Late morning of May 15, Yondaime Year 5

raidou 11It took two days to hear anything from T&I. Raidou managed to stay sane, just about.

Shibata’s advice anchored him: Hatake’s loyalty — and Shiranui’s, Tousaki’s, and Ueno’s — isn’t lightly earned, Captain. Let that rest in your mind. It certainly made an impression in mine. Whenever he felt himself slipping into worry and doubt, Raidou lifted that thought like a shield. My team has faith.

The meeting had yielded another thing, too, after some time to mull it over: he liked the head of T&I. Shibata Tomohiro was a scary, scary man, but he’d still treated Raidou with surprising gentleness, and only kicked Raidou to knock down old, crippled armor that wasn’t helping anymore. He’d left Raidou with hope.

I’ve yet to find a well-forged weapon so dull it couldn’t be sharpened.

So Raidou filled his time with hard training, eating wholesome food, reading every book on genjutsu and trauma therapy he could get his hands on (when Shun ran out, he went to the jounin library and checked out as many new volumes as the suspicious librarian would let him carry), doing chores around his mothers’ house (there were many), sleeping, and waiting.

When the ANBU messenger finally arrived, Raidou’s stomach didn’t flip. It was the same kunoichi as before: buzzed haircut, lizard mask, absent manners. Raidou set down the heavy weight set he’d been working out with on the grass (it was too big to use indoors; the backyard was barely big enough), swiped a wrist across his forehead, and acknowledged her. “Agent.”

“The Hokage requests your presence at 1130,” she said perfunctorily.

That gave him more than an hour. Raidou nodded. “I need to shower.”

“I’ll wait.”

“Outside,” he said. He’d finally convinced Ume to go back to work, but Shun would still sense the presence of an outsider in the home, even after the fact, and they’d both been disturbed enough.

Lizard melted back into dappled leaf shadows. Raidou left her to lurk while he went inside to shower and change. An ANBU uniform felt presumptuous; he opted for jounin blues and made an effort to be presentable. He didn’t think the meeting would take all day, but he left a note stuck to the fridge just in case.

Got summons. Do not march on Hokage’s office if I’m not back before dinner. I AM FINE.

— R 

P.S. Don’t send any notes either.

Lizard had no discernable reaction to his uniform choice. She led him to the Hokage’s palace in complete silence, darting swiftly and invisibly along the rooftop route. She reminded him of Kakashi: all efficiency, zero social skills. Except Kakashi would’ve added biting commentary.

The waiting room outside the Hokage’s office was at half-occupancy already, polished wooden benches filled with waiting diplomats, mission clients, and shinobi of various ranks. Two masked ANBU flanked the office doors. One of them had stocky, freckled shoulders rippling with muscles, and a familiar rabbit mask. Raidou blinked at Usagi, and thought he saw the flicker of a wink returned through one shadowed eye-hole. The other mask was a series of stylized orange swirls across white porcelain, still glossy with newness. One of her rookies, then. He wondered if it was the one she’d punched.

At Lizard’s pointed gesture, he took a seat on one of the free benches. Lizard vanished without a word, presumably to inflict awkwardness on someone else. Time passed slowly, measured by the drift of the sun outside the windows, and the impatient creaking of civilians shifting in their seats. Some people — the diplomats, mostly — had appointments. For the others, it took money or a genuine crisis to see the Hokage directly. Regular mission clients were usually D- and C-rankers who got shunted straight to the mission office. Anyone who’d actually made it up to the palace was squeezed into the Hokage’s schedule wherever they could fit, sometimes at the expense of a dignitary.

People trooped in and out of the office doors. A few left looking relieved, even pleased; most didn’t. A moment before Raidou’s internal clock nudged him, the outer doors to the hallway opened and a sudden hush descended. Sagara cut through the room like a barracuda, pausing only to exchange a swift, quiet word with Usagi before she was shown immediately into the Hokage’s office.

Less than thirty seconds later, Shibata strode in, black coat swirling behind him. His entrance reduced any returning noise to absolute silence. He glanced once around the room, spotted Raidou, and offered a pleasant, warping smile that made someone swallow audibly.

Usagi didn’t exchange any conversation with him; she simply held the door open, and closed it again after he stepped through. The rookie’s naked shoulders had gone a shade paler.

Raidou breathed through a curl of tension and thought, My team has faith.

A moment and an eternity later, the door opened again and Usagi beckoned him up. Every eye followed him as he straightened his back and walked forward.

What the hell did you do?” she hissed, nearly soundless, when he passed her.

“Tarred and feathered Hatake,” Raidou murmured back, and carefully shut the door before she could press for details.

The Hokage’s office looked the same as it had a month ago: a long, dark-panelled room with a soaring view of the village. The windows were large and curved, following the circular outer wall. An intricately patterned runner carpet guided visitors from the door to the Hokage’s desk, which was the only piece of furniture in the room, aside from the Hokage’s chair. Minato was already seated, morning sunlight glinting on his fair hair. His official hat of office was hanging from the back of his chair. Sagara stood on his right side, hands held crisply behind her back. Shibata was on his left, standing relaxedly on one hip.

“Namiashi,” Minato said.

Raidou stepped forward and dropped to a respectful knee, one fist braced on the floor. He ducked his head. “Hokage-sama.”

“How have you been sleeping?” Minato asked.

That—was not the first question Raidou had expected, but he answered smoothly enough. “Better since my meeting with Shibata-sama, sir.”

Shibata chuckled softly, as if that pleased him.

Minato steepled his hands together. “Nightmares?”

Checking for weakness, or evidence of a bleeding conscience? Raidou stuck with the simple road. “Yes, sir.”

Minato nodded and sat back. “We’ve reached a decision,” he said. “Your suspension will continue until you demonstrate your ability to cope with genjutsu triggers and maintain control over your berserker impulses. You’ll report to Shibata. Your team will be assigned to an interim captain, but you may resume contact with them, so long as you don’t interfere with their training.” A dry edge entered his voice. “I understand they’ve been missing you.”

Raidou stared down at the woven pattern in the carpet, tracing a blue thread back to its source. A contingent suspension was the best outcome he could’ve hoped for, and exactly what Shibata had said he’d recommend, but an interim captain…

“Is the team being sent on another mission?” Raidou asked. If the answer was ‘yes,’ he wouldn’t know how to stay down on one knee.

“No,” Sagara said. “Shiranui and Hatake were both released from hospital yesterday. They are expected to remain on inactive duty while they recuperate. Ueno’s broken collarbone is being treated by a specialist; an extended healing period will serve her better. Tousaki is currently mission fit, but he’ll be assigned to village duty until Team Six is posted back on the active lists. If he prefers to sign up for regular jounin missions, that’s his prerogative.”

If Ryouma put himself in deliberate danger while the rest of his team was struggling to heal, Raidou would knock him over the head.

He let out a relieved breath. “That’s good to hear. Thank you for your judgment, Hokage-sama, Sagara-sama, Shibata-sama. I won’t take this second chance lightly.”

Minato said quietly, “It’s more than the sailors in Tsurugahama Port were given. Your pay for this last mission will go to their families.”

Raidou’s stomach clenched — not because he disagreed, but because in every thought he’d had about those dead men and women, and there had been many, he’d never wondered how their families were surviving. He raised his head and met Minato’s sharp blue eyes. “Is that enough for all eight?”

The blue gaze softened, just a little. “They’ll also receive Konoha’s percentage of the bounty from Kakashi’s Bingo Book kill, supplemented with some additional funds. It’s no recompense for the dead, but it will give their families enough to go on, for a time.”

Additional funds. Minato was cutting into the village’s narrow resources, along with revenue diverted from a bounty that Konoha could surely have used.

For a reflexive moment, Raidou wanted to drop to both knees, fold forward, and press his forehead against the floor — but this wasn’t a movie, and he wasn’t a samurai. He ducked his head instead, gratitude and shame sliding together, and managed, “Thank you, sir.”

“I understand you’ve been staying in the village,” Minato carried on. “You may return to the barracks, if you wish, but your suspension from duty extends to regular missions as well as ANBU. You may not leave the village except at Shibata’s direction and under supervision. You will report as assigned for your genjutsu training.” His voice turned steely. “And I will be receiving reports on your progress.”

Sometimes ANBU soldiers were called the Hokage’s dogs. This would be the choke-chain.

“Yes, sir,” Raidou said quietly.

Shibata cleared his throat and waited until Raidou looked up before he spoke. “You’ll be meeting with me on a weekly basis, but your actual training will be with Yuuhi Benihime-sensei. She’s agreed to take your case on at my request.”

Raidou stared at him. The Yuuhi clan was small, but respected, and Yuuhi Benihime had ruled it with an iron fist for the past five decades. She’d been a legend in more than one war, and was renowned for devoting her quasi-retirement to finding and training the most promising genjutsu students Konoha had to offer. Protégés from other villages travelled for days purely to sit at her knee and learn for an hour.

Raidou was going to offend her just by existing.

He opened his mouth, but couldn’t quite work up the nerve to ask Shibata if he’d entirely thought this through. He closed his mouth.

Shibata held up a scroll that looked exactly like a mission scroll, except that it had no colored borders. “You’ll be meeting her at the time and place specified. I’d advise you not to be late, but I’ve experienced your version of punctuality, so I’m sure I can trust you not to waste the sensei’s time.” He stepped close to hand the scroll over, and his voice lowered, soft and bladed, for Raidou’s ears only. “Instead I’ll advise you to remember exactly what’s at stake here. Captain.”

Team Six. Raidou’s career. One chance only, no encores.

No more Tsurugahama Ports, ever again.

Raidou closed his hand around the scroll and took it firmly. “I know, sir.” At a subtle flicker of permission from the Hokage, he got back up to his feet, straightening his shoulders, and found himself looking down at Shibata. It didn’t change much; Shibata had the kind of presence you could fold steel around.

The T&I commander tipped his head back ever so slightly, looking up at Raidou’s face.

Raidou said, “I won’t screw up again.”

“Good. I don’t like to be proved wrong.” With that, Shibata turned and retook his place at the Hokage’s side.

Sagara hadn’t moved from her position, or unfolded her arms. She stood lean and stern in a corona of morning light, fixed like a cardinal point. “I’ll leave it to your discretion to inform your team of these proceedings, but I suggest you do so soon. The interim captain will take over tomorrow at 0900.”

“Who—” Raidou began.

“I’m still waiting for confirmation,” Sagara said, closing the topic like a book.

“You’ll be informed,” Minato said shortly. “That’s all, Namiashi. Dismissed.”

There was nothing Raidou could do but tuck the scroll under his arm, salute, and leave.

Immediately, he went to find Genma.



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