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There's beauty in the breakdown

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The first time Genma tries the Hiraishin on his own, he puts himself in the hospital.

When he claws his way back to consciousness, every limb weighted like lead and a hollow ache pounding through his skull, the very first thing he sees is Raidou leaning over him. Honestly, this isn’t so unusual; Genma learned about testing his limits from Gai, and some bad habits just can't be cured. He probably takes close second when it comes to the number of hospital trips he’s made for pushing himself too hard. Possibly third, if Kakashi is in the running. Either way, waking up to one of Raidou's scoldings is hardly something new, even if it hasn’t happened for a while.

“You,” Raidou informs him witheringly, “are an idiot.”

Raidou is a lovely, kind, even-tempered, soft-spoken man—right up until he isn’t. Genma huffs softly, about all the response he can manage at this point, and raises one brow in question.

Because they’ve been partners since Genma was fifteen, Raidou understands what he’s implying without having to ask for clarification. The older man crosses his arms, narrows his eyes at Genma, and answers, “You’ve been out for a day and a half. I only just kicked them out, but Iruka has a class to teach and Naruto has a class to attend. Kotetsu and Izumo are showering and getting something to eat. They're not supposed to set foot in the hospital for another two hours, so I give it twenty minutes before they're climbing in the window.”

Genma laughs softly, finally managing to lift a hand from the bed and press it to his throbbing skull. It feels a little like someone liquefied his brains and then dropped in an explosive tag for good measure. It’s not chakra exhaustion, though; Genma definitely knows the feeling of that, and this is something different. More like…stretching a rubber band just beyond the breaking point and having it snap against your fingers, only magnified a few hundred times. Backlash, or something close to it. Feedback, maybe. What was he thinking about again?

Being the saint that he is, Raidou presses a glass to Genma's lips and lets him take a few swallows of water so cold it makes his teeth hurt. The liquid is welcome, though, easing the sting of a parched throat that Genma hadn’t even recognized. It makes him feel considerably more human, and by the time Raidou pulls the glass away Genma even considers himself moderately capable of comprehensible speech.

Which is, of course, the moment when Raidou demands, “What in the nine hells were you even doing, Genma? I haven’t see you do this to yourself since—”

Since Minato died, he can't quite bring himself to say, because they are both well aware of what effect it had on Genma. What effect it still has, even five years later. Genma has been a shinobi for almost seventeen years now, and still, the death of the Hokage under their protection is the closest anything has ever come to breaking him.

Genma coughs, more to buy time than to clear his throat, and shifts a little on his pillows. “Heh. Funny you should mention that,” he starts, and Raidou's expression darkens like thunderclouds rolling in.

“Genma. What. Did. You. Do.

“I'm fairly certain you're supposed to add an inflection to the end of a question to show that it’s—ow! Raidou! You're can't hit injured people, okay?”

“I can hit you as much as I want if you won't stop avoiding the question,” Raidou parries, and he really does know Genma too well. Genma huffs out a sigh, pushing himself up on his pillows a little more, even though it makes every muscle burn.

“Hiraishin,” he says simply, and Raidou's face clouds in confusion, only to clear rapidly as understanding sets in. The anger doesn’t abate in the slightest.

What?” he hisses. “Alone? Genma! Minato told us that we—”

“Didn’t have the control necessary to perform it on our own,” Genma finishes for his partner, because he remembers exactly what Minato told them, and all the implications that went along with that. He’s turned that conversation over in his head practically every day since Naruto started living with him. “I know. But that was six years ago. I have his notes, Raidou, and it’s not because the Hiraishin takes so much chakra. Unless you're transporting something huge, it’s not that draining of a technique. The control over your chakra is the hard part. You can't feed too little into the jump, or it dumps you halfway through. And if you add too much, or it fluctuates at all…” He grimaces and flicks a hand at himself. “You get this. But it’s possible, Raidou. If I can just get better—”

“You're going to kill yourself trying,” Raidou cuts in flatly, folding his arms over his chest. “Genma, the Hiraishin has only ever been used by Senju Tobirama and Namikaze Minato. They were both geniuses strong enough to become Hokage. You know I have all the respect in the world for your abilities, but you're a tokujo. And you're good, but you're nowhere near their level. I'm sorry, but you're just putting yourself in danger for no reason.”

It…hurts, to hear that. Genma had thought he’d moved past depending on Raidou's opinion of him, whether as a shinobi or as a (boy)friend, but the disbelief in Raidou's voice and expression still stings. He falters, just for a moment, but…

But Genma has his good points, and his bad, and of the latter his greatest is that he’s as stubborn as a pig and more hardheaded than a mule. Raidou should have remembered that, but maybe he’s forgotten. Maybe he’s forgotten the quiet, aloof fifteen-year-old who joined the Hokage Guard Platoon and never gave up, never gave in, never so much as faltered, even though he was serving with shinobi twice his age and experience. But that same kid was smart enough to learn even a partial Hiraishin at sixteen, to make tokujo when most of his classmates were still working for chuunin. That kid never earned any of that by giving up when things got hard.

Genma can be coolheaded and impartial, calm and reasonable, but most of it’s a front that he started putting up when he was a shy brat eternally out of his depth. The reality is a little different. He doesn’t back down and will never give up on what he believes in, not if he has a reason to keep going. And for this, for what should be Naruto's by birthright, for what Minato left the son he was never able to know—

For that, Genma will push himself. Right up to the edge, and over it if he has to. After all, if he wants to get results, he has to keep trying no matter how much it hurts. Gai taught him that, and it’s one lesson that Genma holds close to his heart.

(There's guilt in him, though he’ll never admit to it. For five years he turned his face away, focused on himself and his wards when he should have noticed Naruto's situation. For five years he let Minato's son grow up alone, unloved, a victim of the villagers’ constant hatred and resentment. That’s on Genma's head, on his shoulders and his conscience. But he knew Minato, knows Minato's most famous technique, and if he can pass that on, maybe, just maybe, Naruto won't resent him for his neglect.)

“Go home to your wife, Raidou,” he says quietly, and they can both hear the unflinching echo of ‘It’s not your place to worry over me anymore’. It’s a low blow, unfair to his partner, but part of being partners is supporting each other, and if Raidou can't have even this much faith in him Genma isn’t going to give any quarter.

Indignation flashes over Raidou's mobile features, quickly followed by a trace of hurt, but Genma is in no mood to feel guilty. “Genma—” the other man starts, but Genma just grits his teeth and forces himself upright on the bed. It hurts, but he won't let himself falter. Not now.

“Go,” he advises, and even in the depth of his offense he can't quite make it cruel. Raidou isn’t his anymore, but…he was. For almost a year, in the end, he was.

(There's a saying like that, Genma remembers vaguely. To you I was just a page, but to me you were the entire book. Or something similar, at least—quietly dramatic and full of hurt. An over-inflated sense of drama is something Genma thankfully doesn’t have, but the saying is still more apt than he would like.)

When Raidou still visibly wavers, torn between indignation at his easy dismissal and Genma's refusal to listen, and the concern that still rises to the surface regardless, Genma just sighs and rakes a hand through his messy hair. “If you don’t,” he threatens, and lets his tone tell Raidou that he is in no way joking, “I’ll set the brats on you. They should be here any minute, right?”

Raidou makes a face at him, then rises to his feet in what is likely not supposed to look like a hurry, but does anyway. Not that Genma blames him; Kotetsu and Izumo took Genma's dumping and Raidou's subsequent wedding very, very personally. And very, very badly.

Maybe it’s telling that Genma has never tried overly hard to correct them.

The door swings shut behind him as he vanishes, and then everything is silent. Genma rakes a hand through his loose hair again, breathing out carefully and deliberately, and swings his legs over the side of the bed. There's a bone-deep ache in him, the kind that will become a tremor if he lets it, but Genma has exhausted himself enough times that he can just grit his teeth and push through. The nurses will yell at him, but only if they catch him—it’s practically a shinobi tradition, after all, to escape your hospital room.

A quick glance around the room shows him his folded uniform resting on a table by the window, his weapons pouch and hitai-ate beside it. It’s only about three meters, but with the way Genma's feeing that distance may as well be as wide as Suna’s desert. Still, Genma sets his jaw and levers himself to his feet, thinks I got the first part of the Hiraishin right, I moved and that’s a success, and uses the thrill of that small victory to push him through the first step.

It aches like pins and needles in his legs, like the shock of a lightning bolt through the rest of him, but Genma breathes out slowly and keeps moving, turning his mind to what landed him here in the first place.

I faltered. Just slightly, but the yellow chakra surprised me and I lost control. So next time, a tighter grip on my emotions, more focus. Regulate my chakra better. I can do this. I can.

Genma wants to learn the Flying Thunder God technique. He wants it for Naruto. He wants it for himself. Any memory or reminder of Minato is something to cling to, something to treasure, and this is a part of Minato that no one has been able to share. This is something he taught Genma personally, something given to him, Raidou, and Iwashi out of the dozen shinobi in the Guard Platoon, and Genma is convinced that there's a reason for picking the three of them specifically. Minato had faith in them, though what kind of faith Genma can't say. A certainty that they wouldn’t kill themselves fooling around with it? That they could get better with practice? That they could eventually do it on their own if they tried hard enough?

Genma isn’t sure, but he knows there was a reason. And Naruto is his own reason, a little boy with Minato's eyes and smile, which is enough to override everything else. He’ll do this for Naruto, and for himself, and no matter what doubts people have he will succeed.

He dresses slowly, carefully, and his hands don’t shake. The tiny knot he uses to secure his bandana takes a little longer, but he feels steadier already, centered. This is familiar territory, feeling his way along the edges of his limits. Akimichi Choza, his jounin sensei, always despaired of him and Gai, especially in comparison to Ebisu, who was far more sensible about not trying to kill himself with chakra exhaustion or overwork. But Genma has always admired Gai and his fierce devotion, his impossible will, and he mimicked that as much as he could as a kid. It’s gotten him this far, so he doesn’t see a reason to change now.

Just as he’s strapping his weapons pouch around his leg, there's a rustle of curtains and a pair of figures slide through the window, landing lightly on the floor. Their backs are to him, and Genma watches in mixed amusement and fondness as their eyes settle on the empty bed and they immediately stiffen.

“Get the nurse!” Kotetsu cries, and spins for the door, Izumo barely a beat behind him.

Genma snorts, leaning back against the table and raising a brow. “I think I’d fail whoever taught you spatial awareness, brats,” he teases, pulling out a senbon and flipping it through his fingers.

“Genma!” Izumo cries, launching himself at the tokujo. Genma only just manages to brace himself in time for the quick one-two impact that is his older brats assaulting him, and laughs even as he tucks the senbon between his teeth and wraps his arms around them.

“Hey, hey,” he murmurs, feeling the tightness of Kotetsu's grip, the way Izumo hides his face in Genma's shoulder. “I'm fine, okay? Sorry I worried you, but I just made a mistake with chakra distribution and it knocked me out for a bit. No harm done, see?”

Kotetsu snorts, not easing his hold. “Iruka is going to chew you out like he would a stupid student,” he threatens. More of a promise, really, Genma knows. “A day and a half, Genma. Naruto was really worried.”

Genma winces a little, laying his hands atop two heads of spiky dark hair. “I know,” he murmurs. “I'm sorry I scared you. But it really was just a training mistake. Nothing to stress about.”

Izumo makes a soft, resigned sound and pulls back, looking up at him with a faint, wry smile. “This is going to be just like that time you were recovering from chakra exhaustion, isn’t it?” he says, and Genma can tell it’s rhetorical. He gives the boy a crooked grin in return, and chuckles at the eye-roll it earns him. That had been their first encounter with Genma's stubbornness as he refused to give himself time to heal, instead pushing through and taking missions one after another as he tried to build his reserves and keep a similar thing from happening again.

Because he’s chronically overdramatic, Kotetsu makes a sound of despair and slumps back against the wall, pressing the back of his wrist to his forehead. “No!” he whines. “Genma, not again! I don’t even remember how many times we had to drag you to the hospital or back home when that happened!”

“Eleven times,” Izumo cuts in, because he’s precise like that. It’s also entirely unnecessary, and Genma gives him a look. He just gets an innocent smile in response. “Fifteen, if you want to count the times Gai carried him home.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Genma huffs, swatting at heads and then carefully maneuvering out from between them. “Come on, brats, let’s go. Academy classes are getting out soon, right?”

“You want to give Iruka more chances to yell at you?” Kotetsu says in disbelief, but he follows closely as Genma makes for the window, and doesn’t try to convince him to stay a little longer or get checked over again. They’ve had that conversation before, and Genma wins every time.

“He wouldn't yell at someone in public,” Genma reminds him, though most of his attention is on the window. They're on the third floor, which means he’ll have to use chakra to get down unless he wants to break something. Taking a breath, he forces his heavy limbs into motion and channels just a touch of chakra into his feet as he leaps up onto the sill. It burns, but like a new and overworked muscle instead of something dangerously close to tearing, and he smiles a little in satisfaction. Perfect. Even if he did push himself further than he meant to, he can tell there won't be any ill side-effects. Hiraishin or not, this was just like any other bout of training.

With that confidence filling him, it’s easy enough to jump, channeling chakra through his body and landing lightly in the street below without even stirring the dust. A moment later, Kotetsu and Izumo land on either side of him, expressions wary as they eye him. Genma rolls his eyes, huffs softly, and starts walking.

“You are aware that Iruka is a teacher?” Izumo says dryly, falling into step on his left.

“Yeah,” Kotetsu agrees from his right, but it’s edging towards cheerful, and the last traces of tension has eased out of his shoulders. “Yelling at people in public is kind of what he does.”

Genma snorts softly at the pair of them, taking his senbon from his mouth and walking it over the tops of his fingers again, testing his dexterity. He’s a bit slower than normal, but not by much. “Fine. Iruka won't yell at me in public. Unlike some rude brats I could mention, he’s learned to respect authority.

“Only yours,” Kotetsu mutters, smirking, but he says it quietly enough that Genma can pretend he didn’t hear. Maybe it makes him delusional, but he likes to act as if the three boys have learned some manners now that they're all chuunin. And despite all reports to the contrary. He’s their guardian, so he’s allowed some blindness, right?

“Who found me?” he asks instead, sidestepping a gaggle of children as they thunder past laughing and yelling.

Kotetsu hums, eyes flickering over a dango stand with interest. “Gai did. Apparently he had just gotten there when he saw you collapse, and he ran with you to the hospital and then found us. The Hokage called him away for a mission, though, so he had to leave yesterday.”

Genma makes a mental note to thank his former teammate with a meal out, even as he presses a hand to the nape of Kotetsu's neck and gently pushes him into the stand. “Afternoon, Masaki-san,” he says to the old woman behind the counter.

She smiles back at him. “Good afternoon, Shiranui-kun. Here for a treat?”

With a hum of acknowledgement, Genma nods. “Five of your mitarashi dango, please,” he answers, pulling out his wallet.

“Genma, you don’t have to—” Kotetsu starts to protest.

Masaki just laughs as she places the dango sticks in a small box. “Hush, young man,” she tells Kotetsu. “I've never seen Shiranui-kun smile as much as he has since you came to live with him, and I knew his mother. Maybe he’s trying to thank you for it.”

Kotetsu's eyes widen, and then he flushes and crosses his arms over his chest with a soft, embarrassed harrumph. Izumo smothers a chuckle with one hand, and Genma flashes the old woman a cheerful grin. “Ah, Masaki-san,” he protests. “Embarrassing them is supposed to be my job.”

She shakes her head at him fondly, accepting the ryo he hands over. “Stop loitering, child,” she informs him, shooing him away. “I've a business to run.”

Genma gives her a crooked smile and a lazy salute, then herds his wards back out into the street with the dango box tucked into one deep pocket.

“Do you know everyone in Konoha?” Izumo asks in amusement. He’s walking ever so slightly closer than he normally would, and though he’s hardly as red as Kotetsu, there's a faint flush to his cheeks. Genma looks down at him and smiles a bit helplessly, wondering how Izumo and Kotetsu can simply not know just how much they changed his life by breaking into his apartment that day. They didn’t see him before, didn’t witness his destructive sort of apathy and all-consuming guilt, but—surely they have an idea. Surely he’s told them enough times, right?

“Hardly,” Genma says archly. “But Masaki-san used to babysit my mother when she was a toddler. No harm in being friendly, right?”

“Hey, look, class is out!” Kotetsu says, abandoning his embarrassment as they head up the hill towards the Academy. He bounces on his toes, peering over the flood of emerging students for a spiky brown ponytail and a head of blond hair. “Oh, wow, they're midgets, aren’t they?”

“Kotetsu!” Izumo scolds, though he can't quite hide the humor in his eyes. “Be nice. They're only five.”

“Not like you're that much bigger,” Genma points out, and earns himself two affronted glares. Safe a good fourteen centimeters above them, Genma just grins.

“Tall people are stupid,” Kotetsu informs him haughtily, then turns away with a sniff.

Genma snorts. “I’d be more impressed with your towering height,” he says dryly, “if even Iruka wasn’t already taller. You're the shortest in the family, brat.”

Naruto is still shorter than me!” Kotetsu insists, crossing his arms over his chest in a          perfect picture of wounded dignity. He shoots Izumo, who has two and a half centimeters and almost ten kilograms on him, a dirty look, and the other teenager smiles a touch sheepishly. Then Kotetsu catches sight of Genma's arched brow, seems to realize he’s only shooting himself in the foot, and subsides with a disgruntled huff.

Genma smothers a laugh and leans back against the tree overlooking the Academy’s main doors, trying to disguise his sigh of relief at no longer having to keep himself upright. From the sharp look Izumo shoots him, he catches it, but he doesn’t say anything as he sinks down to sit cross-legged on the grass, his shoulder pressed against Genma's thigh. Genma lets a hand drop to rest on Izumo's bandana, then notices two familiar figures emerging from the school. Iruka has his head bowed, listening carefully as Naruto chatters at high speed, and Genma can't fight the warm smile that overtakes his face at the sight. They're…good. All four of them. Good for each other, and good for him.

“Hey, Iruka!” Kotetsu calls. “Naruto-chan!”

The dark and blond heads snap up, and a moment later both teacher and student are bolting up the hill. Naruto makes it first, despite Iruka's longer legs, and he all but throws himself at Genma, who laughs and catches him, dragging him off the ground and hoisting him up onto his hip. The kid isn’t that heavy, and Genma ignores how it makes his muscles throb, because there's relief and joy on Naruto's face as he throws his arms around Genma's neck and squeezes tightly.

“Hey, squirt,” he says, smoothing a hand over spiky blond locks. “Were you a terror for the brats, or did you behave yourself?

“Iruka-nii helped me with my homework!” Naruto says cheerfully, grip not easing in the least. “An’ Ko-nii let me have ramen for dinner, and Zumo-nii read me a story before I went to sleep! It was about a frog that could talk!”

“Sounds interesting,” Genma says, looking up with a smile as Iruka approaches. He holds out his free arm, and Iruka hugs him with a relieved smile. Chuckling, Genma kisses the top of his head—hardly a stretch, given that Iruka is almost as tall as he is now—and returns the fifteen-year-old’s tight grip. “But I hope you realize you're not getting ramen for dinner every night. It’s a special treat, okay?”

Naruto protests, but not too loudly, which means he’s mostly okay with it. Iruka clings for one more moment before pulling away, worried brown eyes flickering over Genma's form and then rising to meet his guardian’s gaze.

“Are you okay?” he asks quietly, expression torn. “Shouldn’t you have stayed in the hospital a little longer?”

Genma chuckles and reaches out to ruffle his hair, then tugs lightly on his ponytail. “I'm fine,” he assures the boy. “I just didn’t control my chakra well enough and it knocked me out. No big deal.”

“You do know that sleeping for thirty-six hours is considered a coma, right?” Iruka demands, but it’s not as sharp as it could be. He reaches out, beckoning. “Here, let me take Naruto. You shouldn’t be straining yourself, even if they let you out of bed already.”

Kotetsu coughs a little guiltily at that, but before Iruka can catch it Izumo sweeps a leg out and knocks his feet out from under him, then dives on top of him as he falls. Kotetsu goes down with a squawk of indignation, but gamely rises to the challenge and attempts to pin the other teenager before he can get his face ground into the grass.

Entirely used to their antics, Iruka barely glances at them, especially when Naruto tightens his grip and declares, “No! I want Genma!”

“Naruto—” Iruka starts, but Genma just waves him off.

“It’s fine,” he says gently. “I'm not hurt, Iruka. Just a bit tired. A night in my own bed and I’ll be good as new.”

Iruka gives him another worried look, but relents and falls into step with him as he heads down the hill, leaving the wrestling duo to catch up on their own time. “If you're sure,” the boy says, though his brow is still knitted with concern. “Just—tell me if you want me to take him, okay? I'm sure Naruto won't mind, if it’s for your own good.”

Naruto makes a face, but nods in agreement. He leans back a little to look Genma in the face, and says solemnly, “You're okay?”

Genma smiles and messes up his hair. “Yeah, squirt, I'm fine,” he assures the boy. “I tried a jutsu that was pretty hard and it didn’t go so well, that’s all. That’s why you’ve got take it slow on your training, no matter how boring it is, okay? I don’t want you getting hurt, either.”

“I’ll be careful if you will,” Naruto bargains, more cunning than any five-year-old has a right to be, and it makes Genma grin.

“Deal,” he agrees, and sidesteps just in time as Kotetsu and Izumo go hurtling past, trying to run and wrestle at the same time. They barely miss a tree, stumble over a stone, and then pitch headfirst into the small stream beside the road. Genma winces at the loud splash and the twin cries of indignation, and then laughs at the sight of the two boys sprawled in the shallow water, liberally mud-splattered with river weed in their hair.

“You're awful,” Izumo informs him darkly, sitting up to pull his hitai-ate off and wringing it out with a disgusted look.

“Yeah, you totally suck,” Kotetsu agrees, fishing around for his missing sandal. “And you could have caught us!”

With a thoughtful hum, Genma shakes his head, shifting his grip on Naruto a little. “And drop the dango?” he says innocently, trying to hide his wicked grin behind Naruto's spiky hair. “What do you take me for, Kotetsu? I paid good money for that.”

“Dango?” Naruto chimes in, suddenly interested.

With a grin of his own, Iruka pulls the package out of Genma's pocket and holds it up for Naruto's approval. “Mitarashi,” he says cheerfully, completely ignoring his surrogate brothers’ attempts to haul themselves out of the stream. “Thank you, Genma.”

“We already know Mitarashi is your favorite,” Kotetsu says sourly, squelching slightly as he carefully climbs up the bank. “Given the way she had her tongue halfway down your throat last week—”

Iruka squawks, blushes a brilliant scarlet, and shoves Kotetsu automatically. Usually, Kotetsu just shoves him back, but this time the older boy is balancing in slippery sandals on uneven ground, and with an indignant yelp he tumbles backwards, crashing into Izumo, who’s just managing to get his feet under him, and sending them both back into the water.

Genma sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose, even as Naruto cheers and claps delightedly. Sometimes he really, really wonders how he’s managed to survive five years of this.



All four boys hover, and because he understands their worry, Genma manages to behave himself for a solid forty-eight hours, allowing them to coddle him and keep careful watch over everything he does. Most of that time he spends on the couch with Minato's half-legible notes, scouring them for any hint of a clue as to how he can keep from knocking himself out again. There's not much, because one of the manifestations of Minato's genius was his near-perfect chakra control, but there are a few half-thought-out rambles about concentration and meditation, and Genma seizes on those eagerly. He fills his own notebook with meticulously copied seals, coded shorthand ideas for regulating chakra, and digs through his own memories of first learning control as a genin for more concepts he can use.

Technically, he has years to work through this. His goal is to teach it to Naruto, and he won't be able to do that for at least another seven years. But Genma loves a good problem, and like most high-level shinobi he’s got a severe weakness for cool techniques. Even Ebisu, stern and uptight as he is, will go starry-eyed over an impressive Katon jutsu, and for all Genma's collectedness, he’s no different. It just takes a bit more to impress him than most.

The Flying Thunder God technique has always been more than enough to do so, and it’s interesting and challenging enough for the idea of learning it to completely bypass Genma's considerable patience.

Minato taught them the bare bones, when he showed them, expressed sympathy when the three of them had to work together to get it right and helped them adjust the technique, but Genma remembers the faint flicker of disappointment in his eyes when they couldn’t manage it on their own. One of the things that made Minato so incredible was the way he loved to teach, the way he shared his knowledge and brilliance, and more than once Genma remembers being blindingly envious of Kakashi, Obito, and Rin for their sensei. He loves Choza, of course, loves Gai and Ebisu, but…

But Minato was special.

Minato wanted them to learn his technique, and the mere thought is enough to push Genma forward, to drive him onward. He can do this, and he will. All the doubt and disbelief in the world won't stop him, not even if it comes from the man he used to love, his best friend and partner.

As soon as Iruka and Naruto are at the Academy and Kotetsu and Izumo are occupied with missions, he slips out of the house again, returns to Training Ground Nine where he and Gai once spent most of their time, and finds a nice stump to spread his notes out on. He settles cross-legged on the ground in front of it, and regards the scrolls with a thoughtful frown as he considers what he knows.

First: whatever he tried last time worked. He remembers the flash of light, the feeling of a pull that came from nowhere. He’d surprised himself, his chakra had faltered, and he’d ended up in a senseless heap on the ground because of it, but he’d still succeeded.

Second: despite that success, something still felt wrong. Or not so much wrong as…incomplete. He’s got the target seal inked on a stake some ten meters away—the distance Minato first had them jump when he taught them—and his part of the seal inked right below the ANBU tattoo on his shoulder in a neat line. But even so, he knows he’s missing something.

Third: for all Minato's large chakra reserves, he was still human, and yet Genma had seen him do this technique when teetering on the edge of exhaustion, both of his chakra and physical. So as he thought, it’s not particularly draining, but it takes finesse and care. Precision, which a lot of shinobi sacrifice in the name of strength. Genma, who favors senbon as his primary weapon when most shinobi dismiss them as a convenient delivery system for poison and little else, already has an advantage in that department. He’s built his entire fighting style on being more precise than his opponent, and it’s easy enough to adapt that for the Hiraishin.

Fourth: he’s fast, and his reflexes are excellent, but he’s nowhere near Minato's level. He’ll have to increase his training in those areas too if he wants to manage anything similar to the Yondaime’s version of the technique.

With a sigh, Genma rubs a hand over his bandana and then rises to his feet, studying the marker and trying to slip into the right mindset. Not quite meditation, but close. An easy sort of openness, a casual awareness of everything around him, readiness without tension. He’s trained in this, specialized in it for assassination and ambush missions, and the detached sort of alertness comes easily. He takes a step, another, calling up his chakra like uncoiling a spool of ninja wire, one thin thread gripped without clutching it, but not loosely enough for it to slip through his metaphorical fingers. Another step, a breath, and he twists the chakra around the seal on his arm, reaches

There's half a second to feel the sensation of movement, a rush of air as he emerges somewhere different, a brief bolt of did it, I did it and then—


“Oh, fucking ow,” Genma groans, caught in the branches of the stately oak about two hundred meters northwest of where he was aiming. He’s a good ten meters above the ground, half-upside down with one knee by his ear and the other leg caught in a twist of boughs, one arm’s death-grip on a thick limb all that’s keeping him from plummeting back to earth. And to top it off, there's a jay screeching angrily at him from her nest a little ways up.

“Yeah, yeah,” Genma tells her, kicking his leg free and using enough chakra that his feet will stick to the wood. “Don’t get your feathers in a knot, I'm going.”

The jay makes a sound uncannily like a human humph, but quiets as Genma leaps down from his uncomfortable perch and flips to land on his feet. Once he’s steady and not about to get dive-bombed by an irate bird, he takes stock, and is relieved to find that his chakra levels are practically the same as they were before he tried. So if it wasn’t a fluctuation in his chakra that knocked his jump askew, it has to be something else.

Brushing a few cobwebs and stray leaves off his uniform, Genma eyes the marker, now easily six times the distance from it that he originally was, and then sighs and heads for his notebook to record what happened. It’ll take more than one set of data to figure out where he’s going wrong, but hopefully, with enough tries, he’ll be able to make some headway.

Hopefully without ending up in the hospital this time.



“What do you want for dinner tonight, Naruto?”

Naruto raises his gaze from where he’s been staring somewhat wonderingly at the hand holding his to meet kind brown eyes, and grins at his new guardian. Genma is tall and strong and as warm as the sun, and he never hesitates to smile at Naruto, which is…astonishing.

Before this, only Teuchi-san and Hokage-jiji ever smiled at Naruto. Before this, Naruto has never had someone ask him about his preferences or whether he wants to play a game, or had anyone read him a bedtime story, or buy him dango just because they can. Naruto thinks, a little dazedly, that this must be what it’s like to have a family. Kotetsu, Izumo, and Iruka are his brothers, and Genma is his parent, and it’s amazing. He never wants it to end, but Genma doesn’t seem to get tired of him. Genma doesn’t mind when Naruto grabs his hand, or asks to be carried the way he’s seen other kids do.

He doesn’t even mind when Naruto play pranks on him—though, granted, he rarely gets caught in them either, seeming to have a sixth sense for such things. Iruka had confessed, with a slightly sheepish grin, that he, Kotetsu, and Izumo have been trying for years to catch Genma in their traps, and have only managed it a handful of times. They’ve invited Naruto to help them, but Genma has just sidestepped everything they’ve tried so far, and Naruto is reluctant to go all-out when Genma could still make him go back to the orphanage. He can't think of a worse fate at this point, having known a family like Genma's only to lose it.

“Ramen?” he suggests, even though Genma's only let them have ramen for dinner once in the past month, when Naruto got the third-highest score in his class on a test. Genma had laughed then, ruffled his hair the way he did in Ichiraku the first time they met, and hung his test on the fridge with a proud grin, as though he’d been the one to score so high. Naruto had beamed back, full to bursting with something he’d never felt before, and then run to find Izumo and thank him for helping with all of his homework. Izumo is smart, even smarter than Sakura, and Naruto hadn’t thought such a thing was possible.

Genma looks down at him and arches an amused brow, but comes to a halt outside a grocery store. “How about yakitori?” he counters. “You need to eat your vegetables if you want to be Hokage, Naruto. They’ll help you get strong.”

Naruto wrinkles his nose, because he doesn’t really see what vegetables have to do with becoming Hokage, but nods anyway. Genma is a good cook, and when he makes them, vegetables taste a lot better than the tasteless, kid of mushy ones he got at the orphanage. Everything is better, from the lighting in Genma's apartment to the softness of the futon he’s been given and the warmth of the thick quilts Genma pulls over him every night.

With a soft chuckle, Genma scuffs a hand through his hair and then steps towards the shop. “Do you want to come in with me?” he asks, on hand already on the door.

The lady in there always glares at him, even when Genma holds his hand, so Naruto shakes his head. It’s easier just to avoid people who look at him like that, and while Naruto can't avoid everyone who gives him nasty looks, he avoids as many as he can. Unless he’s pranking them, but in that case, they get what they deserve.

“I’ll wait here,” he says firmly, and like usual, Genma gives in without arguing. He doesn’t argue very much at all, though sometimes it’s all Kotetsu, Izumo, and Iruka seem to do. Instead, Genma just smiles and teases them and ruffles their hair the way he does Naruto's, and it leaves a weird warm feeling in Naruto's chest, like swallowing Hokage-jiji’s hot, bitter tea too fast, only good instead of nasty.

“‘Kay. I’ll be back in a minute, so don’t wander off.” Genma gives him a warm, crooked grin around the senbon in his mouth, then disappears into the store, nodding a polite hello to the lady at the counter. Naruto watches him go before he slips to the side, around the corner of the building and into the mouth of the narrow alley where a row of garbage cans sit. It smells bad, and everything’s in shadow, but it means he isn’t getting nasty looks from people on the street, and that’s enough to make up for it.

There's a group of civilians a short distance from him, two men and three women with frowns on their faces, all talking in low voices and glancing at the door of the shop. By now Naruto knows that nothing good comes from listening to people with that unhappy expression, but even though he tries not to, bits of their conversation make it past the noise of the street, and two words in particular catch his attention.

Shiranui Genma—

That’s enough to make Naruto look up, wide eyes settling on them as he’s torn between guarded wariness and curiosity.

—knew his father—

“—but why—that boy—disgrace—

Oh, Naruto thinks, grim understanding setting in, and swallows hard.

—took him in—Hokage allowed it, I don’t understand why—

—too soft, or maybe that monster has something to do with it—manipulating people—put a stop to it—


—that monster—


—that Shiranui boy, a traitor

Naruto takes a shuddering breath, and it escapes him like a sob, low and choked and horrified. They're calling Genma a traitor.

They're calling him a traitor because of Naruto.

“Hey,” a soft voice calls, and Naruto looks up into a kind smile framed by brown hair as Genma crouches down next to him. “Everything okay? This probably isn’t the best place to hang out, unless you're particularly fond of rats.”

His gaze never wavers. He doesn’t look back at the group of civilians, who have fallen silent and are watching him with dark expressions, even though he must have heard them. Naruto swallows back any cries, be they angry or hurt, that want to emerge, and nods carefully. Genma smiles at him again, offering a hand.

“Come on,” he murmurs. “Let’s go home, Naruto.”

Home is a word Naruto had never thought to associate with himself, one month ago. It’s a thing that other people have, a nice dream. But now Genma's home is his home, and he—

He doesn’t want to give that up.

But people say Genma and monster in the same breath, and Naruto knows that it won't be long before they're calling Genma a monster too. Naruto understands how much it hurts, and for all that he wants to be selfish and keep Genma and his kind brown eyes for himself, he won't let anyone hurt Genma. Never ever ever.

He looks at Genma's outstretched hand and shakes his head. “I can walk by myself!” he says, and forces himself to make it cheerful. To make it a lie, and he’s never lied to Genma before, but—

He will. To keep people from calling Genma a monster, he’ll do anything.

Genma just keeps smiling, warm and soft, and rises to his feet. “Okay,” he agrees, because Genma doesn’t argue with anyone.

(Just this once, Naruto selfishly wishes he would. But then he thinks of monster, and crushes that feeling down.)



Ugh. I think my bruises have bruises.

With far less enthusiasm than he was able to muster four hours ago, Genma peels himself off the ground and pushes to sit upright, legs sprawled out in front of him and arms braced on his knees. His back and side are throbbing, and there's a knot on his head that feels like it’s the size of an orange. The heat of the day forced him to surrender his hitai-ate long ago, but he hasn’t quite dared to give up his flak jacket and the padding it provides. More lumps will hardly do him any good, at this point.

He’s not improving, and it’s maddening. Like he’s hit a plateau, and there's no possibility of getting better now that he’s gotten this far. All of his jumps go off-course, and though the range varies depending on how quickly he reacts and how much chakra he uses, he’s never getting any closer to the target than he did the first time. The wooden marker sits stubbornly untouched no matter what he tries.

Mouth tipping into a dissatisfied frown, Genma pulls a senbon from his pouch and sticks it in his mouth, rolling it over his teeth as he thinks. He’s improved his reflexes and speed, refined his control, and is confident that he knows just how much chakra to feed into the technique now so that he won't knock himself out again. That only leaves one point to address from the list he made two months ago, but he still has no earthly idea what’s giving him that subtle feeling of wrongness each time he focuses on the marker. He’s even tried switching it out for one of Minato's Hiraishin kunai, borrowed from the Sandaime, but that didn’t help. If anything, it made the feeling worse, which Genma doesn’t understand. This is Minato's technique, so using his equipment should work best, right?

With an aggravated sigh, he climbs to his feet, dusts off his pants, and plants his senbon where he landed, so he can keep track. He’s given up recording each mistake in his notes, because there's no pattern to them, and it just annoys him further to see the neatly organized list of his many failures. Genma isn’t one to get frustrated easily, but after two months of trial and error where error is the only outcome, he’s reaching the end of even his lengthy tether.

Focus, he chides himself, looks at the marker, and reaches


Well. At least he’s getting faster about failing, Genma thinks, trying to find some humor in the situation as he untangles himself from the branches of yet another tree.

And to make everything better, Naruto is getting unhappier and unhappier as the days go on.

With a low, sharp huff of frustration, Genma finds his feet and drives his fist into the trunk of the tree he handed in, blowing a crater in the bark and sending chips of wood flying. He doesn’t understand it. For a month, everything was fine. But now Naruto is quiet more often than not, refuses to train with him, and spends more time on his own than with the rest of them. Kotetsu, Izumo, and Iruka also seem worried, though he’s heard them halfheartedly trying to dismiss it as a child’s moodiness.

But Genma knew Minato, knows exactly what shade melancholy turned his blue eyes, and seeing it in Naruto now just aches.

I didn’t make it in time. He knows I should have come for him five years ago, but didn’t, and he hates me for it.

Turn, barely even looking to find the target after so many attempts, reach

“Gods fucking damn it,” Genma swears, catching himself just before he can slam headfirst into a tree trunk. His palms sting with their harsh impact against the rough bark, and there's a trickle of wetness down his wrist that means he’s broken the skin. “Fucking hell!”

A hand appears in his range of vision, offering a square of gauze, and Genma looks up, startled. Gai is watching him, dark brows knitted with concern as he crouches beside his genin teammate.

“Are you all right, Genma?” he asks worriedly. “It’s been a very long time since I saw you this unhappy, my friend.”

Genma sits up, starts to run a hand through his tangled hair, and remembers the blood on his palm at the last second. With a sigh, he accepts the gauze and presses it against the cut, wearily letting his head fall back against the trunk. “Yeah,” he manages. “Thanks, Gai, but I’ll be fine. I'm just—not getting anywhere, and it’s frustrating.”

Gai of all people knows just what such a confession means, coming from Genma, and his eyes soften with sympathy. He reaches out, tilting Genma's head forward and to the right to get a better look at the knot he’s sporting. Judging by the controlled lift of his brows, it’s as impressive as it feels.

“You should put ice on this,” he advises, then looks Genma over and chuckles. “Or maybe bathe in it. What youthful determination you have, my friend, to have pushed yourself this far!”

Genma manages a faint smile in response, because yeah, he’s more bruise than skin at this point, and ice isn’t going to help much. Maybe two hours ago, but he’s been working too long now. “I'm not sure it’s ‘youthful determination’ so much as idiotic stubbornness, Gai,” he corrects his former teammate tiredly. “And I think I'm reaching even the end of that. Maybe this just—wasn’t meant for me.”

Gai shifts, settling down beside him on the ground, and studies him thoughtfully. People always forget that Gai's got a streak of brilliant, almost terrifying awareness to him, hidden under the green jumpsuit and the bowl-cut. Granted, the younger man doesn’t show it often, but his serious side is something of which Genma's long since stood in awe. “I believe every one of us has the power to shape our own destiny,” he says seriously, and Genma can hardly look away from the fierce conviction in his dark eyes. “Can or can't is just a matter of deciding on a goal with our whole heart, and once you have decided, there is no one else who can say what is within your abilities. Do you believe that the Nidaime’s technique is beyond your grasp, Genma?”

Of course Gai knows what he’s doing. All of his friends seem to, lately, though he didn’t tell any of them. He’s had more than one person, well-meaning and concerned with his growing number of bruises, advise him to tone down his training, or maybe focus on something else until he’s stronger, and…

Maybe he’s been letting that, on top of so many failures and Naruto's growing distance, finally get to him.

He uses his clean hand to brush his bangs out of his eyes, takes a deep breath, and looks up to meet Gai's gaze again. “No,” he says, and is almost surprised to find he means it. “I—no. I can do this. I can. I just have to figure out how.”

Gai beams at him, white teeth flashing, and gives him a double thumbs-up. “Yes! In this hour of springtime, with the conviction of youth behind you, you will not fail! I have much faith in your prowess as a proud shinobi of Konoha, my friend!”

Genma laughs. It feels like the first time he’s done so in weeks, and eases the tight knot that’s been growing around his heart. Reaching out, he hooks a hand around Gai's nape and pulls him in to gently bump their foreheads together. “Thanks, Gai,” he says fondly, closing his eyes. “I'm really damn lucky to have you as a friend, you know that?”

Almost tentatively, Gai cups the back of Genma's head in return. There's a smile in his voice when he answers, “I feel the same, Genma. You have always supported me and my dreams, even when I could not support myself. Lady Luck smiled on us both when we were assigned our genin teams.”

Genma remembers his first glimpse of his new team, tall gawky Ebisu with his stick-straight posture, one year older, and then a boy three years younger, small but fierce, with a shaggy bowl-cut and a deep-rooted insecurity that no one would believe could belong to the confident man Gai's managed to become. “That she did,” he agrees, smiling to himself. He’d been grieving for the loss of his father in the war, back then, newly made an orphan with no friends and no one to turn to. His team had become his lifeline, even when the war got worse, and they helped him find his feet. They pushed him on, and he pushed back, and it was only through their combined efforts that any of them managed to get where they are today.

With a soft sigh, more contented than anything else, he pulls back to give Gai a crooked grin. “You're a lifesaver,” he says, then glances over to where the wooden marker still sits. It no longer feels like it’s taunting him, though, which is probably a step in the right direction. “I don’t suppose you have any stunning insight as to why the hell I can't get this to work like it’s supposed to?”

The drag of Gai's fingers over Genma's scalp as the younger man draws away is almost startling, it’s been so long since anyone touched his hair like that—touched him like that. When he glances back, though, Gai is frowning at the marker as well, expression thoughtful.

“When I am struggling with a taijutsu sequence,” he says slowly, “I have often found that it is best to return to the most basic sequence and build from there, even if it feels like going backwards. Sometimes the change in perspective allows you to see the flaws in your attempt with clearer eyes.”

Genma opens his mouth to protest that he has been trying the simplest version of the Hiraishin—a jump of barely ten meters, using a stationary marker, with no distractions and nothing between him and his target but empty space—and then…stops.


Because he’s been using the simplest version of Minato's technique, yes, but Minato wasn’t the one to invent it, was he? And because Genma's been so focused on learning the Hiraishin as the Yondaime used it, he’s never even bothered to look at what the difference might be between Minato's style and Tobirama’s. That’s doubtless where his error lies, and to think that he missed something so simple because he was caught up in frustration and guilt is just…ridiculous.

“You're brilliant, Gai,” he says fervently. “Goddamn, you beautiful genius you.”

Maybe it’s because he’s spent the majority of the last five years pretty much solely around his wards, with whom he’s always tactile and affectionate, but Genma doesn’t even think about his next actions. With a huff of grateful laughter, he leans forward, kisses Gai soundly on the forehead, and then pushes to his feet, heading for where he abandoned his notes.

“Thanks,” he calls, waving over his shoulder. “I owe you dinner for this. Just let me know when you're free, okay?”

For once, Gai is quite a bit slower climbing to his feet, and it takes a second for him to answer. “Of course, my friend,” he says, oddly bright, and raises a hand in farewell as Genma turns with his things in hand.

For one half-second before a shunshin takes him away, Genma thinks he sees the faintest trace of red on his former teammate’s cheeks. In the face of his new lead, though, he files it away for future contemplation and heads for the library at top speed.



(A little before dusk, Kakashi wanders past Training Ground Nine with his nose buried in the newest Icha Icha book. He’s not deliberately putting himself out in the open so Gai can see and challenge him to another inane contest; whoever thinks so is deluded and likely suffering from some sort of head trauma. He’s just—walking. Walking is healthy. It has nothing to do with the fact that Gai is his friend [he’s definitely not] or that Kakashi gets any amusement and/or satisfaction out of their contests [he most certainly doesn’t].

Still, when a good five minutes of Kakashi meandering around the small field have passed without him being pounced on by Konoha's Beautiful Green Beast, he decides it’s high time he put his shinobi training to good use and lifts his head to scan the area for threats.

What he sees instead is Gai. Moping.

Kakashi almost drops his book.

He doesn’t rush over to the other man’s side, because that’s just not his style, but he moves at a fairly rapid amble nevertheless. Gai is seated on a wide, flat stump, elbows propped on his knees and chin in his hands, staring up at the sky as it’s streaked with colors by the setting sun. There's a distance to his expression that’s definitely not normal, and all around the meadow are scuffs, scrapes, and dents, as if something the size and shape of a human body had impacted the ground and trees repeatedly.

Was there some kind of fight? Did a spar get out of hand? Kakashi studies his rival carefully, but beyond the weird look on his face he can't see anything different. Genjutsu, maybe? But no, Gai can break most genjutsus, and not even the Sharingan can usually catch him.

“Gai?” he asks, after another long minute of complete obliviousness from his self-proclaimed greatest rival.

Gai blinks, straightens, and beams at him like a switch has been flipped. If anything, it’s even brighter and more perky than normal. “Ah, Kakashi, my Eternal Rival! Isn’t this the most glorious day of our youth? Have you ever seen one more splendid?” He throws his arms wide, as through preparing the embrace the world [Kakashi takes a prudent step back], and grins goofily up at the sky. “Ah! I feel as though my heart has swelled to bursting, and the skies cannot contain the boundlessness of my joy! The flower of love has bloomed in my heart!”

“Er,” Kakashi says. It’s a fairly common reaction to Gai.

And then it clicks. Gai isn’t moping. He’s mooning.

Oh gods. Kakashi is so very, very unprepared to deal with this.

He takes three rapid steps back, preparing to flee, but before he can Gai starts talking again, and a horrified sort of curiosity freezes Kakashi in place.

“If only everyone had a heart so large as my beloved’s, the world would be a kinder place by far,” he sighs, dropping his chin into his hands again. His eyes are still eerily…gooey. Kakashi really can't think of a better term for them. “Taking in unwanted orphans, caring for them like a mother, loving them so completely—truly, a figure like no other! And youthful determination, so unbending! Good humor, unceasing as a river! Warm eyes, as brown as the earth! Lips as soft as…” He trails off, flushing faintly, then turns on Kakashi with stars all but visible in his eyes. “Oh, my Eternal Rival, I hope someday the Stirrings of Love grace you with this feeling for someone special as well! It is truly incomparable!”

“…Right,” Kakashi says, taking another two steps back. “I’ll get on that, then.”

He really, really doesn’t want to think about Gai and lips—Gai's or anyone else’s—in the same sentence. Not ever. Though it does make him wonder just who it is Gai could be so infatuated with, to have already kissed them.

Bringing his book up again, he hides his face behind it, turns on his heel, and heads for the village proper, running through a list of every funny, motherly, brown-eyed girl he knows. Not that he cares, but if Gai gets his heart broken he really will be moping everywhere, and Kakashi doesn’t want to deal with that.

Better to just…check things out while there's still time to head disaster off at the pass.)



The answer is so stupidly, blindingly simple that Genma kind of wants to throttle himself for not figuring it out before.

Minato and Tobirama both used the same technique, yes, and almost everything about their execution of it is identical. What isn’t identical is the target seal each used, and as soon as Genma sets eyes on a rendition of the one Tobirama started with, he understands his mistake.

When he, Raidou, and Iwashi all work together, they can focus enough that it doesn’t matter that the seal they're teleporting towards is Minato's and not theirs. The chakra of three jounin-level bodyguards is enough to power right through the subtle wrongness and land them near their target, though it does answer Genma's question of why the three of them together need to use so much chakra while he alone barely feels the drain of over a dozen jumps.

But one person, using the Hiraishin alone, needs to have a target seal tailored to their chakra, their mind. Genma doesn’t know why Minato chose the string of seals he did for his marker, though he vaguely remembers something about Kushina (he’d tuned the Hokage out almost immediately after that, in sheer self-defense; Minato could talk about Kushina for hours once he got started) and some of the first seals they’d worked on together. From what he can tell, Tobirama’s was a modified version of the Senju Clan’s crest.

Each one meant something to the man who designed it. Each one was something they recognized on an unconscious level, could jump to with barely a thought, and it makes sense. The marks are tailored to chakra and spirit and mind, and Genma's been clumsily appropriating someone else’s this whole time. Minato's technique formula means nothing to him; he has no understanding of it, no special attachment. There's no reason for the Hiraishin to spit him out there instead of a million other places in the vicinity.

What he needs is a seal of his own, and though Genma's not exactly an artist, he already has a good idea of what he wants it to be.

He keeps a metal engraving kit in his weapons pouch, for sending coded messages with his senbon, and drags it out now. Laying out a handful of bright new senbon on the couch cushions in front of him, he sits back and surveys them, trying to settle the details in his mind. It can't be anything too close to an existing symbol, because then it won't be his, but…he can base it off something that means a lot to him. And for all his aloofness, Genma is a Konoha shinobi down to his very core. He loves his village, loves the people in it. Loves four of them in particular, and a handful of others who come close second. So…a leaf.

Simple lines, no spiral, but it’s unmistakably Konoha's symbol. And just to add a little more meaning, Genma encloses it in a diamond of four straight lines, deep and steady. One for each of the boys who have a piece of his heart, who are his reason for coming home and have been since the very first day he met them.

It’s difficult, fitting all of that on a slender senbon, but Genma has steady hands. Could have been a medic-nin, if it weren’t for that fact that he’s a lot better at killing people than saving them. He etches each tiny line into the metal, feeling settled and steady, centered. Another senbon, three, more and more until he’s set the symbol down on each one, touched them all with just the faintest trace of his chakra and will, and he knows. Knows that this will work, that this is the step forward he needs to finally succeed.

In a motion full of finality, Genma takes a rag and scrubs the ink of Minato's marking from his shoulder, where he’d drawn it right below his ANBU tattoo. Then he fetches his best ink, his best brush, and replaces it with his own, and finally feels complete.

“Thanks, Gai,” he murmurs into the quiet stillness of his apartment, smiling to himself. He really owes his friend dinner for this.

The front door creaks as it opens, and Genma looks up. There's a quiet mumble, nothing at all like Kotetsu, Izumo, and Iruka's loud cries of “I'm home!” and Genma knows immediately who it is. “Welcome back,” he says, smiling as a head of brilliant blond hair ducks around the doorway. “Are you hungry, Naruto?”

But his smile fades quickly, because Naruto won't meet his eyes. The little boy clutches at the strap of his schoolbag, eyes fixed on his toes, and Genma can see the deep breath he takes before he finally looks up.

Do you really hate me that much? Genma thinks, feeling something cold and infinitely regretful twist through his gut.

“Sorry!” Naruto says, and it’s the exact same sort of expression Genma saw from him the first time they met. That smile is wide and bright, but goes nowhere near his eyes, which are entirely miserable. “Hokage-jiji said I can stay in the Mansion with him for a few days, and maybe he’ll even let me try on his hat!”

Well, there's literally no way that Genma can compete with the Sandaime, or even the representation of Naruto's dream. He runs a finger over one of his newly engraved senbon, thumb unerringly finding the upper right line of the diamond, and then nods. “Sounds like you’ll have fun,” he says, and is careful to keep his tone warm. “Do you need help packing your clothes?”

As he expected, Naruto shakes his head, already turning away. “Nope,” he says, and the cheer in it grates at Genma's nerves, at his guilt and grief, though he’ll never let it show. “I can do it. Bye, Genma!”

“Bye, squirt,” Genma sighs, but Naruto is already off and running for his room, and the goodbye means he won't be stopping on his way back.

Gods, but it aches.

He’s failed Minato twice over now, failed to save him and failed to save his son, and though Genma hasn’t cried since he was five years old, this is almost enough to make him. He loved Minato, loves Naruto in his own right and as a reminder of his brilliant father, and to know that he’s let both of them down so completely is almost enough to drive him back to the aching, empty self-loathing Kotetsu first broke him out of.

The door slams, loud in the sudden silence, and Genma tries not to believe that it sounds terrifyingly final, like a coffin falling shut.



He dreams of children dead by his hand, bodies sprawled on the frozen ground of a midnight forest in the depths of winter. Blood is freezing cherry-red across the ground, small bodies scattered amidst the larger ones, and it’s all his doing. It’s all his fault, and when he turns to run Minato is watching him with horror on his face. Genma takes a step towards him, groping for words, for explanations, but Minato takes a step back and that stills him in his tracks.

“You think I taught you my Hiraishin for this?” Minato demands, and Genma can find no words to defend himself, self-disgust freezing them in his throat the same way the blood is freezing on the ground. “Do you really think I could care for you after this, Genma? You're a murderer.”

“You’d touch my son with those hands?”

“You’d mark him with the blood of innocent children?”


Genma's breath catches in his throat, tears at his lungs like knives, and he staggers back. His foot hits a body and suddenly he’s falling, tumbling down with a thousand cold hands wrenching at him, dragging him under as Minato's words echo in his ears, repeating like a maddening mantra.

Murderer, murderer, murderer.

You’d touch my son with those hands?

He chokes on a scream, and doesn’t breathe again.



“—ma! Genma! Genma!”

Instinct takes over even before he opens his eyes, and Genma tries to fling himself out of bed, reaching for the senbon on his nightstand. But strong hands drag him back, hold him down, and Genma's eyes snap open as his heartbeat thunders into triple-time, breath all knotted up in his throat. Iruka is leaning over him, eyes wide and worried, and there's a messenger hawk perched on the foot of the bed, watching him with a predator’s sharp golden eyes.

He inhales, feels it shudder through him, and then breathes out, trying to release the tension that’s left him wound up and buzzing with adrenaline. One of his hands curls over Iruka's on his shoulder, gripping hard, but instantly he remembers dead children and lets go, terrified that he’ll bruise the teenager, leave a mark and—and hurt him somehow, because he’s already failed two people who depended on him so much, so why not all the others while he’s at it?

But Iruka's mouth pulls into a stubborn line, just as bad as Genma has ever been, and he seizes Genma's hand again, gripping it in return. It’s grounding, that tightness, a relief, and Genma gives a grateful huff, tipping forward to drop his forehead against Iruka's chest. A strong arm wraps around his shoulders and lips press against the top of his head, and Genma inhales, exhales, and feels marginally more human as the nightmare’s terror fades, blunted by reality.

It was stupid, and he knows that. Minato killed his fair share with the Hiraishin, practically won them the war because of it. It’s not like the Yondaime had no blood on his hands, or didn’t understand a shinobi’s work. But—

But Genma has always, always felt as though he failed Minato when he slipped from bodyguard to assassin, and with Naruto's growing resentment, with the boy’s departure, things just kind of…snowballed.

“Thanks,” he whispers.

Iruka just tightens his grip, fingers brushing Genma's bare nape in a comforting stroke. “You haven’t had one that bad in a long time,” he says anxiously. “Is there—what’s wrong?”

Genma shakes his head. “Stress,” he dismisses, pulling back, and finally registers what Iruka's presence means. “I thought you were spending the night with Mizuki. Something happen?”

Iruka's mouth resettles into that stubborn line and he shakes his head. “I can't be friends with him anymore,” he says mulishly. “He kept—saying things, about Kotetsu and Izumo. About Naruto, and about you, and it was like—like poison. I'm not going to put up with it anymore. It’s better this way. If he can't respect my family, he was never the person I thought he was.”

Genma's never liked the little prick, so he doesn’t try to argue. Instead, he pulls Iruka down beside him on the bed, wrapping an arm around his waist and tugging him close, and then shifts his gaze to the hawk still waiting patiently. There's a red band wrapped around one leg, and Genma grounds himself against Iruka's warmth for one more moment before pushing to his feet and reaching for his gear.

“Go to Kotetsu and Izumo's place,” he tells his ward. “I don’t want you alone right now.”

“What about Naruto?” Iruka asks, watching as he pulls on his uniform.

The name feels like a needle in his heart, and Genma turns away, studying the porcelain mask hanging at the back of his closet to hide his reaction. There's no need for his ANBU gear—the message would have had a black edging if this was that kind of summons—but Genma's specialty is assassination, so that means little.

It’s stupid and juvenile, but after that dream, he wishes that the Hokage would just pick someone else. Anyone else.

“He’s staying at the Hokage Mansion for the next couple of days,” he manages, and it almost sounds normal. “Sarutobi-sama will look after him, don’t worry.”

Iruka just nods, but his eyes are full of concern when Genma turns back, tying on his bandana and settling his flak jacket. His weapons are spread out on the low table by the wall, and he hesitates for a moment over which bundles of senbon to take. Finally, after a long moment, he picks up the marked ones and slips several up his sleeve, hides another handful in various seams, and tucks the rest into his weapons pouch with two bundles of his regular poisoned ones. The last one of those with the seal he tucks into the corner of his mouth, and finally feels a little more like himself.

“You’ll be okay,” he says softly, leaning forward to kiss Iruka's forehead. “Don’t know how you got so strong, Iruka, but you're amazing.”

Wrapping his arms around Genma's torso, Iruka hugs him tightly, then lets go and smiles. “I’ll tell Kotetsu and Izumo it was urgent,” he says. “Stay safe, Genma.”

Genma presses his cheek against dark hair, breathes in the scent of Iruka's shampoo, and then carefully pulls away. “Same to you, brat,” he murmurs, reaching out to tweak Iruka's nose, and gets an offended huff in return. With a laugh, he steps away, opening the window into the cool night. The hawk swoops out and Genma immediately follows, leaping over the rooftops in the pale light of the thin crescent moon.

When he slides into the Hokage's office, silent as a ghost, he’s surprised to see two familiar faces waiting for him. Kakashi, his silver hair nowhere near as perky as normal, is slouched against the arm of one of the guest chairs, and Yuuhi Kurenai is standing with her arms crossed over her chest, brows lifted slightly as she studies him.

“Well,” she says, shifting her red eyes from Genma to the seated Hokage. “This is quite the mixed squad you’ve picked, Hokage-sama.”

Sarutobi smiles at Genma, who smirks crookedly in return, slipping over to stand between his two teammates. Apparently this won't be a solo assassination run, he thinks, and the relief feels like champagne bubbles in his chest.

“That it is,” the Hokage agrees, rising to his feet. He passes a scroll to Kakashi, who takes it and unrolls it. “However, given that there are several unknown factors regarding this mission, I felt a range of skills would only be helpful. You all know each other’s specialties, even if you haven’t worked together before. Kakashi is squad captain, and Genma is his second. Another squad has disappeared near the border of Hot Springs Country two days ago, and you are to locate and retrieve them by any means possible.” He leans over the maps spread out on his desk, tapping a point near the border. “This is their last known location. Good luck, and use haste.”

That gets him three salutes in varying levels of neatness, and Genma's teammates file out of the room. He pauses in front of the Hokage, though, watching the door close before he says softly, “Hokage-sama, is Naruto…?”

“Safe and well,” Sarutobi assures him gently. “Asleep in my guest room at the moment. Would you like me to pass on a message for you?”

Genma hesitates, then shakes his head. “No,” he says finally. “I should be back before he’s home, and I don’t want to worry him. But…if he asks, let him know where I am?”

The Hokage nods, and Genma gives him a crooked smile before heading for the door. Kurenai and Kakashi are waiting patiently, and Genma nods his thanks as he catches up.

“Ready to go?” Kakashi asks disinterestedly, then leaps for the rooftops without waiting for an answer. Genma and Kurenai share an exasperated glance but follow after him, over the wall and into the darkness of the surrounding forest at a loping run.



“Kumo,” Genma says, making it a curse. He straightens from where he’s studying the marks of the fight and looks to his leader for agreement.

Kakashi nods slowly, eye fixed on the charred lightning burns marring the tree in front of him. “More than one lightning user,” he confirms. “Odds are it’s a whole squad from Kumo.”

“But why take a Konoha squad?” Kurenai asks, unearthing a kunai that’s been half-buried in the mud. Her mouth tightens, and she holds it up for their inspection. Definitely Konoha make. There's no question that they're looking at the scene of their shinobi’s disappearance. “They were only here on an escort mission, right?”

Genma arches a brow at Kakashi, who raises one right back, but tosses over the scroll with the mission details nevertheless. With a nod of thanks, Genma unrolls it and takes in the details he’d skimmed over before. “Yeah, but I find it kind of suspicious that they got grabbed by Kumo nin while escorting a merchant from Lightning Country,” he counters dryly. “My nose isn’t quite as good as a Hatake’s, but I think I smell a trap.”

Kakashi snorts softly, dropping into a crouch and dragging his fingers over the damp earth. He brings them to his nose and sniffs carefully, then makes a face and shakes the mud off. “Genma's right,” he agrees. “And they were definitely grabbed. There's not enough blood on the ground for them to have been killed and the bodies hidden. There's barely enough for a normal fight, actually.”

“An ambush,” Kurenai sums up, rising to her feet and dusting off her hands. “So, do we track these bastards down, or do we draw them out?”

Genma glances at Kakashi, whose specialty is tracking, and watches the man scan the small copse. It’s been raining enough, if intermittently, that Genma doesn’t have much hope that any scents are lingering.

“There are hills over there,” he offers, tipping his head in the direction of them. “I've been in ‘em before. Smugglers used to carve out whole networks of caves, but on the Daimyo’s orders we smoked the crews out a few years ago. I bet they're still abandoned. Might be our best bet at this point.”

Kakashi hesitates slightly, then nods. “I won't pick up a scent in this weather,” he affirms. “And they were smart enough not to leave a visible trail. Let’s go, but keep an eye out. We might as well be in enemy territory right now.”

Genma fingers one of his marked senbon as he follows on Kakashi's right, Kurenai at his shoulder. The scattered stands of trees don’t do much for concealment, but are just frequent enough to impede visibility, and it’s making his hair stand on end. He doesn’t like this, and likes even less that Raidou is one of those missing. It’s a low-level gnawing in his gut, worry all twisted up with duty, but he pushes it down, tucks it away to deal with later and focuses on the mission. Aoba is missing too, as is Hayate, and they're both friends as well. Genma's not about to let his emotions get in the way of finding them.

He’s on edge, senses straining, so maybe that’s why he hears them first. It’s a bare scuff, just the faintest edge of sound out of place, but it’s enough of a warning for Genma to spin, spitting his senbon automatically. Charged with chakra, it slams into an incoming kunai and knocks it away, and before the Kumo nin can even register that he’s been made, Genma is on him, driving another senbon into a pressure point and making him drop like a rock.

Behind him, Kurenai hisses out a jutsu, and another Kumo nin screams. Kakashi bounds past Genma, tantō sweeping out in a disemboweling strike, but three more shinobi descend on Genma before he can see the follow-up. He ducks, leaps back, and throws three more senbon, two tipped with a particularly nasty neurotoxin and one etched with his new seal, and then has to dive away from the crackle of lightning flying past his ear. He lands on one hand, flips over, and strikes a kunoichi feet-first and knocks her down. A quick jab at a pressure point knocks her out, and Genma looks up just in time to see Kakashi's rapid flicker of a hand signal.

Play dead, it reads, because they're meant to be standardized, easy to remember, but Genma translates that with the lens of their current fight and knows Kakashi wants them to surrender. They can doubtless escape once they're closer to the base and have an idea of where they're going; after all, very, very few bonds can hold a pair of ANBU, and Kurenai is formidable in her own right. Even better, if they get captured, the Kumo nin will likely underestimate them, making it all the easier to turn the tables on them.

So Genma gets sloppy. He lets the next nin scratch him, barely ducks a kenjutsu user’s sword, and allows the four who have cornered him to herd him backwards, towards a rocky outcropping. Right before his back hits the stone, Genma makes one more show of trying to get free, lunging forward and flinging a handful of barely-aimed senbon, and the leftmost man goes down with a cry. Instantly, there's rock at his back and a sword at his throat, and Genma raises his hands in surrender, meeting the Kumo nin’s victorious grin with narrowed eyes.

“Konoha's best, huh?” the man says derisively, flicking a finger against the spiral sewn onto the arm of his uniform shirt, and Genma glares in response but says nothing.

Then the man pulls out a pair of metal cuffs marked with seals, and Genma tenses. Those were definitely not part of the plan.

Apparently they’ve been underestimating their opponents, too, which is just like Genma's sucky luck lately.

The man grins cruelly, even as his companions spin Genma around and wrench his arms behind his back. “Chakra-sealing,” he says, confirming Genma's fears. “To keep you nice and complacent, kid. Try not to struggle—that just makes it worse.”

Where the hell did Kumo manage to get a thing like that? As far as Genma's heard from R&D, those kinds of cuffs are still ridiculously experimental, mostly left over from Orochimaru’s experiments on prisoners of war. He’s seen a couple of attempts made to finish them, but the results are always either too strong, killing the captive, or too weak, letting them escape. But these—these are somewhere in between, and Genma can feel the drain already. He grits his teeth even as his captors haul him up between them, and curses their plan. And whatever bastard researcher decided that chakra-eating cuffs were a good idea. If he needed another reason to hate Orochimaru—

Across the battlefield, held between two men easily twice his size, Kakashi meets his gaze, visible eye narrowed unhappily, and Genma knows he’s thinking something similar. Kurenai is still struggling, and as Genma watches she kicks one of her captors in the nuts, headbutts him as he starts to collapse, and then delivers an absolutely glorious roundhouse kick to the second shinobi’s ass. He goes flying with a yelp and Kurenai dives for the trees, already fighting against her cuffs.

Obligingly, Genma slams an elbow into the gut of the man on his right, pulls a senbon from his sleeve, and stabs the second man in the thigh. A round of cries from his left reveals that Kakashi's getting in on the distraction idea as well, making the remaining Kumo nin redouble their efforts to hold back the two men. The leader shouts an order, gesturing for a pair to go after Kurenai, and then jerks back to avoid the kick Genma aims at his jaw. Genma smirks at him, fumbling for another senbon, and sees the man’s expression tighten with fury. A big fist comes up, clenched and already swinging, and the last thing Genma sees before blackness explodes behind his eyes is six shinobi dogpiling Kakashi as he tries to get away.



A shock of cold water brings Genma back to his senses. He goes tense, feeling hands holding him down, rough stone under his knees, and shakes the liquid off his face. A glance up shows the leader looming on front of him, fury still entirely intact, and Kakashi on his left. Behind them is a cell with three familiar faces inside, silent but angry, and even though Genma wants to he doesn’t let his gaze linger on his friends.

“Who’s the leader here?” the Kumo nin demands. He glances between Kakashi, who’s more famous, and Genma, who’s older, with narrowed eyes. When no response is forthcoming, he growls, “Answer me, or I start cutting off fingers!”

Genma licks his lips, remembering the protocol for situations like this. Whoever has more training resisting interrogation takes the fall, and Genma knows that in this situation, it’s him. He’s helped T&I more than once, knows the methods, and usually works alone. He’s had enough training to know how to keep his mouth shut. Kakashi, for all his genius, usually gets stuck with a squad, where resistance techniques aren’t usually as necessary.

He closes his eyes, thinks of Kotetsu, Izumo, Iruka, and Naruto the last time he saw them all together, sprawled out in his living room with grins and laughter, and lets the image give him enough strength to open his mouth and say, “I am.”

Behind him, Raidou sucks in a breath, but says nothing.

Kakashi, too, is utterly silent.

The hands holding him drag him to his feet, making his head spin at the sudden movement. Genma grits his teeth and doesn’t try to fight, instead turning his attention on shoring up his will, building his mental defenses. Kumo must want information on something, but Genma's not about to give them a single damn thing.

“Throw the Copy-Nin in the cell with the rest of them,” the leader orders. “And send out another detachment to find the girl. We can't have her taking word back. Mori, Takagi, get to work.”

It’s only then that Genma realizes none of them are wearing a hitai-ate, and the realization is just as much a cold shock as the water that woke him. No hitai-ate means Kumo doesn’t have to acknowledge them. Even if word gets back to Konoha, and the village demands reparations, Kumo can claim these men were just missing-nin acting alone.

Duty, Genma thinks as he’s dragged away, gritting his teeth against a surge of helpless fury. Duty, honor, for the village’s sake.

I can do this.

I will.

He doesn’t look back, doesn’t let himself waver, because he has a reason to make it home. He has four, and they're the best reasons in the world.



(Kotetsu sits curled on the wide window seat, Izumo's arms around him, as another night falls without any change. They're in Genma's apartment because there's nowhere else that feels like home, like safe, and that’s what they need most right now.

His head resting on Kotetsu's thigh, Iruka shifts slightly, and Kotetsu drops his hand on top of the younger boy’s hair the way Genma always does, a vain attempt to mimic the comfort the gesture usually brings. Iruka gives him a wan smile, but none of them can be Genma's substitute, no matter how much they try.

The Hokage came to them two nights ago to say that Genma's squad was four days late returning, and had been out of contact for almost a week. He was sending another squad to find them, but—

A week out of contact means only a slim possibility of survival, and Kotetsu and Izumo have been active shinobi long enough to know it. But to think that Genma is out there somewhere, suffering or maybe already dead, drives that point home far better than lectures or overdue acquaintances ever could.

He takes a shaky breath, presses his face into the curve of Izumo's shoulder, and tries not to cry. Genma is their safety, their steadiness, their savior. Genma was the one who took them in when the world was crumbling, and to think of him not coming back

It aches. It aches and burns and tears him apart inside.

Distant but familiar, the sound of the door opening pulls him out of his daze, and Kotetsu lifts his head in time to see a blond head poke around the corner, blue eyes widening at the sight of the three of them so miserable. Naruto hesitates, looking around the room, and then tentatively crosses the floor to stand in front of them.

“Are you okay?” he asks, solemn and worried, and it’s nearly enough to break Kotetsu's composure. Because Genma could be dying, and yet they're the ones being asked that, and Naruto's been with the Hokage so he doesn’t know

Izumo tries for a smile and falls miles short. “We’re fine, Naruto. It’s just—Genma's late coming back from a mission, and even the Hokage doesn’t know if he’s okay.”

The bag Naruto is carrying drops to the ground, unheeded, and he stares at them with wide, horrified eyes. “What?” he whispers, and his voice trembles.

They don’t have any words of comfort, not for each other and not for him, but Iruka sits up and opens his arms, and Naruto throws himself into them with a sob that’s half words.

Monster, Kotetsu can just make out. Protect Genma, not a traitor, bring him back.

So that’s the reason, then. Kotetsu closes his eyes, wiping away a few tears of his own, and tries to breath past the crushing weight. He knows what Genma thought, knows the reason for the edge of grief in Genma's eyes each time he looked at Naruto recently, and this—this will make it all better.

As soon as Genma gets back, they can be a whole family again, just the way they used to be.

As soon as Genma gets back, everything will be fine.)



Every nerve is alight, and there's a fine tremor running intermittently through his muscles, forcing him to grit his teeth and ride it out. Kumo nin are, perhaps predictably, both fond of and skilled with Raiton jutsus, and Genma's getting tired of it.

They want to know about Konoha's defenses. They want information on the Hyuuga compound, specifically, but Genma hasn’t given them a damn thing.

He’s not sure how long it’s been, but the interrogators are taking a break at the moment, as they tend to do at irregular intervals, and Genma can hear them talking in low voices beyond the door of the small room. He’s grateful for the pause, because his head is spinning and his heart is racing too fast to be healthy, and trying to think of a way out right now is hard enough without any distractions beyond the physical discomfort.

Taking a careful breath, Genma tips his head back against the stone wall and tries to get his brain working. The cuffs are gone, replaced with ropes so as not to carry the electrical current, but he’s been stripped of his uniform and even his hitai-ate, leaving him without any of his concealed senbon. The muscle tremors mean his taijutsu isn’t going to be so hot either, if he can even manage to stand, and though Genma is trained to target pressure points and kill with a touch, he doesn’t trust himself to hit them accurately right now.

So. Chakra but no weapons, physical weakness but no guards in the room. Almost certain death if he stays where he is, and four of his friends in need of rescue. Five, if they’ve managed to recapture Kurenai. Those are…not great odds, honestly.

Another tremor rips through him, hard enough to hurt, and Genma jerks his head back, cracking his skull into the wall. The new pain distracts him just enough that he doesn’t cry out, and he breathes through the rest of the aftershock with his teeth tightly clenched. Iruka setting the table, he thinks dazedly, trying to cling to something solid in his memories. Kotetsu helping cook, and sneaking his fingers into the sauce whenever he thinks he can get away with it. Izumo perched on the edge of the counter with a book, but smiling at the rest of them instead of reading. Naruto, underfoot and trying to be helpful, until Genma scoops him up and lets him sit on his shoulders.

Four boys. Four sides of the diamond, with the heart of the village at their center.

The pieces connect.

Ah, Genma thinks, and isn’t sure whether it’s relieved satisfaction or the end of the tremor that lets his muscles finally relax. The odds still suck, but…maybe they're a little better now. Just a touch, but it means Genma has a chance. And for a shinobi, for a Konoha shinobi with something to fight for, one chance is more than enough.

There hasn’t been an opportunity to test the Hiraishin with this new target seal, but…Genma has faith. It will work. He can feel it in his bones.

He closes his eyes, relaxing against the ropes that hold him, and focuses. Just a touch of chakra, slow and steady, like a length of ninja wire drawn from a spool. Not gripped too tightly, but not so loosely as to slip from his grasp, either. Genma pulls it up, touches it to the seal inked on his arm, and then reaches.

Like sparks of light behind his closed eyelids, he can see each senbon he’s etched with the seal. There are several dozen in the next room, where he’s guessing they dropped his equipment, and a handful scattered much farther away—likely the ones he used in the fight before they were captured. None with Kakashi and the others, and Genma makes a mental note to plant some on his teammates next time he’s on a mission. It would save him, and them, a lot of grief.

For a moment, he considers aiming for the ones he used before, but dismisses the idea just as quickly. If he can take their captors by surprise, there's no reason to break all the way out when he’ll just have to turn around and fight his way back in. And this way, he’ll have a concentration of target seals to teleport to, rather than a scattered handful, which will increase his odds of it actually working.

Like a lightning rod, he thinks, remember Tobirama’s notes. Chakra to your seal, and then let your target draw it in, like lightning redirected by the rod. Touch, reach—

In a flash of yellow light, Genma opens his eyes, hands finally free, and uses every ounce of speed left in him to move.

Three shinobi, the leader and the two interrogators, and they're even helpfully standing together. Genma slides smooth and swift between them, relishing the shock on their faces, and jabs stiffened fingers into pressure points, sweeping their legs out from under them as they start to fall. They hit the ground hard, unmoving, and Genma scoops up his weapons pouch and retrieves three of his poisoned senbon, stabbing them deep into major arteries. They’ll be dead within minutes, and the only thing Genma feels is vindictively satisfied.

He’s shaking, he catalogues clinically as he straightens, already reaching for his clothes. There's a fine tremble in his muscles, and even his ever-steady hands are a little less reliable than normal. Still, he can make do. Senbon are small, and if he targets the center of mass, that’s a big mark, and allows for his aim being a bit off. The poison should take care of the rest.

The biggest letdown is that he can't manage to tie his hitai-ate, and he gives it a grimace before tucking it into his flak jacket and ineffectually brushing his fringe out of his eyes. It’s a bit too long for comfort, given that he needs every possibly advantage at the moment, but there's no way he has time to try knotting his bandana right now.

His heart is still racing, far faster than normal even with adrenaline in his system, and there's no way that’s healthy.

Three senbon in hand, with more up his sleeve, Genma slips over to the door, pauses to listen for human sounds, and opens it when there's only silence. The corridor is empty, low-ceilinged and formed from roughly-carved rock, with two openings on the left. Genma recognizes it, remembers chasing a handful of smugglers into this very room, and has to snort softly to himself at the irony. Small world, huh?

His memory of this place’s layout is fairly sketchy, but he can feel the faintest suggestion of a breeze from the second door, and backtracks to take the first. They won't be keeping their prisoners anywhere near the surface, for fear of escape. He steps into the next tunnel, and has half a second to register the presence of another shinobi before one of his etched senbon is already flying.

It’s a move he saw Minato use a thousand times, and he relies on his memories, on the speed he’s taught himself through so many, many failures. A step, a flash of yellow light, and in half a heartbeat he’s behind the woman and turning, poisoned senbon driving deep. She collapses with a choked cry, and doesn’t rise again.

Genma takes a moment to breathe, bracing himself against the wall. Senbon are faster than kunai, more aerodynamic, and he’ll need to adjust for that. It won't be easy, given the way he’s feeling right now, but—

But it’s working. But he’s managed it twice now, and it’s not a fluke. He can use the Flying Thunder God technique, just like Minato. Finally, finally, he’s learned.

Genma laughs softly to himself, flips a senbon through his fingers with only a small falter, then does a quick check to make sure it’s one of the etched ones before he tucks it into his mouth. His steps as he heads down the hall aren’t as quick or as steady as he’d like them to be, but they're still perfectly silent. He takes the next shinobi around the corner unawares and leaves a corpse behind him as he slips through the tunnels, listening for any hint of his friends’ voices.

He clears six rooms, and another two muscle tremors catch him before he finds what he’s looking for. If he remembers correctly, it’s where the smugglers kept their human merchandise, a small cell carved out of the rock with metal bars to block it off from the rest of the room—the same place he woke up after they captured him and Kakashi. There's a guard outside the door, smoking a cigarette, but he’s paying more attention to the clouds of smoke he’s exhaling than his surroundings, and Genma manages to get right up behind him without him noticing. A touch of poison in his carotid artery brings him down immediately, and Genma catches him before he can hit the floor with a thump and give him away.

Pausing to take stock, Genma checks the tunnel again, and forces himself to his feet when he hears nothing. He’s taken out every Kumo nin he’s come across so far, but he highly doubts it was all of them. Someone’s going to start finding bodies soon, and Genma wants to be safely gone by then. But before he can start moving, another tremor takes him, and Genma has to brace his shoulders against the wall and hang on as his muscles twitch and spasm. It hurts, leaves him aching and shaky with pain, his breath labored and short, but he pushes himself up as soon as it starts to fade and moves to the door, pressing his ear against it and listening for any other guards.

What he hears instead is raised voices. Familiar raised voices.

“—really don’t have a single idea? You're the squad leader!”

“Hey, Raidou, chill. We’re all in the same boat here. No chakra, no clothes, no tools, and I don’t see that changing unless you’ve got a couple of lockpicks jammed up your—”

Aoba, of course. Genma rolls his eyes and is just about to push the door open when Raidou growls, “This is not the time for jokes, Yamashiro. Genma is being tortured.”

With a soft sigh, Genma briefly closes his eyes. Yeah. Another reason he could never bring himself to hate Raidou—the only reason he got married was for the good of his clan. He still cares, even if he’s no longer allowed to show it the way he used to.

Aoba says nothing, but after a short pause, Hayate ventures softly, “Genma wouldn’t have volunteered himself unless he thought he could hold out. You should have faith in him, Raidou.”

Raidou makes a quiet, furious noise. “You aren’t going to have to tell his kids if the worst happens! I'm going to have to look them in the eye and tell them that I let the closest thing they have to a father get dragged away and put through hell.”

“You won't,” Kakashi says, quiet but sharp. “I'm the squad leader, and I outrank everyone here. If anything goes wrong, it’s my responsibility. But we need to focus on getting out right now.”

Genma can all but hear Raidou gritting his teeth. “So we’re just going to escape and leave? Genma—”

“Calm down, Namiashi,” Kakashi says coldly. “I know you and Genma are friends, but stop panicking. No one is getting left behind.”

Figuring that’s as good a cue as any, Genma takes a breath, pushes the door open, and steps in. “Well, not unless one of you losers falls behind,” he says cheerfully, watching the way they all jump with amusement. “After all the work I put into this jailbreak, I'm not going to hang around and wait for you.”

“Genma!” Raidou cries, equal parts relief and astonishment, and Genma gives him a crooked smile.

“Always knew my brats scared you more than enemy nin, Rai,” he teases gently, dropping to one knee to study the lock on the cell door. It’s fairly complicated, but shouldn’t take more than a minute to crack.

Raidou snorts, some of the painful tension sliding off his shoulders. Like the other three, he’s been stripped naked and tied up with those chakra cuffs, the links attached to the wall with shiny new bolts. Their captors clearly planned all of this thoroughly. “Of course I am,” the big man huffs. “Enemy nin don’t threaten to castrate me if I ever come within five meters of you again.”

Genma laughs, and when he looks up to do a quick check for general mobility and intact appendages, Kakashi is watching him closely. And a little curiously.

“Those guards were bragging about their methods,” he says after a moment. “But you got out anyways. I didn’t think you had a lightning affinity.”

“Not in the least,” Genma affirms cheerfully, pulling his lock picks out from under the metal plate on his hitai-ate. “And if I never see another Raiton jutsu, it’ll be too soon. But I do have a Thunder God up my sleeve, so it all evens out in the end.”

Kakashi's open eye narrows, but before he can say something Raidou demands, “Genma? You—?”

“Got it to work. Like a charm,” he confirms, and smirks as the lock clicks open. “I don’t think I’ll be earning a fancy nickname until I get it down a bit more, but yeah, I can do the Hiraishin.”

Aoba’s eyebrows shoot up, Hayate makes a startled sound, and both of Kakashi's eyes open wide. Where Genma is used to seeing red, there's black instead, the Sharingan having gone dormant without any chakra to support it. He meets Kakashi's stare, remembering the bright, loudmouthed Uchiha who originally owned half of that gaze, and inclines his head to Minato's student. He gets a slow, thoughtful nod in response, and it feels a little like a benediction.

Getting the cuffs off is even easier than opening the door, and Genma steps back to watch the hall as the other four find their clothes on the table piled with their gear, and then quickly dress and re-arm themselves. As they're finishing, he offers, “I dropped a few markers back where they nabbed us. Up to you, Captain, but I can jump us straight back there and skip whatever forces are left in the tunnels.”

Kakashi turns to study him, tying his hitai-ate over his scarred eye. His mask is already back up, and Genma's willing to bet a month of pay it was the first piece of clothing he put on. “Do you have enough chakra to take all of us?”

Genma considers his levels for a moment, then nods, dropping the senbon in his mouth to the floor. “I’ll have to take each of you separately, but yeah, I think I can do it.”

“Good enough. Take Hayate first,” he orders. “Hayate, Kurenai should be in the area. Try to find some sign of her, but don’t strain yourself looking.”

The sixteen-year-old protests the preferential treatment, but not for long, and Genma wraps an arm around his shoulder without waiting for permission. The sensation of the Hiraishin is already familiar, and it’s the work of a second to land them in by the small copse in a flash of yellow light.

“Okay?” he asks Hayate, who’s started coughing, but the teenager waves him away.

“This is normal,” he manages between bouts. “I'm fine. Get the others.”

Genma hesitates, but good sense overrides his urge to stay. He finds the marker he just left and touches down beside it, like lightning drawn down to earth in a flash of brilliant gold.

Minato's technique is incredible, impossibly fast and elegant. A step can be a single meter or a hundred, through solid stone or empty air, and Genma can feel himself grinning as he lands back in the cave, Aoba and Raidou safely in the field. His head is spinning so much it’s hard for his eyes to focus, his heart still racing, and he had to pause between jumps to fight off another muscle spasm, but he’s got enough chakra and stubbornness left in him for one more try. Still…

“You might be carrying me home, sorry,” he warns Kakashi good-naturedly, even as he has to brace himself against the wall with one forearm. “I think I definitely need to practice a bit more.”

Eight jumps. This will make the ninth. Even knowing Minato could do a hundred sequential jumps without being so much as out of breath, Genma can't help feeling accomplished and just a little bit smug. The shock on Raidou's face when they landed definitely helped.

Before he can move away from the wall, there are shoulders braced against his, a strong back under his arm. Kakashi helps him upright, steadying him when he sways, and says almost gently, “That won't be a problem, Genma. Once more, and then you can rest.”

“Aye, Captain.” Genma gives him a crooked smile, a passing attempt at a salute, and reaches.

A flash of yellow light, and then all he knows is darkness.



Voices wake Kotetsu sometime well after midnight, low but not quite managing to be soft. He blinks his eyes open to find blond hair obscuring his vision, a heavy weight sprawled across his legs, and familiar arms around his waist, and blinks again.

“Careful,” an unfamiliar voice murmurs. “There's no point moving fast when we’re already home.”

“Easy for you to say,” another person answers, muffled like it’s said through gritted teeth. And this one—

This one is familiar.

Kotetsu bolts from his perch, spilling bodies left and right with indignant cries as he goes. He trips over Naruto's abandoned bag, just manages to catch himself on the doorframe, and uses his grip to slingshot himself around corner and into the hallway. Light spilling from the kitchen illuminates the three figures standing there, but Kotetsu only has eyes for the one in the middle.

Genma!” he chokes out, and throws himself forward.

Genma grunts softly at the impact, but doesn’t hesitate to let go of the shinobi holding him up and wrap both arms around Kotetsu's shoulders. “Hey, brat,” he says, impossibly gentle as his fingers slide through Kotetsu's hair. “Missed me?”

“Were you gone?” Kotetsu tries, but it’s a whole mile short of convincing. His voice breaks halfway through and he’s sure he’s shaking, and he’s hugging Genma—Genma, alive and fine and home—so tightly that the stitching on his flak jacket is going to be permanently imprinted on his cheek.

A soft snort, and then a kiss is pressed to the crown of his head, grateful and fond. “Brat,” the man answers, and raises his head. From behind Kotetsu, there's a gasp and three sets of feet flying down the hall, and Kotetsu finally manages to make himself pull away, watching as Genma catches Naruto in his arms and hoists him up, then wraps his free arm around Izumo and curls his hand around Iruka's nape, holding all three of them close.

“Genma,” Izumo whispers, shoulders shaking, and Genma hushes him gently, rubbing Naruto's back as the little boy squeezes him tightly.

“I’ll be okay,” Genma tells them, meeting Kotetsu's eyes with a smile. “I’ll be just fine, brats. I've got you guys to help me, right?”

“Right,” Iruka manages, stepping back. He wipes at his eyes, then looks at the blond still clinging to Genma and smiles a little in return. “We’ll all be here, I promise.”

Genma flicks a glance at him, then at Naruto, and shifts his hold on the boy slightly. “Is that true?” he asks, and his voice catches on the words. “Do you want to stay, Naruto? If you want, I can find you another place. Not the orphanage, but—”

“No!” Naruto's head snaps up, something like desperation in blue eyes. “I don’t wanna leave! But people were gonna call you a monster because of me and if that happened you’d hate me and I didn’t want you to!”

Genma makes sense of the explanation far more quickly than Kotetsu managed to, and grins. “Hey, hey,” he says soothingly, reaching up to ruffle messy blond spikes. “They're just civilians, squirt. They’ve never been good around shinobi anyway, especially assassins like me, and I don’t care what they think. Just what you want, okay?”

“I wanna stay here,” Naruto says stubbornly. “With you, an’ Iruka-nii, and Ko-nii, and Zumo-nii. You're my family.”

“That we are,” Genma agrees without hesitation, and Kotetsu is so utterly relieved right down to his bones to have this man back in their lives. He ducks forward again, squirming between Iruka and Izumo to latch on to their guardian. One quick, speaking look shared with Izumo and he declares with equal intractability, “We’re moving back in. Tomorrow.”

One of the men who helped Genma back, vaguely familiar enough that Kotetsu assumes he’s a friend, gives a hoot of laughter. “Don’t worry, chicks,” he jokes. “Your mother’s gonna be fine. Medics said a week of bedrest and he’ll be completely back to normal.”

“Oh, fuck you too, Yamashiro,” Genma huffs, flipping him off. Then he sighs, and a callused hand runs over Kotetsu's hair. This time, he’s paying enough attention to feel the fine, foreign tremble to it, and tightens his grip automatically. It earns him a gentle swat, barely hard enough to register, and another chuckle. “Guess I better start looking for an actual house, huh? Apartment’s getting a bit crowded.”

The other man, with silver hair and a familiar tilted hitai-ate, is staring at Genma with an odd look on his face. Like an epiphany, but twice as horrified, Kotetsu thinks. He gives the man a wary glance and tugs Genma forward, aiming for the bedroom. Genma laughs at him, but goes along with it, and soon they're at a safe enough distance for Kotetsu to turn his attention back to his family, finally complete.



(Hatake Kakashi watches them go, genius mind still adding up the pieces of the equation.

Good-natured, motherly, brown-eyed, prone to kissing those close to him [if on the head]—

And Gai never specifically said girl, did he?

Oh gods. He is so very, very unprepared to deal with this.

Resisting the urge run for the hills and never come back, Kakashi turns on his heel, grabs a chortling Aoba, collects a hovering Kurenai from the doorstep, and drags them back towards the Hokage's office. The sooner they're done reporting, the sooner he can go home, find his favorite Icha Icha, bury his nose in it, and not come up for air until he’s forgotten this ever happened.)