What's this? I had weeks and it's still the same length as the dailies? Yep. After writing a chapter that length every day, I have somehow trained myself to wrap up a scene in that much time. I'm struggling to write anything longer than 2k! 。゜゜(´Ｏ`) ゜゜。
Shikaku bounced his leg as he took a long sip of his tea. He squinted his eyes against the bright light reflecting off the snow outside and through the window of the teahouse. Not for the first time, he wished they had curtains.
"I wonder what's taking Chouza so long," Inoichi said, reaching across the table to refill Shikaku's cup with all the grace one would expect from an accomplished oiran. "He's not one to be late—especially when there's food on the line."
True, but Shikaku had already run through every possible scenario for his friend's tardiness and come to the conclusion that it likely wasn't anything serious. If it was, he and Inoichi would have been informed, as his teammates. No anbu or overworked genin had come running up to them, so it was probably nothing and the tallest of their group would be joining them soon. In the meantime, Shikaku would take the opportunity to bask in Inoichi's relatively silent companionship and gain strength before Chouza's more boisterous energy began to drain him. He loved his friend dearly, but he could be a bit much, at times. Given the choice, Shikaku would rather spend his rare time in the village at home before he was sent out into the field with his team, again, but not even that was sacred, anymore. The instant he crossed the threshold it was just yelling and yelling and—.
"Sorry, I'm late," Chouza's voice broke through the haze of bad memories, banishing a headache before it could take root. He looked up as his friend took a seat beside him, his considerable girth shifting the table and nearly spilling Inoichi's tea. Shikaku opened his mouth to greet him, but his voice died in his throat as he met a pair of green eyes looking up at him from beside Inoichi.
Immediately, his mind began to run in all kinds of circles. Kumo—no, the coloring wasn't quite right—a child, why was there a child—clothing much too thin, must be freezing—was that an insect?
It was. A very large one. Wait, that wasn't the issue.
"What is this?"
The child furrowed shorts brows and pursed full lips before turning pupilless eyes on Chouza. "Yeah. What is this? You can't just bring an outsider to a team hang out, Candyman. It's what's widely known as 'a dick move'."
Inoichi choked on the tea he was sipping in a pretense of disinterest. Chouza let out a loud, belly laugh and Shikaku mentally resigned himself to a draining morning.
"Ino, Shika," Chouza said, wiping a genuine tear from his eye. "This is Benihime-chan. You might remember her from our little excursion into the 'forest of nightmares'."
Shikaku turned new eyes on the child, taking in her every feature. So this was the one who—.
"Hey, turtle food, what're you staring at? Have my stunning good looks bewitched you?"
Once again, Inoichi spat out his tea. The poor window beside them would need a vigorous wash before anyone else could sit at their table.
"What's so funny, whiny? Care to share with the class?"
Shikaku turned to look out the splattered window, hiding the beginnings of a smile behind his teacup. Maybe she wasn't so bad.
"So, what brings someone like you out to our part of the continent?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Someone like me?"
He gestured at her clothing. "You're from a warmer climate," he gestured to the insect, "your companion, too," he gestured to Konoha at large, "and you have a well recorded hatred for this village. Not to mention, our nation and yours are at war. There are a lot of reasons for you not to come here, so I'm curious what was big enough to override them."
She cocked her head at him, golden hair falling into her face as she made a great show of thinking over her answer. Then, she smiled at him, revealing a set of startlingly white teeth. "No ."
She made a face and shrugged. "No, I won't tell you. It's none of your business."
"Now, now," Inoichi interjected, his face stretched in a somewhat strained smile. "This is no place to fight. I'm sure our guest has already reported to the Hokage, yes?"
"And immigration. And I'm sure you," he fixed Shikaku with a stern look. "Already figured that out."
Tch. It wasn't his fault the kid was the most interesting thing to cross his path since he left her temple in the Land of Earth. She was a living puzzle.
"Benihime-chan has no winter clothes," Chouza said, pitching his voice in the way that meant he wanted something. "She doesn't even have shoes! In this weather! Sakumo-senpai was carrying her on his back and didn't even bother to shunshin! I rescued her as soon as I could."
From the look the girl was giving him, Chouza was full of shit. Still, she didn't contradict him, choosing instead to play with her insect friend. Shikaku watched as she drummed long, elegant fingers on the tabletop, coaxing the giant beetle along with a cockeyed smile. How old had the reports said she was? Eight? Nine? She was certainly very tall for her age, but that was only by the Land of Fire's standards. In Kumo—hell, even Kiri—a child her size would be well within the normal range. Her Iwa style kimono was a faded red and she was just starting to outgrow it. Looking at her hands and wrists were the sleeves came up short, he could practically count the bones through her gold toned skin.
He nudged Chouza in the side, raising a brow at him and jerking his chin. After so many years together, his friend accurately interpreted the movements and flagged down a waitress.
"What do you want to eat, Benihime-chan?" The Akimichi said with a smile. "It's on me."
She looked very excited for a moment, but her happiness wilted just as fast.
"I appreciate the offer," she said quietly, suddenly very subdued. "But I've lived off a very restricted diet up 'til now. I don't want to get sick."
That…was a very valid concern. Not one most children bothered with, to their detriment, but one he should have considered.
"I'm sure there's something here that you can eat," Chouza coaxed gently, pushing a menu her way. "What did you normally eat? Back in you temple, I mean."
She picked up the menu and pursed her lips, looking through the sparse selection of meals served at the tea house. If they'd known about their unexpected guest in advance, they might have chosen a proper restaurant, instead, but alas. The kid would have to make do.
"Mostly rabbit," she said idly. "Sometimes boar, if Roshi could catch one."
"Boar!" Oh no. Chouza was officially invested. "Well, in that case, the nikuman should be right up your alley."
Oh, thank the Sage. For a moment there, Shikaku was afraid they'd start swapping recipes. As much as Chouza teased him for being a spoiled rich boy who only ever saw his food once it was arranged on a plate, he had no desire to familiarize himself with the grittier parts of the culinary process. A shared glance proved that Inoichi was equally relieved to be spared the details of preparing wild pork.
The Ino-Shika-Cho team ordered their usual—Chouza a lot, Inoichi some, Shikaku nothing—and another round of tea. The girl got her own cup and made a face at the taste.
"It's so sweet!"
Sweet? The fruity blend they were drinking certainly toed that border, with strong notes of orange and rosehip. It was often served to children to warm them against the winter chill, but even then it was usually sweetened further.
"Oh, really?" Inoichi said over his own cup, no doubt thinking along the same lines. "And here I thought I'd need to ask for some sugar."
"I've never eaten sugar," she said almost proudly, looking at her fellow pupilless blond with disdain. Aside from the candy you guys gave me, of course."
That…was actually a little sad. Even with the war rations, certain kinds of sweets were still in production, if only for the sake of the children and some elderly who needed help with their sugar. If Chouza's one time gift was her only experience with confectionary, then it made sense that the delicate flavor of the tea would seem sweet to her.
"We can order a bitter one, if you like," he told her. "I need a bit of a pick me up, myself."
She looked like she might say yes, then shook her head. "No, it's ok. I just wasn't expecting it." She took another sip and her face didn't quite seize, but it was a close thing. She valiantly swallowed it down, smiling grimly at them.
"So," Inoichi said around a smile. "Can I ask why Chouza kidnapped you?"
At just that moment, the waitress returned with their meals, placing a plate piled high with steamed pork buns right in front of the girl. They must have portioned it for an Akimichi. She wasted no time biting into a piping hot bun, immediately huffing and puffing around a mouthful of freshly cooked meat. Chouza laughed then promptly followed suit, chasing a scalding bite of his own nikuman with a steaming gulp of tea.
"I brought little Benihime-chan along because she looked cold," Chouza said after thoroughly burning his mouth. "And I might have promised to get her a set of proper winter clothes."
"He said you guys would help, too!"
"Mmph mmphmm phmm!"
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Inoichi scolded her gently before turning to his friend and teammate. "Volunteering our time and money again, eh Cho?"
"Mmrph phrmmphrm mph—."
"Not you, too. Chouza, we've been over this."
"Mng mphrphl mphnrng."
Shikaku took a sip of his tea and watched as Chouza and his not so little guest began a conversation of food filled nonsense, Inoichi holding his head in his hands as he gave up all semblance of a poker face. Turning to look out the window, Shikaku sighed with content. This might actually turn out to be a good day.