Afternoon of May 15, Yondaime Year 5

genma 10Thank all the gods, the wait for answers about Team Six was finally over. Mostly. As Genma crutched his way back from lunch with Raidou to the elevator at the base of the Hokage Monument, he formulated a plan: he’d finish up those performance evals, summon the team, explain the situation with Raidou and their incoming-but-unknown temporary substitute captain, and then he’d have his performance meetings with everyone. Ryouma last, since he’d have to read Ryouma’s to him.

That was probably going to be awkward.

And then he’d find Asuma and see how apartment hunting had gone, and they were going to have drinks. As many drinks as it took to unknot his shoulders. Which, given he was still on painkillers was probably going to be one, maybe one and a half… Daruma himself would have had his patience tried by the week Genma’d had.

That thought detoured Genma into a shop on the hill leading to the monument, where he bought a small paper-maché Daruma to take back to the office. He mentally added, ‘go to the temple and make a gratitude offering for Raidou’s good news’ to his list of things to do before he called the day done.

First thing, when he got to ANBU HQ, was arranging for messengers to each of his team members, calling them to a meeting at 1500. When he made it back to their office, Genma sat for a moment and propped his aching leg up. He reached for a black pen and colored in one of the Daruma figure’s blank eyes. “Daruma-san,” he told it, “work hard to see Namiashi-taichou through his training and get him back to the team. When Team Six is reunited, you’ll get your other eye.”

He set the one-eyed figure on the back corner of his desk where it could watch over the whole office. Then he unlocked his file drawer, got out the performance forms, and got to work.

Half an hour later he had them finished, and was just starting to work on medical reports, when there was a knock on the door. “Shiranui-fukuchou?”

“It’s unlocked,” Genma called.

The door opened smoothly, and a round-faced woman in Intel’s grey uniform stood respectfully at the threshold. “I have a message for you from the front desk,” she said.

“You can come in.” Genma waved a hand at his crutches by way of explanation for his rudeness in not rising.

She glided silently into the room and held out a folded slip of paper for Genma. Her chakra was streamlined and self-contained — clearly she was one of the up-and-comers from Intel doing a stint as a functionary in ANBU HQ.

She waited while Genma read the note. It was penned in a familiarly illegible scrawl.


Request change of venue to room 38-C in the palace.

The note was signed with a heno-heno-moheji scarecrow face, and then below that, in slightly larger letters:

P.S. I have snacks

Genma blinked. Kakashi was offering snacks? Either he was attempting bribery to get his way — likely. Or he was actually trying to step up and support the team — less likely, but if it were true, it was a promising sign, especially in light of the performance evaluation Genma’d just finished for him.

Of course what kind of snacks was another question, given Kakashi’s tastes in trail food. Maybe Genma’d stop by the bakery and pick up some day-olds on his way, if there was time.

The woman from Intel was still waiting. Genma grabbed a fresh sheet of paper and jotted off a quick reply. Venue change accepted. Time changed to 1515, to accommodate travel time. He signed, stamped, and folded it, and handed it to the woman. “Can you have this delivered to Hatake Kakashi? He’s currently at the Palace.”


“Please,” Genma said. “Thank you for bringing it.”

She nodded, saluted, and left, closing the door behind her.

Now he just had to wait for Ryouma and Katsuko to arrive, and they’d make a field trip of it.

katsuko 16The fattest cat Katsuko had ever seen had followed her home from her early morning training. It had settled on her doorstep as if it intended to colonize it, harassed the runner who’d dropped off Genma’s message, and it’d still been there when she’d left for HQ in the afternoon. The racket it caused made her head hurt long after she’d gotten out of earshot.

Thinking about the cat was easier than speculating about the possible reasons Genma had called a team meeting. The situation with the cat, at least, was something she had some modicum of control over… even if she wasn’t exerting much control over it at the moment.

She didn’t know why she let the cat stay. Something about the proprietary way it had clawed at her ankles, maybe. She’d always had a soft spot for wild, wary things. Even though the cat was the furthest from ‘wary’ a living being could attain, it was undoubtedly wild. Its thick dark fur was tangled and matted, except in the places where old scars showed through bald patches. One front tooth was chipped. It smelled horrifically of old fish. It was so wide and heavy that Katsuko wasn’t sure how it had managed the five flights up to her apartment without breaking some of the steps.

Even so, its yellow eyes had gleamed up at her with the kind of vicious cunning she had to admire. This was a cat that had seen things and left behind bodies. It didn’t seem quite as intelligent as a ninneko — besides, no self-respecting ninja would let their animal summons reach such an unsanitary state — but that didn’t mean Katsuko couldn’t respect a fellow survivor.

She always carried a pen and small pad of paper with her. She balanced the pad on her sling-bound arm as she walked, trying to draw the smug expression the cat’s face seemed to be stuck in. Her path towards HQ turned slow and meandering, with long pauses as she tried to remember the correct placement of scars and matted fur. She didn’t know if the cat would be there when she got back. Cats got hungry and bored, after all. It seemed important to her that someone, somewhere, remember that the cat had hauled itself up five flights of stairs just to block her doorway.

When she finally looked up and caught sight of a clock through a shop window, it was four minutes to 1500 and she hadn’t even reached the base of the Hokage Monument. ‘I was late because I was drawing a picture of a cat’ wouldn’t have been an acceptable excuse even back in her genin days. In ANBU, it would probably get her punishment laps until she died.

Pen and paper she shoved back into her pockets, almost snapping the end off her pen in her haste. A hasty series of short translocations slung her the rest of the way through town without colliding into any civilians; a longer, final translocation took her right to HQ’s front door.

Sprinting to the office was as good as admitting she’d waited until the last second to follow orders. She wasn’t in the mood for one of the lieutenant’s speaking looks. Instead she made her casual, unaffected, but still very swift way down the halls, and reached the office door only a few minutes late.

The lieutenant, of course, was already at his desk when she let herself in. She gave him a quick salute. Glancing at the clock would be a rookie mistake, and she wasn’t a rookie.

Genma looked up and smiled at her. It lit up his face enough to almost draw attention from the bruises under his eyes and around his throat. In his dark t-shirt and jeans, with his hair in a loose topknot, he looked very different from the neat and professional team medic that Katsuko was used to. “Hi, Ueno. How’s the shoulder?”

He wouldn’t look that happy if he’d called the team together to give them bad news. Katsuko tapped her sling-bound arm with her free hand in a vague sort of salute and smiled back, hopeful. “It’s getting better, Fukuchou. Any news on Taichou?”

His smile widened. “Yes. And it’s relatively good news.”

ryouma 6Genma’s messenger had tracked Ryouma down in the jounin gym on Water Street. The weights there were better than ANBU’s, and you didn’t have to wait as long for them; there were six jounin-only gyms scattered through Konoha, not just the two that all ANBU rookies had to share with any senior who stopped by. Last month Ryouma and Hakone and Takeshi had all lived close enough to Water Street that they ran into each other almost weekly at the bench press or the squat rack. Now, when he and Hakone walked in together in the early afternoon, old comrades turned to stare.

“Slumming it, aren’t you?” a familiar voice called. Norita Takeshi hung from his knees on the top bar of the power cage, paused halfway through a crunch-up. Behind him, Himura Tadao lowered a 225-kilo barbell very gently to the floor.

Both of them had made it to the third stage of the ANBU Trials. Neither of them wore the tattoo.

“Come to stir up trouble in the ranks,” Ryouma said. “Still haven’t made it to 250 yet, Himura? You’re a disgrace to the name of jounin.”

“Screw you sideways, Tousaki,” Tadao said pleasantly, dusting off his palms. “Though you’d probably enjoy that.”

Ryouma kicked off his shoes. “Still an accurate judge of character, I see. How’s Intel?”

“Ah, well,” Tadao said vaguely, which could have meant either I’ve found my life’s work or I’m planning to blow up their building. You could never quite tell, with Tadao; he made Hakone look expressive.

Hakone himself had begun stretching. Twisted half around himself, torso a sinuous curve, he remarked, “I heard from someone who heard from someone that you’d been caught doing the walk of shame from the Hyuuga compound Thursday morning.”

Tadao merely gazed at him. “Why be ashamed?”

Hyuuga,” Takeshi sighed theatrically, and folded up into suspended crunches again. “You should know better. Hell, Ryouma knows better.”

“Not really,” Ryouma said. “I spent six months when I was fourteen trying to convince my Hyuuga genin sensei that I was madly in love with her.”

Takeshi groaned. Tadao asked, with professional interest, “Did it work?”

“It’s hard to convince a Hyuuga of anything that isn’t true,” Hakone said. “Why do you think so many of them work in Interrogations?” He glanced sideways at Ryouma. “It’s also hard to seduce your sensei when your voice is still breaking.”

“Speaking of seduction,” Takeshi broke in, “how’re things going with Hatake?” He smirked, upside-down. “He couldn’t keep his eye off you at Trials. Worked out yet if you’ll trade your jutsu for his virginity?”

Ryouma pushed himself off the floor. Hakone’s head jerked up, eyes narrowing; Tadao took a step back, reaching for a loose weight-bar. Ryouma forced his killing intent down.

“Hatake’s my teammate,” he said. “I owe him my life. All I owe you is a round at the Pig, so let’s drop this now.” He nodded toward Tadao. “You done with that barbell?”

Tadao watched him a moment more, his own chakra held steady and carefully contained. Then he nodded, and stepped sideways. “Sure,” he said. “All yours.”

The uncomfortable silence held, like thin ice, for a little longer. Ryouma knew he should have stretched more, but the burn in his muscles was worth it. He’d known Tadao for nearly eight months, Takeshi for more than a year; they’d all run missions together, gone drinking, gambled for spare change in the jounin lounge. And there was already a barrier between them, Team Six’s oft-cited boundaries looming up like a fence out of the fog. If he had to respect his teammates’ personal limits, there was no way in hell anyone else was crossing them.

He was Team Six, now.

Hakone broke the awkwardness eventually, with a casual joke. Takeshi dropped down from his power-cage and offered to spot Ryouma on the bench press. Tadao circled back to the free weights, added another 25 kilos to his barbell, and challenged Ryouma to a competition.

They’d made it to six reps each of 275, and Ryouma’s bad knee was trembling beneath him, when a genin messenger ducked through the door and announced in a clear treble voice, “Message for Tousaki Ryouma!”

“Your win,” Ryouma told Tadao, and dropped the barbell heavily to the matted floor. He limped over to the door. The genin wrinkled her nose at his sweat-soaked shirt, dropped a slip of paper into his hand, and darted off again.

Ryouma sighed. “Hakone?”

Hakone reached under his arm to snag the message. “Your lieutenant wants you for a meeting at 1500.”

There was a clock high on the wall over the lats machine. Ryouma shoved dripping hair off his forehead to squint at it. 1450.

Shit,” he said, and bolted for his shoes.

He risked a translocation to the base of the Hokage Monument, which left him lightheaded and breathless but only a little nauseated. Another would be pushing it, he decided, and ran instead, chakra-footed up the sheer face of the monument, long legs stretching over the training fields at the top. He made it to the rookie barracks with three minutes to go, stripped his sweaty clothes off underneath the shower spray, and sprinted to his room and into uniform.

He was still panting when he fetched up in front of Team Six’s office door five minutes later, and his hair dripped lightly onto his cheekbones and down his neck. Two deep breaths to center himself, a moment to make sure his armor was buckled correctly, a dry-mouthed swallow against the pulse hammering in his throat…

He opened the door, and nearly tripped over Katsuko. “Is Taichou back?”

genma 13It looked like Ryouma, breathless, shower-damp, and dressed for battle, had been far more rattled by the meeting summons than Katsuko had. Rookie vs. veteran, Genma supposed. He seemed braced for terrible news, which wasn’t unexpected. Until Genma’d met with Raidou that morning, he’d been waiting for something awful, too.

“Not yet,” he said, waving Ryouma in. “But he will be. I’ll give you the details when we get to the Palace. We’re meeting Hatake there.”

Ryouma took a deep, trembly breath, and leaned against the doorframe like his legs had gone unsteady. “Good thing I showered, I guess,” he said. “Is Taichou meeting us there, too?” Apprehension flickered across his face. “Are we meeting the Hokage?”

Katsuko was Ryouma’s complete opposite in demeanor, leaning over with a wide, open smile to punch Ryouma in the side with her good hand in a show of pugilistic affection. “Who cares?” she crowed. “We’re getting Taichou back.”

Ryouma hissed a sharp breath at the punch — and then another, locking eyes with Genma, looking for confirmation. It wasn’t one-hundred percent certain that Raidou would be back, but right now the team needed hope. Especially Ryouma. Genma nodded; he’d clarify when they were with Kakashi. “If everything continues to go well—” he started.

Ryouma tipped his head back against the doorframe with his eyes closed, breathing again, then snapped straight, grabbed Katsuko in a hug, and planted an exuberant kiss at her hairline.

Katsuko, laughing delightedly and levitated on her toes, craned her neck to kiss Ryouma back. She missed his cheek and landed on his chin, but it seemed to satisfy them both.

So much for boundaries. But maybe, just for today, Raidou’s rules could relax a little.

Genma cleared his throat, snapping their attention back to him. “We’re not going to see Taichou, and we’re not meeting with the Hokage.” Disappointment and relief warred on both Ryouma’s and Katsuko’s faces.

“We’re meeting in a conference room at the Palace to save Hatake the trip up here, since he’s still recuperating and he’s less mobile than we are.” Which, actually was only somewhat true. Genma gave his crutches a rueful look and patted the bottle of fat, white painkillers in his pocket. At least he was getting a good triceps workout with all this crutching up and down from HQ to the village and back. That rickshaw Asuma’d summoned for the morning ride to the hospital seemed a lot less like a luxury as the day wore on.

Which the day was wearing on. Genma looked up at the clock. He’d told Hatake quarter past the hour; given Ryouma’s late arrival, that was probably not going to happen. Nor was stopping at his dad’s bakery to supplement Kakashi’s “snacks” with day-old daifuku.

But he could give Ryouma time to dress down. Genma was in civvies, after all, and so was Katsuko, in tight black jeans and blue t-shirt embroidered with kissing lizards at the neckline. “You want to change to civvies, too, Tousaki?” Genma asked. “Or are you good staying in uniform? You can ditch the armor at least, we’re not going out on any missions for a while yet.”

Ryouma’s eyes flicked from Genma to Katsuko and back, giving their relaxed wardrobes a once-over as a red flush crept over his cheeks and ears. “Guess I’ll change,” he mumbled, edging past Katsuko to pull a freshly laundered, neatly folded t-shirt and jeans from his locker.

“I should have specified in my note that civvies were fine, since we’re all still on leave,” Genma said. “Next time I’ll be more clear.” He watched as Ryouma skimmed out of his uniform, appraising fading bruises under tattooed skin. In black trunks and little else, Ryouma was distractingly attractive. Genma looked down at his desk, doodling the character for ‘boundary’ on a scrap of paper. When he looked up again, Ryouma was just tugging the hem of his shirt down.

Katsuko raised an eyebrow, and her gaze fell pointedly on his doodled kanji, before she looked right at him, grinning like a fiend.

There was nothing for it but to raise an eyebrow right back at her, but the bubbly delight at the prospect of having Raidou back was infecting everyone, and Genma couldn’t help the smile that twitched at his lips.

“If everyone is ready,” he said, and reached for his crutches. “We’re taking the elevator down.”

kakashi 6Since his congratulations-on-not-dying party had been entirely upstaged by Naruto sprouting his first chakra seeds, Kakashi spent most of the following day getting pampered to make up for it.

This took the form of 1) sleeping, 2) getting his head bounced on at 5am by a tiny miscreant desperate to feed him omurice I made myself, look Kakashi-niisan, Dad barely helped at all!, 3) sleeping again, and 4) when he could stand the excitement, brushing his teeth.

Rin had stayed the night in the second spare bedroom, but left before dawn to fix whatever disasters had befallen the hospital without her presence. Minato had stopped in sometime between teeth-brushing and mid-morning to inform Kakashi that Naruto was due at school, and Minato himself had a village to run, but Ogata the housekeeper would be around and—

“— she’s taken a liking to you, try not to ruin it.”

Kakashi said something like, “Mmm,” and returned to the soft pink embrace of sleep.

When he woke up again, it was because someone had put a mug of hot green tea by his bedside, and the room smelled like summer grass. This was so infinitely preferable to any previous method used by the hospital staff, that Kakashi simply lay and basked in the marvelousness of green tea for several minutes before it occurred to him that he could drink it.

A flicker of polite chakra alerted him to Ogata’s presence a moment before her shadow darkened the doorway. “I have lunch ready, if you feel able to get up. There’s also a messenger for you.”

“Mngh?” Kakashi said intelligently.

“I’ll tell her to wait,” Ogata said, and vanished again.

Verticality happened somehow. Kakashi carried his tea to the entranceway, where a chuunin-messenger was hovering by the front door with a kind of twanging nervousness that was almost audible. I’m in the Hokage’s hallway, her body language said. Those are the Hokage’s house slippers. She was not in any way reassured by Kakashi appearing barefoot in front of her, squinting past his bedhead.

“Message?” he rasped.

She scrambled to present him a scroll, offering it formally with both hands. He cracked the wax seal, read the Lieutenant’s neat handwriting, and frowned. One neuron fired enough to say: If the captain’s coming back, Minato would’ve said something.

So — regular meeting? Performance review? Something worse?

“Tell him I’ll be there,” he said.

The messenger nodded jerkily and turned to go, but stopped when Ogata said from the living room, “Where, Hatake-san?”

“ANBU thing,” Kakashi said, while the rest of his brain said: pants. A shirt would be good, too. He was still wearing yesterday’s jounin blues, creased with sleep-sweat and the enthusiastic ketchup stains Naruto had bestowed.

“At the HQ?” Ogata enquired, stepping into the hallway.

“That’s where they keep the ANBU,” Kakashi said.

“I was instructed that you’re supposed to rest. Hokage-sama was quite specific.” There was a brief, meaningful pause. “As was Nohara-sensei, per her note.”

Of course Rin had left a note.

Now I’m watching the Hokage’s actual housekeeper scold the Hokage’s actual student, said the messenger-chuunin’s face.

“I need to report to my lieutenant,” Kakashi said.

“Perhaps I can suggest an alternative,” Ogata said.

Which was how Kakashi ended up in the Conference Room 38-C, on the lesser used west wing of the palace, somewhat more awake, surrounded by enough healthy snacks to feed a small battalion. There’d been time to shower, shave, swear at his hair, and dig out a change of clothes from the back of the closet. Ogata had armed him with another cup of tea, and even helped reorganize the room. The conference table was carved from old, heavy wood and set low; designed to be used with floor cushions, not chairs. They shoved it up against the windows to get some light, since Genma surely wouldn’t need all four sides of a thirty-person table. Ogata opened the windows to let fresh air in, beat the floor pillows until they were plump and comfortable, and placed a houseplant borrowed from Minato’s living room in the center of the table.

Kakashi raised his eyebrows.

“Living things promote healthy mindsets,” she said, flicking a speck of dust away from the polished woodgrain. She surveyed the room with satisfaction. “That should do it. If you need anything, have your lieutenant send a clone.”

Kakashi scratched the back of his neck. “Thank you,” he said, after a moment.

She didn’t quite smile, but her single eye warmed for a moment. She nodded and left.

Kakashi folded down to sit at one end of the table, within arm’s reach of some of the more interesting looking platters, and realized that, for once, he was technically early to a meeting.

“There goes my reputation,” he muttered.

Icha Icha, a plate of tai sashimi, and a comfortable lean against the wall went some way towards repairing the damage. He was just starting to head-nod over Ikeda Terumasa-sama’s second intense love declaration (upside down, hanging from a bridge) when his recovering senses picked up the familiar glimmer of chakra in the distance, then closer, and the paper-screen door slid back.

Katsuko bowled through first, a blur of wild hair, civilian clothes, and a dopplering cry of, “I smell foooood!” as she arrowed for the opposite end of the table. For undecipherable Katsuko reasons, her shirt seemed to have canoodling lizards on it.

Ryouma stepped in next, more sedately, and held the door open for Genma to crutch through. They were both in civilian wear, too. Jeans — Genma’s looser, to accommodate a bandaged leg; Ryouma’s tighter, for reasons relating to easier movement or bigger ego, probably — and t-shirts. Dark green with subtle leaves for Genma; red with a graffiti pattern for Ryouma. Genma had his hair swept up and stabbed into place with a senbon. Ryouma’s was messy in a way that didn’t actually look deliberate.

Katsuko and Genma were both varying degrees of bruised and pale. Ryouma just looked tired. He was also holding a stack of papers — Genma’s, Kakashi had to assume.

And they were all, surprisingly, here.

“You didn’t say this was a team meeting, Lieutenant,” Kakashi said mildly. “I would’ve brought more food.”

Genma regarded him, glanced at the gleaming spread on the table, and looked back at Kakashi. “All this and you weren’t expecting me to bring Ueno?”

“I thought you could take some home,” Kakashi said, over Katsuko’s blissful noises. She’d found the agedashi tofu. Kakashi propped his chin on his hand, studying each team member. “You’re all upright and no one looks traumatized.” Well, no more traumatized than usual. “Is it good news?”

Ryouma answered first. “Taichou’s coming back,” he said, with a good attempt at casual. An anxious glance at Genma betrayed other feelings. “How soon?”

Genma looked away. That was the thing Kakashi remembered later. Genma looked away first.

“Taichou’s doing some training separate from the team for a while,” he said. “Let’s sit down and I’ll tell you what I know.”

Not just a regular meeting, then.

Genma stepped forward. Ryouma took the immediate cue and slid a hand under Genma’s elbow, taking both crutches with his other hand and assisting Genma to one of the floor-cushions with a minimum of discomfort, kitty-corner to Kakashi. The crutches were balanced against the table. The papers were stacked next to the lieutenant. Ryouma settled down at Genma’s elbow, as if he didn’t want to step away from the only source of news — or perhaps he just wanted to continue care-taking. Apparently he was good at it.

Katsuko stepped over, holding a plate of food in her good hand and another plate tucked into her sling, and sat down cross-legged on Kakashi’s side of the table, between him and Genma. She tapped Kakashi’s knee in greeting, but her mouth was too full to offer a pet-name.

“Senpai,” he acknowledged, to see her eyes brighten. Then he looked at Genma and prompted, “Lieutenant?”

Genma poured himself a glass of iced barley tea from a pitcher, took a sip, and set the glass down. “I met with Taichou today, and he’s doing well,” he said carefully. “But it will probably be a few weeks before we see much of him. As a condition for his return to command of Team Six, he’s required to complete an intensive genjutsu training course.”

Ryouma blinked. Katsuko didn’t.

“We’ll have an interim captain in the meantime,” Genma continued. He spread his hands before the yelling could begin. “I know that’s not the news you were hoping for, but it is good news, because when he completes the course, we will get our captain back.” He lowered his hands, curling them around his glass, and looked at them in turn. “I’ll answer any questions I can.”

ryouma 9“What the hell happened?” Ryouma burst out, before either of the others could speak. “Katsu told us the port was destroyed and she couldn’t tell us anything more. And you said there was collateral damage, but— Did he get caught in a genjutsu? Did someone mind-control him? He was normal afterward. He—”

He’d pulled Ryouma back from the brink, and never betrayed any sign that he might have crossed over it himself.

Ryouma’s hands fisted over his knees. His voice rasped in his throat. “He didn’t tell me anything.”

Katsuko had pushed her food aside. She leaned her good arm on the table and met Ryouma’s gaze, clear-eyed and calm. “There was genjutsu,” she said. “I helped him break out of it. The genjutsu user fled with the targets down to the docks. Taichou and I followed.” She glanced across the table at Genma, and opened her good hand slightly. “As for the rest, it’s not my place to tell.”

Kakashi said quietly, “Taichou’s not here to talk for himself.”

Genma took a measured sip of iced tea. His glass chinked gently against the table, settling exactly into its own ring of condensation. “The first time I met with Taichou,” he said, “when we were putting this team together, he told me genjutsu wasn’t his strong suit. When we were in the bunker he told me genjutsu had played a part in what happened at Tsurugahama. And I read his mission report this morning.”

He took a breath and looked up from his glass, barley-brown eyes fixing on each of them in turn. “This goes no further than this team. What I’m about to discuss with you is mission-classified. Understood?”

Katsuko sighed softly. Her shoulders loosened, as if a weight had slid off. Kakashi glanced sidelong at her, and then nodded. “Understood.”

Ryouma wasn’t sure he trusted his voice. Raidou’d told him, in that silent bunker, I killed a baby tonight. And that was it, but that was enough. He’d known there was more, but Raidou’d warned him off, and he hadn’t pushed for it. He’d thought—

Doesn’t matter what you thought, he told himself savagely, and said, “Understood.”

Genma drew another slow breath. “Namiashi-taichou, who has a vulnerability to genjutsu, was subject to two strong ones in succession. He broke himself out of the first, but required Ueno’s assistance to disengage from the second. When he attacked those Mist ninja, he was in a dissociated state.” He looked from Kakashi to Ryouma, and added gently, “In plain terms, he wasn’t thinking rationally. He wasn’t in control.”

He’d broken on the battlefield.

Ryouma had heard of an Inuzuka, once, who lost her dogs and then her mind. She’d torn the enemy apart with her teeth, and then turned on her teammates. They’d put her down like the mad dog she’d become. He’d been young enough when he heard the story that he’d had nightmares of it for weeks nights running — the feral golden eyes, the fang-distended snarl, the four-legged thing chasing him through dark woods with inhuman grace. For one stomach-wrenching moment he saw Raidou’s smile mauled by madness, and then he thrust it away.

Raidou’d kept his temper with the Kiri nin prisoner. He’d coaxed Ryouma back to steadiness, and badgered him into eating, and promised not to kick him off the team. He’d hugged him, damnit.

Madmen didn’t do that. But Raidou did. Whatever he’d done in Tsurugahama, whoever he’d been, he’d come back to himself afterward.

Ryouma cleared his throat. “So he’s doing genjutsu training. Can we help? The four of us aren’t such slouches ourselves.”

Genma was already shaking his head. “We can help by not screwing up while he’s away. He’s getting private coaching from Yuuhi Benihime-sama, so…” He waited for the widening recognition in Ryouma’s eyes, Katsuko’s impressed little Ooh breath, Kakashi’s flick of surprised brow. “So I’m pretty sure he’s in good hands.”

Katsuko said, “He’s going to die.”

“He—” Kakashi paused. “No, actually he might die.”

Ryouma hadn’t even known the Crimson Eye of Konoha was still alive. “Isn’t Yuuhi-sama ancient by now?” he asked. “She’s gotta be at least sixty.”

“Apparently some people survive past thirty,” Kakashi said, in a voice laced heavily with irony. “It has to do with this thing called ‘skill.’”

Ryouma pointed at him. “Which of the two of us nearly died most recently?”

“Same guy who took down an S-class Bingo Book target,” Kakashi shot back.

“This meeting just started and I’m tired already,” Genma said. “Can we go back to the part where we were all happy that there was good news?”

“Sorry, Lieutenant.” Ryouma sat back guiltily. It’d felt good, on some level, to snipe with Kakashi again — trading the banter back and forth, comfortable as chuunin playing the knife-toss game. But they’d come here for more than bickering. He nabbed a sesame-sprinkled onigiri and tried to sit quietly and look attentive.

“Is there more good news?” Kakashi asked. There was a sliver of hope in the way he looked up at Genma. Katsuko sat still, a senbei crumbled on her plate, watchful and waiting.

Genma shrugged. “We’re getting our interim captain tomorrow. Meet at 0900 at our office. If you aren’t on time, you’d better have been readmitted to the hospital.” He glanced pointedly at Kakashi. “Ueno, Hatake and I are all on medical leave for the next week at least, so it will just be a get-acquainted meeting. Tousaki, you’ll probably get Wall duty and maybe Palace Guard rotations while the rest of us heal up.”

He paused to spear a pickle with his senbon. “Also I have your first month evals done.”

“I’m not sure any of that counted as good news,” Ryouma said. Well, guard duty wasn’t terrible, and it would at least give him something to do besides laundry and working out. The interim captain he could do nothing about; it wasn’t worth stressing over. But the evals… “I didn’t realize you were grading us.”

katsuko 14Katsuko propped her elbow on the table and pasted on a smile. “What, they didn’t tell you during the recruitment spiel? All of us get report cards. It’s like being back in Academy again, except this time we can’t fall asleep during lecture.”

Ryouma didn’t look at her. He focused instead on the scattered sesame seeds on the table, picking some of them up with his fingertip. “I never read my report cards. You gonna read me this one and embarrass us all, Lieutenant?”

Genma shook his head. “I don’t know what kind of awful teachers you had, but this won’t be that bad. I’ll go over each of your evals with you one-on-one, I’m sure we can find another room here somewhere.”

“The ones next door are free,” Kakashi said. “On both sides. I checked.”

Katsuko couldn’t have cared less about the damn evals. There was no way Genma’s assessment could be worse than Raidou’s one year ago, when she’d been a baby rookie and Raidou her long-suffering lieutenant.

What mattered was that Raidou was coming back. All Team Six needed to do was put up with the interim captain until Raidou’s training with Yuuhi Benihime-sama was done.

They wouldn’t send in just anyone as Team Six’s replacement leader. It would have to be someone with no personal connections to any of them, someone Sagara-sama would trust not to embellish their reports on how well Team Six functioned as a unit. Someone the higher-ups thought could handle a squad with Hatake Kakashi on its roster.

There was a queasy feeling in her stomach that had nothing to do with food. Katsuko shifted, still smiling, and reached over to give Ryouma a gentle pat on the arm. Then she heaved a sigh full of exaggerated martyrdom and turned a nobly suffering face in Genma’s direction.

“I can go first, Lieutenant,” she said. “To set a good example for my cute little kouhai.”

She’d gone through enough evals to know what Genma’s judgment would likely be: excellent performance on the field, subpar displays of maturity off of it. It had cut deep when she was a rookie, the first time Raidou had sat her down and laid out her professional faults with firm honesty, but she’d gotten over herself. She could take whatever Genma had to give and trust that he only wanted her to improve.

And maybe, with the rookies out of earshot, he’d be more forthcoming about the details of Raidou’s suspension.

Next to her, Kakashi inhaled almost soundlessly and flicked her a look out of the corner of his eye. Katsuko met his gaze and put a little teeth into her smile. He stayed silent, and she turned back to Genma.

The lieutenant was nodding. “Before we get to that, any other questions? I know it’s been a little chaotic, but I think things should get steadier from here on out.”

“Not right yet. Sure I’ll think of something later, though.” Ryouma pushed restlessly up to his feet, shooting a grateful look at Katsuko. “You stay sitting, Lieutenant. Me and Kakashi can go check out the hall.”

“Make sure Kakashi doesn’t faint,” Katsuko said, patting Kakashi’s knee to show she meant no insult. “He is a delicate flower.”

Kakashi sighed heavily and leaned one elbow on the table. “I am,” he agreed, to Katsuko’s blinking shock. “Maybe I should stay here and listen to Ueno get confused by long words. For my health.”

Katsuko stared, for once too surprised to shoot off even an automatic retort. Genma, meanwhile, pinned Kakashi with a look.

Ryouma huffed in exasperation, came round the table, and hooked a hand in the collar of Kakashi’s shirt. “Not a good idea for anyone’s health to stick around when Katsuko’s confused.”

Excuse me?” she demanded, but Ryouma was already towing Kakashi out of the room. The door slid shut behind the two men, leaving Katsuko alone with Genma, the leftover snacks, and her own rising sense of indignation.

“I changed my mind,” she said at last. “My kouhai are the worst and they aren’t cute at all. Let’s trade them for another pair of rookies, Lieutenant.”

She’d been expecting some form of dry retort. Instead, Genma smiled and reached for his folders. “You might be surprised to see I complimented how you handle them. They actually do rely on you. So do Taichou and I.”

There wasn’t really anything she could say in response to that. Katsuko studied Genma’s face, trying to see past the smile. As always, she was thwarted by the urbane calm he wore like a comfortable sweater.

Katsuko didn’t understand this man. She was the one who had to get people to like her, not the other way around. When she’d first joined ANBU it’d taken her weeks to wear Raidou down enough to admit that fine, yes, they were friends. Ryouma had been easy to click with, but that was because she’d purposely made the first move.

She hadn’t done anything to win the kind of warmth the lieutenant liked to show her on a regular basis. It made suspicion itch at the back of her mind.

“Here,” Genma said, and slid her report across the table. It was about three pages long, paper-clipped together at one corner, with Genma’s neat handwriting filling almost every labeled section. Katsuko braced herself and started to flip through.

ANBU Periodic Performance Review Form

Agent: Ueno Katsuko, 010993
Position: ANBU Team 6, Hunter
Evaluating Officer: Shiranui Genma, 010203, Lieutenant, ANBU Team 6
Review Period: Y05, 19 April – 17 May
Missions: 2: ANB4052704-I-ISEG, ANB4050505-A-TSUT


Senior non-officer of ANBU Team 6

ANBU Team 6 is a strike-force oriented squad. Ueno is the team’s kenjutsu specialist, and seal-tag creator for missions requiring explosives. She is also, due to her high chakra reserves, usually responsible for creating shadow clones to assist with peripheral security, menial tasks, etc. In addition to mission responsibilities, Ueno is responsible for organizing the team’s maps, participating in daily team training, and signal education for Team 6’s rookies.


Agent’s on-mission performance

Ueno is focused, efficient, and highly competent. Despite partially incapacitating injuries (see injury reports dated Y05-03-05 and Y05-15-05), Ueno was instrumental in the successful resolution of mission objectives in both cases. She supported her officers, obeyed all orders, and showed initiative and follow through in evaluating changing tactical situations. She was particularly effective in her role as mentor to the team’s rookies in the aftermaths of two emotionally and physically taxing missions.

Agent’s off-mission performance

Ueno is excellent when focused on a task, especially training-related and physical tasks. She tends to be somewhat scattered when not carrying out a clear assignment, and occasionally needs to be redirected. Her less-than-solid interpersonal boundaries are an area of concern, but she responds quickly to correction from Namiashi-taichou and myself. She fills a lynchpin role in team cohesiveness, bolstering Tousaki’s confidence and drawing Hatake into participation.

Are there areas of exceptional performance that should be particularly noted?

Ueno’s performance in the aftermath of ANB4050505-A-TSUT is particularly noteworthy. Team 6 was split for the major objectives of this mission, and both sub-units encountered lethal opposition. Despite her injuries, the unsettling nature of the mission requirements, and her own fatigue, Ueno prepared meals, provided accessory nursing care at the medical officer’s direction, and generated desperately needed extra support in the form of multiple shadow clones. She also kept Hatake warm when he was unable to maintain his body temperature due to chakra depletion and coil damage, and distracted him from his painful injuries.

Throughout the several day waiting period for a medical evac team, she actively worked to bolster team morale, helped to keep Tousaki focused when he was struggling with mission-related emotional trauma, and made it possible for both injured officers to command effectively and focus on higher level concerns. Especially given her close relationship with Namiashi-taichou, and the worry she was undoubtedly carrying related to their part of the bifurcated mission, her exemplary professionalism is to be highly commended. It should also be noted that Ueno’s clones were instrumental in raising the alarm and procuring the evac team for Team 6.

Are there areas of performance needing more attention or improvement?

Ueno needs to continue to work on her chakra management, particularly small-expenditure jutsu, and chakra signature regulation. Her issues with chakra control are, to a certain extent, irremediable due to her specific circumstances, but over the course of my month working with her, I have seen an appreciable improvement in both her stamina at maintaining small jutsu and her precision with them when she is consistent with daily practice.

Ueno also needs to bring some of her mission focus to bear on her non-mission tasks. She is clearly capable of on-target, sustained focus when a mission requires it. She gives the impression of not taking training and office tasks seriously, and treads dangerously close to insubordination at times. In her role as senpai, she needs to set a better example for the team’s rookies.

State and discuss the expectations and goals for the upcoming review period.

In the next month, Ueno will

    • Practice small jutsu such as limited-release katon-no-jutsu on a daily basis
    • Practice chakra signature suppression on a daily basis
    • Continue to review ANBU signs and signals with Tousaki and Hatake
    • Maintain Team 6’s code book
    • Continue with physical rehab as assigned by the medical office
    • Stand for evaluation of medical fitness when the medical office determines she is ready
    • Carry out other orders and missions as assigned


List specific activities and continuing education the agent will pursue in the intermediate term as part of his/her professional development.

I recommend that Ueno take the ANBU Officer Preparatory course as an audit within the next six months, not with an immediate eye to promotion, but to facilitate development and explore whether she would like to pursue team leadership in the future.


The Agent may comment on the performance review in the space provided below.

To be included in Agent’s personnel file. Please sign below to acknowledge that you have received this document.

Date: Agent’s Signature:
Date: Officer’s Signature:

After a moment, Katsuko cleared her throat and persuaded her eyebrows to climb down from her hairline. Her voice still went a little high-pitched when she asked, “Officer Preparatory course?”

Genma nodded. “Only as an audit, for now. I think you’d find it interesting, and I’m convinced by what I’ve seen so far you have aptitude.” He paused and added, “Taichou agrees.”

Katsuko stared at him, then back down at her report. Genma had covered everything from Team Six’s first mission to the aftermath of their second. He was even more observant than she’d thought. She’d accuse him of embellishing the ‘exemplary performance’ section if the rest of his report wasn’t so painfully accurate.

He’d noticed everything she’d done to help after the Tsuto mission. And he thought she was doing a good job with the rookies, even if she could be doing better. Something warm and pleased lit her chest up inside.

Still… “I agree with your assessment about what I need to improve, Fukuchou,” Katsuko said. “But I’ve never been recommended for officer prep before. I was under the impression I didn’t have the personality for it. What makes you think I have the aptitude?”

Genma tipped his head to the side, matching her frank look with one of his own. “What makes you think you don’t? You show a tremendous amount of concern for the wellbeing of your teammates, and you have a sharp mind. There’s more than one kind of officer in ANBU. Look at Nara-taichou and Usagi-taichou.”

Katsuko knew how to lead — it was one of the prerequisites of reaching jounin — but commanding a team of chuunin on a B-rank mission was different than leading an ANBU squad. ANBU were all jounin or special-jounin. It took someone special to command the elite.

Genma and Raidou thought she could be one of those people.

She liked being a senpai. She liked looking after her team and knowing they trusted her. She didn’t know how well that would translate into leading a team, but Genma had only recommended she audit the officer’s course. At the very least she could try it out.

“Thank you, Fukuchou,” she said at last. “Do you have a pen? I’m ready to sign.”

Genma handed her one, smiling. “The next class starts in a week or so, I think, but check with the continuing ed office. I can lend you my books from when I took it, if you want.”

And there was the catch. Homework. Katsuko thought she’d left homework behind when she’d graduated Academy. She’d stabbed a man to death with his own shinbone once; surely that showcased enough skill to get out of homework.

“I’d appreciate that, Lieutenant,” Katsuko said, dashing off her signature. In the Agent Comments section she wrote Will be auditing the officers’ course. Then she set the pen down and straightened, meeting Genma’s eyes as he handed her a carbon copy.

“Is Taichou really alright?” she asked, quietly.

Genma’s face softened in sympathy. “He’s really alright. He’s tired and a little overwhelmed, but he— I get the impression he actually impressed Shibata. Enough they’re giving him time with Benihime-sama. They wouldn’t waste her time if they didn’t think he could get past this.” He studied her expression for a moment before asking, just as quietly, “I finally got to read his mission report this morning. Are you holding up okay?”

Katsuko sat there and processed the fact that Raidou had managed to impress the head of T&I during an interview about how Raidou had accidentally destroyed part of a city. Then she examined the revelation that it was the head of T&I who’d gotten Raidou private lessons with the Crimson Eye of Konoha.

“He really is doing okay,” she said, with equal parts relief and incredulity. She propped her good elbow on the table and rubbed her mouth in an attempt to hide her smile. “I’m… feeling much better, now that you’ve told me that. Thank you, Lieutenant.”

There was a plate of onigiri that had somehow managed to escape her ravenous rampage from earlier. Genma pushed it towards her. “If you need an ear. Or help with the rookies.” He shrugged. “Or you just want an update on things, if I’m not at HQ someone there will know how to find me.”

Katsuko dropped her hand and ducked her head, still smiling, and took a rice ball. “I’ll remember.”

kakashi 11Out in the silent hallway, Kakashi studied the conference room door and wished the first Hokage hadn’t been so meticulous about his sound-proofing.

“D’you think one of them’s dead?” he asked Ryouma.

Ryouma shook his head. “We’d’ve sensed the chakra-flare from a fight. …Unless the lieutenant took her down with poison or a senbon, I guess.” He considered that. “Nah. Katsuko wouldn’t go down easy.”

If Katsuko went down any way, it’d be explosively. With collateral damage.

Kakashi shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “What d’you think they’re saying?”

Ryouma slouched further down the wall. He’d been standing at a carefully calculated lean, shoulders against the plaster, hands in his pockets, one leg kicked up and back. Trying to look casual. “Probably Katsu’s convincing the lieutenant that her pet-names are really a form of team bonding and she should get a raise. How come you’re the only one who gets nicknames, anyway?”

How come you call her ‘Katsu’? Kakashi thought.

“Because she thinks she’s funny,” he said sourly. “And you’d just enjoy it.”

“Yeah, you’ve got a point.” Ryouma tipped his head back, regarding the ceiling in silent thought. He looked back down. “So… Taichou. What do you think?”

There were shadows on the other side of the conference door, illuminated through the paper screen panels. Too diffuse to make out a distinct person, but at least there was still movement in there.

“Which part?” Kakashi asked. “The part where he dissociated a chunk of Tsurugahama Port into the ocean, the part where he’s getting remedial genjutsu lessons to make up for it, or the part where he didn’t come to tell us any of that himself?”

Ryouma glanced at him, dark-eyed. “Seems like you’re pretty pissed about all of it.”

Genma had told Kakashi, specifically, to help hold the team together. Tousaki’s still fragile from the mission, and Ueno’s obviously going to be hit hard by this. Bitter resentment over Raidou’s imperfections wasn’t going to keep anyone steady, but Ryouma was a grown up ninja — who’d promised he wasn’t having a breakdown — and Katsuko wasn’t in earshot.

Kakashi sighed. “You should be able to trust your captain.”

Ryouma didn’t immediately slap him down for disloyalty. Instead he said bleakly, “I was thinking about Inuzuka Shippo myself.”

It took Kakashi a moment to place the name, and then he remembered. The kunoichi who’d had her dogs cut down in front of her, and gone so far into red and wrath that killing her enemies wasn’t enough. She’d slaughtered teammates, then kin. Kakashi’s mother had used her name for a teaching moment: never love anything so much it comes between you and Konoha, because the village won’t be enough if you lose it.

“But—” Ryouma continued, pushing himself away from the wall. He paced two steps, and turned. “Namiashi-taichou came back from it. And he brought us back, too. I dunno how much of what happened in the bunker you remember—”

Kakashi shrugged in a way that hopefully conveyed nothing you ever need to ask any follow up questions about.

“Well, Taichou looked out for us the whole time. He and Katsu came looking for us when we were late, and he got you swaddled in blankets and hooked up to an IV. He patched up the prisoner, when I’d have cheerfully let her die. And he— talked me back from the edge, when I was pretty close to it.” Ryouma raked a hand through his hair, ruffling the spikes into a shattered black forest, and dragged it down his face. “I don’t know anything about the genjutsu, or… whatever made him snap. But I trust him to deal with it.”

Kakashi opened his mouth to ask why, and the door slid open. Ryouma’s head snapped around. Kakashi inhaled, expecting the sharp scent of tension-stress to fill the hall, but—

Katsuko was smiling.

Faint and pale, but that was definitely a smile. Her shoulders were down and loose; her stride was easy.

“Miss me, boys?” she asked, voice lilting. Then she took in their expressions and the humor slipped away, replaced by something steadier. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Ryouma scraped up a smile. “He didn’t flunk you back to rookie?”

“Too late for that,” she said, and reached up to give Ryouma’s arm a comforting squeeze. Then she stepped forward and, more hesitantly, dropped her hand on Kakashi’s shoulder. “You good?”

There’d been all the time in the world to move, and yet somehow, Kakashi hadn’t. Her fingers bled warmth through his shirt, just a tick above regular body temperature.

Yes wasn’t honest. No admitted too much.

He shrugged, sliding out from under her hand, and said, “Tousaki wants to know why you don’t have any pet names for him. You should tell him in detail while I talk to the lieutenant.”

Katsuko’s eyebrow flicked up. Ryouma snorted disbelievingly. Kakashi stepped quickly through the door and slid it closed, leaving them behind to hug it out.

The conference room was unchanged, except for a slight diminishing of food. Genma was still seated in the same spot, crutches leaning against the table. He was eating from a plate of thinly sliced pickled daikon — without taking his senbon out, somehow — and reading a report. Even from the door, Kakashi could see his own name printed across the top.

Well, it couldn’t be worse than anything he’d heard before.

Genma glanced up and nodded at an adjacent cushion. Kakashi moved over and sat down, crossing his legs. “Lieutenant,” he said.

Amber-brown eyes gave him a slow once-over. “How are you feeling?” Genma asked. “I know you haven’t had enough recovery time yet. Are you up for this?”

Kakashi returned the look, pausing dryly at the bruises circling Genma’s throat. Their matching friends lurked under Kakashi’s mask, courtesy of Iebara’s particular sense of humor. “Are you?”

Genma didn’t get offended; he laughed softly. “It’s my job to be,” he said. “But you have a fair point.” He took a sip of iced tea and moved on, letting the lack of answer — from either of them — be response enough. “This is your first time with the ANBU review process. Any questions before I give you your evaluation to look over? You’ll get a chance to respond after you’ve read it.”

Kakashi shook his head, and Genma turned the paper on the table, sliding it over. Three pages, paper-clipped together. Kakashi picked it up.

ANBU Periodic Performance Review Form

Agent: Hatake Kakashi, 009720
Position: ANBU Team 6, Hunter, Rookie
Evaluating Officer: Shiranui Genma, 010203, Lieutenant, ANBU Team 6
Review Period: Y05, 19 April – 17 May
Missions: 2: ANB4052704-I-ISEG, ANB4050505-A-TSUT


Rookie Hunter, ANBU Team 6

ANBU Team 6 is a strike-force oriented squad. Hatake is one of two rookies assigned to Team 6. He is a tactical and offensive specialist, with equal mastery of standard-issue weaponry and all three major disciplines. His repertoire of ninjutsu are of particular value to ANBU, and contribute significantly to Team 6’s effectiveness at high-profile offensive missions. In addition to mission assignments, Hatake is responsible for participating in daily team training, mastering all ANBU signals, codes and protocols, and carrying out tasks and activities assigned him by his seniors.


Agent’s on-mission performance

Hatake’s performance on both ANB4052704-I-ISEG and ANB4050505-A-TSUT exceeded expectations. He is an offensive powerhouse who shows bravery, resourcefulness, and unstinting willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the mission and his teammates. His self-sacrificing tendencies bear watching, but so far he has not shown undue disregard for his own safety or well being.

 Agent’s off-mission performance

Hatake shows up to team training sessions, but is often late. He participates in sparring with varying degrees of enthusiasm, though as the team has come together more, he’s become more engaged. He follows orders when they are clear, but often looks for loopholes in them, and continually tests his officers’ boundaries. He completes his paperwork, but seldom on time, and his writing is neither neat nor always legible. He continues to work with Tousaki and Ueno to master ANBU field codes and signs, and is making satisfactory progress.

Are there areas of exceptional performance that should be particularly noted?

Although not technically an agent at the time, Hatake showed bravery and resourcefulness when faced with the unprecedented events during the ANBU trials. Despite his own injury (see injury report dated Y05-16-04) he intervened in an attack on Tousaki Ryouma (010950) and was instrumental in preventing a career-ending injury to Tousaki. He communicated effectively with Shiranui and Namiashi, who were in the vicinity and responded to the attack. Although he killed the attacking party, [NAME REDACTED], which prevented further interrogation, he was able to secure some field-intelligence that proved of value.

On mission ANB4052704-I-ISEG, he accompanied Shiranui into the unmapped mines and tunnels carved out by the demons, where he faced the unpleasant task of ending the suffering of five abducted civilians who were past saving, which he did with compassion and without hesitation. When Shiranui was incapacitated and dragged off by the demons, Hatake pursued his lieutenant deep into enemy territory, rescued him from near-certain death by bluffing a very dangerous enemy into retreating, and carried him back up through the tunnels to safety.

On mission ANB4050505-A-TSUT, Hatake carried out his mission assignment with skill and finesse. He worked with his teammates and officers to develop effective tactics for handling the split mission. When the team encountered the Mist ninja, and Hatake was recognized by Iebara, he responded immediately to the threat, provided an avenue of escape for his teammates when they were targeted, and was instrumental in taking down Iebara. He used his Sharingan to capture Iebara’s jutsu, and used it offensively in that same battle to eliminate Iebara.

 Are there areas of performance needing more attention or improvement?

Hatake needs to significantly improve his communication with teammates. He tends to act without taking into account the actions or intentions of his teammates, and at times works at cross-purposes to them because of failed communication. On a mission this has the potential to be disastrous.

Hatake skirts the line of insubordination with a great deal of finesse, and seems to treat it as a sort of game. He could better apply his energy to learning to work effectively with his teammates and officers, rather than continuously testing them.

Hatake has worked himself to the point of exhaustion on more than one occasion, in training and most notably on mission ANB4050505-A-TSUT. His high-power jutsu are extremely chakra-intensive and his transplanted Sharingan is a continuous chakra drain. He needs to learn to better recognize the signs of impending chakra exhaustion, and to manage his chakra resources with a greater degree of control.

 State and discuss the expectations and goals for the upcoming review period.

In the next month, Hatake will

    • When medically cleared, practice chakra management, with emphasis on reducing chakra expenditure and improving jutsu efficiency, especially for high-drain jutsu such as shadow clones and chidori
    • Continue with physical rehab as assigned by the medical office
    • Stand for evaluation of medical fitness when the medical office determines he is ready
    • Complete all paperwork legibly and before it is due
    • Continue to review ANBU signs, signals and protocol with Ueno and Tousaki
    • Carry out other orders and missions as assigned, and without complaint


List specific activities and continuing education the agent will pursue in the intermediate term as part of his/her professional development.

Hatake’s primary focus should be on integrating with his team and mastering ANBU fundamentals. No further professional development plans are indicated at the moment.


The Agent may comment on the performance review in the space provided below.

To be included in Agent’s personnel file. Please sign below to acknowledge that you have received this document.

Date: Agent’s Signature:
Date: Officer’s Signature:

Kakashi set the report down, took a silent breath, and tried to step aside from his raw pride. You couldn’t twist away from failure. If it was in you, hiding in the shadows, then you could only drag it into the light. And burn it out.

Like all cautery, it lacked for enjoyment.

“I’ll give you the communication,” he said. “But I do practice chakra control.”

“I know you do,” Genma said. “You’d have to, to be as successful as you are. But I think you still have room to improve. Ueno has a similar issue. You could work with her.”

Kakashi restrained a twitch. Katsuko had issues where she blew up chunks of the landscape. Kakashi had issues where murderous psychopaths wouldn’t die unless you hit them with everything you had, including actual lightning. It wasn’t like he wanted to pour his chakra out everywhere. It was just… repeatedly necessary.

“Unless Ueno has a transplanted organ sapping her chakra, I’m not sure we’ll be much use to each other,” he said, attempting diplomacy. “But I’ll ask.”

Genma did not appear impressed by this logic. “Tousaki needs to improve his chakra control, too. Maybe you’d rather work with him? But I doubt Ueno has nothing to teach you about chakra management.”

Kakashi clenched his back teeth together, and said pleasantly, “I’ll ask both of them.”

“I can make it a group assignment if you’d prefer,” Genma said. “I’ll practice with you, too. I have some larger jutsu I could stand to refine.”

Diplomacy buckled under the sheer outrage of being assigned group work like an academy first year. Kakashi opened his mouth to excoriate the lieutenant— and paused. “Large jutsu?”

Genma took his senbon out, spinning it absently over the back of his knuckles. “Metal jutsu. I did one during the fight with Iebara, actually. Made his blades porous.”

So that was what Genma had done. Kakashi had seen the flicker of seals in the rain, felt his own weapons rattle. He probably had the jutsu stored somewhere in the Sharingan’s vault, but a detailed look was infinitely more valuable than a chaotic battle-memory.

“Would you share?” Kakashi asked.

“Sure,” Genma said. “When you’re recovered enough to use this.” He gestured with the senbon towards his own left eye. “I don’t know how easy it will be, but I can try to teach them to you. My friend Uchiha Masanori wasn’t able to master the one I showed him, but he’s not good with earth jutsu.”

“I’m earth-natured,” Kakashi said, which was more polite than your friend must be an idiot. Not all Uchiha were equally talented. “Have you created any other jutsu?”

“Yeah. Masa’s fire and wind. So you’ll probably pick them up.” Genma smiled slightly, like he enjoyed talking about jutsu just as much as Kakashi enjoyed taking them. “I have four.” He made a superstitious little sign. It looked like a man flicking prayer beads. “Bad luck, right? I need to invent a fifth.”

Kakashi leaned forward. “What do the others do?”

Genma didn’t take the bait. “I’ll show you when you’re well. It can be your reward for recovering.” He sipped his tea, nearly draining the glass. “Any other comments about your evaluation? Or questions?”

Kakashi sighed and glanced over the report again. As far as he could tell, ‘exceptional performance’ was what he considered standard operating procedure, and didn’t really deserve comment. Failed communication — yes, fine, he could talk more. A few dings about testing the ranking officers and looking for loopholes in their orders — well that just encouraged them to be clear. Rehab, medical fitness evaluation, some nonsense about improving his handwriting…

And that last paragraph.

“No further professional development plans,” he said.

“Becoming a good ANBU agent isn’t sufficient professional development for you?”

Kakashi considered that question from all angles, looking for the hidden traps. “No,” he said at last. “I want to be a superb ANBU agent, and take advantage of whatever professional development is available.”

“Mastering the basics is the first step,” Genma said firmly. “You’ve barely cleared thirty days as a rookie.”

Apparently that was plenty of time to find him lacking, though.

“What did Tousaki get?” Kakashi said.

“His own review.”

Kakashi scowled, but Genma was as implacable as a glacier. They sat for a long moment of silence while Kakashi wrestled with himself, and Genma selected a new pickle to eat off the end of his senbon. When Genma chose a second pickle, Kakashi gave up and scrawled his signature. He shoved the pen and the form at Genma, received a carbon copy of the report in return, and got to his feet.

“I do have one more question,” he said, shoving the copy into his pocket.

Genma tilted his head inquiringly.

“Why didn’t the captain come tell us himself?” Kakashi asked. He managed, just about, not to sound bitter.

Genma was silent for a moment, eyes serious. “This isn’t any easier on the captain than it is on us.”

“That’s not an answer,” Kakashi said.

“Namiashi-taichou cares about this team, probably more than you have any idea,” Genma said quietly. “He’s currently suspended and forbidden from involvement with team activities. Which this meeting and these reviews are.” He paused, and his expression softened slightly. “He wanted to be here. That was obvious when I talked to him.”

Beneath his mask, Kakashi caught the edge of his lip with one sharp canine, but he had to ask. “So he’s not just avoiding us because he’s ashamed?”

“He’s not that kind of man,” Genma said. “He might bow too low or take too much blame, but he wouldn’t avoid it.”

That did stack with the captain Kakashi had been getting to know, before he’d vanished. Raidou was exactly the kind of straightforward idiot who’d get his good intentions scrambled by a smartly played genjutsu, but he wouldn’t run afterwards. Or — or do anything worse.

A subtle tension eased itself in Kakashi’s chest. He stood a little straighter, saluted Genma, who saluted back, and turned to leave.

“See you at 0900, assuming you can be there,” Genma said. “If your doctors say otherwise, make sure they get a note to HQ for me.”

“I’ll be there,” Kakashi said firmly, and let himself out.

In the hallway, Katsuko and Ryouma had decided to combat boredom with bladed weapons. They were standing ten feet apart, tossing three kunai between them in a fast, complex pattern, unhindered by Katsuko’s sling-bound arm. The air hummed with the song of warm steel.

“—said he’s going to start making our masks out of rubber,” Ryouma was saying.

Kakashi blinked once, momentarily distracted. “If you’re not talking about the QM, Tousaki, I’m going to start wondering about your weekend life.”

Ryouma snagged two kunai neatly out of the air. “Anytime you want to know, just say the word.”

Katsuko caught the last kunai with a bark of laughter.

“I’m good,” Kakashi said firmly. “And you’re up, Tousaki.”

Ryouma saluted with one of the kunai, hid both away beneath his clothes, and said, “Guess I’ll see you both tomorrow?”

Katsuko paused, glanced at Kakashi, and then looked back at Ryouma. “You… don’t want us to wait for you?”

Ryouma stopped with his hand on the door, bewildered. “Got no reason to, do you? It’ll probably take longer, if the lieutenant has to read me the whole thing. And we can’t go clubbing till you’re both healthier.”

The thought of waiting forever in the hallway was about as appealing as pulled teeth, but returning to an empty bedroom to fixate on mastering the basics was even less attractive. And what if Ryouma’s report didn’t go well?

(Or what if it went really well and he did something stupid to celebrate?)

Kakashi said, “Isn’t it a team thing, not to leave a man behind?”

“Well, yeah, but—” Ryouma stopped. “I dunno how long it’ll take, though. What about — what if we meet up for dinner, after?”

Katsuko’s face lit up, and a subtle harp-string of tension left her. “Luckily for you, I know all the good restaurants around here. Also the Akimichi clan really likes me for some reason. I go to their barbecue a lot. We should go there.”

For some reason, Kakashi reflected, probably had a lot to do with the Akimichi seeing Katsuko as a kindred spirit trapped in a woefully underfed body.

“I could go for barbecue,” he said.

Ryouma gave a decisive nod. “Akimichi barbecue. Give me—” he glanced back at the closed door, “—two hours, just to be safe. Don’t kill each other in the meantime.”

Kakashi glanced at the kunai still in Katsuko’s hand, which she was casually spinning between her fingers. “No promises.”

“Aw, don’t be like that, fluffykins,” she said happily.

Kakashi sighed. Ryouma snorted and made his escape.

worried ryoumaRyouma’s teammates were still bickering behind him when he slid the conference room door shut. Genma sat at the table, studying his stack of papers, with his bad leg stretched out straight and his good one folded up beneath him. The pickle dish was empty; he’d moved on to snacking on senbei. He crunched one between his teeth and looked up with a quick smile. “Have a seat, Tousaki.”

Ryouma settled down cross-legged on the embroidered floor cushion at the head of the table, where he could see Genma’s face. “Should’ve figured you for a pickles and rice cracker guy. You ever eat tempura, Lieutenant?”

“Of course.” Genma’s brows tilted, puzzled. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Just a theory.” Ryouma waved it away. He braced his hands on both knees and straightened his spine. “I’m ready. Lay it on me.”

“Relax, Tousaki. This isn’t T&I.” Genma pushed his senbei plate away and handed Ryouma a set of paper-clipped carbon copy pages off the top of his stack. “I know you’ll need me to read this for you, but protocol says I show you what I’m reading from. The title at the top says, ‘ANBU Periodic Performance Review Form.’”

If Ryouma squinted, the bold black characters on the white page almost held still. He touched the first set gently. “I know those characters. If it’s periodic, how often does this review happen?”

“The first one comes after the first thirty days. After that it’s roughly quarterly, unless there’s a problem that needs addressing.”

“On top of mission reports and everything else.” Ryouma whistled softly and passed the pages back. “Good luck, Lieutenant. Guess you can always go in for PT if you get hand-cramp. Injury on the job.”

“And fill out an injury report for it.” Genma smiled wryly, then sipped at his tea and refocused. “Do you want me to read it to you section by section, or go through the whole thing and then discuss it afterward?”

If they had to stop and talk after every section, it’d be sunset before they finished, and he’d still be sitting braced for bad news. Ryouma shook his head. “One shot. Let’s do it.”

“Okay. Let me know if you need me to repeat something.” Genma squared the papers off in front of him, cleared his throat, and began to read.

ANBU Periodic Performance Review Form

Agent: Tousaki Ryouma, 010950
Position: ANBU Team 6, Hunter, Rookie
Evaluating Officer: Shiranui Genma, 010203, Lieutenant, ANBU Team 6
Review Period: Y05, 19 April – 17 May
Missions: 2: ANB4052704-I-ISEG, ANB4050505-A-TSUT


Rookie Hunter, ANBU Team 6

ANBU Team 6 is a strike-force oriented squad. Tousaki is one of two rookies assigned to Team 6. He is a well-rounded offense specialist who relies most heavily on ninjutsu in combat situations. His signature jutsu are of particular value to ANBU, and contribute significantly to Team 6’s effectiveness at high-profile offensive missions. In addition to mission assignments, Tousaki is responsible for participating in daily team training, mastering all ANBU signals, codes and protocols, and carrying out tasks and activities assigned him by his seniors.


Agent’s on-mission performance

Tousaki is a skilled all-arounder, whose performance on his first two missions met or exceeded expectations. Despite sustaining traumatic injury during the ANBU trials (see injury report dated Y05-16-04) he showed only eagerness and enthusiasm before both missions Team 6 has carried out to date. He suffered severe chakra depletion on mission ANB4052704-I-ISEG (see injury report dated Y05-03-05), primarily due to the need for repeated applications of his high-intensity jutsu. He worked diligently at rehabilitation and recovery, and was mission fit when Team Six deployed for ANB4050505-A-TSUT. He shows good teamwork, and responds quickly to changing battlefield conditions, although he also shows a troubling recklessness and seems to be subject to a fair degree of emotional instability. Some of this may be a factor of his being new to ANBU and the unsavory nature of typical ANBU missions.

 Agent’s off-mission performance

Tousaki’s inability to read is a handicap that he has, for the most part, worked around. The arrangement with Intel whereby Tousaki dictates his mission reports is working satisfactorily; however, since he is unable to do any other team-related paperwork, the lion’s share of non-written team-functioning tasks such as laundry and stock keeping falls to him. He carries that out cheerfully and without complaint. He continues to work with Hatake and Ueno to master ANBU field codes and signs, and is making satisfactory progress.

Are there areas of exceptional performance that should be particularly noted?

Tousaki tackled and struck the killing blow against the demon ‘queen’ on mission ANB4052704-I-ISEG. This monstrous demon was larger than a 2-storey building, and had already done considerable damage to several team members. Tousaki attacked it without hesitation when he saw an opening, and despite considerable risk to his own life was able to kill the beast. His fearlessness undoubtedly saved the lives of his teammates.

On mission ANB4050505-A-TSUT, Tousaki fought seamlessly with Shiranui and Hatake when Iebara struck unexpectedly, and was instrumental in their takedown of the Mist ninja. When, in the course of that battle, Hatake was at the mercy of the Mist captain, Tousaki intervened with a crippling but non-disabling blow, saving Hatake’s life and making it possible for Shiranui to later secure the enemy captain as a prisoner. He then carried the gravely injured Hatake several kilometers to the safehouse, and worked diligently for several days, assisting in the medical care of his injured teammates while Team 6 awaited medical evac.

 Are there areas of performance needing more attention or improvement?

Tousaki’s jutsu are extremely chakra intensive, and as a result he relies on soldier pills more than is advisable. He needs to streamline his jutsu so as to reduce chakra expenditure as much as possible, and prevent the need for chakra transfusion from his teammates.

Tousaki’s emotional instability will need addressing if it persists beyond this initial adjustment period to the rigors of ANBU’s missions. His reaction to disturbing mission content is not unexpected, but especially on Team 6’s second mission, he seemed troubled enough that it affected his performance while the mission was still ongoing, becoming withdrawn and agitated immediately after the main objective was achieved, and remaining so to a greater or lesser degree for the duration of Team 6’s time in the field.

 State and discuss the expectations and goals for the upcoming review period.

In the next month, Tousaki will

    • Practice small jutsu such as limited-release katon-no-jutsu on a daily basis
    • Practice chakra management, with emphasis on reducing chakra expenditure and improving jutsu efficiency, especially for high-drain jutsu such as shadow clones and his flesh-dissolving techniques
    • Continue to review ANBU signs and signals with Ueno and Hatake
    • Continue to shadow and assist Shiranui with medical care for Team 6, with an eye to beginning training as a field medic
    • See the medical office for evaluation and treatment of old injury to left knee
    • Carry out other orders and missions as assigned


List specific activities and continuing education the agent will pursue in the intermediate term as part of his/her professional development.

Tousaki shows potential aptitude as a field medic. Given ANBU’s pressing need for skilled field medics, and Tousaki’s prowess with finessed ninjutsu and competence at basic first aid, Tousaki should take an introductory Field Medicine course within the next three months. In addition, he will commence individual study with Shiranui.


The Agent may comment on the performance review in the space provided below.

To be included in Agent’s personnel file. Please sign below to acknowledge that you have received this document.

Date: Agent’s Signature:
Date: Officer’s Signature:

Genma’d paused a few times to sip at his emptying glass of tea while he read — while he read everything, including section headers and arrow heads — but his voice was still hoarse by the time he finished. Ryouma shoved the pitcher of barley tea closer to him. Genma nodded his thanks, refilled his glass, and drained it without pausing for breath.

Ryouma watched his throat bob and tried to think of something coherent to say. “I think I’m more stable now,” he managed, finally.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Genma refilled his glass once more, then pushed the nearly empty pitcher back to Ryouma. “I’ll be honest, Tousaki, you had me worried. I’d meant to check in with you on the run back to the rendezvous point, but Iebara’s team blew that plan up like a box of exploding tags.”

“Yeah, their timing sucked.” For lack of anything else to do, Ryouma poured the last of the barley tea into his own glass, and then forced himself to drink it. He’d have preferred coffee.

“You did talk to me, afterward,” he said. “You shared your stash of instant coffee with me. Mount Akan.”

You’re doing fine, Tousaki, Genma’d said.

“I did go see my friends,” he said abruptly. “Hakone and Ayane. We didn’t actually talk much, but it helped.”

Genma looked pleased. “Good. That’s good. That was a rough mission, especially for a rookie. Actually, both our missions so far have been rough. I’m afraid with you, Hatake, and Ueno all on the same team, there’s no way we won’t be getting a lot of the more violent missions.”

Strike-force oriented squad, Ryouma remembered. High profile offensive missions. He nodded, and tried to swallow another sip of tea.

Genma picked up another senbei, but began to crumble it between his fingers instead of eating. “How are you sleeping?”

Ryouma hitched one shoulder up. “So-so.” He’d had one too-short night of sleep in a crisp white hotel bed, with Ayane’s scent surrounding him and the sweat drying on both their bodies. The last two nights, alone in the barracks, he’d kept the TV running on a low murmur until dawn.

“I’ve still got some nightmares,” he admitted. “It’s only been a week, though. Took longer than that for the dreams to stop after the Trials, and we haven’t had the 4 a.m. wake-ups to tire me out. I’ve been working out on my own, though,” he added hastily. “I’ll be in even better condition when we’re ready to head out again.”

Frowning, Genma pulled out a pen and made a note on another sheet of paper. “Some missions you never stop having nightmares about. But if you’re getting them more than a few times a month, that’s cause for concern.” He looked up. “I can give you an herbal supplement to try that might help you sleep more deeply. If it works, we can talk to Toshirou-sensei about making it part of your regular supplies.” His lips twitched sideways; it took Ryouma a moment to realize it was the unconscious gesture of a man used to chewing on the senbon that was currently lying in the empty pickle dish beside him.

“There’s also counseling available,” Genma continued. “Or you can talk to me. I’ve been there, with the nightmares that wouldn’t stop.”

Ryouma shifted uncomfortably. “Talking to… anyone on the team… is bad enough. I don’t much like the idea of talking to a stranger. The herb stuff though, wouldn’t that be a problem? I mean, if I sleep too deeply, or can’t sleep without it.”

“It’s not sedating or addicting,” Genma assured him. “Just helps you relax and feel more mellow when you want to sleep. If you need to wake up in a hurry, you can, no problem.” He set his pen down. “I don’t usually recommend it for when we’re on a mission, but while we’re taking a break, especially in the aftermath of the mission we just had…”

He shrugged. “I think it’d be worth a try. If I wasn’t on painkillers, I’d probably be taking it myself right now.”

The lieutenant did look like he could use a few nights of better sleep. Under the healing bruises, his cheeks were thin and his skin looked rough and a little too pale. The sessions of chakra-healing he’d been undergoing were their own energy-drain, and he clearly hadn’t had the rest or the food he needed to make up for them.

Ryouma shoved up, leaned over the table to snag two half-full platters of tai sushi and agedashi tofu, and dropped them in front of the lieutenant. He confiscated the senbei plate as he sat back down. “I’m getting dinner with Katsu and Kakashi later. You should eat now. And— I’ll try the herb stuff, if you’ll give me a note for it.”

That earned him the lieutenant’s trademark lifted brow, mildly sardonic. “Subtle. I’m getting the sense I’m on target about that professional development plan for you. I’ll give you the note after we’re done here.”

Studying healing. For real. On his performance review, in writing. Ryouma shrugged and tried to look cool.

Genma ate a piece of sushi. “When did Ueno become Katsu? You called her that before the mission, too, I think. Makes her sound like a donburi.” He paused, with his hand halfway to another piece of sushi. “Or is that why you call her that, since she eats so much?”

“She called Kakashi fluffykins,” Ryouma pointed out. “Right before I came in.”

genma 8“Of course she did.” Genma suppressed a sigh. He’d just had a conversation with Katsuko about stepping up and being more of a leader, and he was fairly certain Kakashi had left the room in no mood for boundary transgressions. “Is there going to be blood in the hallway when we leave here? If either one of them make their injuries worse…” He left the threat unsaid.

“I told ‘em not to kill each other,” Ryouma said. “They were gonna wait for me, but I didn’t know how long this’d take, so we’re meeting at Akimichi Barbecue in two hours.” As he said the words, Ryouma’s animated expression turned awkward and unsure. “I didn’t think you’d want to come. Sorry.” He bit his lip. “It’s kind of a long walk.”

“Heh.” Genma shook his head and half-smiled. “Don’t dig yourself a hole here. There’s no way I’d want to eat dinner with the officer who just gave me my first performance review, either. You guys need to go debrief each other over beers and barbecue.”

He’d covered for it, but it was a little disappointing to be left out, even if logic told him exactly why he had been. Everyone on the team were age-mates. In another few years they would probably all be peers again, either as ANBU officers or regular jounin and special jounin. In fact, given both Kakashi’s and Ryouma’s potentials — if Ryouma could get around his issue with reading and Kakashi could learn to navigate interpersonal interactions — there was every chance the future had their roles reversed, with Genma the subordinate.

The image of Kakashi or Ryouma in the Hokage’s hat was… either alarming or amusing. And Katsuko in it— Genma hastily ate a piece of sushi.

Ryouma took a drink of his tea, looking relieved. “Yeah, exactly. Katsuko was looking really good when she came out — it must’ve been good news.” That was a much more finessed effort at fishing for information about the others’ reviews than Kakashi’s had been. Proving Genma’s point about the ‘learn social skills’ plan for Kakashi.

“And—” Ryouma’s eyes lit with hope. “I’m really gonna start medic training? I can tell them that?”

“You can tell them anything you feel comfortable telling them,” Genma said. “You can even show them your copy of your review if you want. And they can show you theirs, if they want.” Ryouma would be savvy enough to pick up on the hidden ’no, I’m not going to tell you what I said to your senpai.’

“But yes. You are really going to start medic training. I’m glad you still want to.”

“I’m glad you still want me to. Even after — everything.” Ryouma waved an open hand at himself and the review form with its accusations of instability. The doubt in his voice was plain, but he papered it over with a smile. “I did a pretty good job on your nose, didn’t I? You can’t even tell it was broken.”

“Except for the tanuki eyes,” Genma agreed. Because he’d seen himself in a mirror and those under-eye bruises were not pretty, even a week later. “The doc here had to straighten it a little more on the inside, but you definitely saved me from disfigurement. That’s what a field medic does: treats the minor injuries and stabilizes the major ones so the patient gets to the hospital alive and treatable.” He smiled at Ryouma, hoping it was encouraging despite the bruises. “Technically you already started your training.”

Ryouma’s answering grin came quickly. “Well yeah, it’d be a shame to leave that face disfigured. Had to do something.

Ryouma flirted all the time. It was his defense mechanism. He’d flirt with a lamppost if the lamppost had made him even a little uncomfortable.

It still brought a flush of heat to Genma’s chest — he hoped it didn’t show on his face.

“About the rest of your review,” he said, flicking his eyes over the page again. Away from Ryouma’s off-limits charm. “ANBU is hard service. I know you knew that coming in, but you can’t really know it until you’ve experienced it. For me, being a medic helps me deal with… With everything. Because even when I have a civilian target’s blood on my hands, if those same hands can save my comrades…” He sighed and pushed a stray lock of hair back from his face.

When he looked back at Ryouma, the flirty grin was gone, and so was the heat.

“That’s another reason I think training you as a medic is a good idea. You have the aptitude, and the temperament. And when you have the temperament, killing can be hard on you.”

Ryouma turned his half-empty glass in his hands, staring into the swirling brown liquid like maybe the barley tea had an answer that the rest of his life had failed to provide. “Yeah. Well.” He took a breath and shrugged, carefully casual, before he looked up again. “I’m good at it.”

“I know,” Genma said. “So am I.” And like Ryouma, every time he took a life, it cost him something ineffable but real. “We all are, really. And it always takes a toll. Hatake hides it the best of us, I think, but there’s not an agent in ANBU who hasn’t had to reconcile their skills with their morals. The ones who don’t struggle with it— those are the monsters. Those are the ones we end up having to hunt.”

Ryouma grimaced. “So you’ve got to keep struggling, is that what you’re saying? Because the missions don’t stop, and they don’t get easier.” Bitterness edged Ryouma’s tone. “Taichou said… You don’t get used to it, but you do get better at it.”

His fingers tightened on his glass, reddening the nailbeds and blanching the tips. “It’s not like it bothers me all the time,” he continued. “I didn’t care about killing those Kiri-nin on Iebara’s team then, and I don’t care now. But…” He hesitated, eyes darkening. “I felt sorry for Tsuto, a little, when you were killing his son.” His grip on the glass was almost hard enough to crack it; his voice turned vicious. “And then I rotted his belly out anyway.”

“That was the mission,” Genma said.

It wasn’t a good enough answer.

If he was going to try to counsel his troubled teammates, he needed to take a class in trauma psychology. All he could offer was the logic behind the mission. “We needed the information we found in his ledgers. Our orders were to force him to talk; you did that. And then to kill him with jutsu that would make it obvious Konoha meant business. What happened in Hikouto — the attack on the Daimyou — that was a direct result of what Tsuto and his son did. If that coup had been successful — or if the conspirators tried again — we’d be at war now.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ryouma said. He let go of the glass at last and flattened his hand on the table, rubbing small circles to push feeling back into his fingers. When he looked at Genma again it was with a shadow of that flashing smile. “It’s like you said, though. The difference between knowing something and… understanding it. Believing it.” He shook his head. “It might take a little longer.”

Somehow, by some miracle, it looked like Genma’s words had helped. He said a silent prayer of thanks for mercies granted, and resolved to definitely take that class.

“You’ve only been in ANBU thirty days. Like I said in your review, it’s not unexpected. And we’ve had much harder missions that most rookie teams get at first. If I’m having nightmares, then it’s hardly surprising you are.” He gave Ryouma a wry smile.

“Also — what Taichou told you — that’s true. Sort of. You might not get used to it, but you do get better at remembering why we’re doing what we’re doing. You get better at letting the bad stuff pass through you, or at least at compartmentalizing it until the mission is over. You get better coping strategies. I run — not now, obviously.” Genma waved a hand at his crutches. “I meditate. And I smoke, which I had almost quit, but after the last month…” He spread his hands in mock surrender.

Ryouma gave a surprised snort. “Okay, smoking?” He pointed a finger at Genma’s chest. “No wonder your taijutsu’s a little slack. And you’re not allowed to criticize my coping strategies ever.”

Occasional smoking,” Genma said, arching an eyebrow. Slack? Ryouma thought his taijutsu was slack? He might not be the powerhouse that Raidou or Katsuko was, and he didn’t have Ryouma’s reach or brute strength, but what Genma lacked in power he made up for in flexibility and speed. He knew for a fact he could evade and twist out of most holds, and he was pretty sure he could leave Ryouma in his dust in a sprint if he had to.

“It’s my job to criticize your strategies, coping and otherwise.” He held up the review form. “Also what was that about my taijutsu? I haven’t filed this yet, there’s still time for me to add something about insubordinate behavior.”

“ ‘Troubling recklessness,’ ” Ryouma said promptly. “You covered it already.” He smiled. “My genin sensei said that, too. ‘Under-developed sense of self-preservation.’ It means I pick fights when I shouldn’t.”

Genma laughed. “Self-awareness is the first step. Changing your behavior is the next.”

“So…” Ryouma leaned back, adjusting his seat on the cushion. “I’ll do extra sparring with you, and you’ll do medical training with me?”

“We could do that. When my leg heals up.” Genma looked down at the review again, reminding himself of what he still needed to go over. “I’m on medical leave now, obviously, but we could start your training any time, as long as the interim captain doesn’t have a problem with it. I got Taichou’s sign off this morning, and I already submitted paperwork so I can be registered as an instructor. We’ll just start with things I can teach you while seated. Also, you need to go ahead and sign up for the next Field Medic Basics class with Continuing Ed.”

There was a long silence. When Genma looked up, he found Ryouma staring at him, with his lips half-parted like he’d been about to speak and forgotten how to begin. Ryouma took a deep breath, swallowed, and nodded. “Yeah. I’ll do that. Today.” He still sounded a little dazed when he added, “What did Taichou say?”

Genma gave in to impulse and leaned across to lay a hand on Ryouma’s arm. “He said, and I’m trying to get the quote right, ‘I would pay gold for a second medic.’” He’d also said if you can give Tousaki something to focus on that actually helps his teammates and isn’t just murder, but that wasn’t quite the reassurance Ryouma seemed to need at the moment.

ryouma 2Ryouma dropped his gaze. Easier to stare at Genma’s hand than at his face, with encouragement warm in those whiskey-amber eyes and softening his lips into a smile. Genma’s mouth always looked a little too naked without a senbon or a grass-blade or a mask. Nothing like Raidou, with all his determined lines or wry twists.

Raidou wanted another medic. Well, that was smart. That was what a captain should want, right? That was why Ryouma wanted so badly to do this — so that he wouldn’t watch another Kenichi bleed out with no one there to help, so that he wouldn’t see Genma staggering up from his sickbed to operate on a civilian because there was no one to spell him off.

They’d all done their best to help in the bunker at Arechi Hill, but the lion’s share of the work had fallen to Genma there, too. He had more reason than anyone to want a second medic on the team. And yet he said, when you have the temperament, killing can be hard on you.

“Well,” Ryouma said, half at random, “it’s always good to be useful. If Kakashi ever steals my jutsu, at least I’ll have a fallback career.”

“You can still use your jutsu even if someone else is using it too,” Genma said, sounding puzzled. “The Sharingan doesn’t steal jutsu, it just copies.”

“If you were a famous sculptor and I copied your best work and sold it for a hundred million ryou, you’d still have me jailed for stealing,” Ryouma said. “Well. If we were civilians. That’s not the point, anyway.”

Though he needed to talk with Kakashi about that someday. Kakashi’d kept his promise so far, and Ryouma still owed him. Maybe not the Nikutai Hakai, but… something.

“It’s all for the good of the village,” Genma persisted. He pulled his hand away, cutting a swift arc through the air. “It’s not the same thing as copying a sculpture. Like, when I teach you my medical jutsu, that doesn’t diminish my value to the village.”

“No, but—” He hadn’t had any luck explaining this to the Hokage’s advisors. How was he going to do any better with Genma?

He grabbed for his glass of barley tea, and drained the rest. Thought about jutsu, the burn of chakra in overworked pathways, the nights sitting up with green twigs and chicken scraps, practicing until he tipped over from exhaustion…

The first time he’d used the Nikutai Tokasu to kill. The way the jutsu seized on that Iwa-nin’s chakra and roared like a flame touched to oil. The sick squelch of his fingers through dissolving muscle and bone, the throat-ripping scream that had disintegrated into gurgles even before he managed to stagger back and slit the man’s throat. The way even Hitomi-sensei had walked wide around him after that, days after the reek faded and he’d scrubbed his hands raw.

“I don’t trust anyone else to use it,” he said, and realized, for the first time, that it was true.

Genma’s lips formed a question, and then firmed on it. He nodded slowly. “Because it’s dangerous. Because it could backlash. Some medical jutsu are like that too.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “The combat jutsu I’ve created, if you did them wrong there could be consequences, but no one would be likely to die. At least not in practicing them.”

“Well, I’m a jealous bastard, too.” Ryouma studied his own hands. “I don’t have much, so I’m not good with sharing what I’ve got. When I was a kid—”

His tongue fumbled on the words. Words he’d never said to anyone.

Genma waited, listening.

“When I was a kid.” Ryouma’s voice had dried to something barely more than a whisper, but at least it came. “When I was coming back to Konoha. I didn’t know if they’d take me back. I had my mom’s dogtags, but that was it. I didn’t know if it’d be enough. I knew there was a war happening, I’d walked through it, and I thought— They needed soldiers, if I could be good enough, strong enough…”

He cleared his throat. “I made it into the Academy. I could fight. My technique sucked, but I worked harder than anyone else, and it got better. But I couldn’t read. I couldn’t study all the books they did, and I had nobody at home to explain things or practice with, and I was falling behind. So I figured, if I had one thing that nobody else could do, one thing nobody else would do, maybe that’d be enough.”

He didn’t dare look up. He didn’t know how to meet Genma’s eyes. “So I created a class of jutsu so gross nobody’d ever imitate them, and so strong nobody’d ever overlook ‘em. And… it worked.”

His throat scraped, but the glass of barley tea was empty. The silence stretched out. He stared at his knuckles and wished he’d never spoken at all.

“Tousaki.” Genma touched the back of his hand, then wrapped callused fingers around his forearm and gave him a little shake. His hand was too warm; Ryouma’s pulse thumped erratically against the pressure of his thumb.

“I’ve read your file,” Genma said. “Your jutsu, yeah, they’re great. But they aren’t why you’re of value to Konoha. They’re not why you were promoted. And they’re not why you’re in ANBU.”

“Well, I’m hot, too,” Ryouma said reflexively.

Genma released his grip and drew his hand away. Ryouma squeezed his fist closed to stop himself from reaching back, bit his tongue on a too-fast I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. He finally looked up, though; he couldn’t not.

The lieutenant plucked his senbon out of the pickle dish, inspected it critically, and stuck it between his teeth again. It didn’t seem to impede his diction. “Hotness is also not a criteria for ANBU. Masks, remember?” He leveled a thoughtful, penetrating look at Ryouma. “Do you really believe that? That your looks and a handful of unique jutsu are all there is to you? Because I don’t.”

Ryouma shouldn’t have said anything in the first place. He could feel the heat building in his ears and across his cheekbones, the automatic protest rising in his throat; he choked it down. He looked at his hands, at the high window, but neither offered any solution. Finally he spotted the paper half-forgotten in front of Genma, and grabbed at it. “You said I had to sign this, right?”

genma 5Genma flattened his hand on the paper before Ryouma could take it. “You do,” he said, “but first I want to go over your action plan with you.”

And second — well as soon as he was done here — he was signing up for that counseling class, because it was as plain as a summer dawn that he’d stepped into quicksand again.

Ryouma was haunted and raw — he’d told that story about his coming back to Konoha in the same halting voice Genma’d heard refugees use to describe the battles they’d fled from. And Genma had pushed too hard, given the panicky haste with which Ryouma had grabbed for an exit strategy.

It was just like with Kakashi on their first mission, talking about what that urgent summons to Konoha, that Code Broken Link, might mean. With Kakashi the step too far had been the moment Genma touched him. But Ryouma didn’t seem to mind being touched, or at least he hadn’t gone rigid.

No. It was the question. Genma shouldn’t have asked it. He’d poked too hard at Raidou’s raw spots in the bunker at Arechi Hill, too. If he did it to Katsuko on their next mission, he’d have the whole set.

Ryouma tugged at the form — not hard enough to rip it, but clearly irritated and impatient — and snapped out the items on his action plan. “Practice chakra management for high-intensity jutsu. Review signals. Start medical training with you and sign up for classes at the Academy. Get my knee checked out. I remember.”

There was that emotional instability again. And hypersensitivity about his inability to read.

“Sorry,” Genma said. “I know you have a good memory.” They could deal with Ryouma’s touchiness when Ryouma wasn’t actively being touchy. He resolved to hit the few remaining points quickly, and get this meeting concluded.

“Can we talk about a timeline for your knee? If they decide surgery is required, it’ll be better to get that done while the rest of us are also on medical leave.”

Ryouma’s eyes widened. “Surgery?” He dropped a hand to his knee, rubbing it protectively. “It’s not that bad.”

“I hope it’s not, too,” Genma said. “But it’s a possibility. You injured it several years ago and it’s still unstable. Probably tore a ligament. A Hyuuga doctor ought to be able to tell. You’re able to walk on it, so we know it’s not a terrible injury. It won’t be a bad surgery if it comes to it. One of those ones where they have you in and out in a few hours, and then you can come do PT with me.” He smiled and shrugged, hoping he’d hit something like a reassuring happy medium between realism and optimism.

Ryouma looked unconvinced. “It didn’t hold me up on the last mission.”

“It might on the next,” Genma told him. “I’ve seen you limping on it more than a few times.”

Ryouma was arguing, but at least he’d stopped looking quite so desperate to flee. And they were back on safer ground.

“I get it,” Genma continued. “No one likes to go to the medic unless they’re actively bleeding, but this is one of those things that’s better treated before it becomes a problem.” He touched a finger to the ‘goals and expectations’ sections of the review. “This isn’t a matter of want to or not. Taichou and I made it an order. Get it evaluated this week, while we are still on leave from any missions.”

Ryouma twitched irritably. “Fine,” he said, with all the put-upon inflection of a sullen adolescent. “I’ll make an appointment tomorrow. Interim captain’ll sure be cheerful about a whole team getting cranky on medical leave.”

Ill-tempered obedience was still obedience, but Raidou probably wouldn’t have stood for it.

“If our interim captain is anything like Taichou,” Genma said, “I’d be careful not to let him know you thought his orders were a pain in the ass.”

“Interim captain won’t be Taichou, though, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? He can’t make me run laps if I’m on medical leave.” Petulance was fast metamorphosing into insubordination. Genma opened his mouth to haul Ryouma up on it, but Ryouma backed off before he could get there. “It’d look bad for you and Taichou, though, I guess.”

Genma settled for a stern look. “It’d look bad for you, too, and Hatake and Ueno. We don’t know who Sagara is putting over us, but you can bet whoever it is will be scrutinizing the whole team. How we behave and operate reflects on Taichou, and he is not in the clear until his suspension is officially terminated and he’s put back in command of Team Six.”

Ryouma’s sulkiness faded as he absorbed the implications. “So… Should I put off surgery, then? I mean, I’ll get the evaluation, but— If this captain’s a hardass, they’re gonna want someone able-bodied for an errand boy.”

“There’s never going to be a convenient time for treatment, whether it’s surgery or PT or just getting a custom-fitted brace,” Genma said. “Right now, most of Team Six is on medical or other leave — that’s as good as it’s likely to get. If the interim captain doesn’t have to do much besides approve my medical progress reports, so much the better.”

Something about that — probably the suggestion that surgery wasn’t the only option — seemed to unlock some of the tension in Ryouma’s shoulders. “Brace wouldn’t be bad. My old one’s pretty worn out, anyway.” He traced a finger along a prominent swirl in the wood grain, clearly lost in thought for a moment, then looked back up and pulled together a quick smile. “Okay, Lieutenant. Don’t worry. I’ll get the knee checked out and play nice for the new captain. He’ll go back to Sagara-sama all glowing with praise at how Taichou and you trained me up right.”

He wasn’t all the way back to his usual sunny self, but the anger and anxiety had faded away. Genma had to wonder if it was as exhausting as it looked to live with an emotional state that churned faster than whitewater rapids. Maybe Ryouma was just accustomed to it.

“We’ve got a team meeting at 0900, and I have PT for an hour at 1100. You could get your knee looked at while I’m doing that and meet me at the hospital afterwards so we could start your first training exercise. If you’re ready to start tomorrow, that is.” It would mean delaying lunch, but he had a hunch Ryouma was going to make an unappetizing mess out of his first few practice fish. And they were definitely starting with fish.

In fact, maybe they’d better start with just learning to get a feel for healthy versus disordered chakra flow. They could work up to manipulating it.

For a long moment Ryouma almost stared at Genma, pupils wide, like he was trying to make sure Genma wasn’t going to rescind the offer. Finally he nodded. “I’ll be ready.”

He reached for the paper again, and this time Genma let him take it, along with a pen. Genma pointed to the box for Agent’s signature, and Ryouma signed in a careful, laborious hand. Every stroke of kanji — and the characters in Tousaki Ryouma were complex — looked like an effort of will for him. When he’d put the last tick on the ma, he put the pen down and picked up the form, squinting at it one last time.

“Looks good to me,” Genma said. “There’s a section for your comments, too. If you have any and want to dictate them, I’ll include them.”

Ryouma pushed the paper and pen back to Genma and stared up at the ceiling beams for a moment. Then he looked right at Genma and said, in a clear and measured voice, “I appreciate Shiranui-fukuchou’s thorough analysis of my performance—”

It took Genma a second to realize Ryouma was dictating, and he had to hold up a hand and halt Ryouma while he caught up. When he’d gotten there, he nodded at Ryouma to continue.

“Shiranui-fukuchou’s thorough analysis of my performance,” Ryouma repeated, “and will give my best effort to improve upon the weaknesses identified. In particular I understand the trust he has placed in recommending me for field medic training. I’ll make him proud.”

There was no hiding the embarrassed flush in Genma’s cheeks by the time Ryouma said in a more conversational tone, “That do it?”

“That’s great, thanks,” Genma said. His voice cracked on the thanks, because of course it did. He’d given up hopes of developing the sort of rich baritone he’d hoped for when he hit puberty, but did it still have to crack?

“Then I’ll see you at 0900 tomorrow.” Ryouma unfolded his legs and stood up in a single, fluid motion. He started to step away from the table, but turned back, eyeing Genma and his crutches. “You okay to get home?”

Genma smiled. Ryouma definitely had a caretaking instinct. If he could master the jutsu — and his emotions — he’d become an excellent medic.

“I wouldn’t mind a hand up,” said Genma. “Just a sec.” He added his signature to Ryouma’s review form, then tore off a tab at the bottom of each page, freeing a backing sheet that held a carbon copy of the page it had come from. The originals he paperclipped back together and tucked into his folder, along with Kakashi’s and Katsuko’s. He handed the duplicates to Ryouma. “Your copies, if you want them.”

“Sure.” Ryouma quirked an ironic smile at the pages in his hand. “I can give myself headaches studying kanji before bed every night.” But the care with which he folded the papers together suggested they weren’t going straight into a shredder. He slid them into his back pocket and waited while Genma got up on one knee.

“Okay,” Genma said. He hissed and levered his sore leg out to the side while Ryouma helped him get back on one foot and two crutches. “Maybe next time I’ll specify we meet in a room with chairs.”

“We’re meeting in the office next, aren’t we?” Ryouma asked. “You should take the couch. I’ll run interference with Katsuko.”

“She’s injured, too,” Genma pointed out. “And Hatake. But thanks, Tousaki. I appreciate it.” He let Ryouma hand him his folder, and crutched towards the door. “Hope you and the other two have a good dinner. I’m meeting a friend for dinner, too. Maybe we’ll go for curry. We’ll leave the Akimichi barbecue a commanding-officer-free zone for you.”

Ryouma pushed the sliding door open. “We’ll try not to get too rowdy. Wouldn’t want you to have to break off your date to come bail us out of the Uchiha cells.” He paused, then added casually, “Is it a date?”

Subtle. So subtle. Genma chuckled. “Not as far as I know.”

“Well, good luck anyway,” Ryouma said. He saluted and started off down the hall, then stopped three long strides away and turned back. “And thanks, Lieutenant.” He turned again before Genma could reply, heading down the Palace hall with a springy step.

There was no sign of Kakashi or Katsuko. And he’d forgotten to give Ryouma that note so he could get the herbal sleep-aid from Toshirou-sensei. If they’d been in the office, Genma would have given Ryouma a capsule for the night from his own supply. But maybe Ryouma would sleep better tonight, safe in the knowledge that there was something to look forward to.

And maybe Genma would, too.

2 thoughts on “Break It Down by the Numbers

  1. Well done making transforming review time and paperwork into engaging storytelling! Though I’m torn whether to think of it as consideration or negligence on Genma’s part that one of Ryouma’s professional development items wasn’t learning to read.

    On the one hand, I LOVE that his disability is accommodated without shame (I can only hope that we did as well at my first job where we had a colleague who was illiterate), but thinking of the beautiful realism you’ve injected into the Naruto-verse, I’m surprised that it hasn’t become more of an issue in an elite force. Still, perhaps the juxtaposition and stereotype-subversion there was intentional? Wouldn’t put it past you with the brilliance you’ve given us so far! <3

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