|Lost in the Dark||[Oct. 22nd, 2017|02:19 pm]|
[Begins July 6, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after the end of Blood in the Shadows]|
Ryouma had nightmares.
Kakashi slept lightly, as he always did on missions. He woke every time Ryouma twitched, shivered, or once, memorably, elbowed Kakashi in the side of the head. By the time Genma slapped the outside of their tent to signal the watch handover, Kakashi's tenuous sympathy had melted into a rising desire to punt Ryouma into the river.
He got up and sat in a tree for three hours, holding the mug of tea Genma had left for him. Cicadas sang. The forest failed to produce anything worth stabbing.
Raidou took over the next watch. Kakashi went back to bed. Ryouma was still having bad dreams — but quietly, like a good ninja. He’d half-strangled himself in his blankets. His black hair was spiked with sweat.
Kakashi sighed and poked Ryouma in the ribs. With a bitten-off gasp, Ryouma jolted awake.
“Do you want me to genjutsu you?” Kakashi asked.
Ryouma blinked at him, dazed. Understanding dawned, followed closely by complete mortification. He looked away. “Sorry.”
It was possible Kakashi could have handled that better. But everyone got nightmares, and the age for allowable comfort stopped at five. Right now Kakashi didn’t even have comfort, he had go to goddamn sleep and stop making this mission harder.
Because snarling at people always helped them feel better. Kakashi rubbed his eyes — right: gritty; left: teary — and tried to imagine he was a decent human being.
“That was a real offer,” he said.
Ryouma hunched his shoulders and looked very much like a man considering how much it would hurt to drown himself.
If he’d been Naruto— well, for starters he’d be three, wearing footie pajamas, and nowhere near a mission. But he would also have gotten a hug, and it would have been okay, because see: three. And small. And scared. Ryouma was not three, or small. He could melt people down to slag.
They were all scared most of the time.
Kakashi reached out and tapped the back of Ryouma’s hand gently with two fingertips. “He’s dead.”
Ryouma took a short gasp of air. “I know.” He closed his eyes; breathed out slow. Opened his eyes again. “I know.”
In Kakashi’s experience, knowledge didn’t need to convince itself.
He looked at Ryouma for a moment, and finally said, “Lie down.”
Ryouma hesitated, then sank warily back down. “Can you use genjutsu like that?”
“You can,” Kakashi said. “It’s not real sleep, but it gives your brain something better to do than chew on itself.”
With easy, well-telegraphed movements, he shoved his bedroll next to Ryouma’s, flipped the blanket back, and lay down. Ryouma had gone completely still. Kakashi scooched over the last inch, slotting himself against Ryouma’s side, and pulled the blanket back up. Ryouma smelled like sweat and stress; this close, his chakra was a painful, jagged roil, like splinters jammed under skin.
Kakashi said, “You’re here. Not there. Get some sleep. And if you elbow me in the face again, I’m going to shave you bald.”
Tense seconds slipped by. Slowly, one muscle at a time, Ryouma began to relax. “Keep your face out of my ribs and you’ll be fine.”
It was slightly disconcerting to actually feel his voice rumble.
It was a long time before either one of them slept, but eventually Ryouma’s breathing smoothed out. Kakashi drifted, waiting for the first irritating twitch, and slipped under before it came.
Dawn arrived cool and dew-drenched, and Kakashi woke up half-squashed under Ryouma’s shoulder. Their legs were tangled. Kakashi was cold where he’d lost blankets, hot where Ryouma was furnacing on him, and vaguely confused to find himself curled around a slab of muscle and surprisingly sharp hipbones instead of ensconced in a comfortable heap of dog.
Ryouma’s chakra was tranquil as a lake beneath a cloudless sky.
Kakashi thought, I should get up.
He tucked his feet beneath the blanket and dozed off again, until Raidou woke them both by flinging Genma across a field.
“Wzt?” Ryouma asked, to the distant tune of someone landing in a bush.
“It’s morning and the captain’s awake,” Kakashi said, and hauled the blanket over his head.
Ryouma said indistinctly, “Good. He’s lettin’ us sleep.” He didn’t move.
Outside, there was a ripple of chakra, followed by a crash, a yelp, and what sounded like a lot of snapping twigs. Kurenai’s voice raised a sleep-muzzy question from her tent. Raidou called back a crisp little speech about taijutsu, failures of defense, and something about Genma getting hit in the face.
“Sparring,” Kakashi muttered.
“Better him than us,” Ryouma mumbled, with the conviction of a man who’d been dragooned into being Raidou’s early morning sparring partner more than once.
Given five minutes and a breath of opportunity, Raidou would drag any one of them out onto the field and cheerfully, helpfully sledgehammer the weak places in their defence until improvement or attempted murder resolved the matter.
Genma, being the earnest sort, was probably aiming for improvement.
The next crash was bigger and meatier-sounding. Reluctantly, Kakashi wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and fell out into the unforgiving morning to see if Genma had actually toppled the captain.
On the other side of the river, Genma stood, fully armored and shoulders heaving, in the middle of a good-sized clearing. Raidou, similarly armored and breathless, was flat on his back at the base of a tree. He shoved himself upright, shaking his head like his ears rang, and closed with Genma again.
The next exchange of blows was quick and vicious, but held in check. Regular sparring, then. Kakashi yawned, scratched sleep-rumpled hair, and ducked away to take care of the morning necessities. When he returned — rather more awake — Kurenai had risen from her tent, achieved coffee, and was watching the officers with puzzlement.
“They do this,” Kakashi told her. “Captain thinks the lieutenant’s taijutsu needs improvement.”
She sipped her coffee, fascinated. “Does it?”
“Yes,” Kakashi said. “He drops his guard on the left.”
A solid hit caught Genma in the left shoulder and staggered him backwards. Raidou bounced lightly on the balls of his feet.
“Like that,” Kakashi added.
Kurenai looked thoughtful. A moment later, Ryouma rolled out of the tent, dishevelled and crease-cheeked, with his hair flattened sideways, and blinked at her coffee. “Is there more of that?”
Wordlessly, Kurenai pointed to a kettle suspended above the dancing campfire. Ryouma arrowed towards it. He returned a moment later with something black and tarry in a mug that Kakashi guessed could be coffee. Ryouma drank it with a shudder, and went back for a second mug.
In the sparring ring, Genma took another hit that dropped him to one knee. He rebounded, scything Raidou’s legs out from under him, but went down again a moment later.
Raidou stopped the fight, hauled Genma back up, and spent a couple moments going over Genma’s left guard. Genma nodded and let Raidou adjust his form, but the set of his shoulders was starting to look aggravated.
“When do they stop?” Kurenai asked.
“When the lieutenant goes down for good and Taichou decides to pick on us instead,” Ryouma said, fatalistic and accurate.
“Ten minutes,” Kakashi predicted, and went to dig breakfast out of his pack. When he came back, Kurenai and Ryouma had migrated across the river for a better view. Kakashi joined them, settling down on a tree-stump with a canteen of water and a pair of ration bars.
“—you need to get this,” Raidou was saying. The sickle-red moon cutting down his mask made the statement more of a threat.
“I know I need to get it. I’m trying to get it.” Genma vented a frustrated sigh behind his mask. “I copied your form and I kept my footing, so what am I doing wrong?”
“Dropping your elbow,” Kakashi said helpfully.
Genma’s masked face swung around to give Kakashi a dark look, slightly undercut by the painted tanuki grin. Ryouma elbowed Kakashi in the ribs.
“What?” said Kakashi. “He is.”
“You made them notice us,” Ryouma groaned. He yelled to Genma, “You can do it!”
Kakashi doubted it. One morning’s effort — well, several mornings’ effort, at this point — wasn’t enough to undo a lifetime’s worth of bad habits, especially when Genma was getting prickly.
The next fight was longer. Genma kept his elbow up, and got in a half-dozen good blows that would have winded a less slab-like man. Raidou pressed him on the left, forcing Genma to defend, retreat, defend again. A moment’s distracted aggravation, a precise strike, and Genma met the ground again.
“Is this really the best use of mission time?” Kurenai inquired.
Kakashi shrugged. “Good way to warm up.”
Kurenai frowned, but since she wasn’t dressed or wearing lipstick yet, Kakashi didn’t think she was feeling that impatient. He finished his ration bars and dropped into a low stretch, limbering up for the day. Reluctantly, Ryouma followed suit.
Back on his feet, Genma said something sharp, which made Raidou shrug and offer an early finish — which made Genma’s entire body scowl.
“Two minutes,” Kakashi said.
It was actually less. Midway through the last spar, Genma stepped wrong, turning into Raidou instead of away from him. A nasty, bone-jarring hit caught him squarely on the mask and slammed him down onto his back, where he didn’t move.
“Lieutenant!” Ryouma bolted forward.
Kurenai, hissing, followed on his heels. Kakashi hung back. Raidou yanked his mask aside, surprise and dismay rolling like thunderheads across his face.
Smoke exploded into the world.
Scent rushed with it, musk and fox-not-fox, chakra burning like an acid stain, far stronger than anything he’d smelled in Hiraizumi. Raidou’s startled shout cut off abruptly. Ryouma swore. Kurenai’s sharp kai! had no effect. Kakashi jolted forward, reaching for his chakra.
Which didn’t come.
It was like finding a limb bloodlessly amputated. Nothing hurt; his chakra just wasn’t there. He grabbed a kunai and ran towards the densest section of smoke, where Genma had been — and found nothing. The alien energy shivered and swallowed itself, vanishing.
Wind shredded the smoke. Kurenai and Ryouma crouched with weapons in their hands, staring wildly. Genma was gone. And Raidou—
Raidou was pinned under a giant stone statue, shaped like one of the local gods.