruto had learned Rasengan that way because he was ridiculously talented with ninjutsu and had never had to learn the shortcuts that other people used (and was in fact more inconvenienced by those aids because he was a weird kid).

'The only way to know is to try, I guess.'

"He forgot to pay again," Teuchi commented dryly, leaning over the counter to watch Naruto's back disappear into the distance. For some reason, he appeared to have Moegi sitting on his shoulders while Konohamaru jumped around him in a circle.

"Put it on his tab," she advised, not letting herself get suckered into paying for it. "It's not like he won't be back." Aiko doled out her own bill and slid off the stool, determinedly not looking to see if Teuchi would be put out or not.

Naruto was an adult, so he should act like one. That included being responsible for the unpleasant consequences of his actions, like being embarrassed when Teuchi had to ask him to pay before he ate next time. If she just took care of his problems, he'd never grow up. Being able to reliably pay for his own meals was a pretty low bar to hit.

She'd still take his advice, though.

The cashier gave her a questioning look for purchasing two packets of water balloons and a sparkly purple rubber ball. Aiko considered explaining that they were for serious adult business, but ended up simply shrugging the shade off. Haters gonna hate. She was above pretending she was buying them for a children's party or something.

Maybe it would have been better if she weren't picking up rice wine for cooking at the same time.

(A terrible and wonderful thought occurred. But no, she couldn't have the water pressure to fill the balloons if she poured it from the bottle.)

Bags in hand, she walked outside—and then pulled on her Hiraishin tag to take her directly to her bedroom, bypassing the walk home.

Iruka-sensei would probably tell her not to play with water balloons inside the house, but she was a goddamn adult and could do what she wanted.

She stopped and wondered if she knew another adult who would say a thing about it. Kakashi? Anko? Tsunade? Maybe Yamato, but she wasn't sure. Aiko had to reluctantly conclude that there was just something about being a shinobi that contradicted common sense behaviors associated with being an adult.

Almost immediately, there was a knock on the door.

"That's weird," Aiko muttered, dropping her plastic bag on the couch and meandering over to pull the door open. "Hey, Sai. You have excellent timing, I just got back. Want to come in?"

When he merely nodded and walked in without a word, Aiko rose one eyebrow skeptically. Still, she shrugged and closed the door behind him. "I was going to work on my chakra control for a new jutsu, but we could do something else?"

"No, that's fine." He leaned against the wall to take off his sandals, glancing up at her through his thick lashes. "How was your mission?"

Aiko opened her mouth to respond, and then closed it a second later. Honestly, she admitted, "I have no idea how to answer that question. It turned into a gigantic mess. I would rather not think about it. Tea?" She didn't bother to wait for him to respond. It wasn't really a question—she made tea every time someone came over. It gave her something to do with her hands while they settled in. Sai knew that by now.

He was standing right behind her when Aiko tried to back away from the stovetop to take the water away from the heat. His hands skimmed over hers and gently pried the porcelain out of her grip to put the teapot back down on a different burner plate.

"Sai?"

She twisted, settling with her hips against the machine, feeling ambient heat against her lower back. 'He looks… serious. Not that he doesn't usually, but…'

"Where did you go?" Sai tilted his head slightly, seeming to do his best to spontaneously discover telepathy, eyes intent on hers. She couldn't look away.

'Did I hurt his feelings by not telling him I was going to leave? I didn't think I had to.'

The thought was … Well, it felt strange. But she couldn't well intentionally work to make Sai emotionally open up to her and then expect him to have no attachment.

"I'm sorry, I should have told you beforehand," Aiko apologized. Tentatively, she reached up and ran a single finger through his silky hair, tucking it behind his ear and then resting it on his shoulder. "I didn't really know ahead of time, though. I thought I was going to be in-village, but got called in for a team under Yamato-san as a tracker."

She left it at that. Aiko had no intention to get called up on disciplinary charges for running her mouth about her missions. This one hadn't been rated as classified or open yet, so she shouldn't say anything more.

Luckily, he seemed to accept it. "I see."

"Forgive me?"

"There is nothing to forgive." His hands gripped her shoulders and gently pushed her back, and he gave her one of his fake smiles.

If she didn't know better, Aiko might have taken that as a lack of sincerity. But fake smiles were the only ones Sai had to offer, so she took it as the gift it was. "Thanks." She reached up to squeeze at his fingers, before pulling away to finish taking care of the tea. He moved away to the other room while she poured. Her tea was set on the table and his passed off, but Aiko grabbed up the bag she'd left on the table and went right back to the kitchen to fill up the first water balloon.

"What are you doing?"

Sai sounded singularly unimpressed when she walked in to the room with a full water balloon. Probably thought she'd gone mad, or was about to throw it at him.

'I guess I found a shinobi who would say something about water-play inside. Poor stiff.'

"It's an aid for that new jutsu," Aiko explained contemplatively, weighing the wiggly plastic on her palm. "A control exercise, of sorts. I'm supposed to burst it using the water inside."

He stared. "You're a water type," Sai explained slowly, as if he thought she had forgotten.

She couldn't help but scoff fondly. "I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to take advantage of that and use my nature alignment to alter the water's properties to break it. From what I understand, if I do it correctly, merely moving the water in a certain way will break the balloon."

'Either that, or Naruto is just messing with my head.'

No point in sharing that lingering possibility. It wouldn't be the first time he'd pulled a practical joke on her, but he probably wouldn't tease her when she honestly asked him for help. The instructions he'd given her were counter-intuitive but if Naruto could do this, so could she. He was operating under an enormous chakra control handicap, and she'd already done endless monotonous grinds to improve her control. She was hardly going to match Tsunade's expertise, but that wouldn't be necessary.

Sai seemed skeptical, but let the topic be. "Do you know what your next assignment will be?" he asked lightly, bringing one knee up to his chest and letting the toes on his other foot skim the floor. Aiko settled next to him on the couch, respectfully holding the balloon balanced on her palm over the edge of the cushion so that he wouldn't be splashed if it burst.

Keeping part of her attention on the conversation, she tentatively infused the water with her chakra and began spinning it. "I'm not sure," Aiko admitted, feeling the direction she actively began travel into the center of the sphere and create a current independent of what she actually forced to happen. "I have some training to do, but I might end up running messages of some sort. That seems to be the new normal for me."

"I see." He seemed mildly disapproving. "Danzo-sama has introduced new standing orders with the possible emergence of an armed conflict with Lightning."

For a moment, she completely forgot to keep moving the water. Once she'd caught herself, Aiko schooled her face into mild curiosity. Her sudden jolt of nerves had forced her features into studied indifference as a defense mechanism. "Are they interesting?"

It was downright unprecedented for Sai to offer information like this unprompted. Was he passing along orders… or passing along information?

The nuance was an enormous one.

"Not on their own. Others will already know to be prepared for the possibility of an attack on the village center, though it does seem unlikely that Danzo would prioritize that contingency without information implying it is a more likely course of action than the cursory evidence would suggest."

Aiko chewed that over, readjusting the weight on her palm and reaching into the center of the balloon, where the current she'd created on the outer edge flowed fastest due to its short path and slightly twisted the angle that water was spinning at to be more up-and-down than the predominant current.

What could that mean? Was it just Danzo's latent paranoia inspiring him to prepare for the worst possible instance when it would be easier for Lightning to strike at one of their borders? Or did he know something that he wasn't sharing with Tsunade? That was treason in the worst way… If that were the case, it meant that he would rather risk Konoha's citizens than share his informant.

It wasn't impossible that an enemy could completely bypass the protections of their border guard and pierce to the village proper without being detected. She could do it herself, obviously. But it took familiarity with the terrain, a very specific skill set, and a good amount of luck. With the security exponentially increased in light of the new threat, that task would go up even further in difficulty.

Was Danzo really that paranoid?

'It's very possible. He is highly experienced at considering as many potential problems as possible, even if his solutions are worse than the issue itself. But I don't think that's it. There's something else going on.'

How could Danzo possibly benefit from this? Was it just that he would retain his informants for future use and he thought there would be no real danger worth risking his resources?

Unlikely.

That would only make sense if he was overconfident instead of paranoid. No, if he was actually assuming there would be enemies within the village, it was because there was no other option or because he thought it was an acceptable risk.

So which was it, and what would lead to each conclusion?

Least insidiously, he could simply have no faith in what Tsunade had arranged for border patrol and village security. Irritating, yes, but not out of character for a man who had formed his own private militia because he didn't trust the man he was supposedly loyal to to do his own job.

Much worse…

'He might think it was an acceptable risk if he benefitted… and the only possible benefit I could see would be in pursuit of the power he thinks he merits. If Lightning got soldiers all the way in here, it would be easy to argue that Tsunade failed miserably at her job. He could either push for control directly or just undermine her.'

Unacceptable outcome, she grimly judged. Tsunade wasn't her favorite person, but she was a perfectly adequate Hokage. The Senju woman erred on the side of compassion, which was much less damaging than overcompensating with authoritarian use of power. Danzo was the opposite.

'I categorically refuse to live under his control. I'm playing his game for now, but if he really became Hokage, then my only option would be to go rogue.'

Naruto wouldn't like leaving Konoha much. It would put a damper in that Hokage thing.

(She took a moment to imagine what she would have to do to keep him happy in that case. Pick another hidden village and just start killing people until everyone left was okay with making Naruto their Kage? Come on, was he really going to be picky about what hidden village he ruled?)

Probably, Aiko judged grudgingly. He was insufferably stubborn about pedantic details like that.

Then the first thing she needed to do was figure out what she could do about it. This couldn't be taken to Tsunade- not without removing her seal. Sai could tell her about Root's activities because she was in Root (it would be idiotic to make it so that he had to personally give out every order to every soldier) but she couldn't share that information with anyone she knew was outside of that chain of command.

Besides, what would taking it to Tsunade really do? She had certainly already taken what action she could to secure the border. If there was anything to be done, it would already have been taken care of. It would perhaps allow her to be on guard, but not really anymore than she would be while knowing that the Raikage wanted Konoha razed to the ground.

'Well, all I can do is be prepared myself.'

But that wasn't true. Aiko swallowed slowly, considering the twenty year old seals in the outskirts of Fire Country.

How long would it take to get a group through Fire Country's borders? At least eight hours of running from the north where they would have to come, even for the fastest, and a group large enough to threaten Konoha would be slowed down by various specialists they'd need. If she had the forest thoroughly coated in seals, she could run a full check alone as fast as she could perceive—spending a hundredth of a second at each location while she was fresh, though that time would decrease exponentially as she traveled. A mental map gave her a quick estimate of how large an area she would have to cover and how many seals she would need.

Sort of a lot of seals, but not really any more than she'd used while fighting Mukade's puppets. Less than hundred-fifty locations would be more than enough for her to scan the entire Northern borders. Konoha would be pretty much impenetrable if they could afford to have a hundred teams just standing around at all the locations she mapped, but that was never going to happen. Manpower and the distance that teams could cover were the real logistical problems with national security in that sense, and neither was an issue when instantaneous travel was introduced.

If she devoted perhaps two minutes to a cursory check three times a day at strategic times… it would be damn near impossible for anyone to enter without her at least being able to provide a warning.

'How very Big Brother of me to even consider that. It's… it's utterly ludicrous.'

Would it be possible to modify her seals to include a sensory agent so that she didn't have to do the manual check unless they were triggered? As far as she knew, a Hiraishin was the only kind of seal with the connective qualities that gave her the ability to monitor it at all times from any distance. Normally, a seal meant to detect intruders was only as good at the people paying attention to it, though it meant they didn't have to be sensors themselves. Who would suppress their signature well enough to hide from a seal for eight hours in the middle of a forest? Who could?

But she didn't have the ability to do that right now. It was possible that she could figure something out, but it would take time and study.

Six minutes a day (plus the time spent to plant seals along the forests) seemed much more viable and less cost prohibitive in terms of effort and time. It wasn't as though it would be a hardship for her to plant them. Aiko had no need to go out the gates when she already had eight widely spread seals planted throughout the north half of Fire Country.

If Sai hadn't been there, she would have gone to trap the hell out of the countryside now. As it was, she realized that she had been rudely quiet for too long and turned her face up to her companion. "That is something to keep in mind. What might those orders be specifically?"

She asked more for form's sake than anything else. The real information had been in what the prioritization implied, not what Danzo thought was most important to protect within the village. (Spoiler: it was his person and the main government buildings).

As enlightening as all that was (and as much as it implied that Sai was more invested in her than he was loyal to Danzo) she couldn't help but wonder if it was really why Sai had come over. It hadn't been a coincidence that he had been practically waiting to knock at her door when she came home, no way. The timing had been too perfect.

When she let herself smile, the easy way Sai's eyes followed the motion only supported her theory. 'It's because he liiiikes me,' she sing-songed, unknowingly giving him a smug look that could pass for sultry without her childish inner commentary. 'He thinks I'm cuu-ute.'


"Child, you look terrible." Yugao deliberately stopped, gave her an odd look, and added, "And stop smiling like that."

Aiko gave the purple-haired woman who would be her instructor the nastiest scowl she could manage. With the bags under her eyes and her pale complexion, it was a pretty good one.

Uzuki Yugao wasn't about to be intimidated by a little thing like a teenager's temper. She stared back evenly, visibly unimpressed. "You are no good as an agent if you don't take care of yourself. Come with me."

It was beneath Aiko's dignity to outright grumble, but by a small enough margin that it was still tempting. The path Yugao picked through the training facility was long and winding enough that she might not be able to replicate it on her own. Eventually, she recognized the red-lined doors Yugao strode through as if she owned the place.

"There's an underground entrance to the hospital through the ANBU training facility?" she deadpanned. That was just a security breach waiting to happen.

The look she got in return was about enough to make her quail. Yugao threw open a door and pointed at the examination table. "Up."

'I feel like a dog or something.'

Hackles metaphorically raised, Aiko sullenly did as she was told. This person was supposed to be giving her training, after all, so she was a superior of a sort.

She regretted her obedience when Yugao's cold fingers gripped her chin to pull her jaw down and peer inside her mouth like she was a horse for sale. "Say ah."

"Uh-"

"Good enough for government work," Yugao muttered under her breath not unkindly, placing her fingertips gently on Aiko's upper chest for a reason the Jounin couldn't even hope to guess at. Aiko was still gaping in shock when Yugao leaned and checked her pulse, clinically running diagnostic chakra through her throat, up her sinuses, and then up to her temples before she finally let the minty medical chakra fade (it always felt cool and prickly to her, though Aiko'd heard other people describe the experience as warm and soothing).

Yugao sighed and straightened, her long hair swaying with her. "When was the last time you slept? Or had time off?" Before Aiko could answer, she held up a hand that was anything but delicate, clearly strong with well-earned callous and thin scars. "It doesn't matter; I don't want to hear your excuses. I won't be complicit in piling anything more on you when you're obviously not handling your current issues."

"But you were assigned to train me," Aiko half-asked, half-stated, a little incredulously.

Yugao gave her a stern stare before seeming to decide she was being genuinely confused and not argumentative. Her face softened a little. "So I have, and I will. At my discretion. And my discretion is that you're going to go home, relax, maybe watch a movie or spend time with friends without talking about work or training, and then take a long nap. I have a prior obligation tomorrow, but in three days I will see you here again. And I will be giving you a medical check before I teach you so much as how to flutter your eyelashes, little girl, and I won't even blink if I have to humiliate you by putting you to bed myself. Are you even aware of the consequences of long-term sleep deprivation, in addition to whatever else you've been doing to yourself?"

'This woman is surprisingly intimidating.'

Whatever Yugao read in her face (and it definitely wasn't joyous compliance), it didn't stop her from holding up a hand and ticking off points on her fingers as she talked. "Your protein and iron levels are low—eat more nuts, meat, and spinach, or you're going to end up dizzy and sabotaging your own training. Your heartbeat is accelerated because it's working too hard since you haven't let it rest, and I can tell that you've been augmenting your body with chakra for far too long to compensate for lowered reaction time because you can't focus in your current state." She paused. "You are going to burn yourself out if this continues. Do you understand me?"

Aiko shrank back a little, and meekly replied, "I'm going to go eat some fish and take a long nap?"

"Yes," Yugao agreed gravely. "Yes, you are." She leaned in and tugged on one of the locks of hair tumbling over Aiko's shoulder. "Listen up, kid. Your captain should have been watching your back, because it's obvious to me that no one really taught you how to be an ANBU." She held up a hand to stop the complaint that might have welled up, if Aiko were a different person or less bewildered by her forwardness. "Oh, you have the skills and talent, I'm certain, but don't even try to tell me that anyone has talked to you about how to negotiate the demands of this work with outside life, because I don't want to think I got stuck with an idiot who has to learn the same thing twice." She patted Aiko's shoulder twice, like she was a dog or a child, and gave her a look that was somehow amused despite completely lacking a smile. "I'll see you at Tanaka's in a few days. I'll reserve a back room. This place is so depressing, isn't it?"

'Tanaka's? Like, the coffee house?'

She felt a little like she'd just been hit over the head with a salmon. Just… that wasn't the kind of thing that near-strangers said to one another. It certainly didn't seem very professional to make a judgment call like that to put off an ordered training session, make personal comments, and then re-schedule their meeting casually like they were friends.

Then again, Yugao-san had been an ANBU for longer than she had. There very well could be something valuable she would pass on to a younger co-worker. And she was a medic, who would know what she was talking about. Failing to take care of a piddling little thing like sleeping might eventually get her stuck in hospital care, and that was just not happening. People got kidnapped from there, yo.

"So that's settled. I'll go home and relax," Aiko told herself determinedly, trying to pump herself up for calming down.

There was a problem, however.

'I do not know how to do that. If I go home, I'll just start thinking about what I need to get done, like planting seals and learning Rasengan and…' She stopped, cringing. Was it so wrong that she tended to do things that would benefit her in the long-term instead of in the short-term?

Okay, new plan. She would find… find…

Who was good at relaxing?

Karin? Karin could be counted on to just hang out in a semi-relaxing environs, right? And they hadn't spent time together in a very long time.


"I don't understand why we're doing this," Aiko half-yelled to be heard over the booming speakers. Some sort of trashy pop nonsense was spilling out into the night air, and probably warding off missing nin from a twenty mile radius around the village.

She'd rather have the missing nin, frankly. At least you could hit those until they stopped making awful sounds sans consequences if they chose to wail about how totally grand and poignant it was to go and see the beaches of the desert (and no, she had no idea what that was supposed to mean).

Karin gave her a pitying look, sleek and sophisticated in a fire engine red ensemble that no one else in the world could hope to pull off. "Just shut up and dance, woman. Hey, thanks!" She flashed a quick smile at Ino, taking the bottled water the blonde had brought back from the bar.

"No problem!" Ino cupped her hands around her mouth to project her voice, already doing something bizarrely sinuous with her hips. Possibly a secret taijutsu technique, because Aiko didn't think she could replicate it if asked. "Are we all going to stay at my house tonight, then?"

"We'd better," Hinata interjected, cheeks flushed a pretty pink with rouge she never would have worn a year ago. "I think Naruto might cry if we keep him up painting nails again."

"It's not my fault his nose is so good," Karin muttered rebelliously.

Thankfully, they let her fall asleep and stay that way for ten hours. She woke up with three signatures on her face in marker, though. Strangely, she did feel a bit better.


Author's Note

I think that at one point, I misunderstood that Rasengan wasn't wind-natured in its first manifestation before I'd looked it up (I kind of roll my eyes every time it gets brought up in canon). I'd like to go back and adjust that… but I can't find it. e.e

That's one way to tell that I've made this thing too long. It should just be one statement from Jiraiya that implies Rasengan is wind-natured, but having that internal inconsistency really bothers me. Anyone who has read this more recently than I is welcome to point that out, I would appreciate it.

There's a misunderstanding that's been killing me for a while. I was very careful never to say or imply 'seduction' training. The phrase I used is 'sex-specific', as in training specifically tailored for the two sexes to better reflect the varying circumstances kunoichi and their male counterparts are more likely to encounter in the course of their duties. Shizune's explanation should have hinted at the wide range of where I'm going with this instead. Seduction isn't necessarily not an option, but it's not the whole thing or even a particularly relevant issue.

I hate providing spoilers for my own work, so I've been gnashing my teeth over that for a while. Come on, would I really fail you guys by turning to a narrative device that's been used ad nauseam to get plotless sex? Not that I have a problem with plotless sex, but that works much better in a short story.

Sorry to anyone hoping for plotless sex. :(

One more thing—I thought I'd said this in an Author's Note before, but hints that I didn't keep cropping up in reviews from time to time, so I'm going to say this to be certain. Aiko knows what I knew about canon at the time that I started writing this, and nothing that I learned in the months since when I started watching later episodes and checking wiki pages. Her memory isn't perfect, and a lot of what she thinks she knows is second-hand from sources other than the manga and anime….like fanfiction. So she might even have some fanon beliefs. At this point, she knows some generalities about future points, but that's all, and she's not as right as she thinks she is.

In other words, she can't be blamed for making mistakes like not realizing the exact limitations of Hidan's immortality and why blowing him to smithereens and separating most of those pieces would be effective when super-heating him and reducing him to a mummy wouldn't be.

Come on, is an omniscient narrator really any fun anyways? I couldn't call it an SI at all if Aiko had abilities and knowledge I don't for no justifiable reason other than plot convenience. She's only read the books I've read, gone to the classes I've gone to, and so on and so forth. Hence why (tragically) she's not going to be introducing marvelous new technology or specialized knowledge in pretty much anything that would conventionally be thought of as applicable to a shinobi lifestyle like communication or warfare or even entertainment tech.

Even if that would be really epic. Let's take a moment to think of Kakashi or whoever running around Konoha with his ipod and cell phone. What would he even listen to? So many possibilities.

*the smallest violin starts playing the world's saddest song because that will never happen*