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Red Seas at Dawn[Feb. 7th, 2017|09:27 pm]

[June 15, Yondaime Year 5, following Soldiers Take Flight]

A knife-chill breeze whistled off the sea as Raidou helped Kimiko down from her harness. She stumbled a little in the dry sand, stiff-legged, but veered away from Genma's supportive hand. Genma stood still for a moment, and then dropped it.

Ryouma's help wouldn't be welcome there, either. He followed Genma to the water's edge. "More swimming?"

Genma's gaze sought the distance. "You can't see our landing point because of the fog, but it's about as far as we swam to get on this island." He pointed to a thick bank of golden haze, and yawned.

The contagion spread; Ryouma's own jaw cracked. Soldier-pill energy still hummed in his veins, quickening his heartbeat like the fourth cup of coffee, but it was a poor substitute for sleep. He crouched on his heels to splash his wrists in the uprush of a broken wave. Cold water, gritty with sand, swirled over his skin.

He looked up at Genma. "How're you doing, lieutenant?"

For a moment he wasn't sure Genma would answer. Then Gemma's gaze unlocked from the horizon, and he looked down. He was pale, bruise-eyed, with faint lines pinching between his brows, but he seemed to see Ryouma this time, and not just the mission.

"I'll be glad when we're off this island," he said quietly. He yawned again, this time with a full-body stretch that arched his spine like a cat. "I'm ready to go home. How about you?"

"Don't think I'll ever recommend Water Country as a vacation destination." Ryouma raked his fingers through wet sand, then let the swash rinse them clean again. "Back there— With Fukuda—"

Kimiko's voice rose, a hiss like a sword clearing the scabbard. "She's a baby. Gills don't mean she can handle the ocean. She can't even use them yet—"

"Have you tried?" Kakashi asked.

"No," Kimiko snapped. "And we are not going to now."

The tired lines creased between Genma's brows again. He turned away from the water. Ryouma creaked upright after him.

Kimiko and Kakashi had squared off under the sheltering overhang of the cliff. Raidou was sorting out sealing scrolls and grease-jars; Sango lay sleeping on the sand, well-swaddled. The brilliant light of early dawn threw their shadows against the cliff and etched Kimiko's face with the stark anger of grief and exhaustion.

Genma motioned Stand down to Kakashi. His voice was still level, calm, none of his own fatigue edging through. "What's the argument?"

Kimiko turned on him like a wolf at bay. "He thinks we should throw my six-month-old infant into the open ocean. I don't know what kind of monsters you breed in your country, but Sango isn't old enough to have chakra control. She'd drown!"

"I just asked if the gills were functional or decorative," Kakashi said, looking irritated.

"None of us can breathe water, either," Ryouma said. "Fu— your sister taught us an air-bubble jutsu."

It didn't help. "If you know our jutsu," Kimiko told Kakashi furiously, "I don't see why you even asked me about Sango." She jabbed two fingers of her maimed hand at Ryouma. "And that jutsu is a secret. We may be leaving it, but this is still our—"

Her voice caught. She swallowed. "My country."

They'd wanted to kill her baby.

Her throat worked soundlessly for a brief moment, anyway. Her eyes were red-rimmed, her cheeks tracked with tears, but she pulled herself together with that same iron will. "Takedo taught that jutsu to you for Sango."

It wasn't the only jutsu she'd taught them, not even close to the only secret she'd betrayed. Ryouma thought of Intel and Team Thirteen still in Kiri, the files ransaked, the information stolen and planted. Fukuda had given her entire village to them, in exchange for Kimiko and Sango's safety.

Genma's shoulders squared. His jaw firmed. Even in filthy, anonymous civvies, he looked like an officer. "We will use it for Sango. And for you. We promised Fukuda-san we'd protect you both, and help you escape. We won't go back on that promise. Especially now."

Raidou dusted sand off his knees and straightened up. "We can keep Sango breathing. Suggestions on how to stop her from dying of hypothermia in the water?"

"Grease isn't enough?" Ryouma knew it was stupid as soon as he said it; Sango was tiny. She didn't have the mass to keep herself warm, even with swimmer's grease. Kimiko didn't really, either; she was too thin, without her sister's muscle or a civilian's insulating fat. Could she even swim that far?

Genma glanced at Raidou. "I could use the chakra-trick I used on our first mission. If we strap the baby to my chest while I swim, she'll stay warm."

Raidou's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You want to self-induce an underwater fever. Would that even raise the temperature enough? You'd only go up a few degrees. That water is forty degrees colder."

"It would take a fair amount of chakra," Genma admitted, but he didn't look ready to back down.

"What if—" Ryouma hesitated, in case this was another stupid idea, but they were all looking at him now. "We could try expanding the air bubble. Cover you entirely, or at least your torso. That'd trap heat better, wouldn't it? And give you both enough to breathe."

Raidou's frown ticked toward thoughtful. "That seems more plausible."

"He might not be able to swim inside, but we could tow him. The way we did with Kuroda, or maybe just ropes. And he could carry Kimiko, too, if he makes the bubble big enough."

Kimiko glared at him. "I can swim."

"You don’t have enough body mass to keep warm, either," Genma said calmly. "Not for the distance we're traveling. Tousaki's right, you should stay with me, too."

Ryouma tried not to let that note of approval strike too deep, but he was fairly sure his ears were pink. Maybe they'd think it was the wind. "That'd just leave Kakashi for trained ninja attack shark-fighting, though—"

He stopped. Genma and Raidou were looking daggers at him, but Kimiko was staring at Kakashi, her mouth open, her eyes wide.

"Kakashi," she said, in dawning horror. "Hatake Kakashi? The— The White Fang's son? That—"

She looked at their faces, the officers' scowl, Ryouma's guilt, and back at Kakashi. The mask, the dyed hair, the eyepatch. Her gaze fell to Sango, swaddled on the sand. She moved suddenly, with something of a genin's trained speed and all of a frantic mother's scramble, catching Sango up from her sandy bed and curling over her, making her own body a shield. She was shaking.

Kakashi sighed. Then, very deliberately, he stepped three meters back and lowered himself down onto the cold sand against the cliff. He stretched out on his back and folded his arms behind his head, throat exposed in utter vulnerability. His eye closed. "Someone wake me up when it's time to battle sharks."

Kimiko didn't uncurl, didn't even look up. She was clutching Sango so tightly the baby woke, fretting.

Genma knelt near her, not quite close enough to touch. "You trusted him with her before you knew his name. Now you know for certain he's capable of protecting her."

Sango threw a fist out of her wrappings, on the verge of a howl. Kimiko soothed her without looking. She said, "I shouldn't have."

Iebara had recognized Kakashi by his father's fame; Fukuda had known him as the Hokage's student. Ryouma tried imagine what bloody stories Kimiko might have heard, and came up with far too many.

"But you did," Genma said, quietly. "And he didn't hurt her. If he'd wanted to, it would have happened hours ago."

She shuddered, maimed fingers flexing through Sango's soft hair, and said nothing.

"Your sister trusted us to protect you both," Genma said. "You need to trust us, too."

That strike hit home. Kimiko's mouth contorted, on the edge of grief, then firmed. Fear and fury still wracked her face, but, slowly, she uncurled. She darted a glance at Kakashi, yanked her gaze away, and fixated on Genma.

Finally, she nodded. Her voice rasped; she cleared her throat. "I have to feed her, first."

Genma nodded back, just as seriously, and shifted to give her space.

Raidou pinched the bridge of his nose. "Hound, can you handle the godsdamned sharks?"

Supine on the sand, without even opening his eye, Kakashi raised a silent thumbs up.

"Great," Raidou said, a trifle too heartily. "Shiranui, what have we got left for food?"
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