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yuuhi_kureno in narukorp

[Log] Another Long Talk [Asuka, Kureno]

[[Backdated to two weeks after the date, so...mid-September.]]


To say that Asuka did not like talking was an understatement. Perhaps even the understatement of the year. Asuka did not like to talk, not about personal things, no sir no way, and trying to get her to was like pulling teeth. Even Chiriku, undoubtedly her best female friend, had problems getting Asuka to talk about personal things, and she was more willing to open up to the monk than most others. For the most part, it was a lost cause.

Except for today.

There were times when even this stubborn kunoichi realized that a Talk was needed. This was one of those times, and not only had she finally come to this conclusion, but she had come to the conclusion that a Very Important Talk was needed. Perhaps even a Friendship Altering Talk, or a so-called Soul-Bearing Talk, though she hoped it wouldn't come to either. The fact was, making out with Kureno when she was drunk definitely crossed a line and screwed up signals and gave bad impressions and generally all-around was bad, and it was high time she stopped avoiding him and come to a decision. Some would say it was a high time she came to a decision, anyway; had it already been nearly two years since he'd first admitted some kind of crush on her?

Two years was a long time to wait for an answer. Her drunken talk with Nejiko (she wasn't the drunk one, for a change) was probably what made up her mind to finally give him one.

So late in the afternoon, when the sun was on its way to setting, after she'd trained with the team and showered (starting off smelling funky was not going to help things any) and chewed through at least three cinnamon Nicorette, Asuka presented herself on Kureno's front porch and knocked on the door. It was an all-business, I'm-in-charge, no-nonsense kind of knock. Exactly everything she didn't particularly feel inside. But a tough image sometimes made the difference, and right now she needed every illusion of being in charge that she could hold on to.

She hoped she'd brought enough Nicorette for this.



Perhaps it was the nature of the knock that persuaded Kureno to leave the pile of work he'd brought home that day. He didn't feel particularly inclined to entertain at the moment, nor get sidetracked by friendly company that didn't have any other business than to be friendly. His mood had become more like that over the past several days, reverting back to his old workaholic habits; partly because he could again, mostly because it was a good distraction.

Two weeks. Two weeks since since his date with Asuka and hardly a word from her since except the once when he'd taken the initiative.

He wasn't pushing. He was very deliberately not pushing. Funny thing about not putting the pressure onto someone however, is that it tends to press back on you. Her silence was a weight of doubt that had slowly been pressing the hope right out of him. The night had gone so well for them, Kureno had gotten up the next morning feeling incredibly optimistic about their progress. Granted, making out with her while she was drunk was probably not his smartest move, but he had opened himself to her anger if she was mad about it, willing to hear her uncertainties and apologize for his actions but... She'd said she wasn't mad. Then she hadn't said anything else at all. Call him crazy, but that seemed common woman-speak for, "I'm really mad."

He thought maybe she just wanted to steam off on her own, but the more she stayed quiet and the more it seemed that she really wasn't mad, the more Kureno began to think it was something else entirely. And considering their relationship thus far and the little tendencies he'd noticed in Asuka's ways of thinking, the most likely reason behind her silence was not because she didn't want to talk to him, but because she didn't want to say what she felt. The only time Asuka didn't speak her mind was when she was consciously aware that her words could hurt someone she didn't want to hurt. The only way Asuka would really know how to hurt him right now was to tell him she'd made a mistake, been too drunk and led him on, and with a clear head now she knows for sure she just wants to stay friends. She just doesn't know how to tell him.

Kureno could take a hint. He still wished she'd just face him and say it for both their sakes, but at the same time he wasn't sure he was ready to hear it. So he'd spent the last week trying to get himself used to the idea that he'd be pretending nothing significant passed between them so that the next time he confronted Asuka, his behavior would be enough to convince her they were friends, nothing more--just like she wanted. Kureno wondered when he'd become so self-sacrificing; he wondered why it didn't feel like anything new. Guess that year scrubbing floors had done a number on him.

Somehow it seemed very unfair that Asuka was the one on the other side of his front door. Instinctively Kureno wanted to frown at the injustice, but his training that allowed him to pick the most appropriate response to surprise situations automatically slid a look of casual surprise onto his face; not too anxious, not too disinterested. Like it was any other day.

"Asuka." That look of command on her face was interesting. Perhaps this was about business and Hokage had just sent the person he was least prepared for. "Something wrong?"



Do not chicken out, she told herself when she heard his approach on the other side of the door. Just chew your gum and do not chicken out.

Asuka chewed her gum and did not chicken out. She almost did when he finally opened the door, though.

There were a lot of things that needed to be said between them. A lot of private thoughts aired and discussed. Despite their long friendship, they often didn't talk about private things, which was possibly why (despite how much they irritated each other) they got along so well; they were both intensely private, respected that in others, and didn't pry. But the lack of prying and the lack of open discussion was undoubtedly what was causing the problem here. She just needed to accept that and take the right steps to correct the problem, rather than continuing to allow it to fester and get worse like she had for the last two years.

The first step to that was now accomplished; she was on his doorstep and he was asking her what was wrong. At that point, though, Asuka abruptly realized that while she knew what she wanted to discussed, she hadn't decided what to say. There was no prepared speech in her mind, no planned order of how to move the conversation along or even how to start it.

Was anything wrong? Yes, Asuka is an idiot, that's what's wrong. Too bad it wasn't anything new.

Uncertainty and perhaps even a little panic flickered across her face for a split second as all this occurred to her, then vanished under a frown. Asuka hated this, hated the lack of control she felt about the whole thing. She needed to find a way to get that back.

"We need to talk," the jounin said in reply. She didn't think there was any need to answer the question with Yes, something's wrong; wasn't it obvious, by now?



His eyes blinked and his right eyebrow twitched a fraction, perhaps to be interpreted as confusion. Really however, Kureno was keeping down a sudden mixture of confusion and annoyance. Now she wanted to talk? And just because she did, he was supposed to be fine with the time she picks when there wasn't much regard for his choosing previously? And that sudden hesitance on her face...he'd already guessed why, and his stomach felt heavier somehow.

"Is this...professional or personal?" It was rather obvious it was personal, but some part of him still clung to the hope that she came with orders or a message of some kind and that her "news" could wait for another time, one where he was more prepared. Another part was up to brushing her off if she couldn't make this sound important enough, just to let her know what it felt like when she did the same to him. "I'm kind of in the middle of some reports right now."

He really well-mannered, wasn't he, even when he was being vindictive.



Oh. ... uh. Probably should have called ahead in case he'd had plans or something, huh? But she hadn't because... well, because she might have chickened out if she hadn't just gone. Little too late for that now, huh.

Asuka visibly wavered for a moment, hesitancy warring with that frown, trying to find the right thing to say. Should she just give in and bow out to his other business? But then she might never work herself up to this again. And could she really afford to continue letting herself chicken out at the first convenient moment?

It took a moment, but she finally steeled up her spine to admit: ".... personal. But it's important. It's... about the date."



So it was about what he thought. Kureno deliberated in his mind whether or not he should ask her to talk to him about it another time, after all he hadn't been lying about the reports. While not as backed-up as before, there was still a good deal of work to do and the sooner it got done the better. Plus he was a little resentful that it seemed he was expected to wait on her preparation and not much the other way around.

But wasn't there some adage somewhere about getting something over with? Ripping off the band-aid as it were. Even if he didn't want to hear what she had to say, even if he didn't feel ready for it...a part of him needed it. Pretending to carry on and actually carrying on were two different things, and while certainty brought its own sting, it soothed the aches that hope created. Much as he disliked it, it would be better to get this over with--for both of them.

There was a certain sigh of resignation in his tone as he asked her, "Want to come inside or go around the house?"



One part of her desperately wanted him to just kick her out, and was disappointed when he failed to do so. The other part - which was more logical, if not feeling more smart - was relieved that he wouldn't make this any harder than it already was.

So she tried to be a little more amiable in the decision making. After all, she'd just made him put aside his work for an hour, or however long this would take; she could at least make sure this took place somewhere he preferred.

"Either's okay. Whichever's... more comfortable for you."



The yard then. It was the most relaxing portion of the property. He hoped he wouldn't be ruining that feeling by making it the place Asuka turned him down.

Instead of inviting her in and going through the house, Kureno simply took the quickest way, which meant stepping outside and following the porch as it wrapped around the house, only giving a directional nod to Asuka in response. He stopped at the top of the stairs that led out into the yard with the koi pond just outside the sliding door to his living room, leaning against one of the wooden posts that supported the veranda's roofing. For a second he couldn't decide if he wanted his hands in his pockets or crossed in front of him, and at the last minute stuffed his right hand in a pocket and let the other slide through his hair before hanging at his side. He waited until she appeared to have settled herself into a position as well, and by that time a definite pause in all conversation had developed between them. Getting Asuka to talk could sometimes be a strenuous task, but since she'd come here with that very goal in mind, Kureno decided to help prompt her in starting.

"So what about the date did you want to talk about?" He watched her carefully. "If you really are mad at me for what I did, I'd wish you'd just say so. Or is that what you're here to do?"



Asuka followed along meekly enough, having her own internal debate about what to do with her hands. In her pockets would be too casual, crossed over her chest too defensive, fiddling with them too nervous... damnit, why hadn't she brought her cigarettes? That would give her something to do with her hands. She had expected this talk to take place inside, and of course she wasn't going to demand to smoke in his house, so she'd brought Nicorette instead. This was already starting off on a bad foot, wasn't it? She chewed her gum anxiously and hoped it wouldn't get any worse.

Except it certainly didn't seem to get any better. The silence stretched on after they reached the side porch, the pond bubbling merrily off to the side, highlighting the distinct lack of talking. Kureno watching her expectantly didn't make her feel any less nervous. Asuka forgot all about wondering what to do with her hands and nervously steepled them in front of her, staring down at them to avoid having to look at Kureno. This was where she needed to say something. She'd pulled him away from his work to talk, so now talk already! But stupid her hadn't decided how to open up the conversation, and now there were so many different possibilities on how to start it that -

Asuka's head shot back up when he spoke, half with surprise and half with relief - this gave her something to start on, saved by the bell, as it were. She shook her head swiftly to dispel any worries about her anger.

"I'm not mad at you," she replied quickly. "I mean, maybe I should be, coz I was drunk and you weren't, but I'm still not. I am a little irritated, but all that's at myself. But mostly I'm just....." The kunoichi blew out a sigh, full of anxious tension. ".... nervous."



Kureno raised an eyebrow at her. Nervous? Well, yes, he had pretty much guessed that, although something about the tone of her voice made him wonder just for a second if it were for the reasons he'd been assuming. There still wasn't much evidence to support otherwise, and honestly he'd rather be caught off his guard by good news than bad, so Kureno kept himself under a braced suspicion. The hand at his side pinched some of the loose fabric of his pants.

"I know you're nervous, Asuka. I am too. Guess we just have to find out if we're nervous over the same things or not." He made sure their eyes were meeting when he asked, "So what has you nervous the most?"



Their eyes didn't stay meeting for very long. Not a second later she'd looked away, finding it easier to focus on that whorl on the porch wood by the sliding glass door. At least the whorl wasn't looking back.

What was she nervous about the most? Too many things, so many things they all jumbled together and she couldn't say if any rose higher above the rest. Asuka rubbed the back of her neck, trying to force words to her recalcitrant tongue and hope they were the right ones.

"Have you... really thought through this? Really really?" The kunoichi shot him a glance from the corner of her eye, before shaking her head and watching the floor again. "I mean, there's so much that could go wrong if we were to start dating. Why do you think it's worth it?"



He almost asked back why she didn't seem to think it was worth it, but quickly withheld the question. He wasn't trying to start a fight, he really wasn't. His defensive reflexes were just kicking in, trying to soften any possibly on-coming blows. But if they fought about this, bitterly no less, it would be harder than ever to repair their friendship in the aftermath. And that was definitely not something he wanted to happen. Kureno rested the back of his head against the support as he took in a slow, deep breath and took to observing some of the woodwork himself. He was silent for a good while.

"I guess," he said at last, voice calm and thoughtful, "I can't say I know how worth it it's going to be. There is a lot that could go wrong when you look at our history together. But because of some of our history, I think there's a lot that could go right too. I have thought about it, Asuka. A lot. The thoughts of my spare time have been occupied by little other than you for the past two years. Can't say they were all good, but no matter what I think it all ultimately comes back to the same thing: I'm tired. Tired of being alone, and tired of pretending day after day that I don't...want something more from you--with you." He glanced at her and this time didn't bother waiting for her to be looking back. "Right now you're probably the most important thing in my life, Asuka. One way or another."



In a way it hurt to hear that. To be the constant object of his thoughts for two years straight while she hemmed and hawwed about this whole affair - and often was not always thinking of him, though she'd done her own share - definitely made a girl feel bad. This wouldn't be the first time her reaction to this had turned around and bitten her on the ass, though.

But at the same time, it was flattering. And sounded truthful, which coming from Kureno of course made it all the more nice to hear. And opened up one of the many things she had wanted to say to him.

"You're important to me, too," she admitted quietly to the floorboards. "One of my best friends. More important than..... a lot of things. But that's exactly why this makes me nervous."

The need to fidget was overwhelming. Asuka pulled out a new piece of gum and began pacing, eventually beginning to gesture to add emphasis to her words after replacing the Nicorette. "One thing is if this doesn't work out. You know you hear all this 'let's just be friends' crap when relationships don't work out, but let's face it, how many people stay friends afterwards? Somebody does something stupid, or after all of that you just can't think of that person the same way again, and then they drift apart and eventually never talk to each other again. I don't want that to happen with us, you know? You're such a big part of my life now that I don't even want to think about what it would be like without you in it, especially if it was because I'd done something stupid to drive us apart. I don't ever want you to hate me or not want anything to do with me.

"And also... we've both done some really stupid things on account of each other in the last year. It's my fault for starting it all, but you had a hand in it, too. We can't be doing stupid shit like that when our first duty is supposed to be to the village. And something like that might very well come up again, you know? We're ninja, we get in danger. But I can't go - " Asuka made a frustrated, inarticulate gesture " - doing crap out of anger and you can't abandon your duties when you think I'm in hot water. We're already doing this as friends, how much more of a loose canon would we end up if we got closer?"

She paused in her nervous pacing, facing the floor and rubbing the back of her neck again as another uncertain hurdle presented itself in her pseudo-rating. "And..." she continued slowly after a pause, "... you never... really seemed to decide if doing what you did was worth the consequences. You kinda dropped it after a while, but that's not the same." Asuka gave him an almost-shy, almost-sad look from the corner of her eye. "If that wasn't worth it then, I'm not really the most important thing in your life."



Kureno had to admit she made some good points as she paced around on his porch, but she hadn't really mentioned anything he hadn't already thought about. Although he blinked and tensed slightly upon her mentioning of certain consequences. He'd thought about that a great deal too, especially ever since patching things up between them earlier that year, and since then he'd come to new, more truthful conclusions. ...Had he really not said anything about what he felt about her in relation to his punishment? ...He supposed he hadn't, and that at the time he'd deliberately kept from telling her his view point. After all, it hadn't been exactly the best thing to share when trying to rebuild a friendship. He could tell her now though; now that he'd discovered how it fit in with everything he felt and was.

"You are the most important thing in my life," he said quietly after a minute stretched by. "But, you're not supposed to be. That's why I didn't deal well with how I reacted." It felt a little strange to realize how easily his honesty was coming to him as this moment, and the more he thought about how open he was leaving himself, the more scared he became. So he didn't think about it. For once he just spoke without thinking too far ahead.

"And you're right, we can't be putting aside our duties every time we're worried about each other; the village has to come first. But I think if we understood that, and still wanted to try working things out with each other, we'd try harder to make sure that no matter what mission or enemies we faced, we'd come back from it. I know I would anyway." Kureno paused, realizing he'd still just avoided answering the one question she'd said he kept dropping before.

"Back then, if you'd asked if I thought it was worth it, my guilt and sense of duty would have ignored and locked away all of my personal feelings and told you 'no.' Because that was the 'right' answer, and I thought if I ever entertained any other response, I would be betraying everything I'd lived for up to that point. ...But I don't think that way anymore." His chin came down to rest on his chest as he stared at something past his toes. "I'm not saying I'll do it again for you, or go rogue for you or anything, but... Anything I can do for you within my power as a shinobi of this village and as a man, I'll do. I won't expect you to say the same, but I'll certainly never ask you to promise anything more."



That was........ one hell of a promise.

Asuka couldn't look up from the floorboards just now. The anxiety and emotion behind this conversation made it far too hard to even chance eye contact now, much less maintain it. She could understand his reaction to his punishment when he put it that way - it was so typically Kureno - and she did feel a weight lift off her at knowing he didn't truly regret coming after her, but...

He'd obviously been thinking about this hard for a long time. Had come to decisions. While she had just... blown it off and tried everything she could to avoid making a decision. Because...

It didn't matter why anymore. What mattered now was that she make a decision now. She only wished it were as easy as Kureno made it look.

Asuka squeezed shut her eyes. "If I say I'm not interested," she said, almost more like she was thinking out loud, "I risk losing you. And if I say I'm willing to try, I still risk losing you. I don't... know which consequence I could live with better."



And it occurred to Kureno just then that Asuka...wasn't turning him down. She wasn't exactly jumping at any opportunities either, but she hadn't already decided to turn him down; if anything, she was still teetering back and forth on the matter. It didn't cross Kureno's mind to wonder why she hadn't come to decision yet, he was too relieved and distracted by a returned optimism to ponder it. But his own surge in hope caused him to hesitate in embracing it, remembering what it had done before when it left him cold. So he kept the feeling close but at bay, turning to Asuka with a rather puzzled and incredulous look.

"Asuka... Sorry, I need to get this straight here. Are you interested or not? Nevermind what your course of action will be, I'm not asking that. I'm only asking if you're interested even at all. Because if you're not, then you've already made up your mind. I don't need you going out with me out of pity." Even if he'd probably take it. He felt rather pathetic thinking that, so he tried not to.



"It's...." This time when she sighed, it sounded as much frustrated as anxious and uncertain. It wasn't that she was frustrated with him, though - for a change - only with herself. "It's not like that. I wouldn't date you out of pity; it would be insulting to you and would just make us more miserable. ... well. More miserable than we are already."

Asuka sighed again, wishing it was easier to turn her thoughts and emotions into words. Words and her were not best friends, not really; at least, not when it came to describing her own emotions. There was a disconnect or a language barrier in her brain that made this all a horribly frustrating experience. And it didn't help that she didn't want him to think her stupid or anything for feeling the way she did.

After a moment more of struggling with what to say, she finally just went to sit on the edge of the porch, letting her feet dangle over the edge, eyes on the koi pond. Wouldn't it be wonderful if life was as simple to her as to a koi in a pond? Too bad she was apparently destined to an interesting life.

"I haven't... decided if I'm interested or not," she said finally. "Or maybe it's more that I haven't let myself be interested or not. I've learned - " and this was a painful thing to admit to " - I've learned the hard way not to screw around with coworkers. I stopped letting myself think that way about anyone my rank or higher. Not even so much that I don't find them interesting, but that I don't let myself find them interesting. So I've never.... thought about you that way before. It isn't like I have and I've dismissed it, but that I really haven't. Not... at least, not until you brought it up recently, but even then it's been... hard. It's a hard habit to break."

She looked down at her hands, folding her fingers in her lap. "And also... I already said that you're really important to me. If I lost you now, it would hurt bad enough. But if I let myself be interested, it'll hurt that much more later on down the line. I'm... just not sure what'll make it worth the risk." Her voice grew quieter. "I don't want to set myself up."



In a strange, twisted, possibly-needs-therapy kind of way what Asuka said made sense to him. It didn't necessarily make him feel any better or more secure about the situation, but at least he understood her now. Sort of. Needing to expel some of his own nervous energy, Kureno stepped away from the supporting to stand on his own, pressing his weight into the floor and occasionally shifting his from one foot to the other, but not in any noticeable way. It took a little while for him to digest what Asuka had said and let it settle with him; then a little while longer for him to think of what he'd say.

"I'm not exactly guaranteed not to lose you either, you know. Whether you leave or whether you die, nothing's to say I can't wake up one morning without you here anymore. Relationship or not, that kind of risk is always going to follow us, Asuka--always. For me, I've decided that I would regret it more not sharing all the time I could with you than sitting back and pretending I don't feel anything, patiently waiting for this feeling to end; or my life to. I don't want to set myself up for failure or heartbreak either, but it's already feeling rather lousy. Yeah, maybe things can get worse. But they can get better too."



Things always get worse, her mind morosely supplied. But Asuka wisely kept that thought to herself.

It sounded so easy, when he talked about it. Easy enough that a part of her was nodding and agreeing that what he said made logical sense, like he always did. But the other part of her didn't want a damn thing to do with logic, because logic didn't do anyone any good when the pain was settling in. She knew that intimately - logic meant nothing in the face of pain.

"How many times have you lost someone important?" she asked carefully, delicately. The part of her that snubbed logic was also saying he said that so easily because he couldn't possibly understand what he was talking about, but Asuka didn't want her words to sound that way. "Someone you've built your life around. That's always supposed to be there, and then one day... it's too late, and you couldn't even say goodbye?"



Kureno frowned. He disliked answering questions like these when it was rather routine that his answer was only to compare his suffering to others'. He disliked it because for a child who had been born and raised in wartimes, his number was insensibly low. It was hardly his fault indifference and duty was the milk that saw him to adulthood.

Two figures of his past immediately came to mind, and while Kureno wanted to say there were more, Asuka's very specific definition's of "someone important" made him hesitate in counting them. It wasn't that he hadn't managed to not care about anyone, but precious few had he depended himself on so heavily. And those that he had, well...truth be told, most had survived. Granted, their number was small, but that made his losses among them small as well.

"A few times," he settled on, knowing that the number likely wasn't more than the required three for him to even make that statement.



'A few' was a few times too many, a part of her thought, but on the other hand, a 'few' could mean many or in fact none. But she didn't think he'd come up with a 'few' to lie about in this conversation. In fact, the idea didn't even occur to her.

For a brief moment, Asuka considered telling him about the people she'd lost - the losses that had, in the end, shaped her into who she was today. How much their loss still ate at her, when she gave herself leave to think about them, even twenty or more years later. So that he could understand that she counted him as one of those people, and how badly she would take it if she ever woke up one day to find out she couldn't even say goodbye. And that was just as things were now; how much worse would it her if she let herself...?

But he didn't ask. And if he didn't ask, she supposed she wouldn't tell. It was her hurt to carry, after all, just like his 'few' were his hurt to carry.

"Then you know what it's like," she settling on saying eventually. "I don't know if I could... " survive "... stand going through that again."



Not quite using the emphasis he expected her to, which was...alleviating, but still coming around to a rather negative perspective. Kureno couldn't deny that there wasn't any possibility they wouldn't have problems, difficulties, or even tragedy, but when he thought about them together, those things lingered in the back of his mind. What he saw most filled him with hope, not dread. ...Even when he did remember what it was like to lose such people. Why couldn't Asuka dwell on that?

The porch whined only once and very softly as Kureno walked over to sit on the top stair next to where Asuka was dangling her feet, his own long legs stretching down over four of the six steps. His hands were brought out to rest on his thighs, and he looked at them for a moment before lifting his view to the yard.

"So if I died tomorrow," he said rather calmly, "you would wish you'd never met me."



"No!"

Her response was immediate, not thought out, an emotional response to his words rather than a planned one. The look she turned to give him was full of surprise that he'd even think that - and surprise, too, at her vehement reply.

She would never wish she'd never met him. It was just that...

".... that's not what I meant." Her voice came out a little calmer a moment later, after she'd taken a breath to recompose herself. And considered what her heart told her she would do - which hurt in the thinking. Asuka looked away from him and concentrated on pulling out another piece of gum, far too soon after the last. "If you were to die tomorrow, I'd... be reckless, I think. Like - like I was in ANBU, the first time. I might get better, but every time it happens it gets... harder. I'll never regret having you for a friend, even if it means I'll be hurt when you... die. But if I were to lose you after.... getting closer to you, it would be a lot worse. A lot worse."

She balled the wrapped-up piece of gum between her fingers. "I don't know if I could stand going through that. I don't understand... I don't know enough to know why anyone would want to open themselves up to that. What could possibly be worth that. I can only see Nejiko and how she's been since Tentsuke was declared MIA, and all I can see is half a person. She's never going to be the same again. I just..." She swallowed and looked over at Kureno, brows furrowed in uncertainty. "It's going to be bad enough already, if you die. I don't want to let you in and end up hurt worse."



"Not even to try?" he asked her quietly, though there was something strained in his tone. He wasn't ready to let her know yet that it was a building desperation not to lose her so easily, so soon. "You're not even going to let me try showing you why it might be worth it. You're just saying you don't know, don't have a reason and instead of giving me a chance to give you one you're just going on about endings before there's even a start, and that's not fair. You don't know if it'll be worth it but you also don't know it won't be."

Kureno's hand came over and enclosed around one of hers; tight enough so that she couldn't flinch or pull away easily, but not so strong to squeeze uncomfortably. He did it without thinking too far ahead, much like how he was speaking. Because from his experience analyzing these feelings for over two years, he'd come to learn reason wasn't so much a factor behind them as instinct was. You didn't always know why it was, you just knew it was; and you could spend your time fighting and ignoring it or...

"I'm not asking you to just jump head-first into this and throw all caution to the wind. Right now, Asuka, all I'm asking you for is a chance. Because maybe I'll die tomorrow, or maybe I'll outlive you another fifty years. Maybe won't be worth it, or maybe it'll be the greatest thing we've ever....." He trailed off, made self-conscious by his own flowery words. "What I'm saying Asuka is that you can't know for sure until you find out. Or at least until you try. I don't need promises from you right now. ...I just need your trust. Enough of your trust to give me a chance."

He looked up at her from where he'd been staring at their hands. "I know you trust me, Asuka, but...do you trust me that much?"



Did she?

Asuka kept her eyes down on their hands, his cupped over hers. It was all such a jumble, when she sat down and let herself analyze the way she felt about things; it was all so much easier when she kept the barriers up and ignored anything that made her uncomfortable. That's what the barriers were for, after all. To keep her from melting down, from reacting to the sometimes nasty things ninja had to do, to keep going without having a breakdown like many ninja eventually did. This didn't count as a breakdown, obviously, but it underscored the fact that she was just as screwed up in the head as anyone else in her generation. It just wasn't as visible.

Did she trust Kureno? Yes, obviously; there were only a few people she would trust her life to more, most notably Rin, but that was obviously because he was a medic-nin. Other than that, there were precious few she would hand herself over to without a second thought, Kureno being one of them. But... this went beyond that. It was easy to trust her life to someone else; it was harder to trust her... feelings and emotions to someone else. The last time she'd really let someone in, took down the barriers that kept her sane and let them past, had been with her genin team... and look what had happened with that. Deliberating doing that again... frightened her.

At the same time, though, Asuka couldn't necessarily say that she didn't trust him that much. She could learn to trust him that much, little steps at a time. Which was, after all, all he was asking for. His logical statements made sense in a sea of otherwise not-understandable feelings, and polarized what she felt about the whole matter. That she was being silly and emotional, or that he just didn't get it - and it was hard to know which side was the right side, if either was right at all.

She exhaled slowly, trying to exhale some stress with it. He was right in that it wasn't fair to shut this down without even giving it a try, especially when she couldn't say she didn't care about him... but that didn't make her any less nervous. Even if him holding her hand helped make her feel slightly more grounded and less adrift, she wasn't any less... scared.

Her words were quiet when she finally spoke. "...I trust you."



And he could see it took her a lot to say it, and a part of him thought he should be disappointed it took her so much effort. But he wasn't. When his hand instinctively squeezed hers in an offer of comfort, he only felt relief, and the gathering of his determination in the face of such an intimidating task. He'd seduced plenty of women before, but none of them had been anything like Sarutobi Asuka. She was the only one of her kind, meaning he'd only have one shot at getting this right, and he didn't even know how to approach it except for the instruction "take it slow". Kureno wondered if she knew he saw it that way, that she'd see that he was just as scared as her; he just hid it better.

"Thank you," he said softly, not sure if that was the right thing to say, but it didn't feel like the wrong thing. Then he just wasn't sure what he should be saying next.



Asuka couldn't see that he was just as nervous as her; he hid it too well. She could only see what he showed her - that he was so much more sure of what he felt, or what he wanted, in comparison to her own scattered uncertainty. In a way it made her feel worse, because she was usually so much more composed than this, much more on top and in charge. She wasn't used to needing to lean on someone else's decision, which was sort of what this felt like; like she was deciding to go with his decision because she couldn't decide which one was best herself. It was... strange, and pathetic, all at the same time.

Man, she hated emotions. They made everything more difficult.

Tilting her head up a little, Asuka flashed him a quick, nervous smile, almost like her own offer of comfort. It sucked that she was making this so hard on him, but it would be easier if she didn't care; everything was easier when you didn't care.

"Sorry I'm such a chicken," she murmured.



"You're not a chicken," he automatically reassured, although a voice in him was wondering why she'd been avoiding giving this more thought back when he'd first mentioned it two years ago. But that was a small voice right now. Had he been angry, it might have been louder, but right now he was looking for ways to move things forward and that voice was not constructive to his cause.

"This is new, for both of us. And the stakes are pretty high. It's bound to make us nervous."



Sure it was, except for the fact that he outwardly wasn't. Asuka made a soft huff of a laugh, but it sounded more self-deprecating than amused.

"I am a chicken. I'm nervous as hell, and you're anything but." She gave him a rueful smile. "It would be easier if you'd asked me to beat you up. I'm much better at beating up things than being emotional about them."



"I'm nervous too," he said defensively, loosening his grip on her hand as he thought about shifting his palm to actually hold hers. Thinking about it was as far as he'd gotten so far however. "I just instinctively keep myself from showing it very often. Right now especially because I don't see how it would be any help to the situation if you were to see that I'm just as much at a loss as you. Well, sort of." Asuka did seem to fall more on the clueless side than he did.



"I'll believe it when I see it." A valid retort, considering that she wasn't likely to be seeing it any time soon. She looked back down at their hands again, but didn't move even though he'd loosened up some. It was awkward, but still somehow nice to have a little physical contact sometimes. That didn't involve pain, anyway. "So.... what's next?"



What was next? That was a good question. Kureno found himself already in the middle of contemplating it when she asked, so thankfully it only took him half as long to answer.

"Well, when I first asked to talk with you, I was going to ask you on a second date. Something more casual this time, but with less alcohol." He nudged her with his elbow playfully, the beginnings of a teasing grin on his face. "If that's not moving too fast for you, we could start there."



It was a good thing Asuka wasn't really looking at him at the moment, because then it would have been obvious that she nearly froze up again at his suggestion. Go out? Already? But they'd only just - and she wasn't feeling -

"No alcohol," she blurted out, only half processing her thoughts before responding. And then, after a pause, added more carefully, "Somewhere I can smoke."

Because damnit, she deserved a cigarette after this.



"Fair enough," he consented. He'd had a feeling she'd be extra-cautious about combining him and alcohol again anyway, and smoking was her other way of relaxing, only that didn't inebriate her senses. Although he hoped she wouldn't take that as his open invitation to chain smoke on the date. "Just remember what I said about going through a pack a day, alright? That's not why I convinced Rin you let you smoke again."



If she were to start up a pack a day again, this guy would be the reason for it - but Asuka knew better than to say that out loud. Some things were definitely better kept to yourself.

So she grumbled instead, flicking the wrapped-up piece of gum at him with her free hand. "I've been good. I haven't even finished the pack you gave me." Part of it was because she could feel now the way it made her lungs heavier, how after a cigarette it was harder to breathe deep, and that kind of restriction made it hard to corral her current genin team... but that was another one of those things she was definitely keeping to herself.



Kureno caught the little wad easily with his other hand. He didn't need trash bouncing off him and into his yard to be left, thank you. Her reassurance however kept his expression soft, and he let the subject slide away.

"So what else did you have planned for the day?"



"Um..." Asuka visibly drew a blank at that. She'd finished with the team for the day, and other than making this confrontation with Kureno - which, somehow, felt less like a confrontation and more like Kureno pointing out that she was being silly - she hadn't really planned ahead. Hadn't had any idea of how the day would end, and couldn't really plan ahead. If it went badly, how could she plan for anything?

Except of course it hadn't (... had it?), so now she had no clue. "... nothing, really..."



This time Kureno did gather his courage, and slipped his hand under hers so that it was more like actual holding and less like the grip he'd had it in before. "Want to do something with me, then? We could go out to eat or...just stay here. I'll even cook."



Which prompted another uncertain "Umm..."

Not that she really minded him holding her hand now - though she did look down at it as though she was not sure what he was doing - it was just that... well... had this really cleared things up? Asuka wasn't entirely sure. She thought maybe she felt a little better (at the very least, she was feeling a little silly at the force of her fears, not so much that she had them), but she wasn't sure if things were better or if she really felt up to...

... well... she'd agreed to give it a shot before shooting it down altogether.

"We can go to the Birch," she offered cautiously after a moment. It had been a long time since they'd gone there, and... yeah.



"That's fine by me," Kureno replied, and not just for the sake of being agreeable, she had a point. They hadn't gone there yet since he was off medication, so any excuse or reason to seemed a good one. And he knew he wouldn't embarrass her with any public displays of affection since he wasn't really looking to announce this good news yet. (Besides, she was only trying, so there wasn't any official "good news" to spread anyway.) Rumors about he and Asuka had been flying around for years, heaven knew what would happen if people found there was something to actually confirm. Kureno wasn't against there being some pacing to this hesitant relationship either.

"Would you find it rude of me to drink when we both know you're pretty much sticking to water tonight?"



She shook her head. "No, that's fine." It would probably be the first time he'd ever had alcohol when she hadn't, but it was.... definitely better this way. Although she knew she could trust him (that night had obviously just been a slip up and probably her own fault to boot), it was best to remove all temptation. Temptation for him, and stupidity for her. "If we just... swing by my place or let me buy some cigarettes first. I didn't bring any."



Kureno slid off the porch steps onto the ground beside them, putting him right in front of Asuka. He still hadn't let go of her hand. "There's a store a few streets down, but I don't mind dropping by your house if you want."



"Store is fine," she replied, and let him help her up from the porch. Not that she exactly needed it - she wasn't that short - but the continued contact came as a kind of comfort. Kind of like she was still connected to something, as opposed to jittering around going in circles nowhere fast. She wasn't sure if she'd made the right decision in giving this a shot, if this would help at all or if she'd just damned their friendship, but at least she felt calmer now.

And if he didn't let go of her hand until they'd left his yard, well, Asuka decided not to say anything about it. For now, she just decided that she really didn't mind.

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