Midday May 15, Yondaime Year 5

raidou 7The universe was on Raidou’s side. Genma was in the first place he checked — working by the lamplight glow in Team Six’s windowless office.

As soon as Raidou opened the door, Genma’s head came up. He turned from his desk, one eyebrow quirking up in anticipation of a question, and stopped dead when he saw Raidou. His mouth opened. The senbon between his teeth wavered.

“Taichou,” he said blankly.

It had only been four days, but it was an actual, physical relief to set eyes on the lieutenant. Like the moment a chokehold relaxed and there was air again.

Raidou drew a breath and leaned against the door frame. “Fukuchou,” he said. “How’re you doing?”

There was a pair of crutches leaning against the desk; Genma reached for them, clearly intending to stand, but kept his seat when Raidou waved him back down. “I’m fine,” Genma said. “How are you doing?” He shot a look at the open door. “Can we…?” Quick fingers darted through the hand-sign for talk, meaning, Can we talk freely?

Raidou stepped in and closed the door behind him. “I’m still suspended, but they lifted the no-contact ban, so long as I don’t interfere with the team. I don’t think anyone’s bothering to listen in.”

Genma’s shoulders slumped nonetheless, but he still looked better than the last time Raidou had seen him. Since the last time had involved a hospital bed, the bar wasn’t high. Green-yellow bruises underscored his eyes, legacy of a healing broken nose. More ringed his throat from Iebara’s choking. He was wearing civilian clothes, a dark t-shirt with a subtle leaf design, and jeans relaxed enough to accommodate the bandaging that still obviously encircled his right thigh. His hair was twisted up and back into a loose topknot, leaving casual strands to fall around his face. There was a old and clearly much-loved hoodie folded over the back of his chair.

He looked tired, pale, and stressed, but crutches meant walking and paperwork was dedication. Genma was taking care of the team, just like Raidou had asked.

“Can you stay and talk for a minute, then? I have some tea we could share.” Genma lifted a thermos by way of demonstration, and then gave Raidou a sharper look. “Are you okay?”

Raidou moved over to perch on the edge of his own desk, which was swept clean of paperwork. “Yeah,” he said. “I just got out of a meeting with the Hokage, Shibata-sama—” both of Genma’s eyebrows flew up, “—and Sagara-sama.”

“Shibata?” Genma repeated, in tones of faint horror. He glanced down at Raidou’s hands, as if to check for missing fingernails.

Despite himself, Raidou felt his mouth hitch. “He did my psych eval. He was actually— My hands are fine, Shiranui, he didn’t torture me. He gave me tea.”

A faint tinge of color touched Genma’s cheeks. He sat back, smoothing his hair out of his face with one hand, and glanced down at his thermos. “Are you sure it was just tea?”

“If it wasn’t, it was the subtlest poison known to man,” Raidou said. “Or I’m still back in T&I and the last two days have been a really bureaucratic hallucination, which seems counterproductive.”

Genma snorted.

Raidou got back on track. “How much do you know about the mission?”

“I pulled your report and read it this morning,” Genma said, with open honesty. “And I know what you told me in the bunker, when I was treating your injuries away from the rest of the team.”

Only a week ago. It seemed like so much longer.

Raidou nodded, relieved and only a little queasy. It was easier if Genma already knew, especially since Raidou didn’t have to explain the details. He cut to the chase. “Shibata thinks I’m redeemable with some genjutsu training. He wants me to work with Yuuhi Benihime and—”

Genma held up a hand, relief subverted by surprise. “Benihime-sama? As in the Crimson Eye of Konoha?”

Raidou hadn’t finished wrapping his head around that, either.

“I guess she owes Shibata a favor.” And maybe Raidou really had impressed Shibata somewhere in that meeting. It was a nice thought. “I’m also supposed to get trauma counseling. If I complete both to his satisfaction, he’ll recommend that Yondaime-sama and Sagara-sama reinstate me.”

“Reinstate you as captain of our team?” Genma said.

Raidou nodded. Genma’s whole face brightened into the most genuine smile Raidou had ever seen him show, broad and uncomplicated and wholly pleased, as if the thought that Raidou might not pass the training hadn’t even caused a ripple. It was like tripping into unexpected sunshine. Raidou smiled back — there was no way not to — and leaned back against his desk, breathing in the air of Team Six’s office. He’d missed the damn room, even.

“The one other caveat is that you get an interim captain in the meantime,” he said. “And I don’t know who it is. Sagara-sama said they’d report in at 0900 tomorrow.”

genma 1Genma waved a hand, dismissing the problem for now. “Not sure what a substitute captain is going to do with us. Tousaki’s the only one who’s mission-fit right now. Medically, anyway.” Ryouma’s mental fitness was a measure Genma still needed to take. Raidou might be the only member of Team Six forced into trauma counseling, but he probably wasn’t the only one who could benefit from a session or two.

But that, too, was a problem for later. Right now, Raidou was here, in the office, looking sharp in what were probably a newer set of jounin blues. The fabric of the trousers was still a little stiff-looking, and the deep blue-black of the turtleneck unfaded. Only his vest and hitai-ate showed their age. He was freshly shaven with no hair out of place. Clearly he’d scrubbed up for his meeting with the Hokage. His face had the relieved, weary look of a man who had crossed a trackless desert for days and finally found water. The lines creasing the corners of his eyes were just a little deeper, his mouth a little firmer set. The bruises on his cheek and jaw had paled to yellow-brown, and the scrapes were small dots of brick-colored scab. Only his hands were still bandaged, but there was no blood seeping through at the knuckles this time.

And he had, as he’d said, all his fingernails.

For an unguarded moment, Genma had an impulse to give him a hug. Instead he reached for an empty cup on the corner of his desk, wiped it down for dust, then filled it with tea. “Here,” he said, offering the cup to Raidou. “Welcome back, Taichou. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss you.”

Amusement crinkled Raidou’s eyes. “Were the kids that bad?”

“They were good,” Genma said. “Tousaki did the team’s laundry with Ueno’s help. And he’s met with me daily to go over mission logs and his training schedule. Ueno’s checked in, too, and she’s seemed on top of things. And Hatake was in the hospital where he couldn’t get into any trouble until yesterday. He was released just a few hours before me, actually.” He waved a hand at a red logbook on top of his filing cabinet. “He actually did those training reports I’d assigned him, although I doubt even the best cryptanalyst in Intel could decipher them.”

Raidou set his tea aside and leaned across the gap between their desks to snag the logbook. His eyebrows crept higher and higher as he scanned each page. “Was he still on painkillers?”

“I had the same question,” Genma said. “And nope. I got a look at his medical record — I was on stronger stuff than he was. This is all Hatake.” He took a sip of his tea. “I plan to make him do them over.”

“Good plan.” Raidou nodded amused approval and returned the book to its place on the file cabinet. He leaned back on his hands and leveled a penetrating look at Genma. “How are they doing otherwise?”

Genma blew a thoughtful breath. “They’re coping. Rattled, but coping. I’ve followed your advice and tried to keep Tousaki busy, and as far as I can tell it’s working. He’s not happy but he’s not going to pieces. Ueno’s been spending a fair amount of time with him, too, when she’s not getting PT or other treatment. She’s kept it together probably for his sake as much as for her own.”

A look that just skirted the idea of relief crossed Raidou’s face as he exhaled, but he didn’t interrupt.

“Hatake’s harder to read,” Genma continued. “I actually talked to him about your suspension first, before I told the others. I didn’t exactly plan it that way, but I was in his room — I think my nurse was sick to death of me asking for updates, so she got me permission to go travelling. Wheeled me down herself and everything— Anyway, he kind of forced the question. And then I told him I needed his help in breaking the news to the others. I honestly couldn’t tell you why I decided to go that route, but it worked. It got him focused on keeping a more optimistic mindset. The other two showed up not long after that, and when I explained the situation as I understood it, Hatake backed me up.”

Raidou blinked, and blinked again, in naked surprise. “He— Really?”

“Really. I even got him to give me a report on his observations of Ueno and Tousaki before they arrived. And himself. He told me he’d been distressed when they told him you’d been taken away by Intel — that was the first night, when I was still getting my first debriefing right after surgery — and Ueno had yanked him back onto an even keel.”

After a moment of seeming incomprehension, Raidou broke into an absolutely baffled, but very pleased, smile. “Shibata told me my team had faith in me. Actually, the first phrase he used was something like, ‘they think this is bullshit.’”

Genma choked a laugh. “That’s accurate. Tousaki’s phrasing, I believe, but we were all thinking it.” He shook his head. “But seriously, Shibata told you that? You talk about him as if he were… well… not Shibata.”

Although to be fair, what did Genma—or anyone—really know about the director of T&I? Massively scarred war hero; brilliant interrogator; had a loyal following in his department, and the Hokage’s ear. And, evidently, a son who was Kakashi and Ryouma’s fellow rookie in ANBU. But beyond that it was rumor. The kind of rumor that made the baby-killers in ANBU seem like decent human beings.

“It’s almost like he’s on our side,” said Raidou, darkly amused.

There was a hint of chiding there. Not undeserved. “Intellectually I know he is,” Genma said. “And honestly I’m glad he’s on our side. I just—for a disciplinary interview or psych eval, or whatever he did with you—”

“He scared the shit out of me, too,” Raidou said. “I was expecting pliers; I got a comfy couch and mints. Which was really effective, if I’m honest.”

It was Genma’s turn to blink in bewilderment. “That’s honestly the strangest image I have ever conjured,” he said. “I’ve been in the T&I building once or twice to observe an interrogation; I’ve never seen a comfy couch down there.” He paused and looked right at Raidou, who met his gaze. “Are you on the level, Namiashi-taichou? I understand if it’s not something you can tell me about, but seriously— you don’t have to protect me.”

raidou 2Raidou tipped his head to one side. “Huh?”

Genma visibly recalibrated his subtle coding down a few filters, and spelled out: “If they took a strip out of you, and you’re not sworn to secrecy, I don’t need you to candy coat it for me.” He paused and looked thoughtful. “Or is this business with the cushions and mints my clue? Because when something sounds like it has to be a lie, well… That’s one way to pass information under duress.”

In fairness to the lieutenant, it had been a very stressful month.

Raidou’s mouth quirked. “I’m not under duress. There were legitimate cushions and mints. I’m not trying to protect you from the horror of a comfy chair.” He snagged the hem of his shirt and pulled it up past his ribcage, revealing bare skin and no secret stab wounds. “See? Totally unharmed.”

Genma gave him an unspeakably dry look.

“The bruising was already there,” Raidou defended, and dropped his shirt.

“I doubt they’d leave visible injuries,” Genma said, looking darkly in the direction of the T&I wing. But when he turned back to Raidou, it was with greater ease in his shoulders, and the edge of a smile touching the corner of his mouth. “But I trust you, Namiashi.”

And I’m really glad you’re not tortured and traumatized, went unsaid.

The honorific seemed to have vanished from the end of Raidou’s name, too. It was familiar — and early, if you went by traditional standards — but Raidou had never set that particular boundary to begin with. Genma had asked, what felt like months ago, and Raidou remembered saying, Captain’s fine, Raidou’s fine, Namiashi’s fine if you want to play it up for the rookies. And then they’d gone and gotten formal anyway, because Team Six needed stricter guardrails than most, and Genma and Raidou had to set them.

Now, alone, it was okay to relax a little. Raidou said nothing and let that be answer enough.

“Back to the team,” he said, “did they give you an ETA on when Ueno and Hatake would be mission fit again?”

“Fourteen days at minimum, but if they certify either of them mission fit after just two weeks, I’m going down to the Medical Office and lodging a formal complaint of negligence. Three weeks is more realistic.”

“Okay,” Raidou said, and dragged a heavy hand down his face. “I don’t think I’ll be back by then. Shibata was pretty clear about this not being a short process. I’ll go as fast as I can, but—”

“We’ll be running a mission with the new captain, more than likely,” Genma filled in.

“I barely trust the team to run a mission with us,” Raidou said dryly. “And I’m getting the impression they’ve finally passed through the teething phase and imprinted on us like a trio of baby ducklings, which means they’re going to be hell on toast for anyone new. We need a game plan. By which I mean you need a game plan, since I’ll be getting my brain turned inside out by a tiny dragon lady.”

Genma’s forehead creased faintly, giving him the look of a man who’d just gotten reacquainted with an old migraine. “I’m not even sure where to start with that. They didn’t give you any idea who the substitute might be?”

“Not a thing,” Raidou said. “But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Sagara will assign someone at least quasi-stable. So you just need to keep Hatake from eating them, Tousaki from accidentally seducing them, and Ueno from starting an actual rebellion and burning them at the stake.” He looked at the office plant, which failed to offer any useful advice. “Maybe we should consider sedatives.”

“In theory, Sagara and the Hokage know what they’re doing. Not that either of us quite trusted them when they put us in charge of this team in the first place, but let’s suppose they do.” Genma shoved his hair back with both hands, flattening it as if he could iron out the problem with willpower alone. “They’d pick someone who could bring Hatake to heel, ignore Tousaki, and keep Ueno in check. So…” He thought for a moment. “Which floater captains are lesbians from high profile families who have a lot of little siblings?”

Raidou snapped his fingers. “Inuzuka Minori.”

“Out of ANBU. She picked up a genin team at the last Academy graduation.”

“Goddamnit.” Raidou scratched his head. “Know any straight guys you’d trust?”

“Hajime, but he’s out of commission for at least two months.” Silence trickled into the room as Genma chewed his senbon thoughtfully, and Raidou frowned at the ceiling. “That was it, I’m afraid.”

“Maybe there’s a secret lesbian captain with a lot of spare time we don’t know about,” Raidou said.

“Shikaku!” Genma said, which made Raidou blink, since Nara Shikaku was a married man with a son, as far as he knew. “Not for a lesbian, I mean,” Genma clarified. “But — oh, no, he has a team, so we wouldn’t get him anyway.”

“I can’t even explain the mental image I had just then,” Raidou said. He shook his head. “Assuming Sagara doesn’t have a spare lesbian or incredibly patient married guy stuck in her back pocket, let’s plan for someone less stellar. If you’ve already got Hatake on your side, that’s a bonus. Tousaki’ll probably try to challenge another captain if he’s feeling his oats, or undercut them if he’s unsettled — I know you can handle that.”

Genma nodded, serious but unworried.

“But Ueno,” Raidou began, and he could hear Shibata whispering ‘favorite’ in the back of his head. He sighed. “She’ll just have to handle it. Keep her busy — she’s already taken on the rookies, so that’ll be something to ground her. If she’s insubordinate, derail her before she gets herself suspended.”

“If any of them are insubordinate, I’ll channel you at your pissiest,” Genma said smartly. “They’ll run laps to Suna and back if they step out of line. I won’t let them — or myself — fuck this up. We’ll be in good shape for you when you get back to us.”

He was so earnest Raidou couldn’t even laugh. There was a clear gleam in Genma’s whiskey-brown eyes, like he was completely prepared to run Team Six out into the desert himself, and return them tough, tanned, and ready for duty the very minute Raidou could take them back.

Raidou nodded once, and said simply, “Then I’m counting on you, Fukuchou.”

Color touched Genma’s cheekbones, spreading a dusky arch over the curve. He looked down, embarrassed. “Taichou.”

Raidou smiled, and saved the poor man’s blushes with a subject change. “Looks like you’re working on reports,” he said, nodding at Genma’s desk.

genma hat“Reports, yes.” Genma took a deep breath to clear the unexpected heat from his face. There was absolutely no explanation for the flood of emotion — of course Raidou was counting on him. As a captain should count on his lieutenant. “I was working—” his voice cracked, and he grabbed for his tea, embarrassed all over again.

“I was working on performance plans,” he said, when he had his unruly vocal cords under control. “It’s been four weeks, and with everyone on medical leave I figured there was no point waiting.”

Raidou slid off the edge of his desk and dropped into his chair in a single, fluid motion, catching one of the desk legs with his foot to swivel himself into a comfortable position. He leaned one elbow on the desk and propped his chin on his hand, visibly interested. “Can I see?”

“Sure.” Genma reached for the sheaf of partially completed forms and a notepad covered in dense, neat writing. “Who do you want to start with? Ueno’s was actually the easiest to prepare, surprisingly, but I’ve got notes for all three of them.”

“Dealer’s choice,” Raidou said.

“Ueno’s then.” Genma shuffled the right form to the top of the stack and handed it over. “Since it’s closest to finished, and you’ve done performance evals for her before, so you can tell me if you think I’m on track.”

Raidou nodded, eyes flicking over the page. As he read down, a hint of a proud smile lurked at the corners of his mouth. She’d been his rookie a year ago.

“I’d love to see your first eval of her when she was a rookie a year ago,” Genma said.

Raidou chuckled. “I think it was mostly, ‘Why, heaven, why?’ over and over again.”

“Marked improvement, then,” Genma said, amused. “Was she your only rookie?”

“At first, yes,” Raidou said. He stretched out his legs, flexing booted ankles. “But then we had a team-shuffle in the mid year after that disaster at Hirakata — you remember that?”

Genma nodded, grimacing at the memory. Three teams scrambled after one was lost entirely on a mission that was still shrouded in secrecy. In the end, out of sixteen ANBU sent into the field, only eight came home, and only six were still serving the Hokage under the mask.

“Our more experienced guys were needed on other teams,” Raidou continued, “so we traded them for two more rookies, and got nothing but straightforward missions for the rest of the year.”

“At least you got that,” Genma said. “I can’t even imagine trying to manage three rookies. How are you even still here?”

“I’m currently shelved for trauma counseling,” Raidou reminded him dryly. “Though our captain retired, so I guess it could be worse.”

“Retirement is definitely worse than getting a promotion to captain,” Genma agreed. “I won’t tell Ueno she had any role in your need for counseling, though, I think she’d take it too much to heart.” He’d meant it be light-hearted, but as soon as he said it, all he could picture was Ueno’s clone’s deeply troubled face that first night in the bunker, and picking shards of another man’s bone out of Raidou’s savaged knuckles.

Silence fell over the small office, soft and cradled by the lamplight. Genma found his gaze drawn to Raidou’s hands again, picturing the healing wounds beneath the bandages. After a moment, Raidou cleared his throat and rattled the page he was holding. “You didn’t finish her professional development plan.”

“I didn’t,” Genma said, grateful for the chance to climb out of the hole he’d accidentally dug for them both. “I had some ideas, but… Well, if you hadn’t gotten the no-contact ban lifted, I was going to take them to Hajime and get his opinion. He’s well enough for visitors and more to the point, he’s well enough to be bored. He told me to come to him any time, so…” It felt strangely disloyal to admit he’d been planning to seek his former captain’s advice on managing Team Six.

Raidou nodded, looking thoughtful. “You could still do that. An opinion from the outside can help reframe a problem.”

“I could,” Genma agreed, “but I’d much rather have your opinion. I mean, they’re our subordinates. I was just — Hajime was my backup plan. I’m really glad you’re back, it makes this a lot easier.”

He took a full breath, feeling his ribs expand. It was a relief having Raidou back, even if just for a brief consultation. Had it really only been a month ago that Genma’d been having to remind himself that Raidou was not Hajime, and every little way he’d become comfortable working with his captain was out the window?

Raidou’s mouth twitched towards a pleased smile, but he stayed on topic. “Ueno’s not getting out of ANBU any time soon, so that leaves her two options for advancement.” He sketched two paths in the air with the edge of the paper. “Command track, or specialist. I can see arguments for both.”

“I was thinking command track,” said Genma. “So I’m glad to hear you lead with that. It surprised me, given my first impressions of her, but I think she’s got real leadership potential. She’s smart with the rookies. And when she has to take charge in the field, she has a surprising depth of native ability to command.” He spread his hands. “I was thinking I’d recommend she audit the officer’s prep class. Not enroll, just audit, so there’s no pressure. If she likes what she sees, she can take it for real next time around, and if she doesn’t, there’s plenty of time to look into Specialist development.”

“She’s always her best in crunchtime,” Raidou said slowly. “If she could harness that…” He glanced over at Katsuko’s unoccupied desk. “You’re right, I think the prep class would make a good fit. If she takes to it, we can give her more responsibility with the team, too.”

Genma smiled. “Good. That’s one down. I wish you were going to be here with me to tell her we’re recommending she take officer training. I’ll try to memorize her facial expression so I can describe it for you next time I see you.”

Raidou laughed, but the humor fled from his eyes a little too quickly, replaced by something bittersweet and regretful. He handed Katsuko’s review form back without quite meeting Genma’s eyes. “Who’s next?”

“Tousaki,” Genma said. He handed over Ryouma’s evaluation form and tried not to delve too deeply into empathy. It had to hurt for Raidou, watching the woman he’d mentored for a year from raw rookie to promising officer candidate be handed over to someone else just when her potential was blossoming. This is temporary, Genma reminded himself. Four weeks. Maybe six. Then Raidou will be back in command and we can put this whole fiasco behind us.

Raidou’s eye had stopped moving most of the way down Ryouma’s form. He looked up at Genma with his mouth already shaping for a question.

“Ah. I’m guessing you’ve gotten to his professional development section,” Genma said, pre-empting the discussion. “Obviously this needs your approval, but I’m serious about it. I’ve started the paperwork to get myself declared a provisional instructor, so I’ll be doing some of my professional development hours with this, too. He’s got the chakra control, the right elementary natures, and his rot jutsu are already designed to work on flesh — decomposing it rather than putting it back together, sure, but he worked that out on his own. He’s clearly got some aptitude, and medical training doesn’t mean he’d stop being a field agent; I didn’t.”

When he stopped for breath and felt Raidou’s eyes on his face, he flushed. “I probably didn’t need to lay out every piece of my argument like that all at once, did I?”

“Not so much,” Raidou said, eyes crinkling in amusement. “Since you had me at ‘make Tousaki a field medic.’” He leaned eagerly forward, all of his wistfulness washed away on a tide of enthusiasm. Why had Genma been anticipating an argument?

“You really think he could do this?” Raidou asked. “Because I would pay gold for a second medic, and if you can give Tousaki something to focus on that actually helps his teammates and isn’t just murder…”

“I can’t promise he’ll have what it takes,” Genma said, “It may be he’s so practiced shaping his chakra for destruction that it will be harder for him to learn healing than for another ninjutsu specialist. But I think it’s worth a shot. And honestly—” He looked up, meeting Raidou’s eyes. “That last paragraph in the ‘needs improvement’ section. This could help with that. I noticed he steadied down on our last mission when he was helping me with medical care. Even if he can’t master medical jutsu, we could probably get him certified Field Medic Grade Five.”

“For this team, I’d take anything.” Raidou clenched and unclenched a fist in unconscious fervor. Given the bandages on his hands, the crutches leaning against Genma’s desk, and the stack of medical reports Genma was still working on, including follow ups from their previous mission, Raidou had a point.

“Well… Good.” Genma twitched his senbon to the other side of his mouth and leaned back, relieved. “I don’t know why I was worried about selling you on the idea. Maybe because I’ve never tried to set myself up as some kind of sensei before. And I know how important Tousaki’s jutsu are tactically.”

Raidou waved his concerns away. “I trust you on this.”

The warm, easy feeling of working in tandem with a trustworthy partner washed through Genma, and he grinned. “Thanks, Taichou.” He reached for the last paper and handed it over. “That leaves Hatake. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what to do with his development plan.”

raidou 10As always, Kakashi was the dagger-shaped peg in a round hole.

Raidou took his time reading the evaluation, nodding as he went. Genma had an efficient way with the written word. Each report could be easily distilled into a basic idea. Ueno Katsuko: ready to grow. Tousaki Ryouma: talented but troubled.

Hatake Kakashi: exceptional and difficult.

ANBU rookies weren’t unbaked clay. They joined the ranks as jounin, with skillsets and focus already built in, every one of them capable of commanding a battlefield squad. They were the cutting edge, and only expected to get sharper. ANBU was designed to be the crucible hot enough to temper strengths, burn flaws out, and vaporize the unworthy, unwanted, or unlucky. Progression was expected, even this soon.

That undoubtedly went double for Sharingan no Kakashi, who carried the dubious distinctions of ‘genius’ and ‘Hokage’s protégé’. Everyone knew he was tapped for leadership. Why else would you make him a jounin before his voice had finished breaking?

Raidou had read the report of Kakashi’s first command, though. One destroyed eye, one dead Uchiha. Even with that, it had technically been a successful mission: the targeted bridge had been destroyed, and Kakashi had gotten the first transplanted bloodline in history. The Sharingan that had put his name on the map, and in the Bingo Book, and propelled Nohara Rin’s medical career off like a rocket.

But underneath all that, there was still a dead young man. And there was Kakashi, who wouldn’t confer, delegate, or communicate. Who didn’t trust.

“We’re expected to advance him,” Raidou said at last.

Genma nodded.

“A lot of people are going to be very put out if we don’t,” Raidou said.

“A lot of people are going to be a lot worse off if we advance him too soon,” Genma said sharply. “Would you trust him in command of a team?”

“No,” Raidou said, and felt himself relax slightly. Why had he expected Genma to disagree with him? “I barely trust him to function with this one. Actually, no — that’s not quite true. I expect him to follow mission orders exactly, like I’d expect pulling a crossbow trigger to put an bolt in a target. I just don’t trust what he’d do on his own initiative afterwards.”

The village had wanted a weapon from Hatake, and they’d succeeded. As far as Raidou could tell, no one had considered what to do with a thinking knife next.

Genma rolled his neck until it cracked, and sighed. “Yeah. I guess that’s why I left that section incomplete. I don’t think there’s a class we can send him to, unless we bust him back to genin and make him learn the whole teamwork thing over from scratch.”

“Tempting thought,” Raidou said.

“We’d be risking a chidori to the chest if we tried, though,” Genma added.

“Which would defeat the point of remedial friendship lessons.” Raidou cracked half a smile and handed the report back. “For now, we should keep him as he is. It’ll do him some good to be held back for once.”

Genma shuffled the reports back together, stacking them on his desk. “So what do we put? ‘No immediate development plans beyond integrating with the team and learning to follow a direct order even outside the heat of battle’?”

“ ‘Agent is suggested to learn the difference between independent thought and pointless nitpicking’,” Raidou said. “ ‘Orders aren’t a game of find-the-loophole.’”

Genma laughed and took his senbon out of his mouth, holding it like a pen. “Perfect. Give me that wording again?”

“Maybe you should put it in your own words,” Raidou said, amused.

Genma flicked the senbon back between his teeth and picked up an actual pen to jot down a few quick lines on Kakashi’s report. At the end of each performance review there was one last empty section: “Agent Comments”. The next step was to have a one-on-one with the agent in question, or two-on-one if the captain wanted to step in. Raidou’s first captain had preferred to hold his own meetings separately. His second had liked the joint approach.

Genma would have to do it alone this time around. But Raidou had already said that once: I’m counting on you, Fukuchou. It still applied.

And Raidou would damn well be back in time for the next reviews.

“I can’t think of anything else to cover,” he admitted.

genma chunkyThere wasn’t a lot else for them to go over, really. Genma tucked the completed reports into their folders, and stacked those neatly in the file tray on his desk before turning his full attention back to Raidou.

It felt a little like kicking a man when he was just barely back on his feet, but one last question had to be asked. “I can think of one thing we need to discuss,” he said. “Since the gag order is off, are you going to tell the team the details of your suspension? Or meet with them at all? I can be as discreet or forthcoming with them as you’re comfortable with, but maybe you’d rather they heard it from you directly?”

Raidou sucked one corner of his lip in, chewing it in an unusual show of diffidence. “I should—” he began, then pulled back. “No. For now, good news and bad should come through you. Until I know exactly when I’m coming back, I’m just going to muddy the issue. They’re better off relying exclusively on you.” There was resolve in his eyes, but lurking under it, regret. It had to hurt, not knowing for sure that he would be back, no matter how much he and Genma both wanted to believe his suspension was temporary.

“It sucks being a good captain sometimes,” Genma said. “I wish—” What? He wasn’t sure he could complete the sentence. He wished it wasn’t like this. He wished it was easier. He wished Raidou didn’t look so much like he was still reeling from a body blow, and the team wasn’t in limbo. “I wish I knew something to say to make it easier.”

Sometimes honesty was all you could offer a person.

“How detailed do you want me to be with them?”

“Tell them I’m getting genjustu training,” Raidou said, after a moment’s thought. “Leave out the trauma counseling. I know it’s not the worst thing, but I’d rather they didn’t think I had faultlines in my head.”

Genma nodded. “I expect Ueno’d be understanding, but I think that’s a good call with the other two.”

“You can tell them I’ll be coming back soon, pending the Hokage’s approval,” Raidou continued. He looked around the room, eyes skimming over spare equipment hanging on pegs; closed lockers; the cracked leather couch, still indented where Genma had napped briefly before starting in on his paperwork; three unoccupied desks. “And tell them,” he said, locking eyes with Genma again, “if they’re a shit to the new captain, I’ll know about it and make them regret it.”

“That’s good,” Genma said, chuckling. “They’ll definitely know I got it straight from you.”

“Good.” Raidou’s eyes crinkled briefly in an answering smile. He rubbed his hands over his thighs and stood, hesitating for only a fraction of a moment. “I should leave you to finish up.”

Genma glanced at the clock on the wall, as reluctant to end the contact as Raidou seemed to be. “It’s still lunchtime, and I didn’t eat yet,” he said. “You want to grab a bite before you go? Or we could go into town, if you want to avoid cafeteria gossip. And lukewarm curry.”

Raidou’s face lit right up. “I know a good okonomiyaki place,” he said. For a moment, the stress of the last mission washed away, leaving the Namiashi Raidou Genma’d met a month and change ago. The one who’d run to meet Genma the moment he found out who was going to be on Team Six, overflowing with excitement and possibilities.

“Excellent. I love okonomiyaki.” Genma grabbed all his in-progress files and locked them in his file cabinet, then grabbed his crutches and stood. “Especially if they do good squid. Or shrimp. Or chicken. Actually now I’m really hungry.”

Raidou looked amused as he held the door for Genma.

“Lead on, Taichou,” Genma said.

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