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This Broken World We Choose 2 [Backstory: Miyako and Ryuu] [Mar. 8th, 2012|10:09 am]


[[Takes place around 24 years before the main events of Fallen Leaves. Chapter 2 in the backstory of Ryouma's parents, Miyako and Ryuu. Chapter 1 available here.]]

They return to Konoha in a rainy twilight, silent and shivering in their sodden uniforms. It might be early evening, or late afternoon; Ryuu thinks they’ve been on the move at least eight hours, but without the sun it’s hard to be sure. His own weariness is no guide. He’s been weary, it seems, forever. Or at least since Tousaki Miyako was assigned to a team under his command.

His mission brief, three days ago, gave him the barest summary of her record. Chuunin, twenty-one, talented with fire jutsu but unlikely to manifest control over a second chakra nature and be promoted to jounin. Nothing to indicate she’s the type of girl to pick up a stranger in a bar for a standing quickie in an alley, or seduce her team leader on a mission. Or back down from a third seduction, later, and ask merely to be held.

After twenty years as a ninja—genin at eight, jounin at eighteen—Ryuu knows himself. Knows he was a danger in that dawn-bright inn room yesterday, that his iron-forged self-control was brittle, nearly broken. But he hasn’t been that man in nearly six years, and never wants to be him again. He never should have let himself go so far: shouldn’t even have touched Miyako until he was himself again, until the memory of a girl’s blood on his hands faded and he could remember what it meant to be gentle.

Loneliness is no excuse. Neither is telling himself that she asked for it, asked for him; she didn’t know who she was asking. He hasn’t told her his full name and doesn’t mean to. Memories are as short as lives in a ninja village, but some rumors linger. Maybe he should tell her himself, warn her off, scare her off—

But she doesn't seem the type of girl to be easily frightened. )
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Family Matters [Ryouma, Katsuko] [Feb. 21st, 2012|09:14 pm]

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[[Takes place the morning of November 4th, the day after The Truth of the Matter.]]

At some point, Ryouma reflected, he should probably stop picking fights with the skinny short girls. They always ended up wiping the floor with him, and they were too pretty to melt in retaliation.

At least the sky had stopped spinning. He located his fingers and fumbled carefully at the side of his head. No blood clotted his hair; Katsuko had used the flat of her blade.

The flat of her wrapped blade. She’d claimed it would be an insult to use a wooden bokken or bamboo shinai on him, but apparently it wasn’t insulting at all to hit a recovering man over the head with a sword and drop him in the mud.

Served him right for asking her to help him figure out how to use his new knife, anyway. Kakashi had vanished into the seal labs early that morning; Katsuko had shown up not ten minutes later, with a cheerful grin, a demand for breakfast, and an offer to spend the day doing absolutely whatever he wanted, no task too hard, no activity too weird--unless it involved paperwork. Ryouma had considered the likely results of dropping Katsuko in with the Canal Street kids for all of ten seconds before he decided that they’d probably eat each other alive. Or, worse, encourage each other.

Instead he’d asked her to join him in the training fields. She’d promised not to go too easy on him. In retrospect, he probably should have asked her to promise not to try to kill him, either.

“Can I yield yet?” he asked the sky. “Or d’you have some point to prove, beyond the fact that you’re shorter and lighter and still better than I am?”
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The Truth of the Matter [Ryouma, Kakashi, Katsuko] [Jan. 30th, 2012|11:20 pm]

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[[Takes place the morning of November 3rd, a few hours after Same Ghost Every Night.]]

There was a wolf in his dream.

He’d been trout-tickling at his favorite spot on an anonymous little creekbank in Lightning Country, except the trout grew legs and teeth and fought back, and his grandfather and Shiki and a grey-haired man with yellow teeth sat on the other side of the bank, drinking yellow-label rotgut shouchuu, and calling advice to the fish. Ryouma was too busy scraping fish-men off his arm to drive them off, but advice turned to taunts, and the teeth grew longer and sharper and sank into his flesh, and the clear water of the creek began to run red—

The wolf came wading upstream, chest-deep in blood, and the men on the other bank went silent. The wolf lowered its head and bit one of the fish-men off Ryouma’s arm. The fish-man stretched like a leech and then snapped with a tiny scream, and the wolf crunched it and swallowed.

The other fish-men dropped away with tiny plops, like real fish jumping. Ryouma took a deep, unsteady breath. “You shouldn’t have eaten that,” he said. “Fish bones can be dangerous.”

“I know,” the wolf said. It scrabbled heavily up the bank and lay down close beside him, radiating heat. “It’s okay,” it said. “Everything’s okay.” It swiped its tongue over Ryouma’s bloody fingers, then pinned his wrist with an enormous paw and began to work its way steadily up his lacerated arm. Its tongue was rough as sandpaper, and tickled in the raw wounds.

'You can't eat ME,' Ryouma said. )
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As The World Burns [Kakashi, Katsuko, Ryouma] [Jan. 21st, 2012|05:25 pm]
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[Takes place on October 30, seven days after Nothing To Fear]

After her conversation with Ryouma in the cafe, after she’d finally reassured herself that he was alive and well and not a figment of her imagination, Katsuko had parted ways with him at a nearby intersection and started making her meandering way back to HQ. A glint in the display window of a nearby pawnshop had caught her eye and she’d stopped to look at it, curious.

What she found there made inspiration spark.

The refitters had said it would take a week to get the inscription done, so at ten in the morning—seven days after she’d bumped into Ryouma in an elevator and found out he wasn’t dead—she knocked on the door of one Hatake Kakashi’s apartment and waited, holding a wrapped package in her arms.

She’d forgotten to eat, as usual, and her stomach growled faintly as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. Idly, she wondered if Ryouma would be willing to let her rifle through Hatake’s kitchen. Surely a living legend would have a few spare granola bars laying around?
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A Light That Never Goes Out [3/3] [Kakashi & Ryouma] [Jan. 21st, 2012|02:07 pm]

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[Follows directly after A Light That Never Goes Out [2/3], the day before Nothing to Fear]

“Ow,” said Ryouma, much later. “I think I sprained something.”

“I think you deserved it,” Kakashi told him, watching narrow-eyed as little Jin walked stumble-footed up the garden path to a ramshackle house, hand in hand with Orin. Makoto and his red-headed friend, Saburo, had already gone. Saki was half-asleep on Ryouma’s back. “Are you sure it’s safe here?” Kakashi murmured.

It smelled like disuse and sweat and something rotten.

On Ryouma’s other side, Hanato nodded decisively. “Orin is Jin’s cousin,” he said. “She’ll look out for him.”

Kakashi glanced sidelong at Ryouma.

Ryouma just looked tired, suddenly, and a little sad. “She does a better job than I could. C’mon.” He turned, hefting Saki, who gave a quiet mumble and kicked one foot against his side. “Where’re you staying these days, Hanato? Still with your uncle?”

“Yeah,” said Hanato, flat. His eyes skated to Kakashi, clearly unwilling to discuss things with an interloper around.

Ryouma’s teeth bit into his lower lip, scent curling uncertain for a long enough moment that Kakashi almost offered to take Saki so that Ryouma could just go and talk to his furious little lieutenant, but then Ryouma came to his decision. “I’m tied down here in Konoha for the next month at least, til I’m mission-fit again and they decide what to do with me. I'll try to come down here more regular, but if you need to get in touch, don’t bother trying talk to ‘em up at HQ. Kakashi's putting me up right now—”

He paused and glanced at Kakashi, and Kakashi realized Ryouma probably didn’t know the address. )
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A Light That Never Goes Out [2/3] [Kakashi & Ryouma] [Jan. 21st, 2012|01:59 pm]

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[Follows directly after A Light That Never Goes Out [1/3], the day before Nothing to Fear]

The cheapest jacket Threads had to offer was a plain navy blue hoodie that Ryouma picked up without a second glance and slung on the counter.

Kakashi rolled his eyes, returned it to the rack, and went to the back of the store. It took him a second to find what he was looking for—broad shoulders and a slim waist made a trickier combination when you added height as well—but he knew he’d picked right when Ryouma’s eyes flicked wide.

“This one,” Kakashi said, holding up a heavy leather jacket dyed espresso-dark. He eyed it consideringly. “Looks sturdy enough to turn a blade.”

“That costs as much as half a B-rank,” Ryouma said, slightly strangled.

“Good. Then you know it’s strong enough to put up with all the abuse you’ll give it.” And it had the rock star edge Ryouma coveted, which Kakashi knew looked good on him. He tossed it to Ryouma, who caught it reflexively. “Try it on.”

Ryouma hesitated, fingertips brushing the leather, then set his mouth and shrugged the jacket on with a touch of a dramatic flare, like a man donning armour. He zipped it halfway and flexed his shoulders, twisting at the hip. The jacket was just a little loose, leaving enough room for the muscle Ryouma wanted to put back on, but it moved like water. “Feels good,” he said, a little surprised, a little longing. “Warm. How’s it look?”

Like sex on legs. )
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A Light That Never Goes Out [1/3] [Kakashi & Ryouma] [Jan. 21st, 2012|01:46 pm]

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[Takes place immediately after Stranger in a Strange Land, and the day before Nothing to Fear.]

Somewhere in the warm glow of mid-morning, Kakashi woke up and realized Ryouma wasn't there. His scent was still there, weaving through the air and the sheets like a living ribbon, and relief came in the shape of he’s alive, I’m not crazy, but there was still a hole in the world where Ryouma should have been standing.

He’d had bad dreams. Maybe he was walking them off.

And maybe good things happened to nice people.

Kakashi was up, half dressed and three-quarters panicked when the lock turned against the latch and Ryouma walked through the door.

"Morning!” he said cheerfully, kicking his boots off and hefting a cardboard box that smelled like sugar. “Shirtless is a good look on you. Cake?"

It would have been counter-productive to murder him with a coat-hanger, but for a moment Kakashi was severely tempted. )
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Stranger in a Strange Land [Asuma, Ryouma] [Jan. 5th, 2012|11:26 pm]

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[[Takes place the evening of October 21st and the morning of October 22nd, immediately after Resting Easy and Wise Men Keep Secrets, and the day before Ryouma’s meeting with Katsuko in Nothing to Fear.]]

The rumours of Ryouma’s return went through the village like wildfire. Asuma caught the gossip on the second evening, when he went to hand in a muddy but completed mission brief at the chuunin-desk, and found the pretty redhead in tears.

“Bad news, darlin’?”

She beamed at him, so he figured no.

It took him half an hour to get a coherent story out of her, but by the end of it he was grinning too.

“Crafty son of a bitch,” he said. “I thought for sure he was dead. Hey, is there any news on Akimichi Hitai?”

Reiko’s smile faded.

“Well, one out of two still ain’t bad,” Asuma said, a little sorry he’d brought it up. “I’m gonna have to take him around a cake, or something. You know where he’s staying?”

She wiped her eyes, blowing her nose lustily into the handkerchief he’d managed to find for her. Somehow, she managed to make that pretty, too. Kunoichi talent, he figured.

“I think...” she hesitated, and he arched his eyebrows. “It seemed like he was going home with Hatake Kakashi.”

Asuma blinked. )
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This Broken World We Choose [Backstory: Tousaki Miyako] [Nov. 30th, 2011|01:03 am]


[[Although this story takes place around 24 years before the main events of Fallen Leaves, it is part of official Leaves canon. It is also a birthday present for Dark, who asked for the story of how Ryouma's parents met. Sequels may follow!]]

He’s leaning on the bar nursing a bottle of beer when Miyako comes up to order another round, and since the bartender’s busy getting his flirt on with a redhead at the far end Miyako takes her time appreciating the man at her elbow. Tall, the way she likes ‘em, with scarred hands and black hair and no obvious insignia of clan or rank. When he tips his head back to drink the sweeping line of his throat and jaw is like calligraphy.

“Drinking alone?” she asks.

He glances down at her, and if he’s drunk enough to be startled it’s only a flicker behind dark eyes. “I was.”

There’s a bandage nearly hidden beneath the short sleeve of his black tee-shirt, a scabbing scrape along his high, chiseled cheekbone. Miyako’s a chuunin of Konoha; she knows well enough not to ask if it’s the mission that has him drinking here alone, or where his teammates are. Her own teammates from her latest mission are waiting in a booth at the back, but they can wait a bit longer. She rests her elbows on the bar and tosses her long hair back, inviting his gaze to linger. “If the bartender ever bothers to do his job, let me buy you one.”

“Do I look like I need it?” There’s a momentary tension in his mouth--professional paranoia, she thinks. Jounin.

That would be enough of a turn-off for most girls she knows, genin and chuunin alike. (Civilians are too silly to know better. Miyako and the other kunoichi watch out for the civilian girls when they can, warn them off the dangerous ones, and shrug and go back to their beers when the little fools brush their warnings off.)

But Tousaki Miyako has never been most girls. )
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Nothing To Fear [Ryouma, Katsuko] [Nov. 20th, 2011|06:27 pm]
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[[Takes place October 23, two days after Resting Easy.]]

It was hard, when you were the only person in ANBU--hell, in the village--with chakra reserves bloated to a size slightly larger than your average elephant. There was no precedent for how to deal with it when the inevitable erosion of your coils began, nor did anyone know what to do when you nearly blew yourself up trying to light a campfire with a D-level sneeze of a katon jutsu.

They didn’t know how to fix you, but that sure as hells didn’t stop them from trying.

Katsuko let the door to the examination swing shut behind her, feeling like someone had clawed her skull to ribbons from the inside. The hour-long appointment had been torture, as usual, exercise after exercise of trying to contort her chakra into seals and jutsu too small to accommodate it anymore. It was humbling to realize that she’d have to light fires the civilian way from now on, unless she wanted to singe her eyebrows and ruin another pair of gloves again.

If it went on like this, if her control continued to erode, she’d only be useful as a walking bomb. She sighed, rolling her shoulders to dissipate some of the tension that had built up over the session, and tried not to think about it.
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Wise Men Keep Secrets [Kakashi, Ryouma] [Nov. 18th, 2011|10:09 pm]

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[[Takes place the morning of October 21st, directly after Resting Easy.]]

The carpeting outside of the Hokage’s office smelled faintly of blood. The two flanking guards were spotless in their uniforms and blank-faced, but the chuunin assistant behind the receptionist’s desk looked a little pale.

Kakashi stood with his hands shoved into his pockets, freshly showered and shaved and dressed in jounin blues, and waited. On the other side of the thick, brass-handled door, muted voices argued back and forth. Occasionally, the Hokage’s steady murmur would break in.

“Hatake-san, you don’t have an appointment,” the chuunin said wearily. He was a short, slim man with slicked back hair and a white scar cutting across one cheekbone. “Sandaime-sama is busy.”

“I’ll wait.”

The chuunin blew out an aggravated sigh, returning to the heavy stack of paperwork in front of him. One of the guards looked fractionally amused.

The sun drew a slow arc across the floor, edging warmth up Kakashi’s leg as the apex caught him just before noon. He meditated on his feet, ignoring the rustlings and pen-scritchings of bureaucracy, the guards’ shift change, the scent of the chuunin’s bento-boxed curry lunch. Diplomats and council-members with appointments arrived and were politely turned away, informed that the Hokage’s morning meeting had run unexpectedly long. More than one of them threw a curious glance Kakashi’s way.

“Is that—” began an older woman, cutting herself off.

“Sakumo’s son,” muttered the elderly man accompanying her.

The woman looked very much like she wanted to spit; Kakashi wondered which family member she’d lost to his father’s mistake.

It was an hour past noon when the office door suddenly slammed open, startling the chuunin into dropping a pen. The guards didn’t blink. A tall, hawk-faced man stormed out, followed by two younger men, only to be brought up short by Kakashi in his way. The first man was wearing the grey and black diplomatic robes of an Iwagakure envoy, stitched with gold threads down the sleeves; his eyes widened slightly.

“You,” he snapped. He whirled back on the doorway. “Is this deliberate?”

The Hokage gave Kakashi the barest edge of a look that suggested he wouldn’t mind whacking him upside the head with his official hat.

“Merely a coincidence, Kanen-san,” he said, tucking his hands into his sleeves. “I believe Hatake-san has a separate issue he’d like to discuss with me.”

Hatake-san. Kakashi stayed expressionless. He hadn’t been Agent Hatake for three months, now. )
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Resting Easy [Kakashi and Ryouma] [Nov. 8th, 2011|08:08 pm]

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[[Takes place October 21, the morning after Find Me On High Ground.]]

Ryouma woke to sunlight stretching a wide ray of warmth across his face and chest, a bush warbler’s liquid chirping trill in the trees outside the window, and a lean, muscled arm thrown possessively over his ribcage. Kakashi was a solid heat at his back, one foot hooked over Ryouma’s ankle. His breath tickled Ryouma’s ear.

For a long, delicious moment Ryouma lay still, eyes half-slit against the sunshine. He hadn’t dreamed it. And this was no genjutsu, either; no Suna nin would think to add the delicate detail of the bush warbler’s autumn song. He was safe in Konoha, waking up in Sharingan no Kakashi’s bed, and the rest of his life stretched out before him.

He drew a deep breath--sweat, cotton, a faint lingering aroma of last night’s stir-fry, Kakashi--and grinned ridiculously to himself. Then, caught by a sudden thought, twisted to his other side and wriggled up onto his elbow. Kakashi’s grip tightened a little, but he didn’t stir.

Ryouma had watched him sleep before. Sat vigil, more like, in the hospital and once, memorably, in a hotel room, after Kakashi took a double dose of a drug meant for Ryouma. He’d counted breaths until he lost track somewhere in the high five hundreds, hummed, sung, massaged limp limbs to prevent blood pooling, talked aloud to Kakashi and to himself. For all that, he realized, he’d never actually spent much time watching Kakashi. The mask was there, for one thing, and even when it wasn’t a vague sense of decency still constrained him; you didn’t stare at Kakashi’s naked, vulnerable face any more than you rifled through his underwear drawer.

Seeing as how the rest of Kakashi was just as naked, though, Ryouma felt fully justified in a little aesthetic appreciation. )
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Find Me On High Ground [Ryouma and Kakashi] [Nov. 6th, 2011|01:26 am]

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It was autumn in Fire Country.

He hadn’t expected that. He still didn’t have a very clear idea of how much time had passed; no one had told him, and he didn’t dare ask. The two ANBU who’d been sent to escort him home seldom talked to each other, and even less frequently talked to him. Careful, precise orders: Wake up. Eat this. We’ll stop for the night now. They didn’t know how badly his brain was damaged; they weren’t trained to deal with it. He caught glints of fear, sometimes, in the hesitation before they touched him, in the awkward tilt of a masked face as they refused to meet his empty gaze.

They were ninja; they didn’t fear death. He was something out of every shinobi’s nightmares.

He wondered, sometimes, why the Hokage had bothered to bargain for him. Had the Kazekage clarified in his first--no doubt very politely worded--messages that the injured Konoha ninja who had just happened to appear in Sunagakure no Sato was a drooling idiot, or had he merely made vague mentions of serious injuries and gestures of good will and the possibility of opening up channels of communication between the two villages? A ninja crippled in combat was still owed something by his village, some return of his loyalty: rescue, healing, a tiny pension. A ninja who lost his mind would never know the difference.

The ANBU hadn’t known. It was clear from the shock in their rigid shoulders when they’d stepped through the doorway into his clean, white-washed room, seen him sitting on his bed, and stopped. One of them had known him, he learned later, listening to their murmured conversation by the campfire. Only briefly, from one mission last December--his first training mission, as it happened--but he’d been impressed with the rookie, then. He’d thought the boy had potential.

“He didn’t even make it to six months,” the woman said, eyeing him across the fire. “Poor bastard. What the hell is he supposed to do now?”

Tousaki Ryouma stared blankly into the heart of the flames, and wondered the same thing. )
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Off the Edge of the Map [Kakashi and Ginta] [Feb. 9th, 2011|08:25 pm]

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[Follows immediately afterwards Tiny Little Fractures, on May 3rd.]

It had been more than three hours.

Kakashi blinked awake and found himself wrapped like ivy around Ginta, one arm thrown across a lean chest, forehead pressed hard against an ANBU tattoo. Every breath drew in a throatful of hard-sleeping scent: sweat and lead and charred flowers.

Slowly, Kakashi lifted his head.

Ginta was turned slightly towards him, laid out in an oddly contained sprawl. One leg kicked out, one hand curled loosely around Kakashi’s wrist. Every soft exhale clouded visibly in the cold air.

Without moving, Kakashi slid his gaze over to the tent flaps. Pakkun was curled up there, close to their feet, ears cocked towards the outside world. His eyes were closed. Outside the tent, dawn had given way to early morning, bright and grey and cold.

It had been six hours at least, probably closer to eight, and Kakashi had spent it asleep in the arms of the wrong man. )
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Tiny Little Fractures [Genma, Raidou, Ibiki, Asuma] [Jan. 23rd, 2011|09:17 pm]

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[Takes place May 3, the same day as Off the Reservation]

Genma shut the apartment door behind him and leaned against it, holding the scroll in one hand. He looked across the apartment to Raidou who was in the kitchen, drying clean dishes.

"What was that about?" Raidou asked, pausing mid-motion, damp glass in one hand, tea towel in the other.

"It was Ginta. He wants me to give this to Arakaki on the sixth." Genma stared at the scroll, a standard mid-mission report type, like countless scrolls he himself had filed from the field on longer missions. It was sealed and secured, addressed to Arakaki, and coded with the red and black stripes that marked it as ANBU-specific, A-class or higher, and urgent.

"He can't hand it in himself?" Raidou asked. He put the glass and towel down and took a few steps towards Genma.

"He was dressed in his gear, like he was heading out on a mission." Genma turned the scroll over and over, as if he could somehow read it through the opaque outer covering. "But there's no way he's mission-fit yet. I mean, shit, he and Kakashi were both in the ICU the same time as us, and look at us." He shrugged his arm in its splint and sling, tilted his head back to expose the remains of a more-than-a-month-old garrote injury, still fading red lines under a dusting of stubble. Looked at Raidou's bandage-covered cheek, where the worst of the burns still hid.

Raidou graced Genma with the dryest of grins. "Speak for yourself. I'm the picture of health." He came the rest of the way to Genma to peer down at the scroll. "Assuming 'stamped-on shinobi' counts as healthy, anyway. You gonna open that?"

"I don't know." Genma met his partner's eyes. "It's sealed for Arakaki, it's a mission scroll. That right there makes it a big deal for me to violate the seal. And then he looked at me and he was all, 'I'm trusting you, Genma.' Like... Like I don't even know. Serious. The only time Ginta's ever serious is on a mission."
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Never and Always [Tsume] [Jan. 17th, 2011|11:54 am]

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[[Takes place one and a half weeks after Up in Flames, one week after Ryouma goes missing, and one and a half weeks before Off the Reservation.]]

It was easy to get lost in the push-pull of the saw, to let the buzz of blade against wood drown out everything else. It was hard to wrap her mind around the clan loss; so many homes gone, so many Inuzuka injured. Too many dead. Her pack, her family, and too many she hadn't been able to save.

It was as if the world had been wreathed in fog, and it hadn't cleared away yet. There were moments when she felt bright and aware, but for the most part she worked through the day to rebuild the compound, then went to the ANBU headquarters at night and fell into her bed, trying not to think about what had happened. Trying not to run through the names of those who wouldn't be coming back, or to feel like a coward for fleeing the scent of fire that still lingered a week and a half later. They needed the room for the refugees; it made sense for her to stay in her apartment at HQ.

When someone called her name, Tsume straightened up with a wince, freeing her hand from the handle of saw. A child stood in the middle of the blackened field, framed by the skeletons of houses that had, not so long ago, been homes. All but a few of them, those the farthest out, had been torn down. The cub standing in the midst of them pointed, and Tsume looked up.

A hawk soared above, drifting in circles as it peered down at them. With the trees burned away, it didn't have to swoop through the forest. Instead it dove low, dropping a scroll before beating up into a climb and vanishing over treetops toward the heart of Konoha.

The scroll fell through the air unimpeded, the blood-red seal glinting dully as it spun. It landed with the sharp slap of paper on flesh. Tsume slid a broken nail under the wax and opened it, skimming down the instructions.

There wasn't much. Report to ANBU headquarters immediately for a classified assignment. )
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Off the Reservation [Ginta, Arakaki, Kakashi] [Jan. 1st, 2011|09:54 am]

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[Takes place May 3, approximately a month following All My Regrets Are Nothing New, three weeks weeks following This Time It's Different and two weeks following Hair of the Dog.]

Ginta was concerned. In fact, more than concerned. In fact, if you considered the pace at which he was limping down the hall, he was downright alarmed. He'd been home in his own apartment for three weeks, and in all that time he'd seen no sign whatsoever of Ryouma or Kakashi. Which, well, that was their business and he was staying out of it from now on, but they were his friends, dammit, whether or not either one of them thought so. So he'd been keeping an eye out for them, and not just because he knew Kakashi was still recovering and Ryouma was playing a dangerous game with chakra pill abuse.

The thing was, both apartment doors stayed locked, and both men were listed as "on mission." And not with one another. But there was at least a little flicker in Kakashi's status: he'd be "on mission" and then "in debriefing" and then "available" for half a day, before "on mission" went back up by his name on the status board. Ryouma was just continuously on mission, but the date he was expected back had been changed, Ginta was sure, a couple of times, before it was obliterated with a heavy black censor bar and replaced with "classified."

When he analyzed the other missions and who was assigned to them, though, it painted a disturbing picture. Because in amongst the various assignments that composed ANBU's mission load, there was a flavor of urgency, and a suspicious pattern of team make-up, with non-ANBU Inuzuka and Aburame trackers assigned on teams with field medics and heavy muscle, over and over, in little four and five day bursts. It looked like — disturbingly like — a search and rescue operation. And Ryouma was the only agent on that board who was neither deep cover Intel nor S-ranked jounin whose return date was classified.

It was when, on a bright early May morning, Ginta checked and found Ryouma's status itself had been changed from "on mission" to "classified", that he'd really started to worry. Then he'd gone digging. He had time on his hands, with nothing to do but work on regaining his strength and stamina now that the cast was finally off his leg, and there was only so much training he could do in a day before it started to hurt enough he wanted to reach for a bottle of pills. So he had both the time and a lot of connections — in Intel, in the mission assignment office, in documents and forgeries, in mission support services — that he used to put together a nightmare puzzle.

Ryouma was missing, had been missing since the fifteenth of April, and there was no sign of him.

Ginta went with a sick heart to do what he should have done three weeks ago )
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This Time Is Different [Ryouma, Ginta] [Jan. 31st, 2010|12:29 am]

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[[Takes place the morning of April 9, four days after All My Regets Are Nothing New, three days after Meant To Live, and a day and a half after Let's Not Speak of This Again.]]

The soldier pills Ryouma had taken on the long run home hadn't quite worn off when Katsuko left him in front of the hospital doors, but the corners of his vision were beginning to haze with a purple blur. He pushed his mask back and palmed another soldier pill stealthily, behind the potted plant in the foyer. The purple haze didn't go away, but the dying buzz in his veins quickened again. He smiled sunnily at the receptionist. "Morning! Got a medic free?"

The receptionist didn't smile back. Her eyes skidded from his bandaged shoulder to the glossy wetness on his hip and upper arm where the cuts had broken open and bled again, and back to the livid bruises purpling his bared arms. Her lips firmed when she met his eyes. Probably bloodshot, he guessed. At least his nose wasn't bleeding yet. Well, that was what medics were for.

Of course the medic, when he arrived, wasn't happy about it. Eight soldier pills in twenty-four hours was a hell of a stupid move, and the medic wasted no time saying so. Ryouma, who'd heard the same lecture half a dozen times before, smiled and nodded and fell half-asleep on the table. He woke with a yelp when the medic seared a budding infection out of his hip and again when the bandages peeled off his oozing shoulder. But the man's hands were steady and cool as he sank healing chakra deep into the burnt wreck Masahiko's lightning jutsu had left, and Ryouma was used to lectures.

The IVs of saline and clotting factor helped a little; the new bottle of pain-killers helped a lot more. )
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Let's Not Speak of It Again [Ryouma, Katsuko] [Dec. 26th, 2009|11:39 am]

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[[Takes place early in the morning of April 8, the day after Something That the Knife Took and two days after Lay Your Armor Down. Titles inspired by Dashboard Confessional's song Don't Wait.]]

By the fifth mile, the shallow cut on Ryouma's hip had clotted and he was beginning to find his stride. At the fifteenth, when they paused for a breather and for Ryouma to burn his reeking gloves and scrub his crusted hands, two of Katsuko's clones peeled off to backtrack. They caught up again half an hour later, running with easy satisfaction. One of the sharp-faced masks was sprinkled with blood. Ryouma thought about asking, and decided to focus on running instead.

At least they knew the territory. When Katsuko swung in a wide west-ward circle to avoid Ashirogi Swamp, Ryouma followed her without question. When her next clone peeled off, it returned quickly with a canteen refilled from a stream running cold with snow-melt. And when, near midnight, Ryouma veered south-east again into the low forested foothills near the border of Plains and Fire Country, he found the ancient ryokan still standing among its sheltering pine-trees.

The frail, white-haired old landlady was still there, too--a little deafer, and more than a little rumpled from the bed they'd rousted her out of, but still as bright-eyed and energetic as she'd been when Ryouma had first stayed here on his way to the border five years ago. She was also obviously dying of curiosity, but any innkeeper who made half her living from ninja clientele was a past master at the art of discretion. There were no other guests at the moment, she informed them as she entered a neat spiral-leaf sigil in the register. The baths were open-air, but heated by hot-springs; they would be quite safe, too, because years of ninja guests had left the perimeter so heavily trapped that not even squirrels could cross from the forest into the ryokan grounds. (The landlady's kitchen garden fared quite well in the absence of four-legged brigands.) She would stir up the maids and have supper waiting when they finished in the baths. "And a medical kit," she added, with an unsuccessful attempt not to stare at Ryouma's shoulder and Katsuko's broken armor. "Is there anything else you require, shinobi-san?"

'Privacy,' Ryouma said, slinging his good arm over Katsuko's shoulders. )
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Something That The Knife Took [Ryouma, Katsuko] [Dec. 15th, 2009|09:59 pm]
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[[Takes place April 7, the day after Lay Your Armor Down.]]

Dawn came, bright and cold.

Katsuko rolled out of her blankets and looked at Ryouma's sleeping form for a moment, then slipped outside. She flinched at the sharp morning air, coughed as it raked a freezing trail down her sinuses. The sky was stained red and gold, the rising sun hidden by a veil of wispy clouds.

Last night's conversation--the soul-baring honesty of it--scared her more than even the nightmares that followed. At least the horror of her subconscious memories was familiar. It was an old terror that she'd grown used to, if not comfortable with. Ryouma's embrace, his openness in displaying his scars, her reaction--it was all new. It was all frightening. He hadn't flinched away, hadn't changed the subject as her family did. There'd just been the silent listening, understanding, sympathy.

Confusing, how a near-stranger could offer her the comfort that her own blood relations couldn't.

The sleepy curl of chakra and a slight rustle in the tent told her Ryouma was up. Katsuko stood by the dead campfire and didn't turn around as the tent flap unzipped a minute later. The weight of his dark-eyed gaze settled on her back.

"I'm going to wash up." Her tone was matter-of-fact, brusque. She refused to glance behind her. "I'll be ready to go in ten."

She strode off toward the stream. Behind her, Ryouma lifted a hand, then dropped it. He watched her for a moment more, but said nothing. At last, he turned and went to get changed.

A few hours later, Katsuko and Ryouma were well on their way to setting the record for "Most Voluntarily Silent Mission, Ever." Masahiko's fortress was easy enough to locate, garish perversion of military architecture on the landscape as it was, and the former cloud-nin had even been considerate enough to forbid any sort of town or civilization to spring up around his walls. The number of civilian casualties would be drastically reduced, a fact that cheered Katsuko to no end. She could kill and burn to her heart's content.

They stood amidst a grove of trees on a hill directly overlooking Masahiko's fortress. The faint sound of weapons drills drifted up to them from the compound's courtyards. Miniature black dots moved with mindless (mindless-looking, down there it probably made more sense what they were doing than it looked from up here) efficiency on the fort's walls and ramps.

Katsuko stirred restlessly, turning to Ryouma. "We got a plan? Or we just going to go in there and start killing? I'm good, either way."
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