April 18, Yondaime Year 5
Even though Namikaze Minato was only about a decade older than him, Raidou felt exactly an inch tall kneeling in front of the Hokage’s desk, waiting for judgment to fall on the back of his neck.
“At ease, captain,” said Yondaime-sama.
Raidou took that to mean stand up, not collapse on your face and attempt to hide in the rug. He found his feet, standing straight-backed, and slapped a respectful salute against his scarlet ANBU tattoo. “Commanders.”
Sagara-sama sat at the Hokage’s right, like a favored partner. The vice-commander stood on the Hokage’s left, back a pace, like a much less favored stepchild.
“Namiashi Raidou, captaining Team Six,” Yondaime-sama said. He glanced down, checking an open file in front of him. “Lieutenant Shiranui Genma. As members, Ueno Katsuko, Hatake Kakashi, and Tousaki Ryouma.” He looked back up, a faint smile curving his handsome mouth. “Good luck, captain. I have no doubt you’re up to the task.”
Raidou couldn’t have heard that right.
“I’m sorry, sir, I think I briefly hallucinated,” he said. “Could you repeat that?”
Yondaime-sama’s golden eyebrows arched. “Your rookies are Hatake Kakashi and Tousaki Ryouma. I believe you’ve met them before.”
Meeting was exactly the issue with Ryouma, even though Raidou really, really wanted him for Team Six. Kakashi was just an issue all by himself, and way out of Raidou’s commanding-league.
Well, okay, Raidou had managed to talk him back off the ledge in the tense, adrenaline-drenched moments right after Akiyama’s death, but that was mostly through luck. And Kakashi being tenuously willing to listen.
He started with the easier one. “With respect, Yondaime-sama, and regret—” a lot of regret, “I have a, uh, conflict with Tousaki.”
Yondaime-sama had the kind of face that inspired children to adore him, older generations to listen to him, and shinobi to die for him. He also had the kind of sharp gaze that could strip paint. “Indeed,” he said, when Raidou felt sufficiently sand-papered. Yondaime-sama braced one elbow on the desk and curled his fist under his chin. “Elaborate.”
He’d had nightmares like this. Though usually his mothers were watching, too.
Raidou picked a point slightly above Yondaime-sama’s head, fixed his eyes on it, and just said words. “I had a one night stand with Tousaki six months ago. He was aware I’m ANBU. I don’t believe he recognized me at the Trials.”
Yondaime’s brow furrowed. “And you believe you cannot command him because…?”
“Of the ethical implications?” Raidou said, after a fumbling moment. “He’d be my subordinate. I have a duty to treat him as a fair and equal member of the team, without favorable or unfavorable bias.”
Not that he had anything but favorable memories of Ryouma. But it would be easy to go too hard on the guy, just by trying not to go too easy.
A little of the edge went out of Yondaime-sama’s eyes. He traded a glance with Sagara, who was unmasked but just as implacable as always, then looked back at Raidou. “Six months ago, you said. And the only contact you had with him since was at the Trials—where you and Shiranui helped Kakashi save his life?”
Well, when you put it like that.
“Yes, sir,” Raidou said.
“Is there anything in your conduct toward him at the Trial that would lead you to believe you could not treat him fairly?”
“No,” Raidou said slowly, with a glimmer of hope. He couldn’t prevent himself from adding, “But that’s sort of the point about bias. It skews your view.”
Yondaime-sama sat back with a flare of the white, flame-patterned coat, and rubbed one thumb along his jaw. “What do you consider the qualities of a good ANBU captain?”
Could’ve kept your mouth shut, Namiashi, but noooo…
“Integrity,” Raidou said. “Insight, both into one’s subordinates and into oneself. The willingness to listen, but also the ability to take no crap. Strength. Devotion to duty.” He considered sense of humor, but dropped it. This wasn’t a personal ad. “Loyalty. Good boundaries. That’s the short list, sir.”
Modesty not included.
The blue-eyed stare fixed him again, but didn’t skin a layer this time. “I didn’t hear anything in there about being non-human, Namiashi. We say a shinobi must never show emotion, but that doesn’t mean a shinobi can’t feel it. Regardless of whatever feelings you had or have toward Tousaki, do you have any doubts about your ability to set appropriate boundaries?”
Raidou gave that question the consideration it deserved.
“No, sir,” he said at last.
That earned him a direct smile—a warm, personal lift of the corners of Yondaime-sama’s mouth, which did not make Raidou flush, goddammit.
“Konoha demands superhuman feats from its shinobi daily, captain, but I don’t expect perfection. Do your best. If you have a complaint in three weeks—or he does—I’ll listen. For now, I’ll trust in your good judgment.” Yondaime-sama paused, then added: “If he attempts to trade on it, don’t hesitate to quash him. That young man could use a little humbling.”
Sagara-sama snorted, very softly.
Captains with good boundaries did not recall a specific instance of discipline, or consider making a joke about it. Raidou hauled himself into line and bowed gratefully. “Hokage-sama,” he said, and straightened, wondering exactly how far he could push his luck. “About Hatake…”
Minato laughed. “I was wondering when we’d get to this. Yes. What about Kakashi?”
“How do you handle him?” Raidou asked, with throttled despair.
Minato was silent for a moment. “You ever seen a mother cat carrying her kittens?” he said, which gave Raidou confused, disturbing mental images of Kakashi with fur. “Gently, but with teeth.”
He sounded fond, which was both a little endearing and a lot worrisome, like a man crooning over his favorite poisonous reptile.
Still, Raidou thought he could work with that.
“How do you bring him back into line, if he needs it?” he asked.
“Directly,” Minato said, as if he’d had that answer waiting. “Kakashi usually knows when he screws up, and he’s harder on himself than you can ever be.” He paused. “Unless he totally missed the point, in which case you may need to hit him over the head with it. He doesn’t usually make the same mistake twice, but he’s pretty good at figuring out new ones.”
Which’d put him about on par with every other new rookie. That was actually slightly reassuring.
“I’ll try not to hit him too hard,” Raidou said, with a half-smile, before he remembered who he was talking to. He bowed again. “My thanks, Hokage-sama.”
“And you have mine,” Yondaime-sama said softly. He hesitated again, and just for a moment, Raidou saw the man underneath—the parent, really, because everyone knew Minato-sensei had taught Kakashi far longer than a lot of jounin even lived. “Kakashi can be difficult. But if you earn his loyalty—and I’ve no doubt you can—he’ll be worth it.”
A bow didn’t touch that gift of trust or level of responsibility. Raidou dropped back down to one knee, planting a fist solidly on the floor in the full shinobi kneel, and ducked his head. He had one more question, but after that, he didn’t think he could press it without being rude.
But if he didn’t, he’d wonder.
“Was there something else?” Yondaime-sama asked, when Raidou didn’t immediately rise.
“I’m sorry, Hokage-sama, I don’t mean to press,” Raidou said. “I just wondered— Why did you place Tousaki and Hatake together?”
A faint smile sketched back over Yondaime-sama’s face, but without the humor behind it. “I might have expected that. Insight indeed.” He rubbed his mouth and sighed. “Kakashi badly needs a friend. I have reason to suspect Tousaki might fill the need. Tousaki risked his own life to help Kakashi when he thought Kakashi needed it, and Kakashi returned the favor. Rather more successfully, as it happens, but—” He glanced sideways at Sagara-sama, whose blank face revealed nothing to Raidou. “You can stop radiating judgment at me, Okiku. If I ever do start a Shinobi Dating Service, it’ll be a wild success.”
Raidou paid close attention to the middle-distance again.
When Yondaime-sama returned to him, it was more intensely, with a thin undercurrent of worry threading through his voice. “I suspect you know Tousaki better than either of us. If you have concerns, I’ll listen.”
The one time in his entire life that Raidou had the Hokage’s full attention on a string, and it was because of a one-night-stand. What even.
Did he have concerns?
What he’d seen of Kakashi had impressed and worried him. What he’d seen of Ryouma… had done much the same, actually. But he didn’t know either man well enough to predict how they’d mesh, or even if they would, though the seeds seemed to be there.
Katsuko, he suspected, was going to be delighted with them both.
He had no idea what Genma would make of things.
“It was one night with Tousaki, Hokage-sama,” Raidou said at last. “I couldn’t make an honest judgment call. They might clash, but Ueno is a good buffer, and a good person in her own right, and Shiranui holds his calm well. Konoha’s built better teams from much less. If they can’t be friends, they’ll at least be good teammates.” He rose to his feet again. “That I will promise you.”
Yondaime-sama sat back in his chair, and looked up at Raidou. The tension didn’t quite ease out of him. With a whole village on his shoulders, it probably never did. Raidou had just never been able to see it before.
“I’ll rely on you, then, captain,” Yondaime-sama said. “Thank you.” His gaze went beyond Raidou, to the door. “Would you tell captain Usagi to come in?”
Raidou touched his right hand to his left shoulder, offering ANBU’s salute one last time, and collected the four personnel files Sagara-sama offered him before he turned for the door.
When he got outside and closed it, he took a moment to bend over, brace, and breathe.
Usagi gave him an alarmed look. “That bad?”
“I got Tousaki,” Raidou said distantly.
Usagi snapped the wire she’d been working with. “Who the hell did you blow?” she demanded.
Actually, he blew me, Raidou emphatically did not say. He straightened up and grinned at her. “God. And it was mind-altering. Hokage-sama wants you next. Enjoy getting the dregs.”
“I hope Tousaki melts your stupid perfect face off,” she said, and clapped him on the shoulder as she went past, friendly as a handshake from a landslide. “Well done, Namiashi.”
He kept grinning when she shut the door.
Tousaki and Hatake.
He had no idea what he’d done to earn them, but he wasn’t going to waste them. He tucked the files carefully beneath one arm, walked calmly out of the Hokage’s palace, and then bolted to find Genma.
The gates of Konoha were always a welcome sight coming back from a ten-hour patrol. Genma rolled his shoulders and tipped his head back to let a hint of breeze caress his throat and filter up under the edge of his mask. At his left, Morioka-taichou in her bird-shaped mask did the same, while behind them the faint scuffle of footsteps suggested Imahara and Uchiha Yusuke were starting to let their fatigue show, now that home was so near.
The guard at the gate signal-flashed them with a mirror; Morioka lifted a black-gloved hand and returned the all clear. “It’s not going to be a complicated report,” she said, addressing the whole team. “I don’t think we need much of a debrief unless there’s something one of you saw and didn’t tell me about.”
“Not a thing,” Imahara said. “For a level-four security alert, that was a cakewalk of a patrol.”
“Speak for yourself,” Yusuke said. “I’m still suffering from that horrible thing you called lunch.”
“I’ll be sure to put it in my report,” Morioka told them. “Lieutenant Uchiha suffered a near-fatal incident involving a pickled egg.”
Imahara laughed. “Tomorrow we should make Shiranui bring the lunch. He’s got connections. How about some of those chestnut paste buns, huh Shiranui?”
Genma chuckled. “Sorry, I was just a loaner for the day. My team’s getting its new rookies tomorrow. But you can always stop by the bakery. Show my dad your tattoo and he’ll give you a discount.”
“Oh well, it was worth a shot,” Imahara said. “When do we get Ono back, captain?”
“I’ll find out tonight,” Morioka said.
They stopped at the gate itself, exchanging passwords with the guards.
Genma was surprised to find Raidou waiting just inside the wall. He was dressed in a regular jounin uniform, standing with his arms crossed over his chest and impatient look on his unmasked face. He had a set of folders tucked under one elbow. Genma waved him a salute and flicked a “hold” sign at him.
“That’s my captain,” he told Morioka. “And it looks like he’s got something urgent. Need anything else from me before I split?”
“No, we’re good. Thanks for filling in for us,” she told him.
“No problem.” Genma spun around to look at Imahara and Yusuke, and tapped his tattoo. “Thanks, guys. It’s been fun. Hi to Ono for me when you get him back.”
It had taken no more than thirty seconds to take his leave, but Raidou didn’t look any less impatient.
“Hi,” Genma said. “What’s up?”
The impatience dissolved into an enthusiastic grin. “We’ve got our rookies,” Raidou said.
“That good?” Genma asked.
Raidou nodded. “Let’s take this off the street. You okay to come to my place?”
“Works for me,” Genma said. “Especially if you’ve got tea or beer.” He fell in step with Raidou, surprised when they didn’t turn towards any of the residential districts, but headed in a straight line for the monument.
“You still live in barracks?” Genma asked.
Raidou shrugged. “It’s convenient.”
There were a small number of ANBU who stayed in the barracks after their rookie year, but it was mostly the agents in T&I, whose offices were only a few steps from the ANBU residences. Not many in the Hunter ranks wanted to stick around the spartan dorms when their rookie year was up.
Although if Genma didn’t find a new apartment soon, he was going to be seriously considering the ANBU dorms himself. At least the vets got their own wing, away from the chaos of the rookies.
The halls of the barracks were quiet. They smelled exactly the same as they had when Genma had lived there: an unmistakable mix of sweat and disinfectant, strong soap, blood, and dust, underlain with the faint ozone-feel of high-powered chakra.
Raidou’s door was unremarkable, but inside was another story. The walls had been painted a soft cream instead of the stark grey-white of the rookie apartments. It was much bigger than a rookie’s studio, too, with a kitchenette and a closed door that must conceal an unseen bedroom. The main room had a red and blue striped rug on the wooden floor and almost no other furnishings. Just under the window, a small kitchen table was decorated with a single candle and a soy sauce set. There were two chairs at the table, but it was clear which one Raidou usually sat in by the profusion of paperwork stacked up at one place.
The kitchenette was tiny, but bigger than Genma expected, and considerably more well used. Dishes dried on a rack, and pots and utensils were hung from hooks along the wall and under the counters, practically sparkling with order and cleanliness.
Genma took off his boots at the entrance, and slipped his mask off as soon as Raidou had shut the door, padding across the room to inspect a bookshelf overflowing with an eclectic array of reading material, and the cluster of photographs atop it. There was one of Raidou and Katsuko and the rest of their team, a couple others of what had to be Raidou’s previous ANBU teams, and one with a child-sized Raidou and two other genin mugging for the camera with their jounin-sensei. There were also a couple photographs of two women together, one of whom looked a lot like Raidou, and the other Genma recognized as an Academy sensei.
Raidou’s mom? Moms?
He turned away from his snooping to find Raidou watching him expectantly from the kitchenette.
“So? Who’d we get? Did we get Ayane?” asked Genma.
The sparkle in Raidou’s eye said it was better than that.
Genma raised an eyebrow and waited. Who would be better? Maybe Yamada? And there was Hatake Kakashi—no way he wasn’t joining ANBU, but he’d undoubtedly go to one of the veteran captains.
“Tousaki,” Raidou said, beaming.
“That’s awesome. I think. I figured he must have washed out,” Genma said. “Or bailed. After that whole situation at second Trial, who could blame him? Is his hand even in good enough shape for active duty?”
“He’d have to be, or why pass him through?” Raidou said. He set the folders down on the small table, outside of Genma’s reach. Genma could see the edge of the first two kanji in ‘Shiranui’ on one of them, and Tousaki’s name on the uppermost. The other two were obscured.
“Huh. That’ll be interesting,” Genma said. “Tousaki.” He caught Raidou’s eye and flashed him a grin. “Bet the other captains were green with envy.” Or shaking with relief. He pulled a senbon free from his thigh holster, spun it around a couple times, and tapped the edge of the folders. “I know one of those is Ueno, and I can read my own name… Who’s our other rookie?”
Raidou laid down his ace. “Hatake Kakashi.”
That won the biggest reaction he’d gotten so far. Genma’s face went absolutely blank with shock, betrayed only by the widening of his golden-brown eyes, then he broke up laughing. It was a nice laugh, lighter than Raidou’d expected, with a smoker’s rough edge.
“No, really,” Genma said, when he’d calmed down. “Who’d we get?”
Raidou hooked Kakashi’s file out and showed Genma the name. “Hatake.”
Genma looked at the file, looked back at Raidou, looked at the file again, and finally let out a long, soft whistle. “Okay, I did not see that coming,” he said. “Is this a reward or a punishment?”
“I’m choosing to believe it’s a reflection of my personal magnificence,” Raidou said. “Or an overabundance of faith in our skills.”
“I can accept that,” Genma said, with dry good humor. “You got the assignment directly from Yondaime-sama himself?”
“Did they have anything….” For the first time, Genma visibly groped for words. “Any logic behind putting the two of them on one team?”
That was going to be the question of the day.
“Yondaime-sama thinks they displayed decent teamwork in the second Trial,” Raidou said, after a moment’s thought. “Or at least, the beginnings of it—Tousaki put his neck on the line when he thought Hatake was in trouble, and Hatake returned the favor when he knew Tousaki was actually in trouble. I guess Yondaime-sama jumped on that with both feet.”
Kakashi badly needs a friend.
The fraught worry in Yondaime-sama’s eyes was too raw to share.
“Since Kakashi’s got such big fanclub, you mean?” Genma said, tapping his senbon thoughtfully on his lower lip. “I guess if I had to place Konoha’s biggest loner since Oro— Jiraiya-sama, on a team, I’d put him with someone he seemed to actually like.” His eyes flickered briefly at that near-slip, but he only added: “Especially if I was practically his dad.”
Someone was a tiny bit of a mind-reader.
Or Kakashi’s issues were just that well-known.
“Loner, maybe, but I don’t think Hatake’s running secret experiments in a basement somewhere,” Raidou said, because they might as well yank the heart out of any worries Genma had right now. “Too many eyes on him.”
“I sure as fuck hope not,” Genma said, with surprising sharpness. He seemed to realize he’d shown too much, because his eyes half-lidded, and his shoulders settled forcibly down. “But yeah, there’s no way two Hokages’ star pupils would go off the rails in the space of five years, right? That shit only happens in bad movies.”
“You want a drink?” Raidou asked.
Genma’s eyes flicked up, assessing. There wasn’t an ulterior motive for him to find, other than ‘you’re tired and sweaty and clearly have some issues to discuss, so let’s have a goddamn beverage’, and he seemed to hit on that same conclusion. He smiled slightly. “Thanks.”
Raidou waved the gratitude away. “Have a seat,” he said, and went for his fridge. He didn’t have much in the way of tea, but he could do beer. Might as well grease the wheels. He grabbed two Blue Mountain Drys and the fruit bowl, because vitamins never hurt, and dropped into his usual chair at the kitchen table. Genma sat down across from him.
Raidou popped the caps with his rings, and slid one beer across. Then, pointedly, the fruit bowl.
“Okay,” he said, taking a drink. “Hit me.”
Genma took a long swallow while he tried to decide what Raidou was fishing for. Raidou’d definitely noticed Genma’s bobble with Orochimaru’s name, but sworn to secrecy was sworn to secrecy, and there wasn’t much to tell there, anyway. I was the one who found Orochimaru’s half-dead student in an alley and sounded the alarm, and that’s why I think the man is a monster? Everyone in Konoha who knew anything at all about Orochimaru’s lab thought the man was a monster. His eyes strayed to the file folders again—was it mentioned in his personnel file?
“You’ve got decent taste in beer,” he said, playing for time. “I like that in a captain.”
“I like honesty in a lieutenant,” Raidou replied. He leveled a look at Genma that suggested he would stand for not even a microgram of bullshit. “If there’s an issue with Hatake, I want to hear it. Concerns about megalomania? Problems with his family history?”
That wasn’t even remotely about Orochimaru. Genma didn’t hide his puzzled surprise. “Hatake’s family? No. I— Oh. You mean Sakumo-san. You know, I really don’t. I’m more concerned about Kakashi being the Yondaime’s protégé than I am about his dad having made a bad judgment call on a mission and an even worse one in the aftermath.”
And shit, there were plenty of shinobi in Konoha who fully believed the White Fang had done the right thing by taking his own life. If Raidou was one of them, that was a stupid thing to have said. Genma rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Forgive me if that was out of line. It’s been a longish day.”
Raidou set his elbows on the table, propping his chin on his hands and looking Genma in the eye. “I agree with you,” he said. “I think that’s another reason why Yondaime-sama put Hatake on our team. We’re both too young to have known Sakumo-san, and I didn’t lose anyone in that mess. Did you?”
Genma shook his head. “My mom was a chuunin, but she died when I was little in that big landslide that buried Tateyama Village. That was way before the Fang’s… mistake, I guess. And my dad—you met him the other night. Until someone invents a way to make pastries battlefield-lethal, he’s a civilian. I guess there could be some distant connection with my mom’s side, but there’s nothing I’m aware of.”
“Exactly,” Raidou said. “So even if we have opinions, we don’t have a stake.”
“That’s smart. I’d figured Yondaime-sama would put Kakashi with one of the older vets, like Shikaku or Aburame, but they might have issues we don’t.”
Raidou nodded. He ran a finger along the silver rim of the enameled colander full of fruit, pushing it another few centimeters closer to Genma. Taking the hint, Genma drained his beer to half, selected a ripe-looking banana from the bowl, and used his senbon to start the top of the peel.
“So my concerns about the rookies,” he said. “One: is Kakashi going to be able to take orders from two guys who are not the Yellow Flash of Konoha? Two: is Tousaki… I don’t know. I’m not sure how to put this. I know it was a genjutsu, and it was a smart one, but I can’t get over seeing him take down Sato with that rot jutsu. And then he turned right around and walked into a trap. So is he steady enough for ANBU? And three: if Yondaime-sama is counting on there being some kind of bond between Tousaki and Kakashi, what happens if that bond gets broken?”
He had concerns about their third teammate, too, but those would wait a moment more.
Shiranui Genma was a deceptively smart cookie.
“Good questions,” Raidou said, turning his beer bottle gently between his hands. Condensation made his fingers squeak against the blue glass. “You have any tactics in mind?”
“Tactics for which problem?” Genma said steadily. “I just listed three.”
“Any of them. All of them,” Raidou said. “Tactics plural. What’ve you got?”
A faint wrinkle of annoyance barely creased Genma’s brow before it was gone again. He took a bite of banana, swallowed, and said, “Low-hanging fruit first, then. Keep Kakashi and Ryouma both on a short leash to start. Not so short it chafes, but not so long they can get into the weeds without one or both of us knowing.”
“Shock collars,” Raidou said dryly, before sobering up. “Training them into the dirt’ll help, too. Can’t bicker when you’re too tired to walk straight.”
And mutual trauma fostered bonding. Every military force knew that.
“Unless they rebel against the idea of training,” Genma said. “But I think Tousaki will take orders in a tight spot. He’s cocky, but he’s got a clear understanding of hierarchy, from what I’ve seen.”
Someday, Raidou’s hindbrain was going to stop offering up double entendres whenever Ryouma was mentioned in the context of taking orders, but it wasn’t today. He covered his grin with a long swallow of beer. “Tousaki’s got pretty clear levers, underneath it all. He is cocky, but he wants people to like him, and he won’t shy from a challenge. Keeping him from exhausting himself might actually be the trick. I don’t think there’ll be any issues getting him to train, especially if he wants to keep pace with Hatake.”
Genma nodded once. “Sounds about right.”
“As for Hatake. I don’t know his levers—” yet, “—but I can’t see someone of his level ducking training. Can you?”
“Ducking, no. But I’m pretty sure he’d rather take his own counsel about when and how he trains.” A smirk edged the corner of Genma’s mouth. “Not that he gets a choice, but I’ll bet you a ten-spot he’ll try.”
“Nooot taking that bet,” Raidou said. “But that does bring us back to your point about whether he’ll take orders from us mere mortals.”
“I had the same concern,” Raidou admitted. “But if he wants to stay in ANBU, he’ll have to.”
“I guess if we have to, we bust his ass up to Kuroda-san. Although the vice tends to be a brow—” Genma checked himself before he said brown-noser about their mutual commander to his new captain, to Raidou’s great amusement. “Political player. That could backfire.”
Raidou propped his chin on his hand again. Would Kuroda try to curry approval from Yondaime-sama by favoring his former student?
Dumb question. How would Kuroda favor Kakashi, was the better question.
“If we have to rap Hatake’s knuckles, we should bypass Kuroda-san and bust him straight to Sagara-sama,” Raidou said. “You know she’d put the fear of, well, Sagara-sama into him.”
The look Genma have him held a wealth of don’t I know it. “Point,” he said. He contemplated his beer, peeling the blue and silver label off with a fingernail. “Tactics… What else? Did you get any hints from Yondaime-sama when you met him?”
“A few,” Raidou said. “He thinks Tousaki needs humbling. And Hatake needs gentleness.” He paused, and added, “With teeth.”
“Gentleness with teeth,” Genma repeated thoughtfully. “So good cop, bad cop?”
Raidou snorted laughter. “Might be a thought. The last concern you had—whether Tousaki’s steady enough for ANBU?”
“Yeah. I know that situation at the second trial would have shaken up anyone—hell, it shook me up—but there was something about Tousaki’s reaction…” Genma’s quick gesture tried to shape a concept that wasn’t coming easily in words. “He seems… volatile. Or fragile. That’s not the right word either.” He gave Raidou a frustrated look. “What do we know about his history?”
“Haven’t had a chance to look at the files yet,” Raidou said. “Yondaime-sama approved him.”
“Yeah, I got that from the fact you said he’s on our team,” Genma said dryly. “Are you saying you think I’m off-base here?”
Watch your biases, Namiashi.
“Break it down for me?” Raidou said. “I get the rot-genjutsu wasn’t fun to watch, but it was within the limits of the game. Walking into Akiyama’s trap was a dumbass move, I’m with you there. But the reasons were good, even if the execution was flawed. For his reaction afterwards—you mean when he was poisoned?”
“Okay, it sounds dumb when you put it like that,” Genma admitted. “It’s not the fact he used the genjutsu that worried me. Like I said, that was a smart move. And it’s not the walking into a trap. That is a concern, sure, but Akiyama was an order of magnitude more fucked up than anything we were planning to throw at these guys. I don’t get the impression Tousaki is in the habit of ignoring risks.” He sighed, rolling the beer bottle between his palms, and took a moment to collect his thoughts, trying to put some kind of explainable logic behind his intuition; it wasn’t coming easily.
Raidou seemed inclined to wait him out—to hear him out, at least—since he didn’t interrupt.
“The thing about the rot jutsu—it just made me aware how dangerous this kid would be if he went wrong. And I know Yondaime-sama and Sagara-sama are no fools, they wouldn’t have tapped Tousaki if they weren’t sure of him, but there’s something there that— I don’t know. Emotional. Something.”
Raidou nodded slowly. “Gut-feeling?”
“Yeah. Gut-feeling.” Genma let out a relieved breath, taking another drink of his beer. Even if Raidou didn’t agree with him, at least his captain wasn’t dismissing him out of hand. “It’s not anything I think we need to act on, necessarily. But you asked what my concerns were, and that’s one of them: I have a gut-feeling there’s something up with Tousaki Ryouma that bears watching out for.”
Raidou pushed one large hand through his hair, rumpling it into unruly spikes. “Okay,” he said simply. “I don’t see it, but I’ll keep a watch.”
“Thanks,” Genma said. He ate the last bite of his banana and folded the peel up onto itself, making a neat little bundle. “As for the other thing, that’s obviously out of our hands. If they end up forging some kind of bond, then great. I hope it’s one that includes the whole team.” He eyed Raidou for a moment before plunging ahead. “I guess the other thing we should talk about is Ueno.”
Raidou studied his empty bottle, then looked pointedly at Genma’s nearly drained one. “We’re going to need more beer.”
“That good, huh?” Genma said. He’d guessed as much. Whatever was going on with Katsuko was clearly complex, with long, deep roots. He wondered if her overly-bright chakra was tied into the problem.
Raidou grunted agreement as he stood and grabbed another pair of bottles from the fridge. Strong fingers made quick work of the caps, and he passed a fresh bottle to Genma. A little cloud of condensing vapor spilled from the open neck.
Genma drained the last of his first beer and took a long swallow of the second before he spoke again. “Her chakra is insane, and not in the ‘future Hokage’ kind of way. The night I met her at the park, she was egging on a civilian fight that was about to turn really ugly when I intervened. She had trauma written all over her on the wall the other day, but she clearly adores you, and from what I can tell, she was keeping an admirable lid on whatever panic attack was clawing its way up her throat because you were there.” He looked at Raidou calmly. “What gigantic thing am I missing here?”
Silence stretched out long and deep while Raidou chose his words. His fingertips drummed rhythmically against the edge of the label on his bottle, sending tiny shivers through the condensation beaded on the glass. “Katsuko,” he said eventually, and paused. “Katsuko doesn’t have middle gears. Her chakra’s part of it. I don’t have the full story, but I know she landed on the wrong side of an enemy medic-nin, and not recently, either. My guess is torture. She has that look, y’know?” The words spooled out, then halted.
“I know,” Genma said. He’d seen the look, too. She wasn’t any older than he was. Torture, not recent, could only mean she’d been young when it happened.
“I don’t know what happened at the wall,” Raidou continued. “I’ve seen her stumble before, but never like that.”
“Do you know if she grew up in Konoha? Maybe she was in one of the outlying towns that was besieged during the war,” Genma suggested. It didn’t feel quite right, but it was the best guess he had at the moment.
Raidou shrugged and took another pull on his beer. “We haven’t shared much about family. I’m pretty sure she’s Konoha born and bred. I know her dad’s a jounin. Mom’s a civilian. Little brother’s an artist. That’s it.”
“I guess her dad being a shinobi explains her staying in the service after whatever happened to her,” Genma said. He matched Raidou’s rate on his second beer, feeling the alcohol starting to work on his mostly empty stomach. Maybe another piece of fruit would be a good idea. There was a ripe-looking mango in the bowl; Genma pulled it free and flipped a kunai into his hand to start peeling it, then hesitated. “Want me to do this over a plate?”
Raidou leaned back in his chair, grabbed a small cutting board from a hook on the closest cabinet, and slid it silently across the table.
“The boundaries thing you mentioned with her—I’m guessing that’s related, too?” Genma said. He didn’t like the next thought that came to mind, but he had to ask. “Rape?”
Raidou frowned. “Not that she’s ever told me.” He seemed to think for a moment longer, then shook his head. “I don’t think so, no. The boundaries thing is something else. She’s not great at— I don’t know how you’d say it. Self-limiting?”
Genma nodded understanding.
“She’s fantastic on missions, don’t get me wrong,” continued Raidou. “Whip-smart, always on point, lethal as a hurricane. But back home, with other people… Sometimes she doesn’t know when to stop. She needs her teammates to let her know where the lines are.”
“That ought to play beautifully with Hatake ‘Always Wears A Mask’ Kakashi,” Genma said.
Raidou evidently had a pretty big soft spot for Katsuko, but the man had been her lieutenant for a year. And if she was as good on missions as Raidou said, and was the fun-loving woman Genma’d spent an evening blossom viewing with a week ago at least some of the time, that wasn’t surprising.
Raidou grinned. “She’s going to think Hatake is a present designed purely for her to annoy. I’ll bet you that ten-spot that she and Tousaki create an unholy alliance from hell.”
“Nooot a bet I want to take,” Genma said, mimicking Raidou’s inflection from before. Raidou had a tiny gap between his front teeth, a really nice smile… Genma rolled his eyes at himself and ate a slice of the mango.
Focus, Shiranui. Also, from now on, no drinking on an empty stomach around good-looking superiors. Ever.
When Genma lapsed into quiet again, attention returned to the vanishing mango, Raidou took the opportunity to study the other man. He didn’t have a handle, yet, on what kind of lieutenant Genma would be—he didn’t really have a handle on Genma at all. ‘Ninjutsu guy’ still mostly summed it up, with the added subheadings of ‘medic’ and ‘poison user’.
Genma had been steady during the second Trial; he’d maintained his calm, followed Raidou’s lead, managed Kakashi and Ryouma’s injuries effectively. He hadn’t fawned over Yondaime-sama. He’d been watchful on the wall, careful around Katsuko, observant afterwards. He was clearly astute.
And yet, Raidou had no clue what made him tick. There wasn’t an obvious drive there.
At least, not a visible one.
“So,” Raidou said, discarding subtlety. “What do I need to know about you?”
Genma’s eyebrows winged up. “What do you want to know?” he asked. “I assume you got the basics from my file, but I have no idea what goes into those besides my service record and evaluations. If it’s got my Academy records, I just want to say I wasn’t there, it was a setup, Nobuhiro-sensei had it in for me, and you should talk to Hyuuga Haruhi.”
Nicely evasive answer, but Raidou laughed anyway. “That bad?”
“I was nine,” Genma said, as if that explained everything. Which it did.
“Fair enough,” said Raidou, entertained. “I haven’t read the files yet—I got the word and came straight to you. Figured you’d want to know. Though… I guess this might have been a more productive meeting if I’d done the homework first.” He rubbed the back of his neck.
“If you’ve got some instant ramen or an egg or something, I don’t mind waiting while you skim it. Or we could get some takeout.” Genma smiled. “I’m kind of flattered you rushed out to tell me so fast.”
Raidou eyed the files. Genma’s was relatively slim, neatly ordered. Ryouma’s had a more scattered look to it, with a broken spine that suggested someone had done a lot of updating. Kakashi’s was a thick wedge of paperwork; someone had taken the liberty of adding tabs. Katsuko’s, unsurprisingly, had more than twice the amount of medical reports than the rest of the files put together.
“I don’t think a skim is going to do it,” Raidou said. He looked at Genma. “And I want to hear what you think is important about yourself. What are you going to bring to this team?”
Genma leaned back on his chair. “Can we still do that over ramen?”
Food-hound, Raidou added to his list. “Should be something in the cupboard. Help yourself.”
“Thanks,” Genma said. “It was a long patrol today, and lunch was a rat bar and some weird-ass pickled quail eggs Imahara brought and inflicted on us all. Uchiha Yusuke just about yacked his back up.”
Raidou’s wrinkled nose expressed his opinion on that succinctly.
“Let’s see, what am I bringing to the team?” Genma said, as he rummaged in the cupboard. “I’m a strong ninjutsu user, and I have a few specialty jutsu that involve metal manipulation. It’s not a bloodline or anything, just a blend of earth and fire jutsu to manipulate elemental metal.”
The jars and boxes neatly filling Raidou’s cabinets suggested Raidou was a dedicated foodie. “Is everything in here fair game?” Genma asked, holding up a cellophane packet of dried autumn mushrooms. “If you’ve got eggs, I’ll cook us both some.”
“In the fridge,” Raidou said. “Go on, what else?”
Genma set the mushrooms soaking in a bowl of water, and scrambled eggs in a second bowl, seasoning them with mirin and soy sauce and a couple of interesting smelling herb powders he found in Raidou’s cabinet.
“Field medic. You know that already. Assassin. More of the ‘kill from the shadows’ tradition than a shock and awe guy. I prefer throwing weapons—senbon and kunai mostly—and I use poisons on my weapons pretty often.”
Raidou gave him a flat look. Tell me something I haven’t already figured out.
“I’m organized, good at trail reading, pretty intuitive about people, and I can make a mean omelet?” He chopped up the softened mushrooms with a flourish and diced in an onion for good measure, twirling Raidou’s kitchen knife like a kunai before scraping everything into the eggs. “Is this where I’m supposed to tell you my strengths and weaknesses? My chakra stamina is moderately high, and my finesse is high, but my physical strength is a little under par. I kick ass at ninjutsu and seals, but I’m only average at genjutsu and taijutsu, which is why I’m a specialist, not a regular jounin.”
Raidou listened carefully, nodding and “mhmm”-ing at the appropriate places, clearly taking mental notes. When Genma ran out of steam, Raidou said, “I was actually thinking more— okay, I know what I did as a lieutenant, but I’m not going to be the exact same kind of captain as my previous captain. And I figure you’re not going to be the same kind of lieutenant as I was. I want to figure out the best way for us to work together, so we cover everything, and we’re not doing double-duty trying to cover each other’s jobs. Make sense?”
“Yeah, makes perfect sense.”
Genma felt only a little bit like an idiot as he flipped the omelet.
“As lieutenant on Hajime’s team, I was responsible for all the logistical stuff we needed for missions, so Hajime could focus on mission planning and execution. I made sure we had maps and forms and supplies. And since I’m a field medic, I ended up doing a lot of minor medical care that I guess teams without a dedicated field medic send to the internal medical office. So I keep a fully stocked med kit in the office as well as one in my go bag.”
“Between Hatake’s eye and Ueno’s chakra, you might see some more medical oddness with this team than most,” Raidou said thoughtfully. “I can’t speak to Tousaki yet.”
“I’m not touching that eye,” Genma said. “Not unless he’s going to lose it if I don’t do something. That’s way above my pay grade.”
“When you read his file though, if there’s a note in there for treating medics about it, give me a heads up?”
“As for Ueno—What is up with her chakra? Is it unstable? I had to light her cigarette for her on the wall the other day. I guess if there are medical notes in her file, I’ll need them, too, if anything about her chakra affects potential field treatment.”
That was a good question, too.
“She’s pretty shelf-stable,” Raidou said. “Her chakra’s wild, but she’s got a good lock on it. I know she has issues with small jutsu, but I’d find it tricky to channel a river through the eye of a needle, too. And she does have a failsafe.”
Genma’s eyebrows lifted curiously.
“Seal,” Raidou said, brushing his fingertips just below his navel by way of demonstration. “Yondaime-sama’s work, I think. Supposed to clamp her whole chakra system down if something goes critical. She knows how to activate it. Our last captain did, too, so I figure it’s either in the file, or I need to track down Ozawa-san for a conversation.”
“Do you know if she’s ever had to activate it?”
“Not in front of me,” Raidou said. “Nothing she’s ever told me about, either, which… doesn’t actually mean anything. I’ve only known her a year.”
And for all that he knew Katsuko, and thought he knew her well, there was a lot they hadn’t talked about.
“If it’s in her file, or you talk to Ozawa-san, let me know if it’s something we need to watch out for,” Genma said. “I’d have to guess she reacts normally to medical jutsu or they wouldn’t send her out in the field, but if there’s something in there about that, I’d appreciate the head’s up, too. Last thing I want to do is accidentally detonate her seal trying to stabilize a sprained knee.” His mouth tilted at an angle somewhere between self-mockery and gallows’ humor. “Or, you know, burn out my own chakra when I connect with hers.”
“I’m against both of those things,” Raidou said, after a pause to consider that little mental portrait of horror.
“We ought to work well together, then.” Genma flipped an omelet onto a plate with a little spatula-flourish, and brought it to the table. “Speaking of which, since you brought it up, what would you like me to do as your lieutenant? Anything besides the things I mentioned already?”
Logistics, maps, and medical care sounded pretty good.
Loyalty, Raidou would have to earn.
“Be a reality check,” he said at last. “I’m not always going to get it right. I need to know when I’m wrong.”
Genma’s head came up, and Raidou didn’t know how to read the expression on his face. Surprised, attentive—pleased?
“Sure,” said Genma. “I can do that. Do you know your usual blind spots?”
“Is this where I’m supposed to tell you my strengths and weaknesses?” Raidou said wryly. He lifted a hand, three fingers raised, and folded them down one by one. “Temper. Stubborn asshole.” He hesitated, but gave up the last one. “Crap at genjutsu. So, it might need to be a literal reality check sometimes.”
Genma blinked. “Don’t recognize them, can’t cast them, or can’t break them?”
“Can recognize them, mostly,” Raidou said, taking a bite of his omelet, which was—distractingly good, actually. Baker’s son could cook. “Can cast them if I have to, but they don’t hold well. Can’t usually break them without pain. Are you making one of these for yourself?”
Genma eyed the omelet: it was a big one which he’d intended to split between the two of them, but if Raidou was that hungry… “Yeah. Glad you like it.” He headed back to the kitchen and dove into Raidou’s cupboards again, hoping to unearth another packet of mushrooms. “Good to know about the genjutsu. I’m better at recognizing and breaking them than casting, but I’m pretty good at breaking them on other people, too. So as long as we don’t need to do big area-wide genjutsu casting—or if Ueno or one of the rookies has skill—we’re probably covered.”
There were no more mushrooms, but there was a package of some kind of deep reddish dried vegetable ribbons labeled in Western Wind Country’s fluid and unreadable script. A small white sticker in kanji translated it unhelpfully as, “dry plant fruit – sea ear type.” When Genma slit the cellophane, an earthy saline scent drifted up. He shrugged and dumped the contents into the soaking bowl.
“So,” Genma said, as he whipped a second batch of eggs into a slurry, “we have a few known issues with this team, but it doesn’t sound like anything outside the normal bounds for ANBU. And we have some kick-ass potential. Honestly, if I didn’t get the idea you were above it, I’d ask who you bribed.”
Raidou grinned around a mouthful of omelet, looking like a cat who’d licked the butter. “Usagi wanted to know who I’d blown.”
“Did you tell her?”
“God,” Raidou said smugly. “And it was mind-altering.”
“Really? Yondaime-sama is into dudes? If that got out, that’d make a lot of people’s fantasies just a little more based in reality.” Genma diced the rehydrated ‘sea ear’ and the rest of the onion, and added the vegetables to the egg.
“Better not say that in Hatake’s hearing,” Raidou said.
“If he hasn’t figured out his sensei inspires fantasies on both sides of the gender divide, he hasn’t got eyes,” Genma said. “But yeah, I hear you. I’d be creeped out if people were hot for my dad, too.”
“Your dad’s not bad,” Raidou said. “If you like them harried and flour-covered.”
Genma flipped the second omelet. “At least my mom thought so.” After a moment he added, “I’d assume that no fraternizing rule applies to family members of teammates, too? It’d be incredibly awkward if my dad turned gay for my captain.”
Raidou’s fork hung in the air, halfway to conveying a bite of omelet to his mouth. “Y’know, I don’t think that’s ever come up before.”
“I’m sure Intel has a form for disclosing it if it does,” Genma said. He dumped out the water he’d soaked the dried stuff in and slid the finished omelet into the empty bowl, rejoining Raidou at the table. His stomach growled long and loud as he sat. “Told you I was hungry,” he said, tucking into the eggs.
There was a sliver of red on Genma’s first forkful that looked a lot like—
“Shiranui, wait,” Raidou said hurriedly.
Genma put the fork in his mouth, paused, and very slowly looked down at his plate. A crimson flush crept up his neck and over his cheeks.
“That’s garyuu,” Raidou said. “It’s, uh, spicy.”
In the same way, say, that the world was big. One stick was more than enough to give a whole pot a good fiery kick.
Genma swallowed. “You don’t say,” he rasped, eyes tearing.
“I’ll get you a drink,” Raidou said, pushing back from the table. “And something else. I’ve got, uh—” A desperate need to go grocery shopping. “Leftovers, I think? I know I cooked stir-fry the other day.”
He crouched to pull a milk carton out of the fridge.
“Don’t worry about it,” Genma said. Raidou glanced up to see him taking another bite. “This is pretty good, actually. Although if you have some leftover rice or something to buffer it a little, I wouldn’t say no. What’d you say this stuff was? I thought it was dried gourd.”
“Garyuu,” Raidou said. “Dragon-fang. It’s a hybrid from Wind. They grow them about yea big,” he spread his hands apart, measuring about a foot from one palm to the milk carton, “and use ‘em to torture non-natives.” He poured a tall glass of milk, grabbed a loaf of bread in lieu of rice, and brought them both back to Genma. “You’re a crazy man, by the way.”
“So I’ve been told.” Genma gulped down half the glass in two long swallows, and picked a few of the larger garyuu pieces out of the bowl, setting them aside on the edge of Raidou’s plate. “I guess I should have asked before I used them.”
“Pretty sure you got punished for it,” Raidou said, slightly fascinated by the way Genma continued to eat without dying.
A starving ninja wasn’t a picky eater. Raidou had eaten stink-badger during the war, and worse, but Konoha had take out dining, and ANBU had its own cafe. Perhaps Genma was just lacking gastronomic adventure in his life.
Or he was verging on too tired to care. There was the definite hint of an increasing slouch in those shoulders. Genma had run border patrol all day; he was probably desperate to shower the grime off and collapse for a few hours.
“You managed to get a place sorted out yet?” Raidou asked.
Genma sighed. “I almost had a place over on Aomori Avenue, but the landlord decided she wanted to rent to a chuunin instead. I think she changed her mind because of my tattoo.”
“Probably thought you’d eat her in her sleep,” Raidou said, which was a comment that just didn’t go with Genma’s mellow attitude, or clean-cut, unthreatening face. Probably she was more concerned about her tenant failing to come back from a mission and stiffing her on rent. “Long-sleeved shirt next time? Or keep showing the tattoo. Could be your litmus test for asshole landlords.”
“Litmus test, I think,” Genma said, dragging the back of his hand over his eyes. Reflexive tears smeared with grime, making his face a faded rorschach test. “Last thing I want is a landlord who’s just looking for an excuse to evict me. Like the first time I end up missing rent because I’m in hospital after a bad mission, or some shit like that.”
Raidou pulled a face. “That’s one advantage of staying in the barracks—always got a place to come home to. You have somewhere to stay?”
“I’ve been staying on my buddy Yamashiro Aoba’s couch. Feeding his fish while he does missions. If I have to, I can always sleep at my dad’s but…” Genma shrugged. “You know how it is. He’s really civilian.”
And no mother in the picture.
“Yeah, one of my parents is a civilian,” Raidou said. “You’re welcome to hang out for a bit, if you want to keep working at your bowl of death there. Or you can head out if you want to crash. I think we’re pretty much done.”
“Thanks. I may as well finish this, if you’re cool, since I’m pretty sure it will go to waste otherwise.” Genma forked down a few more bites, visibly struggling with the heat, but also apparently enjoying it, judging by the grin he gave Raidou. “I defeat death one mouthful at a time.”
“If you go into cardiac arrest over this, I’m going to keep all your stuff,” Raidou said.
“What stuff? I lost most of everything in the fire at my old apartment,” Genma said. “Did you get your taste for this from your ninja parent?”
“Civilian one, actually. She’s got a love for everything foreign. If she weren’t married to my step-mom, I’m pretty sure she’d have uprooted and moved to the edge of the map,” Raidou said, watching Genma.
“Lucky for Konoha that true love won out over wanderlust, then,” Genma said, without even blinking. “Is that them in the photos?” He nodded to Raidou’s bookshelf.
Ninja. It figured Genma had already noticed.
“That’s them,” Raidou said, smiling at the picture of two women linking hands. Shun, his step-mother, wasn’t given overmuch to public affection, but Raidou could see the hidden happiness lurking at the corners of her mouth, and in her dark eyes. “Mom on the left, with the red hair. Step-mom on the right.”
“You look like your mom, but looks like you get your posture from your step-mom.” Genma tilted his head. “What service is she in?”
“Academy teacher,” Raidou said. “They’re both teachers.”
Genma winced faintly. “Yikes. Two teachers? I thought I had it bad growing up with a baker. Your ninja mom wasn’t your Academy sensei, was she?”
“For about a week,” Raidou said, amused. “And then never again. I think it was worse on her than on me, but that’s up for debate. She was a new-starter when I was in school.”
“I guess I never had her as a sensei,” Genma said, studying the photo thoughtfully. “You’d think I’d have recognized her, though.”
“You were a few years behind me, right?” Raidou said. “She got yanked for the war effort right before I graduated. You might have missed her.”
Genma’s eyes flickered down, but he didn’t comment on Shun’s metal leg. She wasn’t the first war-parent to come back with something missing. More unusual were the ones who’d made it back whole.
Like Raidou, if it came to that.
“Two years behind,” Genma said, and then, quietly: “Glad she made it back.”
“Me, too,” Raidou said with a crooked smile, which faded. “I’m sorry yours didn’t.”
Genma shrugged. “It’s okay. I never really knew her. Sometimes I think I remember little bits of her, but other times I think I’m just making it up. I mean, I was two and a half. It’s just been me and Dad as long as I can remember.”
He winced as he ate another bite of seventh-level-of-hell flavored omelet; it felt like the garyuu was excavating new sinus cavities with every eye-watering mouthful.
Raidou eyed the diminishing mound of red-speckled egg with a look of extreme doubt. “I don’t want to stand between a man and his dining choices, but you look like you’re actually doing yourself injury,” he said. Genma was about to protest that it wasn’t that bad when Raidou added, “Which’d be a little ironic in a medic.”
“You have a point,” Genma said. He reached for the bread—a thick-sliced toasting loaf—and gave his palate a rest. It was telling, perhaps, that the soft bread felt like sandpaper on his throat. “I like spicy stuff, but that’s practically a munition. I bet it’d make a nasty contact irritant. You picked it up on a mission to Wind?”
“Yeah,” Raidou said, amused. “Not for purposes of assassination, though. I was more thinking, y’know, curry.”
“Curry,” Genma agreed. “That’s definitely a better idea than my death-wish omelet.” He gazed ruefully at the unfinished egg, still hungry, but the thought of what was going to happen to the rest of his digestive tract if he kept going stopped him from taking another bite. And really, with the bread and milk, he’d taken the edge off the hunger. He could always grab something at the cafeteria while he was up here near the barracks. Maybe even shower and change at HQ before going back into town. Aoba would appreciate it if Genma didn’t use all the hot water.
“I should get out of your hair, I guess.” Genma pushed back from the table a little and drained the rest of the glass of milk. “You have anything exciting planned tonight? I think I have the office set up and ready for tomorrow’s meet-and-greet with the newbies, but if there’s anything you want me to do to get ready, I’ve got a few more hours in me, if I can get a shower.”
“Hell no,” Raidou said, waving a dismissive hand and shaking his head. “Take a night off, enjoy yourself. We’ve got it all to come tomorrow. Grab the break while you can.”
Now that was a considerate superior officer. “Thanks, man,” Genma said. “Subdue the Honey is playing at Infusion Lounge tonight. If I can convince myself to go back out after I get cleaned up, I might go catch the show.”
Raidou’s mouth quirked wry. “Man?”
“Thanks, dude,” Raidou said, so dry Genma couldn’t tell whether Raidou was amused or annoyed and making a point.
Right. Not Hajime. Genma picked up his bowl and Raidou’s plate, and stood up. “I can wash up, if you’d like.”
“Want to water the fern, too?” Raidou said, nodding at a lush-looking maidenhair overflowing the edges of a clay pot on the kitchen sink windowsill.
“Sure?” Genma said, entirely unsure, but willing to go with it.
“I’m so kidding. Go take your shower,” Raidou told him, cracking a smile.
“Yeah.” Genma looked down at the mud spattering his dark-clad leg, and could only guess how he smelled. “I definitely need one.” He put the dirty dishes down by the sink and went to put his boots back on, turning to tap a salute at the door. “Thanks, taichou.”
“Lieutenant,” Raidou said, returning the salute.
“See you at 0500,” Genma said. He got a nod from Raidou as he closed the door, and then he was on his own in the ANBU barracks hallway. A tall man in dress-greys and an interrogator’s sweeping black coat turned the corner, presumably heading to his own apartment after a hard-day’s torturing. He nodded a greeting at Genma as they passed one another. Genma nodded back, only a little sorry that he hadn’t put his mask back on yet.
And that was unfair. The guy was probably perfectly nice. And it wasn’t like Genma had never resorted to coercion in the field when he needed cooperation from a captive. For that matter, being an assassin wasn’t exactly a career with an express ticket to the Pure Land at the end of it. But still.
How could Raidou stand to live here?
Although, given the roster of rookies, it was probably a good thing he was on hand to the rookie residences. Genma wondered if that was a factor in the Yondaime’s decision, actually. At least when it came to Kakashi.
Lots to think about. Tomorrow would tell what this team was really going to be like.
Raidou tossed the dishes in the sink, gingerly disposed of Genma’s death egg experiment in the trash, and abandoned the washing up to grab a third beer. He’d earned it. He dropped back down at the kitchen table, and eyed the stack of waiting files.
Where to start?
Genma’s was the thinnest. Raidou fanned it out like a deck of cards, separating medical charts from aptitude tests and mission notes from Intel’s psychological conclusions. The service career was pretty standard—genin at ten, chuunin at thirteen, special-jounin at seventeen, ANBU at nineteen. He’d started field-medic training at fifteen.
The mission notes were the usual grab-bag of disasters and triumphs, with the occasional spectacular injury. Nothing permanently crippling.
Intel’s report was mostly favorable. In their opinion, Genma was steady, well-balanced, generally focused, and a little lazy. There were no notable triggers listed, and no traumas that weren’t shared by every ninja who’d grown up in a war.
He was allergic to spinach.
The only oddity was a single page report that had been heavily savaged by censors. Thick black bars obscured most of the text. Raidou was only able to discern a date—five years ago—and a few meaningless words: discovery, Konoha, building, two katakana that might have been half of a name, A-n.
Well, that was mysterious.
Why bother even leaving the report in the file if they were just going to make it unreadable? The stamped code in the corner presumably linked to a legible version stored in Intel’s archives, but Raidou doubted he’d be allowed to read it.
He shelved the problem, tidied the file away, and moved onto Ryouma.
It didn’t surprise him to find that everything, even down to Ryouma’s service record, was a mess. Father vanished at five, mother slain at seven. He’d joined the academy late, only to be yanked out long before he could graduate. It took Raidou several minutes to track down why, before he found the custodial release form granting permission for Ryouma’s grandfather to take his orphaned grandson out of the village. There was an attached form: compensation payment.
Three years later, Ryouma joined the academy again. There was no record of anything between, or what had happened to the grandfather.
Graduation at thirteen, much older than most. Chuunin at fourteen, special jounin at sixteen—promoted on the field for his jutsu, if Raidou was reading between the lines correctly. Jounin at nineteen. And he’d turned twenty this month, two weeks ago.
ANBU was a hell of a birthday gift.
There were a lot of notes on Ryouma’s jutsu, which Raidou read with equal parts fascination and conviction that he never, ever wanted to be on the wrong side of one. Apparently there were three, and each was more violent and messy than the last. This one targeted organs…
The missions were exactly what he’d expected—very little stealth, a lot of straight-up death. Ryouma was a hammer, not a scalpel, and Konoha used him as such. The injury rap sheet was long and painfully detailed.
Intel’s observations were a party.
“Wow, Tousaki,” Raidou said softly, reading down the list of conflicting opinions. It looked like two psych agents had gotten in a fight on the page, crossing each other out and scrawling corrections in increasingly aggressive kanji. He got as far as hyper-narcissism and are you blind, you screaming moron, it’s clearly traumatic masochism, and tossed the whole section aside. He’d form his own opinions.
There was one bright spot. A short, neatly printed letter of recommendation from Ryouma’s jounin-sensei, which ended simply, ‘Tousaki has potential and the drive to live up to it’.
Raidou shuffled the file back together, re-organizing it, and put the letter on top.
Kakashi and Katsuko’s files were both papery bricks. After a moment of debate, he chose Kakashi’s first on the theory that the Copy-Ninja’s story was a familiar one, and might make faster reading.
He was wrong.
He’d known the bones: youngest jounin in Konoha’s history, son of a disgraced genius, student to the Hokage, the only living person to wield a bloodline that he hadn’t been born with. He hadn’t known the details. Like the vehement letter from Hatake Sadayo demanding her son remain in the academy for one more year, written when Kakashi was seven. Kakashi had graduated a month later.
The incident report for Hatake Sakumo’s suicide was dated the next year; he’d killed himself in the family room, next to the kotatsu, while his wife ran a two-day mission. There was no mention of who’d found the body, but Raidou thought he could make an educated guess.
Five years after that, Kakashi had broken in his shiny new jounin vest by losing an eye, a friend, and whatever anonymity he’d had left. There were three incident reports for that mission. Nohara Rin’s, detailing her capture, rescue, and the frankly insane field-surgery she’d performed at thirteen, in small, neat script; Namikaze Minato’s, recounting the last minute rescue of his two surviving students; and Kakashi’s, which started messy and got worse, devolving into unreadable chicken scratch.
They must have had him on heavy painkillers.
Raidou flipped ahead through other reports and realized, no, Kakashi just wrote like that. Maybe they had graduated him too early.
The injury list was even longer than Ryouma’s, with whole pages of notes in Rin’s hand devoted to the strange machinations of the transplanted Sharingan. He pulled them aside to hand over to Genma. The psychological assessments were surprisingly brief. One agent had made a few sketchy observations about introversion, perfectionism, and possible PTSD—the last based on a half-dozen accounts of Kakashi having issues in the hospital, which Raidou translated to ‘had nightmares’ and ‘jumpy around medics’. Which, yeah, Kakashi and the rest of the shinobi world. The remainder was basically note after note of ‘Hatake Kakashi does not talk’, ‘Hatake Kakashi deflects’, ‘Hatake Kakashi took a three-week A-rank mission to Suna and missed all his appointments’.
Hatake Kakashi was a diagnosed slitherer-outer, basically.
Raidou flipped through the rest of the file, reading increasingly extraordinary missions in an increasingly solo career, and wondered why Kakashi had decided to one-eighty himself back onto a team. Perhaps, on some level, he was lonely too.
Or trying to source a new well of uncopied jutsu.
He set the file aside and picked up the last one. Ueno Katsuko, freshly nineteen, already his subordinate for a year, with more paperwork to her name than Raidou had ever wanted to read.
Except, he couldn’t. Genma’s file contained one blacked out page. Katsuko’s had fifty. Raidou stared at the massacred stack, most of them blue-bordered medical pages, and then set to pulling out whatever information was left. There was precious little. A few broad details of her rerouted chakra system; a single page devoted to the failsafe seal Yondaime-sensei had locked into place and the method of activating it, which Raidou devoted himself to memorizing; and one neatly written, rubber-stamped report that covered her capture, torture, and rescue from the hands of an Iwa medical ninja when she was—
Raidou double-checked the date.
He sat back in his chair, drained a long swallow of beer, and said, “Konoha, you are fucking up.”
He made himself read the rest. Genin at ten, chuunin at sixteen—delayed, presumably, by the giant hole ripped through her chakra, but that also meant she’d been taken from near the front lines as a genin, which, again, what? What the hell had her jounin-sensei been thinking? Raidou uncrumpled the page he’d accidentally balled up, smoothing it out, and continued. Jounin at eighteen, which beat him hollow, with her entrance into ANBU following shortly afterwards.
Chakra aside, her injury list wasn’t terrible. She overwhelmed most opponents before they got close enough to do damage.
Then there was the psych report.
Raidou got the impression that its author had given up. There was a page of generic, boilerplate observations—’Ueno Katsuko has trust issues’, ‘Ueno Katsuko displays mild paranoia’, ‘Ueno Katsuko is skilled at masking her true mental and emotional state’. Stapled to that was a bundle of medical incident reports charting Katsuko’s issues with everything from standard vaccinations to one particular event with a scalpel, and the resulting property damage. And then there was a picture of a duck, which Katsuko had apparently drawn during a counseling session. She’d colored it with a blue crayon.
Raidou propped his chin on his hand and read the whole thing again, just to watch one poor bastard’s slow spiral into infectious madness.
Maybe the agent had retired. He might have a farm somewhere, raising critters.
Probably not ducks.
Raidou closed the file, stacked it with the others, and looked at them. That was Team Six. His first ever team, not counting the few chuunin squads he’d run with back on the front lines, when promotion usually followed a commanding officer’s messy death. This time, he’d been hand-picked.
Do your best, Yondaime had said.
Raidou let out a long breath. “Oh man,” he said, threw back the last of his beer, and read through them again.