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[May. 22nd, 2014|04:58 am]

The water pressure in the safehouse shower was nothing to boast about, but Katsuko's clone managed steaming heat for as long as the water in the tiny cistern lasted. Which wasn't as long as Ryouma would have liked, either, but it was better than hosing off with rainwater and a jutsu, and at least he had his own rich-lathering soap from his kit.

Probably he should leave the bar in the shower for the next person who needed to clean off. Kakashi'd mocked Ryouma's choice in soap scents before, but even he might not turn up his nose at blackberry vanilla. Katsuko would probably enjoy it.

She was still alive to enjoy things.

He took a deep breath, steam thick in his sore throat, water hot on his shoulders. He'd never really let himself contemplate the possibility that she might not be, that one month of wicked jokes and careless closeness might be all he'd get. That he never would get a second chance with Raidou, or even a chance to get over him.

He'd told himself, that whole agonizing slog, that they'd be there at the safehouse, waiting with hot drinks and cheerful criticism. That Fukuda's threat was sheer bravado, the last poisonous strike of a woman who'd already lost everything. And he'd believed it, or thought he did. There was nothing to be worried about. Katsuko and Raidou could handle anything Kiri threw at them. They had to.

That was the really awful thing about having a team, the thing he'd forgotten: how much it hurt when you knew you might lose them.

Well, they weren't lost. He'd been right. Katsuko couldn't lift her arm and Raidou looked like he'd punched his way through a stone wall, but they'd made it back from Tsurugahama. Katsuko'd supplied the hot tea and the criticism all by herself. Raidou hadn't said much, but he'd given Ryouma a hand with his cut armor-strap, in between getting Kakashi and Katsuko settled and rigged up with IVs. The whole team was back, they were safe, Katsuko had a sling and Kakashi had a warm bed and medical attention. Genma'd fixed the bleeding in his leg, and the mission was over.

So why the hell did he still feel like the walls were just waiting to cave in on him?

If it were just mission nerves, he should already have come down. That long miserable trek in the rain, Kakashi half-conscious on his back and the lieutenant limping ahead of him, should have drained him to the bone. And he was tired, chakra low, muscles aching, he just—

The mission was over. He was supposed to be able to relax.

"You're doing the handsome brooding thing again," Katsuko's shadow clone commented, glancing over its shoulder. It kept its good hand on the cistern, high above its head, although the water pressure was already beginning to slacken. "Are you having a heart-to-heart with the showerhead?"

"It doesn't have a heart," Ryouma said. "It can't understand."

"That was deep," the clone said. "Soap-opera levels of deep. It makes me want to give you a hug, but I have to stay over here to heat your shower water."

"Plus, boundaries," Ryouma murmured. It didn't seem as funny as usual.

He ducked his head beneath the thin spray one last time and then stepped back, shaking wet hair out of his eyes. His hands didn't smell anymore, and the squelching memory of rot beneath his fingers wasn't something you could wash away. "That's enough. I'm good."

The clone dropped its hand from the cistern to the rusty tap and screwed the water off. It stayed politely pressed against the tiled wall while Ryouma edged out of the cramped stall and wrapped his narrow, threadbare towel around his hips. The concrete floor was cold and slick under his wet feet. He thought fleetingly of the bathroom in Tsuto's house, with its warm wood floor and huge soaking tub.

The water turning red, as Kakashi scrubbed his hands, and then black, when Ryouma took his place.
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