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Trapped in Wonderland [Nov. 11th, 2017|05:23 pm]

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[Begins July 6, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after the end of Blood in the Shadows, in parallel with Lost in the Dark]

There was a split second, right before Raidou’s blow connected, in which Genma got a solid picture of everything he’d just done wrong. His shoulder was a centimeter too low, his chin angled infinitesimally too high, his pivot milliseconds too late…

And then there was the fact that he’d predicted Raidou would lunge right rather than left. That was the big mistake. The one that bashed his mask from his face, ground his molars against each other with a crack, made him see stars, and sent him flying.

He didn’t feel himself hit the ground )
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When the Last Roll Is Called [May. 8th, 2016|08:09 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 20, Yondaime Year 5, one day after the second part of Down to the Bone=]

The parade grounds were far too large for a funeral for only two. Instead, the assembled mourners — most in funeral blacks or ANBU masks and cloaks, with the few civilian loved ones of the dead in formal kimono — clustered together in knots around the Heroes’ Stone. Two easels, one on either side of the monument, held black-draped photographs of the deceased. Urns of white chrysanthemums flanked the easels.

Genma arrived before the 1100 time appointed for the ceremony, and was surprised to see a shock of familiar white hair, stark against the sea of black fabric. Kakashi was standing near the memorial, his ever-present orange book nowhere in evidence. Genma let his chakra unfurl enough to be sure Kakashi felt him coming, and went to stand with his teammate.

“Did you know them?” Genma asked, nodding at the photographs. Hasabe Goutoku’s square-jawed face stared back, serious and stern. Yamanaka Michiyo’s light eyes sparkled in her portrait, like she’d been laughing at something when the photographer interrupted.

“No.” Kakashi’s voice was flat and featureless. His mask hid his expression, as usual, but even without it, his face was probably devoid of emotion.

Genma hadn’t known either of them well himself, but they were both veterans. Looking around, he counted several he did know, including Team Twelve’s lieutenant, Doumen Saburo, who sat hunch-shouldered in a wheelchair near the front of the assembled mourners. Twelve’s captain, Endou Tatsuya, sat next to him. Tatsuya’s neck was in a brace to support a mending fracture, but his bruises, like Genma’s, were mostly healed.

A familiar chakra pressure, hot as a smith’s forge, pulled Genma’s attention away. )
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Down to the Bone [Mar. 24th, 2016|07:09 pm]

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[Begins the morning of May 18, Yondaime Year 5, two days after A Loser's Just a Learner on His Way to Better Things and one day after What You Don't Know (Will Kill You)]

Ryouma woke in the last hour before dawn, with the waxing moon painting a thin pale stripe over the foot of the bed and Ayane shuddering in a nightmare's grip beside him. His hand slipped on her bare shoulder when he tried to wake her. She was slick with sweat, and her breath came ragged as if she'd been fighting or running.

He could guess the dream that'd caught her. He shifted his grip to her elbow and shook her harder. "Ayane. Wake up."

She twitched, gasped, and lashed out with a blow that would have collapsed his windpipe if he hadn't shoved her elbow down. She wrenched away. Ryouma grabbed the kunai under his pillow before Ayane's flailing hand found it, and rolled off the bed.

He hit the threadbare rug with a hard thump. Something metallic dug cruelly into his hip—hopefully the belt-buckle on the jeans he'd discarded a few hours ago, and not one of the numerous knives Ayane kept tucked into her clothing. He struggled to his feet and found her sitting up with her back to the wall, sheets kicked free from her legs.

She said hoarsely, "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to wake a nightmare?"

"More dangerous than waking a ninja?" Ryouma dropped his kunai in the corner, where no one was likely to step on it. "You okay?"

Ayane shook her head. )
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Devil's Got My Secrets [May. 24th, 2015|08:19 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 15, Yondaime Year 5, two days after God Save the Foolish Kings and the morning after Comfort Trap]

The first reports of the day brought Sagara Okiku with them, treading soft and relentless on Lynx's heels. Lynx slid the stack of files onto Minato's desk, saluted, and pulled up a chair for his commander before he retreated to the anteroom and shut the door.

"I don't suppose you brought another pot of coffee with you," Minato said, without much hope.

Sagara tapped her fingers to her tattoo, crisp and correct, and took her seat in front of the desk. Her back was perfectly straight, knees set together, hands resting lightly on her thighs. Sometimes he wondered if she ever slouched.

"I thought the tasks of the day might prove stirring enough," she said. There was a faint glint in her eye, not yet a smile. "But we can acquire something, if you're in dire need."

Minato waved her offer away. )
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Ashes in My Wake [Mar. 7th, 2015|02:49 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of March 2, Sandaime Year 24. Kakashi is 8 years old. Told from the perspective of Sakumo’s friend, Uchiha Kousuke.]

There are only a handful of mourners at the funeral, and they are outnumbered by an unruly mob at the crematory gates. Families of the other dead, who are glad to see Konoha’s notorious traitor burned to ash, and offended he’s afforded even this last dignity. The widow wears formal black with a shroud pulled over her hair, hiding her face in shadow. The son’s face is masked, too, but he stands at his mother’s side with fierce eyes. Unwarranted sun gleams off his hair, the same shade of near-white as his late father’s.

A priest mumbles his way through a sutra for the dead, comforting no-one. The casket is closed, a simple, dark wood, without ornament. It rests on the rollers that will take it into the oven, but Kousuke doubts even Fire Country’s hottest flames will be able to burn the stain of shame from Sakumo’s bones.

He takes a deep breath and tries not to think about the body of his friend sliced through the belly in ritual suicide and decaying inside that wooden box. There are at least two hundred dead souls — already burned with their ashes already interred — sitting in judgment at this funeral, waiting for the smoke to rise.

A breeze ripples late blossoming plums on the hill behind the crematorium, tearing a few pinkish petals free to drift onto the dark gravel of the crematory yard. At the son’s other side, his young teacher stands straight backed and golden-haired. His eyes are just as fierce, red-rimmed against pale skin. He drops a hand to the son’s slim shoulder, but the boy shrugs it away.

Kousuke had never really known Sakumo’s family. And Sakumo had never known his. They hadn’t needed to. But on several missions last year, they’d each carried letters for the other’s families, to be opened in the event of their deaths. He wonders if Sakumo’s widow has found the letter to Kousuke’s wife in her husband’s effects. If he should retrieve Sakumo’s letter, tucked into a scroll case with a few other important papers. If the kinder thing would be to deliver the letter, or destroy it.

Jiraiya is here. And, surprisingly, Orochimaru. Two of the three Sannin stand to bear witness to Sakumo’s end. Jiraiya is dry-eyed, a solid wall of a man with an unreadable blankness on his tattooed face. Surprisingly, it is Orochimaru, a man Kousuke has always found cold and distant, who looks like he’s been weeping.

The priest drones on, voice rising and falling in a cadence too familiar to the assembled mourners. The only difference between this funeral and the countless shinobi funerals that have come before it is the sparsity of attendance. The conspicuous absence of the Hokage or any of the village council.

Another breezy gust sends smoke from the braziers full of incense dancing towards the mourners. Sakumo’s son’s nose wrinkles under his mask, and he shifts from one foot to the other. His mother drops a hand this time, stilling the boy. There is more reprimand than comfort in the gesture.

Finally, the priest finishes the sutra. He chimes a small bell, ringing it in a slow, steady rhythm, like a dying heartbeat. Someone from the crematorium turns a crank, and the coffin rolls into the cavernous mouth of the furnace. There’s a faint roar as the flames are turned up.

Kousuke holds his breath as the coffin disappears through the oven doors. They slide down behind it, dull steel embossed with Konoha’s leaf and a pattern of cherry blossoms. Sakumo and he had shared a bottle of sake at the end of a mission under the blooming cherries nearly a year ago; this year’s flowers are still furled tight in their buds.

He looks up to stop the tears that want to blur his vision. White smoke drifting from the crematory chimney turns to black, and from outside the gates, there’s a ragged cheer. That’s when his eyes spill over. When someone here inside the gates chokes back a sob. Kousuke knows without looking it’s not the widow. Not the child.

When he has control of himself again, the priest is conferring with the widow. Jiraiya steps in to form a small, protective huddle with his former pupil, putting a hand on the blond’s shoulder. For a moment, it looks like the younger man will break. His chest heaves, and his pale skin reddens, but then Sakumo’s son reaches up to tug on his hand, and he pulls himself together.

Orochimaru stands a few steps back. Dark hair hangs over his face the way Sakumo’s widow’s shroud had hidden hers. His shoulders shake once, and he snaps a sharp turn and vanishes, leaving a swirl of crumbling leaves in his wake.

There’s no reason to stay. It will be an hour, maybe more, before Sakumo’s body will be consumed. Before Sakumo’s widow and son will pick blackened bones out of grey ash and transfer them to the burial urn. If they do. Surely they will see this funeral through to the end, having come so far.

But the bone-picking is for the family alone, a final ritual before the urn itself can be buried. Kousuke wonders where the grave will be. Perhaps on the Hatake clan’s estate.

The only things he knows for sure is that Hatake Sakumo’s name will never grace the Heroes’ Stone, and those angry picketers at this farce of a funeral will never be satisfied.

There’s no reason to stay, but it takes until Sakumo’s wife turns her head, notices him standing there, for Kousuke to realize he should go. He bows to her, low and deep. When he straightens, the son is looking at him too, grey eyes as piercing as Sakumo’s were.

He salutes the boy, and leaves before his own tears betray him.

Image credit Leia Ham
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Pour Me Something Stronger [Nov. 9th, 2014|07:37 pm]

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[Takes place the evening of May 12, Yondaime Year 5, immediately following When Your World Starts Crashing Down]

Ryouma left Kakashi's room with a steady stride and hands clenched so hard they hurt. One foot after another, following Katsuko's straight back down the hall. At the nurses' station, Genma's pretty attendant threw them a smile. Ryouma's cheek muscles felt rusty in return.

He overtook Katsuko in the lobby, by the elevator bank. A distressed older man leaned on the receptionist's desk nearby, while a young mother kept a harried eye on three small children clambering over the sofa. Katsuko leaned on the button for the elevator and didn't look at any of them.

When the elevator came down from an upper floor, it was half-full already, too. A woman in a wheelchair, accompanied by a grandmotherly nurse; a man coughing into a paper mask; and, pressed against the back wall, two shinobi Ryouma recognized. Fukui Ayane, pale and shadow-eyed, with her long black hair pulled up in her customary high horsetail. And beside her, Shibata Hakone, lounging lean and moody against the back rail with his shaggy hair falling over his brow. He was saying something to her, as the man with the paper mask got off. She shook her head, looked over the wheelchair-bound woman, and saw Ryouma.

Something cracked behind her dark eyes. "Your team, too?"

Ayane's captain wasn't suspended, but he might be crippled. The rest of her team was dead.

Ryouma swallowed down the knot in his throat and shook his head. )
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When Your World Starts Crashing Down [Oct. 14th, 2014|08:37 pm]

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[Takes place the evening of May 12, Yondaime Year 5, following Natural Disaster and Little Lion Man]

Genma’s day had started late even for a hospital stay, at eight that morning. First there were breakfast reassurances to his father that he was really going to be fine. Evidently Katsuko had been by at five that morning and eaten all but two of the bakery treats Genma’s dad had brought, but she’d gone before Genma’d woken. Hopefully to go sleep some more, but Genma had his doubts. Although with her chakra supply it was possible she really was up and functional again. At least her appetite was back in full force.

A fresh Intel debriefer’d arrived after he’d eaten the remaining buns, and shooed his father out. She’d come armed with a briefcase full of papers and scrolls for her own reference, clipboards and pens, the usual stack of post-mission forms for Genma to fill out, and enough detailed questions that by the end of the interview Genma was hoarse and tired.

He’d napped afterward, helped into sleep by a syringe-full of painkillers and something in the IV that was promoting chakra channel recovery in his knit-together leg. And woken again to find the sunlight slanting to warm gold, and a clock that said it was past 17:00.

There was no sign of anyone from Team Six. )
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Natural Disaster [Oct. 3rd, 2014|10:47 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 12, Yondaime Year 5, the morning after Sound the Bells and Tell You My Sins (So You Can Sharpen Your Knife) and just prior to the events of Little Lion Man]

Katsuko’s dreams that night were loud and chaotic and full of fire. Tsuto Tomoko screamed at her from the far end of a burning hallway. The flames warped and suddenly it was Raidou standing there, staring at Katsuko in horror as the ceiling caved in above him. Lightning streaked down through the hole in the ceiling and brought howling rain with it. The hallway disappeared, replaced by a blood-soaked field strewn with the dead.

The air stunk of rot. Ryouma lay sprawled out like a rag-doll in the grass before her, eyes staring sightlessly up at the grey sky. Someone had cut his throat as cleanly as Katsuko had slit Tomoko’s. A few feet away, Kakashi pushed himself up with one arm and clutched at his tanto, which was embedded up to the hilt in his chest. His elbow buckled and he crumpled back down to the ground. He didn’t move again.

“Ueno,” Genma said behind her. Katsuko spun around. The lieutenant was pale as bone, hand pressed tightly to the wound in his stomach. Blood welled up between his fingers. “Go. Warn Konoha—”

The blare of Katsuko’s 4:30 alarm cut through the nightmare’s suffocating grasp. )
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Little Lion Man [Sep. 21st, 2014|11:30 am]

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[Takes place May 12, Yondaime Year 5, about nine days after Breakfast of Champions and the day after One of Those Lives (Get Used to It).]

Naruto approved of the new housekeeper from the start. Turtle recommended her, and Naruto got to interview her, and she turned out to be a short, lean, iron-grey person with her hair all up in a topknot and one eye missing. She wore an eyepatch when she came in for her interview, like Kakashi-niisan did.

Naruto asked her what was behind it. Dad made an exasperated noise and said "That is the kind of question you don't have to answer."

"I don't mind," Ogata-san said briefly, and took off her eyepatch.

There was a hollow where her eye should have been, and a knotted mess of scar tissue, all faded red. Naruto made an excited noise and tried to jump out of his chair to get closer and see, but Dad grabbed him and put him back down.

The corner of Ogata-san's mouth twitched up. She said to Naruto, "We didn't have masks, the way Turtle-san does, when I was young."

She was Turtle's aunt. She had been ANBU until she lost her eye, under Nidaime, when they were just barely beginning to be ANBU, and then she had been a jounin sensei twice, and then she'd retired after the war and gone to cooking school in Hikouto, only she lost her job at the last restaurant she worked at because she threw a cleaver at the head chef. )
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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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One of Those Lives (Get Used to It) [Sep. 6th, 2014|12:37 am]

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[Takes place May 9, Yondaime Year 5, some hours following Rest for the Wicked]

Kakashi woke up again because the world smelled different.

Now it was full of medics.

Groggily, he counted four white hats and five new ANBU masks, and then there was a penlight in his face and he went blind.

Katsuko yanked the medic’s hand away before Kakashi snapped it off.

“Don’t do that,” she told the room, quiet and cold, kneeling at his side like a guardian lion.

Kakashi blinked shadowy after-images away, and registered Ryouma crouching on his other side, watching the room with a mix of wariness and relief. Genma was sitting on the edge of the bed-platform, legs dangling, while a different medic bent over his wounded thigh. Raidou was talking to a tall, light-haired woman in a crane mask.

“Another captain,” Ryouma said, tracking Kakashi’s gaze.

Kakashi tried to put two and two together. “Are we getting rescued?”

“Yep,” Katsuko said.

“Oh good,” Kakashi said, and pulled the blankets back up over his face. He was asleep again in seconds, bracketed between his teammates. )
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Mama Come Home [Aug. 2nd, 2014|12:48 am]

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[Takes place in late September, Sandaime Year 14, when Genma is two.]

Shiranui Yuuichi didn’t hear the knock at the door above the din of the rain on the ceramic tile roof and the screams of his overtired two-year-old.

“I want Mama!” Genma raged. He lay on the floor, thrashing his tiny limbs and wailing the words over and over again, until “Mama” was just a long, drawn out cry of fury. His little face was brick red, his eyes and nose streaming, and there was nothing, nothing Yuuichi could do.

“Mama’s on a mission,” he said helplessly. “She’ll be home tomorrow, Gen-chan. Just take a nap for Papa. Please.”

He could practically hear Etsuko laughing at him. “There’s no reasoning with a toddler, Yuuichi.”

He’d tried every toy, every game, every book, every trick, and every treat he could think of. Even Genma’s favorite stories, Noisy Little Monkey and The Dancing Kettle, had fallen flat. Unfinished jigsaw puzzles and building blocks littered the floor. Half a chestnut-paste bun lay next to a sippy cup of warmed milk, abandoned on the kotatsu. Nothing was working.

Etsuko’s two and three day missions away hadn’t been easy, but Yuuichi’d managed. A week of solo parenthood was something else. Six months in, and he was sorry he’d ever agreed to her resuming full field duty. When she got back, he was renegotiating. Maybe she could work at the Hokage’s office or take that teaching position at the Academy. Anything that meant she’d be home at least once a day.

Genma needed her.

Yuuichi needed her.

“I want Mama!” Genma yowled, choking on his own tears.

The knocking came louder. )
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The High Road [Jul. 9th, 2014|06:39 pm]

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[Takes place May 8, Yondaime Year 5, some hours following Guilty Filthy Souls]

Obito was an angry little bastard.

“You’re screwing up,” he snapped, young and petulant. Summer sunlight made his hair gleam dark and ruffled, and his eyes glitter.

One eye. The other eye was a red crater.

Kakashi lay on his back under an endless blue sky, surrounded by tall grass. It blew gently in the warm breeze, tickling his bare arms. He folded them beneath his head, and said, “Mm?”

“You’re screwing up,” Obito repeated, and kicked Kakashi on the booted foot.

“Ow,” Kakashi said mildly.

Obito kicked him again, with pointy teenage feet. Kakashi flinched and it hurt everywhere, like glass needles. The sky turned dark above them. The sun melted into red arterial streaks that pulsed out, thumping like a heartbeat. It smelled like rank copper.

Kakashi gave it a worried look.

“What’s happen—”

“You always screw it up,” Obito said. “You try, but you do it stupid. You’re being stupid right now—”

Kakashi’s eyes snapped open.

He drew a short, hard breath, and it still smelled like blood. )
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Grow Teeth and Pursue [Apr. 23rd, 2014|01:05 pm]

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[Takes place May 5 through 7, Yondaime Year 5, following Diversionary Tactics and Reunions and Ruminations.]

At 1900 exactly, Team Six set out into the gathering blue twilight.

The mission split point was Kaede Ridge, an old strategic hold-over from the last war (and the war before that). It took them just under two days to reach it, moving at a steady wolf-pack pace. The healings had done good work. Raidou felt loose and easy, stiffness erased by a medic’s clever hands. Genma was back to his usual fluidity, loping along with the watermark smoothness of a shinobi in glowing health.

The kids were feeling their oats. Raidou could barely keep track of the rapid-shifting alliances between Kakashi, Katsuko, and Ryouma as they squabbled, challenged, teased, and whetstoned each other’s edges. He only interfered once, when Kakashi looked tempted to commit actual homicide.

They camped twice, cooking, storytelling, and sleeping under starlight, while Katsuko’s clones kept guard.

In the late afternoon of the target day, the ridge came into view. It was dotted with May wildflowers and long grass. At the highest edge, a giant tree had fallen sideways and bleached in the sunlight, broad roots making a pale lattice of dessicated wood. That was the marker.

Raidou called a halt in the sheltered lee of the tree, and Genma broke out a cold late lunch.

Half an hour, maybe, and they’d splinter out towards their separate missions, running to keep pace with the five other ANBU teams arrowing towards their own goals. Raidou should probably say something.

Nothing profound presented itself. )
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Leading the Lost Ones [Dec. 26th, 2013|10:04 pm]

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[Takes place in the early morning of May 4, Yondaime Year 5, a few hours after We Started Nothing.]

Minato landed on the red-tiled seal in the corded-off corner of the hospital lobby, staggered, and dropped to one knee. Someone grabbed for his shoulder. He shrugged the hand off. "When I'm facedown, you can grab me," he said sharply. "Not before then."

"Sorry, Hokage-sama," the woman behind him muttered. Her voice was thick with exhaustion, too. Fukui Ayane, he dredged up. ANBU Ferret. Rookie on Fukeda Hajime's team, currently one-half of what was left of ANBU Team Three.

Hajime himself lay on a stretcher on the floor with his face bare of his Squirrel mask and a mess of charred meat where his left hip had been. They'd sedated him for the nightmare jerk between realities from Hikouto to Konoha, like the others too badly injured for Hikouto's medics to heal. He'd brought back eight in total—four unconscious, one walking, Team Three's rookie, one medic, and the Sandaime's son.

And three bodies, two ANBU and the brave, foolish Intel agent who'd triggered the traitors' trap for them. )
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The Morning Breaks [Dec. 7th, 2013|09:48 pm]

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Takes place Yondaime Year 5, May 3rd, the morning after As Shadows Grow Long

Katsuko opened her eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling and a comforting warmth pressed against her side. She grumbled and tried to turn over, but the arm draped over her chest like an iron bar stopped her. That woke her up the rest of the way.

Her first thought was one-night stand, but all her clothes were still on and she didn’t smell like sex. Katsuko scrubbed at her eyes and wriggled around until she could get a look at her new friend.

Whoever she'd been expecting, her squad captain hadn't been it. )
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Done this Dance Before [Nov. 16th, 2013|12:32 pm]

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Takes place Yondaime Year 5, May 2, immediately following As Shadows Grow Long

Shiranui Yuuichi was just turning the sign on the bakery door to ‘Sorry, we’re closed’ when he saw a lone ninja approaching. She looked maybe fifteen or sixteen, narrow shouldered in her uniform vest, with a smattering of childhood freckles across her nose that hadn’t yet faded.

“You’re in luck, shinobi-san,” Yuuichi said, holding the door for her. “I was just about to go home for the night. What can I get you? I have some azuki manju that I’d be happy to give you for half-price, since it’s the end of the day.”

She looked confused. “Oh, I’m not— Are you Shiranui Yuuichi-san?”

Yuuichi’s smile faded a little. “Yes, that’s me.”

“Shiranui Genma’s father?”

“Yes.” His smile was altogether gone, replaced by a sudden chill.

There’s only one of them, he told himself, and she’s young. They would have sent two—older and in dress uniform—if it was bad.

She took a step forward, squaring her shoulders and standing at attention. )
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Take the Heartland [Sep. 20th, 2013|11:51 pm]

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[Takes place Yondaime year 5, April 28, in the Fire Country capital, Hikouto, at approximately the same time as When the Reckoning Arrives]

The Daimyo’s palace was on fire.

Sirens wailed on all sides of the city, warning of the battle that had spilled onto the streets. Bucket brigades struggled to form effective barriers against the flames sparked by fire and lightning jutsu, hoping to hold out just one second longer until more help could come. The elegant courtyard that led to the steps of the palace was now a shattered ruin, pock-marked and scarred. Great cliffs rose up through the curtain walls, and chasms drained the ponds and streams once stocked with koi. War had passed through here, and left fury in its wake.

Asuma tripped on a broken chunk of statuary and barely avoided catching himself on his face. His whole right arm was numb from the shoulder down, lacerated to the broken bones, oozing fluids from a charring burn he wasn’t looking at too closely. The rest of him was only marginally better. And underneath it all the bone-deep pain of chakra exhaustion, a serpent wound around his lungs and coiled behind his eyes that told him all he needed was sleep.

He wanted to sleep. He couldn’t sleep. He was already asleep and this was a vicious, unending nightmare. He coughed and spat out soot and dust, and kept his eyes away from the blood already clotting between his fingers.

He couldn't sense Chiriku’s chakra anymore. )
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Interlude [Sep. 20th, 2013|11:25 pm]

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[Takes place during When the Reckoning Arrives, while Raidou goes to look for Kakashi and Genma]

“Hey,” Katsuko said, after Raidou vanished up the mountain.

Ryouma was a warm presence at her side. The oilcloth tent wrapped around them rustled as he shifted. “Mm?”

Katsuko wiped rain out of her eyes and tugged their pseudo-blanket over her feet. Her toes felt like little, individual blocks of ice. “It’d probably really suck if the demon-queen had a demon-king, wouldn’t it?”

Ryouma considered this for a moment. “Yeah,” he decided. “We’d be dead. Good thing she was a single mom.”

Even Katsuko’s bones ached. Her collarbone flared up again, a high note of pain amidst the low-grade roar of all her other hurts. She gave up digging in her medkit for a moment and leaned her head against Ryouma’s arm, wadding up the oilcloth to serve as a makeshift barrier between them. He still smelled like all the corpses in the world, but the rain washed some of the stink away.

'I'm glad you're not dead', she said. )
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