November 4 – 6, Yondaime Year 5
The slatey blue-grey of Ryouma’s kimono wasn’t his best color to begin with, but the new pallor in his cheeks when he and Kakashi emerged from the cellar was striking. So was the anxious way his gaze darted to Kakashi and the exits. And no wonder: the chakra pressure that had leaked through the oppressive limiters from whatever had happened down there had been enough to make Genma feel physically ill.
It was gone now, suppressed again. At least there was no blood. No smell of death. Not a scratch or a limp, or even a fold of their hakama out of place.
Raidou watched both rookies closely, brows drawn down and lips thin.
Sadayo’s attention was, unsurprisingly, directed at her son, but he didn’t seem to hear her when she asked what had happened. Kakashi’s focus was entirely inward.
“It’s fine,” Ryouma told the rest of them, preempting the question with a too-sharp handwave. “They’re fine.” Meaning the boy and his guardian, presumably. Minpei disappeared down the stairs to verify it, and returned to usher them out of the half-ruined house.
Their phalanx of Suna guards formed up around them almost immediately. The pressure in Genma’s chest didn’t let up until they were almost back to the fountain square where the tumblers had performed that afternoon, and Kakashi’s attacker had shouted his dire warnings that evening.
Aside from a few hushed murmurs from one guard to another, no one said a thing the whole way back to the Kazekage’s palace. There, in the flickering light of a dozen stone lanterns, Minpei finally turned to speak. Their hooded eyes gave almost nothing away. “Madam Ambassador. Guests,” they said. “I trust it has been an instructive evening. Please contact me should you need anything further.”
Sadayo nodded regally. “Thank you, Minpei-san. We will speak again soon.”
A flurry of mutual bows of farewell, and then they were back inside the high-ceilinged palace lobby. Electric lights made the tile floors glisten, but the deep shadows above felt almost threatening. There was an ominous desolation to the palace, especially now, peopled with only a few conspicuously armed Suna guards at their posts. Even near-silent ninja footfalls echoed as Team Six, the ambassador, and their guards mounted the stairs.
The foreign-posted Konoha guards at the embassy’s door were a welcome sight. Familiar dark blue uniforms, with red spiral insignia on the sleeves, and fresh, unfaded olive green vests said ‘home’ even here in this dusty desert.
It wasn’t until they were inside, with doors closed and secured behind them, that any of them relaxed their guard. The embassy lobby was tidy and orderly, with no sign of Raidou and Kakashi’s impromptu sparring match but a faint scuff on one desk, that could have been there all along. Secretary Ono was nowhere to be seen—presumably retired for the night.
For a moment they all looked at one another. All except Kakashi, who sat down at an empty desk and immediately began scribbling illegible notes and diagrams on the back of some piece of paper he found there.
Ryouma, recognizing his place at the bottom of any chain-of-command hierarchy they cared to construct, waited for his officers and the ambassador to decide who was going to speak first. Genma deferred to Raidou and Sadayo, as well, though he did give both rookies a more thorough once-over now that the light was better and he didn’t feel like his head might implode from chakra pressure.
No injuries were visible or sensible to a light chakra sweep. He caught Ryouma’s eye and raised his eyebrows in silent question. And got a slight head shake in return.
Sadayo watched Kakashi write for several long moments, then turned her cool gaze on Ryouma. “What exactly happened?” she asked. There was an edge of something almost plaintive hidden under her reserved tone.
“The jinchuuriki…” Ryouma started, hesitantly. “He’s a kid. I mean, we knew that, but… He’s three years old and he hears the bijuu talking to him, and he’s holding it back with a leaky seal and a calming mantra and insomnia.” His words tumbled out now, gaining momentum. “It breaks out when he sleeps. It nearly broke twice when we were down there—when Kakashi mentioned the Kyuubi, and when Gaara showed us the seal. That first time was when you felt the chakra. The kid fought it down. The second time was like… Like the bijuu just paced up to the bars of his prison and looked out at us.” He raised a hand unconsciously to his right cheek, like he was feeling for a wound that should have been there.
“I swear it saw us. Saw Kakashi. The kid’s face started changing— and then he fought it back down again.” The distress in Ryouma’s voice was mirrored in his expression. He looked first to Kakashi, absorbed in his mad scribble; and then to his officers, almost an appeal. “He can’t last much longer. Suna’s damned lucky he’s lasted this long at all. But he’s—” Ryouma’s voice choked off, then throttled low and rough, like he had to force the words out. “He should be like the Hokage’s son, that sunshine kid, and instead he’s so tightly bottled up because he knows at any moment he’ll shatter, and—” He broke off again.
Genma took in the white knuckles on balled fists, the knife-blade tension in Ryouma’s jaw, and wasn’t sure whether he should reach over and touch Ryouma’s elbow to ground him, or leave him to let the emotion ebb away on its own. If it had just been Team Six, without the ambassador’s judgmental eyes on them, it would have been an easy decision.
The moment dragged out. Ryouma’s too-fast breaths and Kakashi’s pen-scratchings did little to fill the silence. Genma took a step towards Ryouma.
Sadayo moved, too, pulling back where Genma leaned in. “Yes,” she said, giving Ryouma a disquieted look, “but what about the seal?”
Ryouma looked down, taking a couple of deeper breaths. Genma did touch his arm then, briefly. Ryouma took one more breath, then raised his head and set his shoulders back. His voice was steadier and clearer when he spoke: a soldier giving a mission report. “It’s… patchy. That’s all I can tell. A seal should flare up all at once when it’s activated, but this one showed up in pieces. Like it was bleeding through. Or like the bijuu was scratching it from the inside out. It… bit Kakashi, or sparked his chakra, or something, when he touched it. Like a security seal reacting to unauthorized entry. I couldn’t tell much else.”
There was only one person in the room—maybe two—who knew if that behavior was even close to normal for a seal containing a bijuu. Genma looked over at Kakashi, who had spread out three more pieces of paper to contain his diagrams. “Is that… Did you…” He stopped himself. There was no way to ask the question he wanted without asking if Kakashi had ever touched Kushina-sama’s seal.
The ambassador had no patience for Genma’s hesitancy. “Shiranui-san, if you have a question of use, just ask it,” she commanded.
She was the other person who might have direct knowledge of the way a jinchuuriki’s seal worked. Genma straightened as Ryouma had, and addressed her directly. “Is that how such a seal works? How—if you know—how Kushina-sama’s seal worked? Should it bite back like a chakra-limiter does, if it’s tampered with?”
She stared at Genma. “I have absolutely no idea.” The incredulous distaste in her voice curdled into something a little bitter when she raised it to say, “Kakashi, would you care to contribute to this conversation?”
Kakashi, who had been so absorbed in his calculations and diagrams that the rest of them might as well have ceased to exist, looked up when he heard his name. “What?”
His mother pinched the bridge of her nose. “Never mind. I’ll be in my rooms. Find me when I can contribute something of use.”
Genma met Raidou’s eyes just long enough to exchange a silent ouch. As she swept out of the room, Kakashi watched blankly, looked at the rest of his team, then down at his papers, frowning. “I need a wall,” he said, and looked up again. “And some chalk.”
Raidou didn’t hesitate. “I’ll go wake up Ono.”
“It’s not that late,” Genma said. “Maybe he’s still awake.”
Probably not. But he already had plenty of reasons to dislike Team Six, why not give him another one?
Ono was not awake. But he accepted Raidou’s disruption to his night with the equanimity of a man who’d been woken up later and asked for stranger things.
Chalk was found. Artwork was carefully cleared away from a wall in one of the embassy’s conference rooms. Lamps were moved to create better lighting. A small but tasteful buffet of snacks were laid out.
In the time this took, Kakashi vanished into his room and returned a little while later in black training pants and one of the sleeveless ANBU turtlenecks. His mask was back in place. He’d yanked the tie out of his hair, leaving it in spectacular disorder. It was honestly relieving to see him looking like his weird, wild self again, excavated from the stiff shell of a diplomat’s son.
The first thing he did was interrogate Ryouma and Genma about their respective party conquests, drilling them to recall every detail from their conversations with the ink-maker and the pediatrician. The sum total of gained knowledge wasn’t much, though Raidou was interested in the pediatrician’s report that Gaara had hit all the developmental mile-markers drastically ahead of schedule. After that, Kakashi unsealed the scroll he’d received from the widow Ojima, and lost himself in it for an hour. Knowing how fast he could read, it felt like an age. He muttered things occasionally—most of them sounded judgemental.
Finally, he set aside the scroll and squared up to the wall, chalk in hand, and… stared at it. For a long time.
It was tense at first, watching him. Then frustrating. Then boring. One by one, Team Six stepped away to freshen up and change. They all returned in variations of ANBU pajamas, i.e. underpinnings without the armor, and a minimum of weapons. Genma had pinned his hair up with a pair of senbon, leaving a few loose strands to fall around his face. It did lovely, elegant things for his neck which distracted Raidou for a pleasant minute.
Ryouma was a big bundle of fidgety nerves, pacing around the long conference table like a panther with a toothache. His restlessness was starting to grate on Raidou, mostly because Raidou felt a nearly equal urge to jitter.
It was hard not to, with all the looming threats. Bloodthirsty tailed beasts. Iwa. Rasa. Kakashi’s mother.
Finally, Kakashi cracked his knuckles and started to draw. Ono must have included charcoal in amongst the various colors of chalk, because the first thing that went up was a giant black seal, ugly and jagged. Then red chalk overtop, adding circles and slashes with no apparent rhyme or reason. Then green chalk, outlining parts Raidou guessed were good. Then blue, drawing entirely new sections—which were crossed out in orange, redrawn differently, crossed out again…
Raidou’s secret hope that Kakashi would take one look at Gaara’s seal and say something insulting before he slapped an obvious patch on it was seeming less and less likely.
Around 0300, Kakashi sat down in the middle of the conference table, braced his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands, and resumed his staring contest with the wall.
Raidou went out into the main area, waited until Genma joined him, and said tiredly, “Do you feel useless, or is it just me?”
“Completely useless.” Genma sighed and leaned back against the wall, kicking up a leg to brace his foot flat. “If we were smart, we’d go to bed and try to get some sleep, if we can get him to agree not to leave the embassy without telling us.”
“Where would he go?” Raidou asked. “Puzzle’s right here.”
They both knew how Kakashi was about a puzzle.
Genma tipped his head wryly towards the conference room door. “Back to the kid to test whatever theory breakthrough comes to him while you and I are sleeping? Although I’ll be surprised if that happens in the next couple hours.”
Raidou opened his mouth, closed it, and pointed an acknowledging finger at Genma.
The sound of chalk-scratching started up again. Raidou stuck his head around the door. Kakashi was back at it. Behind him, stretched out on the conference table, surrounded by a little constellation of water glasses and snack plates that Kakashi had completely ignored, Ryouma was asleep with his head in his arms.
“You know what?” Raidou said. “Yeah, let’s go to bed.”
And they did.
They even slept.
The next morning, Kakashi was still at it, and Ryouma had migrated to a heap of floor cushions in the main area. Raidou bullied him outside for a run before the sun got too high, leaving Genma behind to attempt to draw Kakashi’s attention to things like food, water, human interaction, naps, etc.
When they made it back, sweaty and breathless, Genma’s shirt was off and Kakashi was using an ink brush to sketch a seal on his abdomen.
Raidou paused. Ryouma paused.
Genma pulled a face at them, but also very carefully didn’t move.
An hour later, Kakashi escalated to doing some kind of chakra-manipulation that made bright red burns spread over Genma’s flank, which made Kakashi swear, and that experiment ended. Ryouma got to practice healing.
Kakashi retreated to his room and returned with an armful of books and scrolls, which were spread carefully out over the conference table. He read. He sketched. He read more. The wall was starting to look like a seal had exploded on it. He created two clones, who also read. Then all three started debating amongst themselves.
Raidou made an executive decision to get lunch.
Then, several hours later, dinner.
Kakashi murdered his clones, which had presumably been the plan all along, to harvest their memories. Raidou dragged Genma and Ryouma to the Suna guards’ gym to spar. He tried extending an invite to Kakashi, who just stared at him like he was insane. For once, Raidou didn’t push the issue.
There were a half-dozen Suna elites in the gym. Raidou got to enjoy watching two of them radically underestimate Genma. He was shorter and slimmer than Raidou and Ryouma, with those calm, slightly delicate features, but when had that ever meant weakness? Genma coolly wiped the floor with both of them, while Ryouma leaned against the wall and whistled, and Raidou grinned. Genma’s taijutsu was really improving. It showed in the muscles of his shoulders, the strength of his hands. The way he nearly slammed that one guy’s face through the floor.
After Genma’s opponents picked themselves up—and got a well-deserved roasting from their colleagues—an older kunoichi with a square, scarred jaw invited Ryouma to the floor.
Ryouma did not disappoint. Raidou guessed that the kunoichi was also a taijutsu-user, and he was right. Her style was brutal but precise, no movement wasted. Ryouma put her off-balance with some of his elegant, Hyuuga-influenced moves at the beginning, and took her down with a ruthless efficiency that would have made Kakashi proud. He’d improved too, between training with Raidou every day and whatever the hell he was learning from his boyfriend.
The kunoichi accepted her loss with grace, and even asked Ryouma to repeat his last throw for her to study. She looked very thoughtful when she left the floor.
Raidou got his own invite from a whip-thin man who’d had his nose smeared halfway across his face at some point in time. Raidou thought the man was likely a genjutsu-user, just based on build and the general air of slight creepiness, but the fight was pure taijutsu. The man fought like an angry rubber band—all elastic slipperiness and a frustrating ability to absorb every punch without blinking. There was surprising strength in those long, rawboned limbs.
Of course, Raidou fought like a stubborn brick wall, so rubber band man was welcome to bounce off him all day.
It was a long fight of attrition, but by the end Raidou was floating in a warm, happy center of calm, and his opponent looked ready to bite a finger off. Raidou beat him down into the dust and left him there to contemplate his choices.
All three Konoha boys returned to the embassy hot and sweaty, and in a much better mood. They found Kakashi standing upside down on the conference room ceiling, scribbling furiously at an upper curlecue of his seal explosion. Little particles of blue chalk floated down. There were multi-colored streaks wiped over Kakashi’s face and mask where he’d dragged an absent hand. Behind them, his skin had the faint translucence of insomnia.
Raidou pursed his lips.
None of them were strangers to a hard slog. They’d all done forced marches, sleepless battles, grueling missions. Their own ANBU Trials. Two days in a cushy conference room with limitless snacks—even if Kakashi kept forgetting to actually eat them—was hardly torture.
Raidou called up, “Need anything, Hatake?”
Kakashi flinched, startled, but didn’t drop his chalk. A brief, bat-like squint assessed his audience. He tapped the wall with distracted fingertips once, twice, then said, “I’m not ready for animal testing.”
Genma suggested, “How about a shower?”
Kakashi looked at him blankly, as if Genma had suggested he go outside for a brisk sunburn. “Later,” he said at last. “I’ve almost got the elemental cascade worked out.”
Raidou had no idea what an elemental cascade did, but trusted it was important.
Genma looked at his wristwatch and said, “Brains work better with fuel and rest. I’ll give you ninety more minutes and then you’re taking a break.”
Kakashi grunted and went back to his furious scribbling.
Ryouma said, “Maybe at least some water while you’re working?”
“Mmhm,” Kakashi said. Raidou wasn’t sure he’d even heard the question.
The non-obsessive members of Team Six went to take showers, bathe in Suna’s remarkable underground hot springs, and return in clean clothes. True to his word, at ninety minutes Genma returned to the conference room to make Kakashi take a break.
His efforts were interrupted by Sadayo, who was paler than Raidou remembered, but still poised. She stepped into the room, looked at her son—now standing on the conference room table with a water bottle in hand—and said without preamble, “The Ichibi just made another breach attempt. The Kazekage was able to subdue it before it broke free.”
Kakashi swore and raked a hand through his hair.
“There is an additional complication,” Sadayo said. “Two, actually. Yashamaru was injured. And the Kazekage knows you went to see his son.”
Ryouma sucked in a breath. “How badly injured?”
“Who’s with the child now?” Genma said.
Sadayo touched the base of her throat. It struck Raidou as an oddly vulnerable gesture from her. “The Ichibi was not… fully unleashed, but a partial transformation took place. Gaara bit off Yashamaru’s right hand. Rasa is still there. I don’t know who will care for Gaara next.”
Ryouma and Genma both went pale. Kakashi was already ahead of them. Unbidden, the next thought that came to Raidou was: Did Gaara swallow the hand?
Kakashi asked, “Does Gaara know?”
“I don’t know,” Sadayo said.
“Does Rasa blame my visit?”
Kakashi sat down on the edge of the table and tipped his head back, looking up at his unfinished seal. He looked, suddenly, very tired. “Do we need to leave the city?”
“There’s a good chance we will all be arrested if we stay,” Sadayo said. She sounded absolutely neutral, as if discussing a breakfast menu.
“If we run, that’s as good as an admission of guilt,” Ryouma said. “They won’t just stop at arresting.”
Sadayo flicked a sharp look at him, then inclined her head a fraction. “That is also true. Though whether Rasa would risk a war with the Hokage over Konoha deaths is another question.”
Genma frowned. “We had a large escort and a tail. Why wouldn’t Rasa have known? I thought we were there with leave.”
“Not with Rasa’s leave,” Sadayo said. “Minpei judged the risk acceptable, comparative to the information Kakashi might gain. Rasa likely would have ignored it, if not for this.”
“Can Minpei help now?” Raidou said. “They’re an advisor. Can’t they— y’know, advise not arresting the guy actually trying to fix things?”
“I have already sent them a message,” Sadayo said. “Most likely Shimizu is furious and will campaign for us to leave or be killed. Kawase is likely irritated that Minpei co-opted his party for their own gains, but won’t want to compound problems by adding a war with Konoha on top, and Minpei will refuse to admit they miscalculated unless Rasa cannot be reasoned with.”
Raidou tried to parse all that. “Meaning…?”
“We have a little time,” Kakashi said. He rubbed his face, smearing blue and yellow, then looked at Raidou. “I’m not leaving. I’m so close to figuring this out.”
Raidou thought a tiny corner of Sadayo’s mouth lifted, but it might have been a trick of the light.
“You’ll have all the time you need,” Ryouma said, low and fierce. He looked at Sadayo. “What defenses does this place have?”
“Eight rotating guards,” said a small voice from the door. Raidou jerked a startled glance over to see Ono standing there, face tense. “Windows that can’t be opened from the outside. Protective seals inlaid in the walls, floor, ceiling, and all door- and window-frames that were inspected and approved by the Nidaime himself, and have been meticulously updated since. Yourselves, of course, and the ambassador. I’ve sent the other staff home for the night, but I have a very sharp letter opener in my desk.”
Sadayo’s mouth was definitely quirking now. “Thank you, Ono. However, if it comes to that, I think we would be better served by diplomacy—or, failing that, a swift exit.”
“I’ll get the tunnel maps,” Ono said, and vanished again.
Kakashi flicked a look to Raidou, who found himself a little startled at being suddenly remembered. “Taichou, are you still on board? Your mission wasn’t the same as mine, and circumstances have changed.”
That was… rather sweet for Kakashi.
Raidou traded a glance with Genma, who gave him a gentle eyeroll and a single, unhesitating nod, and then looked back at Kakashi. “Our mission was to provide backup and protection. That hasn’t changed.”
Genma took a step closer to Kakashi, catching his attention. “Kakashi, it’s been more than twenty-four hours since you’ve eaten a proper meal or slept. You’re obviously no longer thinking clearly, or you wouldn’t ask. We’re your team and I’m your field medic and lieutenant, and I’m telling you to take a break.”
Kakashi blinked once. He had green on his eyelashes. “But—”
“You should listen to your lieutenant,” Sadayo said crisply.
Now Kakashi just looked baffled, and a little betrayed, as if the table had unexpectedly started arguing with him. He looked from Raidou to Ryouma, found a united front of nonsupport for his plan to work himself into a fine layer of dust on the carpet, and sighed. “Fine.”
“Are the baths safe?” Ryouma asked doubtfully.
“There’s a soaking tub in my quarters, which you may use,” Sadayo said.
Kakashi moved past baffled to visibly floundering, and finally just put down his chalk, collected his water bottle, and slipped out the door. He walked by a moment later with a towel and a change of clothes. Sadayo gave the rest of the team the briefest of nods and went after him, either to direct him or make sure he didn’t touch anything, Raidou couldn’t even guess.
“Well,” said Raidou, after a moment.
“Yeah,” said Genma.
Ryouma looked up at the seal, which was nearly floor-to-ceiling and becoming increasingly illegible under the scribbles and notations. “We should probably clear off another wall.”
They cleared artwork off the wall, heaping an assortment of probably-priceless rolled wall hangings in an unused corner, and then by silent assent went to check Ono’s reputed defenses. Raidou spoke to the guards. Genma poked at seals. Ryouma checked windows and exterior walls, listened to the faint hum of the shower in Sadayo’s quarters, and tried not to think about that small, shadow-eyed child turning into a monster.
Shukaku had almost clawed its way out, twice, while they were there. Gaara’d fought it back both times. But once they were gone—once Yashamaru was alone with him, and vulnerable—the bijuu had resurfaced.
Had they left the kid so unsettled that none of those calming techniques could work? Or did Shukaku know, somehow, that Kakashi was working on the seal, that Kakashi was close to a breakthrough, and that Shukaku itself was running out of time?
You could almost pity the bijuu, if you thought like that. Ryouma remembered Yashamaru grabbing his chakra-wracked nephew in a reckless embrace, and didn’t.
Kakashi emerged from Sadayo’s rooms damp-haired and freshly clothed. Without the smearing chalk-dust the exhaustion on his masked face was easier to read. His exposed skin was pale to the point of translucency, his eye almost as shadowed as Gaara’s. The shower—or maybe just taking a break—seemed to have drained his last reserves of energy. He suffered himself to be bullied through a meal of the highest-calorie items Genma could curate, said “Wake me in four hours,” and almost walked into the doorframe on his way into his bedroom.
Ryouma followed him in, just to make sure he fell over safely. “Is there anything we can… Any way to be useful while you sleep? Other than making sure the Kazekage doesn’t break down the door, I mean.”
Kakashi made a muffled “Mghffl” noise into the pillow and reached out blindly, grabbing at Ryouma’s leg. His grip was still strong enough that Ryouma had to step forward or be pulled over. Kakashi yanked again.
Well, it wasn’t like anyone who mattered didn’t know, now. Ryouma unbuckled his belt, let it drop on the floor, and slotted himself into the narrow bed.
Kakashi didn’t move over. Minute tremors chased themselves through his body. Shivers, or muscle spasms, only perceptible where they touched.
Sometimes the aftermath of a days-long adrenaline rush hit you like that. Kakashi hadn’t slept since his release from prison. He’d been using his Sharingan far more intensely than normal. And sometimes, even when his body shut down, his brain didn’t.
Ryouma stretched out and shifted halfway on top of him, weighting him down. He put a hand into Kakashi’s damp hair; then, after a moment, moved it down to knead the tense muscles at the back of his neck.
Kakashi groaned and went limp. Within seconds, his breathing steadied into sleep.
Ryouma stayed where he was, aimlessly petting the rough hair at Kakashi’s nape. It was getting long; he needed a cut again. Once they got back to Konoha, maybe.
He made that an anchor, too. When we get back. We’re getting back. You’re fixing this, and we’re going home.
Gaara’s mantra had worked, after all.
For a time.
Ryouma woke to a hand on his shoulder and Genma bending over him. The room was still dark, no hint of dawn in the east-facing window. Genma’s face was half-shadowed, half-caught by a slice of yellow light from the open door to the hall. It made him look hollow-eyed, exhausted. Probably that was because he was.
Move out, Genma’s hands said, in ANBU sign. Ryouma extracted himself carefully and picked up his belt from the floor. Kakashi didn’t stir.
They went into the hall. Genma pulled the door shut while Ryouma was still buckling his belt. “Think you can take a shift?” he asked quietly. “Nothing’s happened so far. The ambassador and Ono are asleep, four guards are on duty. Raidou and I need to get a couple hours’ sleep in if we can, but we want at least one ANBU awake in case….”
He took a breath, and bit back a yawn. “Well. Just in case.”
“I’m on it.” Ryouma glanced down the hall of closed doors. “You’ve got a room?”
Genma pointed across the hall. “Another room for embassy guests. It’s where we slept last night.”
When Ryouma had fallen asleep on the conference table and then staggered out to a more comfortable nest in the lobby’s floor cushions, right. He stretched, raked a hand through his hair, and shook himself back to alertness. “I know where they keep their coffee now. I’ve got this, Lieutenant.”
Genma gave him a wry, tired smile that was ambushed by another yawn halfway through. “Wake us at 0300, if nothing’s happened before.” He retreated to the room he was sharing with Raidou, leaving Ryouma in command of the sleeping embassy.
Not yet, apparently, an embassy under siege. Ryouma made a quick circuit anyway, stretching his chakra senses, checking in with the four night-shift guards inside and outside the embassy doors. They, at least, looked fresh and vigilant. They reported no activity on the embassy’s floor, nor any audible below.
He left them to their posts and retreated to the embassy’s small kitchen for two cups of coffee in quick succession. Then the toilet. He checked the clock in the main area again when he came out. Half past midnight, which meant he’d had about three hours’ sleep and Kakashi had one more to go.
Would it hurt to let him sleep a little longer?
How close to a solution was he? Ryouma let himself into the empty conference room and stared, for the thousandth time, at the incomprehensible scrawls on the walls. For the thousandth time they refused to resolve into anything that made sense.
He’d never tried to study written seal-work. Fuuinjutsu was the most difficult and complex of all forms of chakra-work, everyone knew that. It might have once been based on written kanji, but the fluid sealscript on the wall looked nothing like the blocky printed characters in any of Ryouma’s textbooks. He couldn’t even tell where one character ended and another began.
Until yesterday, Ryouma hadn’t even felt bad about his ignorance. The Quartermaster stocked prepared sealing scrolls, which only needed a little blood and chakra to activate for the first time; there was a whole Seal Work Office kept busy writing explosive tags and talismans and wards for shinobi without the time, talent, or training to produce their own. There were people like Kakashi and Jiraiya and Yondaime-sama, geniuses who could invent anything new. They hadn’t needed help.
Then Kakashi had gone to meet Gaara, and taken Ryouma with him. And Ryouma’d done absolutely nothing. Offered absolutely nothing. Come back with him, and wasted an entire day being useless.
Well. At least he’d gotten Kakashi to sleep, for a few hours.
He prowled out of the conference room again. Made his circuit, checked in with the guards, listened at the bedroom doors for any sound more alarming than Raidou’s gentle snore. Made another pot of coffee. Sat on top of Ono’s desk and practiced the hand-seals he actually knew.
At 0220, he bolted off the desk, crashed through Kakashi’s door, and pinned Kakashi’s wrist before it could come out with the kunai under the pillow. “Kakashi. Wake up. Listen to me. Remember your chakra surgery, how Rin dammed your arm so the chakra couldn’t circulate out? Could you do that to Gaara? Dam all the pathways to Shukaku, so it can’t circulate out—and then put your seal at the gates?”
Kakashi’s hand relaxed on the kunai. He blinked twice in the hall-lit darkness. Then the sleepy haze fell away. “That’s brilliant.”
He shoved upright, grabbed Ryouma’s head in both hands, and kissed him on the forehead through the mask. “I need chalk. Get off me.”
Ryouma tumbled back. Kakashi bounded off the bed and out the door, running barefoot toward the conference room.
Ryouma sat on the side of the bed a moment longer, savoring the warmth that lingered from both the compliment and the kiss. Then he pushed off the bed, too, and went to make another circuit.
He let Raidou and Genma sleep until almost 0400. The embassy was still quiet, aside from the busy scraping of chalk against a wall. The eastern windows began to lighten; buildings took shape, black against the blueing sky. Ryouma brought coffee and tea mugs on a tray and even knocked politely on the door.
There was a thump inside, suspiciously like the sound of a large man tumbling off a narrow bed. Low voices, and shuffling footsteps. Raidou cracked open the door, rubbing his face, and reached immediately for the coffee. Then he paused. His head tipped, assessingly. His sleepy expression creaked into a smile. “You look happy.”
Was it that obvious? “Kakashi’s back at work. He might have something. The new version looks a lot less scribbled-over, anyway.”
Raidou leaned out into the hall to check the light from the window at the end. He muttered something under his breath, then looked back over his shoulder. “Before dawn. I owe you a beer.”
Genma emerged from a pile of blankets with a shuddery, shirtless stretch. “Heh. When we get home.” He shook loose hair back and blinked at Ryouma. “Is that coffee?”
“Tea for sensei. I think it’s genmaicha but I can’t promise it’s not stale.” Ryouma held the tray out, absurdly pleased to discover that he wasn’t staring. Or at least, not more than usual. Raidou was shirtless too, mussed from sleep, and Ryouma hadn’t even noticed. He let himself appreciate them both a little, as a reward.
Genma padded across the room and took the cup gratefully. “The ambassador doesn’t strike me as someone who would tolerate stale tea.”
“Maybe not. She’s not up yet.” Ryouma looked over his shoulder. “Or at least, not out of her rooms yet. Kakashi’s in the conference room, the night-shift guards are still on the door, no signs or sounds of trouble.”
“Huh.” Raidou sipped his coffee. “You want to get some more sleep? I can take a watch.”
Genma nodded over his steaming mug. “Give us five to get dressed.”
“It’s fine. I drank the rest of the pot already.” And he wasn’t sure he could have slept again, even without the caffeine. The awareness of Kakashi working in the conference room still sang beneath his skin: the knowledge that he’d done something, might at least have jogged some idea loose and given Kakashi a new grapple-hold on the problem.
And there were always soldier-pills, for later.
He returned his tray to the kitchen while Genma and Raidou got dressed, then resumed his perch on the conference room table to watch Kakashi work on the new wall. There was a sureness to the chalk-strokes for this version of the seal. Less overwriting or rubbing out, though the riot of colorful squiggles wasn’t any clearer. Kakashi was still focused, absorbed in the work, but he acknowledged Ryouma’s presence with a nod. And then, a thoughtful few minutes later, a request for his toothbrush.
“Are you just gonna chew on it?” Ryouma asked skeptically. “You could take a break. Nab the bathroom before the officers do. D’you want breakfast?”
Kakashi considered this. Put his chalk down. “Actually…”
He disappeared into the bathroom. The officers went past, talking quietly and headed for the kitchen, before Kakashi came back. He’d wetted his wild hair and scraped it up into an only slightly-less-wild topknot, and he’d recovered his belt and a borrowed kunai holster. (Suna still hadn’t given back the gear they’d confiscated when they arrested Kakashi; Ryouma was starting to wonder if they were holding it hostage for his success with the seal.)
Kakashi paused as he came in, looking at Ryouma. Then his eye crinkled in a sudden smile. He pulled down his mask with one hand, cupped Ryouma’s cheek with the other, and kissed him.
A few more of Ryouma’s wire-taut nerves slackened. He relaxed into the kiss, hands loose in his lap, lips parting under Kakashi’s. Cool mint and the faintest graze of sharp teeth, the sure confident strength of the hand on his face. It was their first real kiss in almost 36 hours, and it felt like the first full breath.
When they separated, he asked: “You’re getting close?”
Kakashi’s reddened mouth quirked towards the scar as he tugged his mask back up. “Closer, at least. Another day, maybe day and a half, I’ll have something I’d be willing to test.”
Well, the Kazekage hadn’t sent anyone to arrest them yet. Ryouma had given up on trying to guess what Rasa was planning; a man who would shove a Tailed Beast in his unborn child was manifestly not to be second-guessed. “Let us know when you’re ready. We can probably track down some rats—or at least Suna ANBU—if you need to try exploding things.”
Kakashi laughed, sharp as a trap snapping. “ANBU would work better—more complex chakra system. I was promised antelope, but we’ll see if they come through. I suppose I could always call up a few dogs to hunt, if I absolutely have to.”
If the Suna captain who’d been ordered to make arrangements for Kakashi’s testing didn’t come through, they would more likely need those dogs to help fight their way out, not hunt. Ryouma didn’t say that, either.
Kakashi picked up a worn nub of chalk and returned to contemplating his new wall. Ryouma slipped off the table and went to see about breakfast.
He found Genma and Raidou in the embassy’s kitchen. Rice was steaming in the cooker and dashi stock on the stove. Genma had even found fresh eggs and several earthenware crocks of pickled vegetables, which Raidou was serving up with a running commentary: “Takuan. Kyurizuke. Umeboshi—that’s not native to Wind Country. Does the embassy get regular tsukemono supplies from Fire Country along with the official dispatches?”
“Probably,” Genma said, adding a handful of sliced cabbage to his simmering dashi. “Or the cook here knows how to make pickles. They aren’t that hard, as long as you have salt or rice bran and vegetables.” He ladled out a little stock into a bowl of miso paste, adding thoughtfully, “Maybe not the plums. They probably have to import those.”
Raidou fed him an umeboshi, as naturally as if they were cooking privately back in Genma’s loft in Konoha, as if Ryouma weren’t hovering awkwardly in the doorway and Rasa’s threat weren’t looming dangerously over all their heads. Genma bit it delicately out of his fingers and went back to stirring his miso paste, while Raidou tossed the next preserved plum at Ryouma. “How’s the unbearable weight of genius holding up?”
Ryouma caught the umeboshi in his fingers, not his teeth, and nibbled it dubiously. Salt and sour exploded on his tongue, a jolt to the senses almost as vivid as soldier pills. Maybe the old-timers who claimed umeboshi combated battle fatigue had a point. He swallowed and told Raidou, “Better than yesterday. Sleep probably helped, but he needs to eat. He said he’d have something worth testing within a day and a half. D’you think we’ve got that long?”
Raidou put the lid back on the umeboshi crock and scratched the back of his head uncertainly. “No idea. That’s a better question for the ambassador.”
Who wasn’t up yet, or at least hadn’t emerged from her chambers. Ryouma ate the rest of his umeboshi, threw away the pit, and managed to convince himself not to go pounding on her door asking for a plan.
He made himself useful instead, or tried to—Raidou took over dishwashing in exasperation after judging Ryouma’s attempt at pot-scrubbing inadequate. Ryouma ended up with courier duty instead, ferrying trays of miso soup, pickles, and rice with raw egg to the conference room. Genma’d even made enough for Ono, who emerged tidily dressed but sleepy-eyed midway through breakfast.
“Will the ambassador be joining us?” Genma asked him.
Ono blinked at him. “Oh, no. This is very good, Shiranui-san, but no. She’s already departed.”
“Departed how?” Ryouma demanded. “I’ve been on watch since midnight—there’s no way—”
Kakashi set down his empty bowl, narrow-eyed, his mask already back in place. “She has another exit.”
“The Kazekage’s own guards would be alerted if she’d left the embassy through the main doors,” Ono said reasonably. “Matters are very delicate at the moment. Of course she could not be seen to be meeting with the Kazekage’s advisors, or attempting to send word to Konoha through official messenger hawks. But there is a small mews in the village that keeps one or two birds—not the long-distance couriers, you know, but small nondescript things no one will notice. They’re trained to fly to the nearest radio relay, in River Country. I’m sure she’s already arranged to send one off at first light.”
“She left by herself?” Kakashi’s voice was flat, scoured bare of any emotion.
Ono hesitated with his chopsticks hovering over the dish of pickled daikon. “You know the ambassador’s capabilities, I’m sure, Hatake-san. Even our embassy’s guards, dedicated as they are, might delay her. And of course your ANBU teammates must stay with you.”
At least one of the guards on the door right now was a full jounin, and the other three were highly skilled chuunin or special jounin. They should’ve been able to keep up with any sort of shadow-skulking Sadayo required. But their absence on the doorway might be noticed, of course. That still left two ANBU sleeping and one doing nothing but stewing in anxiety, and Kakashi didn’t really need any of them…
“Operating solo must be a family trait,” Raidou said dryly.
Kakashi glared at him.
Breakfast didn’t last long after that. Kakashi took his chalk and went back to the wall. The new seal looked much more balanced now, at least to an untrained eye. Maybe even close to complete. Kakashi was working off on the empty space next to it, now, laying out pathways in orange chalk and then scribbling over them in green.
Genma watched for a while, in studious silence. Raidou collected trays and hauled Ryouma back into the kitchen for a lesson on effective dishwashing techniques. Ono disappeared behind the paperwork on his desk—presumably closing down the embassy just meant a chance to catch up on stamping things—while the door guards trickled in, one at a time, for a quick onigiri and tea break.
Just after 0600, as Raidou was herding Genma and Ryouma together for calisthenics in the entrance hall, the door to the ambassador’s quarters opened. Sadayo stepped out.
She was dressed in the sort of dark, nondescript civilian clothes Team Six had worn on their mission to Mist: close-fitting and comfortable, but unidentifiable as a shinobi silhouette. Her silver-threaded hair was knotted back at the nape of her neck, and her hands were gloved.
She said brusquely, stripping her gloves off: “Rasa is on his way back to the Palace. The jinchuuriki is with him.”
“He’s bringing him here?” Genma asked. “How is that not a huge security risk, given how much damage the Ichibi can do if it gets free?”
“The Kazekage’s kekkai genkai,” Kakashi said.
“Yes,” Sadayo said. “Rasa’s Sakin can contain the Ichibi long enough for the child to resurface, should the Ichibi break loose again.”
“But didn’t it destroy several buildings before he managed to subdue it last time? If it’s in the palace when it gets loose….” Genma said. “I— we all remember the Kyuubi. I know what the bingo book says about the Kazekage’s ability, and I don’t see how a few millimeters’ thickness of gold could stop a raging tailed demon.”
“It—” Kakashi started, and broke off with a disgruntled sound. “Anyone who doesn’t want to see, kai now,” he said brusquely. He shoved the black band off of his left eye, revealing a deep scarlet pupil in fatigue-reddened sclera.
If anyone opted out of the vision, Genma didn’t catch it. He allowed himself to be pulled in by the black tomoe circling Kakashi’s pupil, and then he was on a rooftop, watching a monster in a maelstrom of wind and sand assault Sunagakure. He caught glimpses of the limp, unconscious body of Gaara standing out from the Ichibi’s head like some kind of grotesque tumor, but it was the beast that was a giant cancer on the child. Buildings shattered. Genma gritted his teeth as his head and left eye throbbed from the immense chakra pressure, even though he knew it was Kakashi’s pain he was feeling.
The Kazekage appeared, trailing a golden light made of a million glittering grains. At a sharp wave of his hands, the gold flowed onto and around the furious demon, and then into it. It didn’t make sense, but thanks to Kakashi’s Sharingan, every chakra stream and node stood out in sharp relief, as the gold encased it like insulation on an electric cord. When the gold had nearly smothered the Ichibi, it vanished. Gaara fell, howling terrified tears, into his father’s arms, and was quickly handed off to a man Genma recognized as Yashamaru.
The immersive vision ended as abruptly as it had begun. Genma took a breath, steadying himself in his own body once more, heart still hammering loud in his ears. Kakashi had already covered his eye again.
Raidou cleared his throat. “Well…” He sounded almost calm, as if they hadn’t all just been mentally thrown four years back to a much more devastating battle with an even bigger tailed demon. “I have no idea what I just saw. Gold-coated chakra?”
“Basically,” Kakashi said.
“Which smothered the Ichibi,” Raidou continued.
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Raidou, giving voice to what they all must be thinking.
Raidou rubbed his chin. “Huh.”
Kakashi crossed his arms behind his head and arched his back, audibly popping a few vertebrae. “I think it’s something like my bloodline—what I do with my tanto—chakra run through metal. But I can’t create the metal. I haven’t figured that piece out yet.”
Sadayo made a small hm sound at the mention of Kakashi’s bloodline and what had once been his father’s blade. “I must excuse myself to dress before Rasa arrives,” she said, leaving them alone in the quiet embassy office.
Ryouma, who was looking as green as if he’d just translocated, said thickly, “So the Ichibi can be suppressed, if you’ve got enough chakra. Or the right kind.” He turned towards Kakashi, sounding surer. “Damming its pathways should work, before you do your seal. If you’re still thinking of doing that.”
“Damming its pathways?” Genma said. “Like a medical jutsu?” The concept wasn’t without precedent. He’d done exactly that with senbon for Kakashi in the Arechi Hill Safehouse, to dampen chakra loss from damaged coils. “Or like a Hyuuga going after tenketsu? Can you access the Ichibi’s pathways through Gaara’s body?”
“Maybe,” Kakashi said, sounding intrigued by the idea. “The thing is, I don’t know if the Ichibi has pathways in the traditional sense. At least, not when it’s contained partly within another being and partly within whatever kind of… pocket-space it lives in when it’s not bursting out of Gaara. They’re beings made of pure chakra, so are there pathways within that…?” He looked past them, squinting at some invisible multi-dimensional diagram only he could conceptualize. After a moment, he shook his head and refocused. “Regardless, I don’t need to go fishing in the Ichibi’s chakra. I just need its chakra blocked while I anchor the new seal in Gaara’s chakra.”
“We need a way to identify Gaara’s chakra separately from the Ichibi’s,” Genma said. “When you and Ryouma were down there with them, could you perceive any difference?”
Kakashi exchanged a look with Ryouma. “Well,” he said, after a beat, “it’s subtle, but one feels like a toddler and the other one feels like an apocalypse.”
“Toddler gone wrong, though,” Ryouma murmured.
“Not what I meant,” Genma said. “Could you feel them at the same time? Or when the Ichibi’s chakra comes out, does it overwhelm Gaara’s native chakra? The best case would be if they’re intertwined, because then maybe we could hold Gaara’s back at his tenketsu, and that would trap back the beast’s too.”
“I don’t think they’re separate pathways,” Ryouma said. “More like the Ichibi’s chakra’s just flowing through Gaara’s, and… altering them. Like it did to his face.”
“If we can verify that,” Genma said, “then it’s just a matter of holding back that much chakra. Obviously the kid’s coils can take it, or he’d have died when they first tried to instill it in him.” He looked up at Kakashi. “That’s what makes someone suitable as a jinchuuriki, isn’t it?” He hesitated before asking, “With Kushina-sama, could you ever sense the Kyuubi’s chakra in her?”
Kakashi’s eye narrowed, thoughtful. “Only twice. Her control was exceptional. And what I felt then was nothing like how it felt when it got loose.”
“Question,” Raidou said, raising his hand like they were in a classroom. “If you dam too much of Gaara’s chakra wouldn’t that, you know, kill him?”
“Yes,” Genma said. “So we can’t dam it all back. Just most of it. We have to keep his heart beating and his lungs pumping so we don’t turn his brain to mush.” He looked at Ryouma. “It’s why no one uses chakra damming for anesthesia during chakra surgeries. Too dangerous. Did your class even cover this technique, or are you remembering from when I worked on Kakashi at Arechi Hill? And when you dealt with the Dodomeki chakra, with Rin-sensei?”
Ryouma said slowly, “I was thinking about what Rin-sensei did. I’d forgotten you pretty much did the same. With senbon, when Kakashi’s coils were leaking. You gated his major meridians to slow his chakra flow to just a trickle, right? Not that he had much chakra anyway at the time, but— We could do the same. You could gate Gaara’s meridians, slow down his chakra flow and the Ichibi’s. And then we try to do what Rin did—block the Ichibi’s chakra from circulating freely—while Gaara’s got enough flow to keep breathing.” He glanced anxiously at Genma. “It ought to work. In theory. Right?”
Genma sucked his lips in, then nodded. “In theory. As long as we can—”
A sharp rap of metal against wood cut him off. One of the Konoha guards pushed the embassy doors apart enough to slip inside. “Thirty seconds,” he warned them, and went to fetch the ambassador.
A half minute later both doors were flung open by the remaining Konoha guards to admit a quartet of veil-masked Suna elites in formation around the Kazekage. He wore the same utilitarian black uniform as before, and the same ill-tempered scowl. In his arms he carried the unconscious body of his toddler son. Gaara didn’t look like a sleeping baby—he looked sedated. The braids of chakra-limiting wire wrapped around his small body must have been painful to the touch.
The Kazekage looked even less like a loving parent holding his son than he had when he’d talked about Gaara at that first meeting. Rasa zeroed in on Kakashi. In a flat, tight voice, he said, “I trust your visit with Gaara was worthwhile.”
Worth the cost of Yashamaru’s hand, Genma translated. Worth his career.
“Do you have a solution ready?” Rasa demanded.
Kakashi ooked at Rasa, then over Rasa’s shoulder at the open doorway, then down at the ground, where Rasa’s feet, not to mention all four of his guards, were clearly over the threshold. “I think this technically counts as invasion.”
In the frozen four seconds it took Genma to formulate the best way to say, Please ignore that, he’s been working nonstop and hasn’t slept in 36 hours, Raidou’s face to take on the expression of a man experiencing a sudden brain bleed, and the whites of Ryouma’s eyes to flare around black-on-black pupils, Sadayo swanned serenely out of her chambers, dressed and coiffed, and smiled pleasantly at the Suna ninja. “Please do come in, as Konoha’s guests,” she said. “Ono is preparing tea.”
Rasa stonily ignored both the invitation for tea and Kakashi’s remark. “Iwa agents were spotted near the border,” he said. “We sent shinobi after them, but we have since lost contact. So I can only assume the Iwa-nin have crossed into Wind Country.”
And those Suna ninja killed, Genma added mentally. He wondered how many had been sent.
Rasa turned sharp eyes on Kakashi. “If you don’t have a solution, tell me now so I can take other measures.”
His voice was low and level, almost without emotional inflection. It made those vague ‘measures’ feel all the more chilling.
Kakashi looked at the boy in Rasa’s arms, exhaled through his nose like he was expelling a bad odor, and turned towards the conference room. “Come with me.”
If the Kazekage was taken aback by the chaos of multicolored writing and diagrams covering the walls and ceiling of the room, he didn’t show it.
Kakashi sat cross-legged on the conference table, facing the first seal. “I’m going to tell you some things you already know. Try not to interrupt me.”
Rasa ignored the rudeness. Or set it aside to deal with later. It was hard to tell what was happening other than simmering anger behind his forbidding expression.
“The black is your son’s original seal,” Kakashi said, pointing at one section of wall. “It was based on an Uzushiogakure design, initially constructed by a master, but finished by a student when his sensei was killed. It’s similar to the seal used on the Kyuubi’s last jinchuuriki.” Turning slightly, he pointed at a smaller seal drawn in green on the upper right. “That one.”
Genma was no seals expert, but the differences and similarities were fairly clear, even if he didn’t know what they signified.
“Here are your problems,” Kakashi said, raising fingers as he enumerated them. “One, the Ichibi is not the Kyuubi. Their abilities are different, their needs are different. I’m also reasonably sure the Ichibi is insane, but that’s beside the point. That seal—” he pointed to one in orange, also on the right, “was the one used to contain the Ichibi in a kettle. Not an Uzushiogakure design. Notice that its elemental profile is completely different.”
The differing elemental indicators in Kakashi’s scrawling script were clear enough. So were the ways they chained together. The kettle-seal had a closed-circuit feeling, unlike the more fluid connections in the previous examples.
“Shukaku’s basic chakra nature is Wind and Earth,” Kakashi continued, “and it’s the only tailed beast capable of using Juinjutsu with its own markings. The Kyuubi’s was Wind and Fire, and it had a much greater reservoir of chakra.”
Juinjutsu? Curse seals? The Ichibi could use curse seals, like Orochimaru? Genma shuddered, remembering bruised and blackened marks on a child’s neck. The terror in Anko’s voice and eyes. He didn’t dare lose himself in that memory though; Kakashi was plowing ahead, and if any of the others were taken aback by the idea of a tailed demon using curse seals, they didn’t show it.
Kakashi had hopped off the table and was tapping part of the kettle seal with a piece of chalk. “Earth defense.” Then one part of Gaara’s seal, circled in green. “Fire defense. Useless for the Ichibi. I assume Ojima Emon left it in because it supports the seal’s general architecture, but it’s a weakness for Shukaku to exploit.”
He held up a second finger. “Two, the original seal was never meant to be used on an unborn child. Presumably, Ojima’s sensei intended to modify it, but he was murdered, so…”
One of the veiled Suna guards shifted their weight, whether in affront that Kakashi knew that Suna secret, or surprise that it had happened at all, Genma couldn’t tell.
Rasa didn’t take the bait. His expression suggested newfound, if still grudging, respect. “The Ichibi’s Juinjutsu abilities cannot be sealed off or suppressed,” he said, offering up information willingly for once. “The cursed seals it generates feed on the host’s chakra. Which is why we contain it in a kettle between hosts.”
Genma swallowed his visceral reaction to the idea of the toddler in the Kazekage’s arms being bound by curse seals from within.
Rasa lifted his chin to indicate the bit Kakashi had circled in green. “I assume you intend to replace this part of the seal with a more appropriate defense. How will you prevent the Ichibi from breaking out through the gap while you work?”
“We’re not there yet,” Kakashi said. ”Still on problem two, turning your unborn son into a canning jar. Issues with that: firstly, most jinchuuriki are at least ten—still young enough for their chakra to be flexible, not so young that their chakra is literally anchored to another human being. That Gaara is able to contain the Ichibi at all is— Well, you should be grateful you have the tailed beast with the least chakra.”
When the Kazekage didn’t immediately demand Kakashi’s head for insolence, Kakashi continued, “Second, Gaara’s chakra system is permanently warped. I have no way to predict how it’s going to react to a re-sealing attempt. There is a not-insignificant chance he could die or be permanently crippled.”
The child didn’t stir. Genma was glad, for Gaara’s sake, that he wasn’t awake to hear this discussion.
“In the event of Gaara’s death, would this seal work for a new jinchuuriki?” Rasa asked, just as bluntly as Kakashi had all but accused him of gross incompetence. Rasa, who had sacrificed his wife and unborn child to create this imperfect jinchuuriki, seemed willfully blind to his own faults. As unattached to the boy cradled against his shoulder as to a broken tool.
”If Gaara dies, the Ichibi will die with him,” Kakashi said. “If you want a guaranteed jinchuuriki, you should pull the Ichibi out now. But you’ll need to find another seal-worker for that. I won’t do it.”
Rasa gave Kakashi a long, measured stare. The tension in the room wasn’t quite to the level of overt threat; there was no killing intent from Rasa or his guards. Yet. It still made Genma want to reach for a weapon.
“There’s no need to be so adversarial,” Rasa said levelly. “Your success in this is to all our best interests.” He turned to look at his sleeping son, and for the first time, looked like a parent. “Gaara most of all. He asked about you, after he woke. It seems you said you’d be able to help.”
True? Or undisguised manipulation? Maybe both.
Rasa let the moment and its implied obligation to an innocent child, and to Konoha, linger, then lifted his head to look squarely at Kakashi. In a colder, harder voice, he said, “I don’t need perfect. I just need better. And I need it finished. If there is something I can do to speed up your efforts, name it. Otherwise, I need to have other options ready.”
“I told you what I needed on the first day,” Kakashi said. “If you hadn’t stonewalled me then, maybe I’d already have a solution now. You lost your original sealing expert. You rushed his replacement. You killed your wife. You ruined your son. You have made everything as difficult as possible for everyone involved at every step, and it’s an emergency now because you keep dictating terms for a problem you don’t understand. What I need is space to work, the resources I already asked for, and, most importantly, I need you to go away.”
The Suna ninja raised the threat level in the room as one, glancing at their Kage for an order that didn’t come.
Sadayo stepped quietly forward, reaching up to put a hand on her son’s shoulder. Not a comfort, but a restraint. “We have Ojima’s original notes,” she told Rasa. “But your sealing team, livestock, a safe space large enough to work in, and continued access to Gaara…”
Rasa let his gaze slide over to Sadayo for a moment, then returned to Kakashi. “You will be moved to a more secure facility while you complete the rest of your work. The sealing team and Gaara will remain with you. Any livestock you require will be supplied.” He gave Kakashi a second or so to let all that sink in before he said, “You have 24 hours.”
Kakashi, bristling despite Sadayo’s whitening grip, demanded, “Or what?”
Rasa ignored him, turning on his heel. “See to their needs,” he told one of the veiled shinobi.
“Yes, Kazekage-sama,” the guard said, snapping a stiff salute. Genma recognized the man by his voice—Dohi—the same guard captain they’d met that first day in Suna.
Captain Dohi stayed behind while the remaining guards accompanied Rasa out. Rasa took Gaara—presumably the child would be brought to them along with the sealing team once they were at this new ‘secure facility.’ Genma hoped whomever brought him knew what he’d been drugged with. He should have asked before Rasa left.
With Dohi there, he couldn’t speak freely with his team—a distinct disadvantage. They all felt it. Ryouma watched Kakashi, who had shaken off Sadayo’s hand. Genma met Raidou’s gaze, sharing a look instead of a heartfelt Bishamonten’s balls, that was rough!
It was Sadayo, surprisingly, who addressed Dohi first. “I believe you said antelope or goats would be available…”