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Soldier On[May. 27th, 2016|08:52 pm]

[Takes place May 17, two days after Hold the Line, three days before the funeral in When the Last Roll is Called]

Kurenai received her orders at family dinner, which was not unusual. Her grandmother, the esteemed matriarch of the Yuuhi clan, had dismissed the youngest grandchildren to play quietly in the garden; one of her aunts was serving tea, while a teenage cousin handed around plates of sweets. Kurenai shared her plate with her little sisters, Akane and Kaede, and hoped the clan council wouldn't take long. Her feet were beginning to fall asleep.

An elderly uncle droned through household accounts. An aunt presented her petition for increasing the amount deducted from the pay of active duty Yuuhi ninja for clan maintenance, and was shouted down by three cousins, all chuunin. Kurenai's grandmother sipped her tea and frowned down the long hall, and the quarreling cousins quieted.

"The new tatami mats for the family shrine can wait," Yuuhi Benihime decided. Her voice was a mild, age-roughened alto; Kurenai had never known her to raise it. She never had to. "The roof repairs are more pressing. See to it, Masaru. Kurenai-chan, do you have a mission this week?"

Kurenai started. "No, grandmother. My current assignment at HQ will last for another three or four months before I rotate into the field again."

Benihime nodded briskly. "Then speak to your team leader for me. I require your presence at 0900 for—oh, two or three hours, every day for the next two weeks."

Fifteen-year-old Akane made a soft little Oooh sound under her breath. "Think it's marriage meetings?"

Kurenai pinched her. "Is this a family matter?" she asked, over Akane's indignant squeak. "We're shorthanded at the moment, in the wake of what happened in the capital—I don't know if I can be spared—"

"I've taken this case on special request from Shibata Tomohiro," Benihime said. "I'm sure he won't object to my requisitioning an assistant. And you happen to be my only grandchild with S-level security clearance." She sipped her tea with satisfaction. "I'll see you at my work room tomorrow morning. Now, Kaede-chan, what's this I hear about your aunt Madoka spotting you with an Uchiha boy?"

On Kurenai's other side, seventeen-year-old Kaede went crimson with mortification. Akane perked up gleefully. Kurenai sighed, and passed Kaede the mochi.

Team Lead Shirotani sent back a brief scrawl in return for Kurenai's urgent message that night:

Assigned to Yuuhi B. until further notice. Report to Shibata T. daily.

Don't worry about making up the hours, Yuuhi. You can count it against your overtime.


Kurenai frowned thoughtfully down at the note. A case under the personal oversight of Shibata Tomohiro, classified at the highest level, enlisting Konoha's foremost genjutsu expert…

Namiashi Raidou. Of course.

She'd met Katsuko for drinks a few days ago—deprived of her team and restricted in her physical training, Katsuko had apparently fallen back on her favorite pastimes of long naps, sketching, and badgering friends into buying her food. They'd kept the conversation deliberately light, a welcome respite from daily concerns. Katsuko hadn't mentioned her captain, and Kurenai hadn't pressed.

She'd wondered, but she'd had other issues to occupy her time.

And now, apparently, he was one of them. Again.

At least, Kurenai thought with grim amusement, her grandmother wouldn't try to marry her off this time.

Yuuhi Benihime's workroom had been a tea pavilion, once, set at a deliberate distance from the rambling main house and surrounded by the careful austerity of the garden. One of the uncles, one-armed after the war, kept up the grounds with the help of whatever cousins he could dragoon into pulling weeds or raking gravel. Kurenai picked a handful of green maple leaves on her way up the winding path, and tucked them into her uniform pocket.

Her grandmother was waiting on the porch, severe and impeccable as always in her black silk kimono. "He's early," she said, without preamble.

Kurenai looked back, following her grandmother's straight crimson gaze. The path twisted through maple and bamboo groves on its way up the hill, paved with irregular stepping stones and arching bridges over a thin silver stream and its fishponds. Halfway down the hill, shrouded by green bamboo, a tall man in jounin blues stood still as the stone lantern beside him.

"I didn't pass him on the way up," Kurenai observed.

Benihime sniffed. "He wasn't that early. He only reached the lantern a moment ago." She plucked the antique silver watch out of her sleeve and consulted it narrowly. "I'll give him five minutes before you fetch him. Tomorrow he can do it on his own."

"Grandmother, his prior experiences with genjutsu…" Kurenai hesitated.

The garden maze was the bane of every Yuuhi childhood. How many times had she wandered, lost and frightened, in that bamboo wilderness before her father came to wake her, or her grandmother relented? Raidou was no five-year-old child, to be bewildered to tears, but the last time he'd been caught in a genjutsu, Tsurugahama Port had suffered for it.

"You think he'll try to smash my skull?" Benihime asked dryly.

"I think it would be... counterproductive to bring him unsettled and angry to his first session. If you do intend to teach him, instead of traumatizing him further." Kurenai pulled a maple leaf out of her pocket and curled her fingers around it. "He walks quickly. He'll be at the Nightmare Grove before five minutes are up."

"Hmm." Benihime frowned down the hill, at the young bamboo leaves and the man dappled by their shade. "Very well. But he walks it when he leaves this morning, and every day after. If a Yuuhi child can do it, I expect no less of an ANBU."

And Raidou could shake the nightmares free in his own home, instead of her workshop.

Well, it was a better offer than Kurenai and her sisters had been given. "Agreed," Kurenai said.

She focused her chakra to a thread, slipping it into the tender veins of the leaf in her hand, twisting through the filaments of her grandmother's chakra that wound through every tree in this garden. A brief flash of heat, and puff of smoke, and only ashes dusted in her palm.

In the bamboo grove below, Namiashi Raidou started, nearly tripped on the rough paving stones, and looked up the hill.
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