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weighted_wings in narukorp

Cleaning Route [Nejiko, Yuugao]

Nejiko pulled her hair back into a ponytail, checked to make sure it looked neat and sleek above her hitae-ate in the mirror, then closed her locker door. Being back on active duty was something of a mixed blessing. It was a relief to know she had healed enough to be able to be back, period, but on the other hand it meant that she could now endure her punishment for impersonating an on-duty ANBU back in September, when she had to see Tsurude and did not want to wait or go through normal channels. Her assignment was that she would perform twenty hours of sentry duty a week, five days at four hours each, and then she would perform custodial duties for an equal amount of time.

The forty-hour work week was to help her rebuild her endurance levels back to what they had been before July, and it was also punishment (at least to her) by limiting how much she could work. Training was also impacted, mostly because certain family members were watching her like hawks (Hanabi chief among them) to ensure she didn't over do it, and because she herself was watching the Elder Council and her aunt (as much as she was able) as well as spending time with her mother.

She was learning it was much more preferable to fuss over her mother than it was to have her mother fuss over her. A sentiment she found reflected back at her. Adjusting was still a work in progress for both of them.

But that was neither here nor there. Her sentry shift was over and now it was time for her custodial shift. Which probably wouldn't be so bad if she hadn't needed to wear her ANBU blacks while she did such tasks as taking out the garbage, sweeping/mopping the floors, taking shredded papers to the incinerator, and making sure the bathrooms were sanitary. Of course, the fact she was wearing her blacks was most of the point. Having to explain why she was wearing her blacks when asked (and she had to give the full explanation, per orders) was another part.

It was not lost on her, how similar her punishment was to what Yuuhi's had been. Granted, her misconduct wasn't so grave, but the potential to become as dire a situation as his was there. Nejiko recognized that, and easily, after the emotional upheaval had passed. And once again was thankful the Hokage had understood her situation as well. Because her punishment could have been much worse: she could have been dishonorably discharged from ANBU. Power was a privilege, not a right, and she of all people should have remembered that.

If nothing else, Tsurude-sama understood the value of public humiliation. Nejiko of course endured with the expected stoic Hyuuga grace, but she knew that the punishment was successful at how her pride squirmed and writhed. The lesson was quite learned. Pity she was only on day six, with another twenty-five to go before it ended.

Thankfully, no one outside of ANBU need know of her humiliation. And tonight was quieter, meaning less people to see her. As she walked down the corridor towards the custodial closet she ticked off the mental list of her duties for her shift.

She walked by a breakroom and was surprised-but-not to see Yuugao passed out on the cheap leather couch. Something seemed off, so instead of simply continuing by she stopped in the doorway. She hadn't spoken with him at any length since their terribly awkward meeting at the compound. She had seen him but she had either been on her way to or from the hospital when she had other matters on her mind, and had only acknowledged him enough to meet his greeting, or to nod at him if she managed to notice him first. And looking at him now, she felt her eyes narrow as she noticed he had lost weight, and there were smudges under his eyes. Recognizing the symptoms of overwork and too little food, she chose to say nothing.

Instead, she detoured to the cafeteria to grab a pudding cup and a spoon. After a moment, she grabbed two. She could stand to eat something herself.

Then it was back to that first floor to get the cart with the oversize dustbin to begin her duties. When she reached the breakroom where Yuugao was still asleep but now on his back, only now she saw the blanket that had been kicked aside so most of it puddled on the floor. She picked up the pudding cups and walked over to him, dropping one of them squarely on his solar plexus.

Yuugao's mind had been completely and utterly blank as he slept - a blessing lately. Too much stress had led to nightmares born of whatever task he had been doing before falling asleep. Getting mauled by an anthropomorphic sewing machine with a needle and thread sidekick was not top in his priorities. So, as Nejiko plopped the pudding onto him, Yuugao nearly got to his feet - like any good ANBU would. Or at least so he told himself.

The remaining blanket was still wrapped around his feet and part of his legs, so he did a dramatic flailing and jumping up before falling back to the couch and hitting the back of his head on the couch's arm. Yuugao flinched and looked up with squinting eyes at Nejiko, his expression softening immediately.

"Nejiko-san." He tried to sort out his appearance as he spoke - pulling down his shirt as it had ridden up over his stomach, the blanket still trapping his feet, and his hair all mussed. "I didn't know you were back on duty. Is something wrong? I... I mean, hi." Yuugao forced a tired smile and sat more comfortably on the couch, spotting the pudding on the floor and reaching down for it. "What's going on?"

She was holding out the spoon, handle first, when he sat back up with pudding in hand. "What is going on," she answered patiently as he took the spoon from her, "is that you are going to eat something. You've lost weight." It wasn't a question. She chose a nearby chair to sit in before pulling the foil cover from her own pudding.

Yuugao stared at her for a moment and then looked down at the spoon, twirling it in his fingers. "I've...been busy," he mumbled, shrugging and opening his own pudding. He knew it wasn't an excuse, but it was the only thing he could think to say.

How else would he say 'I've been miserable worrying about you and yet even more worried and anxious because I don't want to push you too far and you've been recovering and I still have feelings for you but you didn't seem to make any efforts to see me, but logically you were probably really busy and I have tried to be social, but the Paper Dolls aren't you and I feel like I've screwed everything up again. ...or at least my libido has.'

Yuugao just couldn't see how to fit months' worth of stress, anxiety, and thoughts into a simple set of sentences. Not without coming off all wrong. Which he was the last thing he was trying to do.

"At least you were getting rest. But speaking from experience, you shouldn't neglect eating what is necessary, Taichou." She spoke quietly so it was less a reprimand and more advice, but she included the rank to remind him that as a Captain, he hadn't the 'luxury' she had had.

"I...should know better by now, yes." Getting scolded was bad. But getting scolded by Nejiko about something like this...something that he had just recently scolded her for, well...

He really hoped she wouldn't comment on the slight color on his cheeks. "Have...have you been well? You look better." Yuugao dared to look over her quickly, meeting her eyes before settling on looking at his still untouched pudding.

When he didn't begin eating, she just looked at him with considerable weight behind her gaze.

If he had any less self-preservation, Yuugao would have squeaked when he felt her gaze. After unconsciously pulling in his shoulders, Yuugao dared to look up once and then just ate. If nothing else, it would keep him from being able to stick his foot in his mouth. And she had brought him the food...so she probably was waiting for him to start eating.

"I am doing better," she said as if there had been no lull in his asking and her replying, "thank you."

"Is--Hawk--doing well?" she asked. He had mentioned her before back in the hospital, but with so much happening (and her on disability) she hadn't had the chance to make unofficial inquiries of her own, and by the time she was back on duty she had quite honestly forgotten until she had seen him.

Hawk. He...hadn't tried to visit her after the first time. The staff knew how to contact him if she asked for him, but...he doubted they would ever find the need. Yuugao paused in scraping the last of his pudding, biting his bottom lip for a moment before replying.

"She...still has a great throwing arm, if the bedpan that flew at my head is any indication." Yuugao shook his head softly. "Otherwise, though...I...hear that she's doing well there. She's settling in at the normal rate."

Nejiko nodded. There wasn't much else to say; she had never met the other ANBU. But Hawk had been a member of Yuugao's team, and had been important to him in the way that comrades or subordinates could be.

She finished her pudding, and thus her excuse for delaying her work was no longer. A nod to Yuugao before another sting to her considerable pride as she pulled up the plastic liner of the garbage can before tying it in a knot and lifting the bag clear from the breakroom dustbin. She set it on the floor before going back to the cart to pull free a new, clean liner. She pulled it open and flapped it around to expand the plastic, then re-lined the dustbin. The tied-up bag she grasped by the knot and slung it over to the cart. Her other hand reached for the broom so she could start sweeping the floor.

After he watched her worked for a moment, his own guilt at just sitting there like a bum (let alone letting himself deteriorate so far) made him get up and straighten up the couch - folding the blanket, too, of course - and start looking for other ways to help. He spotted a cloth and a spray bottle labeled for dusting. Yuugao got to work before Nejiko could stop him, keeping himself busy in the hopes that it would make him feel just a little less awkward - and perhaps be helpful to Nejiko in just a small way.

Though, he had to admit it would be nice to have her think more highly of him.

Yuugao was wondering why she was cleaning in her blacks, but...he'd ask later. Or maybe just listen to the gossip that was going on.

She did need a moment to restrain herself from simply whacking his wrist with the broom handle when he began wiping down the table. One didn't just attack a superior officer. Especially if he was ANBU. And while yes, she could appreciate his wanting to help, disliked his interference in her punishment.

"Sir, please don't do that," she said. "I will get to it once I finish with the floor."

"I probably made it dirty, though," Yuugao glanced over, still wiping down the table. "I've put my feet on here plenty of times. Besides, I've...given you plenty of stress."

He bit his lip and was glad she was watching him from behind instead of being able to see his face. Hopefully the Byakugan couldn't see through him that well...

She was glad his back was to her so that he didn't see the flash of impatience. "You would not have been the first to put their feet up there, and certainly not the last. Taichou, please," she continued when he didn't stop. "My orders are to do the cleaning."

Yuugao scrubbed a stubborn stain two more times before pausing and softening his voice. "Did your orders deny others the right of assisting you?"

"Explicitly? No. Implied? Yes."

She was making this more difficult on purpose, he was sure of it. Of course, there was likely pride involved, embarrassment at having a punishment like this at all, and...well, he didn't like having people force help onto him. But he still felt guilty if he didn't do something.

Yuugao straightened and curled up the rag as he clenched his fist. "I can't sit idly by while you work."

"Then stand," she returned succinctly as she went back to sweeping.

There wasn't much to sweep, since the custodial staff went through the building once a day, but it still needed to be done. And her own high standards of perfection disallowed her from doing less than her best, so she was quite exacting how she swept, making sure to get each corner and brushing off chair and table legs.

There was only one small section of the table left to dust, so Yuugao finished with the dusting before replacing the items on the custodial cart. Yuugao kept his back to Nejiko for a few more moments before turning around and leaning against the wall, propping one foot against it as he watched her work.

She finished sweeping everything into a small pile which was collected with a smaller broom and a dustpan. Seeing as he had done the table already and there wasn't much else in the room she loaded back everything on the cart. Actually mopping the floors, she had been informed, was reserved for spills and otherwise only done once a week unless the floor obviously needed it. She mopped yesterday, and no signs of any new spills. Therefore it was time to move on to the next room.

"Taichou," she said and began pushing the cart out the door.

He watched her finish up, but lowered his gaze to the floor when she got to the cart. It wouldn't do to stare.

"What did you do to deserve janitorial duty?" He asked as she walked by, giving her a sideways glance. It had to be something awful to have to clean up after the elite. Cleanliness sometimes flew out the window after especially long missions...

The cart stopped. It didn't matter how many times she had to repeat it; she wasn't about to talk in the hall where it could echo. "I impersonated an on-duty ANBU while on medical leave. The Hokage wasn't pleased, and so assigned me this detail as punishment. And yes, wearing my blacks are required."

Her voice and mannerisms screamed that she had to tell everyone who asked. Yuugao kept himself from flinching, but he stepped off the wall and stretched his arms over his head. "What are you doing for dinner tonight?" It was getting close to the usual time for dinner -- he might as well try to assist in a way that would be less likely to offend her stinging pride.

She stiffened and relaxed fast enough for it to go unnoticed. "Eating it at the compound when I get off-shift." Even if he was only asking as a friend, instinct still asserted itself to maintain the professional distance. The better to minimize the awkward tension that she felt spring up again.

And they had been doing so much better than the last time they had talked. Unless it was some attempt at small talk, and granted a poor choice for a question if it was, why was he asking.

"That's good," he nodded, smiling despite how stupid he felt for letting himself even ask the question. "I'll...probably make myself actually cook something. I've been living out of boxes too much recently." Yuugao ruffled his hair and ignored how it likely still felt horribly unstyled.

"How much longer do you have cleaning duty?" He might as well ask her outright about her schedule.

A glance to the clock. "Three hours, twenty minutes."

He had meant in the long term...but that would be prying if he asked again. At least, it would feel like prying. Yuugao paused and just smiled for a moment. Perhaps he ought to just let her go for the moment - it would be likely he could always track her down tomorrow or later on this week. For now, he probably ought to go to his parents' home and see what was bothering his mother so much. There was no way everything was "fine" with the way she nearly jittered when he saw her in town.

"That's good to hear. I'll make sure my team picks up after themselves."

"Thank you," Nejiko replied. "Good evening to you." A polite tip of the head before she resumed pushing her cart along. She had quite a few rooms left to clean, after all.

Yuugao dipped his head into what could have been seen as a casual bow and watched her leave. Internally he flinched at how awkward the conversation had become by the end. Would they ever be able to speak without glancing away and forcing smiles and formalities? Yuugao closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, glad that most of his tension eased with the exercise. He had things to do, so did she. Until the time was right...there was nothing to be done for it.

So it was that Yuugao turned around and headed back to the civilian world - of to tend to the mundane things that called to him. He lowered his right hand to his pocket, brushing his fingertips against the plastic spoon he'd hastily shoved there so he could help her clean up.

Maybe...maybe it wouldn't hurt to hold onto the plastic spoon for now. It wasn't like he was holding onto a used tissue of hers. Right?