“Where are they?! I keep them in the drawer, so they don’t get lost. Just because of situations like this!”
In Ashikaga Kaiju’s mind, there were many benefits to living on the Soaked Grove. Some of their names were, Midori, Kasumi, Naoko, Kiyoko, and — the young Ashikaga’s favorite benefit — Hitomi. Of course, Kai also knew there were many cons to living here! It was always busy, and people were always stealing things from him! Now, he was missing the most important part of his ensemble for the chūnin exams! How was he supposed to compete without his lucky charm!?
Many people thought Kai worked his ass off to get to where he was, but he didn’t — not really. Kaiju was blessed with a whole lot of natural talent, and he was rarely (if ever) motivated enough to actually train. Kai felt like he just needed his lucky charm, and then everything else would just kind of fall in his lap. But now, he couldn’t find his lucky charm! What was he supposed to do? Try?!
That was just unreasonable.
With his room now in shambles, Kai burst out into the hallway, and decided there was only one place his lucky charm could be: the washroom; he’d already checked all the pockets in the dirty pants in his room, and the ones in his drawer (which were now scattered about). And if his lucky charm had wound up in the wash… Kaiju wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but dammit, it wasn’t going to be good or nice. The thing would get ruined!
The Soaked Grove was more than just Konoha’s premiere hot springs and brothel. Attached to it was the Ashikaga Manor, the home of the wealthy Ashikaga clan that owned and operated the Grove for years. There was a hard and fast rule that Grove business never came home with the clan, which, of course, was just a fancy way of saying that if the Ashikaga wanted to partake in the Grove’s offering, they couldn’t bring someone back to the place where they all ate and slept and lived.
For Ashikaga Maiko, the Grove was home and she, perhaps more than any other young member of the clan (and certainly more than her younger brother) knew the reputation her clan had around the village. If she could distance herself from her clan, she would, but the reality was that people couldn’t help who their parents were but they could work to change perceptions and that was why Mai had wanted to become a shinobi in the first place. She didn’t wish to just be another Ashikaga working the family business, living a life of luxury and excess, not when there were others who risked their lives for the good of the people. If people who had little to their name were willing to fight and risk their lives, why shouldn’t she do the same?
But of course, among the Ashikaga Siblings, Mai had always been the responsible one, settling into a morning routine that she followed even now. She woke up, attended to her bedding, bathed herself for no longer than six minutes, dressed, practiced her hand seals for fifteen to twenty minutes, made herself a breakfast of a rolled egg, rice, and one glass of herbal tea left brewing the night previous, and for the last thirty minutes before her duty as a genin began she assisted her family in more menial tasks, such as janitorial or economic. This morning was, of course, no different even with the looming promise of the chunin exams. She had been prepared. Of course she had. Someone on her team had to be. Mai was not going to be late, not today, not ever.
This morning’s chores had been to fold towels left to air-dry and so Mai found herself in the wash room, the room where patrons disrobed and prepared before entering the hot springs proper, where she was diligently folding the towels into triangles and placing them on a rack. Her hands were moving like they were programmed, following a specific path to a perfect fold. It was oddly therapeutic, like yoga or calisthenics, which she did every other day. “Rat. Ox. Tiger. Hare. Dragon. Snake. Horse. Ram. Monkey. Bird. Dog. Boar.” She repeated the basic twelve signs as she folded. She was truly having a peaceful morning, well needed given what was sure to be a restless afternoon.
“It’d better be in here, or I’m gonna lose it!”
The declaration broke Mai’s careful concentration, and ruined her peaceful morning. Kaiju had arrived, and his arrival meant Mai’s entire morning was very likely going to be thrown out of normalcy and into whatever hellscape Kai saw fit to drag her through this time. Kai slammed the door behind himself, and looked across at Mai, “I can’t find my lucky charm, Mai. I’m not gonna be able to participate in the exams without my lucky charm. Doubly so if we find it and all of its luckiness has been washed away!” Kai boldly declared, pleading with his sister who was folding towels. “Help!”
Mai’s sigh was so loud and drawn out that they probably heard it in the next country over. How was it that her brother could so perfectly find a way to steamroll right through her peaceful mindspace. He wasn’t the type to assist in chores unless they involved the opposite sex’s bath - which was never permitted for obvious reasons and yet he still tried his best. Naturally she knew he wasn’t here to help her but for a brief moment she assumed he was there for something beneficial or helpful.
“What are you talking about? What lucky charm?”” Mai finished folding a towel and set it on the rack, this one’s folds weren’t perfect and was taking up slightly more space on the rack than the others. She’d fix it later. “Lucky charms are a superstition. You’ll be fine. Why aren’t you ready for the exams?”
“What? What do you mean?! I am ready.” Kai said, pointedly jabbing a finger at his Leaf headband, as if that was the only thing he needed to be ‘ready for the exams,’ even if his clothes weren’t exactly perfect — and were in fact, stained in several places just on the shirt alone. It was clear whatever charm he was referring to was more important than proper preparation. “Charms aren’t a superstition! The lucky charm helps me be good at this! How could you say that?! The charm’s gotten us through a lot of stuff!” Kai protested, shaking his head in protest.
“I’m out here suffering, and you’re over there just acting like I’m a bad guy! I don’t have time to practice seals and stuff, Mai, I gotta do research for the future.”
“Seals are quite literally the foundation for our future!” Mai offered in protest; she was dangerously close to throwing up her hands in annoyance but to her credit she was remaining calm in the face of unflinching idiocy that was her brother. He had the headband, that much was true, but would he even have it if Mai hadn’t helped him with his Academy work? If Mai hadn’t stayed up late helping him with transformation jutsu? To have that hard work be written off as just a good luck charm was almost insulting. Having the headband didn’t mean the period of growth, study, and learning ended.
“I’ve gotten us through a lot of stuff. But whatever, where did you put it last?” Mai couldn’t believe she was even humoring him but in truth...it wasn’t the first time she’d been swept up in what eventually turned out to be a monumental waste of time in the name of helping her brother.
“The lucky charm is why I understand ninjutsu stuff so easily. It’s why I’m good!” Kai protested. To Kai’s credit, he was quite good at the application of ninjutsu itself. It was the more theoretical parts which didn’t click too well with him. Whatever ‘it’ was, Kai had ‘it’ in spades, he just didn’t care enough to practice as much as the other people in his squad. Why should he? He had Wood Style, that alone made him a pretty strong ninja.
As he racked his brain, trying to remember the last place he left the charm, Kai rocked back and forth on his feet. Where had he had it? Kai paused and tapped his forehead, tilting his head. He wasn’t sure, really. The fact was, it never left the hidden drawer in his bed, unless he was taking it out to put it in his pockets, but it wasn’t even there! “It’s not in its secret spot, so someone must’ve picked it up and taken it as their own.” Kai reasoned. “The secret spot was its last place!”
“The secret spot?” Mai raised an eyebrow as she crossed her arms. Sometimes it was hard to believe they were related; he was a ninja of the leaf but he still acted like such a child at times. Mai didn't know what the ‘secret spot’ was and she didn’t exactly care. All she cared about was how long this little search would take. The unfortunate reality was that it would probably take longer than it needed to; he was old enough to leave charms behind.
“Look, just forget about the charm, okay? We’ve got to get to the opening speech. If we’re late they won’t let us participate, and it’ll be up to you to let Ren know. And sensei.”
“We won’t see sensei for a couple of days, right? Since, she has to be with the other jonin watching the exams. We’re not gonna be babysat now, remember?! That just makes it doubly important I have my lucky charm! Without sensei, we could need me to pull some sweet ninjutsu out, and what if I mess it up!? Without the lucky charm, there’s like, a forty percent chance I do.” Kaiju said in defense of his plan. He wasn’t like Mai, he didn’t think about things like she did. He wasn’t ready to move on from his lucky charm, he wasn’t ready to forget it. He could tell Ren that anytime. Sensei too, if she was around. “It’s fine if we miss a dumb speech. What’s the Hokage gonna do? Chidori us? Five to one chance she isn’t even keeping track.” Kai was trying to ease Mai into it, and make it seem like less of a big deal than it actually was. Maybe if he could calm her down about possibly being late, she’d be willing to dedicate herself wholly to the search. “It’s important, I’m telling you.”
They were already quickly running out of time. If a search was going to be made, it had to be made soon.
“Just grab something else to be your charm! It’s the same exact principle!” Mai’s frustration was growing. The hands that had been practicing seals earlier in the morning were now balling and unclenching as if she was trying to keep her nails from digging into her flesh. Time was being wasted on something stupid. She couldn’t help who was born into the Ashikaga but that didn’t mean she had to agree with everything they did. “Like...here.” Mai grabbed a small, unlit candle and tossed it to Kai. It was lavender colored and scented. “There’s your lucky charm. Now let’s go.”
“Sensei gave me my charm!” Kai said as he caught the tossed candle, bring it up to his nose and sniffing it. Quickly shaking his head, Kai through it back. That wasn’t going to do the trick. Why didn’t she understand the sentimental value here? Kaiju didn’t get it. She was supposed to be his sister! That meant she was supposed to be on his side, including (even especially) situations like this one! “This doesn’t smell the same. It won’t work.”
“Sensei will understand you not having it. You’re not a child anymore.” What difference did it make? Put some luck in something, call it a charm. End of story. There wasn’t time to waste and she had been meticulous in her planning. Just because one of the pair was an irresponsible, slugabed who thought he was above training and learning didn’t mean she had to get swept up in his rhythm every time. And yet, here she was. “Sensei bought me mochi once, you don’t see me needing mochi to function. Whatever it was she gave you, I’m sure she just found it lying around the house. I’m leaving, I’m already late as is and this is stupid.”
“Here.” Mai slid the wicker basket of towels she didn’t get to fold across the floor towards Kai. “Make yourself useful and put the basket away.”
“Mai, you’re no help at all!” Kai scoffed as he took the basket away from his sister. Clearly, Mai didn’t understand the deep bond he shared with Shion-sensei. The lucky charm was important! Scoffing, Kai took the basket and picked it up, without looking into it. “You wouldn’t get it.” He claimed boldly, before looking into the towels. Once Kai looked into the basket, his eyes went wide, and he reached a hand in, pulling out the lucky charm.
“I found it! It was in the basket!” He said happily, waving it around, and showing it to his sister for the first time. The lucky charm was… a gift from Shion-sensei: the best way she’d found to motivate Kai to try to do anything. The lucky charm was the token pervert ninja’s dream. A pair of the sensei’s panties. Kai stuffed them into his pocket. “Okay, I’m ready.”
Where before Mai was doing her best to keep from losing her cool in the face of her brother’s idiocy but now, seeing what the fuss was about? Now Mai was genuinely balling her fingers into fists. Her ears looked like they were steaming, her face red, and her eyes narrowed. “Are those...panties?” That was what this was all about? How did he get them? Why would Shion-sensei give them to him, willingly? The little pervert was going to drag the clan reputation even further into the mud and he just...didn’t...care. And now they would be late. Because the immature, dirty little pubescent pervert...needed to stuff a hag’s panties into his pocket. “You...little….PERVERT!”
Mai reached a tipping point and sent a red hot fist right into Kai’s face, not caring if it hurt, scarred, maimed, or broke something. The only reason she didn’t punch him more was because it would make them even more late. “Unbelievable. Idiot. Pervert. Stupid.” Replacing the meditative mantra of the hand seals from earlier, Mai stomped her way out of the washing room muttering negative remarks about her brother the entire way out of the Ashikaga grounds.
Luckily, Kai had been punched by Mai many, many times. He was prepared for the strike before it even came flying. Saying he was prepared for it wasn’t saying enough. Kai was able to angle himself so the punch connected with his head rather than his face, and was even able to get one hand up to soften the blow. Of course, this was because Kai was fast, and experienced at getting punched in the head by his sister. However, Kai would, of course, claim the block was because of the return of his lucky charm. Quickly heading after his sister, Kai wasn’t too far behind.
“I’m not a pervert!” He shouted as he ran to catch up to the angry girl, though he knew his claims would fall on deaf ears. Similar situations had arisen many, many times, and he was sure they would rise many, many more. “I’m a Leaf shinobi! I wear the headband! And I’ll probably be a chūnin after today, sis.” Kai wasn’t shouting by the end, because he’d managed to catch up. “Do you know where we’re heading?”
“Don’t talk to me.” Mai was still, understandably, in the anger phase. She was walking quickly just to maintain distance from her brother because him walking next to her or even close enough that she could see him in her peripheral vision was far too close. He was an idiot. He was a pervert. But worst of all, he was family which meant try as she might she couldn’t be rid of him. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put brother and sister on the same squad was probably upset at the Ashikaga and thought it would be a petty form of revenge. That was the only explanation.
“Don’t follow me, either. I’ll catch pervert.” Mai knew where she was heading, and she was marching there with purpose. The quicker she got there, the quicker she could...well at this point she just wanted to get there in time.
“Awww, Mai, come on. Don’t be like that. We’re gonna be on time, don’t worry about it! Where’s the building anyway?” Kai asked as they trotted along. He was mostly filling dead air, because he knew that Mai was most likely going to lead him where they needed to go without him needed to poke and prod her at all. She was, after all, the one of the two siblings that really cared about things like punctuality. “We’re not gonna be late. That’s the place, isn’t it?” Kai was confident of that, as the building came into their distant view. Almost defiantly, Kai pointed at the building… and he could see the heavy wooden doors leading into the auditorium slam in front of him.
“Nani the fuck?! OKAY. We’re a little late! I admit it!”
“A little late? THEY SHUT THE DOORS, KAI. AND IT’S YOUR FAULT.” Mai couldn’t believe it. She was late, through no fault of her own, on the most important day of her life so far. And now..they were shut out. Kai would have to apologize to Ren and Shion-sensei. And he would have to apologize profusely to Mai before she even thought of forgiving him. “Maybe if we knock they’ll let us in.”
“I don’t think you can knock hard enough to be heard through those…” Kai muttered, looking at the heavy doors ahead of them. There was no way the two of them even pounding on the door aggressively would have a chance of getting through. They’d have to think of something else. “I s’pose I could open ‘em.” He mused, stroking his chin as he considered his options.
“No you can’t. The only thing you can do is fondle a dirty pair of panties like a creep.” Mai was pacing in front of the doors, stopping to glance upwards. “Maybe we can climb it. We climbed the tree, it should be the same principle…”
“It’s wood, Mai. I can do a whole lot with wood,” Kai scoffed in response to his sister’s blatant disrespect. Not to mention that she clowned on him for carrying the lucky charm! There was no respect left in this world. While Mai paced, Kai stood in front of the door, and took a deep breath. He clasped his hands together, forming the snake seal. “Right. Let’s see, I saw Grandpa do this once, and y’know, he’s pretty old, so I bet I can pull this off. I’m young, and uh, what did sensei say that one time? Virile?”
Gathering his chakra in his hands, Kai looked over at Mai. “This isn’t gonna be exactly like his, because I’m new school. Alright, here we go. Gonna see what I can do, though. Same concept, just a proper name.” Kai’s hands quickly breezed through expert hand seals, before he spoke clearly. “Wood Release! Open Sesame Jutsu!” Kai said, and the result was immediate, with branches reaching up from the dirt around the path, and worming its way into the heavy set of doors. Kai seemed slightly disappointed as he watched his handiwork… before the doors exploded and fell inward, blown off the hinges. With a loud noise.
“Whoa! Dang. I guess… I didn’t know my own strength… Whoops. Well… uh, we’re here. But we missed the speech!”
Mai’s hand promptly met her forehead as her head looked towards the ground. Somehow, some way, she would be held responsible for this. Or else be the one to have to clean it up while Kai got off free. Nothing else would be appropriate, given everything. “You’re going to be the death of me one day, I swear.”
Still...at least they had a way in.
“Hey, we’re here. That’s what you wanted! Let’s just find Ren, and we can move on with our lives. Knowing him, without you around, I bet he got in a fight.” Kai was just being realistic, as he gave his sister a shrug of his shoulders. “That’s why I keep that lucky charm, for the record.”