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Light Me Up[Apr. 8th, 2017|07:02 pm]

[Takes place June 24, Yondaime Year 5, seven days after The Sharpest Lives]

On Ryouma's third day back in Konoha, the Water Country Intel division finally let him go.

They'd released him at intervals before, to shower and sleep, or to cram down a hasty meal in Intel HQ's cafeteria, which had better food but much more dour company than ANBU's. Everyone seemed short on sleep and on temper, and as soon as he finished a six-hour stint answering one analyst's questions, another with a grey uniform and a clipboard took her place.

He saw Kurenai a few times, across the cafeteria. Satomi slipped into his cramped little briefing room once to hand the debriefing officer a stack of folders three inches tall. The rest of Teams Six and Thirteen were conducting their own debriefings somewhere, or more likely ensconced in their offices or hospital rooms creating those mountains of paperwork, but he never saw them.

There were disadvantages after all, he decided, to only being able to give his mission reports by dictation.

Eventually, though, someone decided that his seventh account of the Water Country landscape and the Kirigakure sewer system filled the holes in the first six. They released him into a clear summer evening, the sun sinking towards the Monument, the dusty streets golden in its light.

He stood outside the doorway, watching people hurrying home: a trio of genin fresh off their first mission-debriefing, with their sensei lounging behind; a pair of tired analysts, deciding on a restaurant; a tall young man in T&I's long black coat. No one he recognized.

The inside of his skin itched. He was hungry, and his throat was sore from talking, but after three days of nothing but debriefing and sleeping he wanted to move, to run or fight or dance. He wanted to find his team, to learn whether Kuroda'd filed a complaint, how Abe's wrist was healing, where Intel had taken Kimiko.

And after that—

"Tousaki?" someone said.

He turned. The double doors were just swinging shut; Kurenai and Satomi stood outside, with another woman he recognized from his debriefing after Ibaragashi. They all wore wrinkled Intel greys, though Satomi had swapped the uniform skirt for trousers. Satomi looked annoyed, Kurenai inquisitive. The third woman, Riei, looked delighted.

Ryouma said, "I just got out. Waiting for my team."

"You'll be waiting a long time," Satomi said dryly. "Shiranui and Namiashi went back to ANBU yesterday."

"What about Kakashi?"

Satomi looked at Kurenai, who said, "He had a session with Ariwara-kakarichou this morning, but assuming the paperwork checked out, he's probably off collecting blackmail material by now." She paused, studying him. Then she said, "Riei's got plans, but Satomi and I were going for a drink. If your team's up to it, you'd be welcome to join us."

Alcohol wasn't going to scratch the itch, but it might help. Ryouma said, "I'll ask 'em."

"Ask who what?" Ginta inquired brightly, behind them. "Riei-chan, you're blocking the door."

"Sorry, Sakamoto-kun!" She stepped close to Kurenai, and Ginta edged around her.

His burns had healed to lotion-shiny skin and old scabbing near his ear. He was in jounin blues without a vest, tailored so well they fit his slim body almost like ANBU blacks. His hitai'ate tilted at a rakish angle under straight blond hair, and he slid Ryouma a distinctly flirtatious smile. "Hey, Tousaki, did they debrief you all the way?"

Riei went pink. Satomi rolled her eyes. Ryouma said, despairingly, "No one even offered."

"That's a travesty. Who debriefed you? Fish-face?" Ginta shook his head ruefully. "What a waste. Maybe an officer who was on the mission should debrief you further."

That was one solution for the restlessness burning beneath his skin. Ryouma was willing to bet they'd both enjoy the hell out of it, too.

But his team was still out there, and he hadn't seen any of them in three days…

Inspiration burst like an explosion tag. "You got a favorite club around here? My team promised me they'd go sometime, an' I bet yours could use it too." He'd actually made the bargain with Katsuko, and he still couldn't quite believe Kakashi'd agreed. But without Katsuko's energy driving them, maybe Ginta could help drag the officers out as well. "You could get that drink too, Yuuhi-san…"

Kurenai said blandly, "I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Ginta gave her a sharp glance. She raised her brows. He shrugged, and turned back to Ryouma. "I'll tell you my club, but only if you promise me a dance." He added, to Kurenai, "We'll make sure it's somewhere you can watch."

"Well," Ryouma said, "maybe not all of it."

Satomi made a muffled gagging noise.

Ginta's gaze swept from Ryouma's shoulders to his belt, and he grinned. "I like how you think, Tousaki. I've got the perfect place, too. We should go to Embers. Genma knows where it is."

"I know it, too," Kurenai said firmly. "We'll meet you there. Ginta, make sure Usagi comes."

"She'll come if Satomi does," Ginta said, and grinned even wider.

Satomi stared at him, and then at Kurenai. She said dangerously, "Yuuhi, we need to talk." She tugged Kurenai away, Riei trailing worriedly at their heels.

"Meet us at 2100!" Ginta called after them. He turned to Ryouma, a brow cocked. "I know I can convince Genma to come. What about the rest of your team? Need help?"

That had to be a pun, too. Ryouma eyed him sidelong. "You don't think I could do it on my own?"

Ginta laughed. "From what I've heard, you're very persuasive when you want to be. But Namiashi can be a little hidebound, and Hatake is, well, Hatake." An eloquent twist of his shoulder said exactly what he thought of Hatake-ness.

"Kakashi's actually the one who agreed." On condition he got to stay sober and judgmental, but… Maybe he'd feel safer with them, now, even without Katsuko there to brace him up. "Taichou's probably the one to worry about. He might think it crosses boundaries."

They'd grabbed breakfast or lunch a few times as a team, mostly after training or between hospital stints. Ryouma and Kakashi'd eaten together on several occasions, and once Raidou'd bought Ryouma a bowl of noodles — and then made him run a circuit to the east and west border houses before he finished. But there was a difference between sharing a meal as comrades and visiting even the most restrained nightclub.

And from what Ryouma'd heard of Embers, he suspected Ginta's pick wasn't likely to be the most restrained.

"Y'know, this may be a bad idea. If it doesn't work—"

Ginta scoffed. "It's a great idea. And anyway you already said your team promised. If Namiashi thought it transgressed boundaries he wouldn't have signed on. If he balks now, just remind him he promised. He's definitely the kind of man who won't break a promise."

"Well," Ryouma temporized, "when I said my team promised… We didn't actually ask the officers. Yet."

"Hah!" Ginta said gleefully. "So you do need my help!" He set off briskly up the street, heading toward the Monument and HQ. Even with Ryouma's longer stride, he had to stretch to keep up.

On the mission, Ginta'd been the consummate officer: sharp, focused, with a sly wit that only occasionally honed into a razor tongue. Off-duty, Ryouma discovered, he was a chatterbox. He asked about Ryouma's debriefings, his opinions on the Intel cafeteria, and his opinions on the Intel debriefers, with double entendres even Kakashi wouldn't have missed. They were halfway up the Monument before Ryouma realized that, despite all the chatter, Ginta'd still divulged almost nothing about himself.

At the next pause for breath, Ryouma asked, "How long've you known Genma?"

"Well, let's see," Ginta considered. "I think this is his third year in ANBU… But there's a lot of things I don't know about him yet. Like, what kind of chocolate does he prefer?"

"Dark," Ryouma said, and then second-guessed: "I mean, he likes green tea and he takes his coffee dark brown, one sugar— Why didn't you go into Intel?"

"The uniforms aren't flattering," Ginta said lightly. "All that grey, and no shape."

"You got your blues tailored," Ryouma said. "Or else Supply loves you more'n anyone else in this village."

"Supply does love me," Ginta agreed. "But I still don't look good in grey."

Ryouma gave up.

They'd reached the top of the Monument anyway. Training fields and trees lay spread out before them, two teams in a joint sparring session, a young woman in an ankle-cast walking laps on her hands. The sinking sun turned the air the color of honey, and spun Ginta's fine blond hair into gold.

"So why'd you decide to join ANBU?" Ginta asked. "I mean, besides for the sexy uniform, which you definitely look good in. The way the stuff we had to wear on that mission fit was a crime."

"Blame Kuroda," Ryouma said, darkly. "We had enough notice for the mission to shop for unmarked weapons or civvies, but not both." He'd had to scavenge in a hurry through a second-hand shop's discards pile, and they didn't do tailoring.

He plucked at the long sleeve of his summer-weight jounin shirt. "I don't mind the blues, anyway. Joining ANBU was more about..."

Ginta's light eyes lifted to his face, brows raised encouragingly. Ryouma wasn't sure whether it was flattering or unnerving, to have all that scattershot attention focused on him. Off-guard, he fumbled for honesty.

"I never expected to survive this long. There was the war, and— everything else. But I turned twenty, and my friends took me out drinking for my birthday. Somebody mentioned he'd been training for the ANBU Trials coming up next week, and I figured, what the hell, I'll give it a shot."

Ginta nodded approvingly. "Impulsive type. Made it on your first try without any prep, too. I like it."

Ryouma's cheeks warmed. "Well, I hadn't seen the uniform up close at that point. But I already knew about the hot tattoo."

"Saw someone dancing shirtless at a club?" Ginta inquired. "Or were you a little more intimate with that hot tattoo?"

Someday, Ryouma would learn to keep his fool mouth shut.

Or just use it for a different purpose, maybe.

"Wasn't fraternization then," he said. "Now… How strict is that seniority rule my officers told us about?"

"Depends," Ginta said, thoughtfully. His blue gaze was far too penetrating. "Are we talking about one of your superior officers? Or just any officer? Because as long as he's not in your direct chain of command, no one would say anything unless it was causing trouble."

They'd reached the main door of ANBU HQ. Ginta hauled it open, and looked expectantly up. "So are you still sleeping with this mystery officer? Who's my competition?"

"Who said it's a competition?" Ryouma asked, and darted inside before he could add anything worse.
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