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Lay Your Body Down [Apr. 22nd, 2018|01:40 pm]

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[Begins the evening of July 6, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after the end of The Last of the Wine, contemporaneous with Fluid Boundaries]

They took their armor off first, and left it by the bonfire with their boots, watched over by Saishou and Yori. Kakashi collected one of the flickering paper lanterns, carrying it by its slim wire handle. The tanuki still had most of their weapons, but a blade or six lurked comfortingly next to Kakashi’s skin.

They took an easy, ambling pace to the pond. The grass was lush and cool underfoot, and the air was alive with scent. Warm wind stroked over Kakashi’s bare arms, making him shiver pleasantly. Ryouma tipped his head back and inhaled.

“Is this what the world smells like to you?” he asked.

Kakashi breathed in. )
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Fluid Boundaries [Mar. 4th, 2018|07:52 pm]

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[Begins the evening of July 6, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after the end of The Last of the Wine]

The magical tanuki sake they’d shared with Himself was intoxicating, but not in the ordinary sense: Genma was comfortable, effervescently happy, and profoundly relaxed, but sharp and alert, and fully in control. He lifted a squirming tanuki kit off his chest and laughed up at the brush-whiskered face. Almost instantly, three more of the little tanuki replaced her, flopping delightedly down on Genma’s feast-full belly. His neck and bruised ribs didn’t twinge, even when a pair of determined youngsters barrelled into his side; it was as if he’d never had the spar with Raidou that set off this whole interdimensional incident. He rolled onto his side, spilling giggling kits, and looked for his teammates.

“You could help,” he suggested to Raidou and Kurenai )
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The Last of the Wine [Dec. 16th, 2017|07:50 pm]

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[Begins the evening of July 6, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after the end of Lost in the Dark and Trapped in Wonderland]

The tanuki refused to let Ryouma up. They crouched on his shoulders and weighed down his thighs, claws biting into his arms, tangling in his hair. He couldn't see; he could barely breathe. The wild, foxy musk of tanuki burned in his sinuses.

They were going through the packs.

One of them had opened Kakashi's trap-keyed scrolls with no more reaction than a cough at the released smoke. They bickered in low voices over the contents, shaking out pouches of shuriken, sniffing suspiciously at rat bars. "Poison," one decided. "Here, Daichi, you try—"

Daichi snapped. The first tanuki squealed. "Settle down," the biggest tanuki rumbled. "What have you found?"

The furry tide shifted. )
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Lost in the Dark [Oct. 22nd, 2017|02:19 pm]

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[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. )
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Blood in the Shadows [Sep. 4th, 2017|04:07 pm]

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[Begins July 4, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after the end of Fire in the Mountains]

They left Hiraizumi before the festival ended. Kurenai spun a little bit of her magic with the innkeeper, allying any suspicion. (“We’ll be gone before dawn, to make good time on the road. Don’t trouble yourself with breakfast on our account.”) The kindly innkeeper had filled her hands with wrapped onigiri for the journey.

Ka-chan led them to the cut-short trail, but it was Kakashi, pinch-eyed and frustrated in the moonlight, who showed them the lack of footprints, or disturbed foliage, or any other trail sign.

Except for the scent Raidou couldn’t detect, and the collective cold prickle on their skin, there was nothing to say anything had been here. The forest was alive with night-song: the chirping insects and whooping snow-monkeys were downright raucous. Hayama, infested with scorpion-dog demons, had been deadly silent.

Genma crouched and swept his chakra out like a scythe. Kurenai, more delicately, did the same. Ryouma bent his dark head over the exact point the scent-trail ended, having Kakashi repeat a blow-by-blow account of what he’d sensed and when he’d sensed it.

Emphatically not a chakra-sensor, Raidou hung back and kept an eye on the surroundings, guarding his people while they sank through the world’s skin.

No one turned up anything new.

The next step was to run an organized grid-search around the village. Twice, Genma, Kurenai, and Kakashi swore they felt something, and Ryouma rousted what turned out to be a very surprised — and very annoyed — badger, but there were no more scent-trails.

More disturbingly, when they returned to the original spot, Kakashi reported the scent was gone. )
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Fire in the Mountains [Aug. 28th, 2017|09:57 pm]

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[Begins June 28, Yondaime year 5, three days after Hard Came the Rain]

Kurenai found Yamashiro Aoba in the Fire Country division office breakroom, stirring the third sugar packet into his paper cup of coffee and looking like microwaved death. She cleared her throat. "Have you been home in the last forty-eight hours?"

He startled, saw her, and slumped against cabinets. "Don't tell me you're here with a mission."

"Not for you." She tapped the heavy file folder tucked in her arm. "We've got a briefing scheduled for an ANBU team, but no one's seen them at HQ or the barracks. Shiranui's file says he lives with you."

A little light crept back into Aoba's eyes. "As long as I'm not going with them." He discarded the stir stick and took a long swig of coffee. "Genma finally found a new place. He's probably there working on his plumbing."

"That may be the first time you've used that word without intending a euphemism," Kurenai observed. "Do you know where the new place is?"

Aoba's eyes narrowed. "Are you doing the briefing?"

"Since Riei's busy." Shirotani seemed to have fixed on Kurenai as the ANBU Team Six expert, and Tomo and Hide were glad to dodge the duty again. Kurenai hadn't protested. She didn't exactly mind being the ANBU Team Six expert, especially if it got her out of the office early on a glorious summer evening. )
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Light Me Up [Apr. 8th, 2017|07:02 pm]

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[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. )
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The Sharpest Lives [Mar. 11th, 2017|07:05 pm]

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[June 17, Yondaime Year 5, following Soldiers Don’t Mourn]

Kakashi didn’t sleep.

He lay in the creaking dark, one hand loosely curled over Ryouma's ankle, and thought of murder. The lantern burned low. The tiny compartment smelled like salted fish and burned-out stress. Exhaustion scratched at him, hot behind his eyes. He couldn't relax enough to let it take him.

The storm had passed, taking its lightning with it, but his skin still itched.

Genma and Raidou had rolled apart in the night. They lay back-to-back now, Raidou stretched out in a long sprawl, Genma curled in on himself. Tear tracks cut through the grime on Genma’s face; black bruises circled Raidou’s throat. They both looked like they needed a week of sleep.

Ryouma had pulled away, too. About an hour into sleep, he’d shifted onto his stomach, yanked the blankets over his head, and buried his face in his arms. He’d done that on previous missions, too — hidden.

The three of them didn’t look comfortable, but they fit around each other. Captain, lieutenant, protege. Soldiers bunkered down. Watching them, a sharp, dark ache spilled through Kakashi’s chest, rising up like an urge to bite. They were his team. He barely fit on their outskirts, but they were his. And they hurt.

Dawn glimmered on the horizon, and Kakashi couldn’t stand it anymore. He got up and slipped out.

The deck was populated by a skeleton crew. A woman at the helm. A man perched in the rigging. A few others scattered around, engaged in morning tasks. The youngest crewmember, a gangly, freckled girl, was sweeping the scarred deck-boards. Someone else had begun cooking; the air smelled like burned coffee and fried meat. Kakashi skirted them all and went to the guest cabins. Kimiko’s door was closed, but more than one chakra-signature glowed gently with sleep inside. Satomi’s scent lingered on the doorframe; fulfilling her promise to be there when Kimiko woke. Kakashi gave them a wide berth.

Kuroda’s door was also closed. )
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Soldiers Don't Mourn [Feb. 26th, 2017|12:09 pm]

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[June 16, Yondaime Year 5, following Red Seas at Dawn]

Team Six picked their way down the densely vegetated slope, halting at the treeline on Raidou’s signal. At the surf’s edge, a knot of figures clustered around the husk-like bowls of a pair of ship’s boats. One or two cigarette tips flared in the darkness. Genma threaded a slip of chakra out, then nodded. “They’re civilians. Feels like the same crew who got us out here, but it’s harder to identify individuals with such low chakra reserves.”

Kakashi lifted his head and inhaled audibly. “They smell the same,” he pronounced. “More stressed than last time.”

The tone in Raidou’s voice shaded from skepticism to alarm. “You can smell stress?”

“From here?” demanded Ryouma.

“It’s a very distinctive smell,” Kakashi said with a shrug.

Of course it was. )
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Red Sky at Night [Dec. 31st, 2016|06:41 pm]

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[Afternoon of June 14, Yondaime Year 5, following Soldiers Take Warning]

The rest of the morning passed uneventfully, except for Kasumi kicking Usagi in her sleep, and Kuroda scaring them all — by looking dead — until Genma pointed out that the Vice-commander was known for sleeping with his eyes open.

As planned, they struck out for the surface just before midday. Raidou kept an eye on Genma, who kept an eye on Kuroda. Sleep had done them both good: there was color in Genma’s face again, and Kuroda moved with reasonable ease despite his sling.

As before, Fukuda took point. This time flanked by Kakashi and Satomi, with Kurenai close behind to buffer the three razor personalities as needed. It didn’t escape Raidou that Team Thirteen’s commanding officers were sticking a lot closer to their rookies. Or that Ryouma was shadowing Genma’s footsteps and carefully giving Kakashi space.

Raidou trusted that time and distraction would settle them all back down.

The first breath of outside air was sticky, humid, and smelled like wet dirt. )
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Soldiers Take Warning [Nov. 29th, 2016|06:05 pm]

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[Takes place June 12–14, Yondaime Year 5, two days following Red Sky at Morning]

The morning—if you could call breaking camp at 0300 morning—had been a hectic rush of getting two ANBU teams, two Intel agents, a one-armed prisoner, and an unsatisfiable and ill-tempered commander moving in time to make port by their departure window. The ship awaiting them had looked like any of a dozen others in the dark: a long, looming hulk riding high in the water, with a pair of masts jutting up into the dark sky like two lightning-struck pines. Viney ropes had draped from mast spars, but the dragon-wing sails had still been furled.

Now, though, the sails were open and straining with the brisk breeze blowing from the west. The water was mercifully calm, an artifact of an unexpectedly late start to the June rains, according to their captain. Despite their speed, the junk cut through the sparkling waves almost without a ripple.

Genma lounged back in a coil of rope near the ship’s prow, shielding his eyes as he squinted up at his counterpart lieutenant from Team Thirteen. Sakamoto Ginta had his knees hooked through the rungs of a rope ladder and was contentedly hanging upside down, with his blond hair, for once, obeying gravity.

“He’s not much for conversation, is he?” Ginta asked, pointing a bare toe at Kakashi, who was perched above them both on the topmost spar on the forward sail.

“He grows on you,” Genma said. )
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Soldier On [May. 27th, 2016|08:52 pm]

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[Takes place May 17, two days after Hold the Line, three days before the funeral in When the Last Roll is Called]

Kurenai received her orders at family dinner, which was not unusual. Her grandmother, the esteemed matriarch of the Yuuhi clan, had dismissed the youngest grandchildren to play quietly in the garden; one of her aunts was serving tea, while a teenage cousin handed around plates of sweets. Kurenai shared her plate with her little sisters, Akane and Kaede, and hoped the clan council wouldn't take long. Her feet were beginning to fall asleep.

An elderly uncle droned through household accounts. An aunt presented her petition for increasing the amount deducted from the pay of active duty Yuuhi ninja for clan maintenance, and was shouted down by three cousins, all chuunin. Kurenai's grandmother sipped her tea and frowned down the long hall, and the quarreling cousins quieted.

"The new tatami mats for the family shrine can wait," Yuuhi Benihime decided. Her voice was a mild, age-roughened alto; Kurenai had never known her to raise it. She never had to. "The roof repairs are more pressing. See to it, Masaru. Kurenai-chan, do you have a mission this week?"

Kurenai started. "No, grandmother. My current assignment at HQ will last for another three or four months before I rotate into the field again."

Benihime nodded briskly. "Then speak to your team leader for me. I require your presence at 0900 for—oh, two or three hours, every day for the next two weeks."

Fifteen-year-old Akane made a soft little Oooh sound under her breath. "Think it's marriage meetings?"

Kurenai pinched her. "Is this a family matter?" she asked, over Akane's indignant squeak. "We're shorthanded at the moment, in the wake of what happened in the capital—I don't know if I can be spared—"

"I've taken this case on special request from Shibata Tomohiro," Benihime said. "I'm sure he won't object to my requisitioning an assistant. And you happen to be my only grandchild with S-level security clearance." She sipped her tea with satisfaction. "I'll see you at my work room tomorrow morning. Now, Kaede-chan, what's this I hear about your aunt Madoka spotting you with an Uchiha boy?"

On Kurenai's other side, seventeen-year-old Kaede went crimson with mortification. Akane perked up gleefully. Kurenai sighed, and passed Kaede the mochi.  )
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Trouble Round My Door [Feb. 6th, 2015|10:24 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 13, Yondaime Year 5, two days after Sound the Bells and one day after When Your World Starts Crashing Down and Pour Me Something Stronger]

Team Lead Shirotani blew into the Fire Country division office like the cold north wind, strewing paperwork and assignments in his wake. "Pre-mission briefing in 20 minutes in room H70. Hiyashi, I want you on it. Yamanaka, do you have that report yet?"

"On your desk, Shirotani-kakarichou." Yamanaka Susuki never looked up from her typewriter, manicured fingers rattling across the keys.

"Well done." Shirotani paused briefly by his desk, to set his coffee down on top of a teetering stack of paperwork and pick up another file. "Who's got this morning free?"

Kurenai exchanged wary glances with Tomo and Hide, across the aisle. "Why do you ask?"

"I'll catch you out one of these days, Yuuhi," Shirotani sighed. He held the file up. 'I got word this morning that Hatake Kakashi's been cleared for debriefing. Volunteers? Victims?' )
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Tell You My Sins (So You Can Sharpen Your Knife) [Sep. 20th, 2014|09:17 pm]

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[Takes place the evening of May 11, Yondaime Year 5, following Sound the Bells]

It was dusk fading into night when Raidou and his Intel escort finished the long, weary trudge up to the peak of the Hokage’s Monument. The first glitter of cold stars laced a bruised sky, and the air had a sharp bite after an unseasonably warm day. ANBU’s HQ crouched low and threatening behind the stony spikes of Sandaime’s hair, like a waiting predator.

Raidou attempted to divert his thoughts by wondering, not for the first time, whose bright idea it had been to carve giant heads into the mountainside of a secret village. And what Konoha would do when they ran out of room.

Raise a new mountain, probably.

“You should have enough time to clean up before they want you,” said his escort, with a significant look at Raidou’s travel-stained uniform.

If they planned to throw him out, it didn’t make a damn bit of difference what he was wearing. )
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Sound the Bells [Sep. 6th, 2014|01:28 am]

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[Takes place May 11, Yondaime Year 5, two days after Rest for the Wicked and concurrently with the last hours of One of Those Lives (Get Used to It). Read that one first!]

Yuuhi Kurenai was stealing fifteen minutes' shut-eye at her desk when the folder slapped down on top of three other files. She woke instantly, but it took a few seconds of blinking at the thick manila envelope before the bold red stamp's meaning sank in. She groaned. "Another?"

"Director Oita and Manager Yamanaka are still in briefings." Hiyashi Riei leaned hipshot against Kurenai's desk, shifting her weight in a way that meant she was probably sliding her feet out of her shoes. She looked like she could use a nap, too. Like the rest of the Intel staff, she'd been pulling double- and triple-shifts since Hikouto, and her concealer couldn't entirely mask the dark circles beneath her eyes. She said, "It sounds like Team Twelve's captain is waking up, so Momoe's back at the hospital. Susuki's off to T&I. And I've got a date transcribing for Team Six's cute rookie, so you get the captain and lieutenant."

"I didn't know Team Six was back in," Kurenai said, rubbing her face with one hand and flipping the folder open with the other. Blank paperwork greeted her. "They haven't submitted their reports yet?"

"They just got in," Riei said. "Should still be at the hospital. Team Lead Shirotani says the word from HQ is for immediate debriefings." She grinned, a spark of life flitting back into her soft brown eyes. "Someday I'm going to conduct a full debriefing, in all senses of the word. Maybe Team Six's rookie will be the one."

Kurenai thumbed through the file. "They have two rookies, don't they?"

One of whom was Hatake Kakashi, apparently.

She tried to remember if Rin had mentioned that Kakashi'd made it into ANBU. Had she even seen Rin since the ANBU trials? No, she'd been in Midoriyama for most of April, and then Hikouto had erupted in fire and blood. Kurenai had returned to Konoha only four days ago, and since then she'd spent every waking moment in Intel's windowless offices. Rin was probably pulling triple-shifts at the hospital, too. And Kakashi'd spent the last week out in the field, hunting traitors…

With Ueno Katsuko. )
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