The axe, she had found on a wood pile beside Mr. Sarutobi's house.
She was at his house because Asuma Sarutobi was a good teacher, and because sometimes Ino babysat for him and she hadn't found her yet. She'd found the wood pile because when she walked inside the house to check for survivors the smell of rotten meat caught her by the throat and after that she had to run out through the kitchen door. And she needed something to climb, and there were only trees with high branches and smooth trunks, and the chopped wood pile, which wasn't high enough.
It wasn't high enough. It wasn't even quite steep enough, apparently.
But up there was the axe, still stuck in a half-splintered log, where Mr. Sarutobi had left it. When Mrs. Sarutobi started crawling up the edge after her it was like the axe's handle just appeared in her hand. She swung without thought, log and all. Sort of like tennis. The strain didn't even hurt right away.
On the upside when Mrs. Sarutobi crashed to the ground, jaw smashed, head askew, the log flew off as well. The shock almost jarred the handle out of her hand, unbalancing her. She jumped off the pile rather than drop it, landed a little wrong and ended up on her knee.
Mrs. Sarutobi's fingers skittered on the ground, reached for her ankle.
She still had the axe in hand.
It was a good axe -- the most basic log-splitter, and adapted to Mr. Sarutobi's imposing size -- heavy. But recently sharpened. She swung it down.
A second time. A third. Until the pieces stopped crawling.
Then she went back inside the house, because Ino had loved babysitting that kid, and someone needed to chop him up before he managed to crawl his way out of the baby pen.
When the car screeched to a stop in front of the house a half-hour later she was sitting on the porch, a backpack of stolen food and random odds and ends at her feet. She watched her classmates burst out -- Naruto first, with a baseball bat. Sasuke snapped an order at him and hung back, tracking her with his competition rifle.
She nodded a greeting. "Hey."
If Ino had been here they would have both grinned and jumped up, bypassed Naruto entirely, raced to him. Told him how they'd been so scared, thank god he was there, they felt so much safer now. Asked since when did Sasuke drive and oh, such a cool car, can we...? She couldn't bring herself to go through the motions right now.
Ino wasn't here.
Sasuke's rifle went down. Naruto was already in her face, staring at the dry blood splashed all up her arm and cheek, paler than she had ever seen him.
"Are you okay? Were you bitten?"
"Damn it, we were supposed to stay all together for a reason!"
She watched them. She'd worried them both, silly little girl running from the group alone, with no protection. She could have died. Or worse. Did she understand that?
She'd understood from the start -- intellectually, at least. Now she understood it even better.
She'd do it again. Ino wasn't here.
She kept tracing her hand back and forth on the axe's long handle, where it
rested across her lap. The wood was warm under her hand.