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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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Hard Came the Rain [Jul. 9th, 2017|02:13 pm]

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[Takes place June 25, Yondaime Year 5, immediately after After the Rhythm and Booze.]

Sagara Okiku, ANBU’s fourth commander, was having a good morning.

The twins had slept through the night. Mariko had scampered off to the academy on time, with a completed report on Tetsu no Kuni’s military samurai tucked under one arm. And Ikorou, kind husband that he was, had packed Sagara a bento. It was currently sitting in her desk drawer, a pleasant temptation.

She had even, through some miracle she didn’t plan to examine closely, managed to catch up on her paperwork.

In this frame of mind, she was almost forgiving when the entirety of Team Six — and two dogs — invaded her office, instead of the one lieutenant she’d actually summoned.

“Shiranui,” she said. “You have an entourage.”

Who appeared to have come straight from the training field, judging by the motley collection of filthy, blood-stained clothing. None of them were in uniform. Shiranui seemed to have been punched in the face. Namiashi’s cheek was gashed. Hatake looked like he’d been dragged through barbed wire. Only Tousaki was visibly uninjured, which probably meant he was concealing something internal.

Shiranui bit his split lip. “We were just finishing a post-training lunch. They insisted on accompanying me.” He gave his team a narrow look. “I’m sure this won’t take long, if you want to wait in our office.”

“We’re here to report, too,” Tousaki said, nervously stubborn. His defiant gaze made it as high as Sagara’s tea mug.

The tall yellow shepherd sat down in front of Shiranui, feathered tail coiled neatly around her feet. Her head reached his ribcage. The pug draped over Shiranui’s left shoulder sat upright and scratched one ear. Hatake, less demonstratively, slouched behind Genma and maintained the relatively successful pretense that his summons' actions had nothing to do with him.

Namiashi tucked his arms behind his back, spine held ramrod straight, and didn’t move an inch. )
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After the Rhythm and Booze [May. 21st, 2017|05:20 pm]

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[Takes place June 25, Yondaime Year 5, the morning after Light Me Up]

Genma woke naked in Aoba’s empty bed when his alarm chimed at 0630. Untangling his bare legs from the bedsheets and staggering to the bathroom took a few hazy moments. He squinted at his reflection in the mirror over the sink: tangled hair, red-rimmed, heavy-lidded eyes, a dusty smattering of beard stubble, and a vaguely amused expression greeted him. “You’re still a little drunk,” he told Genma-in-the-mirror. “Better do something about that.”

A fiercely hot shower was the first order of business. Strong coffee, and a little bit of chakra to goose his liver into metabolizing the lingering alcohol faster, came next. Then an egg over hot rice. Aoba, bless him a thousand times, had made rice and left it hot in the cooker before he’d headed off for his mission the night before. He’d left a note for Genma, too.

Hope the orgy night out with your team was fun. You have three days to clean up the evidence before I get home. It was signed with a self-portrait doodle of Aoba blowing a kiss.

It was going to be nice to have his own place again, but he was going to miss living with Aoba.  )
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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 Seas at Dawn [Feb. 7th, 2017|09:27 pm]

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[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. )
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Soldiers Take Flight [Jan. 15th, 2017|03:56 pm]

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[Early morning hours of June 15, Yondaime Year 5, following Red Sky at Night]

Before the sound of the first explosion had died, a second shook the air, raining dust down on them from the tenement’s swaying beams. The baby’s sudden cries were muffled against Kakashi’s chest. Kimiko jerked against the straps of her sling.

“Go!” Raidou hissed.

“With me,” Genma told Fukuda. “Tousaki, you take our six.”

They emerged from the door to the wail of sirens, but a surprisingly empty street. Lights shone behind previously dark windows, but their doors were still firmly shut. A civilian populace in fear for their lives, Genma guessed.

They ran east, sticking to the darkest corners and crevices, emerging into a dank court of even more ramshackle tenements than the one where they’d found Kimiko. Sirens continued to wail, and searchlights flared to life, playing over the faces of the steep ring of mountains surrounding Kirigakure. Clouds of dust and smoke rose where the blasts had shattered whole sections of stone and set trees ablaze.

Genma gestured to the others to stay hidden )
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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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Red Sky at Morning [Nov. 16th, 2016|05:34 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of June 10, Yondaime Year 5, three weeks following Laws of Gravity and just over a month after Salt the Earth]
WARNING FOR ANIMAL DEATH in the first two tags]

Training field three looked, and smelled, like a battlefield. Genma nudged Ryouma with his shoulder, nodding at the blood-spattered grass. “So far it’s messier than your jutsu, but at least it reeks less.”

“I’m pretty sure I can do explosive rot if you want it, Lieutenant,” Ryouma offered mildly.

“I know. That’s why we started with sardines when you and I worked on wound sealing.”

Kakashi, dripping in blood from head to toe, took a few steps out of the blast radius while a pair of chuunin brought a fresh victim to the field and secured its lead to a stout iron post. The pig, staked well upwind of the carnage, didn’t seem to be bothered by the gory remains of its predecessor. It looked around with mild interest as one of the chuunin put a bucket of feed in front of it, then began contentedly munching away.

Otani Yaeko, an observer from the Jutsu Records Office, tapped her clipboard. “How close was that attempt to Iebara’s jutsu?”

“It looks a lot like what was left of Iebara after Hatake was finished with him,” Genma said, “but nothing like the stuff Iebara himself did.”

Otani nodded and jotted down a note before she called, “Hatake-san, are you ready to try it again?”

Kakashi flicked an acknowledging salute, then turned to focus intently on the pig with both eyes. At the distance from which they were observing it was impossible to make out the pinwheels in Kakashi’s transplanted Sharingan, but they were doubtless spinning fast. He nodded at one of the chuunin; black steel flashed in her hand. )
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Laws of Gravity [Aug. 1st, 2016|06:48 pm]

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[Takes place the afternoon of May 20, Yondaime Year 5, following Worth the Pain and The End Is Where We Begin]

The ward was quiet after Ryouma fell asleep.

Unobserved, Kakashi took the shameless opportunity to study him. On missions, Ryouma always made a point of turning his back on the team and shrugging his blankets up, hiding his face. That probably had something to do with his grandfather, Kakashi thought darkly.

Right now the sheets only came up to Ryouma’s chest. The low, v-shaped neckline of his hospital gown was pulled askew, showing a slice of collarbone. If Kakashi leaned close enough, he’d be able to see Ryouma’s carotid pulse beating.

Since he was supposed to be guarding, not identifying target points, he stayed where he was and looked at Ryouma’s face. It was strange to see it unanimated. Without humor or tension lending their edges, Ryouma looked both younger than he was, and older than he should have. Faint lines had already started to etch the corners of his eyes, and there were shadows that ran deeper than just a few nights’ missed sleep. A couple more years and he’d probably have some silver hair of his own.

Kakashi tilted his head and tried to picture Ryouma ten years younger. The sharp jawline would have been shallower, the cheekbones less defined, the straight-bladed edge of his nose might not have had that broken dip in the bridge. He was a handsome man now; he would have been a beautiful child. And smart enough to create his own jutsu a few years later. Exactly the kind of boy who’d make his family proud.

Except the only family Ryouma had ever mentioned was a mother who’d died, and the grandfather who’d taken him afterwards, now also dead.

He had me for three years.

Where had the father been? Where had Konoha been? Young shinobi were a precious resource. Who’d let Ryouma vanish halfway through a war with a drunken, bone-breaking bastard?

And after everything, Ryouma had limped back to Konoha and signed up to protect it. Probably for the same reason he wore an extra dogtag around his throat, separate on its own chain: it was the closest he could get to home.

Kakashi could see the edge of that tag now, tucked beneath Ryouma’s gown. He’d glimpsed the name on it — Tousaki Miyako — before and assumed it was a mother, sister, or wife. Ryouma was only twenty, but that was still old enough to be a widower. Now, though, he had a better idea.

Very gently, Kakashi slipped a finger under the chain and tugged until the old, scarred tag came into sight. )
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The End Is Where We Begin [Jul. 12th, 2016|06:57 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 20, Yondaime Year 5, an hour or so after When the Last Roll Is Called and parallel to Worth the Pain]

Talking with Katsuko took half an hour, but the aftermath involved the head of ANBU herself, followed by paperwork and a meeting with Kuroda. And that took until nearly 1500.

As soon as he was alone in Team Six’s office, Genma took a sealed equipment scroll from his locker and keyed in the simple chakra sequence to release it. A tightly rolled t-shirt and faded pair of jeans appeared in a puff of orangish smoke, and dropped to his desk. The socks and underwear furled inside weren’t really necessary, but spare civvies were spare civvies, and he was eager to be out of his funeral uniform.

After he’d changed, Genma locked the new paperwork away and took out the folder with his copy of Team Six’s personnel files. He’d just opened Raidou’s profile to look for a home address when there was a polite knock on the office door. )
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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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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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