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redeyedavenger in narukorp

Snake, snake, ohhh it's a snake~ [Sachiko, Kakami, Aki]

[backdated to October]

When Asuka-taichou finally released them for the day, Sachiko made sure to put away the hard-to-move-in-padding back in the general supply area. Any new deep tears she made note of and left a message with the supply desk that a few of the holes were rather deep and would need mending. Konohako and Moegi weren't throwing toy weapons after all, and Sachiko was still learning to compensate adequately for the lack of mobility because the padding didn't allow her to bend as she wanted. (The weight was negligible.)

It'd been a long day and she was grateful for how the weather was starting to change. The sun could still cook some you but in the shade and in the wind, the air hinted more of autumn. May the cold come quick, she thought as she pushed her hitae-ate up to wipe her brow. She had a minor self-assigned trash detail to attend to (as the continuing saga of proving she was a part of the village plodded on, though at a much slower pace considering Asuka-taichou'd been assigned as her latest jounin sensei) before she went on a run. A small lot between apartments that was frequently littered with crap as it was convenient was a place she simply couldn't leave to go to crap. It was right by her building, after all. And she did have some pride. She sighed internally as she readjusted her hitae-ate on her way to grab a trash bag. A senbon could be utilized for stabbing refuse. ...or not. Tentsuke'd kill her if he found out. Trash pole it is, then.

Ten minutes later she was scowling at a pile of scrap wood, natural rocks, paper food containers, plastic bags of varying size and shape, and lots of aluminum cans. A mixture of soda and beer, so harder to tell if the culprits were adults or kids. How did whoever it was manage to pile up the junk so high? She came by here every two weeks, and it was almost always the same. Idiots, she thought as she began spearing the cans that lay in the tallish grass.

And then nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw something green and scaled slither quickly into the dark beneath a wooden plank.

Very little scared Sachiko anymore. She'd experienced too much in her life for lesser surprises to register beyond existing. But she recognized the animal she'd seen--a snake. Small and green, but still a snake. She shuddered at just the tease of a memory-set while she stared at the pile. She couldn't stop working; D-rank though it was it still counted as a mission and she could get in serious trouble for mission abandonment. But she didn't want to risk running into the snake again.

Eventually and with great reluctance and incredible attentiveness, she slowly began dismantling the trash pile. At the very bottom, sheltered and shadowed by a cinder block and soggy piece of cardboard, was the snake. It was coiled and tense looking, the forked tongue tasting the air in rapid flicks. Sachiko froze again, hand still on the cardboard, and she remembered suddenly she still had yet to speak to Kaka-sensei about getting gloves like hers.

Snake and girl stared at each other as if both hypnotized before the snake slowly and warily inched its way out of the shadow and towards Sachiko (as the back of the block was flush against the building). Sachiko didn't move, she barely breathed, and realized two very fundamental facts about the snake.

Number one, it had solid dark eyes instead of slit gold.

Number two, it was absolutely, positively adorable.

Small, yes, definitely much smaller than the snakes she was most experienced with (she wouldn't say 'familiar'). She knew from some basic life science classes at the academy that not all snakes were poisonous motherfuckers and that quite a few were harmless to people. As she regarded the small grass snake, she had a very strong feeling this was one of the harmless ones. Ve-e-e-ery carefully, she lowered the cardboard with the one hand, and so very slowly extended a hand towards the small reptile. Again, the reptile froze, the tip of its nose only two inches from the fingers, tongue flicking in and out. Two minutes later, it inched closer, tongue tasting faster. Another few minutes after that and it was close enough that Sachiko dared to gently touch it.

It flinched away but didn't bolt, and Sachiko brushed her fingers over the backside, surprised at how dry the snake's skin felt. The snake, for its part, bumped its head against her hand almost tentatively. Sachiko instinctively snapped her hand back, and causing the snake to essentially follow suit, and now there was a gap between them that Sachiko could not reach across without leaning.

Probably for the best as it gave her time to think and for the snake to go away if it wanted, which it curiously didn't as it was staying put. They regarded each other for a long while before Sachiko hesitantly held out a hand again, setting it down palm-up on the ground between them. Another long time later, the snake ventured close again, and slid a little onto her hand. The snake was cool to the touch, and it crawled more on her hand until all but the last quarter of the tail was on her hand. It wasn't a very large snake, actually fairly small (though long), which made it cuter. The eyes she noticed the most and approved of their solid dark color. Keeping her movements slow and careful, she brought her hand up to join her other so she could examine the snake closer. More remembered facts: snakes, being coldblooded, used the sun as their primary source of warmth. It was cool in the shade, almost cold, so perhaps the reason the snake was so keen on approaching her was simply because she was much warmer than the air and the ground. Torpid it may be, she was still wary of bites but that concern kept slipping away as the snake made itself comfortable in her cupped hands. It didn't want to coil; it just explored this space before trying to nose beneath her long sleeve. Sachiko nervously though carefully lifted it away. It tried again, got lifted back, then tried to nose under the sleeve of the hand holding her. "You like nosing, don't you," she muttered at it. Wondering where it would go (and considering herself close enough to medical help should something go decidedly wrong) she let it crawl under her sleeve. It coiled slowly up her arm as one of the weirdest sensations she had ever experienced, pausing at the shoulder and probably not liking the mesh of the torso armor she had worn for training. The snake, warmed some, moved quickly across her shoulder and to her neck (at which point Sachiko froze), going over the nape to the other shoulder and finding mesh on the other shoulder. The snake also poked its head out of Sachiko's collar, looking at the world and flicking its tongue before deciding the best place was looped around behind her neck, tail-end resting along the collar of the tank-top while the bright-eyed head lazed at the juncture of neck and shoulder.

...The snake had to have been someone's pet at some point, Sachiko decided. Because she could fathom no reason for it to be so friendly or at least so accustomed to people to the point it had no problems with being a living necklace. Unless something about her resonated enough that the snake took to her so quickly. She tried not to think of Orochimayu and failed. Another parting gift? she wondered with some sourness. She stroked the snake's head lightly, feeling better the way it leaned into her touch similar to how Neko would do. It was no secret (to her, anyway) that feelings regarding snakes in general fluctuated sharply. There was repulsion and horror, usually, but also an attraction that as consequence magnified the previous two. This little guy was just cute, not scary.

And if it was just going to hang out around her neck, well, no harm there. She could keep cleaning up the area without any problems and then decide what to do about the snake.

Half an hour later she finished cleaning and hauled the quite-full bag to the nearest dumpster, heaving it in one-handed and feeling the little snake actually coil around her neck to hold on. Other than that, it had been a silent and still companion. She petted it reassuringly before lowering the lid so the boom of metal wouldn't startle the reptile. It relaxed, and Sachiko thought she may as well go find Aki. He had previous experience with snakes; he could help her with this. (She hoped.) Thankfully she didn't have to report to the mission desk immediately to report the job was finished so long as she turned up by sundown.



It was chance, perhaps, that as Sachiko was walking towards the area of town that held the main building for T&I, as well as the buildings related to it, that Kakami was exiting a weapons shop just as the girl passed. While a ninja tried not to lose weapons, there were always projectiles that couldn't be located, wooden parts that may need replacing or tools to take care of the weapons that were needed. Kakami had needed items in the last category and had planned on running several errands in between training the puppies and some of the short term missions she'd accepted. While running into one of her kids was not something that was incredibly surprising, but pleasant nonetheless.

So she called out to the girl, walking casually to the other side of the wide street, where Sachiko had paused after hearing her name. Kakami smiled at the Uchiha as she approached. "Fancy meeting you here." she stated lightly.



"Afternoon, Kaka-sensei," Sachiko replied. Lucky that her sensei had found her so quickly as she honestly had no real clue of where to start looking for one Mitarashi Aki. She hesitated, wondering if she should try for a little conversation before diving into the matter at hand when the snake of its own accord lifted its head to peer out of her shirt and take in its surroundings. Unimpressed with what it saw and smelled, it lowered its head back down to the comfortable spot on Sachiko's shoulder, the dark eyes half-closing sleepily.

...So much for saving the snake until last.



Kakami stared for a moment before meeting Sachiko's eyes.

"Well..." The woman paused just after speaking, realizing she was just a little taken aback Okay, maybe more than a little. Snakes were just...well, there were the associations with Orochimayu and short of that, the associations with Aki. Reptiles in general gave Kakami a bit of the wiggins' and on the whole she preferred warm-blooded animals (dogs most of all, of course). So it was with some puzzlement and hesitation that Kakami spoke again.

"You, ah...have a new friend I see." Under the careful casualness of the woman's tone there was a note of confusion. Somehow, she'd expected Sachiko to be a rather...non-snakey person as well. The fact that Sachiko seemed to not be was very surprising.



Sachiko nodded. "Found him when cleaning an empty lot. ...Wasn't really expecting him to take a shine to me, but..." She trailed off and shrugged. "He seems happy. And he's, well, he's cute. And small. Have you an idea of Aki's whereabouts by chance?" she asked to change the subject before she started practically cooing over the snake.



...If the the fact that Sachiko had a snake around her neck was shocking, the fact that she was looking for Aki was even more so. Although, Kakami reflected, it sort of made sense...even if it made her a little uncomfortable. She tried to not stare at Sachiko's neck too hard she was just expecting that thing to peep over the collar of Sachiko's shirt again and dear lord...Kakami didn't know she could get this wigged out over something so small.

"Oh, er, Aki should be..." Where would the man be? Kakami generally avoided Aki as he tended to get on her nerves quicker than anyone else she'd ever met, but it was getting towards noon. "He should be in a place with food." Hopefully nearby. Kakami could reflect on this uneasy situation later perhaps, and let Aki deal with the snake issue now.

And then the thing poked its head out again, tongue flickering in and out and staring with that dark, shiny gaze and Kakami almost felt herself twitch. She looked away and fixed on the nearest eatery she saw - a smallish stand that had a sign boasting the best chicken yakisoba in the village.

"Maybe he's in there." Kakami stated quickly. She hoped so - she didn't think she'd ever wanted to see Aki this badly before in her life.



"I hope so," Sachiko said, following Kakami when she started walking. The snake was still look around so she stroked the top of its head. "...Are you okay, sensei?" she asked. The older woman definitely seemed more than a little tense, which was probably the snake's fault. Poor thing hadn't done anything except be there, and Kaka-sensei was getting upset.

...Then again, given the correlation that could be made, Sachiko didn't blame her. But the eyes were different, didn't she see?



"Fine." Kakami said briefly, perhaps more briefly than she intended. There was a teensy stab of guilt there - after all, Sachiko hadn't really done anything except pick up a new pet. Kakami shouldn't be this nervous. It just...it was more than the correlations. Something about the creature made Kakami uneasy; not that she thought it was dangerous but more that she really just didn't want it near her.

Her gait was a little quicker than normal, as they walked over to the stand and drew aside the gaudy orange curtain that shielded it from the street. Aki was not there, but the stand cook told them that he had been there a few minutes ago to pick up an order of yakisoba. Kakami thanked her and then, with Sachiko and snake, stepped back outside.

Happily, for Kakami, Aki was exiting a corner mart with a couple packages of pre-made sushi in hand and several bottles of some sort of drink tucked under his arm. Kakami inwardly sighed No matter what, it just seemed way too strange to be even a little relieved to have spotted him.



Maybe Kakami couldn't see, Sachiko wondered as the tension remained before her former sensei ducked beneath the flags of a food stand. Nothing Sachiko could really do about it. And the fact she was thinking of Kakami as her former sensei was a little saddening. But it felt like that, Sharingan issues aside, they didn't really see each other. When not on missions Kakami spent her time with Rin (and maybe others, if she so chose), and Sachiko was up to her ears in team-training, genjutsu-training, and just plain visiting with other people. Naruko when Sachiko could find her, Kiba, Hanato when he had the moments to spare, Hinaji on occasion, Aki when he pounced her, Sakurai when he wasn't working himself to death at the hospital... (She should go visit him during his workday. Give him a little something different to handle.) But it sucked she saw Kakami only rarely.

Though, Kakami had offered up Sachiko an invitation to "hang out" if she wanted, not just when she was having problems. Maybe she ought to take Kakami up on that. Without the snake, she added when the little creature's green head popped up again. She lightly stroked the snake's head as Kakami came back out, then the snake resettled itself when they started walking.

And hey! There was Aki. Spiffy.

"Oi! Aki!" she called out.



Aki had been hungry today. Very much so. And he frankly couldn't wait to find a nice, shady spot to break open his yakisoba, sushi and soda. At least until someone called his name. Blinking a bit, he looked around....Sasa-chan!

And Kakami. Both were headed towards him and Aki blinked again, just a tad nervous. He hadn't done anything outrageous recently, so he shouldn't be in trouble...at least not for anything he could truthfully claim. Huh. Well, whatever the reason, it was good to see Sachiko - especially since she'd called out to him. It seemed so promising!

"Hey, Sasa-er, Sachiko! And Kakami." Aki grinned brightly, catching himself. Somehow he had a feeling that the 'nickname' would just have to stay private for now... "What can I do for you two ladies?"



Kakami almost shot him a flat look and would have if he'd sounded even slightly close to flirtatious but nodded to Sachiko. It was her pet after all, and Aki would be the best to help out. And despite her desire to spend more time with Sachiko in a slightly more normal environment than they'd be able to do in the past, she had no desire to spend much time with the snake or Aki, in all honesty.



Sachiko's eyes had narrowed just a tad when he used that name though relaxed when he corrected himself. Kakami's presence was probably the reason for him doing so, and she wondered about the story between them. She glanced up at Kakami (the older woman was a few inches taller). Her talk would probably take some time, and since Kakami didn't seem keen on the snake or Aki, better that visits be at a later time without the latter two. But she also didn't want to just brush Kakami off, like she had inadvertently with Kiba when they went looking for Naruko. Why were some interactions with people so difficult? So she stayed near Kakamii as she replied to Aki.

"I actually had a question for you," she said. "See, I found this--I think it's a grass snake--while cleaning up one of the empty lots, and it's decided he likes me, or something, and now I don't know what to do. I didn't want to leave him there, because if some kids or something else found him, he'd probably not last the encounter. You'd said you'd had pet snakes, so I wanted to ask your advice on what to do with him."



Aki blinked and then stuffed the bottles into some oversized pockets and set his bag carefully on the ground before moving a little closer to Sachiko to inspect the snake. Dark gray eyes showed a quiet enthusaism as Aki studied the snake that was seemingly comfortable with peeking out of Sachiko's collar at him.

He glanced at Sachiko and grinned deeply, obviously very pleased. "He's a beaut." And he really was, all vibrant green and hint of a yellow underbelly. Plus, he seemed really friendly too which was interesting and probably meant he'd been owned by someone before...because wild snakes tended to be a lot more shy. "None of mine were ever quite this pretty."

Aki straightened and stared at the bag with his sushi and yakisoba, mouth twisting just a bit. Then he grinned broadly. "Okay, let's head to my place 'cause I'm pretty sure I have at least an old aquarium that you can use." Grin got wider. "Then we can go shopping!"



And the way Aki nearly squealed that last bit was something that Kakami took as a cue for her to exit. Running into Aki on the street was one thing, actually being dragged around town by him was another. Besides, she did still have some other errands to take care of.

Turning towards Sachiko, she smiled at the younger woman. "I do have to get going now, but I'll see you later, okay?" Hopefully, Sachiko didn't think it was just because of the snake that Kakami was leaving because she did seem kind of attached to it...well, at least not wholly. "Come and see the puppies soon, if you like." An open invitation, hopefully, would be a start to Kakami and Sachiko being able to start on some sort of normal ground.



Wait, what?

Sachiko was too busy staring in surprise to respond to Aki, but Kakami's voice gave her a better focus as she looked over at her sensei. "Ah--hai," she replied, sounding more than a little distracted. "I will. Thanks for helping me find him, Kaka-sensei." And then Kakami was gone and Sachiko was left to face an excited Aki. Alone.

Gods help me. Because an excited Aki was an Aki capable of anything. For example, threatening to take her shopping. "W-Wait, wait, what are we discussing here? I--You're not suggesting I keep him, are you? Because I don't know the first thing about caring for a snake, and I've a cat who I don't know will like it, and I don't think I or the snake for that matter would appreciate that, and---yes." Did she just babble? Yes, yes she did just babble. The snake bumped its head under her chin and she felt absurd. She wasn't looking to adopt the snake, despite its adorable traits and its likability and how it felt rather natural to have a small green reptile coiled about her neck. She just...wanted to...find it a better place to live. Because she didn't think it would live long in that lot.



As Kakami walked away with a backwards wave and Sachiko started....babbling weird Aki cocked his head to the side and studied her for a long moment after she'd finished. Then he straightned, drew in his brows and very importantly uttered a simple, "Oh."

He scratched his head, a sheepish grin just starting to stretch his lips. "Heh, guess I jumped the train there. I just thought you'd want to keep it, seeing as how you picked it up in the first place. Plus he seems to like you." Seeing the little snake made Aki recall his own pets and made him remember why he was always a little regretful when he'd decided to leave the aquarium empty.

...If Sasa-chan didn't want it, maybe he'd take it. If Izu didn't mind. But still...it would be really awesome if someone else was around who liked snakes almost as much as he did!

"I don't think any shelters will take 'im...but maybe you can post some signs or stuff to see if an owner pops up. Meanwhile, you'll want to at least keep him a few days till someone shows up." Aki said quickly.



"Oh," Sachiko replied. "Uhm. I could... I could take care of him for a few days. I'll just have to make sure the cat can't get to him." She petted the snake more. He was cute! And friendly. But she couldn't keep him. And she also didn't like the twinge of guilt she felt at Aki's disappointment, though she made herself push it aside for now. "I thought he had been a pet at some point; I don't think most snakes are so friendly. And he did seem to take to me pretty quickly."

If she looked troubled, it was because while she doubted she could care for the snake properly, she...didn't want to give him back to his previous owners.



"Great!" Aki grinned again and then picked up his bag. "To my place then." He'd drop off his food and take the aquarium over to Sachiko's - most likely stopping to pick up a few items such as a heat lamp and some food...he'd have a look at some of his old scrolls that he'd made as a preteen to see if he'd catalogued this particular breed somewhere along the line (cataloguing was using the term rather loosely - at one point Aki had scribbled down basic information on different snakes he'd seen in the forests around Konoha, but he hadn't kept it up for years).

As they walked along, Aki chatted nonchalantly - because at this point, it was really second nature - but studied the snake. He was a pretty fellow. Maybe...he could convince Izu if she was really set against it...but then again, other stuff was coming up that he didn't want to upset too much and it might be best to leave the whole pet snake deal alone for another good stretch of time.



Sachiko followed along, one hand in her pants pocket and the other resting on her collarbone so her fingertips could still brush the smooth scales. They felt weird, but in a good way. Like the skin was so smooth it should be seamless, but she could definitely differentiate between the individual scales. Maybe a better word was 'pebbled' but that didn't sit right either. It was just a distinctly snake-y feeling, because it wasn't as rigid or anything and it was a different softness from cat fur. She listened to Aki (usually she was just the listener) but she actually tried to contribute a little to the conversation as well. She also got that he was studying the snake, too, and supposed that was fine; he was the one with the knowledge after all.

"By the way," she interjected into a pause, "thank you for... helping me with this."



Aki paused, almost mid-thought, then gave Sachiko a close to quiet smile. "Hey, no problem." he said and then scratched his head as the smile grew wider. Anything for family - even adopted family. Aki didn't say it aloud though, because he wasn't sure how Sachiko would take being adopted without consultation.

Although no one he'd adopted had ever seemed to mind horribly. Still...Sachiko wasn't Izume or Kotetsu or Kureno or even Tenzouko. Ah well...age had never really stopped Aki and despite his first reluctance in even speaking to her, he found himself liking Sachiko. Liking her quite a bit.

"I may have a heat lamp and a place for him to curl up behind still. We'll see!" he added cheerily. They were nearly there at any rate and he picked up his pace just a little.

Soon they were in front of Aki's front door, a dark brown thing with some peeling paint at the bottom. Aki unlocked and pushed it open, walking towards the kitchen which was in the back. "Go ahead and have a seat!" He called over his shoulder, motioning vaguely to a slightly overstuffed couch that might have at one time been dark green but was so faded, patched and worn it was hard to tell. A woven blanket, probably new, had been half heartedly thrown over it in an attempt to perhaps cover it. A slightly battered coffee table that was stacked with some old beer bottles, a pile of take out menus, a few scrolls and the remote to a smallish TV set.

Aki rummaged around the kitchen, which held little food (but less alcohol than it had in previous years) stuffing his lunch into the refrigerator quickly and then going to what constituted as a former pantry. Moving aside some boxes that held what seemed to be almost untouched pans and perhaps a popcorn popper when had he gotten that? he spotted the old aquarium. Picking it up, he walked out of the narrow kitchen to the great room, going to the table that was about a foot behind the couch.

"Well, it needs to be cleaned up." he mused. "You can come over and look at it if you like; I'm gonna see what else I managed to save."



Sachiko nodded. Her brow creased shallowly when she saw the peeling paint on the door, but that was quickly overlooked once she saw inside his apartment. It was more-or-less neat, though she declined to comment on the collection of beer bottles. The furniture was old and worn, though she supposed it was comfortable. It looked comfortable, but that couch was really faded.

She went to the table Aki had set the aquarium down on to inspect the container for herself. No cracked glass; that was good. Longish and not that tall, it should give the snake room to move around comfortably. The lid, too, she might be able to secure in such a way to keep Neko from opening it and getting inside. It definitely needed cleaning, though--the glass was khaki-gray with dust and the aquarium floor had a thick layer. "Aki-san, do you have paper towels and some glass cleaner? I could try cleaning it, and then letting it dry while we get what the snake needs."



"Uuuuhhh...." Aki paused, a box of old scrolls in his arms. He stuffed it on the bit of counter near the stove and then went to the sink to rummage. He was fairly certain Izume or Kureno might have left some stuff behind at one point or another - Aki usually just used water to clean the one window that was near the table.

Ah-ha! There was a spray bottle with a bit of blue liquid in it that, by looking at the label, proved to be what was needed. Aki pulled it out and then grabbed a roll of paper towels off the counter before walking over and handing them to her. "Here...I might be able to identify the snake, if I can find the right scroll anyway. Then we'll find out what the little guy likes to eat." He offered a bit of a grin, before tromping back to the kitchen.

Hm...he had no idea how old some of these scrolls actually were, but then shrugged and began scanning through them quickly in hopes of finding the right one.



Sachiko nodded in thanks as well as understanding. "That would be good. I can't tell if he's hungry or not, but he'd appreciate some food I'm sure." He disappeared again, and she set about cleaning up the tank. She turned the aquarium onto the long side and dry-wiped the glass to get the worst of the dust off as much as she could, then attacked it with the spray bottle. Surprisingly, despite the high amount of shoulder movement involved in cleaning (though she tried to minimize it as much as possible), the snake really didn't seem to care all that much. He did adjust himself occasionally, but for the most part kept still though the shadow of a reflection in the glass showed her he occasionally popped his head up and appeared to watch the proceedings with a reptile-y interest.

At least he wasn't upset and biting her. That was a huge relief.



Aki was nearly at the bottom of the box before he found it. A slight 'woot' of relief escaped his lips before he unrolled it, scanning around for an entry that sounded like it might help. Halfway down, he glanced through the kitchen door way to see what progress Sachiko was making and then went back to reading.

"Found it!" he said, breaking the odd - for him - silence that had fallen on the apartment. Right, green...it was a bit unusual, especially a color so vibrant. Aki walked over and placed the scroll on the table.

"Hey, Sasa, do me a favor and get him to be held a bit? I want to check some things; make sure he's what I think he is."



She shot him an annoyed glance (at least he'd dropped the -chan; perhaps there was progress made) but nodded. "Okay. All right, guy," she said to the snake, "need you to unwind." Carefully she grasped the snake below the neck and unwound him from her neck, letting him coil instead around her hand and forearm. He still felt cool to her touch, but not cold, and she could also feel the warmth that she had lent him. Her neck felt colder, too, now that the snake was no longer residing there.

The snake looked at her as if to say, 'Why did you move me?' Its eyes were bright and his tongue flicked out, head swaying to look from her to Aki to the other surroundings and back to her. It leaned into her hand, too, when she petted it.



Admittedly, it took some self-control not too immediately reach for the snake...or to grin very widely at the young woman. He'd see the ever so slightly softening of Sachiko's eyes as she'd carefully unwound the snake.

....She totally liked it. Hee. Aki could definitely live with that. Instead of saying anything however, he bent forward a bit to inspect what he could see of the snake's underbelly, then looking close at the shape of its head and its eyes. He glanced at the scroll entry a few times and then straightened, nodding.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure its a Opheodrys vernalis." Aki recited the scientific name with surprising smoothness. He looked up from the old paper and smiled at Sachiko. "Smooth Green Snake. They eat insects. A pet shop should have crickets or something." The man reached a hand forward, carefully, towards the snake, letting it flick its tongue at him before Aki rubbed the smooth scales. Just for a moment. He really did sort of miss it...

"He should have a name." Aki said decidedly and almost suddenly.



"..........A temporary name," Sachiko said after a long pause. She wasn't keeping the snake in truth, after all. Just holding onto him until the previous owners were found. She'd keep repeating that to herself. After an even longer pause while the snake nosed at her shirtsleeve again, she asked, "What would you suggest?" Because she didn't want to name it "Hebi".



"..." Aki cocked his head thoughtfully, studying the snake for a long moment. "Well, we could call him Mareo." It would suit him, meaning "rare" - the snake was certainly different. "Or something like Akio; he seems smart enough." 'Bright boy' was a good choice because of the color of the snake too perhaps. Aki shrugged. "I'm not sure I'm the one to pick; my pet snakes had names like Aku Wasabi and stuff."

Aki didn't care who thought differently; 'evil mustard' had been a totally AWESOME name.



She thought about it. 'Akio' sounded too much like Aki, and while yes Aki was being helpful, she didn't necessarily want the name sounding similar. And... "Mareo' sounds fine." How often did she find a snake that she liked and liked her, after all? "Thanks.

"So, we've got an aquarium and you think you have a heat lamp; we'll need to get him food and water and other stuff, I guess. --He is male, right?" she interrupted herself. She figured she should know now; she could sex a cat but a snake was totally outside her realm of experience.



"Uh...." Aki grinned a little sheepishly. "Here, lemme see him for a minute. Or her."

He carefully unwound the snake from Sachiko's arm, prodding it to move to his. The snake stared at him for a few moments before easily sliding over, its tongue slipping in and out curiously for just a bit. Aki greeted it softly, fingers running down the length of the snake for a moment before maneuvering the snake belly up as comfortably as could be done. Aki carefully felt along the snake's lower regions and then applied some pressure between his fingers.

An odd, thorned tip appeared and Aki released, letting it sink back into the snake's skin. "Yup, it's a he." he said, rubbing Mareo's head as if to apologize for the intrusion. "He handled that pretty well." Very reluctantly, his fingers stopped stroking the cool scales and his arm raised toward Sachiko slightly, to let her take Mareo again. It was very difficult to do and for a brief moment, Aki was heavily tempted to say that he'd keep the snake, seeing as how Sachiko was worried about the cat and all...

'Cept he wasn't sure how Izume would handle snakes and besides, he was hardly home anymore as it was...the snake ninken were fine and all because they didn't actually live with him, not like Kakami's dogs. Still...it was hard.



Good snake, Sachiko barely caught herself from saying aloud as she took Mareo back from Aki. Admittedly, it was odd to see snake genitalia, but no more weird than knowing the oddities of feline genitalia. (Spines. Ouch.) She stroked the snake and kept a loose hand on him, letting him coil on the table to watch what he would do. And couldn't keep the light smirk-smile off her face when he nosed back under her shirt-sleeve to crawl up her arm. "This has got to be one of the strangest sensations," she said, "a snake crawling up my arm and... yep, back around my neck. Think he did this with his previous owner?" It was a rather cool thing, and body warmth aside she liked to think that Mareo maybe had taken a liking to her too.



"Maybe." Aki murmured, then shrugged, shaking himself out of his thoughts and putting on a grin. "Yeah, he probably got trained when he was younger."

The man rolled up the scroll, walking back to the kitchen. "Lemme see if I can find that heat lamp real quick..." There were various sounds of hurried rummaging that followed that statement, as Aki dug through a few more boxes. He didn't remember owning this much stuff... and then blinked as he heard something shatter. Muttering a minor curse under his breath, Aki dug out the old heat lamp, its former bulb broken. He made a face - the broken bits would have to be duge out but that could be later - and then stood.

A box of lightbulbs later - someone had conveniently stored them in the cabinet over the stove - and Aki was plugging it in to see if it worked.

Another soft curse as the lamp didn't do so much as blink. Aki tried another outlet and then one more to be sure but then turned to Sachiko, shrugging a little helplessly. "Well, I'll just buy a new one then." He placed it on the table and then picked up the now clean aquarium. "Perhaps on the way then. We'll have to get him a little water bowl and probably something to curl up in to sleep...plus the crickets."

He glanced at Sachiko and Mareo. "Ready?"



Sachiko nodded, faint amusement in her dark eyes. Despite her earlier protestations, the pair of them were about to embark on the same supply run that Aki had be so scarily eager to dive into, earlier. Hopefully, since he now held an aquarium in both hands, the threat of being literally dragged around the village was lessened substantially. This being Aki, she couldn't discount the possibility entirely.

~

The shopping went fairly quickly. In any event, it took less time than she anticipated. True, quite a bit of time was spent on arguing over who paid for what -- Aki insisted on paying for everything, but Sachiko was just as adamant to purchase what she could. She couldn't afford everything, of course, because she hadn't a whole lot of cash on her for an unplanned shopping trip, but she despised the way he tried to prevent her from paying. He'd backed down enough to let her contribute what she had on her - about a third of the total price. He still had the aquarium, which had doubled as a carrying container for the walk back to her apartment, while she carried paper bags of everything else.

Mareo was quiet the entire trip, though he had been looking around for a good portion of the trip.

Once they were at her place, she set the bags on the floor of the main room and realized she hadn't thought of where she was going to put the aquarium and everything else. The bookshelf looked to be the best bet, so she pointed it out to Aki. "How about on there?"



Aki looked around then nodded - reminded again that Sachiko's place was a bit bare, but then again the thought it wasn't any worse than his own apartment suddenly occured to him. Maybe he just unconciously measured everything against Izume and Kotetsu's spaces since he'd known them the longest. The aquarium was deposited and Aki began to unload it. A mat of mock grass to line the bottom, half a log for Mareo-kun to sleep under, a rock for him to curl around and a small dish for water. Nothing incrediably fancy but snakes could be comfortable with very little at times.

He offered these items to Sachiko so that she could set up the aquarium how she liked - who knows, Mareo could have some opinoins too! - and he set about opening the pack of new lightbulbs and the heat lamps so it could be easily set up.

"If you want, you can keep a weight on the lid too, so that it will be a bit more difficult if Neko decides to try to sneak in." he stated thoughtfully, after a few moments. He was, admittedly, mulling a little bit about her manner in the shop. Aki was so used to paying for things, it had been almost second nature to assume he'd be taking care of it and so Sachiko's insistance had been a little surprsing. And a bit hurtful as well - normally Aki would have just insisted right back but there'd been something that held him from it, probably because he was trying not to push against Sachiko very hard right now, not like he normally did with Kureno or one of the other girls. After all, there could be plenty of reasons and he'd just figure out a way to ask about it nicely and not blurt it out like he usually did.

"Sorry about the shop." There. That wasn't so bad...just a bit awkward...



Sachiko arranged the items, putting the water bowl towards the middle and arranging everything so there was a "cool" area and a "warm" area at the extreme ends of the aquarium to allow for temperature modulation. Aki had done quite a bit of talking about snake care, plus Sachiko had included a book on care into the items being purchased. At some point she would go by the library to do further research, but he had given her some solid ground to start on. She had paused to ponder how releasing the crickets could be done without getting the small black insects everywhere when Aki apologized for the shop.

Her gaze dropped and flicked a little to the side before she decided that the small pot of real grass (food for the crickets and additional cover for the snake) needed to go near the water so that the heat lamp didn't kill it. The container, however... "'s fine," she replied, except she didn't mean so much it was okay but that it was in the past and nothing to change.




Aki walked over, heat lamp in hand, eyes glancing over the aquarium so he could have it set up at the proper place. "Yeah, well...kinda got used to doin' things a certain way and can't remember sometimes that not everybody just will go for it." he attempted a half grin at her before stooping to plug it in.

Sachiko was different from other girls. Tenzouko wasn't necessarily about letting him pay for everything either but they'd arrange to trade off depending on whom asked to do what - and as Aki normally was itching to go out a lot more he usually ended up paying anyway so in the end he wasn't even sure why they come to that arrangement anyway.



"Mn." Once she was certain everything but the crickets were arranged satisfactorily, Sachiko unwound Mareo from her neck and gently placed him in the aquarium. As far as the crickets went... She handed the chirping paper box to Aki. "Would you do the honors?" He took the box cheerfully enough, and soon the singing was spread throughout the aquarium with the lid settled firmly and securely in place. Neither Neko nor the snake himself would be able to dislodge the lid. "Thanks.

"...I like being able to pay for stuff," she said after several moments' quiet. Neko had wandered over to jump lightly on top of the bookcase, sniffing intensively and leaving nose prints on the glass. Mareo was slowly exploring his new home and ignoring the furry face watching him.



A glance out of the corner of his eye was the only thing Aki spared, deciding that focusing on the snake seemed easier. His hands were stuffed in the pockets of his dark pants, head slightly cocked as he watched Mareo slowly coil himself around the rock, tongue flicking in and out rapidly.

"Okay." Aki finally said. One hand left the pocket to brush some of his purple bangs back, although they fell right back into place. "I..well, I like to pay for stuff too. Like I said, got used to it. If it bothers you, I can leave it off sometimes."

There was, maybe, something behind Sachiko's liking for paying for her own things. In fact, there probably was because if there was one thing that Aki had learned from Ibiki, was that people always had a reason for everything, even if they weren't consciously aware of it at the time. Aki had left open an offer in his voice, a verbal note that invited Sachiko to divulge more if she liked and if she didn't, then she didn't. Aki would like to know of course, because he was the curious type of guy who just liked to know things even if they didn't seem to matter all that much.

But for all intents and purposes, Sachiko was one of his girls now. That meant she was in charge of most of the shots called in their relationship. Besides, if she was up for paying, that meant more money to spend on Izume anyway.



Sachiko didn't say anything for a while; just watched Mareo in his new home. Then Neko jumped down to rub against Sachiko's legs, so the human bent to scoop up the now-purring feline.

"Since..." She trailed off, eyes narrowing at nothing while she mastered herself. "After my attempted defection, and after my release from incarceration, no one-- The merchants refused my money. The only ones who grudgingly took it were the grocers, and that's because food is a bit necessary and I think the Hokage told them they couldn't refuse me the basic necessities. But everything else I needed, I had to ask Kakami-sensei to acquire for me." The last words ended on a bitter snarl. Not at Kakami (or Aki), but at the merchants and the memory, and the fact that the dislike and mistrust pervaded still. A prime example being when she had wanted to move out of the compound and how it had taken Tsurude himself to get a landlord to rent her a flat, and before then, Hanato-sempai had had to pretty much browbeat a weapons smith into making the clawed gloves she donned for the chakra claws.

Not that she blamed them, entirely, because she had tried her hardest to defect. But if the Hokage had forgiven her to the point where she was allowed to have a rank again, to have sensei again and the chance for advancement, then her money was just as good as anyone else's.



Aki raised his eyebrows and then lowered them again, still watching Mareo. Well...he felt a bit stupid. Perhaps because he thought he should have guessed it would be something like that. Sometimes though, he very easily forgot how he'd been treated in the few years after Orochimayu's departure and sometimes it came up again, with a certain choking strength.

He glanced at her, slight smile on his face. She'd kinda...opened up there and Aki felt somewhat ridiculously gleeful about it. He would have hugged, except she was holding the cat and all...ah, he'd get her later. Yes, plenty of hugs in the future. For now, Aki felt quite content to keep his happiness to himself and simply nod. "Okay." He said. "I can live with you payin' for stuff."

A pause and then a mischivious grin. "Especially if you'll pay for a meal now and again too." He added, just a tad cheekily.



Sachiko glanced at him while Neko continued to purr in her arms. "Yeah, sure," she replied, not bothering to be bothered by the guy's cheek. Aki was, to her mild irritation, becoming yet another of the fixtures in her life. Sometimes she felt like her life was getting so crowded with people who mattered (even in small ways) she felt like she was drowning. And sometimes she felt...not crowded. She knew she definitely wasn't so tense around the Inuzuka clan when she ate with them, but that was different. A clan setting wasn't the same as one-on-one or a small group.

"Do you... How do I keep him warm when it gets colder?" she asked, already thinking ahead to the coming winter months.



And just like that, the issue passed - not that he was complaining, not a bit. Aki was mostly thrilled that she'd told him something that could have been considered private, explaining her motives rather than simply shutting him down. Aki looked back at Mareo, and shrugged lightly.

"Heat lamp should do the trick. It depends if you mind him hibernating or not." To tell the truth, the winters were generally mild in Konoha - save for the occasional falls of snow they sometimes witnessed. Still, very cold for a snake. "If you don't want him too, and he seems to start getting sluggish in the winter, you might want to get a second heat lamp - just be sure to get a theromometer to stick in there so he doesn't get overheated too."

One hand pulled out of his pocket and lightly placed it self on her shoulder as Aki smiled down at Sachiko. "But you really shouldn't have to worry about it anytime soon, unless you don't have a good heating system in here." The hand dropped off and Aki sighed just a tad. He really should get back...salvage what was left of his lunch break and then get back to work. He'd eat the yakisoba and sushi later probably tomorrow if Izume wanted to go out tonight and just pick up a sandwich or something on his way back to the office.

It was kinda hard to leave though...He missed snakes, darn it!

"I guess I should get going though." he stated reluctantly, turning away, then paused. "Hey, let me know if you find his family. Or I can help you look if you want. Or, y'know, if you wanna keep him-" which he was pretty sure Sachiko would do. Snakes just were awesome that way. "-I can probably keep an eye on him if you ever need me too."



She glanced at the hand on her shoulder, but he dropped it before she could comment, so she let it slide as she looked up at his face. "...Thanks. Maybe later we can talk more about this? ...I don't want to go to the library just yet, and I know only what you've told me in regards to care."



The grin that Aki shot were could have potentially blinded a normal person. Frankly, it hardly mattered that he was one of the few people - and the only one Sachiko knew apparently - that was truly knowledgable about snakes and so it made sense for her to ask him about it. To him, being asked to teach or give advice was just kinda cool.

"Sure!" he said enthusiastically. More time with Sasa-chan, more time with Mareo...it would be pretty awesome. "Just drop by or send me a note or somethin' and I'll come by. Or you can bring Mareo over if ya like."



"I think you coming by would be easier, so that he doesn't get unsettled by having the whole aquarium moved about," Sachiko replied. The blinding grin made her nervous, but she would make do if she got the help she wanted. And, she had to admit, he wasn't bad, so much as very very intense. Kind of like Naruko, if she thought about it enough. "Any time in the evening's usually good for me. Just give me a heads-up before you come over?"



Aki nodded in agreement. "Sounds good."

And since her arms were full of cat, he reached out and ruffled her hair, just enough to shift it around a little before quickly going to the door. A wave and a cheery, "See ya!" was called before he made his escape. Hopefully the hair ruffling wasn't too far out of line....

It totally wasn't saving her from two hugs next time though.

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