May 3, Yondaime Year 5
Katsuko opened her eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling and a comforting warmth pressed against her side. She grumbled and tried to turn over, but the arm draped over her chest like an iron bar stopped her. That woke her up the rest of the way.
Her first thought was one-night stand, but all her clothes were still on and she didn’t smell like sex. Katsuko scrubbed at her eyes and wriggled around until she could get a look at her new friend.
Whoever she’d been expecting, her squad captain hadn’t been it. Katsuko stared in stark horror at Raidou’s sleeping face; a second later, the gears in her scrambled memory clicked and last night’s events fell into place. Then she just wanted to suffocate herself with a pillow. Who fell asleep hugging their team leader like a favorite stuffed animal? There wasn’t a rule forbidding it because it was supposed to be implied: Don’t use your ANBU superiors as emotional or physical security blankets.
Slowly, she tried to ooze out from underneath Raidou’s arm without waking him. He grunted, mumbled into the sheets, and actually got heavier. She hissed at him in frustration; his subconscious took that as instruction to curl his arm around her, cutting off all chance of escape and also her oxygen supply. She barely restrained the urge to flail.
“Why are you so heavy?” Katsuko muttered, subsiding against the mattress. After a moment, she caved to her inner child and poked Raidou viciously in the armpit. He didn’t even give her the courtesy of waking up, just frowned and swatted at her like a bug. She let out a sound like a kettle boiling over and flopped against his side, glaring up at the ceiling.
She really had to pee.
“I hate you,” she said at last, sullen. “I hate you and your stupid boulder arms and your stupid hugs. Wake up.”
Raidou’s next breath wasn’t quite a snore, but it carried the heavy suggestion of one. Katsuko dug her fingers into his side, eagle-claw style; he swatted at her again and rolled away, straight over the edge of the bed. The loud thump as he hit the floor made her wince.
“Sorry,” she said, peering over the edge of the mattress. “Are you alive?”
Raidou was sprawled out in a tangle of limbs on the floor, blinking groggily. He stared up at her, eyes dazed and one side of his face creased from his pillow. “I really hope not.”
“Here,” Katsuko said, and comfortingly dropped the blanket on him. “I hope you feel better.”
He pulled the blanket up over his head, still exhausted. Then he pulled it down again. “Did you pinch me?”
“I’m gonna go pee now,” Katsuko said, and vaulted gracefully over his head to sprint for the toilet.
Raidou’s bathroom was as compulsively neat as the rest of his quarters. Katsuko took care of the necessities and dawdled in front of the mirror, wetting her hair to get rid of any flyaway strands. She spent a long minute contemplating Raidou’s soap dish before admitting to herself, grudgingly, that she was trying to hold off the inevitable.
“Bathroom’s free,” Katsuko said, shutting the door behind her as she headed back into the main room. Raidou was still an unmoving lump on the floor. “There’s udon in the fridge for breakfast. I put it away last night.”
She’d done the dishes and put those away, too, and tucked herself in at Raidou’s side afterwards like it was perfectly normal to treat him like an oversized body pillow.
The blankets rustled. One brown eye cracked open. “You did dishes?”
“It was that or sleep on them.” Katsuko meandered over to nudge at Raidou’s ribs with one sock-covered foot. “You gonna stay there all day?”
“Time s’it?” he asked.
She glanced over at the clock. “Five. You got somewhere to be?”
“Promised to check in on the lieutenant. Should probably give him another hour, though.” He yawned and sat up, leaning against the side of the bed. He squinted at her. “How are you functional before me?”
“Getting crushed to death by your dumb muscle arms woke me up,” Katsuko said. “I think my sternum is bruised.”
Raidou looked at her in blank confusion. Comprehension hit him a second later, followed quickly by embarrassment. “Oh. Sorry. Good thing you’re springy?”
Katsuko snickered and shuffled over to the fridge, opening it to peer at its contents. “I think this one’s your bowl. Or is this my bowl? Whatever, I get the one that has more noodles in it. There are some egg rolls left, too.”
“This is revenge for all the early morning training, isn’t it?” Raidou said, darkly. “I said you could take today off. And tomorrow.”
“That’s true,” Katsuko conceded. “So you can have one egg roll. Maybe two.”
Raidou’s sigh would have knocked her over if she’d been standing closer. He heaved himself up off the floor and flopped backwards on the bed, tugging the pillow back over his face. His voice emerged from underneath it, muffled through layers of fabric. “Fought demons three days ago.”
“Yes, yes,” she said, placatingly. “You did very well and we’re all very proud. Two-and-a-half egg rolls, then.”
Katsuko had her back turned towards him, so she couldn’t see him throw the pillow. She could feel it sailing through the air, though, fueled by deadly, grouchy intent. She caught it and tucked it underneath her arm, returning to her survey of Raidou’s fridge.
“Is this going to be something we don’t talk about?” she asked abruptly. “The cuddling, I mean.”
There was a beat of silence. Mattress springs creaked as Raidou sat up, sounding much more awake. “I figured you wouldn’t want to.”
Cold air leaked into the room. Katsuko shut the fridge door. “I don’t,” she admitted. “I really don’t. But I need to know where we stand before we go back into the field.” She turned around, resisting the urge to hold the pillow against her chest. “Thinking about you in a sex way or a romantic way makes me want to hork, and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for you. Right?”
It wasn’t true, precisely. The first time Raidou had taken his mask off in front of her— more than a year ago, now, right after her Trials— she’d had a horrifying moment of oh god no my new lieutenant is hot. It had taken an excruciating amount of effort to bludgeon the thought out of her subconscious. Getting to know Raidou and see what a massively undignified person he was out of uniform had helped.
Raidou blinked, caught flat-footed. “Oh, that talk. I thought— I have no idea what I thought. But, uh, no, I have never considered you in any of those capacities, oh my god.” His expression went dry. “Though thanks for the ego boost.”
“Oh, good,” Katsuko blurted, relieved, then realized what she’d said and tried to backpedal. “Not that I don’t think— well, I’m sure other people find you attractive, but I—” she rubbed the back of her neck. “Let’s pretend I didn’t say anything. Moving on.”
Raidou laughed at that, quiet. “I know people find you appealing, since you glow the next day. But yeah, moving on.” He dragged a hand through his hair, focusing. “Did you want to talk about the pre-cuddling?”
She fidgeted. “I was gonna lead up to that. I just needed to get the feelings things out of the way.” And if it also delayed the talk about why she’d broken down in front of Raidou in the first place, well, she’d never claimed to be perfect. “I was tired last night. We both were. I let too much slip.”
“I’m your captain,” Raidou said. “You can always talk to me.”
Katsuko looked down at her feet. “I want to,” she said at last, softly. “I really want to. Everything’s classified, but I didn’t have a problem with that before. I didn’t have anybody I wanted to tell.”
“Not your family?” he asked. No accusation in his voice, just honest curiosity.
She examined the thought of telling her father and mother about the dark days underground, the cold sting of the scalpel and slitted yellow eyes. “No,” she said. “Definitely not.”
Raidou’s mouth turned down at the corners. He put a hand to his stomach, fingers splayed, mirroring the position of her seal. “It’s this, isn’t it?”
Katsuko’s own hand drifted down, settling just above where her shirt hid the intricate, whorled lines of ink tattooed around her navel. “It always is,” she said. “Everything’s linked back to it somehow.”
Cloth rustled as Raidou stood, crossing over to her. He leaned up against the counter. “You were fourteen, right?”
Intel would have given Raidou the cover story they’d concocted for Katsuko all those years ago, after she’d been brought up from the labs. She nodded.
“So that was when the Sandaime was calling the shots.” He looked at her, choosing his words carefully. “I don’t have the specifics, so I don’t know what your chances are. But have you ever thought about requesting a status change? It’s been long enough. Yondaime-sama might declassify it.”
Katsuko stared down at her feet. “I never considered that,” she said at last. “I don’t think Yondaime-sama would. But— as my ANBU captain, you could request access to some of my sealed files. If what was in them was related to current events. You’d need all the information possible to make accurate decisions in the field.” She didn’t know what she’d do if they actually did run into Orochimaru or his lackeys during a mission, but she knew she didn’t want her team caught flat-footed.
Raidou’s eyebrows quirked. “Related? I thought it was an Iwa—” He broke off. Then he said, “It wasn’t Iwa.”
After a moment, Katsuko’s spine loosened. Tension escaped her in a long, quiet sigh, relief collapsing her body inward. She slumped, closing her eyes, and shook her head once.
Very, very carefully, Raidou said, “Were you even on the battlefields when you were a genin?”
She breathed in. Breathed out. At last, she opened her eyes and said, “I can’t tell you anymore, Rai. I can’t. Talk to Yondaime-sama. Please.”
“The second he gets home,” Raidou said, almost fiercely. Katsuko glanced up, surprised by his hard-eyed expression. The edge in his voice and the flat line of his mouth didn’t seem to be directed at her, so she cleared her throat and looked away.
“Okay,” she said, after the silence stretched too long. Raidou’s pillow was still crushed underneath her arm. She stepped forward and offered it to him, unable to hide how awkward she felt. “So I, uh, didn’t mean for that to get as complicated as it did. What else were we talking about?”
He blinked, eyes clearing as he came back down from whatever place he’d gone to in his head, and took his pillow from her with a wry smile. “How much I made you want to hork?”
“Only when I have to think about sex things and you in the same sentence,” Katsuko said, and made an involuntary horrified face. “Please don’t ever get all-the-way naked around me.”
“Well, now I have no idea what to do with my morning,” Raidou said, dry as drought season.
“I do,” Katsuko said. “You should keep your pants on. And your shirt. Seriously, no one needs to see their big brother—” she coughed. “I mean, I already have a brother, but he’s younger, so. Um. Do you have a shower? I’m going to use your shower.”
Raidou laughed. “Blue towel’s the clean one. Help yourself.”
“Cool,” Katsuko said, and fled before she could open her mouth again. She waited until she’d closed the bathroom door behind her to let herself shake a little.
Halfway through her shower, with steam drifting up the walls and the spray pelting down on her face, she realized she didn’t have any clean clothes to change into.
“Hey,” she said, sticking her head out into the main room. “Can I borrow a shirt or something?”
“It’ll be a dress on you,” Raidou said, but he was already heading over to his closet. Katsuko shut the bathroom door again and returned to shampooing her hair into soapy spikes. The pressure of the spray against her bare back lulled some of the anxiety out of her, uncoiling her muscles.
Raidou left a plain black t-shirt and a pair of belted cargo pants folded in front of the door for Katsuko. The hem of the shirt fell to mid-thigh on her, and the cargo pants were loose even when she tightened the belt to the last notch, but at least everything was clean.
The smell of food cooking coaxed her into the main room again. Raidou stood at the stove, tending to a sizzling frying pan. Katsuko hesitated, then padded across the floor on quiet, bare feet and leaned her head against his arm. Raidou let her, carrying on with cooking like he didn’t notice her weight or find it strange at all.
“Y’know,” he said, conversationally, reaching over her to grab the pepper. “You almost smell human again.”
“You still smell like refried demon,” Katsuko said.
“But I make it work.” Unlike some, his tone implied.
Katsuko bit him on the arm, aiming for an unbandaged patch of skin.
“Ow,” he said, and swatted her over the head. “Biting people get neither breakfast nor leaning privileges.”
“They do if you insult how they smell after a shower.” Katsuko rubbed the top of her skull and stared down at the stovetop. “What’re you making?”
“Mystery omelette.” Raidou flipped it over in the pan. “Had some leftovers that weren’t sludge yet. See the green things? Actual vegetables.”
It smelled delicious. It looked less so. “Well,” Katsuko said, dubiously. “Something in there’s green, alright.”
Raidou handed her the spatula. “It’s called health. Try not to screw it up while I scrub the funk off.” He grabbed clothes from the closet and shut the bathroom door after him. A few seconds later, the shower switched on.
Katsuko poked at the omelette again, just to see if it would move. It sizzled obligingly. She eyed it for a minute, shrugged, and then flipped it over in the pan again.
By the time Raidou emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, dressed in clean clothes and toweling his hair dry, she’d portioned the omelette onto two separate plates and heated up the leftover udon for herself.
“Hey, nothing burned down,” he said.
“I could burn something down now, if that would make you feel better.”
“Let’s save it for a special occasion.” He stole the egg rolls from the fridge, retrieved his half of the omelette, and settled himself in at the table with a scrape of chair legs. He propped his chin in one hand and looked up at her, brown eyes warm and concerned. “Are you feeling any better?”
With the sun starting to filter through the windows and a good night’s rest underneath her belt, it was easier to turn her thoughts inwards. She still felt bruised inside, but the raw, aching places in her heart were a little less tender. It was easier to breathe, now, like the confessions from last night had loosened an iron cage locked around her chest.
“I’m okay,” she said, quietly, and smiled down at him. “Really. I feel better than I have for a while.” Ever since the day on the wall, when she’d heard the name Orochimaru and nearly shattered.
He smiled back. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Katsuko dragged her chair out and flopped down into it, draping herself over the table. “It’s all thanks to your magical hugs of sharing and caring, Rai. So much sharing. So much caring.”
He laughed. “Next step is processing. I’ve got a twelve-step list somewhere.”
“I don’t need processing,” Katsuko said. “I have food. That’s even better.” She speared her omelette and stuffed it into her mouth, grinning.
“Baby steps,” Raidou said, and tossed an egg roll at her head. He glanced at the clock. “I should make tracks for the hospital. Heading home, or should I just sign my bed over as your kingdom and sovereignty?”
Crawling back underneath the blankets sounded tempting. Katsuko caught the egg roll and considered it for a moment. “Probably should head out,” she said reluctantly, through a mouthful of omelette. “But not until I finish breakfast. You gonna eat all of that?”
“Yes,” he said, and wrapped his arm around his plate.
That sounded like a challenge. Katsuko eyeballed him and lifted a threatening fork. “Not if I eat it first.”
The ensuing battle knocked over both their chairs and almost upended the table, but in the end Katsuko managed to get a bite out of Raidou’s omelette. Still a victory, in her books.
Today was looking better already.