August 18, Yondaime Year 5
In the years since Genma had completed his own first year field medic training, the classroom hadn’t changed even a little. It still smelled of chalk, antiseptic solution, and ink. Kawasaki-sensei still wore his hair in a tidy topknot, though it was perhaps thinning a little more than it had been when Genma’d taken the class. And the seats were still filled with eager students, mostly chuunin, with an average age of fifteen.
Ryouma, taller than most of them by a head and chest, would have stood out even if he weren’t five years older and two or three ranks higher. He’d chosen a desk near the back of the room, presumably because he could see the demonstrations just fine from there and wasn’t concerned with taking notes. He did have a notebook open, though, and the pencil in his hand was moving.
Genma, not wanting to distract, kept his chakra presence contained and his ANBU spark muffled. He slipped into a seat against the back wall and smiled at the dark-eyed young woman who looked up from her notes at his arrival. Her face did something complicated, like a reflexive smile was fighting to break free from her disapproving glare at his interruption. She blushed, tugged her hair over her shoulder, and turned pointedly back to her note taking.
Genma sipped the coffee he’d brought with him, leaned back in his seat, and enjoyed the last half hour of the lecture on the intricacies and interactions of the chakra and circulatory systems. Or How to Stop Someone From Bleeding to Death—The Basics.
When the lecture ended, he let his ANBU spark flicker back to life. Ryouma’s head snapped around almost immediately. Genma waved with a second coffee cup.
“You’re a lifesaver, Lieutenant,” Ryouma said, when he’d made his way cross-stream of the students filing out of the lecture hall. He took a long, grateful swallow of the sugary, caffeinated concoction Genma’d brought him.
“A certified one,” Genma said. “You will be, too, when you’re done with this class.”
“That’s still an if, not a when,” Ryouma said wryly. He flipped open his new-looking notebook to show Genma the first few pages. There were drawings, not notes, and they weren’t art of the sort Katsuko could have created, but all the pertinent information concerning the layout of the Inside of Humans was diagrammed in clear detail.
“Nice. You’re as good with those as you are with maps,” Genma said.
Ryouma shook his head with a wince that almost distracted from the red tint warming the tops of his ears. “There’s a twelve-year-old in this lecture session, and she still took more notes than me. ’Course,” he added, “nobody else has as much practical experience. Or a dedicated tutor.”
“Practical experience counts for a lot.” Genma tipped his chin up in a salute to Kawasaki-sensei, who’d caught sight of them and was making his way over. “Did you get anything new from today’s class, or was it all stuff you’d already picked up on your own?”
“We covered a lot of it in your scrolls already, but Kawasaki-sensei had some good tips on melding flows for chakra transfusion.” Ryouma’s eyes were alight with enthusiasm. “And I got to impress the kids telling ’em about that tourniquet jutsu you did. We’re supposed to actually learn it next week.” He nodded to Kawasaki, who’d reached them. “Sensei.”
“Chakra transfusions on day one?” Genma said. “Are you skipping ahead, or did they rewrite the curriculum?”
“The second,” Kawasaki said. “Someone finally figured out that you can’t stop your patient from bleeding out if they don’t have enough chakra to constrict their vessels. So now we cover it in the first two lectures.” He scrunched his face up in a wry smile. “I heard you were the one responsible for sending a jounin here to scare my students.”
Genma gave Ryouma an amused look. “Poor kids. Better they learn to work with jounin now than choke in the field.”
“There is that. Anyway, seems like you picked me a decent candidate, even if he’s a little older than usual.”
“I think so, but I’m biased.” Genma nudged Ryouma’s elbow with his own. “Just make sure you teach him enough that the next time I get skewered in the field, he can take over and keep our team going.”
“Do you make a habit of that? Shiranui, I know we discussed the responsibilities of the medic including not getting injured when I taught your class.”
“Welcome to the reality of field work.” Genma shrugged. “I don’t make a habit of it, though.”
“He hasn’t got skewered at all in the last couple of months,” Ryouma put in loyally.
“I’m not sure that’s helping,” Genma said.
“So if I go look up your hospital admission records for the last year…” Kawasaki lifted a skeptical eyebrow.
“You’d be accessing privileged information without need.” Genma smirked.
“Smartass,” Kawasaki said. “Don’t you be teaching your friend here bad habits before I can teach him good ones.”
“I’ve got plenty of bad habits on my own,” Ryouma said, but he was only half-paying attention; his eyes were on the clock. He rolled the ice in his rapidly emptying coffee cup. “Fukuchou, we should head out if we don’t wanna keep Taichou and Kakashi waiting at your place.”
“If it were just Hatake, I’d say we have plenty of time still, but since Taichou is with him…” Genma tipped his head to the side in acquiescence to Ryouma’s point. “We can pick up some rice balls and teas on the way there, so we have a justification for lateness if they get there first.”
“Go on, then,” Kawasaki said. “See you at the next class,” he told Ryouma. To Genma he added, “No getting skewered. Or otherwise injured. Clear?”
“As mud,” Genma said. “Bye, sensei.”
“Smartass,” Kawasaki grumbled again, as they departed.
Outside the air-conditioned comfort of the hospital, the streets of Konoha were bright and sweltering. By the time they’d reached the little market near Genma’s apartment, they were both sweating, and their iced coffees were long gone. Genma grabbed onigiri in a multitude of flavors, while Ryouma stocked up on snacks. They met at the drinks refrigerators. “I’m tempted to get some beer,” Genma told Ryouma. “We’re not on duty. What do you think?”
Ryouma gazed longingly at the beer bottles. “We are all meeting up to finish working on your loft. Payment in beer is perfectly reasonable for this kind of mission.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Genma said with a grin. He grabbed out two six-packs and handed them to Ryouma to carry, swept several bottles of cold tea into the basket of onigiri, and added a small bag of oranges at the counter.
“For health,” he told Ryouma.
In the end, they almost managed to beat Kakashi and Raidou back.
The other two were climbing the stairs to Genma’s loft when he and Ryouma arrived, and were as filthy, sweaty, gross, and bedraggled as befit a morning spent on taijutsu. Kakashi’s usual training clothes—black pants and black tank-top—were clinging wetly and smeared with drying mud. His hair was most charitably described as a disaster. Broad red marks circled his arms where Raidou had grappled him. Raidou himself was dripping wet from what Genma guessed was a dunk in the river. Shorts revealed heavy bruises blooming where he had blocked Kakashi’s kicks. His face looked like he’d given up on blocking entirely. Or Kakashi had made a good-faith attempt to shove Raidou face-first through the trunk of a tree. Raidou turned towards the new arrivals, and offered a one-eyed, more-lopsided-than-usual smile.
Kakashi, spotting them as well, called, “Lieutenant! Just in time. Captain needs emergency surgery, life and death.”
“For?” Genma asked.
“Stickectomy,” Kakashi said, with a concerned head shake. “Three guesses on location.”
Genma managed not to laugh. Ryouma sniggered.
“And now you know what my morning’s been like,” Raidou said, cheerfully long-suffering. Most people as beat up as he was would be grouchy, but Raidou was positively radiating good humor.
“Taijutsu weirdo,” Genma said with a grin. He unsealed his door and pushed it open. “Nothing’s broken besides skin, right?”
Raidou traded a look and a shrug with Kakashi. “Probably?”
“Pride,” Kakashi suggested. “Ego. Maybe a rib.”
Neither of them were breathing shallowly or laboriously enough for there to be rib fractures, in Genma’s trained opinion. He turned to Ryouma. “What do you think? Traction for them both?”
“Then we’d have to build your closet ourselves,” Ryouma pointed out sensibly. “Let ’em suffer.” He set the groceries on the kitchen counter and liberated a quartet of sweating bottles from one of the beer cartons. Genma shut the other six-pack into the fridge while Ryouma distributed liquid analgesics to the injured.
“Now you’re thinking like an ANBU veteran.” Genma accepted a bottle from Ryouma, flipped the cap free, and clacked it against Ryouma’s. Ryouma gave a cocky little grin, took a long swallow, then pressed his own cold bottle to his overwarm, uniformed neck.
The clinging heat of summer-weight jounin blues was abruptly unbearable. “It’s hot as the eighteenth hell in here,” Genma said. “I’m done being in uniform.” He stripped his shirt off with little ceremony. His dog tags clanked against his chest.
Raidou followed suit in short order, wiping his face with the damp t-shirt before he discarded it in a soggy heap in the kitchen sink. He flipped the cap off his beer, tapped it against Genma’s with a smart little clink, and gave him a smile that might have held a wink, under the swelling and bruising. Genma let his eyes skim down Raidou’s naked shoulders and torso, finding enough bruising to justify his lingering gaze to the rookies. And enough of a turn-on in the warm tan skin and textbook-ideal musculature that he made himself look away.
Kakashi kept his wet and muddy tank-top on, refused a beer, and folded his arms over his chest. “Is it new protocol for medics to get drunk before they medic?”
“Only if you’re a lightweight,” Ryouma muttered.
Genma chuffed a laugh. “What do you think, Taichou? Trust me to fix your face and eye even though I’ve had a swallow of beer?”
Raidou gave a genial shrug. “Long as they both keep working. Where d’you want me?”
For answer, Genma flipped the shade up on the window closest to him, pulled a chair from his kitchen table over, and patted the seat. While Raidou got situated, Genma beckoned to Ryouma. “Come over here and observe what I do to take down the swelling and bruising. Hands on; I want you to feel the chakra flow.” After a second it registered that Ryouma was still in long sleeves. “Aren’t you hot?”
“Always,” Ryouma said, like it was a rote answer. “Thanks for noticing.” But he hesitated a moment, setting his chin like he was about to do something difficult before he pulled his shirt off.
Livid red bruises on his chest and sides competed with a scabbed bite mark on his shoulder, abrasions on his chest and elbows, and more worryingly, obvious ligature marks around his neck. It looked like both some kind of rope and someone’s hands had been used to choke Ryouma.
The fact that there were a few fairly distinct hickeys buried under the strangulation bruises was minimal comfort. Genma exchanged a quick, concerned glance with Raidou. Whether it was through sparring, rough sex, or both, someone had definitely left their marks on Ryouma.
“So, when the doctor told us to avoid combat and bloodshed, and the captain forbade us from taijutsu training…” Genma started.
“It wasn’t training,” Ryouma said. Color flared in his cheeks, but he met the officers’ gazes. “I was off-duty. And you really don’t wanna know anything more, Fukuchou. Let’s fix Taichou’s eye.”
“No,” Genma said, “I don’t want to know. But until we’re medically cleared, maybe consider less bruising off-duty activities.”
Kakashi, for once, seemed to keep his judgmental thoughts to himself. He stared one-eyed at some middle-distance nothing and offered no comment.
“Sure hope it was worth it,” Raidou said. He waved Genma towards Ryouma. “Maybe heal all… that, first.”
Ryouma flashed gleaming teeth in a broad, self-satisfied grin. “It really was. And I can still see out of both eyes, so according to basic field triage principles you’re up first, Taichou.”
“Correct,” Genma said. “Also, your wounds are recreationally self-inflicted. So Taichou’s first. Come over and put your hands here, and here.” He placed Ryouma’s hands at the back of Raidou’s neck and the side of his jaw. “You’ll be able to feel the chakra flow from me and the answering flow from Taichou when I start. What’s the first thing I should assess?”
“Airway first,” Ryouma said, casting a studious eye over Raidou. “But he’s talking without difficulty, so that should be fine. Then a whole body survey, just in case he’s playing stoic over something else. That black eye will probably be the first actual treatment area. Then the other bruises.”
He finished with a quick, questioning glance at Genma. Did I get it right?
“Perfect. Visual survey tells us there are bruises. Chakra survey can reveal fractures, but a physical approach is also a good start.” He stepped back. “Okay with you if Tousaki does a quick hands on, Taichou?”
Raidou nodded. Ryouma knelt and started at the top, checking for neck and head injury, clearing Raidou’s spine, then moving on to torso and belly, leaving limbs for last.
“It’s not just stoicism that can mask an injury,” Genma said. “Adrenaline and shock can do it, too. That’s how you get ninja showing up at a medic’s tent wanting help for their buddy without even realizing they’ve carried him half a kilometer on a broken ankle.”
Or Fukuda. That’s how you got a ninja collapsing from an unrecognized ruptured spleen hours after the injury.
Ryouma looked up briefly, with dark understanding in his eyes. His mouth was set in a grim line when he turned back to Raidou to carefully re-examine bruised sides and abdomen.
Raidou allowed it for a moment longer, before he said, “Hatake doesn’t hit that hard. Needs to work on his noodly little arms first.”
“Hey,” Kakashi said without malice.
Genma put a hand on Ryouma’s shoulder. “Find anything concerning?”
“No. Not sure I’d actually feel any evidence of internal injury through Taichou’s abs, though.”
“You’d know when you pressed on an injury and he kicked your teeth through the back of your skull,” Genma said.
“And this’s why I’m doing the triage, not you?”
“That, and you need the practice.” Genma chuckled. “But just to prove I wouldn’t order you to do something I’d refuse…” He knelt next to Ryouma and did a swift, repeat scan. Raidou did an excellent job holding still even when Genma prodded deep bruises. He finished with a quick chakra scan. “All good. Hatake, you’re going to have to try harder next time if murder is the goal.”
“Your feedback is noted,” Kakashi said. His veneer of disinterest cracked, though, when he hopped up on the counter to get a better look at the healing efforts.
“I’m going to start with the eye and facial injuries,” Genma said. “Put your hands back where I showed you.”
When Ryouma’s hands were in position, Genma told him, “Feel for the chakra flow. You’ll be able to tell my chakra from Taichou’s pretty easily. Try to to pay attention to how mine connects with his.”
Ryouma nodded, concentrating.
“Let me know if it hurts or burns,” Genma told Raidou, more to model correct medic patter for Ryouma, than for Raidou, who was a veteran of enough chakra healing to know when to speak up. He slowed his hand seals down so Ryouma could see them clearly, molded his chakra into the smooth green glow of healing, and set to work coaxing blood and serous fluid back into broken capillaries, mending tiny vessel walls, and reverting Raidou’s black eye, bruised cheek, and puffy lip to their normal, sculpted shapes.
When he was done, he cut the flow of the jutsu and sat back to admire his handiwork.
“Follow my hand?” He waved two fingers back and forth slowly and watched Raidou’s eyes track the movement. “How’s it feel?”
Raidou stretched his jaw in a seesawing yawn, rubbed his face, prodded at the faint remnants of bruise under his eye, and grinned. Back to his usual, charming, ever-so-slightly lopsided version. “Good as new.”
Genma grinned back, then asked Ryouma, “What did you feel? Could you sense the difference between his and my chakra flows?”
Ryouma’s brows were scrunched in concentration. “Yeah, it’s pretty distinct. But you meld together a lot better than the other healing demonstrations I’ve seen. Is that familiarity, or because you’re both Earth-natured?”
“Both.” Genma rose from his crouch. “I’ve healed Taichou several times, and he’s given me chakra transfusions, so in a sense our chakra knows how to connect.”
And we’re fond of each other. Not a thought to share.
“Our shared Earth nature helps a lot. But my Fire nature conflicts with his Water, so I have to be mindful about the flow of elemental chakra as I’m healing him, especially since I’m primary Fire, and Fire is the element that drives cellular regeneration.”
Ryouma hummed under his breath, looking speculatively at his own hands spread on Raidou’s skin for a moment longer, before he pulled them away. “I can see why healing someone else is easier than working on yourself, though. You’re using Taichou’s chakra to do half the work. Much more efficient than if you were doing all of it yourself.”
“Exactly. If you’re trying to heal someone who’s severely chakra-drained you’ll encounter the same problem.”
Kakashi, who seemed to make a habit of drawing his chakra down to near-zero on missions, kept his head down, studying the mud under his nails.
“It’s not quite as bad,” Genma said, “since you’re at least not having to ignore your own pain, shock, or other physical effects of your injuries.”
Kakashi glanced up at that, with a little crinkle around his eye. Gratitude for the softened blow?
“Assuming the medic is uninjured himself,” Raidou said. He gave Genma a significant look. “Big reason why it’s tricky to be a medic on a combat-heavy team. But that’s also where they’re most needed.”
“Well, you’ll have two of us. Eventually,” Ryouma said.
“Which will be a very good thing,” Genma said. “What Kawasaki-sensei was telling your class about the medic’s responsibility to remain uninjured applies more to medic specialists. In ANBU, we don’t have that luxury. Every medic in ANBU is a field agent first, medic second.”
Ryouma stood up. His gaze drifted down Raidou’s bruised torso briefly, then landed on Kakashi’s arms with their new grappling contusions. He jammed his hands in his pockets.
“Oh no you don’t,” Genma said. “If Taichou and Hatake are okay with it, I’m going to have you heal some bruises. I’ll be hands-on, of course, to regulate it and make sure it goes right.”
“Not until I’m sure I won’t give him cancer,” Ryouma interjected.
“I won’t let you give him cancer. That’s why I’ll be hands on, to keep the jutsu under control, and take over if I need to,” Genma said. “But you have enough chakra control that I’m not worried. If you’d really rather wait until you’ve had practice in class, I won’t force you. I still want you to follow along with what I’m doing while I heal them, though.”
Ryouma’s mouth thinned and his brows drew down in indecision. His hands remained firmly secured in his pockets. Then his eye caught on Kakashi’s left hand, which was bandaged beneath its layer of mud. He jerked his chin. “Looks like you’ve got a cut under there, Kakashi. I think I could handle that, if Fukuchou helps.”
Kakashi’s eye gleamed as he willingly held his hand out. “Rin would probably fix it if you gave me cancer.”
“No one is giving anyone cancer,” Genma declared. “But that’s fine. Lacerations are easier to heal than bruises. I shouldn’t skip steps in your training.” He frowned at himself. Why was he rushing things? Because he knew Ryouma had the capacity, or because he wanted a second medic that badly? Or because he was too inexperienced as a teacher?
“I’ll try the cut, then. And maybe a bruise. A small one.” Ryouma moved over to where Kakashi was perched on the kitchen counter, took Kakashi’s wrist, and delicately peeled off the bandage. The contrast between the bandage-protected segment and the rest of Kakashi’s skin was stark. Ryouma made a face. “You should wash up first.”
“Real medics work in dirt,” Kakashi informed him, but he hopped off the counter to go scrub his arms up to the elbow in the kitchen sink, ruining one of Genma’s dish towels in the process.
Genma rolled his eyes. “They do, but Tousaki’s not ready for infection-control jutsu. I was going to suggest you grab a shower while we healed Taichou’s bruises.” He eyed the raw-edged cut where Kakashi had scrubbed away the scab. Pinpricks of fresh blood dotted the wound. “Also I’m having Tousaki shadow me on a few bruises first, before we get to that cut. Good thing it isn’t really bleeding.”
Kakashi rolled his eye right back, but went to take the suggested shower, shedding mud across the apartment along the way. Ryouma pointedly turned away and cast an eye over Raidou.
“You’re wondering why I’m not sending Taichou for a shower, aren’t you?” Genma said. “Three reasons: one, he seems to have gone for a swim, so he isn’t nearly as muddy. Two, I don’t see any obvious open wounds. Three, I do know how to control for infection. If we encounter lacerations, I’ll explain the jutsu while I work it.”
“River’s nice at this time of year,” Raidou said agreeably. He sat, relaxed and trusting, waiting for them to get on with the healing.
Which they did. Genma had Ryouma put his hands on points where he’d have the easiest time feeling the chakra flow as Genma healed Raidou’s bruises. With each contusion, he talked Ryouma through the difference between deep and shallow bruising, and when they got to Raidou’s shins, bone bruising.
“What the hell did he hit you with to cause this depth of injury?” Genma asked. “You’re lucky this isn’t a fracture.”
Raidou squinted down at his leg. “Fence post. We owe Field Eight a new gate.”
Genma just sighed. “We’re going to get our expense reports audited again at this rate. Fence posts, doors, tables…” He looked up as Kakashi rejoined them, freshly scrubbed and dressed in a clean set of nearly identical clothes to the ones he’d arrived in.
“Technically just one door and one table,” Kakashi said. “And we replaced them both.”
Genma acknowledged that with a tip of the head. “You did, so I shouldn’t count them. I’ve been getting a lot of my paperwork returned for petty nonsense ever since our month with Kuroda. May every meal he eats taste of rot,” he added. “Dad’s favorite curse for people who cross him. It’s a good one, and won’t get me accused of treason like the things I’d rather say would.”
“Nobody here would accuse you of treason, Fukuchou,” Ryouma said. “But I could make the rot thing happen.”
Genma grinned at him. “Now there’s an idea to keep in reserve.” He looked up at Raidou. “Last one.” He put Ryouma’s hands on Raidou’s knee and ankle. “I’ll be using more Earth element on this one,” he told Ryouma. “Healing a bone bruise is a little like healing a fracture. You need to accelerate cellular growth, but also make sure there’s enough calcium and phosphate incorporated with this type of healing.
“It tends to hurt a bit,” he added to Raidou. “Which I’m sure you know, since you’ve had bone healing before.”
“My moms would say that’s how you know it’s working,” Raidou said, still relaxed and cheerful.
“Your moms and my dad need to get together sometime,” Genma said. “They obviously went to the same school of parenting.”
“They’d probably adopt him,” Raidou said ruefully.
“He’d probably let them,” Genma said. “And then they’d all three nag us about things. You’re right, it’s a terrible idea. Forget I ever said anything.”
“Done,” Raidou said. He chuckled softly and extended his leg. “Bring on the bone splinters.”
Genma set to work casting the new jutsu. “I’m adding a reverse Hare seal between Bird and Ox,” he told Ryouma, “and Snake at the end. That adds the Earth element and makes it a bone healing jutsu.”
Ryouma nodded without looking up. His eyes were open but unfocused as he concentrated on his chakra sense. His own chakra spread in a lacy wash through Raidou’s leg, not interfering with Genma’s work, but palpable. There was a subtle unpleasantness to it, as there always was after Ryouma’d been using his rot jutsu; easy enough to work around, but it took an extra measure of concentration to ignore.
Raidou’s jaw clenched and he took a slightly deeper breath as the bone modeling pain kicked in. “You want to monitor your patient’s reaction to your efforts,” Genma said. “Did you detect the increase in Taichou’s heart rate just now?”
“Not enjoying it,” Ryouma answered in a distracted murmur, “but not kicking our teeth out yet…”
“Halfway there, Taichou,” Genma said. “It shouldn’t get any worse than this, but if you need a break, let me know.”
Raidou shook his head, humming a low acknowledgment.
Genma focused on creating a smooth layer of bone growth, pushing leaked blood out of the subosteal space and into the surrounding tissue. When he’d accomplished it, he cut the jutsu for a moment. “See how the superficial bruising appears worse now?” he asked Ryouma. “That’s because bone can’t swell, so when you heal a bone bruise, you have to move the leaked blood into the soft tissue. Then you heal that the way you would an ordinary contusion. It’s a two-stage process.”
“And then you break down the blood into the tissue, so the body can reabsorb it. More Water and Fire chakra, less Earth. I could—” Ryouma stopped himself before he made the offer to take over the healing. “Sorry, Fukuchou. You make it seem easy.”
Genma grinned at his protégé. “You’ve got it exactly. I’ll finish here and start Hatake, and we’ll pick a few of his bruises for you to heal. Thighs and upper arms are good, since there’s plenty of meat and no risk of damaging internal organs. Not that that’s a huge risk in any case, but you have to use a little more control when you’re healing abdominal bruises.” He glanced over at Kakashi, whose arms were bare and mottled red-purple. “Looks like he’s got plenty of upper arm bruises for us to work with.”
Kakashi perched cross-legged on the counter again, with his hands on his knees, offering his arms as volunteer subjects for Ryouma’s education. “I’m generous that way,” he said. He was remarkably relaxed about the whole thing; unusual for him in a medical context. Every other time Genma’d had occasion to heal Kakashi, he’d been either severely injured, mission-stressed, or just generally tense and snappish. His file documented a running tally of clashes he’d had with various medics both in and out of the hospital.
“We’ll be right there,” Genma said. He finished healing the last of Raidou’s leg bruises first. “How’s it feel now, Taichou?”
Raidou stood up, stretching and testing his balance on one leg and then the other. He barely winced, even on the leg with the freshly-healed bone bruise. “Little tender, but a hell of a lot better than a minute ago.”
“Ice packs in the freezer,” Genma directed. He didn’t bother quizzing Ryouma on the why—academy students learned to ice a fresh bruise, even a partly healed one, within their first year. Every ninja in Konoha, including those in non-combat roles, had a stock of cold and hot packs in their kitchens and med kits.
Standing and stretching himself, he turned to their next patient. “Shirt off, please,” he told Kakashi, “if you want us to heal up whatever rib and torso injuries Taichou inflicted on you while he was trying to teach you to dodge faster.”
“Grappling breaks,” Kakashi corrected. “I dodge fine.” He hesitated a moment, then sighed and stripped his shirt over his head. His mask ended at his collar bones, fanning out in a soft oval where his neck met his shoulders. “How do you guys ever learn to heal in the dark if you insist on seeing everything?”
“You’d rather we figured out the margins of that mess by feel?” Genma asked, tracing the outline of a broad, already blackened area over the left side of Kakashi’s chest and upper abdomen. He pressed lightly at the edge, watching Kakashi refuse to flinch. “I didn’t think so.” He turned to eye Raidou. “What did you do, ‘grapple’ him with the other half of that fence post?”
Raidou shrugged. “Among other things.”
Genma chuckled. “You’d better hurry up and learn this bruise jutsu,” he told Ryouma. “Taichou already scheduled taijutsu practice with me for as soon as I get medical clearance.”
“I think I’ve got it,” Ryouma said, sounding more confident after several rounds of shadowing while Genma worked the jutsu. He lightly touched one of the marks on Kakashi’s right arm, eyes on Kakashi’s face. Kakashi tipped his head in evident permission to proceed.
“Go ahead, then,” Genma said. He flicked his hands through a series of seals to activate a containment jutsu. It wasn’t used often outside of a teaching context, so it wasn’t one he’d practiced much, but even so, as soon as he touched his hands to Kakashi’s skin, he almost jerked them away. Where Ryouma’s chakra had felt unpleasant, Kakashi’s was almost nauseating in its wrongness.
“No, wait,” he told Ryouma. “I need to check something.”
A quick scan told him there was no disruption in Kakashi’s chakra flow, and no depression or excess. It was just wrong. Far more corrupted than Ryouma’s had been. “You were practicing Iebara’s jutsu yesterday. Did you— are you aware of what it did to your chakra?”
Kakashi gave Genma a deep, three-dimensional, multi-layered, ‘did you forget I’m a sensor?’ look. “Yes. It’s healing.”
“The Hokage knows about it,” Ryouma added. “He was supervising. We’re both authorized users, but only as a last resort. Which’ll probably be next mission, the way things tend to go…”
“Please don’t,” Genma said. He made a warding gesture with a sigh. “Every time one of you invokes bad luck, we get it.”
“Back up,” Raidou said. “You figured out Iebara’s jutsu? Both of you?”
Also that. “When were you planning on telling us?”
Ryouma looked apprehensively at Kakashi, who tilted his head, unfazed. “Did you know you sound like an outraged cartoon when you do that voice, Lieutenant?”
Genma ignored it for the ridiculous attempt at deflection that it was. “It explains why your chakra feels bad. But it’s far worse than it was when you were exploding pigs…” Genma frowned, considering the possibilities. The cut on Kakashi’s hand was a clean laceration. If the jutsu fed on living chakra, a ninja’s blood would provide much more power than a yearling pig’s. “Please tell me you weren’t using it on each other.”
“Okay,” Kakashi said. ‘Okay, I won’t tell you,’ not ‘Okay, we didn’t do that.’
Genma was already starting the mental preparations for getting Kakashi in to get his blood levels checked, when Kakashi said, “I used it on the Hokage, if that makes you feel any better.”
Genma choked on his own saliva. “You wha— No. No. Even if he volunteered, you’re sworn to protect—”
Ryouma narrowed his eyes at Kakashi. “We didn’t rip blood the way Iebara did. They bled into canteens, and we kept a sixteen-to-twenty-meter safety zone.”
Raidou rubbed his forehead like he was willing away an incipient headache. “Okay. Since the Hokage and Jiraiya-sama are smart people, and Hatake’s record claims he is too, despite all evidence to the contrary…” He gave Kakashi a significantly incredulous look. “I’m going to go ahead and say whatever inadvisable science you play with in your free time is above our paygrade. I’m also assuming the Hokage isn’t dead, mortally wounded, or otherwise incapacitated, since there would have been a circular. So, congratulations on the jutsu. I think.” He nodded at Ryouma. “And you too, apparently.”
A safety zone and no direct action on a living person was much less alarming. And Raidou made a very good point. Plus there would have had to be at least a pair of ANBU detailed to the Hokage, and they’d have intervened if the rookies had been out of line… Genma unclenched his fingers and took a deep breath.
“So, it worked? Exactly like Iebara’s?” He couldn’t help himself. It was a fascinating jutsu. “Could you feel what it was hooking into? Was it because there was latent chakra, or did it just need to be human blood?”
“It worked on deer blood, once we had the hang of it,” Ryouma said. “Maybe only because they were the monster kind in the Forest of Death, though. Everything there has a lot of chakra.” He hesitated, exchanging a glance with Kakashi. “It… got in your head, though. I think maybe the jutsu made Iebara crazy, instead of the other way round.”
“That’s creepy,” Genma said. “Got in your head the way if you henge for too long it gets in your head and changes your thinking? Or like a genjutsu gets in your head?”
Kakashi shared another look with Ryouma. When he spoke, the defensive tone in his voice was much diminished. “It was like an adrenaline rush. Or being drunk. Fast movement, not much time to think, and no natural end point—you want to keep replicating.” He frowned in thought. “Or the jutsu does.”
“The jutsu is self-perpetuating? Gods and sages.” Genma stared at his own, overly-pale hands. “That might explain what it did to Tousaki’s and my marrow. I’ve heard rumors of a very experimental chakra surgery technique that has an effect like that. Which is why it’s still experimental. The more you tell me, the more I’m convinced Iebara’s jutsu is a heavily perverted medical jutsu.” He looked up at Kakashi. “How long after you dropped the jutsu did the compulsion effect last? It’s obviously still affecting your chakra.”
Kakashi shrugged. “Hard to know. When you’re in it, you’re not watching the clock. Ten minutes, maybe. But that was adrenaline-time, so it could have been less.”
“If the effect is cumulative with repeated use, that would explain why Iebara went rogue on Fukuda and her team. And why they were afraid of him.” Gema shook his head. “You said you’re the only authorized users. Hokage made it a kinjutsu?”
“Yep.” Kakashi nodded, looking a little smug. “That’s two in a month. Wonder what we’ll get for the third.”
“If Taichou doesn’t say a beatdown, I will. Please. Stop.”
“I’m not feeling very nurtured in this healing session,” Kakashi complained.
“Wanting you to not get yourself killed trying to develop a third almost-definitely-fatal-to-the-caster-if-done-wrong jutsu is my kind of nurturing,” Genma said. He met Kakashi’s gaze, then glanced at Ryouma to include him. “I actually like having the two of you around. Most of the time.”
“We like being here, Fukuchou.” Ryouma aimed a warm smile Genma’s way. “Even when Taichou makes us do drywall.” He flexed his fingers, absently practicing the bruise jutsu seals dry. “And I think now we’ve mastered that jutsu, we’re not in any hurry to use it again. We’ve both got plenty of first resorts.”
“Good.” Genma breathed out lingering tension and centered himself. “Alright, ready to tackle that bruise? I’ll cast the containment, and I’ll keep a close feel for anything that might be an aftereffect of Iebara’s jutsu.”
Ryouma formed the seals for the bruise jutsu once more, this time charged with molded chakra. He turned his green-glowing hands over, examining the chakra halo closely for any signs of error before he touched Kakashi.
“Tell us immediately if it hurts or feels unusual in any way,” Genma told Kakashi.
Kakashi saluted with his free hand.
“Go ahead,” Genma told Ryouma. After a moment’s hesitation, and an are-you-sure? look at both his teacher and his patient, Ryouma set his glowing hands to the first bruise.
“Probe the depth of the injury,” Genma coached. “Then recruit your patient’s chakra.”
Ryouma was slow and a little tentative at first, but when Kakashi’s chakra flow moved towards the call of the healing jutsu, he grew more confident.
“That’s good. First break down the dead cells, then open the capillary walls to push the fluid back into the bloodstream.”
Ryouma nodded, concentrating. As he worked, the bruise visibly shrank, changing color from red to blue-black, then greenish as Ryouma broke down the hemoglobin.
When only an ochre-yellow stain remained under Kakashi’s skin, Genma said, “Good. That’s enough on that one. Move on to the next. No need to use all your chakra. Once you have the swelling down and the breakdown products handled, you can let the body heal it the rest of the way.”
It took some time, but eventually Ryouma’d healed every bruise on Kakashi’s right arm. He sat back, heaved a deep sigh, and wiped sweat from his forehead.
“It’s hard work when you first start out,” Genma said. “You did a good job. Shall I do the rest? I don’t want you getting chakra exhausted.”
“The rest of the bruises,” Ryouma said. “I want to do that cut.” He licked dry lips, shoved back hair that had plastered itself to his forehead, and asked Kakashi anxiously, “You’re not too hot?”
“Nope.” Kakashi flexed his right hand and arm experimentally. “But don’t worry, I’ll kick you if I catch fire.”
“You weren’t anywhere near overdrawing on Hatake’s chakra,” Genma told Ryouma. “You used way more of yours. That’s normal when you’re first learning. It’s a lot easier to control your own chakra, and you worry you’ll hurt your patient, so most medics start out overspending their own chakra. Monitor me while I work on the other arm and his side, and see if you can tell the difference in balance.”
He healed the rest of Kakashi’s bruises fairly quickly, only slowing down when he got to the ‘grappled’ ribs and belly, so he could coach Ryouma through the things he was doing differently to make sure he didn’t affect internal organs.
And then all that was left was the cut. “This will feel easy compared to the bruises. Go ahead,” Genma said.
Ryouma wiped his forehead again, dry-tested the seals for healing a laceration, then ran through them fully energized. His focus was as intense as Genma had ever seen it when he held Kakashi’s injured hand in his and slowly knit the cut flesh together. When there was nothing but a thin pink seam remaining, he rocked back on his knees back with a giddy smile. “How’s that feel?”
Kakashi examined his hand, curling and extending his pinky finger to test the pull of skin. He gave a satisfied nod. “Good. Doesn’t hurt, seems functional.” He gave Ryouma a rare, genuine smile, cheeks stretching his mask, and visible eye crinkled into a crescent. “And I didn’t burst into flames. Well done.”
“For the record,” Genma told Raidou, “bursting into flame is pretty much never a side effect of healing.”
“Bursting sometimes is,” Ryouma pointed out, “but I’ve been over that for a while.” He practically radiated accomplishment and pride. “I think we all need another beer now.”
“I think you need a glass of water and something to eat, and then a beer,” Genma told him. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel like you just ran to Suna and back.” He dumped out the sacks of groceries and snacks they’d brought back with them, and found a spicy cabbage rice ball for Ryouma. He chose bamboo shoot for himself, then offered the others around.
Raidou lifted a sweating brown bottle and said, “To Ryouma’s first real healing. He’s worked hard for this, and our future bruises thank him.” He smiled broadly at Ryouma. “And it’s a kick in the teeth for Kuroda. Nice job.”
“Exactly,” Genma said, joining the toast. He followed Raidou’s example, using Ryouma’s given name. “To Ryouma and his future career as a field medic. And a well-deserved up-yours to Kuroda.”
Ryouma laughed, flush-faced and delighted with the world. Kakashi knocked his glass of water against Ryouma’s bottle in silent solidarity. Ryouma toasted everyone back. “Thanks for believing in me.”
“Told you you had it in you,” Genma said. He pushed a package of something fried and crispy towards Ryouma. “You’re a natural. Now you and I just need to get this blood situation straightened out so we can go back on active duty and make every other team jealous that we have two medics.”
When most of the food and their second round of drinks were gone, and after Genma had healed Ryouma’s ‘recreationally inflicted’ bruises, Raidou rapped his knuckles on the kitchen table. “Closet won’t build itself.”
Ryouma and Kakashi were towed into action in Raidou’s wake. Genma swept discarded food wrappers into a pile, sorted them into burnable and non, and carried them out to the trash. Bottles went into a wooden box under his stairs to be turned in for recycling. As he climbed back to his loft, the rasp of a saw and tattoo beats of hammers welcomed him inside, where his teammates already had the closet mostly framed out.
With four of them working, it went fast. Once the drywall was up, it turned into a two-at-most job, taping seams and slathering on drywall compound inside the small space. Raidou sent the rookies out to paint the bathroom, leaving him and Genma back-to-back to finish out the closet.
“So.” Genma dropped his voice a little, although the sounds of bickering from the bathroom made it unlikely the rookies were eavesdropping. “Two kinjutsu. I’m pretty sure Hatake won’t try that reverse summoning again any time soon, but Iebara’s jutsu…” Genma wiped sweat off his face with his forearm. “I trust the rookies to know their limits; they’re jounin. But what they said about the compulsion they felt with Iebara’s jutsu gives me a bad feeling.”
“Agreed.” Raidou’s shoulders bunched as he ran a putty knife over a seam. “And I’ll bet you a fish dinner they didn’t mention that bit to the Hokage.”
“Is that your way of asking me to take you out for a fish dinner? Because that’s a bet I’m positive I’d lose.”
The putty knife jumped a seam. Raidou stilled a moment, then glanced over his shoulder with a smirk. “I like to think I’m more direct than that. And I’m pretty sure we’re already on for a date.”
Genma grinned back. “I guess we are, aren’t we?” And Tuesday was tomorrow. A buzzing thrill lit in Genma’s belly when he thought about it. He let his bare shoulder knock against Raidou’s for a moment. “But you’re right, I doubt they mentioned it to the Hokage. Or maybe they did, since he made it a kinjutsu. It sounds like he didn’t try it himself.”
“Because the man actually has a concept of self-preservation.” Raidou smoothed a final patch and straightened up, arching his back in a spine-popping stretch. “I’m not sure the rookies would know a limit if it got naked and headbutted them, but it’s not like we can disarm them of a jutsu.”
“So. Trust. Which has worked so well before now.” The dry irony in Raidou’s voice could have withered a bank of ferns.
“If they get really out of hand, there’s always poison,” Genma said. “I’ve got several that are non-lethal.”
Raidou gave a quick bark of laughter. “Point. How would you get it into them, though?”
“They eat here all the time, and I’m the one who brings food and hydration to our workouts. Also senbon work fast in an emergency.” Genma chuckled, but his thoughts turned serious. “If they end up using Iebara’s jutsu on a mission, and it looks like they’ve lost control, I won’t hesitate, as long as it doesn’t put them at an enemy’s mercy.”
“Hell no,” Raidou said firmly. “If they lose control, we’re not going near them. We’re getting the fuck back to Konoha and calling in at least three more teams.”
Genma sucked in a breath, visualizing the scenario. “We could at least stall them with ranged attacks. I can get an accurate hit at fifteen meters. If you pinned them down with an earth jutsu long enough for me to target, we might be able to do it.” He shook his head. “My biggest fear is, if we didn’t stop them, they could go for civilians.”
“And if we get killed trying to stop them, they could go for a Hidden Village,” Raidou said. “I could pin Tousaki, maybe, if I got lucky. Hatake? Doubt it. I only clobber him in training because I’m not letting him use his Sharingan or his jutsu, and he still gives me the run around.” He scratched the back of his head, brows knitted in thought, before his expression lightened a little. “Of course, this is assuming they’ve both gone crazy at the same time, which seems unlikely.”
“If we’re close enough to another Hidden Village for them to target it, we’re far enough from Konoha that it’s going to be up to us to stop them regardless.” Genma brushed off a dried fleck of wallboard compound that had landed on his chest. “But, you’re right, it probably would be only one of them. With three of us, we’d have a solid chance. Especially if it was Tousaki. If it’s Hatake who’s destabilized…” He shook his head. “We might have to just hope he runs himself out of chakra before he can do anything catastrophic.”
“Maybe it’ll be Iwa and they can do a mutual KO,” Raidou said, but his face registered his increasing unhappiness with the direction of their conversation. “The kids have kept their shit together so far, for the most part. And both of them have other jutsu to use in a crunch before they need a kinjutsu…”
A hollow-sounding thump from the bathroom interrupted him.
“Hey!” Raidou called. “Don’t break things we just finished putting together!”
Kakashi’s muffled voice answered, “Tousaki’s fault!”
Genma exchanged a look with Raidou. “It’s easy to forget they’re older than twelve sometimes. Which is probably a good thing. Better still acting like kids than burned out and old before their time. Those are the ones that go rogue.”
“Mostly,” Raidou said. When Genma tipped a go on look at him, he said simply, “Akiyama.”
The candidate who’d gone rogue during the trials and nearly cost Ryouma his hand.
“He was suborned,” Genma said. “A double agent. I don’t doubt Hatake’s or Tousaki’s loyalty for even a second.”
“We think he was. Never proven. Crazy’s still on the table.” Raidou tipped a nod at Genma, though, and a smile. “But agreed—whatever idiocy they’ve gotten up to, the kids have been nothing but loyal.”
Another thump and a muffled rush of curses issued from the bathroom.
“If you spill paint on my new floors, you’re cleaning or retiling,” Genma shouted.
“How about blood?” Kakashi shouted back, with enough of a joking lilt to disarm any worries.
“Blood, paint, ink, shoyu… if you spill it and it stains, you’re fixing it.”
The closet was pretty much done. Genma stepped out of it in time to hear sniggering from the other side of the wall.
“We’re being good, Lieutenant,” Ryouma called. “Promise.”
“Uh huh.” Genma shook his head at Raidou, who echoed Genma’s amused-but-doubtful look.
“Need to let the taping dry before we can prime and paint in here,” Genma said. “Or make the rookies paint in here, depending on how they’ve done with the bathroom. Shall we go inspect?”
Raidou stepped out of the closet, too, bare-topped, sweaty, and spattered with drywall dust and walling compound. His chest expanded in a stretch, and all Genma could think was, Tomorrow.
The bathroom door was closed; Raidou didn’t bother knocking before he opened it. After a moment of silent surveying, he said, “Well, it’s not terrible.”
Genma peered in past Raidou’s shoulder. Kakashi was standing on the closed lid of the toilet, touching up something near the ceiling. A few drips of pale green paint decorated his mask and shoulders. Ryouma, in the bathtub—which thank the gods Genma hadn’t left filled—had paint on his pants, his chest, and in his sweat-slicked hair.
At least there was paint on all the walls, and there didn’t seem to be a disaster on the floor or other surfaces.
“There’s a section that needs a second coat there,” Genma said, pointing to a paler spot on the wall next to Ryouma. “And… Is that a dick?” The faint outline of a cock and balls shone through the fresh paint over the tub. “Oh sweet gods, you are twelve. Two more coats.”
Ryouma slapped his brush over it. “We’re being good now, okay. Not necessarily earlier…”
“Who’s being good and why?” Aoba asked.
Team Six collectively bristled.
Aoba was sitting on the couch, sipping a beer. Sneaky intel asshole. He raised his bottle in a salute, and came to sling an arm over Genma’s shoulder. When he saw what Ryouma was doing, he gasped. “Don’t paint over that masterpiece! It’s perfect for Gen’s Orgy House.”
Genma elbowed his friend hard in the side. “You are the absolute worst, Aoba. What are you even doing here? Tousaki, ignore him and keep painting.”
“I can’t bring my best buddy a housewarming gift?” Aoba took a step back. “But really, Gen. Look at the four of you. If this isn’t an orgy house, you’re doing several things wrong.”
Ryouma lowered his paintbrush with a sharp-edged smile. “You offering to get it started?”
“I’m not into dudes,” Aoba said, grinning right back. “But I could go see if some of the girls from my division want to come round. I know of at least two who—”
“Enough. Shut up. I’m changing my seals to exclude you and taking back my key.” Genma dragged Aoba away from the bathroom door before he could do any more damage. “Tousaki, Hatake, keep painting.”
Aoba patted Genma on the cheek. “But then who will water your plants when you’re on a mission?”
“I have one plant. It’s a cactus. It will be fine.”
Kakashi leveled an expressionless look at Aoba through the open door, all playfulness clamped away. “You are creepy and I dislike you,” he informed Aoba. An uncontestable statement of fact. “Pet the cactus.”
Aoba raised an eyebrow and laughed. “The poisonous birthday cactus Genma was so excited about? Nice try.”
Genma glared at Aoba, mostly for… He wasn’t even sure what for. “Seriously, why are you here?”
“I told you. Present.” Aoba pointed to a paper sack on the kitchen table, next to the cactus.
“You already gave me a couch,” Genma said.
“This is different. I picked it up for you when I was up north recently.”
Up north could be any number of places. Genma peered into the bag and extracted a heavy, carefully wrapped, ceramic something. When he got the wrapping off, a mask-eyed tanuki in a straw hat, with a lantern in one hand and a bottle of sake in the other, grinned up at him.
Genma opened his mouth. And closed it. It wasn’t hard at all to read between the lines. Aoba must have been to Tanigawa to investigate whatever traces of Himself’s tribe Konoha might find.
Aoba’s grin was as big as the statue’s.
“Thank you. I’ll, uh, put him on my doorstep.” Genma had so many questions.
Raidou had sharpened up as soon as the ceramic face emerged, too. “Informative trip?” he asked.
The rookies, sensing Aoba’s intrusion had turned to something more interesting, stopped their work. Ryouma poked a wary head out the bathroom door. Kakashi stood at his shoulder, paintbrush in hand, radiating distrust.
“Not as informative as we’d hoped,” Aoba said. “You four and Kurenai left a big impression on the town. Lots of questions about the brewer and her kids you rescued. And several of the older folks talked about the tanuki spirits who protect the mountain, and how the town was going to go back to properly offering thanks to them. But as for your furry friends, not a trace.”
“And Nomiya-san’s ex-husband?” Raidou asked.
“The dead one? Killed himself out of shame, according to the locals.” Aoba tapped the side of his nose. He’d read Team Six’s full report, then.
The rookies in the bathroom doorway were as still as mice hiding from a hunting owl.
“The other two brewers seem to appreciate the reduced competition. Though since they lost their fall batches, too, everyone is scrambling a little to make ends meet through the winter.”
Genma hadn’t considered that before. The tanuki had taken every barrel of sake in the village warehouses, as punishment for the villagers who’d ignored Harubi-san’s plight. But without their sake to sell, how could Tanigawa feed itself? “Will they make it?”
“We think so. They’ve got some private reserve stuff they can still sell, and at a premium since there’s no other sake coming from Tanigawa this season. And the rice harvest looks abundant, so winter brewing should lead to a good spring product.”
That was reassuring. There were certainly guilty souls in Tanigawa, but the innocent lived alongside them. Children and the elderly didn’t deserve to starve for sins they hadn’t committed.
“Good,” Raidou said, nodding. Genma echoed him.
In the tiny moment of silence that fell into the conversation, Kakashi inserted an unimpressed, “Okay. Bye, then.”
“You know, I really don’t think your dislike of me is deserved,” Aoba told him. “But I can take a hint. This is a boys-who-like-boys-only orgy.”
Genma groaned. “I really don’t know why I’m friends with you.”
“Some mysteries may never be solved.” Aoba grinned at him and pulled his shades down, moving towards the door.
“Wait, before you go, I have something for you.”
Aoba turned, shoved his glasses back up, and raised inquisitive brows.
Genma retrieved the copy of Jiraiya’s book he’d had signed for Aoba. “You’re going to be sad you missed the event, but here, I picked you up something. Look on the first page.”
Aoba took the book and flipped the cover open. “You didn’t! He didn’t! When was this?”
“Day before yesterday.”
“Two days,” Aoba groaned. “I missed seeing Jiraiya-sama in person by two days.”
“Make up with Hatake and you might get another chance someday,” Genma advised him. “They’re close.”
“Nope,” Kakashi said. He shut the bathroom door.
“Or not.” Genma shrugged. “Probably not really worth your effort anyway.”
“He can certainly hold a grudge. This is all because I teased him that time he came to deliver the news about Asuma?”
“Unless you’ve offended him further when I wasn’t around.”
“Not that I remember. I was perfectly nice last time I was here, when I came with Kurenai.”
Genma shrugged again. “Then as you say, some mysteries can’t be solved.” He hefted the tanuki statue and followed Aoba to the door. “Thanks for this. And for the update.”
“I figured you’d want to know. At the pace that little bit of intel would trickle down to you without my help, you’d all be toothless old men by the time you got it.”
“May we all live to be toothless old men,” Genma said.
“Seconded,” Raidou said. He watched Aoba with thoughtful eyes.
Genma put the tanuki statue at the top landing of the stairs, where it could welcome good spirits and guard the door against bad ones.
Aoba turned and waved when he was at bottom step. “Thanks for the beer! See you next time.”
“Next time,” Genma agreed. When he and Raidou were back in the kitchen, he called, “You can come out now, the scary man is gone.”
“Is this fragile glass bottle important?” Kakashi asked through the closed door, above a gentle clinking sound.
“Probably. Or there’s poison inside.” Genma stretched his arms behind his back, then opened the fridge and pulled out the second six pack. “Come on out, there’s cold beer.”
Ryouma opened the door and emerged, hissing over his shoulder, “He wouldn’t keep poison with his aftershave bottles.”
“Look underneath the underneath, Tousaki,” Kakashi said serenely, following him out. He flicked a quick, penetrating glance around the apartment, then advised Genma, “You should acquire sane friends.”
“Present company excepted, I suppose?” Genma laughed. He pulled a beer free from its carton and tossed it to Kakashi, and a second to Ryouma, then popped the lids off two more and handed one to Raidou.
“Sweet,” Kakashi said, setting his unopened beer on the counter. “Insulting, but sweet.” He glanced at Raidou, then asked lightly, “Are you allowed to befriend your subordinates without the captain’s head exploding?”
Raidou rolled his eyes. “Making the dangerous assumption you can all compartmentalize like adults, I’m not policing anyone’s personal life. We’re off the clock. Hence the beer.”
Genma hadn’t thought through the implications at all before he’d tossed off that joke, or even realized what he was saying, really. But when he did examine it, he found he’d meant it.
“It’s… I’m friends with Hajime, after all, and he was my captain. And Raidou and Ueno are friends. As long as we’re all clear on chain of command on-duty, then. Yes. I wouldn’t hang out with you on my days off if I didn’t like you. Even if I am getting free labor out of you on the construction here. Which… Thanks.” He raised his beer in a salute.
Kakashi traded a dry look with Ryouma. “Again, insulting—but sweet.”
“Sweet,” Ryouma declared, giving Kakashi a speaking look. “Drink your beer.” He turned and clinked his bottle against Genma’s. “We, uh… like hanging out with you, too.”
Kakashi slid his unopened beer towards Ryouma. “I’m getting tea,” he said, and let himself into Genma’s cupboards.
“Failing to team-bond, Hatake,” Raidou said, amused.
“Giving in to peer pressure, Namiashi,” Kakashi retorted.
Raidou just laughed, and clinked his sweating bottle against Genma’s.
“There’s cold bottled tea in the fridge,” Genma told Kakashi. “Unless you really want hot. If you do, the tea cupboard is the one on the bottom, to the left of the sink.”
“You changed the layout,” Kakashi said. He crouched to access the correct cupboard, ferreting around in the tea canisters. “This works better.” He came up with a slender, wisteria-patterned container of one of Genma’s more obscure green teas, found a large teacup, and added, “You still need to tighten up your defenses. I left a list.”
Genma clicked his tongue against his teeth, considering. “Does that mean you’ve been in here again since you left the cactus, and made detailed notes on my pantry organization?”
“It means I’ve looked at your kitchen during the multiple instances I’ve been railroaded into constructing your house,” Kakashi said. “Did you even read the list?”
“I tried to read the list,” Genma said. “One of the items seemed to be ‘apply polished stones’ to something or other, and another one looked like it read, ‘scrolls containing miso paste on window latches.’”
Kakashi gave him a disappointed look while he filled the teacup with hot water from Genma’s tea boiler.
“Look, if you want to go over what you think I should do differently with me, I won’t turn you down.”
Genma hadn’t meant right that second, but Kakashi brightened up, perched on his favorite seat on the counter—chairs and the floor were for lesser beings, evidently—and launched into a long, detailed list of upgrades and alterations Genma should make, many of them jutsu-based, but several modeled on older-world ninja tricks, like nightingale floors and selectively altered hinges made to squeak. It was the most he’d talked in one sitting pretty much ever. None of them dared interrupt him and break the spell.
When he’d reached the end of his recommendations, he looked at Genma expectantly.
“One or two of those are probably more suited to a castle than a warehouse loft, but I can definitely implement a lot of that.” Genma tipped his head. “Thanks, Hat— Kakashi.”
Kakashi’s eye crinkled above a genuine smile hidden under his mask. He saluted Genma with his tea, then turned to Raidou. “Now, about your room…”
While Kakashi delivered his next extensive set of security recommendations, Genma leaned back in his seat and looked at his teammates. His… friends. At least in their off-duty hours.
Kakashi was probably right, he probably could do with saner ones, but he was satisfied with the ones he had. Sanity was subjective, anyway.