Comfort farm

By Fuhrer

Rating: T for coarse language

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or its characters, and neither is any revenue generated from this work. Any direct quotes in my writing is public domain work.

Author's notes: Everyone, please bear with me as this is my first foray back into writing after a two year break. Characters are a bit OOC, and dialogue is weak. I'm trying to get back into the feel of writing, so please tell me what you think.

To Bite the Hand that Feeds, if you ever read this. Thank you so much for letting continue this story, although yours is a million times better. Thanks a heap.

In Konoha, gossip travels fast. People say a lot. And sometimes, they're right. Shiranui Genma knows that shinobi aren't supposed to listen to idle gossip. But he did anyway. So did everyone else. He just couldn't help it, because that's what shinobi did.

Genma can't help but wish he wasn't so tired that he could've summoned the energy to shoot a dirty look at those two gossipy genins. Narrow the eyes, look a little more deranged, he considers. Nope, too much effort on his part, and he's happier to let them gossip on.

Kakashi and him are meandering along the street. Last thing he expected to see Kakashi doing. God, at the moment, Kakashi is taking his normally quiet demeanor to a whole new level. Mute maybe? Genma smirks at this mental picture and decides it's not out of the question. He chews on his senbon needle a little more, and tries not to think of what it sounds like because he's not going to give up chewing on his needle anytime soon. Besides its long history, it's kind've therapeutic. Ohgodohgod don't think about it. It took his mind off things. Not quite as well as the drop though. Maybe he'll go for a drink tonight. First he has to get through the day and face everyone. He asks Kakashi out of politeness whether he'd like to come. Suprisingly, he agrees. Wow. The world could be an amazing place sometimes. He makes a mental note to check for teeth in the hens. But not that he blamed Kakashi, of course. Of course if he did, it would be a case of pot calling the kettle black, wouldn't it? Its been awhile since well, anyone, had screwed up a mission this badly. It's only early in the morning, but Konoha is already awake. Just a few hours after the mission, and the entirety of the Hidden Village of Konoha has heard already. God, Konoha was going to cop a lot of shit over this, weren't they?

He almost groans aloud when two masked ANBU appear in front of them, explain that their presence was necessary in the Hokage's office, blah blah and all that crap. He knew that eventually they'd have to see the Hokage over this. The ANBU escort them all the way to the office, as if they were wanted missing-nins or something. People titter 'subtly,' as they like to think, but Genma sees it all. Kakashi does too, but pretends not to notice.

Sandaime is sitting at his desk when they enter. The ink on the scroll he had been writing on is smudged, Genma notes idly.

'Shiranui-san. Hatake-san. I've already heard about most of the mission and its apparent failure. To say the least, Katsuo-san's death is a terrible tragedy. However, can you please give a brief report to me?' He doesn't add that he heard most of it from hearing the ANBU guards gossiping outside the door when they think that he can't hear them.

Kakashi proceeds to recall the mission in every clinical detail. Neither flinch at the coldness of it. They're used to it. All the ninja of his generation are. He guessed that was what came of growing up on the battlefield. Hell, they were just kids when they were sent out to die. No wonder most of them are so fucked up. They can only hope and pray that kids never have to go through what they did.

'Shiranui-san. Have you anymore to add to this?' asks Sandaime as Kakashi finishes his spiel on the mission.
'No Hokage-sama. I believe that Hatake-san has addressed all that we may say on this matter.' Ok. He'll try harder next time. At what? Everything. At missions, after missions and just plain moving on with life. He knows there'll be mountains of paperwork for Kakashi and him to do over this. When he was a genin, that was one thing he never anticipated doing. Missions? Fine. Killing? Fine. Teaching a genin team? Fine. But filling in paperwork? Never. That was something they never told him at the academy. To this day, no one could convince Genma otherwise that paperwork was a diabolical yet genius way of keeping the shinobi under control.

They're dismissed, and they wander out onto the street again. Kakashi disappears somewhere. Probably off to mope over that damn memorial stone, thought Genma snippily. He mentally slaps himself for thinking such a thing, especially at a time like this. He briefly considers dropping in to see Raido, but decides not to. Not now, anyway. Perhaps later, with a little Dutch courage. The news probably would have gotten round to Raido by now, anyway. After all, in Konoha, gossip travels fast. And this time, Genma is right.

The jounins were a weird mob. Besides the technical aspect of becoming one, possibly the most well-known unwritten rule was to be absolutely fucking bat-shit crazy. Not a hard one to fulfil, after looking at most of their lives. All probably would have gone bat-shit crazy anyway, jounin or not. Most surmised it was simply, 'bringing the work home.' Plus the fact that most of them happened to have grown up during the war. That probably helped. They're slumped over the chairs in the jounin lounge, catching up on the latest 'news.'

Kurenai is gossiping with another female jounin named Mitsuko. Raido rolls his eyes. God, women and their gossip is so long winded, he thinks. He catches a snippet of their conversation.
'When she heard they were getting married, apparently she tried to kill herself. Some kind of medical cocktail, Anko told me. Not surprising really,' said Kurenai.
'No shit? Well, come to think about it, she was kind've, well, mental, wasn't she? But really, I hated her so much. I was once on a mission with her, and oh God, she was so annoying.'
'Shouldn't you have been concentrating on the mission, not thinking about how annoying she was?'
'I know! But she was unbelievably irritating! She'd have all these mood swings, first she'd be talking about some fuckin' eternal circle of life thing, and she'd try to drag me into some wacky cult of hers. Then she'd go all moody on me, and start preaching to me about how to complete a mission. As if I don't know how to complete a mission. Hello, I'm a jounin, she's a chuunin? Next mood would be hyper, and by that point I was just about to go insane and…and…I don't know. Kill her, maybe. Every time they suggest I go on a mission with her again, I practically run away screaming!

'Like Kurenai said, shouldn't you have been concentrating on the mission and being a little more mature?' Raido interjects. Mitsuko turns on him with a vengeance.
'Well, I'd like to see you put up with her on a mission!'

Raido rolls his eyes mentally so far back he can contemplate the inside of his skull. He gets the feeling Mitsuko likes nothing better than bitching about other people. Thing is, she could bitch about someone for two hours straight, then turn on the charm and go crawling to them. He guessed that was why they used her for reconnaissance work. But man, it got annoying for everyone, the way she remembered every single thing they had ever uttered in her presence, and was easily pulled out of the dregs of her memory.

'But…speaking of missions…did you hear of what happened with Kakashi's and Genma's mission?' she says, finally breaching the topic everyone really wanted to hear about. That loosens everyone's tongue a bit.

'Well, I heard it was something terrible. Mission failed, and one teammate died. Shirakawa Katsuo. Tragic really. He was such a nice kid, but his poor family. I don't think they know yet. They're going to be devastated, how old was that poor kid, sixteen, seventeen?' Asuma supplies helpfully.

'Seventeen. Also, the guy they were escorting, some pretty high-up guy, got killed.'

'Man. That's a lot of egg on the face for Konoha,' Asuma frowns.

'Yeah. 'Specially with that kid, Katsuo, too. Something like his first major mission,' Mitsuko adds.

'Guess that's the way the cookie crumbles.' Asuma's bitter, resigned tone conveys the basic mood and mindset of most shinobi on that issue. People lived and died, but being a ninja simply sped up that process. A lot.

'I saw Genma off in the distance today, man, the poor guy looked terrible. Looked like he'd gotten smacked round pretty bad. I tried calling out to him, but he practically stuck his fricking fingers in his ears and ran in the opposite direction,' frowns Raido.

'Thought I heard something about some inquest into Katsuo's death,' continues Mitsuko, 'something about who's responsible, y'know? God, that woman heard everything. Trying to keep a secret around her was virtually impossible.

'Oh, bullshit,' snarled Raido. It's really quite a change from Raido's usual mild manner.

'It's a little hard to imagine how a team with Kakashi on it could screw up this badly though…especially on this sort of mission. From what I hear, it was an escort mission of a rather important guy. Not complicated,' Asuma observes. 'If it were anyone else, I'd say they were either losing it or getting old.'

'Yeah, I mean, he's the fucking Copy Ninja,' interjects Mitsuko.

'Yes! It Is Unacceptable That My Eternal Rival Shall Have such A defeat In The Springtime Of His Youth! He Would Not Be My Eternal Rival Otherwise!' Gai strikes a pose. Even Maito Gai has his moments of sanity and logic amongst his eternal platitudes.

Raido frowns. 'Well, Kakashi isn't the most orthodox person I know, but there's no denying his methods are successful.' He thought for a second. 'Well, apart from that rather unfortunate incident with that teammate of his, Uchiha Obito. From what Genma told me, you don't want to mess with him if…wait, back up. You don't mess with him at all. Especially if a team-mate's been injured, or something.'

'He's been beating us at everything, forever, hasn't he? Last time I tried to spar with him, as in a real spar, I got absolutely whipped. And he's younger that all of us, that bastard,' comments Asuma, puffing on one of his infernal cigarettes. God, that man is going to kill us all with second-hand smoke, Kurenai thinks irritably. Her hands are shaking from too much caffeine.

Gai puffs up. 'Not So! There Are Only Twenty-six Wins To My Twenty-five. I Shall Soon Surpass My Eternal Rival.' Gai blathers on, complete with his prancing, posing and exclamation marks. Kurenai briefly wondered how one can talk with exclamation marks. Somehow, Gai manages.

'Hey, did you hear about that huge fight Ichiro picked with Hyuuga Hiroshi? asks Mitsuko, abruptly changing the subject.

'Stupid fuck,' Raido rolls his eyes. 'Picking a fight with a Hyuuga, and that particular one? He must've been drunk. Then again, Genma and I can be pretty dumb when we're drunk.'

'When you're drunk?' smirked Mitsuko. 'Anyway, apparently, Ichiro got a jyuuken straight to the gut. I heard he'll be in hospital for the next two weeks.' She says this all with some sort of malevolent glee.

And so yeah. On and on the 'news' goes. And no matter what may be said of the content of the discussion, it's undeniable. The jounins are right.

Kakashi knows what its like to be talked about. Being the prodigy he was, there was bound to be talk. First was the tittering about the five year old kid becoming a genin. Then it was how he'd made chuunin at age six. Then it was his father's fall from grace….that had gone on for months. Then it was the various bits and pieces in between when he had become a jounin at thirteen and now. He's learnt to deal with it. At least, he thinks he has. He doesn't listen to the gossip anymore, and he doesn't react. Which then came to the question of why he was still hiding behind his mask? He really doesn't know, either.

He's at the Memorial Stone again. He wants to stay forever, but he never forgets who he's working for. Time to meet Genma for that drink. But he won't get too drunk. He knows Genma has other plans. He's only about an hour late this time. He leaves, but still, he remembers. Everyone. And he's still waiting for his punishment, the atonement for his sins. He's not sure if he's right, but the gossip is. Even if he doesn't admit it to himself.

Genma knows everyone was talking. Most had the good grace or tact to either stop, or at least talk quieter when he came round. Raido is less subtle. Though the news relay system of Konoha, he's somehow heard about Genma going off for a drink, and he's turned up. Genma really isn't looking a pretty sight.

'God, Genma, haven't seen you round here for so long I thought your mother's nagging finally got through that thick skull of yours.' Genma's mother was a nice person and all, disapproved of drinking, but oh shit, her nagging…nearly drove Genma round the bend. Plus probably the added stress of the missions and the war helped. But really, when they were alive, you got so exasperated by them sometimes…but when they died – that was it. Everyone reacted in a different way, but in the end, everything was the same. And there was nothing more you could do about it.
Isn't it terrible?
But it wasn't. Everyone kind've knew that being a ninja wasn't a very long lived career, and even if your parent's weren't, the risks which came with being one seemed to somehow get transferred to them.

'Shut up Raido. I can see your poetic and meaningful platitudes haven't stopped, have they?' Genma grins playfully at Raido and the two banter on for a few minutes. Just like normal, like they're the best of friends (which they are) and that the mission was a success. The only thing Raido can see wrong is that Genma is chewing on his senbon needle furiously…which meant that he was either nervous or stressed. Or both.

Click. Click. Click. He idly wonders how bad it is for Genma's teeth. Probably doesn't matter. Not going to live long enough to find out, muttered the nasty little voice in his head. God, who really knew they had such a nasty voice until they heard it?

'So…about the mission…' Raido trails off when he sees the look on Genma's face. Damn those puppy-dog eyes. He swore they were Genma's secret bloodline limit. His mother had had exactly the same eyes. Raido remembered how she'd convinced him and Genma to help her move some goddamn heavy piece of furniture halfway across Konoha.

'Subtle as always, aren't we?' Genma rolls his eyes. He turns serious. 'Please Raido. Not now. Not till I have a bit more alcohol in me.'

So they walk into the seedy bar, and there's the usual motley crowd, with a few extras thrown in, like Naoki, that chuunin kid. Oh god, Naoki…loud as anything, pretty as a peach, and hopeless like fuck. Raido's sensei had once confided to him when they were, ahem, 'talking' about the latest chuunin exams.

'Don't tell anyone I said this Raido, but as much as I respect Daiichi-san, I honestly do not see what he sees in that boy.' Raido couldn't have agreed more. He privately suspected that Naoki's father had conveniently done something big for the judges of the chuunin exam. Raido promised not to repeat it, and technically he didn't.
It kind of just came out naturally one night when he and Genma were slumped over a hot jug of sake on a cold winter's night.
'Little fucker probably slept up the ranks,' smirked Genma. Raido suspected he was right. They then proceeded to gossip shamelessly, and probably quite loudly, how they thought they saw Naoki getting felt up, how they saw some dirty old man looking at Naoki funny, how they saw Naoki looking at them funny, and so on. And at some point in the night, either someone overheard, or they told someone in their drunken stupor, and the message promptly was aired on the great grapevine of Konoha.

But still. Naoki was a pretty entertaining guy to have round, even though he was fucking hopeless on missions. Always someone saving his arse, but somehow always got injured on every damn mission. Raido notes that Naoki's finger is probably broken, and mentally rolls his eyes.

The crowd is gossiping endlessly again, but really, what else is there to talk about? There's only so much about shinobi politics, weapons and the weather they can talk about. So the talk just turns to the fellow man.

Raido twitches at Mitsuko's laughter at another of Naoki's jokes. Geez, he thinks. Why didn't this kid just become a stand-up comedian and be done with it? Would certainly have kept everyone happier.
He notices that Genma's acting a little more normally, and that Kakashi has deigned to join them. Kakashi, well, is just being Kakashi. Silent.

'Well, guys, I'm off on a mission tomorrow. B-ranked.' Naoki puffs out his chest importantly. Raido sees Genma twitch irritably. It was really quite surprising how Genma didn't hold his alcohol terribly well. Quite funny really. Didn't quite fit in with his general image.

'So, are you going to miss me?' asks Naoki.
'Of course we're going to miss you,' replies Genma.
'Really? You mean that?'
'Absolutely not,' said Genma in exactly the same tone of voice and without twitching a face muscle.

Raido smirks, although it is entirely inappropriate.

Kurenai suddenly seems to be interested in the swirls in her drink, and Asuma is staring off into space. Mitsuko suddenly has an enlightening conversation with the patron sitting next to them.

Kakashi is just staring at them, silently with his one normal eye. All of them are still listening though.

'What makes you think I'm going to miss you? What makes you think anyone's going to miss you? Do you think anyone's going miss them? Do you remember the names on the memorial stone? Do you? Do you?'

Raido groans and settles himself in for a nice long spiel. Genma was quite a depressed drunk and often got like this if provoked. Best to just let him talk for awhile.

'Do you remember all the people who've died to cover your arse? Because in the grand scheme of things, we're all nothing more than a spoke in the wheel, a speck of dust or a boil on the arse of history. It's there, gone, and forgotten. Everyone's gonna forget everyone, and when you and I kick the damn bucket, no one's gonna remember us.'

Genma drops his head into his arms and his shoulders are heaving. It takes Raido a moment to figure out he's desperately trying not to cry.

'Fuck you, Naoki.' For some reason known only to his inebriated brain, he attempted to throw a punch across the table at Naoki. Unfortunately, he misses by, well, quite a bit.

Raido grabs his arm and turns him away from Naoki. Raido's just not up for a bar-fight tonight.

'Ok dude, I think it's time to go home.' Raido sort of grabs him in an attempt to prevent Genma from squirming away to go after Naoki again. Genma turns and slumps against Raido, all his fight gone. Raido looks at the other jounins with a helpless but slightly exasperated expression.

'Guess I'd better get him home before he calls the Hokage something nasty, or some shit like that.

They nod vehemently in agreement. No one volunteers to help him out because dealing with an intoxicated ninja was disconcerting, to say the least.

'Come on. Let's get you home,' says Raido to the now sobbing drunkenly Genma, as he hauls Genma's sorry arse out the door.

Kakashi, Asuma and Kurenai are left. Naoki wandered off somewhere else to hold court. Mitsuko excused herself hastily, after sitting through Genma's outburst, saying something about something she had to get done the next day.

Asuma and Kurenai are now itching to hear what happened on the mission. They suppose Kakashi's not really drunk enough kill them all if they ask, and the worst he could do was refuse to tell them. So they ask.

'Hmm…I guess if you guys are that desperate to know…you're going to know sooner or later anyway…' he doesn't move from his floppy position over his barely touched drink.

'To cut a long story short, we were escorting a very high up diplomat from the Daimyo. Sounds like an uncomplicated mission, no? Turns out, some Mist ninja appeared, a lot of them, through a long tragic series of accidents, the mission went really bad, and Katsuo was killed. And the diplomat. That's it in a nutshell, I guess. Plus this is one of the worst stuff-ups I've done in awhile.' He smiles bitterly. 'Yondaime-sensei wouldn't be terribly pleased, would he?'

Asuma lets out a noncommittal grunt, lighting up another cigarette, as Kurenai stays silent. They know it's a rhetorical question. But Kakashi's right about it getting round.

Because the next morning, Kurenai sees Anko.

'Oh Anko. Don't tell anyone, but last night I heard about what happened on Genma and Kakashi's mission.'

So Anko tells one of her friends, and that friend tells another friend, and so on. Because that's what happens in Konoha, the constant cycle of 'news' and the twenty-four hour, seven day week news relay system known as the Great Grapevine.

Because in Konoha, gossip travels fast. And sometimes, they're right.