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What You Don't Know (Will Kill You)[Feb. 26th, 2016|10:41 pm]

[Begins on May 17, Yondaime Year 5, the day after A Loser's Just a Learner on His Way to Better Things]

Katsuko’s first day as Kuroda’s personal assistant was a lot like being stuck in a bear trap, except that she was already down one arm so she couldn't gnaw off the other to escape. He rejected the first cup of coffee she brought him and made her fetch him two more cups before he was satisfied. His filing system was labyrinthine and coded, and he shed no light on its inner workings before demanding she start organizing it. When she admitted, teeth gritted, that she needed his help to decrypt some of the labels, the look he gave her nearly blistered the skin of her face off.

He settled, more silkily, and said, "Clearly filing asks too much of you. You may clean instead, assuming you're capable."

Her one-armed dusting attempt— predictably— did not meet his stringent standards.

Through it all Kuroda dropped needling little comments that disparaged her competence and attitude, chipping away at her temper with expert aim. She gave up on maintaining any expression but icy blankness and plowed through his humiliating list of drudge-work like she was assaulting fortified castle walls.

The one area he couldn't find any fault in was her handwriting. He leaned over her shoulder while she was filling out a stack of memos and made an irritated sound. “Acceptable,” he said at last. "I see you did manage to learn something beyond bad habits at your father's knee."

“My mother was actually the one who taught me to write, sir. She's a calligrapher.” If Katsuko stabbed him in the eye with her pen, he'd probably just make her clean up all the blood with a single piece of tissue paper. She kept her head down and her gaze focused on the memo pad instead.

"Mm," Kuroda said. The contempt in his voice was thick enough to package and sell as novelty candy. The pen creaked perilously in Katsuko's grip, but Kuroda was saved from ignoble death by writing utensil when one of his assistants hurried into the room to thrust a stack of paperwork at him. Kuroda had several assistants, some of whom manned the desks outside his office and others who always seemed to be nose-deep in his file cabinets. He also had a few runners hanging around him at all times, ready to take messages at a moment’s notice.

All of his helpers had resolutely pretended not to be in the room while Kuroda put her through his razor-tongued hazing ritual. Katsuko had to respect their self-preservation instinct, but that didn't mean she was gracious when one of the assistants crept up to her side while Kuroda was distracted. The assistant was a nervous mouse of a man with a wispy beard trailing from his pointy chin, and his anxious glances at Kuroda’s turned back did not inspire her with confidence.

“Hm?” She raised one eyebrow. The assistant quivered but handed her a folder. It bore another one of Kuroda’s encrypted labels. The assistant pointed at the first symbol.

“This, um, this means ‘municipal’, and the third symbol always tells you what section of the room it belongs to—”

Katsuko put her pen down and leaned in to listen closer.

Three more assistants piled in through the door, one after the other. The paperwork they brought with them made Kuroda’s shoulders twitch and took him half an hour to disentangle. When he'd finally sorted out the mess and sent his scathing solution out with the runners, he turned back to find—

Katsuko, still studiously filling out her diminished stack of memos, and the pile of folders she'd previously been unable to organize vanished, tucked away in their proper drawers. The wispy beard assistant was also tucked away, safe behind a tower of filing cabinets.

Kuroda looked at her for a moment, dark-eyed and unreadable, then called in an attendant to turn over a much larger stack on Katsuko’s desk. “I want this completed within the hour,” he said, clipped. He glanced over at the file tower the wispy beard assistant was hiding behind but declined to comment.

“On it, sir,” Katsuko said, and wondered if she'd impressed him.

She completed the paperwork in time, barely, and Kuroda dropped another stack on her. When she finished that, he made her water his damn plants.

He had a lot of plants. She thought about drowning his cactus, but she wasn't that cruel.

More cleaning, more organizing, more paperwork. Kuroda’s paperwork system was frighteningly precise, and his files covered the minutiae of running ANBU. Every minor detail was included, from the monthly budget for kunai and shuriken to a list of clerks with high enough clearance to handle Sagara’s taxes. There was one particular cabinet that was covered in enough locking seals to make her eyes hurt, and nobody went in there except for Kuroda himself. Katsuko wanted nothing to do with it.

It was well into evening by the time Kuroda released Katsuko with a grudging nod. Release didn't mean escape, however: he handed her a stack of messy notes from his latest meeting and instructed her to make sense of them and check for typos. She tucked the notes into her sling, saluted, and fled for the door.

“Ueno,” Kuroda said, when she was three steps away from blessed freedom.

Katsuko glanced reluctantly over her shoulder. “Sir?”

“If you keep this up, perhaps we can repair some of the damage done by your former captain’s…” he rolled the next word in his mouth for a second, almost savoring it. “Failings.”

She considered him for a moment from a place very far outside herself. It was someone else controlling her body, who turned it around and made it bow to Kuroda and say, “I can only hope to learn from you, Vice-Commander.”

The world remained muffled and distant until she ducked out into the crisp Konoha night. The fresh air snapped her back into her own head and brought the cold awareness of her fury, held at bay by the iron walls of her self-control. She bade it to rest for a little while longer and set her course for home.

The cat was napping on the kitchen counter when she dropped her homework back at her apartment. It slitted one wrathful eye open at her when she petted its newly groomed and washed fur, but offered no other form of greeting.

She'd have to give it a name eventually. Just not now, when her jaw throbbed from how tightly she'd kept it clenched during the day. Every part of her ached to be out underneath the open sky.

Katsuko refilled the cat’s water and food dishes and got ready to leave. The cat roused enough to let out a plaintive meow when she buckled her swords to her belt. It leapt off the counter and twined around her ankles, trying to herd her away from the door.

“Sorry, stinky,” she murmured, scratching it underneath the chin. Guilt pricked her, but stronger than that was the muted roar of her fury. “I'll be back soon.”

The offended yowl when she shut the door behind her told her the cat was less than impressed with her excuses.

She'd find an empty practice field and hit training dummies until her arms fell off or the anger went away. Whichever happened first.
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