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A Loser's Just a Learner on His Way to Better Things[Feb. 26th, 2016|07:09 pm]

[Takes place on May 16, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after All This And Heaven Too]

By the time the team had finished their ramen Kakashi was head-nodding, and Genma was gulping cold tea in a desperate attempt to get more caffeine into his body. He stretched and rubbed his eyes, then dug out his wallet. “Alright, I’ve got this,” he told them, eying the stack of bowls to estimate how much this was going to set him back. Ryouma had cleared his down to a few spoonfuls of broth; Genma’d made it partway through a second bowl before the ravenous hunger he always had after chakra healing had given way to fatigue; Kakashi might have finished a whole bowl if he’d been able to stay awake for it; and Katsuko was scraping the bottom of her third bowl and eying Genma’s and Kakashi’s unfinished portions.

“Ueno, you can finish mine. And then do you think you could get Hatake back to the Palace? I think he’s still staying there.”

Katsuko lunged across the counter to take Genma’s bowl like a tiger dragging off her prey. “I will carry his royalness home,” she said around a fresh mouthful of soup.

Kakashi blinked awake with the carefully hidden panic of a student caught sleeping in class. "What? I don't need an escort.” As he woke more completely, ruffled irritation crept into his tone. “I thought you wanted help with your thing.”

“I do,” Genma said. “We do, but—” He yawned only partly for effect. “But not today. Tomorrow will be better. I’m wiped out after that healing session.”

Ryouma turned to look at Genma, concern creasing between his brows. “You need to get back home?”

“I should probably grab a nap,” Genma agreed, counting out bills and coins to pay for their lunch. “But if you come with me to my dad’s place first, I’ve got a bunch of study materials I can give you. Anatomy charts and stuff.”

Kakashi eyed them narrowly, clearly dubious about Genma’s excuse.

Katsuko slurped a noisy mouthful of noodles and gave Kakashi a wounded look. “What, you don’t like my company?”

“Consider it the last stage of the bodyguarding mission,” Genma said, pushing to his feet with the help of his cane. “You can guard each other against kidnap and demons and whatever other dangers the road to the Palace may hold. I’ll take Tousaki with me on some civilian recon.”

“But—” Kakashi started, then stopped. He scowled at Katsuko. “You ran away on your last attempt.”

Genma frowned. Katsuko had run away? Had she been that badly shaken at seeing Genma being worked on? He turned a questioning look towards her, but she seemed perfectly composed, draining the last of the soup from Genma’s bowl like she was drinking ceremonial sake.

“I didn't run away,” Katsuko said, unrepentant. “I just let Nohara-sensei borrow you. And look! You're still alive and everything.”

It sounded like Katsuko had been avoiding an awkward situation more than fleeing the hospital. “Good,” Genma said, before there could be any further discussion. “Then Tousaki will escort me to Shiranui Bakery to retrieve several documents, while Ueno and Hatake continue their mission to deliver Hatake to his quarters at the Palace. Where he will rest.” He stared Kakashi down, implacable. “That is an order, in case you needed that clarified, Hatake.”

Kakashi was smart enough to know when he was beaten. He sighed. “Yes, lieutenant.”

Katsuko waved cheerful assent, still eying Kakashi’s unfinished ramen.

“Coming, Tousaki?” Genma asked.

Ryouma rose fluidly from his stool and nodded at Katsuko and Kakashi. “See you two later.” He sparked a crooked smile at Kakashi. “I'll let you know if I need help with flashcards.”

Out in the street, with bright sun in his eyes and movement to stir his blood, Genma felt a little more awake. Only a little. He yawned broadly. “I’m sure you’re familiar with this from being a patient in the past, but in case you’re ever tempted to forget it as a medic, major chakra healing takes a toll on the patient as well as the medic. We’ll get to work in earnest tomorrow, but I think you’ll get some use out of my charts for now.”

“Homework's good,” Ryouma said. “And you look like you could sleep straight through tomorrow.” He hesitated, chewing on his thoughts for a moment before he said, “What Kuroda-taichou said, about learning medical terms. Kakashi did offer to drill me, actually. I figured I can probably memorize enough of 'em to get by with the type of field-work we've been doing, but— D'you think that'll be enough?”

Genma rubbed his face with his free hand, considering carefully. “There’s a lot of anatomical terminology you’ll need. And… Kuroda-taichou was an as— was impolite about it, but he’s not entirely wrong. You’ll need to do some reading and writing.” They turned up the street to the bakery. “I’ve read your file, but it’s not very specific. I know you can write your name. Can you…” He winced as he put too much weight onto his healing leg all at once, but it was more of an anticipatory grimace for the question he was about to ask. “How much can you— are you comfortable reading?”

Ryouma snorted dismissively. “Comfortable? That's a big fat nothing. The characters go all… squiggly, and I get headaches.” He frowned at his feet, talking more to the pale tan stones of the roadbed than to Genma. “I can piece out hiragana and katakana when I need to, mostly. Kanji are a lot harder. You gotta get all the little strokes in the right order, and they won't hold still.” He seemed to realize he might be making a case against himself, and jerked his head back up. “I can work on it, though,” he said in an earnest rush. “If I try hard enough, I'll get 'em down.”

Genma still felt like he was picking his way through a minefield. Although Ryouma hadn’t detonated with the first question; a good start. “We’ll work on them together. I know some of the hiragana are easy to confuse when you’re learning them. I used to get yu, wa, and re mixed up all the time when I was learning to read. And some of the katakana, too. And I don’t think there’s probably anyone except literature scholars who can read and write every kanji.”

Ryouma's crooked smile snuck back. “You don't wanna know how long it took me to learn to write my name.”

“Your name is hard,” Genma said. “Names in general are hard. There are so many different kanji you could potentially use, and more than one way you could read each kanji. Honestly, I usually write my given name in katakana. It saves people mispronouncing it.” He quirked a smile back at Ryouma. “You could do that if you wanted. Kana are perfectly acceptable in most cases, especially on charts where your reg number is there to distinguish you from anyone with a similar name.”

Ryouma shrugged. “I like the dragon.” He tapped the covered tattoo on the left side of his chest in an absent gesture. As they drew nearer to the bakery, recognition sparked in his eyes. “Hey, this is your dad's place? I like the cakes here.”

“I didn’t know you come here.” Genma smiled, pleased pride spreading warmth through his chest. “You’ve met my dad? We can go in and say hi before we go upstairs to get my charts. I don’t think I can eat anything else, but he’ll probably try to give us pastries.”

Ryouma hesitated a moment too long for it to be simple indecision. His shoulders twitched in a quick, almost defiant shrug. “I didn't know he was your dad, but sure. Think if I brag what a great lieutenant you are, he'll give me your share too?”

There was the mine Genma’d been expecting, but it was outside the boundaries of literacy and squarely in “family” territory. Maybe Ryouma’s discomfort with Ehime Chiyo’s outpouring of gratitude had triggered something for him. Genma ran through a quick mental check of what he knew of Ryouma’s personal history: war orphan at seven, and orphaned again when his custodian grandfather died.

“We could also skip it and just go straight upstairs for my stuff,” Genma offered. “But if we do go in, he’ll probably give you cakes just on principle, you don’t have to butter him up.”

Ryouma cracked a laugh. “Good thing you haven't brought us around too often. Katsuko'd eat him out of business.”

“Which is exactly why I haven’t brought the team around,” Genma agreed. That one stop on the day he’d first met Katsuko on wall-duty with Raidou notwithstanding.

Genma hesitated, almost at the bakery’s door, looking at Ryouma.

Ryouma just shrugged. “Up to you.” He didn’t look like he was going to melt down over this.

Genma nodded. “Dad’ll be unhappy if he hears us walking around upstairs and I haven’t come in to say hello. We’ll make it quick, though,” he added through another yawn. “I’m really starting to feel the chakra drain.” He held the door open for Ryouma, ducking under the noren after his rookie.

“Welco— Genma!” Yuuichi’s face cracked into a wide, startled smile.

“Hi, Dad,” Genma said. “This is—”

“I recognize you,” Yuuichi interrupted. “Mocha cream roll cake, and… and… chocolate dorayaki? Right?”

Ryouma blinked, nonplussed. “Uh… for today? Or last time?”

“Oh, last time,” Yuuichi said. “Actually I don’t have any chocolate dorayaki today, I’m afraid. But the red bean is very nice.” He produced a pair of them, holding them out like he was tempting wildlife to come closer.

Genma just shook his head. “It’s okay, Dad, we ate already. We had your salted egg buns at Higher Grounds, and then ramen. I just have to get some stuff for Tousaki-san from upstairs.”

Ryouma glanced at Genma, then reached out and accepted the dorayaki. “I’ve got studying to do later, though. Sugar’d help.”

“I’ll get you a little box,” Yuuichi said, assembling a complicated looking flat piece of cardboard into a domed carrier with a few quick folds. He tucked a couple of additional sweets into the box and held it out for Ryouma to put the dorayaki in.
“Tousaki-san,” he said, working to commit the name to memory. “Any friend of my son’s is always welcome, especially such a loyal customer. You should have introduced me sooner, Genma.” His eyes widened a little when he saw the cane. “And no more crutches! But you look tired, Gen. Have you been getting enough sleep?” Another glance at Ryouma brought a light of mistaken understanding to his eyes. “Oh. Is Tousaki-san your—”

“Rookie,” Genma cut in, forestalling the speculation. “He’s my rookie. I’m his lieutenant. And I’m going to teach him medical jutsu.”

At his side, Ryouma straightened into an almost ridiculously perfect parade rest, bright eyed and practically vibrating with eagerness. Yuuichi gave Ryouma a slow blink, then raised an eyebrow at Genma.

Genma ignored it. There was undoubtedly going to be a lengthy discussion with his father later, no matter what he said or didn’t say right now.

“We’re going upstairs, I’m giving Tousaki some materials to study, and then I’m taking a nap here,” Genma said. “And Tousaki is going back to quarters.”

“Where I'll get completely swarmed by my neighbors,” Ryouma put in, hefting his bakery box. “You should look into getting a contract to supply the ANBU mess, Shiranui-san.”

Yuuichi’s cheeks tinged pink at the compliment, but shook his head. “I’d never be able to keep up production enough to feed all of ANBU. I’d have to hire an additional baker and put in more ovens, and we don’t really have room here.”

“Don’t worry, Dad,” Genma told him, “I’m pretty sure confections and tea sweets aren’t really on the Akimichi nutritionists’ lists of approved mess hall foods anyway.”

Yuuichi chuckled. “Probably not.”

Genma yawned, and Yuuichi gave Genma another critical look. “Go give your rookie whatever you’re planning to give him and take your nap, Genma. You look like you could sleep a week. Do you want me to wake you for dinner? I could make sukiyaki.”

Genma was tired enough that he considered saying no, but home-cooked sukiyaki was impossible to turn down. “Definitely. Come on, Tousaki, the stairs are around back.”
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