May 15, Yondaime Year 5
Genma woke with the sun slanting across the foot of the bed, which in the north-facing bedroom meant he’d slept four hours later than usual. A glance at the clock proved it: nearly half past eight. Asuma had rolled away in his sleep, presenting broad, bare shoulders, rising and falling with the steady rhythm of deep sleep. Genma studied the scar he’d run his fingers over the night before. It was clean-edged and well-healed — the mark of a bladed cut that someone had tended to while it was still fresh. He wondered which of the Guardian Twelve had been proficient at healing jutsu. Was it one who’d died a traitor, or one who’d stayed loyal to his vows and his Daimyou?
It shouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter. Far more important was the question of what sword Asuma had blocked. In the year and a quarter since Asuma had left to serve in Hikouto, how many threats to the Daimyou’s life had come and gone? What missions had Konoha taken on as a result of those threats?
In the morning light, Genma’s problems should have paled. They were minor compared to the nightmare Asuma had lived through. But the attack on the Fire Daimyou, the dissolution of the Guardian Twelve, Team Six’s mission against the Tsuto family, and Raidou’s uncertain future were inextricably linked. You could no more separate the eggs back out of a baked cake.
He sighed, ruffling the hair that had fallen into his eyes. Asuma was right there, a mere handspan away, so close Genma could feel the heat radiating from Asuma’s skin. So close Genma’s body was responding in ways that probably — that almost certainly — weren’t what Asuma wanted to wake up to. Not anymore. That much had been clear enough the night before.
And it would just be a temporary distraction. Asuma would still be in mourning, Team Six would still be in limbo, and the day was still going to come, with physical therapy appointments and mountains of paperwork for the mission, and for the team in general. With two completed missions under their belts it was time for Team Six’s first performance evaluations, whether or not Raidou was there to sign off on them.
For now, Genma needed to track down his teammates and make sure they were still handling things okay. As soon as PT was over, he told himself, he’d head straight to HQ and the rookie barracks to check in on Ryouma and Kakashi. And then he’d find Katsuko. And maybe, if the gods were merciful, there would be news from Intel about Raidou.
There probably wouldn’t be.
But there was no way he was going to know one way or another lying here in bed half-aroused next to a man who wasn’t likely to reciprocate. He rolled onto his back, yawned, stretched, and eased himself out from under the blankets.
As soon as he tried to stand, his leg reminded him why he was going in for PT as soon as he was showered and presentable. Fortunately Asuma had put the crutches against the wall where all Genma had to do was grab for them. He caught sight of himself in Aoba’s full-length mirror on his way to the bedroom door and snorted — there was something inherently ridiculous about crutching naked.
Asuma woke up then, because there was nothing graceful or stealthy about Genma crutching naked, either. He rolled onto his back, raised his head long enough to give Genma a bleary look, and flopped back against the pillows with a soft groan, throwing one arm over his face to ward off the invasion of light and day.
“Morning, sunshine,” Genma said. “Don’t get up. I’ll let you know when the shower’s free.”
A gruff mumble that could have been “Mmkay,” issued from under Asuma’s arm.
Genma smiled. At least some things hadn’t changed. Asuma had never been a morning person. Even on missions, he’d taken first watch, never last, and always been the last one out of his bedroll unless there was actual blood being spilled close to hand.
A scalding shower drove the last of the sleep from Genma’s system, and a cold rinse took care of lingering unsatisfied desire. He luxuriated in the chance to shave properly, after nearly two weeks away from home, and took his time brushing his teeth and combing out his wet hair just to give Asuma another few minutes of dream time. Then, when his leg was starting to ache enough that he was gritting his teeth, he wrapped a towel around his hips and crutched back to the bedroom.
“Shower’s yours, Asuma,” he said, easing down onto the bed with a soft hiss. “I’m gonna bandage my leg and find some clothes, and then I’ll see if Aoba left us anything I can cook for breakfast.”
Asuma grunted an acknowledgment without giving any other signs of life. Some things never changed.
Genma was just working up the fortitude to get on with rebandaging his leg when Asuma rolled over towards him, flung an arm across the pillow Genma had slept on, and offered a thick-voiced, “Still got some leftovers.”
“So you’re actually awake?” Genma abandoned wondering where they’d left the medical supplies the night before and sprawled backwards to rest his head on Asuma’s chest. “Did you actually put them in the fridge after I passed out, or are we risking food poisoning if we eat them?”
“Sleeptalking. Insert coffee for coherency,” Asuma said. He proved to be an uncooperative pillow when he yawned and stretched, but Genma didn’t sit back up. “Put it away,” Asuma said when he settled again. “The beer, too.”
“We’re not having beer for breakfast. Or at least, I’m not,” Genma said. He stretched as well, rolling his shoulders and arching his back, shivering pleasant tension right down his spine and into his hips and legs. The injured one registered immediate complaint. “But I am taking a full dose of painkillers as soon as I have food in my stomach. Not going to physical therapy without a good solid cushion, ‘cause you just know I’ll get Matsumoto or one of the other PT sadists. I bet those guys moonlight for T&I.”
Asuma shifted behind him, probably nodding in agreement. “Wouldn’t surprise me. Want the rickshaw again?”
“Downhill is easier,” Genma said. Although arriving at PT pre-exhausted was probably a bad idea. But they wouldn’t have sent him home if they hadn’t expected him to be recovered enough to get around, including back and forth to appointments. He just needed to recondition a little. “I can walk it.”
Asuma’s chest jumped as he tried and failed to cover a disbelieving snort with a laugh.
“I can,” Genma insisted. “How am I supposed to get back in shape for missions if I don’t exercise? It’s not that far.”
“Not that far, says the man who couldn’t make it even when he’d been in bed all day.” Asuma patted Genma’s head, taking care to muss up every freshly-combed strand. “I’ll find a rickshaw.”
“It’s all downhill this time,” Genma protested. “But fine, if it will make you feel better.” It would, he supposed, save energy for later, when he went to chase down his dispersed team members. He sat up and finger-combed his hair back into something like order. “Where’d we leave that gauze and ointment last night?”
Bandaging, clothes, and breakfast proceeded without incident. And without any mention of the previous night’s heart-to-heart. Some subjects were too tender to stand in the stark light of day. If Asuma still wanted to talk — or Genma did — there’d be time later, when the sun was down.
By the time they arrived at the hospital, day was in full swing around them, with a steady flow of patients, staff, and visitors in the hospital’s wide, tiled corridors. The expedient of hiring transport meant there were still twenty minutes to wait before Genma’s appointment.
He was about to suggest they get coffee, when a pair of MPs came hurrying towards them, full of intent. Genma’s chest tightened. Was it Raidou? Or had one of the kids—
And then he heard a familiar shrill voice. Asuma flinched.
“Where the hell have you been, Asuma?” And there was Reiko, in perfect form and exactly where Asuma didn’t need her. Why not raise his blood pressure a little more? It wasn’t like the hospital did the trick by itself.
It took a moment to steel himself and turn toward her, and by then she’d already marched well into his personal space. That she wasn’t much taller than their father didn’t matter—Reiko on a rampage had a way of making a person feel two inches tall no matter what they did to deserve it. (He was pretty sure he didn’t. This time.)
“You didn’t come home last night. You didn’t even send a message.” Her voice might have been pitched high with concern, but her eyes were dark with indignant anger. “What were you thinking?”
One of the MPs inserted himself before Asuma could respond; he looked profoundly uncomfortable with getting in the middle of the situation. “Uchiha Bunnosuke,” he said, in brief introduction. “Your sister contacted us this morning when she found you hadn’t come home—”
“No note, no messenger, no nothing.” Reiko shoved a finger into Asuma’s ribs in emphasis, hard enough to make him twitch back. “I was up half the night waiting! You know you’re on a watch and I can’t not keep an eye on you right now, if you’d just let me know I wouldn’t have been worried enough to contact the police.”
That’s when it clicked: she’d called out the suicide watch network. He’d gone to take care of Genma instead of going back to her home last night, without telling her because it wasn’t like she didn’t want him out already, and she’d called out the watch network on him. And now he had family drama spilling all over the damn hospital lobby, in front of what felt like half of Konoha, like he was a bad guy for taking care of his friend.
If his anger hadn’t been choking him dumb right then, he could have screamed.
The MP shifted away, slightly, and Genma was suddenly at his side, a buffer against a storm. “Asuma was with me,” he said, calm and reasonable. “We should have let you know. Maybe we could find a conference room to talk this situation over, Reiko-san?”
Reiko shifted to pin Genma with an irritated look. Asuma would be relieved for the respite if not for the fact that Reiko had decided a long while back that she didn’t like his friend.
“There’s no need for a conference room,” she replied. Her tone was still sharp, but somewhat less confrontational than before. “We aren’t here for a debate. What was so important you couldn’t have contacted me?”
None of your damn business, Asuma wanted to hiss in reply—the details of his life weren’t up for consumption, hers or anyone else’s—but his frustration at her constant negative commentary strangled anything he could have said.
Genma gave him a quick glance before looking back to Reiko. “I really think this is a conversation better suited to a conference room. Or at least not the middle of the lobby, Reiko-san.”
She gave Genma an obvious once-over then, taking in the crutches and the bulky padding of hidden bandaging on one thigh, as though she hadn’t really seen it on first approach. And then pursed her lips, gave Asuma a considering look, and turned back to the MP instead of responding. “I appreciate you coming out to help. I’m sorry you had to waste your time.”
“No trouble at all, ma’am.” The Uchiha gave a shallow bow, just slightly more than a nod, before turning to address Asuma. “Please be sure to give advanced warning in the future, if you can, so we can keep this from happening again.”
“Sir,” Asuma managed.
He felt Genma move more than saw it, the way the other man leaned in closer and ghosted his fingers above Asuma’s elbow. When he glanced over, Genma’s look asked how he wanted to proceed. Get the hell out of here, obviously; the less he had to deal with his sister, the better. Pulling this shit on him in public was seriously unnecessary. Didn’t he have enough stress to deal with already?
“I hope you can appreciate,” Reiko said in a low voice, before Asuma could find his voice again, “how much this stunt scared me.”
And now the personal guilt trip to go with the public shaming. The only time it seemed like Reiko cared was when he inconvenienced her or made the family look bad. And him going and knocking himself off would have been pretty inconvenient. Things might have been different back before their dad had died, but that seemed so long ago now as to be another lifetime altogether.
“It wasn’t a stunt,” Asuma replied, not bothering to keep the defensiveness out of his tone, but at least not raising his voice.
Genma glanced between them, clearly gauging their moods. “There’s a break room with some vending machines just past the potted plants over there—” he nodded toward the plants in question “—on the way to the wards. We could go there.”
Reiko glanced the way indicated. Asuma shook his head, vetoing that suggestion as quickly as Reiko’d shot down the previous idea of taking this to a conference room. He did not want to prolong this anymore than absolutely necessary. As far as he was concerned, ‘necessary’ had walked out of the lobby along with the MPs.
“You have an appointment,” he pointed out, willing to use whatever he could get his hands on as an excuse not to talk.
She looked back over, once again considering how Genma was clearly recovering from an injury. Anyone with an eye could see that much. “What time are you coming home tonight?” she asked, directing the question at Asuma without looking up from Genma’s bandaged thigh.
Never, Asuma thought, and opened his mouth to come up with a lie.
“He’s not,” Genma cut in smoothly. “He’s coming back to our place, as soon as we find one.”
Asuma’s mouth clicked closed, and he couldn’t help the disbelieving look he shot his friend just then. Did they talk about that at some point in the last twenty-four and he somehow didn’t remember? Pretty sure they hadn’t talked about that. No, he was pretty damn sure they hadn’t talked about finding a place to rent together. What the hell?
Genma wasn’t usually an impulsive man. Until that moment he hadn’t even considered living with Asuma, but sometimes in the heat of battle a plan came together all at once, and you had to take action while you had the advantage of surprise over your enemy.
Not that Reiko was the enemy, exactly, but she wasn’t really an ally, either.
Genma didn’t think of himself as someone who bore personal animosity towards others, but Sarutobi Reiko was a hard woman to like. She was about as opposite in disposition to Asuma as a sibling could be — no one who knew her would call her warm or light-hearted. Even when she was trying to be a good older sister, she drove Asuma crazy. She’d never liked that Asuma had joined ANBU, both because of the risks, and because of ANBU’s reputation, and she made sure he knew it. She’d also made it clear she was not a fan of the things she imagined her brother got up to behind closed doors with Genma.
The prospect of Asuma — still torn apart by the deaths of the Guardian Twelve and under official suicide watch — having to live with his overbearing sister was just too much.
“If we haven’t signed a lease by tonight, he’s staying with me at Aoba’s again,” Genma said.
Reiko blinked round, brown eyes above flushed cheeks, visibly stumbling. “Asuma, what’s he talking about?”
Since Asuma had no more idea than Reiko what Genma was talking about, he had no answer. He looked trapped and a little panicky. Genma squeezed Asuma’s elbow again and flashed a quick hand-signal at him: follow my lead.
“I need a new apartment. Asuma needs a place to live. We’re friends. Seemed like a reasonable solution.”
“Friends,” Reiko scoffed, as if it were a euphemism. Her eyes locked on Asuma, looking for a denial she clearly didn’t expect to find.
Asuma shrugged and gave her a weak smile. “You’ll need room for the baby,” he said. “Like you keep saying.” His tone grew teeth. “Every day.”
Reiko’s belly was just barely beginning to show — that baby was at least five months off — but Asuma’d said she’d been complaining about her pregnancy non-stop. It was an uncounterable argument.
“We’ll send a rickshaw around to collect Asuma’s things,” Genma said. “So you don’t have to worry about that.”
Reiko’s eyes narrowed as her gaze swung from Genma to Asuma and back, looking for the lie. “When should I expect it?”
The blank look on Asuma’s face concealed what Genma guessed was a seething caldera of emotions. There was no one on earth who could get under Asuma’s skin quite so effectively as his older sister. A voice at the back of Genma’s head suggested it was a weakness to be sure no enemy of Konoha ever exploited.
“When we’ve found a place,” Genma told her. “Assuming we find one today, probably tomorrow.” He glanced at his watch. There were fifteen minutes until he had to meet with the physical therapist, and he really wanted a chance to confer with Asuma before it. “I’m afraid we both have appointments now, though,” he said, ducking his head in as much of a bow as the crutches allowed. “It was a pleasure as always to see you, Reiko-san. We’ll be in touch as soon as we have an address.”
Reiko pursed her lips, looking like she wanted to say more, but she just returned a shallow bow. Her eyes swept over her brother. “Just don’t leave me out of the loop this time.”
Asuma gave Reiko a bland smile, then turned towards the elevators, tugging on Genma’s arm. “We’d better go if we don’t want to be late. Fourth floor, I think.”
Genma shrugged and nodded, and started crutching down the hall beside Asuma. After a moment they heard the sharp tattoo of Reiko’s heels on the linoleum, moving away from them.
When they were safely alone in the elevator, Asuma let out a huge sigh and slumped against the elevator wall. “Some days I really hate her.”
“I’d support you hating her every day,” Genma said. “If you needed me to.”
“That would take a lot of energy.”
“Probably not worth it, then.” Genma leaned on his crutches and let a sigh out himself. At least Asuma seemed to be getting some of his temper back. And Reiko had done pretty much what Genma would have done in her position, at least in terms of notifying the MPs that Asuma hadn’t come home.
The elevator doors slid closed.
If they were living together, that suicide watch would become Genma’s problem. But maybe it would become less necessary.
“Listen, I know that was… I honestly can’t tell you why I said that about us getting an apartment. I just wanted to get us out of there — wanted you out of there. What I said is true, I need a place, obviously, and you do, too. But we don’t have to get a place together. It’s just one idea.”
Asuma leaned his head back against the elevator wall and watched the floor numbers steadily increase. As lies went, it wasn’t a bad one—better than he would have thought of on short notice, especially considering the way Reiko had a habit of pushing all the buttons on his temper. Just once, he thought, it would be nice to have a five-minute conversation with her that didn’t devolve into a lecture.
It was good to see some stuff in Konoha hadn’t changed in the last year; his sister’s belief that he was a complete moron was one thing he wouldn’t have missed.
“As long as moving in with you doesn’t come with a marriage proposal.” He rolled his head against the wall to look over at Genma. “I need to get the hell out of there. I’ll sleep in your tub if that’s what it takes.”
Genma blinked, looking surprised, and started to wave his hands in a cancelling gesture, leaning his armpits on the crutches. “No. No, that wasn’t what I—” and then caught on to Asuma’s (apparently very bad attempt at a) joke, shaking his head with a wry laugh. “You couldn’t afford my dowry. But I think if we find a two-bedroom place, you could, you know, sleep on a bed or a futon, and we could leave the tub for bathing.”
The elevator slowed and stopped at the third floor, letting on a pair of nurses. Asuma shifted towards his friend automatically, rather than letting the nurses step between them. “It’s a good idea, I like it. I really can’t stand living with her, and going in together would make it cheaper over all. I have no idea what the rent is like.”
Which he knew was a bigger problem on Genma’s side. Asuma’d had the luxury of never really needing to rent—either he had been put up in lodging as a condition of his current position, or he had been living with relatives. That had enabled him to put away a good chunk of his paycheck without needing to spend any of it on living expenses. Even if he didn’t get paid nearly as well moving papers like he was now, he could handle half the rent just out of savings for a while. Probably.
Genma visibly brightened, looking relieved that his suggestion had gone over well. “Depending on where we look, we should be able to get a decent place that won’t bankrupt us. Definitely under 120,000 ryou a month. That’d be 60,000 to each of us. That’s doable even if we aren’t getting a lot of mission bonuses.”
Yeah, he could probably swing that. Especially once he got cleared to actually do missions again. Until then, savings. Anything to get away from Reiko.
“Then let’s do it.” The elevator stopped again, this time on their floor, and Asuma held the door so Genma could get out without it closing on him. “We can rent another rickshaw, once you’re done in here. I’ll find a paper while you’re working.”
Genma crutched his way out of the elevator, shooting Asuma an apologetic look as he passed. “Maybe we can meet here after my appointment to go over the classifieds. I hate to leave you on your own, but could you do the scouting today?” Genma paused once they were in the lobby; the elevator chimed softly, the doors slid closed, and it rolled away to its next destination. “I have some paperwork that I have to turn in today. I was planning on spending the rest of the day at HQ in my team’s office.”
“No, that’s cool.” The joys of being a lieutenant. Asuma did not envy him the extra office work at all. “I promise I won’t pick a place that has you living in squalor.”
Most apartments near the center of the city that were left for ninja to fight over tended to be in the top floors. He wondered how far out they’d have to look before they could find one available on the first floor. Bottom-floor apartments that weren’t downtown might be cheaper, too. It wasn’t like distance was typically a problem for jounin. And the stairs would be a bigger issue for Genma in the short term.
“You want me for anything here?” he added after a pause, already turning the logistics of this over in his head. Having this to think about should help in pushing his anger at Reiko away, so he didn’t end up stewing over it for the rest of the day.
Genma shook his head. “I’m good. And I’m cool with whatever, just not too close to my dad’s if you can help it.” Asuma did not blame him for that. Much as he liked Genma’s dad, all the free pastries probably wouldn’t be worth the constant housecalls. “There might actually be a two-bedroom place in Aoba’s building.”
“I’ll check there, too.” It would have to at least be affordable, if Aoba was managing the rent alone. Asuma took a step back toward the elevator bank. “Don’t make the therapist cry if you can help it.”
The smirk Genma gave him as he turned was gently self-mocking. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the other way around.” And with that parting he carefully made his way into the waiting area, skirting the uncomfortable looking seats to approach the reception desk and sign in.
Think of it like a mission, Asuma told himself, opting for the stairs on his way out. Apartment hunting was not high on his list of skills, but ninja were nothing if not adaptable. He could figure out how to be a pro at it by this time tomorrow, if only for his own sanity.
And then he could reward himself for a job well done—or at least successfully completed—by moving in with someone who didn’t think he was a drag just for existing. And maybe with some takeout. The good stuff for a change. Genma would certainly deserve it, as a thank you both for coming up with the idea and for dealing with Reiko.
The first step would be to find that newspaper…