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Playing Hero [closed to Tsume and Asuma][Jan. 23rd, 2009|11:11 am]

[Takes place March 15, the day after Pay it Forward, at the same time as The Weight of the World]

Mid-March was finally starting to bring the warmth spring always teased with, sending people flooding outside, awnings unfurling over cafes. At least until the next cold snap, when everyone would bundle back in.

For her part, Tsume found herself outside just for the sake of being outside, though it wasn't yet warm enough to wear anything but long sleeves--and tired as she was from attempting Inuzuka jutsu (next time, she really would follow the Hyuuga's orders, she promised), it seemed colder still. Kuromaru padded along beside her, his coat looking ragged and mangy. Winter fur was coming off in tufts. There were drifts of it in her apartment, and he'd only been home for a few days. She didn't mind.

The breeze whipped through the crowded little district, and for a moment people clutched at jackets and sweaters. Then it was gone, and everyone was shedding cloth once more as if it were warmer than it actually was.

In the lull between the old scents clearing away and the new jostling back in, Tsume caught wolf.

Her gaze cast around, finally striking a tall man sitting by the rail of a restaurant's patio, a canine curled around his feet. The canine rose first, uncoiling to nearly as tall as Kuromaru.

Beside her, Tsume felt more than heard a deep bass rumble as Kuromaru began to growl, his hackles rising.

"Easy," she murmured, resting a hand on his shoulders and purposely not looking at the other Inuzuka. She knew him. Knew the scarred shinobi with one missing finger, the lobe of his ear knicked short. One tattoo bled deeper than the rest, where he'd had it re-inked after a kunai had nearly parted his jaw with his face. He was a hard man, a strong leader, and a natural alpha.

All she had to do was walk past. Highly aware of the weight she'd lost after being injured and the bandages still over her finally-healing face, she rocked her shoulders back, stared straight ahead, and stalked closer.

Walking past was easy enough. If they both pretended they didn't see each other, there was no challenge. If she just ignored him and he didn't chase her down, there was no challenge. If she'd been whole, there'd have been no challenge.

She wasn't whole.

Someone bumped her, sending her catching herself against her hound, half a step closer to Botan than she'd meant to be. Her gaze landed on his table, only a few feet away from where she stood, with a thin metal rail between them. Beneath her fingers, Kuromaru's hackles rose further. His bones vibrated with a growl.

Botan moved. Tsume's gaze snapped up to his, fast and hard and sharp as a blade. For one heartbeat everything was fine.

Then two. They were human. They didn't have to challenge.

Then three. His eyebrow rose. He didn't look away. Between one breath and the next the air changed, a play for power made in the shift of muscle under skin and the tightening of his face. In the claws of chakra that weren't killing intent, but were an offer to kill.

She knew she couldn't beat him. That the smart thing to do would be to look away, give him this battle, and re-challenge later. She couldn't do it. Natural alpha meant not backing down--and there was a reason she'd been clan head. Tsume locked his gaze and felt her own growl rise softly in her chest. Her chin lowered. His echoed the movement.

She waited. He waited. Four heartbeats. Five.

Kuromaru bolted, a streak of ratty fur as he slid between the metal bars, around a chair, teeth driving for the other canine.

Tsume followed him, moving at the same moment that Botan did, launching herself over the rail. He caught her before she hit her feet, sharp Inuzuka nails slicing across her shoulder as he bared his teeth, snarling in anger.

People scattered. Neither noticed. Tsume kicked, something too animalistic to be killing intent lashing at the air around them, battering against his own chakra. Dishes and silverware danced as the table crashed sideways, Tsume's claws sinking into his forearm as he grabbed for her throat, trying to overpower her before she had so much as a chance to fight back.

She hit the ground, a hand locked around her neck, and started to kick. She should give up. It was the reasonable thing to do. She could find him later, take her status back.

She couldn't do it.

He snarled and tightened his hold. She went for his eyes, got a breath as he dodged, snapped at his face and almost rolled out from under him.

Another table crashed. Chairs broke. She could hear the canines snarling, her own voice, Baton's voice, her heartbeat. The only thing she could smell was blood and challenge and enemy. The pain from claws raking across one arm as she fought back was drowned in bright red rage.

Tsume howled.
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