Warnings: Bad language, family fluff, author insanity, implications of/reactions to (canon) character death, mentions of slash, discussion of sexuality, etc.
Word Count: ~16000 freaking hell (complete)
Pairings: Raidou/Genma, slight implication of possible future Izumo/Kotetsu
Summary: Genma is a very good assassin. He takes a job, takes a life, comes home, repeats. Then one day a stray genin shows up on his doorstep. And then another. Lonely assassin? Not so much. Try resident shinobi den mother.
[In which Genma is a (very manly) mother hen, his apartment attracts strays, and all of his (bastard) friends are quite amused.] RaiGen
Disclaimer: I don’t hold the copyrights, I didn’t create them, and I make no profit from this.
Notes: Fucking god, Genma would not stop talking. I swear, this thing was meant to be a collection of little drabbles in multiple POVs strung together into a (shortish) story, and somehow it turned into an absolute monster. He just went on and on, I couldn’t even find somewhere to stick a freaking period. And then all these other characters I have no experience writing muscled their way in and insisted on having cameos (you, Gai. You). So if this sucks…blame my brother, who demanded I write this after our discussion regarding Genma's badassery. (Really, though, he was on the Hokage Guard Platoon at 15-16 after only becoming a chuunin at 13. So, awesome.)
(Slight liberties have been taken regarding ages. Immense liberties have been taken in assigning backstories, families, etc. If anything’s glaringly wrong…shh. It’s fanfiction.)
In the end, that’s all a shinobi ever really needs to be.
He slips through the shadows of the grand estate like a swift ghost, darting between patches of heavy shadow and avoiding the bright moonlight that falls like pools of snow on the dark ground. Ahead of him, the building looms ominously, creaking gently as it shifts and settles. The guard at the corner is more jumpy than he should be, twitching every time a particularly loud noise reaches his ears, but he also doesn’t move to investigate. Genma uses that to his advantage, leaping nimbly from the ground to the roof and landing silently on the warm tiles. He pauses there for a moment, breath caught in his throat, but there's no cry of alarm from below.
Below him and to his left, half-hidden by the climbing wisteria, is the shoji door that the lord’s son leaves open for air every night, despite his father’s orders. The rest of the windows and doors are rigged with seals and sensors, heavily guarded, and Genma had despaired of finding a way in until he noticed the young master’s habit. Careless and dangerous, especially as his father is one of the most hated men in this part of Fire Country, but incredibly useful. Genma channels just enough chakra to his hands and feet to make himself stick and then slides through the narrow opening, clinging to the ceiling like a spider.
The boy is fast asleep on his futon, and never even stirs as Genma drops soundlessly to the floor, staying crouched for a moment to listen for anyone in the hallway. It’s quiet, though, the family wing of the house barred to all but the most loyal family retainers, and Genma slips into the hall unseen.
The fact that he can leave the boy asleep and breathing is a small comfort—not enough, not when he knows just what this family will wake to, but a bit of a balm to his already tattered conscience.
(It was different, Genma thinks, back when the Yondaime was alive and Genma was his bodyguard. An elite tokubetsu jounin at fifteen, skilled and admired, trusted with the Hokage’s safety more than almost anyone else in the village—Minato even taught them his famed Flying Thunder God technique. But then the fox came, then the Yondaime sacrificed himself, then the Sandaime had to return to his old position and brought with him his old guards. And now Genma is a simple tokujo, one of many, with just enough skill at assassination to make him valuable and leave him feeling like the scum of the earth.)
(Seventeen years old, seven years as an active shinobi under his belt, and he’s killed more men than most of Konoha's veterans, even those who have lived through two great wars. Usually, he tries not to think of it, but sometimes it’s impossible not to.)
The lord’s room is around the corner and three doors down with a guard outside, nodding off at his post. Genma pauses in the darkness, considering his options, but in truth he already knows what he has to do. He’s not being paid to leave witnesses, and it’s sheer bad business to leave any clues that could trace this back to Konoha. Everyone knows that shinobi villages take assassination jobs, but none of them except maybe Kiri like to wave it in the civilians’ faces.
The senbon falls into his hand like an extension of his fingers, and in less time than it takes to blink the guard is falling with the needle in his neck. Genma catches him before he can land, settling him noiselessly and then pausing, attentive to any change in the steady breathing on the other side of the door. There's none, though, and he eases the shoji door open just enough to see through.
His target, a minor lord who’s taken it into his head to abuse his authority, is sprawled out on the bed, facedown, snoring lightly, and reeking of sake. Genma takes a moment to thank whatever stars are watching that the lord’s estranged wife is occupying a different room tonight before he opens the door a bit further and slides through the gap. No sound, no stirring, even as Genma ghosts closer and palms another senbon. The floorboards don’t even creak as he places a careful hand on the man’s head and slides the senbon through his flesh and straight into a nerve cluster.
The man dies without a sound, and Genma doesn’t even bother trying to feel accomplished. He just slips out the way he came in, vanishing into the darkness once more.
“Done already, Shiranui-san?” the cheerful chuunin at the Missions Desk asks brightly, accepting the report he hands over.
Genma nods, forcing a crooked smile in return, and tucks his hands into his pockets, rolling the senbon he’s chewing on to the other side of his mouth. “Yep. Signed and sealed,” he says. “Got anything else for me?”
The chuunin goes tense and shifty, but before he can answer a deep, calm voice cuts in. “I think not, Genma-kun.”
It takes as much willpower as Genma has left after the long trip back, dodging a handful of chuunin-level missing-nin who had taken to haunting the road, not to jump and spin. Instead, he forces his heart down from his throat and turns slowly, dipping his head to the Sandaime. “Hokage-sama.”
The Sandaime smiles at him, wise and kind, and Genma fights down the faint seed of resentment that tries to take root, as it does every time he faces a reminder of the Hokage he failed so utterly to protect. But if Sarutobi sees it, he says nothing, simply clasping his hands in front of him and asking pointedly, “How long has it been since you remained in the village for more than a week at a time, Genma-kun?”
Genma freezes, trying to calculate, and maybe it’s a bad sign that he can't remember the last time he stayed in Konoha for even that long.
Sarutobi saves him, clearly already aware of the answer. “I had thought as much. You have been taken off the active-duty roster for the next month, I'm afraid. After that you are free to take as many missions as you like, but I believe the rest will do you good.”
It’s a near thing, but Genma manages to bite back his involuntary protests, because clearly, they're not going to matter. The Sandaime has been keeping an eye on all of Minato’s former bodyguards, even if he doesn’t need them, and Genma is self-aware enough to realize that from an outside perspective, his back-to-back missions look self-destructive and the next best thing to suicidal.
(Maybe that’s even correct, but Genma doesn’t think of it, pushes that thought as far away as he’s able. Now that he can't be a bodyguard, now that he’s failed, all his skills are really good for is assassination. He might as well make himself useful, right?)
The Sandaime’s eyes are on him, dark and knowing, and Genma keeps his mouth firmly shut as he dips in a quick bow. “Yes, Hokage-sama,” he manages as he straightens up, even though the words are bloody ashes in his mouth. “Thank you.”
Sarutobi watches him carefully, and it’s clear as day that he understands the impotent, undirected fury lashing at Genma's gut. But he simply nods a dismissal, and Genma leaves with his head spinning and his fists clenched, trying not to think.
With no mission to plan for, no target to gather information on, no way to distract himself, Genma knows that he’ll be thinking far too much in the days to come. Closing his eyes and swiping a hand across his brow, just barely grazing his hitai-ate, he tries not to despair at the thought of a whole month grounded in Konoha, but it’s hard.
Genma loves his village, loves the people in it and land around it, but it’s also the place that Minato gave his life to keep safe, and that fucking aches.
His apartment has gained a thick layer of dust since the last time he bothered to look, almost five weeks ago now. He’s stayed here a grand total of nine days, spread out over more than forty, and it shows in the way everything’s fallen into disrepair. Genma pauses inside the doorway, looking around with apathy settling deep in his chest. He drops his pack with a resigned sigh, but can't bring himself to dig out the cleaning supplies. Someday, maybe, but for now there isn't even anything in the kitchen beyond a handful of stale ration bars and a bottle of something that might have once been orange juice. He could call for takeout, reasonably, but it’s not worth the effort at the moment.
Maybe the Sandaime is right. Maybe he’s been taking too many missions lately.
Genma is fairly level-headed, especially for his age—it’s one of the reasons he advanced so quickly after he made chuunin. He’s also reasonable, for all he can be as stubborn as a pig. The Sandaime’s question is unsettling, pointed as it is, and even more unsettling is the fact that he can’t answer it. Genma knows the perils of burnout, the risk of taking too many missions too close together and going mad from the stress. He hadn’t thought he was at risk, but the state of his apartment alone tells him that he was being unspeakably arrogant.
A glance down at his hands shows that they're entirely steady, the way they always are. Genma almost feels like they should be shaking, here in the hushed silence of what was once his home.
But Genma's always had steady hands—he was a candidate for med-nin, when he graduated, and learned the basics before he found out that killing people was more his style than saving them. Med-nins and assassins have to have the same composure and inner stillness, and it’s one of those ironies that makes Genma want to laugh.
He sighs out into the hush, low and long, and tries to blank out the last time he actually felt comfortable here, both in his apartment and in the village. Six months ago, now. October tenth. The last day of the Yondaime’s reign.
Genma drops his vest onto the couch, releasing another cloud of dust, and sets his hitai-ate on the coffee table. His hair swings free, falling in his face and over his eyes as he blindly makes his way to the larger of the two bedrooms. It’s dusty there, too, but Genma can't even be bothered to change the sheets as he flops face-first onto the bed, grime smearing his uniform. That makes him want to laugh, too, because he used to be a neat freak, six months ago. Now, he can't bring himself to care.
It’s still daylight outside, the middle of the afternoon, but Genma kicks off his sandals and closes his eyes, wondering if it will be possible to sleep the entire month away even as he drifts off into darkness.
(Then the dreams start, and Genma remembers why he doesn’t want to.)
There are so many nightmares locked away in his subconscious that they all start to blur together after a while, meld and mix and take him by surprise.
But there's one in particular that he dreads, from a mission three months ago. In it he stands in a small clearing, rough tents set up around him, and there are bodies piled thick on the ground. Some are men, some are women, most fighting-fit even if they were no match for a trained shinobi.
But it’s the children that he sees most vividly, children dead by his own hand, some smeared with blood and others fallen where they stood, senbon stabbed deep into delicate vitals.
He wishes that this was an exaggeration, an embellishment of his sleeping mind, but it’s not. It’s reality, a memory, and Genma is so sick with self-disgust that he wants to die.
Minato, he thinks. Yondaime. Hokage-sama, how much would you loathe me, if you could see me now?
When he wakes, almost twenty-four hours have passed, and it’s very nearly afternoon of the next day. Genma's aching, growling stomach is what finally drives him from the bed and into a musty set of off-duty clothes. They're a little too short in the arm and leg, but Genma just rolls the sleeves up, palms a few senbon, slides another into his mouth, and heads out with his wallet in hand. It’s been a while since he’s eaten more than a few mouthfuls at a time, just enough to keep him going on the mission and then on the road. Here in Konoha, the thought of food prepared and served to order is almost alien, and Genma wanders for a little while, taking in the options, before his body’s demand for food sends him ducking into the nearest stall.
Ramen, he realizes after a moment, and remembers the last time he was here, when Minato dragged all three of his guards to lunch. He wavers in the entrance, debating whether to keep moving, but then Teuchi spots him and waves, a delighted grin breaking over his face.
“Shiranui-kun!” he calls brightly. “It’s been a while!”
Genma offers the man a crooked smile as he steps fully inside, taking a seat at the counter. It’s not just Minato who brought him here, of course—he, Gai, and Ebisu used to frequent the stand after training. Ramen was cheap, high in calories, and easy to eat, perfect for three exhausted genin. Or, well, two exhausted genin and Gai.
“Hey, Teuchi-san,” he says. “It really has. How’s your Shiro Ramen? As good as I remember?”
Teuchi laughs. “Better! I've improved the recipe a bit. Care to give it a try?”
Settling back on his stool, Genma plucks the senbon from his mouth and tucks it away. “Why not? It’s been a long time since I had a hot meal, so I might as well splurge.”
“We appreciate your work, Shiranui-kun,” Teuchi tells him, turning back to the stove. “You and all of the shinobi keep this village safe at great risk to yourselves, and the rest of us are more grateful than words can say.”
Genma thinks of children sprawled out on the frozen ground, parents with their throats cut. Of a boy who liked to leave his door open to feel the fresh breeze, and doubtless woke up last week to find his father stone-cold dead. But Teuchi knows little of such things, and if he does, he will doubtless never connect the polite, calm, easygoing teenager he’s known since childhood with slashed throats and pools of blood and blank dead eyes. Civilians never do, after all, unless they have the reality of it shoved directly in their faces. Even with the war, it was held at a distance, fought well away from Konoha in foreign fields, and kept from ever touching the hidden village directly.
“Thanks,” he tells the man, even as his throat closes around the words. “We’re just doing our jobs.”
A bowl settles in front of him, steaming gently, and Teuchi smiles. “Enjoy,” he says warmly, even as he turns away to greet another customer.
Genma picks up his chopsticks and digs in. The first bite floods his mouth with so many flavors it’s nearly painful, and he has to force himself not to spit it out. But his taste buds adjust quickly, and the hot noodles sliding down his throat and into his empty stomach are like ambrosia. He eats as quickly as he dares, suddenly realizing just how blindingly ravenous he is.
“Another?” Teuchi asks cheerfully as he passes by.
Genma swallows his last mouthful of warm, salty broth and debates it for about half a second before he’s nodding and pushing his bowl back to the man. “Shōyu this time, please,” he requests, “and an extra egg on top.”
“Coming right up.” Teuchi snags the bowl and turns away, and Genma relaxes back in his seat again, closing his eyes and savoring the warmth of the sun from the entrance as it hits his back. He’s a morning person, truthfully, though long practice has left him able to operate just as well at night. Nevertheless, he’ll always love the early morning sun more than any moonlit sky, no matter how pretty. Ironic, perhaps, considering his name and how it comes from the borealis, but he’s been up with the sun since he was a toddler, and it’s not likely to change any time soon.
In the distance, faint enough to ignore with a bit of effort, the sound of reconstruction echoes. Genma tilts his head, trying to pick out what they're working on now, but can't quite pinpoint it. Still, that’s good. It means the rebuilding of the village proper is done, and has moved to the outskirts. Six months isn't a lot of time, especially given the amount of damage the Kyuubi no Kitsune inflicted, but people are motivated, almost desperate to rid themselves of any reminders of the tragedy.
(A part of Genma wonders what kind of life the poor jinchuuriki, Uzumaki Naruto, will ever be able to have with that kind of mindset hanging around, but he pushes it away. The boy’s still an infant, and hopefully by the time he’s old enough to face the villagers, things will have mellowed out a bit.)
Another steaming bowl settles in front of him, making his open his eyes and murmur his thanks to the cook. Genma eats more slowly this time, savoring each bite, but it’s just as good as the first helping. He lets himself settle into place, into the moment, and allows himself to breathe fully for the first time in more than a month.
Then a shadow falls over him, big and broad, and Genma strangles a sigh as he sets his chopsticks down. Of course, because the day was going well, and apparently he just can't have nice things.
“Genma?” Raidou asks with faint surprise as he takes the next seat over. “I didn’t realize you were back in the village.”
Why would you have? Genma wants to ask, but seals his lips on the rude retort and simply bobs his head, stuffing another chunk of egg in his mouth to give himself a reason not to answer. By the time he’s chewed and swallowed, the sharp edge of his tongue is firmly under control, and he can say noncommittally, “Just got back. You're doing well?”
A part of him wants to wince at the short, stilted conversation, because Raidou is someone he’s looked up to since he joined the Hokage’s Guard. Two years older, bigger, taller, more skilled, more professional—Raidou is everything that Genma, lean and gawky and somewhere between shy and aloof, has always admired.
Raidou himself—sweet and patient and kind to a fault, even to an awkward sixteen-year-old trying to fill shoes just a bit too big—is someone Genma has always purely adored.
(For a while, he’d thought that feeling returned, because Raidou would sometimes look at him and smile, and it would be as bright as a noontime sky and just as gentle. They’d had time together, nine months that Genma still can't bring himself to forget, and then the Kyuubi came and Minato died and week later Raidou was standing in front of him, saying something about how Genma was too young and they’d both been through a tragedy and maybe it would work out better if they kept their distance for a while.)
(A week after that Genma caught Raidou kissing a pretty blonde civilian girl and realized for the first time what people meant when they talked about heartbreak.)
Raidou is taking, but Genma isn't listening anymore, staring down at the dregs of his bowl, a few strips of carrot the only thing remaining. Pulling out his wallet, he drops enough money on the counter to more than cover his bill and pushes to his feet.
Beside him, Raidou goes still and silent, clearly startled, but Genma can't bring himself to look over at the other tokujo. He’s been polite, he’s talked, he’s pretended that they're both fine, but he’s tired. It’s too much to ask for more of him right now, and for once, he’s not going to give Raidou the chance to change his mind.
“See ya around, Teuchi-san,” he calls, waving, and gets a wave in return. Then, before Raidou can stop him, he ducks through the door and out into the street, letting himself get lost in the tide of people.
If the rest of the month is going to go like this, Genma's going to lose his mind before it’s even half over.
The apartment is still dusty, and Genma still can't bring himself to clean it, even after four days of aimless drifting. He pauses in the doorway, sighing a little to himself. His muscles ache from six solid hours of training, and maybe Gai rubbed off on him more than he ever wanted to admit, but for once his mind is pleasantly blank with exhaustion.
One step into his apartment, and Genma freezes, because exhausted or not, his instincts are still working just fine, and right now, they're screaming that he’s not alone.
Genma glances down, a flicker of his eyes taking in the floor, and he frowns, because whoever’s broken in obviously isn't a trained shinobi. There are footprints in the dust on the floor beyond Genma's own, the size of either a child or a small woman. But any shinobi worth their salt would automatically cover their tracks if they were trying to surprise him.
With one eyebrow already climbing, Genma follows the trail through the living room, past the kitchen, and towards his bedroom. Along the way, they resolve into two distinct tracks, a lighter child with a shorter stride and a heavier child with a longer one. They march right through his bedroom door without hesitation, and Genma steps up to the frame with his arms crossed over his chest.
On the floor in front of his bed are two boys, not even genin yet if the lack of hitai-ate is anything to go by. One, with black hair spiky enough to put a porcupine to shame, is bowed over, arms curled around his bent knees and face hidden, while the taller one leans over him, brown hair rumpled and an arm around porcupine-boy’s shoulders.
“It’ll be all right, Ko,” the brown haired one says insistently. “We’ll just stay out of sight and wait it out.”
“In my house?” Genma drawls, clicking his senbon against his teeth. “Do I get a say in this?”
The reaction is immediate. Both boys spring to their feet and jerk around to face him, eyes gone wide. Genma studies the two of them for a moment, his other eyebrow rising to join the first. He says nothing, letting the silence speak for him.
The boys trade looks that seem to hold whole conversations, tense and wary. Then the brown-haired boy makes a frustrated sound, clearly directed at the black-haired one, and porcupine-boy flinches. He looks back at Genma, dark eyes wide and entreating. “Please don’t report us!” he cries, hands clenching into fists. “Zumo an’ I were just looking for a place to stay, and this house has been empty for weeks, so we thought it was safe. Sorry for bothering you.”
That last sentence is utterly miserable and defeated, tacked on despondently, and Genma feels himself waver. Damn it, he’s a hardened assassin. Puppy dog eyes aren’t supposed to make him go all warm and squishy inside, but even with the clan marking on the boy’s chin, Genma can pick out shadows of stress and weariness and barely-faded grief in the kid’s face. Genma lost his mother when he was six, his father to the Third Shinobi World War, and his hero and mentor to the Kyuubi. He’s capable of recognizing loss in others well enough, after that.
Raking a hand through his hair, Genma sighs, rolls his eyes at himself, and asks wearily, “And just what were you trying to wait out, then?”
The brown-haired boy, also dark-eyed but lacking any clan markings, bristles and takes a half-step in front of his friend. “The people at the orphanage,” he spits, looking a bit like a wet cat with the way his brown hair flops over his eyes. “They want to take Ko to an orphanage, even though we’re almost genin.”
Genma studies both of them carefully. The second boy—not Ko—lacks the grief and weariness of the other, and has clearly been eating more. He’s more filled out, and his skin is a healthier hue. So, logically… “Kyuubi orphan, huh?” he asks Ko, feeling a pang of sympathy for the Academy student.
Ko nods, eyes downcast. “Hagane clan lands were just inside the wall where the Kyuubi first appeared,” he says softly. “I'm the last one left. Now they want to put me in an orphanage, even though genin can live on their own if they want to.”
Legally, Genma knows, Academy students are children, while genin are adults. However, it’s a little more complicated than that, since a genin has to prove he can live on his own—sufficient savings, acceptable housing, and basic housekeeping skills—before the Children’s Welfare Council will sign off on an emancipation. If Ko’s trying to avoid the orphanage, he’s going to need a better game plan than hiding out in an empty apartment for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, Genma's got an idea for that, and he can't talk himself out of it.
Stalling—and hoping for another solution—he looks at the other boy. Zumo? Something like that, he thinks. “Your family can't take him in?”
Zumo’s mouth tightens, and he looks mutinous and sad all at once. “I've got six brothers and sisters,” he says, “and I'm the first shinobi in my family. Mom’s an assistant seamstress and Dad’s a farm hand. They can barely pay for my Academy supplies, let alone afford another mouth to feed.”
Genma was afraid of that. He sighs and tugs off his hitai-ate, raking a hand through his hair. “Fine,” he says, rolling his eyes again, because he’s a sucker and it’s absolutely ridiculous how easily he’s giving in. Able to withstand torture, sure, but two pre-genin kids with big eyes? Yeah, right. “Fine, I’ll talk to the Hokage. Spare room is down the hall, futon is in the closet. Dinner’s at seven, yeah?”
Two jaws drop, and two pairs of eyes go wide. Zumo splutters, apparently at a loss for words, but Ko’s gaze has brightened about twelve degrees just from those simple sentences.
“Really?” he yelps. “You're gonna let me stay? But we—”
“Yeah, yeah.” Genma flaps a hand at him. “Whatever. I've got a month off anyway, might as well keep an eye on you in the meantime. I'm Shiranui Genma, tokubetsu jounin.”
There's a pause as both boys gather themselves, trading excited glances, and then Ko pulls himself upright. “Hagane Kotetsu,” he says formally. “Thank you, Shiranui-san!”
“Kamizuki Izumo,” the other one offers. “Thank you!”
Genma looks between the two of them and realizes that, in taking in one, he’s somehow managed to adopt both. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes again, he nods. “Just call me Genma; I'm not that much older than you.” They look all of twelve, maybe eleven, still entirely knees and elbows and awkwardness. He pinches the bridge of his nose and wonders how he’s going to bring this up with the Hokage; there’s no use going to the Children’s Council, as they’ll debate and nitpick and delay until next year sometime, with Kotetsu stuck in an overcrowded, underfunded orphanage somewhere. Still, Genma isn't generally one to take advantage of his connection to the Hokage.
Hopefully the old man will at least hear him out.
“Go get whatever stuff you need,” he tells Kotetsu. “I’ll be back in a bit, so don’t break anything.”
He leaves through the window before either boy can say anything, cursing himself for his stupid weakness to big eyes and pleading words. Deadly assassin with no mercy or not, throw a kitten at him—especially a wet, sad-looking one with a tragic backstory—and he loses every last ounce of backbone he possesses. Damn it all.
Thankfully, the Hokage’s just finishing up a meeting with his advisors when Genma gets there. He bows to the Sandaime’s former teammates, murmuring a greeting as they sweep past, and straightens up to see the Sandaime himself watching him with a raised brow.
“Already, Genma-kun?” Sarutobi asks with clear exasperation. “I gave you a month’s leave; I'm hardly going to change my mind not even a week in.”
“Ah,” Genma says weakly, “no, that actually wasn’t what I was here for. Do you…have a second?”
Sarutobi raises the other brow to match the first, but nods, beckoning Genma into his office. “I do, if you don’t mind staring at piles of paperwork rather than my face. I'm afraid the workload was rather overwhelming this morning.”
Genma follows him in, chewing nervously on his senbon. “Hagane Kotetsu. He’s—”
“Last of the Hagane clan, a minor family with notable skills in genjutsu and with close-combat weapons. I know of him,” Sarutobi affirms, even as he picks up his pen. “A tragedy, to lose so many skilled shinobi in one blow. What of him?”
It takes an enormous amount of effort not to fidget. Genma realizes that he hasn’t exactly been a shining example of mental health these last six months, but surely Sarutobi won't deny him on those grounds. Right? “I know the kid. It’s only a month or two to the Academy graduation, and then with a couple months of D- and C-ranks he’ll be able to get his own place. I figured he could stay with me in the meantime, since the only other option is the orphanage.”
There's a long, silent pause as Sarutobi regards him over the top of his stacks of paperwork. This time, Genma does fidget, because as much as the Sandaime looks like a kindly grandfather, he’s able to cow ANBU with a single stare. Then Sarutobi sighs and sets down his pen.
“I’ll drop a note with the Children’s Welfare Council,” he promises. “You are certain, Genma? Nearly a genin or no, he is still a child, and you will have responsibility for him. I have no doubt that you can handle it, but are you sure you are ready?”
Genma thinks of Kotetsu’s tired eyes, far too old for his face, and the way he stared uncomprehending at the thought that someone might actually want to help him. He thinks of his empty, dusty apartment and the way he feels like a ghost in his own life, detached and drifting, and how the appearance of two young boys made him leave the house when he hasn’t except for food or training since he returned.
But it’s just a little too soon to hope, and he stays silent.
The Hokage smiles at him as though it was an answer, warm and approving, and scribbles a note on a free piece of paper. “Very well,” he says. “Your request is approved. I’ll let the Council know. I think,” he adds carefully, “that you may even end up being good for each other.”
“Thank you, Hokage-sama,” Genma says, dipping into a bow, and this time, he truly means it.
Genma is halfway home before the understanding of what he’s done fully hits him, and he staggers to a halt on the edge of a rooftop, frozen in place as shock courses through him. He has a kid now, for all intents and purposes. He’s just signed on to care for a kid, regardless of the fact that he himself is seventeen and barely capable of navigating daily life as it is right now. He’s an assassin, a cold-blooded killer, and there's absolutely no guarantee that Kotetsu will even make it to genin. Two-thirds of Academy students fail, after all.
“Fuck,” Genma mutters wholeheartedly. Maybe if he turns around and goes back to the Hokage right now—
Then he thinks of Kotetsu’s wide, sad, lonely eyes and that’s enough to make something inside him cave like paper in a monsoon. No, no take-backs allowed, apparently.
“Fuckity fuck fuck,” Genma sighs, and resists the temptation to pound his head against the nearest hard object repeatedly.
“That is not the language a youthful Konoha shinobi such as yourself should be using, Genma,” a voice says reprovingly, as a figure settles on the roof beside him in a crouch. “I had thought you had a stronger spirit than that, my friend.”
Genma doesn’t look at his genin teammate, too busy concentrating on the way he just managed to fuck up his own life by being a complete and total sucker, damn it. “Yeah, yeah. You’d curse, too, if you were in my place, Gai. Ah, what the hell am I going to do with a kid?”
Gai’s eyes go very, very wide. Genma replays that sentence in his head and realizes with a wince how it sounded. Even as Gai’s mouth opens in preparation for a shout, Genma snaps his hand out to cover it. “Not like that,” he hisses. “I adopted an Academy student. No relation.”
Gai wilts, peeling Genma's hand from his face to reveal a pout. “And I was hoping to be named godfather. That was a cruel letdown, Genma.”
Involuntarily, the image of Gai proudly presenting a newborn with a green spandex onesie fills Genma's mind, and he hastily shoves it back down where it can't do any harm. “Any partner of mine is going to be rather lacking in the proper equipment to produce any kind of godson for you, Gai,” he reminds his friend with a roll of his eyes. “I can put you down as my emergency contact, though, if it’d make you happy.”
The flash of white teeth is enough to blind an unprepared person, and if that didn’t do the job, Gai’s green-clad nice-guy pose complete with a double thumbs up would probably finish them off. “I would be honored, my youthful teammate!” he cries. Then he sobers a bit, a frown flickering over his face. “You do not have one right now?”
Genma does, but it’s Raidou. That’s a whole can of worms he’s definitely not about to get into with Gai. He loves the guy, really—he and Ebisu were both some of the best teammates a kid could have—but his love life is not up for discussion without a whole bottle of sake getting involved in the process.
“No,” he says noncommittally. “Not as such.” Then he sighs and swings his legs over the edge of the roof, leaning back on his hands and chewing absently on his senbon. Gai is three years younger than him, and Ebisu a year older, but they’ve managed to stay close when a lot of other genin teams drift apart after their promotion. More through Gai's efforts than his own, admittedly, but then, Genma's let a lot of stuff drift lately.
Finally, he glances over at Gai and asks softly, “Think we’re gonna be okay?”
Gai smiles at him, not an overblown flashy grin, but something smaller and more meaningful. “Yes,” he says sincerely. “I truly do, Genma. You are a good and youthful person. Surely anyone you have accepted into your life will also do well. This student is very lucky to have found you.”
At that, Genma snorts, the humor of the situation hitting him all at once. “Broke into my apartment, the little bastard,” he says mirthfully. “He and his friend. And they just looked so much like sad stray kittens that I couldn’t toss ‘em out.”
Gai chuckles as well. “You have a soft heart, my friend,” he agrees. “What will you do now?”
Genma tips his head back, thinking of his dusty apartment and completely bare cupboards. With another sigh, he rolls his shoulders and says, “Well, I’ll have to pick up some food. Cleaning supplies, too, probably. Haven’t been home for long, and my place is a mess. Kotetsu’s kind of scrawny, so he’ll need real meals, not just takeout. And I've no doubt Izumo’s going to be staying over more often than not, since they're all but Siamese twins. So groceries enough to feed two growing boys and myself. Extra blankets probably wouldn’t hurt, either.”
With a brilliant grin, Gai pushes himself off the roof and lands in the street below, scaring a handful of passing civilians. “Let us go, my friend!” he calls back up to Genma, flashing another double thumbs up. “I will assist you in your youthful endeavor to provide for your new ward!”
Giving in to a chuckle, Genma lets himself drop as well, landing lightly on the balls of his feet. “Thanks, Gai,” he says honestly, smiling at the other boy. “I appreciate it.”
Maybe this won't be a complete disaster after all, with friends like Gai to rely on.
It’s getting dark by the time Genma staggers back into his apartment, only to just about break his neck tripping over two pairs of discarded sandals by the door. Gai, half a step behind him, manages to catch the back of his shirt before he can either fall or drop his load of bags, thankfully, and pulls him back to upright.
“Thanks,” Genma sighs, toeing the shoes out of the way and heading for the kitchen as he wonders if this is going to be his life from now on. He’s grown used to Gai's ridiculous strength, so he doesn’t look twice at the fact that his teammate is carrying double Genma's load and managing to support it with a single arm. Were he any less secure in his masculinity, he’d never have survived being a genin with this boy.
However, judging by the choked sound of shock from the doorway, Genma's new roommates have never witnessed such a display before.
Chuckling a little, Genma deposits his bags and beckons the two students forward. “Hey, no worries. Hokage-sama approved everything, so you're good to stay here, Kotetsu-kun. This is Might Gai, my old genin teammate. Don’t let the bowl-cut fool you, he’s a taijutsu genius. Gai, these are the brats I was telling you about. Spiky’s Hagane Kotetsu, and his shadow is Kamizuki Izumo.”
Gai dumps everything on the counter and whirls around to present the startled boys with his very best nice guy pose. “Hello! My youthful friend has told me of your plight, Kotetsu-kun, and of your initiative in coming to a truly admirable solution! Should you ever require something when Genma is not available, I will do my best help you, and should I fail, I will run a hundred laps around the village on my hands!”
“Er,” Kotetsu says, which…yeah, alright, Genma's willing to admit that that’s a pretty common reaction to Gai. The boy casts a what-the-hell glance at Genma, who just snorts, and then turns back to the chuunin. “Thank you?” he says tentatively.
Apparently this is the correct answer, because Gai beams at him before spinning to face Genma. “I must go, my friend. It is time for my nightly exercise routine. I hope you forever remain youthful!”
Genma offers him a crooked grin and a nod. “See you, Gai. You still using Training Ground Nine? I might stop by tomorrow morning if you're in the mood for a spar.”
“Yes!” Gai exclaims. “I will wait for you then, my friend!” With one last wave, he jogs out of the apartment, already picking up speed.
There's a long moment of stunned silence from the doorway as Genma starts putting food away. He doesn’t comment, though—losing one’s Gai virginity is always a bit of a head-trip.
“That…was a shinobi?” Kotetsu eventually manages.
“Ko!” Izumo hisses, slamming an elbow into his side. “That was his teammate, don’t be rude!”
Genma just chuckles. “No, it’s fine. I've heard a lot worse, but Gai's one of the most dependable people you’ll ever meet. Like he said, if I'm ever on a mission and something comes up, go to him.”
Kotetsu’s breath catches as he finally seems to register what that means. “Then…?”
“I told you, Hokage-sama approved everything,” Genma tells him wryly. “Congratulations, you're now my legal ward. Got your stuff moved in?”
When Kotetsu looks too overwhelmed to answer, Izumo nods. “We were staying in one of the remaining buildings on his clan’s grounds,” he says, a little sadly. “There…wasn’t much to get.”
There are far too many Kyuubi orphans in this village, Genma thinks, mouth tight. He looks over at Kotetsu, who’s got his eyes fixed on his toes, and strangles yet another sigh. “Look,” he says. “We all lost someone in the attack. I'm not going to try to replace your clan, Kotetsu-kun, and I wouldn’t want to try to replace the person I lost. But even so, there's no reason this can't work, right?”
Kotetsu looks up at him, eyes wide again, and then nods tentatively. Genma grins at him in return, and holds up a package of noodles. “Great. Soba or udon?”
Genma's an early riser by nature, though the last five days of forced vacation he hasn’t been able to stir himself much before noon. So it’s a bit of a surprise when he wakes to false dawn spreading across the sky, the moon still up and the birds asleep. He lies there for a moment, wondering at it, before he remembers the two students sleeping in his guest room and the unhealthy thinness of Kotetsu’s face.
I’ll pack them a lunch, Genma thinks, levering himself out of bed without a second’s hesitation, the lethargy of the previous days banished entirely by this new concern. I still remember how to make a bento, right?
He can't recall the last time he even had to—likely in the Academy. Possibly on his genin team, because Gai was entirely hopeless in the kitchen and Genma would often take pity on him and bring him something homemade. His father died when he was eight, so he’d had plenty of experience cooking for himself by then. But his father was an only child from a civilian family, his mother long since dead, and Kotetsu is no doubt still used to having a fairly large family. No wonder the kid’s looking thin—he’s not even thirteen, too young to have been taught many life skills beyond the obvious, and he’s been pretty much on his own for months. Proper nutrition is a big concern. He’s already shorter than Izumo, and lighter, and while it’s possible that’s just his body type, Genma wants to be absolutely sure before the kid’s growth gets stunted any further.
Meal plans already forming, Genma staggers out into the kitchen, turns on the coffee pot, and gets to work, careful not to wake up either of the boys yet.
As it turns out, he does remember how to make a bento. He even—out of some sort of nostalgia, or possibly those poorly-hidden mother hen instincts his friends always tease him about—makes a third lunch for Gai, making sure to pack it with high-protein foods.
At half past seven, the door down the hall creaks open, and two walking bedheads stagger out. Genma swallows the urge to go for his hairbrush (or cluck. Damn Aoba and his chicken impressions whenever Genma would try to be thoughtful) and steers both of them to their seats, where omelets and toast are waiting.
“Eat,” he orders. “Then go get dressed and get to class. If anyone tells me you're skipping I’ll hang you from the Hokage Mountain by your ankles. Lunches are there. Don’t forget them. Got it?”
Kotetsu just blinks at him, stunned, and Genma decides it’s high time to stage a tactical retreat. He’s wearing his uniform, though his hitai-ate is on the table by the door, so he waves and snags the two extra bento boxes. “Back by dinner time,” he reminds the boys before ducking out into the bright sunshine and raising his face to the light.
Yeah, he thinks, with a feeling like surprised relief bubbling up in his chest. Yeah, okay. This could be good, maybe.
And after so long, after six months of grey sameness and subtle, aching grief, maybe is just about all he needs.
When the boys get home, Genma is on his knees scrubbing the floor, berating himself for not doing it sooner. He absently waves them around the clean part, tapping his senbon against his teeth in concentration as he tackles a particularly ingrained spot. They both slip past him carefully, and a moment later water runs in the kitchen—probably washing their bento boxes, Genma guesses.
A few minutes after that, there's a soft thump. Genma looks up in surprise as Kotetsu drops to his knees beside him, face set into stubborn lines, and catches the rag Izumo tosses over. Izumo joins him on the floor, and they both turn to Genma for instruction, expressions daring him to argue.
Fighting the urge to grin stupidly for no obvious reason, Genma simply tilts his chin at a section of floor that’s still grey-brown with dust.
“Help yourselves,” he drawls, and the two dive in, mulishly wading through dust bunnies and almost four months’ worth of filth.
Later, when the apartment shines again and they're all collapsed over the sofa, Genma closes his eyes and wonders at the unsettling burr growing behind his breastbone, though he stubbornly refuses to put a name to it.
“Takeout?” he offers, in an attempt to drown it out.
“Oden!” Kotetsu cheers, seemingly regaining his energy at the mention of food, and Genma can't help but laugh.
(That stupid annoying burr doesn’t go away. If anything, it gets bigger. But he ignores it.)
(Not yet, he tells his heart. Not yet.)
Izumo watches Kotetsu pick at his lunch. They’ve both been staying with Shiranui Genma for a full week now—both, because Izumo is hardly about to let his best friend out of his sight after what happened six, almost seven months ago, and certainly not in the presence of a strange tokubetsu jounin, no matter how seemingly easygoing and generous. Kotetsu seems to be adjusting well to leaving the shattered ruins of his clan home. He certainly has fewer nightmares, sleeping in Genma-san's neat guestroom that’s somehow become their room, and Izumo is unspeakably grateful.
(Sometimes he wonders what would have happened if Kotetsu had refused to spend the night of October 11th at the Kamizuki home, but he always shies away before he can reach the end of that line of thinking.)
“You okay, Ko?” he asks, wondering what’s wrong.
Kotetsu is silent for another moment, gathering his thoughts. Then, out of the blue, he says, “We’re going to pass the graduation exam on our first try, right, Zumo?”
Izumo blinks at him, unsure of where this is coming from. Kotetsu must understand that, because he glances at Izumo's face before looking back at his meal. “Because Genma-san always gives me extra food,” he says softly. “He always asks if I want seconds. When he said we could stay with him, I thought he meant…under the table, you know? Hiding. But he went to the Hokage and made it official. Even then, I thought he’d leave us alone and let us figure everything out ourselves. But last night he helped us with our homework, and he always has breakfast made for us, and…”
Then Izumo has to smile, because he gets it. Feeling much better about Kotetsu's preoccupation now, he flops onto his back and crosses his arms behind his head, watching the clouds drift. “Yeah,” he says firmly. “We’re definitely going to pass on the first try. And maybe then Genma-san will make daikon salad and thick fried egg.”
Kotetsu makes a face. “No,” he protests, “Oden and tuna with grated nagaimo!”
From there the discussion devolves into a wrestling match, but that’s okay, because Izumo is fairly certain that if they ask politely, Genma-san will make all of their favorite foods without complaint.