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

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

shiranui_genma
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[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.” )
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All This And Heaven Too [Dec. 12th, 2015|12:03 pm]

hatake_kakashi
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[Takes place the afternoon of May 16, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after Devil in the Details]

Chakra healing was only a spectator sport for a specific kind of person.

Watching the slow, bloodless process of excising scar tissue, closing knotted voids, and encouraging healthy muscle and tissue to grow back together was not Kakashi’s idea of a good time. It was beneficial for the lieutenant, of course, since a shinobi with a thigh carved out of fascial catastrophe was a shinobi with an expiration date. But Kakashi was never going to be a medic-nin; he couldn’t learn anything of value, and his presence was more of a challenge than a comfort to Genma, who had opinions about things like ‘not judging medical staff’.

Ryouma seemed fascinated, dark eyes darting between soft-voiced medics and their flickering chakra seals. With Genma’s encouragement, he even plucked up the confidence to ask a few questions, and looked thrilled when the head surgeon answered him like a colleague.

Katsuko was more grimly traumatized by the sights and sounds of an active medical procedure. She stuck close to Ryouma’s side on the pretense of playing supportive senpai, but Kakashi didn’t miss the way her mouth tightened and her eyes kept marking the exits. When a nurse adjusted the calibration of Genma’s pain medication — a light dose, just enough to take the edge off having his inner thigh manipulated like a tapestry on a loom — and the IV machine beeped, Katsuko visibly twitched.

Even slightly stoned, Genma was a perceptive man. He glanced at her and Kakashi, and said lightly, “I admire your dedication to the mission, but I think Tousaki has the bodyguarding thing down. Can you two go scout a suitable location for lunch, assuming anyone has an appetite after this?”

“I should stay,” Katsuko said, like every word was being pulled from her with hooks.

Ryouma looked down at her, fledgling medical glee replaced by instant guilt, and Kakashi restrained the urge to thump someone’s head against the wall. His own, maybe. )
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Devil in the Details [Dec. 6th, 2015|07:29 pm]

tousaki_ryouma
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[Takes place the morning of May 16, Yondaime Year 5, the day after Break It Down by the Numbers and Killing Time Between My Sins]

The wonderful thing about team practice at 0500, Ryouma decided, was that you didn't have to wait. You rolled out of bed and into clothes, and maybe you had time to burn your tongue on coffee and gnaw a protein bar on your way down to the training field. By the time you got there, shivering in the dark, Raidou was already warmed up and entirely likely to greet you with a Doton jutsu to the face.

Meeting the interim team captain at 0900, on the other hand, meant a solid three hours of anxiety between waking and showing up at Team Six's office. Katsuko's intervention at the bar last night meant he hadn't drunk nearly enough to either oversleep or wake with a hangover. She wasn't in the ANBU gym to share his morning workout, either.

Ayane, who had no team to train with, was. They exchanged tight smiles, and helped each other with the weights without speaking a word.

0830 came eventually. Ryouma showered, shaved, dressed in uniform, and re-styled his hair twice before he settled on something that looked appropriately serious. He forced himself through most of a rat bar and crammed the rest in his belt-pouch. Genma would be proud.

At 0855 exactly, he opened the office door. )
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Killing Time Between My Sins [Oct. 18th, 2015|07:12 pm]

ueno_katsuko
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[Takes place May 15, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after Break It Down by the Numbers]

The door slid shut behind Ryouma and left silence in his wake. Katsuko flicked her kunai back into its holster, eying the tension in Kakashi’s stance. She knew by now that the shuttered opacity of his gaze meant something was troubling him.

Katsuko hadn’t told Ryouma about the officer prep courses. She wanted to hold the knowledge close for now, to take out and examine later when she was alone. She’d felt guilty, then. Now she was just glad; if she’d told Ryouma, she’d have had to tell Kakashi, too, and even she knew it was tactless to answer someone’s bad news with news of your own personal fortune. But could it really be counted as fortune if she had to do homework?

Leaving Kakashi alone with his cloud of dark thoughts to go back to her apartment felt… wrong. Besides, she’d missed him and Ryouma. She was already used to seeing them several hours a day for training. Two days on her own felt odd.

“Hey,” she said at last. Kakashi’s eye flicked towards her; one grey eyebrow raised in silent inquiry. “I’m going to go do stuff before we meet for food. You should come with.”

That, quite rightly, earned her a look of pure suspicion. “What kind of stuff?”

“Things,” Katsuko temporized, and then hit upon inspiration. “I have to get my kodachi repaired. The ANBU-issue one isn’t cutting it.” She winced at her accidental pun and forged on. “And we need to buy you practice swords for your first lesson.”

That got Kakashi’s attention. Sharpening interest overtook impending brooding; he leaned toward her slightly and said, “My tanto needs a new sheath, too. Do you have a sword-smith?”

“One of the best. She specializes in chakra blades, like you and I have. Come along and I’ll introduce you to her.”

He flicked a last glance at the door and nodded. “I need to get my tanto.”

They spared a minute for a quick side-trip to the Hokage’s quarters. Katsuko stayed respectfully outside the threshold until Kakashi appeared again, holding his wrapped tanto. He was also in a sensible jacket that confused her for a moment, before she remembered that chakra shortage meant it was harder for the body to retain heat on its own. It had been a long time since she’d had to worry about that.

As they left the palace and headed towards her apartment to pick up her kodachi, Kakashi said, “So, the lieutenant suggested I work on chakra drills with you.”

His casual tone wouldn’t have fooled an infant. )
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Tousaki Ryouma Performance Review: Month 1 [Sep. 30th, 2015|10:05 pm]

tousaki_ryouma
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[Discussed in Break it Down by the Numbers]

ANBU Periodic Performance Review Form


Agent: Tousaki Ryouma, 010950
Position: ANBU Team 6, Hunter, Rookie
Evaluating Officer: Shiranui Genma, 010203, Lieutenant, ANBU Team 6
Review Period: Y05, 19 April – 17 May
Missions: 2: ANB4052704-I-ISEG, ANB4050505-A-TSUT


    He shows good teamwork, and responds quickly to changing battlefield conditions, although he also shows a troubling recklessness and seems to be subject to a fair degree of emotional instability )
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Hatake Kakashi Performance Review: Month 1 [Sep. 30th, 2015|07:47 pm]

hatake_kakashi
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[Discussed in Break it Down by the Numbers]

ANBU Periodic Performance Review Form


Agent: Hatake Kakashi, 009720
Position: ANBU Team 6, Hunter, Rookie
Evaluating Officer: Shiranui Genma, 010203, Lieutenant, ANBU Team 6
Review Period: Y05, 19 April – 17 May
Missions: 2: ANB4052704-I-ISEG, ANB4050505-A-TSUT


    Hatake skirts the line of insubordination with a great deal of finesse, and seems to treat it as a sort of game )
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Ueno Katsuko Performance Review: Month 1 [Sep. 30th, 2015|11:05 pm]

ueno_katsuko
[Tags|, ]

[Discussed in Break it Down by the Numbers]

ANBU Periodic Performance Review Form


Agent: Ueno Katsuko, 010993
Position: ANBU Team 6, Hunter
Evaluating Officer: Shiranui Genma, 010203, Lieutenant, ANBU Team 6
Review Period: Y05, 19 April – 17 May
Missions: 2: ANB4052704-I-ISEG, ANB4050505-A-TSUT


Her less-than-solid interpersonal boundaries are an area of concern. )
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Break it Down by the Numbers [Sep. 30th, 2015|06:24 pm]

shiranui_genma
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[Takes place in the afternoon on May 15, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after Hold the Line]

Thank all the gods, the wait for answers about Team Six was finally over. Mostly. As Genma crutched his way back from lunch with Raidou to the elevator at the base of the Hokage Monument, he formulated a plan: he’d finish up those performance evals, summon the team, explain the situation with Raidou and their incoming-but-unknown temporary substitute captain, and then he’d have his performance meetings with everyone. Ryouma last, since he’d have to read Ryouma’s to him.

That was probably going to be awkward.

And then he’d find Asuma and see how apartment hunting had gone, and they were going to have drinks. As many drinks as it took to unknot his shoulders. Which, given he was still on painkillers was probably going to be one, maybe one and a half... Daruma himself would have had his patience tried by the week Genma’d had.

That thought detoured Genma into a shop on the hill leading to the monument, where he bought a small paper-maché Daruma to take back to the office. He mentally added, ‘go to the temple and make a gratitude offering for Raidou’s good news’ to his list of things to do before he called the day done.

First thing, when he got to ANBU HQ, was arranging for messengers to each of his team members, calling them to a meeting at 1500. )
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Hold the Line [Aug. 30th, 2015|03:31 pm]

namiashi_raidou
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[Takes place around midday May 15, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after The Summoning and Follow My Lead]

The universe was on Raidou’s side. Genma was in the first place he checked — working by the lamplight glow in Team Six’s windowless office.

As soon as Raidou opened the door, Genma’s head came up. He turned from his desk, one eyebrow quirking up in anticipation of a question, and stopped dead when he saw Raidou. His mouth opened. The senbon between his teeth wavered.

“Taichou,” he said blankly.

It had only been four days, but it was an actual, physical relief to set eyes on the lieutenant. Like the moment a chokehold relaxed and there was air again.

Raidou drew a breath and leaned against the door frame. “Fukuchou,” he said. “How’re you doing?”

There was a pair of crutches leaning against the desk; Genma reached for them, clearly intending to stand, but kept his seat when Raidou waved him back down. “I’m fine,” Genma said. “How are you doing?” He shot a look at the open door. “Can we…?” Quick fingers darted through the hand-sign for talk, meaning, Can we talk freely?

Raidou stepped in and closed the door behind him. “I’m still suspended, but they lifted the no-contact ban, so long as I don’t interfere with the team. I don’t think anyone’s bothering to listen in.”

Genma’s shoulders slumped nonetheless, but he still looked better than the last time Raidou had seen him. Since the last time had involved a hospital bed, the bar wasn’t high. Green-yellow bruises underscored his eyes, legacy of a healing broken nose. More ringed his throat from Iebara's choking. He was wearing civilian clothes, a dark t-shirt with a subtle leaf design, and jeans relaxed enough to accommodate the bandaging that still obviously encircled his right thigh. His hair was twisted up and back into a loose topknot, leaving casual strands to fall around his face. There was a old and clearly much-loved hoodie folded over the back of his chair.

He looked tired, pale, and stressed, but crutches meant walking and paperwork was dedication. Genma was taking care of the team, just like Raidou had asked. )
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The Summoning [Aug. 21st, 2015|09:26 pm]

namiashi_raidou
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[Takes place late morning of May 15, Yondaime Year 5, a few hours after Devil's Got My Secrets and two days after God Save the Foolish Kings]

It took two days to hear anything from T&I. Raidou managed to stay sane, just about.

Shibata’s advice anchored him: Hatake’s loyalty — and Shiranui’s, Tousaki’s, and Ueno’s — isn’t lightly earned, captain. Let that rest in your mind. It certainly made an impression in mine. Whenever he felt himself slipping into worry and doubt, Raidou lifted that thought like a shield. My team has faith.

The meeting had yielded another thing, too, after some time to mull it over: he liked the head of T&I. Shibata Tomohiro was a scary, scary man, but he’d still treated Raidou with surprising gentleness, and only kicked Raidou to knock down old, crippled armor that wasn’t helping anymore. He’d left Raidou with hope.

I’ve yet to find a well-forged weapon so dull it couldn’t be sharpened.

So Raidou filled his time with hard training, eating wholesome food, reading every book on genjutsu and trauma therapy he could get his hands on (when Shun ran out, he went to the jounin library and checked out as many new volumes as the suspicious librarian would let him carry), doing chores around his mothers’ house (there were many), sleeping, and waiting.

When the ANBU messenger finally arrived, Raidou’s stomach didn’t flip. It was the same kunoichi as before: buzzed haircut, lizard mask, absent manners. Raidou set down the heavy weight set he’d been working out with on the grass (it was too big to use indoors; the backyard was barely big enough), swiped a wrist across his forehead, and acknowledged her. “Agent.”

“The Hokage requests your presence at 1130,” she said perfunctorily.

That gave him more than an hour. )
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Follow My Lead [Aug. 12th, 2015|07:45 pm]

shiranui_genma
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[Takes place the morning of May 15, Yondaime Year 5, a day following Bottle of Smoke and a few hours after Devil’s Got My Secrets]

Genma woke with the sun slanting across the foot of the bed, which in the north-facing bedroom meant he’d slept four hours later than usual. A glance at the clock proved it: nearly half past eight. Asuma had rolled away in his sleep, presenting broad, bare shoulders, rising and falling with the steady rhythm of deep sleep. Genma studied the scar he’d run his fingers over the night before. It was clean-edged and well-healed — the mark of a bladed cut that someone had tended to while it was still fresh. He wondered which of the Guardian Twelve had been proficient at healing jutsu. Was it one who’d died a traitor, or one who’d stayed loyal to his vows and his Daimyou?

It shouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter. Far more important was the question of what sword Asuma had blocked. In the year and a quarter since Asuma had left to serve in Hikouto, how many threats to the Daimyou’s life had come and gone? What missions had Konoha taken on as a result of those threats?

In the morning light, Genma’s problems should have paled. They were minor compared to the nightmare Asuma had lived through. But the attack on the Fire Daimyou, the dissolution of the Guardian Twelve, Team Six’s mission against the Tsuto family, and Raidou’s uncertain future were inextricably linked. You could no more separate the eggs back out of a baked cake.

He sighed, ruffling the hair that had fallen into his eyes. )
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ANBU Legacy Volume 1: Ebook and Print Editions [Jun. 11th, 2015|04:59 pm]

legacy_admin
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Dear Readers,

If you don't follow our ANBU Legacy Tumblr, you likely missed the past weeks' furor over the ebook and print edition of ANBU Legacy Volume 1.

Let me sum up:

Several months ago, Ki took a lazy Sunday afternoon and started to put together a compilation of all the Legacy threads. The initial plan was just to create one massive, searchable corpus that could be used to check for continuity (and revise a few errors and goofs that had always bugged us.) However, readers on Tumblr responded enthusiastically to the idea of an ebook, and one of our fantastic readers (make-a-guess) reached out about the possibility of using the file to create a printed edition of the book.

At the time, the full document weighed in at 458,484 words--longer than the very longest of fantasy doorstopper novels. (It is, of course, even longer now.) After some debate, we decided to release it in chronological volumes.

Volume 1 covers events from the Prologues (Mama Come Home) to the end of the Demon Mission (The Way Home). It totals more than 198,000 words (more than 400 pages, in the print edition). Volume 2, currently in progress, will likely begin with Asuma and Genma's backstory in The Short Straw and then pick up with the coup in Hikouto (Take the Heartland) through Team Six's return to Konoha in One of Those Lives (Get Used to It). Volume 3 will begin with the Intel Review arc (Sound the Bells) and continue through threads not yet written.

The ebook edition of Volume 1 is currently in its final stages and will be released by the end of June. This edition, like all electronic Legacy content, will be available free of charge in PDF, MOBI, and EPUB formats to anyone who wishes to download it.

The first limited edition of the print run will be making its way to readers shortly. However, since many readers were not able to sign up in time for the first print run, we are currently polling to determine the level of interest in a second run. This edition will likely cost about $35 USD (to include overseas shipping) and will be available only if at least 15 people sign up to pre-order.

Please visit this Google Form to indicate your interest in an ebook or print edition of ANBU Legacy Volume 1.

Thank you for all the love, support, and encouragement you've given us over the years. We appreciate it more than words can express. And we hope that, whether on this website, in ebook, or in print format, you'll continue to enjoy our stories.

- Ki, DK, Nezu, GM, and Zuul
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Devil's Got My Secrets [May. 24th, 2015|08:19 pm]

yondaime_sama
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[Takes place the morning of May 15, Yondaime Year 5, two days after God Save the Foolish Kings and the morning after Comfort Trap]

The first reports of the day brought Sagara Okiku with them, treading soft and relentless on Lynx's heels. Lynx slid the stack of files onto Minato's desk, saluted, and pulled up a chair for his commander before he retreated to the anteroom and shut the door.

"I don't suppose you brought another pot of coffee with you," Minato said, without much hope.

Sagara tapped her fingers to her tattoo, crisp and correct, and took her seat in front of the desk. Her back was perfectly straight, knees set together, hands resting lightly on her thighs. Sometimes he wondered if she ever slouched.

"I thought the tasks of the day might prove stirring enough," she said. There was a faint glint in her eye, not yet a smile. "But we can acquire something, if you're in dire need."

Minato waved her offer away. )
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Comfort Trap [May. 24th, 2015|07:40 pm]

yondaime_sama
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[Takes place the afternoon of May 14, Yondaime Year 5, the day after Trouble Round My Door]

On Saturday afternoon, Ogata-san didn't come to pick Naruto up from preschool.

Dad came instead. Naruto knew it from the moment he squeezed past Shikamaru out the door and saw most of the moms and nannies bunched up in a cluster at the play-yard fence, like pigeons on a roofline with a cat at the other end. Only Dad wasn't going to eat them.

He was just standing at the gate, chatting to Shikamaru's mom and Kiba's uncle, and he wasn't even wearing his white Hokage coat. He had jounin blues and a flak vest, just like Kiba's uncle. Nobody was going to mistake him for Kiba's uncle, though. He didn't have the tattoos, or the big brindled dog looking over the fence and perking up her ears when she saw Kiba come shrieking.

Since Kiba was shrieking, and trying to scramble over the fence and launch himself at the dog, Naruto tried sneaking. Dad was right in front of the gate, but there was a loose board on the side yard that Shikamaru and Naruto had made looser and none of the sensei had found yet. Naruto went that way. He had to wriggle, and he scraped his hand and tore his shirt but only a little. Kiba was still yelling when Naruto stood up.

Dad had stepped aside from the fence, so the more nervous nannies could scrunch past and collect their children.  )
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Bottle of Smoke [Mar. 27th, 2015|10:19 pm]

sarutobi_asuma
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[Takes place the evening of May 14, Yondaime Year 5, a day following God Save the Foolish Kings]


There was a point in time when Asuma was pretty sure he did, in fact, like kids. He got on well with the Daimyo’s children; they were well-behaved and polite in public, hilariously cheeky in private, and generally didn’t cause any trouble. And these kids had to be the epitome of ‘spoiled rotten’, right? So any other children had to be a walk in the park in comparison.

Durian harvest?” Mariko exclaimed, nose wrinkling. “I’m a genin, not a farm-hand!”

The two other genin behind her nodded in agreement. Their jounin instructor pinched the bridge of his nose and stayed silent.

“The trees on this farm are over a hundred feet tall,” Asuma repeated, for what had to be the third time today. This wasn’t the first group to reject the mission out of hand. “Not to mention the fruit is larger and heavier than your head. It’s going to take two teams at least three days to harvest the entire orchard, which would normally take a civilian group around two weeks. It’s good practice for coordinating between teams, not to mention your climbing skills.”

“But we’re training to be ninja,” the girl replied. “Picking fruit and climbing trees isn’t real training, it’s… it’s…”

“Baby stuff,” one of her team-mates piped up.

Baby stuff,” she repeated. “How are we supposed to become amazing jounin if we’re wasting our time on this?" )
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God Save The Foolish Kings [Mar. 25th, 2015|09:26 pm]

namiashi_raidou
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[Begins May 12th, Yondaime Year 5, the morning after Tell You My Sins (So You Can Sharpen Your Knives), and continues on to May 13th, Yondaime Year 5]

The morning after his breakdown, Raidou woke up half an hour before he should have been on the training field.

He stared up at the living room’s familiar wooden-joist ceiling. It was still dark outside, dawn barely pinking the horizon. Dark blue shadows drifted across the walls. His t-shirt was twisted, hot and sticking to his skin. Curled up against his side, Suki breathed slow and soft, paws twitching with small cat dreams.

Everything ached, except for his stomach. That felt hollow.

He turned over, buried his face in the pillow, and went back to sleep.



Ume woke him mid-morning with toast and a cup of steaming coffee. She was still wearing her robe, hair yanked back into a messy bun, pillow creases on her cheek. The sun poured bright and golden through open curtains. Suki had vanished to stalk small, edible, crunchy critters in the garden.

Raidou’s head pounded with a crying-hangover.

“Don’t you have work?” he rasped.

“Shun went. I took the day off,” she said. “My substitute needs the practice. And you need a shower. Then you can get to work on the gutters.”

He blinked at her. “You stayed home to make me do chores?”

“You’re welcome,” she said, and leaned down to kiss him on the forehead. “Drink your coffee before it gets cold.”

He did. The toast was still warm, freshly buttered; he ate that, too, then dragged himself off the sofa and into pursuit of the bathroom. There were two in his parents’ house: the fancy one in the master bedroom that Raidou and Shun had spent a summer remodelling together, and the guest bathroom opposite Raidou’s old bedroom. It had been his bathroom, once upon a time. When he pushed the door open, he found fresh towels already laid out and a candle burning next to his toothbrush.

Light a flame to cleanse new sins.

He swallowed, turned the spray up hot, carefully unwound stained bandages, and stepped into the stall. )
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Ashes in My Wake [Mar. 7th, 2015|02:49 pm]

legacy_admin
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[Takes place the morning of March 2, Sandaime Year 24. Kakashi is 8 years old. Told from the perspective of Sakumo’s friend, Uchiha Kousuke.]

There are only a handful of mourners at the funeral, and they are outnumbered by an unruly mob at the crematory gates. Families of the other dead, who are glad to see Konoha’s notorious traitor burned to ash, and offended he’s afforded even this last dignity. The widow wears formal black with a shroud pulled over her hair, hiding her face in shadow. The son’s face is masked, too, but he stands at his mother’s side with fierce eyes. Unwarranted sun gleams off his hair, the same shade of near-white as his late father’s.

A priest mumbles his way through a sutra for the dead, comforting no-one. The casket is closed, a simple, dark wood, without ornament. It rests on the rollers that will take it into the oven, but Kousuke doubts even Fire Country’s hottest flames will be able to burn the stain of shame from Sakumo’s bones.

He takes a deep breath and tries not to think about the body of his friend sliced through the belly in ritual suicide and decaying inside that wooden box. There are at least two hundred dead souls — already burned with their ashes already interred — sitting in judgment at this funeral, waiting for the smoke to rise.

A breeze ripples late blossoming plums on the hill behind the crematorium, tearing a few pinkish petals free to drift onto the dark gravel of the crematory yard. At the son’s other side, his young teacher stands straight backed and golden-haired. His eyes are just as fierce, red-rimmed against pale skin. He drops a hand to the son’s slim shoulder, but the boy shrugs it away.

Kousuke had never really known Sakumo’s family. And Sakumo had never known his. They hadn’t needed to. But on several missions last year, they’d each carried letters for the other’s families, to be opened in the event of their deaths. He wonders if Sakumo’s widow has found the letter to Kousuke’s wife in her husband’s effects. If he should retrieve Sakumo’s letter, tucked into a scroll case with a few other important papers. If the kinder thing would be to deliver the letter, or destroy it.

Jiraiya is here. And, surprisingly, Orochimaru. Two of the three Sannin stand to bear witness to Sakumo’s end. Jiraiya is dry-eyed, a solid wall of a man with an unreadable blankness on his tattooed face. Surprisingly, it is Orochimaru, a man Kousuke has always found cold and distant, who looks like he’s been weeping.

The priest drones on, voice rising and falling in a cadence too familiar to the assembled mourners. The only difference between this funeral and the countless shinobi funerals that have come before it is the sparsity of attendance. The conspicuous absence of the Hokage or any of the village council.

Another breezy gust sends smoke from the braziers full of incense dancing towards the mourners. Sakumo’s son’s nose wrinkles under his mask, and he shifts from one foot to the other. His mother drops a hand this time, stilling the boy. There is more reprimand than comfort in the gesture.

Finally, the priest finishes the sutra. He chimes a small bell, ringing it in a slow, steady rhythm, like a dying heartbeat. Someone from the crematorium turns a crank, and the coffin rolls into the cavernous mouth of the furnace. There’s a faint roar as the flames are turned up.

Kousuke holds his breath as the coffin disappears through the oven doors. They slide down behind it, dull steel embossed with Konoha’s leaf and a pattern of cherry blossoms. Sakumo and he had shared a bottle of sake at the end of a mission under the blooming cherries nearly a year ago; this year’s flowers are still furled tight in their buds.

He looks up to stop the tears that want to blur his vision. White smoke drifting from the crematory chimney turns to black, and from outside the gates, there’s a ragged cheer. That’s when his eyes spill over. When someone here inside the gates chokes back a sob. Kousuke knows without looking it’s not the widow. Not the child.

When he has control of himself again, the priest is conferring with the widow. Jiraiya steps in to form a small, protective huddle with his former pupil, putting a hand on the blond’s shoulder. For a moment, it looks like the younger man will break. His chest heaves, and his pale skin reddens, but then Sakumo’s son reaches up to tug on his hand, and he pulls himself together.

Orochimaru stands a few steps back. Dark hair hangs over his face the way Sakumo’s widow’s shroud had hidden hers. His shoulders shake once, and he snaps a sharp turn and vanishes, leaving a swirl of crumbling leaves in his wake.

There’s no reason to stay. It will be an hour, maybe more, before Sakumo’s body will be consumed. Before Sakumo’s widow and son will pick blackened bones out of grey ash and transfer them to the burial urn. If they do. Surely they will see this funeral through to the end, having come so far.

But the bone-picking is for the family alone, a final ritual before the urn itself can be buried. Kousuke wonders where the grave will be. Perhaps on the Hatake clan’s estate.

The only things he knows for sure is that Hatake Sakumo’s name will never grace the Heroes’ Stone, and those angry picketers at this farce of a funeral will never be satisfied.

There’s no reason to stay, but it takes until Sakumo’s wife turns her head, notices him standing there, for Kousuke to realize he should go. He bows to her, low and deep. When he straightens, the son is looking at him too, grey eyes as piercing as Sakumo’s were.

He salutes the boy, and leaves before his own tears betray him.


Image credit Leia Ham
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One Of My Kind [Feb. 20th, 2015|10:19 pm]

ueno_katsuko
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[Takes place May 13, Yondaime Year 5, a few hours after Trouble Round My Door]

It took real effort to sleep in when Katsuko had been trained her entire life to rise with the dawn. Because she was an elite shinobi who laughed in the face of impossible challenge, she pulled the pillow over her head and determinedly stayed unconscious for the entire morning. The sun was at its zenith when she finally dragged herself out of her apartment and up to HQ. Sleep still clung to the corners of her vision, making her trek to Team Six's office as wobbly and treacherous as a ship at sea.

Ryouma's chakra was a warm, welcome presence on the other side of the office door. Katsuko rubbed at her eyes and pushed the door open. The first thing she saw was Raidou’s empty desk. Her eyes immediately skittered away. Something sharp curled up underneath her ribcage.

Then the scent of mildew and dried blood hit her in the face. Katsuko made an inarticulate squawk of protest and clapped her hand over her nose and mouth. The door swung shut behind her with an offended bang. "Ryouma," she spluttered. "Why?"

Ryouma blinked and looked up from where he was seated on the floor. He looked recently showered and far too awake for Katsuko’s liking. The tight band t-shirt and jeans he was wearing, however, did incline her a little more towards forgiveness. Team Six's ruined uniforms were piled in front of him like souvenirs of slaughter. )
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Trouble Round My Door [Feb. 6th, 2015|10:24 pm]

yuuhi_kurenai
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[Takes place the morning of May 13, Yondaime Year 5, two days after Sound the Bells and one day after When Your World Starts Crashing Down and Pour Me Something Stronger]

Team Lead Shirotani blew into the Fire Country division office like the cold north wind, strewing paperwork and assignments in his wake. "Pre-mission briefing in 20 minutes in room H70. Hiyashi, I want you on it. Yamanaka, do you have that report yet?"

"On your desk, Shirotani-kakarichou." Yamanaka Susuki never looked up from her typewriter, manicured fingers rattling across the keys.

"Well done." Shirotani paused briefly by his desk, to set his coffee down on top of a teetering stack of paperwork and pick up another file. "Who's got this morning free?"

Kurenai exchanged wary glances with Tomo and Hide, across the aisle. "Why do you ask?"

"I'll catch you out one of these days, Yuuhi," Shirotani sighed. He held the file up. 'I got word this morning that Hatake Kakashi's been cleared for debriefing. Volunteers? Victims?' )
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