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When Your World Starts Crashing Down [Oct. 14th, 2014|08:37 pm]
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anbu_legacy

[shiranui_genma]
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[Takes place the evening of May 12, Yondaime Year 5, following Natural Disaster and Little Lion Man]

Genma’s day had started late even for a hospital stay, at eight that morning. First there were breakfast reassurances to his father that he was really going to be fine. Evidently Katsuko had been by at five that morning and eaten all but two of the bakery treats Genma’s dad had brought, but she’d gone before Genma’d woken. Hopefully to go sleep some more, but Genma had his doubts. Although with her chakra supply it was possible she really was up and functional again. At least her appetite was back in full force.

A fresh Intel debriefer’d arrived after he’d eaten the remaining buns, and shooed his father out. She’d come armed with a briefcase full of papers and scrolls for her own reference, clipboards and pens, the usual stack of post-mission forms for Genma to fill out, and enough detailed questions that by the end of the interview Genma was hoarse and tired.

He’d napped afterward, helped into sleep by a syringe-full of painkillers and something in the IV that was promoting chakra channel recovery in his knit-together leg. And woken again to find the sunlight slanting to warm gold, and a clock that said it was past 17:00.

There was no sign of anyone from Team Six.

A nurse knocked on the door and smiled at him through the window when he waved her in. “I’ve got dinner for you, Shiranui-san,” she said cheerily, setting a covered tray on the bedside table. “Think you have an appetite?”

The answer to that was no. “Has anyone been by while I was sleeping?” he asked, ignoring her question.

“Hyuuga-sensei and Nakamura-sensei stopped by, but they didn’t need to wake you.”

“I mean anyone other than a doctor,” Genma said.

“Nakamura-sensei sent a note over to Intel that you weren’t to be disturbed for the rest of the day,” she said, patting his shoulder sympathetically. “So don’t worry, we’ll keep the debriefers away.”

Genma gritted his teeth, took a breath, and let his annoyance go. It wasn’t nice — or prudent — to snap at people who were capable of drugging you into oblivion if they thought you were being difficult. Or change your bandages without painkillers if they thought you needed a lesson in humility.

“Thanks. But I mean my team. Have you heard anything about my team? How is Hatake doing? I know he’s on the chakra-injury ward. And has anyone heard from Tousaki or Ueno. Or Namiashi-taichou?”

The nurse — Amiri, by her nametag — frowned. “No one has been here while I’ve been on shift, but I started at noon. If there was someone this morning, I haven’t heard.”

So no one, then. There was no way Ryouma was awake before noon, as chakra- and sleep-deprived as he’d been by the time they’d made it back to Konoha. Katsuko had come and gone, and if she’d been back while he was being interviewed, there was a good chance she’d been sequestered by Intel for her own second-day round of debriefing.

And Raidou was forbidden contact with the team. Genma rubbed his face with a sigh. As if there was anything Raidou could say or do now to change his or any of the rest of the team’s opinions about the events of the mission.

Amiri tipped her head to one side, setting a teardrop-shaped earring dancing under short-cropped hair. “I know it’s hard when your team is scattered after a mission. I could go see what I can find out about Hatake-san for you while you try a little dinner.”

“Bribery?” Genma asked, reaching for charm and coming up with a half-hearted smile.

“Call it incentive,” Amiri said. She lifted the lid off the dinner tray to reveal a bowl of murky miso soup, a second bowl mounded with white rice, and a rectangular plate of veggies and fish. For a hospital meal, it was almost appetizing.

If only the knot in Genma’s stomach wasn’t quite so tight.

She pushed the rolling table over so it crossed Genma’s legs, and reached for the button to raise the head of the bed. “Give the hamachi a try, Shiranui-san. You need the protein after all that surgery. I know you know that.”

The motorized bed whirred, and Genma let it lift him into place. He reached for the chopsticks, slipping them out of their paper wrapper and giving Amiri a salute with them. “You’ll come back with news about Hatake? Hatake Kakashi,” he added, as if there were anyone in Konoha’s military hierarchy who wouldn’t know which Hatake Genma meant.

“In half an hour,” Amiri promised. She refilled Genma’s water glass before she left, and waved to him through the door as she slid it shut.

He hadn’t exactly agreed to the food-for information trade, but he figured he ought to at least try to eat something. “She’s good. Could have worked for Intel,” he told the fish.

After several minutes of picking at his plate, it occurred to him to wonder if maybe she did.

—-

It was a full forty minutes before Amiri returned, but when she did, she had more than just information to offer. She cast a judicious eye over Genma’s dinner tray and shook her head. “Half a bowl of soup and a few bites of fish and vegetables is hardly what I’d call a nourishing meal for recovery, Shiranui-san.” She laid a cool hand against his forehead. “You’re not feverish.”

“I know. I’m just not that hungry. I did eat some rice,” he offered.

She looked at the mostly-untouched rice with evident skepticism. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you your future spouse will have as many scars on their face as you leave grains of rice in your bowl?”

Genma managed a genuine chuckle. “I’m a ninja. If I even get married, it’ll probably be to another ninja. We’ll have scar counting competitions.”

Amiri’s mouth quirked wry. “I walked right into that.” She took the dinner tray away, then headed for the door.

“What about Hatake?” Genma asked, pushing himself up in the bed, ready for an argument.

Amiri’s answer came in the form of a wheelchair, which she pulled in from the hallway. “Would you like to go see him? I’m not entirely sure you earned it, given how much of your dinner you left on your plate, but painkillers and surgery can do a number on your appetite, so I’m willing to look the other way just this once.”

It took a second for it to register that no fight was needed. Then Genma shoved himself up even straighter, kicking the sheets off with his good leg.

“I take it that’s a yes?” Amiri laughed. “Alright, let’s get you steady. Stay there a second, you need to keep your leg elevated.”

“He’s awake?” Genma asked.

“He was dozing when I checked, but it looked like he’d done a better job on his dinner than you did,” she told him. “Judging by the empty jello cups on his bedside table, he’s been snacking too. You could take a few tips from him.”

She maneuvered the wheelchair over and lined the right leg rest with a nest of pillows, gave Genma a moment to himself with a urinal behind the curtain, then helped him into the chair and covered his bare and bandaged legs with a blanket.

“Sorry we can’t put pajama pants on you,” she said with a wave at Genma’s bulky surgical dressings.

“It’s not worth the effort,” Genma agreed. Given how much just getting out of bed and into the wheelchair had hurt, the thought of struggling into pajama bottoms (and out of them again next time someone needed to change his bandages) made the risk of indecent exposure far preferable. Besides, with the blanket in place and the loose hang of the overlarge hospital gown they’d given him, there wasn’t much of a chance he’d be flashing passersby on the way to Kakashi’s bedside.

Amiri snagged Genma’s IV off the bedside pole and hooked it to the one attached to the wheelchair. “All set? You’re looking pretty pale, you don’t need a basin just in case, do you?”

“I’m fine,” Genma said. “Don’t worry, I just got a little dizzy moving around. I’ve been in bed too long.”

Amiri gave him a look that said she was fairly sure it wasn’t too much bed that was Genma’s problem, and patted his shoulder. “If you change your mind, tell me before it’s an emergency,” she said, and wheeled him out the door.

Three corridors and an elevator ride later, they arrived at the intensive chakra injuries ward. It was quiet, hidden behind a set of double doors with a sign warning all visitors to proceed to the nurse’s station before entering patient rooms. The hall lights were low and the patient rooms were just as subdued, some with shuttered blinds illuminated only by the soft glow of medical monitors. Several rooms were empty, which, all things considered, was reassuring.

Amiri stopped at room seventeen. A hand-written slip of paper proclaimed Hatake Kakashi the sole occupant. She knocked once, slid the door softly open, and rolled Genma backwards into the room, pushing him next to the bed so his injured leg paralleled the mattress.

Kakashi lay curled on his side with one hand under his pillow and the other resting over his face, guarding what looked like a surgical mask. His left eye was bandaged as if he’d injured it, holding the Sharingan closed in place of his usual hitai-ate. As they neared the bed, his uncovered eye slitted open, and he turned his face up from the pillow to regard them blankly. There was no real awareness behind the look, just the instinctual scan for threats most battle-seasoned ninja made when first awakened.

The chakra monitor blipped ever so slightly, and the line on the monitor tracing out Kakashi’s heartbeats picked up its pace.

“Hatake?” Genma said quietly.

Kakashi blinked once, slowly, and then his attention sharpened and narrowed. “‘tenant?” he rasped. “They said you had surgery.”

“I did,” Genma said. “Yesterday.” He glanced up at Amiri, who was already backing away.

“I’ll just leave you two to chat for a bit,” she said. “Push the call button if you need anything. One of us will be back to check on you in a little while.” She paused at the door. “Would you like the light on?”

It was past 18:00, but the approaching summer meant the sun was still sending rosy light through the slatted blinds on Kakashi’s window. “You can leave it,” Genma said. “I’ll turn it on if it gets too dim.”

Amiri nodded and took her leave. Genma turned back to Kakashi. He looked far better than he had the last time Genma’d seen him. The scabbed cuts on his arms were mostly healed, and his skin had a much healthier hue. There were the faintest tracings of chakra-laden ink tattooing its way up his arms under the loose checkered sleeves of his hospital-issue pajamas, and his bed hair was magnificent. And clean. There was no trace of blood — Kakashi’s, Iebara’s, or anyone else’s — staining his silver hair salmon.

“I would have come sooner,” Genma said, “but this is the first time they’ve let me out of bed.”

“Into a wheelchair,” Kakashi observed, giving Genma an identical once-over to the one he’d just received. A little of the tension knitting his eyebrows seemed to relax as he counted Genma’s limbs and came up with four. “Tell me straight,” he said with dry irony, “will you ever ice dance again?”

It took Genma a second to catch up, but then he chuckled. “I don't know yet. But if I can, it’ll be a medical miracle for the scholars of Fire Country to marvel at, since I couldn’t skate before.”

The surgical mask covering Kakashi’s face crinkled, and his eye curved, narrowing over the bright grey pupil without closing. A rare, genuine smile. “Looks like they unbroke your nose, too,” he said. “Everyone wins.”

Genma smiled back, feeling a little of the knot under his sternum start to loosen. Kakashi was going to be okay, and if he was okay, the others — Katsuko with her broken collarbone and carefully shielded anxieties, and Ryouma with his brittle tension — would probably recover. At least they had mostly intact bodies to rely on as they navigated the post-mission come down.

And what the team was facing next.

The knot tightened back up.

Kakashi put it into words, his voice falling low and serious. “Any word on the captain?”

Genma took a breath. He should have planned this. He should have talked to Katsuko first, like Raidou’d advised, but after a day and a half of no news about his team, he’d jumped at the chance to see Kakashi.

The shrapnel-sharp look on Kakashi’s face said Genma’s hesitation was making things worse. Better to get the telling over with; he was committed to this path whether he’d planned it well or not.

“He’s suspended while they investigate the events on his half of the mission,” Genma said. “Ueno’s still on duty, on medical leave for now. Although I’m sure she’s being interviewed. I’ve been interviewed twice, and I expect more to come. Taichou’s—”

He struggled for the right word. For something both accurate and reassuring. There wasn’t anything.

“Taichou came to see me last night. He told me where I could find him, but for now, no contact while Intel conducts their review. He told me to tell you all: tell the truth. Whatever Intel asks of you, be truthful.”

It wasn’t reassuring. The tracery on Kakashi’s heart monitor sped up again.

“Intel hasn't asked me anything yet,” Kakashi said hoarsely. What little color he’d regained during his brief recovery had fled. He searched Genma’s face with an anxious eye. “Ueno said they completed their side of the mission, but the port— Some of the port got destroyed. And she couldn't say anything else until she spoke to the captain.”

Which wasn’t going to happen now. Genma wondered when Katsuko had been to see Kakashi. Maybe in the morning, after she’d tried, and failed, to talk to Genma?

He really wished his father had let her wake him.

“What happened, Lieutenant?” Kakashi asked.

“I don’t know for certain,” Genma said. He found himself gripping the armrest of the wheelchair, and made his hand relax. “As I understand it, Taichou and Ueno were ambushed, and Taichou got hit with two genjutsu in a row that may have altered his judgment. Mist ninja had the Tsuto family almost aboard a ship before they were able to stop them, and in the ensuing combat, Taichou did major damage to the wharf and some ships in dock.”

Kakashi took that in, considering it before he spoke. “That's... better than I was picturing,” he said. Then looked up as fresh realization hit him. “Did any civilians get hurt?”

That was the million-ryou question. The same one Genma’d been turning over and over in every spare moment. “I don’t know,” he said. “But if I had to guess, I can’t think of any other reason they’d be suspending the captain while they investigate. We had orders to spare the household staff, but maybe there was collateral. Especially if those Mist bastards took the fight into a public place.”

Kakashi let out a slow, thin breath. “Shit.”

That was as strong a curse as Genma had ever heard him use.

“Yeah,” Genma agreed. He sighed and reached his hand out to rest on Kakashi’s bedrail, not entirely sure why he did it, but somehow even an illusion of contact was comforting. He leaned his head wearily against his own shoulder for a moment, then straightened. “We’ll get through it, Hatake. I trust Taichou, and I trust Sagara-sama and Yondaime-sama. It’s just an investigation so they have all the facts straight. They’re too smart to let a good captain take the fall for a bad situation.”

The skeptical look Kakashi gave him was as cutting as shattered glass. Dark, and hopeless. It sliced deeply into Genma’s fragile optimism.

Genma grasped for something to bolster himself with. “The debriefer I talked to yesterday was sympathetic. Taichou told me she sprinted to HQ to try to intercede on his behalf after she’d finished interviewing me and Ueno, and was clearly of the opinion there was no need for censure. And the one I talked to today spent half of her time getting details about our side of the mission, not discussing Taichou at all...”

It wasn’t enough; he could see it on Kakashi’s face.

There had to be some hope, somewhere, or Team Six would fall apart, leaderless.

And that would be Genma’s fault.

He thought of Raidou’s advice again, Handle them. Keep Ryouma occupied. Give Ueno responsibility as senpai. If Hatake struggles, take advantage of his sensei and kick it up the ladder to the Hokage himself if need be.

Lurking in that advice, there might be a different tack to take with Kakashi.

“I need your help, Hatake. Fear takes ninja apart, and it takes teams apart. We can’t let it. We have to prepare for the worst but operate on the assumption that they’ll do their investigation and clear Taichou of any wrongdoing. Tousaki’s still fragile from the mission, and Ueno’s obviously going to be hit hard by this. Help me think of the best way to handle them.”

A tiny flare of surprise burned in Kakashi’s eye as he stared at Genma. After a moment he said, “If we're not on a mission, and most of us aren't fit for training, what's the worst we can do? Unless you think Tousaki and Ueno are going to wage war on Sagara-san's office, in which case I could sit on one of them, maybe.”

Gallows humor caught Genma and he smirked. “You can’t even sit upright. But I… It’s not a mutiny I’m worried about. Though maybe I should be. It’s the— I saw the look on your face. Even you were upset. It will be harder on them, but I don’t know how to break this news other than to just break it when we have them together. And make sure we don’t make this worse in our minds than it is. We don’t have all the facts. And I’ve seen other ANBU suspensions before. Sometimes people get mustered out. Sometimes they get exonerated. Sometimes there are milder repercussions. I have a friend whose lieutenant had to attend map-reading classes for a month, after he got their team lost reading a topo wrong.”

“If they have ‘don't break a goddamned port again’ classes, we'll be square then,” Kakashi said, still sounding hollow, but there was a delicate wisp of hope limning the edges of his voice. “Tousaki and Ueno both knew there was bad news coming down the pipe. They told me last night. So, I don't think they can picture worse than what they're already picturing.”

Or what Genma’d been picturing in his darker moments. But surely it wouldn’t come to that.

“Suspension might actually seem like good news, by comparison,” Kakashi continued.

“Yeah,” Genma agreed. “And we’re on medical leave anyway, until you and Ueno and I heal. Speaking of whom— You talked to her and Tousaki last night while I was in surgery? How were they?”

“When you were getting debriefed, I think,’ Kakashi said, frowning and creasing his surgical mask. He gestured at his IV, making the trailing tubing connecting it to him dance. “They stepped the painkillers down this afternoon. I'm still a little vague on everything before noon. Ueno and Tousaki seemed…” He hesitated, searching for the best word. “Exhausted, mostly.”

That was no surprise. They’d gotten little rest in the bunker or on the journey back to Konoha. Even with the rescue team there to provide support, they’d travelled fast and on high-alert, watchful for Konoha’s enemies in every shadow.

“I know Tousaki got debriefed,” Kakashi said. “I'm not sure about Ueno—”

“Ueno got debriefed, too,” Genma said. “Apparently her debriefer is a personal friend, which sounds like it’s playing in our favor.”

Kakashi's eyebrow quirked upward. “Interesting choice for Intel to make,” he observed. “Or maybe just smart, since it's Ueno.”

“I’m guessing the latter,” Genma agreed. “Intel doesn’t usually do things like that without some degree of thought.” And given that Katsuko could be as unpredictable as a sack of squirrels half the time, especially when she was stressed, a practiced Intel debriefer who had the trust of her subject already was probably very smart.

Kakashi nodded. “When they were here, Tousaki was worried, but he held it together. Ueno…” he stalled again. Was he trying for diplomatic? “Got all senpai on us,” he said. His gaze slid sideways, avoiding Genma’s eyes. “I was a little... unsettled when she told us Namiashi had been yanked off by Intel, and not for good reasons. Ueno knocked me back onto an even keel.”

Senpai was the role Raidou had suggested Genma steer Katsuko towards. If she was already there, that said a lot about how resilient she really was. It also said a lot that Kakashi had needed her to step in. It was a big admission, probably half-fueled by the disinhibiting effect of painkillers.

Genma chewed his lip and wished he had a senbon, trying to find a way to ask Kakashi what exactly had taken place without breaking the delicate trust they’d established. “What happened last night? Are you feeling… steadier now?”

It took a moment for Kakashi to look up again, but he did, meeting Genma's gaze with one weary grey eye backed by plate-steel. It was the look of a man who’d been through too many blood-soaked missions to count; who’d survived years of war followed by fragile peace, seen the destruction and rebuilding of his village, and lost far too many people he’d held dear in his eighteen years on earth. Kakashi had come through hell, blackened and tempered by the flames, intact.

For the first time since Team Six had formed, Genma was certain Hatake Kakashi belonged in ANBU.

“I'm okay, lieutenant,” Kakashi said with quiet assurance. “Last night was an aftershock, but I've got my balance now. You don't have to fuss about me.” His mouth tilted wryly beneath the mask, and a subtle spark lit his eye, inviting Genma to share the humor. “You've got much more deserving people to aim it at.”

An edge of the iceberg under Genma’s sternum melted. “I’ll try to direct my fussing at the other two, as long as you’re sure you don’t need it,” he said. He leaned back against the wheelchair, abruptly aware of fatigue. “Speaking of whom, if they don’t turn up soon, I’m going to send someone to look for them.”

Kakashi’s mask crinkled, then crinkled again as he opened and closed his mouth, and cocked his head in a listening pose. He flicked a glance at the door. “I think they heard you.”

Genma turned towards the door, sweeping out a pulse of chakra and finding the clear echo of both his errant teammates. Ryouma’s thrummed a steady sunset-red glow, bright where his tattoo flared, and Katsuko’s was her usual potter’s kiln blast shrouding the faint spark of her ANBU tattoo.

The door slid open, and Katsuko and Ryouma stood in the door for a moment, before Katsuko tumbled through. “Oh hey,” she said cheerily. “It's a party.” She squinted at Genma from under the hood of a ridiculously cute fleecy hoodie with bear ears. “Are you supposed to be wheeling around like that, lieutenant?”

“I got a nurse escort and everything,” Genma assured her. He eyed them carefully, relieved to find both Katsuko and Ryouma looked like they’d slept and bathed. Ryouma had even shaved, which put him well ahead of Genma as far as personal grooming went. His hair hung a little flat, like he hadn’t bothered overmuch with product, but he was dressed in clean, comfortable-looking, stylish civvies — jeans, and a slim-cut rust-colored hoodie over a black t-shirt.

“You both look like you’re feeling better than the last time I saw you. I heard you were taking over as senpai now, Ueno. I take it that includes nannying me, too?”

“I would never try to out-nanny you, lieutenant,” Katsuko assured Genma earnestly.

“Smart woman,” Genma said. “Come on in so we can talk without me spraining my neck to look at you.” He glanced around the room, but there was only one visitor’s chair, on the far side of Kakashi’s bed next to the window. Ryouma bypassed it and leaned against the wall next to the head of Kakashi’s bed. Katsuko took the vacant chair as her due, settling into it with only a little extra care for her sling-bound arm. She scooched forward until she was level with Kakashi’s knees, then propped her good elbow in the mattress in the space between the bedrails.

“How are you feeling?” Ryouma asked. He let the wall hold him up, slouched with his hands in his pockets and only the faintest tension in his spine.

“Better,” Genma said. “I just have to rest and stay off my leg. I don’t think they’re doing any more surgery. Docs said I’d probably be able to get back to training in a couple weeks. You both doing okay?”

Ryouma shrugged one shoulder. “Sleep helped.” He cast an amused look at Katsuko. “And I woke up to company, too. Guess Katsu got too used to sleepin' in a cuddle-pile. She made me breakfast, though.”

The lack of anything like sexual tension in the air, and Katsuko’s unruffled reaction, made it clear none of Raidou’s much-discussed boundaries, or anyone’s boundaries for that matter, had been crossed. Ryouma and Katsuko certainly wouldn’t be the first teammates who stuck to each other like glue after a bad mission. There was a reason Genma was down here in Kakashi’s room, after all, and it wasn’t just because he had news to impart.

“Hope your kitchen was better stocked than that safehouse,” Genma said, wincing at the memory of Katsuko’s matcha-sugar-sludge that first night in the bunker, and her ‘open all the cans and pray’ stew from the morning before Team Twenty-eight arrived. “I take it she didn’t knock?”

“I picked the lock on his door,” Katsuko said. She did a neat bit of acrobatics around her sling to prop her chin on Kakashi’s bedrail. “Knocking is for weaklings.”

Ryouma continued to look amused. “I probably wouldn't have heard you, anyway,” he said. “Thought I'd dreamed you coming in, ‘til I rolled over in the morning and you were there.”

Katsuko grinned at Ryouma like the cat who’d licked the butter.

The fact he hadn’t woken when she’d crept in said a thing or two about how deeply Ryouma had been asleep. By Genma’s estimate, Ryouma had slept the least of any of them in the safehouse, and stayed awake (with the help of enough coffee and soldier pills to put him at the limit of what was safe) for close to 48 hours in the final push to return to Konoha.

He looked almost relaxed now, definitely rested. Katsuko, if she was tense, was hiding it with her usual mastery.

Knowing he was about to shatter their calm tightened the knot under Genma’s breastbone. He glanced at Kakashi, not entirely sure what to expect in return.

Kakashi’s gaze locked on Genma, waiting for a blade he knew was coming. It wasn’t the shot of courage Genma needed.

“How's the captain?” Ryouma asked, forcing the moment without knowing it. “Did he visit already?”

Genma took a breath. “I saw him last night. He’s fine.” For a given definition of fine. “But I have some news.”

All three of his teammates went still. Levity bled away from the room like it had never existed.

No way out but through, Shiranui.

“There was a lot of collateral damage in Tsurugahama from Taichou and Ueno’s side of the mission. Sagara-sama’s conducting an official inquiry. It’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds, ANBU missions get audited all the time when there are complications.” He wished again for a senbon, or a cigarette. “Taichou’s suspended while Intel does their interviews. He won’t be in contact with us for a few days, while they work on getting our unbiased reports.”

Ryouma straightened up from the wall, dark eyes sharp against a face that had lost a little of its color.

Katsuko sat up, carefully pushing her bear-eared hood off with one hand. “By ‘out of contact,’” she said without inflection, “I assume you mean ‘not allowed contact.’”

Genma turned as much as he could to face her across Kakashi’s bed. “For now,” he said. “As I understand it, that’s the case. When he met with me last night we were supervised. I expect I’ll continue to be allowed limited contact, and he’s not being detained.” His own frustration sat like smoldering coals in his chest. “I don’t agree with the decision, but that’s Intel’s protocol, so we’re going to follow it.”

Ryouma wet his lips. “I don't— Katsuko said there was damage to the port. But I didn't think—” He shook his head and let out a tense breath before starting again. “Kakashi and I weren't there. We don't have any reports to be biased about. So why can't we see him?”

It was the natural question, and one Genma wished he didn’t have an answer to. He could craft the news of Raidou’s suspension only so carefully. The truth was, ANBU’s director and maybe even the Hokage himself were questioning Raidou’s fitness for command, and there was no way to hide that.

“I was interviewed last night, and again more extensively today,” he said. “And I’m sure I’ve got more coming in the next few days. In addition to mission details, I was asked for my impressions of Namiashi-taichou as a commander and as a fellow ANBU, both on this mission and over the course of our time together on Team Six.”

Genma couldn’t keep all of their faces in focus at once. And he couldn’t decide who was more volatile. Katsuko was perfectly still and supremely controlled, but there was icy hot fire in her eyes. Ryouma looked more visibly shaken, paler yet, with a wide-eyed, alarmed expression. Kakashi had leaned towards Ryouma, but his gaze was on Katsuko’s face.

Genma locked onto Ryouma. “I know what I told them, and I’m fairly certain I know what anyone else who’s worked with Namiashi-taichou for any length of time will tell them. He’s a good captain. I trust him. I believe you all trust him. And I trust our leaders to be smart.” He broke away to catch Kakashi’s eye, and Katsuko’s again. “Taichou told me he only needed one thing from us. We have to be absolutely truthful with Intel, no matter what they ask. The only way we can hurt him is if we try to protect him.”

“And what happens to the team between Intel debriefings?” Katsuko asked, with the same level calm she’d asked her first question.

At least that was an easier question to answer. “We stay together,” Genma said. “And close out our mission reports while we heal. Ueno, Hatake, and I are all on medical leave for at least the next two weeks.” Raidou probably was, too, for that matter, even with his suspension. “Hatake’s got several more days of inpatient treatment, and I’m not sure when they’re cutting me loose. But for now, I’m officer in charge, acting in Namiashi-taichou’s stead.”

Ryouma's voice, when it came, was rough and scratchy. “What happens if they don't clear him?”

“Namiashi appeals,” Kakashi said simply. “And we back him.”

Genma nodded, relieved his earlier talk with Kakashi seemed to have had the desired effect. The doubt and fear he’d seen on Kakashi’s face when he first broke the news was gone, replaced with purpose.

“They'll clear him,” Katsuko said decisively. “Konoha doesn't have enough ANBU-level shinobi that we can just throw away one who still has all his limbs.” Her lips curved in a smile that was as devoid of joy as a death mask. “Ninja are the backbone and currency of this village. And Konoha wants its money's worth out of each and every one of us.”

For a moment Ryouma had looked slightly relieved, but Katsuko’s bitter pronouncement was as cutting as her katana.

“They’ll clear him,” Genma said, with as much confidence as he could muster, “because they’ll recognize he’s a skilled leader and an asset to the village. And a human being. There were dozens of reasons he and Ueno ran into trouble on their side of the mission, not least of which was the fact our team of five was splintered down to two. Plus our enemy’d hired more firepower than Intel anticipated — Iebara and his team were part of the same contingent. If there were uncontained losses in Tsurugahama, the blame falls on Mist. Not on our captain or Ueno.”

Ryouma scrubbed a hand over his face. “Uncontained losses. Hell. And I asked him—” He broke off, shaking his hand out and shoving it back into his pocket. “How was he?”

“Managing,” Genma said, remembering Raidou’s tight control the previous night. “He’d had his injures treated, and we’d both been debriefed once at that point. He was understandably stressed — he hadn’t had a chance to rest yet, and he’d just gotten the news he was suspended — but I think he was going straight to his moms’ place to crash as soon as we were done.” He paused, waiting to be sure he had all his teammates’ attention. “He was really clear with me: he wanted me to keep the team on track. So that’s what we’re going to do until he comes back. Which he will.”

Ryouma chewed his lip, gaze skating away. There was fear written deep in the lines of his face. “What if he doesn't?”

All their reassurances hadn’t been enough, but given Ryouma’s complicated relationship with Raidou, maybe that wasn’t surprising. Sometimes you needed to know what the worst case scenario was, to have a floor for your fears.

“If a team loses its captain,” Genma said quietly, “one of three things can happen, depending on how well-established the team is: the lieutenant can step in as acting captain, a new captain can be assigned from a pool of available ANBU commanders who for one reason or another don’t currently have a team, or the team can be split up and reassigned. But they don’t generally do that unless more than one member of a team is incapacitated long-term.”

The attempt to reassure seemed to have backfired. Ryouma was nothing but tension now, every muscle hard-edged. He almost had to fight to get his words out. “And you're too new to be acting captain already.”

“I am,” Genma agreed. “For the long-term. But I am acting captain of Team Six until Intel concludes their investigation. If they uphold his suspension and Namiashi-taichou has to appeal, then we’ll probably get a temporary acting captain. But Tousaki, listen to me, this is important: that’s unlikely to be what happens. Namiashi’s a good captain. Even if they decide he bears some responsibility for the way things went in Tsurugahama, they’re more likely to make him pay for the damages and take a class in tactics or something like that, then to remove him from command or take him off our team.”

“No matter what, we stay strong,” Katsuko said. There was steel in her spine and in her voice now, reforged determination. “All of us are in this together. That means we take care of each other.” She looked right at Ryouma as she spoke, like she could will her courage into him. “No one is going to be alone.”

Her glance flicked to Genma, and he nodded approval. Good. Be the senpai, Ueno. That’s exactly what Raidou wants, and what Ryouma and Kakashi — and I — need. For the first time, he had an understanding of just how pivotal the lieutenant’s role really was.

Kakashi jumped into the moment with both feet. “If this is building up to a group hug,” he said, “someone's going to have to help me get upright.” But his eye was bright and a little crinkled at the corner, inviting Ryouma to reach for hope.

Ryouma glanced from Katsuko to Kakashi, and took a deep breath. He didn’t look remotely settled, and his lip was chewed raw, but he managed a hint of a rough-edged smile. “No one's hugging you, Kakashi. You haven't been showered.”

Katsuko let that opening go with nothing more than a small smile.

“We’ll save the group hugs for when everyone’s bruises are healed,” Genma said. He kept an eye on Ryouma, watching as the other man took another, deeper breath, working to find a new center of balance.

“You really think he's coming back?” Ryouma said at last.

Genma nodded. “I do. I get why they have to do the inquiry, even if it pisses me off. And I’ve seen enough shit in my time in ANBU to have a pretty good sense of what it takes to seriously fuck up. Namiashi hasn’t done that. He’s not the type.” He pushed his own nagging fear that maybe this time would be the exception, or maybe something much worse had happened in Tsurugahama that Raidou hadn’t told him, to the bottom of his heart. “They’ll reinstate him. I’ve trusted Konoha’s leaders, trusted my Hokage my entire life. My trust has never been misplaced yet.”

A treacherous voice whispered Orochimaru’s name in Genma’s brain. But if Konoha’d erred then, it was in letting an actual traitor go after he’d killed willfully. Unsanctioned but accidental collateral deaths in the course of a mission were hardly new. The numbers of civilians who’d died in the war was uncountable. If civilian deaths were even what had happened at Tsurugahama.

Ryouma shoved his hands deeper in his pockets, staring at his shoes. Not willing to accept Genma’s answer as anything more than blind optimism, Genma guessed.

“The Hokage we've got now looks out for his people,” Katsuko said. “I trust him, too.”

Now. Genma kept the reaction off his face, but he didn’t miss Katsuko’s subtle suggestion that the Third had fallen short. To some ways of thinking, that was a sentiment that bordered on treason. Though there were plenty who agreed with her privately. Genma did, too, if he was honest with himself. He’d never been able to forget that night when Mitarashi Anko had stumbled into the alley, curse-sealed and bloodied, to reveal her sensei’s treachery. When Genma’d brought her to the Hokage, Sandaime-sama had looked far older, far frailer, and far more fallible than Genma had ever considered a Hokage could be.

But Katsuko was too young to have been paying much attention when that scandal broke. What could have colored her opinion so darkly? Maybe her parents? Or maybe she held lingering resentment over the violence she’d suffered as a prisoner of war.

Movement from Kakashi snapped Genma’s attention back to the immediate problem, as Kakashi turned to look directly at Ryouma. “Yondaime-sama hasn’t let me down yet,” he said softly.

“Yet,” echoed Ryouma darkly. He gave his head a sharp shake. “No, that's not— Sorry. That's not fair.” He puffed out a short breath and took his hand out of his pocket to shove the hair off his forehead. “I just…” The words died in his throat, trailing into nothingness, and he shook his head again. “Sorry.”

Kakashi gave Ryouma a long, silent look, then dipped his head in shallow acknowledgment. “I thought he would, too,” he said. “For a long time. After… well, just after. But he kept failing to fail me. It's one of his deficiencies.” Dry irony shaded his voice, amusement that was at least one part bitterness. “It makes him a little hard to live up to. But I figure that's why he gets the hat.”

“Yeah, well, gives you plenty of room to grow,” Ryouma said. Kakashi’s eyebrow flicked upwards a few millimeters, and Katsuko’s mouth hitched into half a smile.

Ryouma stared at nothing for a minute, then gave himself a little jerk and turned his focus back on Genma. “Okay. So the captain's got a vacation with Intel, and the three of you have a vacation with doctors.”

“That’s… about the size of it,” Genma said. Managing the shifting eddies of Team Six’s emotional wellbeing was starting to feel as vertiginous as chakra walking on flood-turbid rapids, but it looked like, for now, they’d found a patch of calmer water. He leaned wearily back against the wheelchair’s support, and wished again for a cigarette. Damn Asuma for giving him that taste before the mission.

“We stick together,” he said, “follow doctors’ orders, get enough rest and food, do our reports, and give the debriefers exactly what they ask for.”

Genma eyed Ryouma. Ryouma’s a concern Raidou had said. Still unsteady after the mission. Keep him busy; set him tasks if you have to. Something for his mind to work on, so he doesn’t fixate.

“Tousaki, since you’re not on medical restriction, you’re our runner. I’m going to need you to inventory all our equipment, take anything broken or damaged to Morita-san for repair or replacement, and restock our consumables. And meet with me once a day to keep me up to date on progress. Ueno, if you’re bored, and you can do it one-handed, feel free to pitch in.”

Ryouma pushed away from the wall with a sigh. “Now?”

“Tomorrow morning,” Genma said.

Katsuko interrupted anything more he might have added with a loud stomach growl. She looked innocently at the ceiling tiles.

“Maybe tonight’s agenda should be dinner,” Genma said. His own stomach had somehow come back to life, echoing Katsuko’s rumblings with hunger pangs of its own.

Kakashi sighed, too, shifting and resettling against his bulwark of pillows. “Anything I can do, Lieutenant?” he asked. There was a plea hidden in his voice. Save me from the boredom of this hospital bed.

It wasn’t a request Genma could grant. “Sleep. And if you’re bored and awake, you still owe me training logs from before the mission.” Punishment assigned for insubordination that morning at the river. It seemed so long in the past as to be irrelevant, but Raidou wouldn’t have let it slide, so in his place, neither would Genma. “Tousaki can bring you the timesheets and forms. They’re in the red ledger on my desk,” he added to Ryouma.

Kakashi pulled a face behind his medical mask, but he looked up at Ryouma. “Bring me a pen, too.”

When he turned his head, his pillow shifted. Katsuko, who’d been watching the negotiations with idle interest, riveted her attention on something nestled next to Kakashi’s shoulder. “That’s not your tanto.”

A soft, plush grey and white thing peeked out from the bed linens. Genma couldn’t quite fathom that Kakashi would actually have a cuddly toy to sleep with, but there were stranger habits than that in ANBU.

Ryouma blinked at it, mouth twisting in reluctant amusement. “Looks like you've already got suppliers for your contraband. Unless the nursing staff is nicer than I remember.”

“The nursing staff is very nice,” said a voice from the doorway. Genma turned to find Amari, the nurse who’d brought him out on this excursion giving him a friendly wave. “Five minutes, Shiranui-fukuchou. I’ve already let you stay longer than I should have. I’m just going for coffee, then it’s back to bed for you, and your poor team can get some rest.” She snicked the door shut behind her again.

As soon as the intruder was gone, Katsuko leaned in to get a better look at Kakashi’s toy. “Is that… a seagull?”

“First Mate, technically,” Kakashi said. He rummaged under the pillow and freed the lurking bird, dropping it onto his knee. It looked a little worse for the wear from having been crumpled. “Naruto-kun dropped by,” he said, face coloring above the edge of his mask.

“He's a good kid,” Ryouma said around a faint smile.

Genma recognized the toy, vaguely, as a character from a popular kid’s show on television. As a gift from the Hokage’s young son, that made sense.

The Hokage’s son. Holy keeper of mercies. It was far too easy to forget that Kakashi was not just Yondaime-sama’s former student, but essentially a member of his family.

“Did you see Yondaime-sama, too?” Genma asked. Which, of course Kakashi must have. Genma’d woken to find his father reading a novel by his bedside.

“No,” Kakashi said without any particular emphasis on the word. “He's probably up to his eyebrows in diplomats right now, and I'm already recovering.”

That was true enough, Genma supposed. It would probably take a more grave threat to Kakashi’s life to draw the Hokage to his bedside in the midst of a major threat to Fire Country’s stability. It still begged the question of how Naruto and his gift had appeared.

But with his five minutes ticking away, Genma didn’t have time to waste chasing down that rabbit hole. He reached up to push a few tendrils of unwashed hair back from his face, and tried to find the energy to project some kind of authority. “This is our plan: Hatake rests, the rest of us recover, we do our tasks and paperwork, and we meet again tomorrow evening. Hatake’s the fixed point in space, so we’ll meet here. Does 1900 work for you, Ueno and Tousaki?”

“You expecting us to bring you dinner, too?” Ryouma asked, dry as a dead twig.

“Excellent suggestion,” said Genma. “Good initiative, Tousaki. Hatake’s a fan of fish. I like curry.”

“Fish curry it is,” Ryouma said. He shoved his hands back in his pockets and stood away from the wall, looking at the door. “I'll come by in the morning for your gear.”

“Good. We can discuss any questions that come up then. I’m still in that second floor room, east wing,” Genma told him. “I probably won’t be up until 0800, so you can sleep in.”

He eyed the restless look on Ryouma’s face, but there wasn’t much point in pinning Ryouma down right now. Whether it was lingering distress from their mission, or just a general discomfort with hospitals, Ryouma didn’t seem likely to talk at the moment. And Genma was getting tired.

“Ueno, you on board with the plan?”

“I'll add the curry to the team expenses report, lieutenant,” Katsuko offered. She stood and leaned over to give the First Mate puppet an affectionate pat on the head. “Rest up, my little soybean,” she told Kakashi. A two-step detour took her to Ryouma’s side for a quick shoulder nudge, before she maneuvered around the bed and Genma’s wheelchair, making for the door.

Ryouma gave her a crooked little smile and peeled himself into motion after her. He hesitated at the door, ducking his head in farewell as she slid it open.

When they were gone, Genma let out a faint sigh. “Thank you, Hatake,” he said.

Kakashi reached up to touch two fingers to his temple in a strange sort of salute, but his eye was still on the door, worry clouding the clear grey. After a moment, he turned his attention back to Genma. “You going to survive, lieutenant?”

“At least as well as you are,” Genma said. He gave Kakashi a tired smile. “We’ve navigated unmapped demon tunnels in an abandoned mine, and taken down one of Konoha’s worst boogeymen. We can do this. Just have to stay a unit.”

“Well, when you put it like that...” Kakashi said. He looked past Genma for a second, then asked a little hesitantly, “Lieutenant, was your first month like this, or are we just getting extra lucky?”

Genma choked on an unexpected bubble of laughter. “I’ve been wondering which of us offended which deities, actually,” he said, shaking his head. “Compared to what we’ve been through, my first month was a holiday in Tea Country.”

Kakashi gave him a look, inviting him to continue.

“My first mission in ANBU was a sabotage job,” Genma said, rubbing his stubbly face in absent thought, recalling details. “And my first captain was a Hyuuga. We had almost three weeks training together before we got sent out, and it went like clockwork. Asuma and Eizo were muscle, Hyuuga-taichou was spotter, and the lieutenant and I did the inside work. I took out the plant operator, she placed the charges. In, out, bang, boom, no more water treatment plant.” He grinned at the memory. “The team’s worst injury was a paper cut Ishida-fukuchou got filling out the paperwork afterwards.”

Kakashi mulled that over for a moment, then asked, “Where are they now?”

“Uh…” Genma said, thinking. “Asuma you know about, you just saw him. Hyuuga Keijin’s married and has a baby girl on the way. He’s retired out of ANBU, but he’s still an active-service jounin. Ishida’s a jounin-sensei now, I think, or she was trying to be, anyway. I don’t know if she got a team assigned from the latest Academy graduates. And Tsuda Eizo is veteran on Team Thirteen. Badger mask.”

Kakashi’s eye widened in surprise. “They're all—” he started, and cut himself short.

“Alive. Healthy, active-duty ninja,” Genma agreed. “ANBU isn’t the always the corpse factory Academy kids tell ghost stories about.”

Kakashi’s mask creased over some hidden expression. “Maybe next mission, we can go with the papercut.”

“Or no injuries. No injuries would be great,” Genma said. “I’m pretty sure Ishida had to fill out an injury report for the paper cut.”

“In triplicate,” Kakashi said, showing a keen grasp of ANBU’s tree-killing habits. He lay against his pillows looking shadow-eyed and wan. When he stifled a yawn, it set Genma off into one of his own.

The door slid open again while Genma’s eyes were still teared, but the brisk, near-silent step of a nurse in soft-soled shoes was unmistakable. “Have you tired each other out enough I can trust you both to sleep through the night?” Amiri asked. The warm scent of coffee swirled around her, mingling with antiseptic soap and something medicinal.

The idea of bed, even another night in a hospital bed, was remarkably appealing. “We should clear out and let Hatake get some sleep,” Genma said. “I’ll come back and check on you tomorrow. Maybe I’ll have crutches then.”

“Maybe,” Amiri said.

Genma frowned at her. “It usually works better if you don’t make it obvious that you’re humoring your patient.”

“Don't make her mad, 'tenant,” Kakashi advised drowsily. “She might wheel you out a window.”

“Wise words,” Amiri said. “Hatake-san, your nurse is on his way to get you settled for the evening. His name’s Jiro, and he’s a cream puff. If you ask nicely, I’m sure he’ll replace your jello collection.”

Kakashi managed an amused hum, but his eye had drifted shut.

“Sleep well, Hatake,” Genma told him, as Amiri wheeled him out.

“It looks like most of your team is in good shape,” Amiri said. “Feeling a little more relaxed, knowing your ducklings are in a row, Shiranui-san?”

“For now—” Genma yawned again, seized with a bone-deep fatigue he’d almost forgotten could exist. “For now, I guess it’ll do.”

“You care about them. Shows you’re a good officer,” Amiri said. She patted Genma’s shoulder as she pushed the wheelchair through the small ward lobby and into the elevator.

Genma wasn’t sure he agreed, but he wasn’t sure he disagreed, either. He was too tired to think much of anything, he decided. As the elevator doors shut, his stomach growled loudly.

“If you’re a good patient, too,” Amiri said, “you might find that some helpful nurse who is not humoring you at all ordered you a replacement dinner tray so you can try again.”

Genma blinked. “You did?”

“I’ve seen more than a few patients’ appetites magically restored by a rendezvous with teammates,” Amiri said, grinning. Her teardrop earrings swang gaily on either side of her face.

“Well… Thanks,” Genma said.

“You can thank me when you see what I ordered for you,” Amiri told him.

The elevator opened on a fairly busy second floor. Visiting hours were in full swing, and the halls were lively with medical staff, ambulating patients, and visiting friends and family members. The quiet of Genma’s private room—a luxury afforded him for Intel’s benefit in debriefing him—was a welcome relief.

It took the last of his strength to get back into bed. Amiri adjusted pillows and blankets and the angle of the bed back until Genma was ensconced to her satisfaction, then she wheeled the bed tray back over Genma’s lap.

“Try to eat at least half, okay?” she said, removing the lid from a dinner tray.

A still-steaming omelet-rice, smothered in fragrant sauce, lay in front of him. It smelled like heaven. It wasn’t until the sixth or seventh bite that Genma noticed the design on the plate. Captain Seaweed and her seagull First Mate grinned at him from what was, he realized, in all probability a child’s dinner set.

He smiled, tossed it Kakashi’s strange two-finger salute, and polished his plate clean.
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