June 17, Yondaime Year 5

kakashi 2Kakashi didn’t sleep.

He lay in the creaking dark, one hand loosely curled over Ryouma’s ankle, and thought of murder. The lantern burned low. The tiny compartment smelled like salted fish and burned-out stress. Exhaustion scratched at him, hot behind his eyes. He couldn’t relax enough to let it take him.

The storm had passed, taking its lightning with it, but his skin still itched.

Genma and Raidou had rolled apart in the night. They lay back-to-back now, Raidou stretched out in a long sprawl, Genma curled in on himself. Tear tracks cut through the grime on Genma’s face; black bruises circled Raidou’s throat. They both looked like they needed a week of sleep.

Ryouma had pulled away, too. About an hour into sleep, he’d shifted onto his stomach, yanked the blankets over his head, and buried his face in his arms. He’d done that on previous missions, too — hidden.

The three of them didn’t look comfortable, but they fit around each other. Captain, lieutenant, protege. Soldiers bunkered down. Watching them, a sharp, dark ache spilled through Kakashi’s chest, rising up like an urge to bite. They were his team. He barely fit on their outskirts, but they were his. And they hurt.

Dawn glimmered on the horizon, and Kakashi couldn’t stand it anymore. He got up and slipped out.

The deck was populated by a skeleton crew. A woman at the helm. A man perched in the rigging. A few others scattered around, engaged in morning tasks. The youngest crewmember, a gangly, freckled girl, was sweeping the scarred deck-boards. Someone else had begun cooking; the air smelled like burned coffee and fried meat. Kakashi skirted them all and went to the guest cabins. Kimiko’s door was closed, but more than one chakra-signature glowed gently with sleep inside. Satomi’s scent lingered on the doorframe; fulfilling her promise to be there when Kimiko woke. Kakashi gave them a wide berth.

Kuroda’s door was also closed.

You knew a valuable asset had taken an injury, and instead of properly evaluating her, you handed her over to your less competent protege.

Kakashi considered the knife tucked in the small of his back, and the deep, dark ocean falling away beneath them. He studied the door for a long time. He turned away.

The dining room turned sick-bay held more sleeping bodies. Usagi had been bolstered with bedrolls and blankets into a position that looked almost restful. She didn’t snore, exactly, but air rasped in her throat. Abe slept next to her, a med-kit clutched in his good hand. Kasumi had fallen asleep near them in a chair, slumped forward over the scarred dining table. Her cheek was pillowed on a roll of bandages.

Ginta and Kurenai were nowhere in evidence.

He found them on the uppermost stern deck, below the soft swearing of a sailor applying pitch and new rope to a damaged section of rigging. They stood huddled in blankets at the stern rail, holding tin mugs, looking down at the dark water.

Kakashi didn’t announce his presence. He stood in the deepest part of blue shadows, and listened to them talk about… breeding koi. Ginta was heavily bandaged; cotton and gauze wrapped his face and neck, disappearing down underneath his untied peasant shirt. His mug steamed in the cool air; hers didn’t. Kakashi could smell the alcohol from here.

“Speaking of koi… Aokishi,” Ginta said.

Kurenai snickered.

“Right?” Ginta said. He started to pantomime a koi face, pursed lips and puffed out cheeks, but broke off with a wince.

Kurenai offered him her mug. Ginta accepted a sip, coughed until he turned pink, and handed it back. Mouth curving, Kurenai threw back a swallow like she was drinking water.

Silently, Kakashi shifted his weight.

Ginta’s head came up; sharp blue eyes found Kakashi. Kurenai didn’t look, she leaned against the rail and murmured, “Hatake.”

At least they weren’t that drunk.

“What does Kuroda have on Sagara?” Kakashi demanded.

Ginta turned away from the rail, leaning back against it. He studied Kakashi with narrowed eyes, exchanged a glance with Kurenai, and said, “You’re asking the right question.”

“And not getting an answer,” Kakashi said, irritated. “Yuuhi?”

Kurenai’s long, red-nailed fingers tapped against her mug. “For a Hokage’s protege, you don’t pay much attention to politics. Didn’t you attend the senior commanders’ confirmation hearings?”

“No,” Kakashi said shortly. “I was busy.”

Minato had meant to introduce his own personnel slowly, in the aftermath of Orochimaru’s escape, Sandaime’s disgrace, and his own early promotion, but the Fox had struck two months later. Kakashi’s recollection of the following chaos was clean up, grief, and terror — that Minato would follow Kushina, that Naruto wouldn’t survive, that Orochimaru would capitalize on the destruction and return to kill them both.

If Kuroda had gotten his rank somewhere in there, Kakashi wouldn’t have noticed or cared.

“It’s not what Kuroda has on Sagara, it’s what Shimura Danzou has on the Council,” Ginta said quietly. “Kuroda is that faction’s check on Minato’s power over ANBU.”

Shimura Danzou: jounin, war hero, councilmember, pain in the ass. One of Sandaime’s contemporaries, who thought strength and power were synonymous, and Konoha should take the world with a sword. Minato complained about him, but no louder than he complained about any of the old guard.

ANBU were the Hokage’s soldiers. Danzou had no place in them. The Council had no place in them.

But the Council had the ability to make life very difficult for Minato.

Kakashi suppressed a soft growl. “What does Danzou have?”

“The support of most of the major clans, for one,” Kurenai said. “Or did you think it was an accident that none of Hokage-sama’s top advisors are from clan names?”

Kakashi looked at her. In the pre-dawn light, without make up, Kurenai’s skin was bluish-white, but her eyes were bloody red. Yuuhi clan eyes.

“I thought that was because most clan advice benefits the clan, not the village,” Kakashi said. “And most clan heads make you want to strangle them when they talk.”

Ginta toasted the point with his coffee mug, and winked at Kakashi. “He’s got you there, Yuuhi. Or are you going to change all that when you’re clan head?”

Kurenai tipped her mug against Ginta’s, instead of using it to take his head off. They were friends, Kakashi realized, not just teammates sharing space. “Long wait ahead of us, then. Maybe you’ll take your grandfather’s place on the council first.” She arched fine, dark eyebrows at Kakashi. “Danzou was very nearly the Third Hokage, and there’re rumors he was in contention for the Fourth. He has plenty of allies among those who believe the war should have ended differently. And just as many who are concerned about the current Hokage’s grip on power in Konoha.”

This time, Kakashi did growl. It rumbled up from the furious echo chamber in his chest and burned in his throat before tired reflexes caught it.

Kurenai set her mug down on the rail, watching him.

Ginta went still, wary. “Hit a nerve?”

Kakashi controlled himself. For a moment he said nothing, then he decided he didn’t care. “They’re wrong.”

The war had ended in treaties and exchanged prisoners because the alternative was mutual destruction. Iwa deserved to be burned to the ground, but not for the price it would have cost. Minato was making things better. The old guard, granted the same power, would break the village in half getting what they wanted. Kuroda didn’t care about the shinobi under his command; he’d hounded Genma just to see him crack.

For an exhausted, ugly moment, Kakashi wondered how hard, exactly, it would be to break Danzou’s neck.

It felt like a Katsuko thought, dark and reckless, willing to shipwreck itself on vengeance. There was a reason she was gone.

Kurenai lifted one shoulder. “I didn’t say I agree with them. But if Minato-sama overrides all his opponents on every issue, it just gives their grievances a sharper edge. He was a war hero at his investiture, and then the village’s savior, after the Fox—nevermind that Kushina-sama was the one who actually saved us all. But goodwill doesn’t last long, in politics. You’ve got to make compromises. Concessions. If you allow your opponents to place one spy in your camp, they may be too busy congratulating themselves to notice you outflanking them.”

Kakashi gave her a sharper look. “Or they place one so distracting you miss three others.”

Kurenai opened a hand, conceding the point.

Ginta said, “The only people distracted by Kuroda are the ones under him. I’m pretty sure the ones that matter are aware of where they need to be looking.”

“You didn’t tell him about Shiranui, did you?” Kakashi said to Kurenai.

Ginta’s face, already angular, fell into sharp suspicion. “No.” He looked accusingly at Kurenai. “What did you not tell me about Genma?”

For the first time in years, Kakashi saw Kurenai off-balance. She faltered, “It’s— It seemed like an internal Team Six matter. I was going to wait to see how things were this morning, before I brought anyone else into it.”

“And?” Ginta said flatly.

“Kuroda’s blaming Shiranui for Fukuda’s death,” Kakashi said. He added, spiteful, “Distractingly.”

“I saw that last night.” Ginta said. “Genma didn’t seem all that distracted by it.”

Ginta had seen the preliminary in the upper messdeck, when Kuroda had burst in and been deflected. He hadn’t heard what followed. Kurenai had. She’d seen a fraction of the aftermath, too, when she’d followed Raidou down. She was looking away now, out to the ocean.

Genma’s breakdown wasn’t Kakashi’s to share, even if he wanted to hit Ginta in the face with it. He’s your friend, or does he not matter too?

Kakashi said, “Shiranui was affected. Kuroda’s gone after everyone in my team, except for me.”

How affected?” Ginta demanded. “What did Kuroda do? Is Genma getting sent for re-education next, now that Namiashi’s back?”

Now who was distracted?

Kakashi glanced at Kurenai, who stirred. “I don’t believe Shiranui’s in danger—though I’ve been wrong before. Kuroda raked him over the coals in an…unnecessarily vicious manner. But there’s nothing in Shiranui’s conduct that any reasonable tribunal could see as a serious error. Raidou pointed that out at length, after Shiranui left. And at volume.” The bloodless arch of her mouth curved. “There were some choice words about how Shiranui nearly killed himself completing the actual mission objective, as well as saving Kuroda’s life and ‘damn near everyone else on this goddamn mission,’ and he deserves a commendation, not a guilt trip. I don’t think Kuroda was persuaded.”

That sounded like the captain. Anyone but Kuroda probably would have gotten punched.

Ginta said, “So there’s going to be a tribunal?”

Not if Kuroda fell overboard first.

“I only look like I know everything,” Kurenai said, exasperated. But, when Ginta continued to look at her, she relented. “I don’t think so. I spoke to Kuroda again last night, after I got Raidou away. He hasn’t got any real leverage against Shiranui, and there’s no political weight like there was against Raidou. And if Kuroda does lodge a formal complaint…” Steel gleamed in her eyes and edged her voice. “He was the nearest when Eizo died.”

Surprised, Kakashi almost gave her a grateful nod before he remembered himself.

Ginta drew a breath, nostrils flaring with tightly controlled anger. “Good,” he said. “Where’s Genma now? Sleeping?”

“Yes,” Kakashi said quellingly. “He needs it.”

Ginta gave him a long, perceptive look, and let the subject drop. He settled back against the railings with a wince, one hand hovering briefly over his bandaged chest. “Maybe I was wrong. It’s never a good idea to distract an ANBU agent.” He glanced towards the shuttered cabins. “You only let the spy live while he’s not doing any actual damage.”

Kurenai gave him a serrated look and spun a rapid little jutsu, cloaking them all in a layer of chakra that deadened sound. The swish of waves and rattle of metal and ropes died entirely, replaced by the nearly inaudible noise of three people breathing.

“Or,” Kakashi said thoughtfully, “you send him a message.”

Kurenai folded her arms, fingers tapping once more against the side of her mug. But she didn’t object, and she didn’t leave.

Ginta gave a single nod. “Messages can make it to more than one ear, after all.” He added, with a sideways glance, “This is all very hypothetical, of course.”

“As an intelligence exercise, then,” she said. “How would you send a message?”

“Cut the safety net,” Kakashi said. “Kuroda’s dangerous because he’s protected, but so am I. And you, Sakamoto.”

Ginta smirked. “What did you have in mind?”

Kakashi thought for a moment, and then admitted, “No idea.” He boosted himself up to sit on the railing at Kurenai’s elbow, one leg folded up, and said dryly, “I only act like I know everything.”

“A threat’s only useful if it’s credible,” Ginta mused. “What does Kuroda value most? His reputation with the higher ups? What if we make it clear we could take that away? We’d need some good dirt on him. Really good.”

Kurenai tilted her head back, looking up at Kakashi, and gave him an ironic smile. “Good thing we have Ginta here to think he knows everything.”

Kakashi didn’t, quite, blink. Kurenai hadn’t given him anything but contempt in years, since Rin had tried to press her heart into Kakashi’s hands and he’d broken it. He’d given Kurenai back as good as he’d gotten, since it was easier to fight with her than try to understand everything he’d done wrong with Rin, but he’d regretted it. Once upon a time, they’d been friends.

He let his eye curve, and said, “I was just thinking something with knives. Blackmail is complicated.”

“But, done right, it’s so effective,” Ginta said. “Of course knives are effective, too. But if we want a message that will carry to other ears, knives lack subtlety.”

“They also tend to come with tribunals,” Kurenai said dryly.

Threatening with knives,” Kakashi clarified, but he could already tell by the shared glow that he’d lost them both to the thrill of extortion. “Do either of you even have anything useful?”

In the long, empty silence that followed, Kakashi detected a small bump in their road to success.

“So, nothing,” he said.

“This is the first time I’ve worked with him,” Kurenai said. “Things went… poorly, in Kirigakure, and at least some of that was his fault — I thought you ANBU were supposed to be good at sneaking. But I’m not sure a poor infiltration performance is enough to seriously embarrass a senior officer.”

Kakashi looked at Ginta, who was frowning, and said, “Let me guess. If you had something, you would have used it already?”

“And about fifty other ANBU officers before me.” Ginta sighed softly. “It’s not that we haven’t tried to come up with something.”

Kakashi leaned back on the rail. A soundless breeze rustled his hair. He said dully, “Maybe you were right. He’s a distraction, not a real problem; if he were, he’d already have been dealt with.”

Ginta tilted his coffee mug, taking a long swallow, and focused out on the middle distance of the horizon. The first creeping rays of light turned the water pink and gold. “I’d sure like to send that message, though. Preferably something like, ‘Death is coming for you.’ in nice calligraphy on a silk-bordered scroll.” He thought for a moment. “I could ask Grandfather to send him an ink painting of a crow eating the guts out of a dead weasel.”

“Did he really do that to Uchiha Mizuno?” Kurenai asked, diverted.

Ginta grinned. “Mizuno-san sent one back. It’s in Grandfather’s study. That one of the tiger with a monkey in its claws.”

Apparently Kurenai had been in the Sakamoto estate.

Kakashi pressed the heel of his palm against his eye, and listened to Ginta and Kurenai bounce stories back and forth about ancient feuds among mostly dead people, none of which was directly helpful to the current problem. A headache was starting to pound in his temples.

He thought, once more, of the knife resting at his back, and the dark, private confines of Kuroda’s cabin. How easy it would be to leverage the point against a tender place and say, I know what you’re doing. I want it to stop. But Kuroda wasn’t a man who backed down, he was a man who got even, and Team Six didn’t have Kakashi’s shield.

And Kakashi hadn’t yet killed a Konoha ninja for any reason but orders.

He slid off the rail, abandoning the increasingly esoteric conversation. “If you run into something useful, you know where to find me.”

“I’ll keep an ear out,” Kurenai said. “Just in case anything does come up.”

“Don’t do anything unless you’re prepared for the consequences, Hatake,” Ginta said, which made Kakashi wonder what consequences Ginta had survived.

He acknowledged them both with a lifted hand, and stepped through the barrier of Kurenai’s jutsu. Sound broke back into the world: sea, wind, flapping sails, the clang of a mop bucket. Behind him, Ginta and Kurenai remained inaudible.

Kakashi’s skin still itched.

He thought about climbing up to his favorite roosting spot on the topmost spar of the forward mast. Then he thought about falling asleep and tumbling off it. Genma didn’t have it in him to splint any more broken bones. Kakashi went back belowdecks.

The compartment was still undisturbed. Genma and Raidou hadn’t moved. Raidou was snoring softly. Genma’s expression had finally relaxed a little, as if his dreams had eased.

Ryouma was blearily awake. He turned his head, just enough to reveal the gleam of dark eyes over his arm, and croaked, “Okay?”

No, not really.

Kakashi folded down on his abandoned blanket, like a collapsing tent, and muttered into the rough weave, “I can’t do anything about Kuroda.”

Ryouma shoved up on one elbow, shedding sleep and blankets. His voice was gritty with alarm. “Did’e come after you?”

Kakashi grimaced. “No, I didn’t talk to him. I just wanted to. With a kunai.” He rolled onto his back, looking up at Ryouma. There were blanket marks creased over Ryouma’s face, bluish hollows under his eyes. “He leaves me alone, but he keeps coming after the rest of you, because of politics, or bullshit, and apparently no one has sufficient blackmail material to make him stop.”

“D’we have t’blackmail him?” Ryouma rubbed his eyes and blinked hard. “Thought if we finish this mission he goes away.”

“He was supposed to go away when the captain came back,” Kakashi said.

“He doesn’t like us. What’d he want to stick around for?” Ryouma yawned, sitting up enough to drag both hands through his hair until it stuck up in wild, ocean-salted spikes, and looked down at Kakashi. “You said politics. Dunno how any of us except you fit into that, but what happens if he breaks this team?”

Kakashi thought for a moment, then said, “He discredits Sagara-sama and Minato-sensei. They put the teams together. If we fail…” A thought unspooled. Kakashi scowled. “If my team fails, it’s more evidence that I can’t work with anyone. That reflects badly on Minato-sensei, too.”

Ryouma squinted at him. “So why’s he targeting Genma an’ me instead of you? So nobody’ll suspect his evil plan?”

“Maybe you just annoy him.” Kakashi shoved a discarded belt-pack under his head for a lumpy pillow, and folded his arms over his chest. “Yuuhi and Sakamoto say Kuroda’s working for Danzou — a way for the council to keep their hand in ANBU, because Minato having his own standing army scares them. Nevermind that we’re supposed to be his personal soldiers. I don’t know, maybe they don’t want me to advance. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe Kuroda doesn’t like your face.”

“Think he’d play nicer if I wore a mask, too?” Ryouma glanced back at Genma and Raidou, and shook his head. “Doesn’t really matter about me, but if he tries to use Fukuda against the lieutenant — or use us against the Hokage— Fuck. Anything we did, we’d just be proving him right.”

Kakashi kicked Ryouma with pin-point accuracy on the anklebone.

Ow. Shit! What?”

“It does matter if he goes after you,” Kakashi said.

Ryouma stared at him. “I didn’t— I meant— Look, we’ll have better ideas after we sleep.” He shrugged one of his blankets off and tossed it onto Kakashi, then sat for a moment, rubbing his ankle. Quietly, he said, “He’s not gonna break us. Any of us.”

“I know that,” Kakashi said grouchily. “I’m annoyed that he’s trying.”

Ryouma sighed and dropped stiffly back down at Kakashi’s side, folding his arms under his chin. “Well, if we can’t do the kunai or the blackmail, maybe somebody could piss in his coffee.”

Kakashi made a cracked noise — not quite laughter, but close. “Isn’t that against your religion?”

“Some sacrifices have to be made,” Ryouma said magnanimously.

“But not just by you two,” said a low, sleep-roughened voice.

Kakashi blinked and tilted his head back. Somewhere in the last few minutes, Raidou had rolled silently over. He was watching them with dark eyes, and Kakashi couldn’t quite read his expression. Not angry.

“Taichou,” Ryouma said, sheepish.

Raidou’s mouth quirked. He dropped a hand on Genma’s shoulder. Startled, Kakashi realized the lieutenant’s eyes were open, tired but clear.

“Tell our rookies that they don’t have to solve the world’s problems before breakfast,” Raidou said.

Dutifully, Genma recited, “Rookies, you don’t have to solve the world’s problems before breakfast.” Then, with the faintest glimmer of humor, “But if you decide to go that last route, better pick a strong coffee to hide the taste.”

Ryouma gave a relieved laugh. “Don’t worry, Lieutenant. I won’t waste the good stuff on him.”

Genma yawned. “Smart. Rule something-or-other: a ninja doesn’t waste good coffee.”

“Rule thirty-six,” Kakashi said, on pure reflex. A shinobi never wastes supplies or opportunities.

Genma nodded and sat up, scrubbing one hand over his face. He drew a deep breath and said, “Sorry. About last night. I shouldn’t have let it get to me.”

No, he shouldn’t. They’d learned that rule as children, too. Twenty-five: A Shinobi never shows his tears. Depending who you spoke to, that meant hide them or don’t have them at all. Genma had tried both: he’d hidden, he’d stone-walled. Ryouma had pushed. Genma had failed. And Raidou had said, You don’t need to be okay.

Genma looked like himself again, clear-eyed and calm, but he’d gone sideways on a mission.

Like Raidou, in Tsurugahama Port, except with less death. Like Kakashi, in that cave, under that rockslide, when he’d frozen — except with less injuries. Like Ryouma most of the time, with his faultlines barely papered over, catching fire from unexpected sparks.

Genma had just cried, and slept, and woken up, and carried on.

Kakashi looked down at his hands, and bit back any criticism.

Ryouma said, “Nobody thinks any less of you, Lieutenant. Not that we would’ve thought any less if you’d snapped and murdered him across the deck, either…”

Noted, Kakashi thought.

“Treason aside,” Raidou said mildly, “it was a hard few days, and harder last night, with the amount of healing you had to plow through. You were owed a moment. Kuroda just added another reason.” A crooked smile tugged the corner of Raidou’s mouth. “And you didn’t blow up the beach, or the boat. That’s something.”

Genma winced, shoulders pulling in with embarrassment, like a hawk wanting to hide under its own wings. “Maybe. Yeah.” He took a breath, sighed it out. “I really wanted to, but treason wasn’t an option. We’ve lost Ueno, and we’ve just gotten Namiashi back. If I got us in trouble again, I’d feel even worse about letting him get to me.”

Kakashi didn’t know if it said more about Kuroda’s leadership failure or Genma’s state of mind that even Genma had considered massacring a superior officer. If only briefly.

“We infiltrated Kirigakure,” Kakashi said slowly. “First Konoha ninja to do that and make it out again.” He glanced up. “Crippled their water supply, and their grain storage. Rescued a child, saved a bloodline, stole valuable intelligence. We lost two lives, but we took at least ten. And none of us is badly injured. I’d actually call that a victory.”

“Eighteen, not ten,” Ryouma said, with a vicious glow. “We did some damage.”

“Without implicating Konoha,” Raidou said. He propped his chin on his hand, elbow balanced on one knee, and tilted his head to Genma. He wasn’t smiling, but there was something settled and proud that had been missing since Tsurugahama. “Not bad for a weekend’s work.”

Genma gave a slow blink. His gaze slid over each of them in turn, marking Ryouma’s mostly-healed head wound, Raidou’s throat, Kakashi’s… something. He landed, finally, back on Raidou. “Okay, when you put it like that— Buddha’s balls, has it really only been two days?”

“Technically three,” Kakashi said. “And change.”

Raidou shrugged one broad shoulder and covered a yawn. “Who was counting after hour fifty?”

Ryouma caught the next yawn and didn’t bother to hide it. He rubbed his eyes. “Fifty hours without sleep means fifty hours of catching up on the trip back, right?”

“Maybe not all fifty,” Genma said. “But we’re definitely due fourteen or so.” He began to creak to his feet, grabbing one of the cargo ropes for support. “I should—” His jaw cracked on the next yawn. He shook his head blearily. “I should go check on Team Thirteen, make sure they’re all still breathing and no one is in screaming pain.”

“They’re fine,” Kakashi said. “Usagi-taichou is asleep. The others too, except for Sakamoto. He’s drinking coffee.”

Genma looked taken aback. “You checked on them for me?”

“I walked the ship,” Kakashi said. “They’re on the ship.”

Genma gave him a searching look. “You sure they’re okay? Gint— Sakamoto and Usagi will probably be hurting today; those were nasty, infected burns. And Abe’s at risk for osteomyelitis with that open fracture.”

“It’s been four hours,” Kakashi said, irritated. “But if you listen very carefully, you can hear the dull screaming from the trunk I shoved them all in before I came back down to lie to you. They’re fine. They have painkillers. Abe’s a medic. If his bones start to rot, he’ll send up a flare.”

Genma’s mouth opened, sharpness flaring in his eyes, but Raidou was the one who said, “Hatake, have you slept?”

Kakashi’s teeth clipped together. He raked a hand through his hair, salted-sweat clinging to his fingers, and said reluctantly, “It’s on my list.”

“Okay,” Raidou said, without the censure Kakashi expected. He pushed up to his feet, taking blankets with him. “Here’s the plan. We’re moving up to our own cabin, which has our things and doesn’t smell like fish. The lieutenant can check in on Thirteen on the way. All of us will get some sleep. No one even breathes on Kuroda.”

Ryouma groaned faintly, but levered himself upright. The tight lines around Genma’s mouth eased. Kakashi spent a short-tempered moment wondering what would happen if he just stayed where he was, and looked up to find Raidou’s outstretched hand in his face.

“C’mon, Hatake,” Raidou said lightly. “Up.”

It was the same tone of voice he’d used for Genma, You don’t need to be okay. And for Ryouma, when Raidou walked him back off a ledge. The captain voice: I’ve got this, so you don’t have to.

It was frankly aggravating to be on the wrong side of it.

Kakashi sighed and grabbed Raidou’s wrist. Raidou’s hand closed around Kakashi’s wrist in return, like a warm vice, and hauled him off the floor.

The next few moments were filled with gathering — blankets, discarded supplies, sanity — followed by Raidou herding them back up to the deck, where dawn had properly arrived and Ginta had left his railing to chat with one of the crew-members. Kurenai wasn’t with him; gone to get a refill or sleep, Kakashi assumed. Genma cut immediately over to Ginta, who greeted him with startled, quickly hidden relief.

“Told you he was fine,” Kakashi muttered.

“You said he was drinking coffee,” Ryouma corrected. “I could be dead an’ I’d still want you to pour it on my grave in the morning.”

Kakashi gave him a dark look, but didn’t have a response immediately to hand.

“Cabin,” Raidou said behind them, like they were wayward ducklings who needed very short directions.

They went to the same cabin they’d occupied on the trip to Kirigakure. To Kakashi’s nose, it still smelled like fish. The gear judged too heavy, too Konoha, or just unnecessary was still scattered about, untouched by wary sailors. Ryouma collapsed facedown on a bedroll, apparently uncaring of whose bedroll it actually was. Raidou unearthed a clean shirt and changed into it, swapping his civilian wrap-gear for something sleeveless and shinobi. Kakashi followed his example, turning away to achieve a new shirt and fresh mask that covered his face, jaw, and throat, and wasn’t held on by elasticated string. Something shifted and settled a little, then, helped further when he vanished a few kunai about his person.

Genma returned, confirming that Team Thirteen were still asleep and Abe’s bones hadn’t melted. He also brought a piece of gossip: Kurenai had gone to diffuse the startled yelling from Kimiko’s cabin, after the discovery of a strange kunoichi sleeping on her floor hadn’t proved exactly soothing to Kimiko or Sango. Apparently she’d been successful, since Satomi hadn’t been kicked out yet, but Kakashi still allowed himself a private smile that he wasn’t the only one in Kimiko’s bad books.

Ryouma’s head rolled to the side, revealing one half-open eye. “How come Sakamoto’s still up?”

Genma stripped out of his shirt, which was a blood-spattered wreck, and wrestled into a sleeveless ANBU shirt. With cloth still over his face, he sighed. “He said being awake was more fun, but I’m pretty sure he couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep. I topped off his meds while I was there. If he doesn’t fall asleep after the dose I gave him, he needs to be in a scientific study.”

“Pity that scientist,” Kakashi murmured. He kicked Ryouma’s ankle, not hard enough to bruise, and offered a tactful suggestion: “Tousaki, if you burn your shirt, the rest of us might be able to breathe.”

Ryouma oozed upright like a cat reluctantly leaving a sunbeam, gave Kakashi a sour look, and stripped out of his shirt. He considered the bedraggled peasant wrap, which was more tear than shirt by this point, and said, “Cabin won’t actually smell much better if I burn it.”

“Drown it, maybe,” Raidou suggested, around a yawn that almost looked painful.

Ryouma snorted, shoved the shirt into his backpack, and stretched back out again, neglecting to furnish himself with additional clothing. The ocean swim had given them all a rough bath, but there were still lines of grime around Ryouma’s neck and arms where cloth had given way to skin. Bruises and mosquito bites marched down his back. Rope burns scored his shoulders, cutting across the edges of the spiky, abstract tattoo that spread like dark flames over Ryouma’s upper shoulders.

They all, frankly, looked like they’d spent too long fighting through a network of islands where everything seemed specifically evolved for evil. And teeth.

Raidou had matching harness marks. Genma gave the rope burns a guilty look. Kakashi helpfully derailed him by throwing a blanket at his head. And then, when Genma still looked concerned, two more.

Okay,” Genma said, retreating to a bedroll on Ryouma’s other side. He took the blankets with him.

Raidou huffed a rough laugh. “Hatake, stop bullying your superior officers.”

“It worked,” Kakashi said.

“Even so,” Raidou said.

There were two bedrolls left. One on Ryouma’s opposite side, and one laid at the feet of the other three, between them and the door. Kakashi stepped toward that one, and found his worldview blocked by most of Raidou’s chest. He blinked and stepped back.

“I’ve got guard,” Raidou said. “You sleep.”

Kakashi opened his mouth to argue, and strangled a yelp when Ryouma kicked him solidly on the anklebone.

“C’mon and snuggle, Kakashi,” Ryouma said.

“You can get some rest, too—” Genma began. He blinked and half-rose on one elbow. “What?”

“Am I the only actual adult here?” Kakashi demanded.

“If you are, we’re in trouble,” Raidou said, but he sounded amused. And then gentle. “Sleep, already. Fighting’s done. You can put it down for a few hours.”

Kakashi wavered for one beat, two, and couldn’t remember, exactly, why he was arguing. His entire body ached. “I’m not snuggling.”

Ryouma made a rough sound and dropped his head back onto his arms. “Fine,” he said, disgruntled, but even Kakashi could tell it was for show.

Genma regarded them for a moment, tired and bare-mouthed, then tucked himself back under his pile of blankets without comment. Kakashi lowered himself stiffly down by Ryouma’s elbow. The bedroll was thin, made for easy transport rather than comfort, but it was cushier than bare wood and blankets, and it smelled familiar. Genma, Kakashi identified after a moment: campfire smoke, metal, chemicals.

A blanket flopped over his head.

Kakashi twitched, but darkness settled around the corners of his vision, relaxing the band of tension squeezing his temples. He breathed out slow, muscles unlocking down his spine. Realized, finally, that they were far away from the shore and he could stop holding his chakra like a clenched fist, allowing only the briefest flickers out to stop himself feeling world-blind. He let his senses ease out, filling the cabin, the upper deck, the lower levels, and finally slipping off the ship into the wild, living ocean, full of tiny pilot lights. Team Six were a steady blaze, so close they felt like tame fire inside his skin. Raidou, rooted; Genma, ephemeral; Ryouma, evolving.

Kakashi sighed softly.

Warmed by body heat, scent from the blanket curled around his face. Earth, crushed grass, sleepy human, a dangerous lick of ozone, like the memory of a storm — Ryouma, without his soaps, practicing jutsu before he slept.

Kakashi closed his eyes.

He didn’t register slipping under. Or much, much later, the restless shift that ended with him rolling over, shedding covers, and pressing his forehead against Ryouma’s bare arm, where the ANBU tattoo made a bloody spiral. He did wake up, very briefly, when a hand tugged the blanket back over his head.

It was warm. The ship rocked on gentle waves. He inhaled a breath of thunder and went back to sleep.



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