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The End Is Where We Begin[Jul. 12th, 2016|06:57 pm]

[Takes place the morning of May 20, Yondaime Year 5, an hour or so after When the Last Roll Is Called and parallel to Worth the Pain]

Talking with Katsuko took half an hour, but the aftermath involved the head of ANBU herself, followed by paperwork and a meeting with Kuroda. And that took until nearly 1500.

As soon as he was alone in Team Six’s office, Genma took a sealed equipment scroll from his locker and keyed in the simple chakra sequence to release it. A tightly rolled t-shirt and faded pair of jeans appeared in a puff of orangish smoke, and dropped to his desk. The socks and underwear furled inside weren’t really necessary, but spare civvies were spare civvies, and he was eager to be out of his funeral uniform.

After he’d changed, Genma locked the new paperwork away and took out the folder with his copy of Team Six’s personnel files. He’d just opened Raidou’s profile to look for a home address when there was a polite knock on the office door.

“Enter,” Genma said, expecting a runner with some additional form that needed his signature. He was surprised when he looked up to find Katsuko there. “I thought you were—” he started, and cut himself off. There was no blast-furnace of chakra radiating from the woman in the doorway — it was a clone.

“Katsuko told me to give you this to open later,” the clone said. It handed over a document scroll with a label inked in Katsuko’s distinctive calligraphy, addressed simply to ‘ANBU Team Six’.

“Later when?” Genma asked, but the clone, with its sole task accomplished, had already formed the seals to dismiss itself from existence.

Whenever ‘later’ was, it wasn’t now. He pocketed the scroll and turned back to Raidou’s file to get that address.

Raidou’d said he was meeting with Benihime-sama after the funeral, but with three hours past, the lesson was probably over. The Yuuhi matriarch had more than just Raidou to attend to in her life, after all, and even the strictest sensei wouldn’t expect more than three hours of intensive genjutsu practice at a stretch from someone who wasn’t a specialist in the field.

It wasn’t hard to map out the least hilly route between ANBU HQ and Raidou’s family home in a tree-lined, residential corner of Konoha. The house itself was a tidy two-story with a blue tile roof, not much different in shape than the ones around it, but there was a comforting settledness in the different paint schemes and garden designs from house to house. This whole neighborhood had escaped the Fox’s destruction, and bore the signs of long use — the large gardens and wide spacing between houses harkened back to Konoha’s rural roots.

Genma pushed open a well-oiled cypress-wood gate marked with two names, Namiashi and Yonai, to paved pathway that meandered through a small flower garden to the front door. Genma flared his chakra for Raidou’s benefit and brushed the backs of his fingers through the dangling tubes of a wind chime hanging under the eaves to announce himself.

After a moment, a window to Genma’s left slid open, and a woman who could only be Raidou’s mother, Namiashi Ume, leaned out. She had his exact coloring from the warm tan skin to the reddish hue of her dark hair, with the same bright brown eyes that crinkled at the corners like her son’s. She blinked at Genma, nonplussed, and brushed a flyaway strand of hair absently back to join its fellows, twisted up and skewered with a pencil. “Can I help you, dear?” she asked.

It didn’t take a shinobi to know she was a grade school teacher.

Genma ducked his head in a bow. “Namiashi-sensei, I’m Shiranui Genma. Is Namiashi-taichou available?”

Alarm replaced the puzzlement on her face. “He’s still out. Is something wrong?”

“No, ma’am,” Genma said quickly. “It’s nothing like that.” He could kick himself for frightening her. “He’s my captain. Er, I’m his lieutenant. I was just hoping to catch up with him for a little and pass on some news about the team.”

Her face flashed over into delight. “You’re Shiranui-kun! Or— not ‘-kun’ probably, sorry. Shiranui-san? Shiranui-fukuchou? Shun would be so much better at this. Anyway, Raidou probably won’t be back for a while longer. Would you like to come in?”

Her torrent of words paused just long enough for Genma to open his mouth, and then she gave a rueful little “oh!” and disappeared back into the house. The window slid shut. Moments later footsteps scuffed on the entryway, and the door swung open.

She smiled up at Genma, her eyes all but disappearing behind round, red cheeks. “Now would you like to come in,” she said. “I’ve got tea.”

Genma had to laugh. “Don’t worry, Namiashi-sensei, I have a civilian father; I know better than to crawl in through windows on a social visit.” He bowed again, now that they were face to face. “Pleasure to meet you. ‘San’ is fine,” he told her, straightening. “I’m not your lieutenant, after all.”

“Count yourself lucky,” she said cheerfully, “I'd make a terrible soldier." She gestured for him to enter, bowing in what Genma could already tell would be an infinitely repeating cycle if he didn’t break it. He stepped into the cool foyer and quickly slipped off his shoes.

“What tea would you like?” Ume asked, leading the way to a cozy, lived-in kitchen. “I've got black, jasmine, sencha, genmaicha, kukicha…”

“Genmaicha, please.” Green tea with toasted rice was a soothing, mellow tea, and after the way Genma’s day had gone so far, soothing sounded perfect.

Ume busied herself with loose tea and a small teapot, leaving Genma to study the room. On the surface, it looked like a civilian home. There was a comfortable kitchen table strewn with half-graded student papers. A lightweight cardigan casually slung over one of the chairs. A stack of magazines and newspapers awaiting recycling. The refrigerator had the usual assortment of calendars and coupons magneted to it, along with a charming crayon drawing of a group of small figures and one larger, long haired one, helpfully labeled ‘Namiashi-sensei.’ A caged tiger filled the space above the people, and a childish scrawl at the bottom of the page read, ‘Thank you for taking us to see the animals.’

But the imprint of the ninja who lived here was just as apparent to knowing eyes. A pair of swords on a stand could have been decorative heirlooms if not for their battered scabbards and worn hilts. A simple wooden box near the door was the exact size and shape to hold a set of bug-out-bags for two. A bottle of honing oil and a slightly worn whetstone sat on the low table in the main living area. That would be Raidou’s Academy-sensei mother Shun’s, undoubtedly. And of course Raidou himself had been raised here. Genma couldn’t help smirking at the patched over divots where senbon or shuriken had been pitched at the ceiling by a bored adolescent ninja some time in the past.

When the tea was brewed, Ume put the pot and a pair of artfully rustic tea cups on a chipped lacquer tray and nodded at the sliding door to the back. Genma opened it for her and followed her to a small table and trio of folding chairs in a yard that was more cultivated garden than open space. While he selected a seat, she poured out the tea and handed Genma a steaming cup.

“Is it good news?” she asked, pouring herself a cup and sitting to his right. “About your team?” She must have read the hesitation on Genma’s face as he prepared to politely decline to answer, because she waved a hastily dismissive hand. “If it’s classified, you can pretend I never asked.”

“That’s probably the best choice,” Genma said, relieved. “Thanks for giving me an easy out.” He scanned the garden while he cradled his tea. Raised beds planted in neat rows took up one side of the garden, while flowers lined another. At the back, a tiny fluffball of a white kitten was trying to catch a pair of black-spotted orange butterflies that flitted just out of its reach above a tree stump.

It was a peaceful garden. Katsuko would undoubtedly have run to play with the kitten if she were here. The scroll in his right pocket pressed against his leg and spoiled his peace. He had a good guess as to its contents, but until Raidou was here, there was nothing he could do with the scroll or his news.

And if Ume caught him fretting, she’d worry whether or not he reassured her the news wasn’t dire. He took a deliberately slow sip of tea, tipped back in the chair, and refocused on his hostess.

“Are you the gardener, Namiashi-sensei?”

“Hm? Oh, no. I'm a renowned plant-killer.” Ume crinkled her nose above a wry smile. “My wife does all the gardening, except when we rope Raidou in for free labor.” She gestured at a pair of planters near the back door made two halves of a water barrel. Tiny, bright green seedlings dotted the densely black soil. “He made those for us last week.”

“Nice, I love strawberries,” Genma said. The leaves were ridged and saw-toothed in clusters of three, so they could hardly be anything else unless Raidou’s moms were cultivating poison ivy, but it didn’t seem likely. “I didn’t know Raidou liked to do carpentry. I guess he learned it when Konoha was rebuilding?”

Ume grinned, delighted to talk about her son. Indeed Raidou had learned carpentry repairing the damage the Fox had wrought, and he was a natural talent. She expounded at length about the potting bench Raidou had built for Shun (with seed compartments and shelves!); a set of rough but tuneful wooden windchimes he’d made piecemeal over the course of several missions, bringing one new pipe after every sortie; the freshly repaired garden fence with only the newness of the boards to show it wasn’t original... She would probably have taken him on a tour of the fence, pointing out every board Raidou had ever replaced, complete with timeline and precipitating event, if not for Genma’s cane and obvious limp.

While she was enthusing about the joinery on the window boxes that Raidou had given her for her birthday one year, the kitten, bored with butterflies, wandered over to sniff inquisitively at Genma’s toes. He reached a hand down to pat it, which it took as an invitation to scale his leg and settle in his lap, purring loudly.

It was edging towards 1600 and they’d gone through a pot of tea, a plate of senbei, and enough stories about Raidou’s handiwork that Genma was starting to wonder when his captain had time to be a ninja before there was any sign of Raidou.

“Mom?” he bellowed from somewhere inside the house. “Is it my turn to cook dinner toni— Shiranui?” He stood at the open kitchen door, toweling freshly showered hair with one hand and tugging the hem of a dark tank top down over loose-fitting jeans. His broad, bare shoulders were tanner than Genma remembered — all those hours working in the garden while on enforced sabbatical, Genma guessed.

Genma scrambled to stand, scooping the kitten up with one hand and reaching for his cane with the other. “Taichou. I have some information to go over with you. Your mother was kind enough to give me some tea… I hope you don’t mind.”
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