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Hard Came the Rain[Jul. 9th, 2017|02:13 pm]

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[Takes place June 25, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after After the Rhythm and Booze.]

Sagara Okiku, ANBU’s fourth commander, was having a good morning.

The twins had slept through the night. Mariko had scampered off to the academy on time, with a completed report on Tetsu no Kuni’s military samurai tucked under one arm. And Ikorou, kind husband that he was, had packed Sagara a bento. It was currently sitting in her desk drawer, a pleasant temptation.

She had even, through some miracle she didn’t plan to examine closely, managed to catch up on her paperwork.

In this frame of mind, she was almost forgiving when the entirety of Team Six — and two dogs — invaded her office, instead of the one lieutenant she’d actually summoned.

“Shiranui,” she said. “You have an entourage.”

Who appeared to have come straight from the training field, judging by the motley collection of filthy, blood-stained clothing. None of them were in uniform. Shiranui seemed to have been punched in the face. Namiashi’s cheek was gashed. Hatake looked like he’d been dragged through barbed wire. Only Tousaki was visibly uninjured, which probably meant he was concealing something internal.

Shiranui bit his split lip. “We were just finishing a post-training lunch. They insisted on accompanying me.” He gave his team a narrow look. “I’m sure this won’t take long, if you want to wait in our office.”

“We’re here to report, too,” Tousaki said, nervously stubborn. His defiant gaze made it as high as Sagara’s tea mug.

The tall yellow shepherd sat down in front of Shiranui, feathered tail coiled neatly around her feet. Her head reached his ribcage. The pug draped over Shiranui’s left shoulder sat upright and scratched one ear. Hatake, less demonstratively, slouched behind Genma and maintained the relatively successful pretense that his summons' actions had nothing to do with him.

Namiashi tucked his arms behind his back, spine held ramrod straight, and didn’t move an inch.

The last meeting involving Team Six had ended with Namiashi's temporary removal. Sagara supposed she could understand the closing of ranks, though it did come within a breath of insubordination.

"Vice-commander Kuroda has submitted a formal complaint about your conduct, Shiranui," she said.

Shiranui went just slightly pale. Tousaki's jaw clenched. Namiashi glowered. Hatake fixed his one grey eye on Sagara, and waited like a bear trap.

Sagara allowed the moment to stretch. She shuffled some paperwork, then said, "That will be all. Dismissed."

Shiranui held his calm.

Tousaki exploded.

“That’s it? Don’t we get to respond? The Vice-commander wasn’t even there, he’s just got a grudge against Team Six. Shiranui-fukuchou saved Kuroda’s life in the caves an' kept the rest of us going that whole mission—”

“Tousaki!” snapped Shiranui.

But Tousaki had his feet under him now. He barrelled on. “He'd've saved Fukuda if he could. He just about burnt himself dry for Kimiko and the baby. And unless you had Senju Tsunade-sama in the field with us, nobody else could've done any better—” He dodged out from underneath Namiashi’s quelling hand. “Kuroda's just trying to shift the blame to somebody else so no one'll remember he got Eizo killed!"

In the clanging silence that followed, Hatake said, “He’s not wrong.”

Sagara set her paperwork aside. “I think you missed my point, Tousaki,” she said. “Vice-commander Kuroda has made a formal complaint. I am required to make a formal response. Which I have done. You are all now dismissed and the matter is closed, unless you would like to put your accusation against the Vice-commander on record.”

Tousaki stared at her. It was much the same bewildered expression Mariko got, when she’d wound herself up into a screaming fit and Ikorou neatly diverted her the moment before she detonated. Except adult, male, and fractionally more dangerous. “You believe us?” he said finally.

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?” Sagara asked.

Namishi’s hand clamped down on Tousaki’s shoulder. This time, Tousaki allowed himself to be quelled. Shiranui stood like a pillar, relief and shock like ripples underneath the blank mask.

Hatake’s head tilted. “Because Kuroda is your second in command?”

The next time Minato made a glowing comment about the singular intelligence of his protege, Sagara was going to repeat this meeting verbatim.

“A position that entitles him to several advantages,” she said. “My blind faith is not one of them. I have read your reports. I have read Team Thirteen’s. I have interviewed Fukuda Kimiko, and spoken with Uchiha Satomi and Yuuhi Kurenai. I believe I am in possession of all the facts.” She cupped her hand under her chin and regarded Team Six’s two rookies. “Did either of you witness Tsuda Eizo’s death?”

Tousaki hesitated, then shook his head. Flakes of dried mud drifted to the carpet. “They came back without him. Satomi told us what happened.”

“No,” Hatake said, reluctantly.

Sagara put iron in her voice. “Vice-commander Kuroda and I disagree on several principles, but I have never doubted his loyalty to Konoha. Hatake, you especially should know exactly how dangerous these accusations can be. Tousaki, you don’t help your commanding officers by losing control in front of them — you just display your vulnerabilities. I expect better from both of you.”

Tousaki swallowed. He glanced at his teammates, then dropped his dark head in a low bow, holding it in apology. “Commander.”

Hatake was white behind his mask. The dogs had frozen. Sagara held his gaze until he dropped it. He didn’t bow, but he didn’t look up again either.

They were painfully young, but they’d been adults since they’d taken their first kills. There was no space to coddle them, and Sagara wouldn’t have even if there had been. You didn’t grow strong trees without harsh winters.

Namiashi and Shiranui were only a breath older, and their shoulders carried much more weight. There was even less space for them, and Sagara had already taken more time than she could afford on a matter so irritatingly pointless — but that was Kuroda’s fault, not theirs.

She’d already spent her time on him. It had been satisfying.

“Is there anything else, lieutenant?”

Shiranui’s relief had faded somewhat. He said, low but clear, “No, Commander. Thank you, Commander. I apologize for my teammate’s outbursts, and for the trouble I’ve caused you.” He bowed as deeply as Tousaki, and straightened with a formal salute.

Sagara dipped her head in acknowledgement. “Captain?”

Namiashi was still glowering, though whether that was for the malalignment of his lieutenant, or the behaviour and/or reprimand of his rookies, Sagara couldn’t say. Either way, he was being careful to direct it only at the wall. He bowed, low and respectful. “Thank you for your time, Commander.”

“Dismissed,” Sagara said.

Shiranui seemed a little numb. Namiashi herded him and the subdued rookies out, trailed by the golden shepherd, who paused to give Sagara a dirty look at the threshold.

Loyalty, Sagara reflected, was a lovely thing.

She waited until the smudges of chakra and ANBU sparks faded from the edge of her senses, then got up and went to stick her head out of the door. At his desk, Naofumi ducked his head sheepishly.

“The whole team?” Sagara said. “Really?”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

“I should fire you,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Would you like a cold green tea with your lunch?”

“Gods yes,” she said. “And call someone to get the mud out of my carpet.”
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