Title: Caught Napping

Word Count: 7661

Rating: Not PG-13 anymore, since there'll be some killing

Summary: Mission and the aftermath.

Author's Notes: Don't own "Naruto" nor its characters. Propriety of Masashi Kishimoto will become mine after our wedding. ;)

We didn't talk about feelings anymore that night. In the middle of a mission, with team-mates sleeping right behind our backs it was somehow off, inadequate. And seroiously, two respectable shinobi talking about feelings? On top of that, my canned soup almost exploded, so we had some trouble with getting my dinner from merciless depths of the monsterous fireplace.

All in all, for two ninja, talking about personal matters on a mission was highly unprofessional. So we've fallen into our old and well rounded routine, Raidō preparing traps around our temporary headquarters, me doing some research in a nerby village. Kids rested well, then earned a good scolding round from our commanding officer, and we set off to our destination, Sakurayama Village, to conduct the campaign of aspertions and fake assasinations. "Yay!" I thought unhappily, because even though me and Raidō as teammates had really high tolerance towards each other, even higher privately, there were things even with him I did very reclutantly. Though, as I glanced at him, every now and then, he was seemingly not at all influenced by the character of our mission, nor yesterday's talk, just run, concentrated only on accomplishing the task assigned.

We stop near the crossroads, to check our position on a map. Raidō crouches and unfolds foliated piece of paper, we gather around him.

"So, we're here now." He points on a map. "About two ri along the left branch of the road, there's our target's house. It's this black square. Our camp will be located here." Finger moves to the right side of the map, to the point marked with green circle. Then it slides to the blue mark closer to the target. "And here's the spot we'll be operating from during the main action." He glances up. "Any questions?"

Kids shake their heads, I don't have anything to say either, so Raidō nods and straightens up. He folds the map and tucks it back into his back pocket. And then grins.

"Time to get changed!"

I sigh. We have to pass through the village nearest to the target, looking as inconspicuous as possible. Cloud of artificial dust surrounds me as my team-mates do the henge. Ino shrunk herself and added plenty of wrinkles on her pretty face. Her sexy outfit changed into worn out but neat long sleeved, ankle length dress. She smiled at Ichirō, showing two rows of pearly white teeth. Oh, that's one of the basics... Not good, not good at all. I glance at medic-nin, and judge his henge cautiously. He looks like a retainer in his best years, no flaws visible at the first glance. Looking closer I notice absurdly young skin of his hands, and total lack of any indication of work on them. So that's why Yamanaka grins. I shift my eyes to Raidō, going from his ankles, up his trembling knees, past hollow chest to the head – silver hair, multiple wrinkles, his characteristic scar paler. Eighty-years-old version of my best friend. He smirks at me, and I practically gape, because even with his flawless henge he barely changed at all, at least for me. He sends me another look, slightly irritated this time. Reluctantly I make the necessary seals and change myself into plainest woman I can imagine. Add few grey locks to my hair, clad my body – now flabby and drooping everywhere – in dull kimono, make my teeth yellow, nails broken, skin marked with sunspots.

"Whoa! What an old rat!" Ichirō exclaims intelligently. Ino gaps brilliantly and Raidō laughs. I pick up my backpack, now disguised as a neat bundle held by strap of leather, smile bitterly.

"Learn from the best while you still can." Raidō says gravely in the end. "Yamanaka, do something with your teeth. Yamamoto, fix your hands." He picks up his pack, throws it onto his back. Kids quickly repaired their illusions and we set off. Raidō kept correcting them as we went to the camp – slump your shoulders, slide your legs more, don't held your head that high – looking indeed like a grouchy old man.

"You have to start from today." He murmurs to me, hoarse and breathless voice, as we near our destination.

"I know. I think I'll be back around midnight, maybe an hour later." I 'help' him go through a knocked down timber. "Ain't too late for you, old man?"

He bangs me with elbow straight in the ribs. I grunt, hell, it hurts in this body, and send him an accurately calculated kick in a shin. He turns slightly green. Perfectly performed henge is like a double-edged sword. You get an ideal disguise, but it's with all flaws and advantages that it carries with it. I can bet I'll have a bruise by the evening.

He sighs and gives me a pained look. "Report to me as soon as you come back from the reconnaissance."

"Yes, sir!"

Thick bushes beat my chest and face, as I carefully move to the high fence before me. If not for the cloth mask on my face, I'd look like a victim of a furious hedgehog. Gathering information about surroundings of the target – main goal of the day one. I stop near the edge of the wall of green. Narrow path that goes along the fence seems deserted. I inspect wooden wall now. There's plenty of holes in it, easy to climb on to, but I search more closely, looking for wires. Have to risk going in an open now, though it's relatively safe at this time of the day I presume. The sector I chose to invigilate is a bend, so I'll be able to hear anyone approaching from both sides of the road.

The wire is there, even more than one, to be honest, but it's not the type I feared to come up against. I check the base of the fence, to be safe, then focus on the other side of the wood. Dense hedge obscures my vision, so I take out one of toys I got from Anbu Intelligence while I still worked there. It's a kind of endoscope, only a little bigger and with an independent source of power. I peek gingerly past the bush. As I suspected, there are plains of shortly mowed grass, tobiishi, carefully pruned shrubs. Mansion in a traditional style. And I think I see an edge of the stone garden as well...

Ugh, how disgusting.

Faint sound of voices is coming closer, so I fold my equipment and hide back into bushes behind. A pair of guards emerges shortly from the left, chatting cheerfully. As I wait for them to pass, I pick up fragments of their conversation. Something about party and old geezer, and sly snake. Which might mean almost everything, trite banalities.

Now I have to wait for the second patrol. I mark my position and time on a blank map I've got with me, and prepare to the second part of today's task. I adjust my mask higher, check hip-pouch, kunai-holder, pockets in my vest. All in perfect order. Great. So far I'm like the Little Ninja from the Academy's textbook. Yay for me. I peek through the fence again. Clear. I try to determine which way to go once I get to the other side. I could use some kind of doton, of course, and get it over with, but that's too risky, since it leaves marks and there's the possibility of discovering my chakra. So I'll have to sneak through the lawn, hide behind those ridiculous shrubs and somehow get under the mansion. In the middle of the day, in plain sight. I feel rush of excitement. Love that kind of tasks.

The second patrol arrives shortly after I fixed my plan and crouched back into the bushes. Twenty minutes, about time. They pass, this pair silent and seemingly professional, and I wait another two minutes. In one swift motion I'm on the other side, crouching awkwardly in the narrow space between hedge and fence. I peek past the leaves, but there's no one in the backyard. I work my way a little to the left, where hedge is a bit less dense. There are also some impossibly crooked trees, good for a temporary hideout if you're an anorectic contortionist. Still, it's way better than those dwarfish looking shrubs. I manage to reach the spot I picked out, notice some weird box on the other side of the fence. Have to investigate it on my way back. I get out of the hedge, and sneak to one of the trimmed trees. Right when I manage to place myself behind one of the trunks someone slides open fusuma at the south side of the house. Not good. Rush of adrenaline sharpens my senses and mind. I was to approach the mansion from the south-west, but now I have to try do it exactly from the west. Tad more difficult, but manageable.

I wait until the maid disappears back into the house and without further delay run by the path of stones, and slide under the engawa. Just in time not to be seen by some girls that dash into the garden. Nice legs, though I never learned to fully appreciate the beauty of women's feet, Raidō uses to say. Now however, I have something much more interesting to attend to – locating best place to camouflage. Maybe that's the heart of the foot problem, wrong priorities... I install myself under the main room, put a camouflage jutsu on myself and my surroundings. Now even if one of those girls prancing in the garden crawl beside me she wouldn't know I'm here.

Stage two cleared, time for main part of today's task. Listening and picking out useful information. I bore a hole into the floor and then with my cleverly modified endoscope I check if it's a good spot for a wiring. I aim for a joint of tatami, get it right at the third try. Now I only have to place a microphone and listen.

I march slowly to the camp. Night's chill is refreshing, but I spent last nine hours on the ground. Where was wet and cold. I dream of a hot bath and a bowl of steaming soup, but I know that the most I can get is a sleeping bag and some dried food rations. Not very inviting. I ran over the house when everyone fell asleep, and in the kitchen there was this awesome looking, deliciously smelling pie. Damn tempting. To think I could be home now, eating self-made dinner. Stupid Raidō.

As I near the hut where we took quarters I can't see nor feel any indication that anyone was here lately. Traps are set in an order set by Konoha, so passing them is a piece of cake. Mm, cake... I smirk and sneak inside, go straight to the basement. The entrance is hidden under the floor panels. Even though I try to walk as silent as possible, and I'm virtually sure not one step squeaked, at the bottom of the staircase there is Raidō, back resting comfortably against the wall orthogonal to the stairs. I don't notice him until he moves, pushing back when I go past him. Out of reflex I've got needle to his aorta before I can think. Similarly, he holds a kunai to my neck.

"You're early." He states with a smirk, barely visible in the dim light leaking through the door to our main HQ chamber. I smirk back tiredly.

"'Am getting too old for this. Since you heard me coming..."

The door open, Ino pokes her head out and eye us suspiciously. Her face is quite intriguing mix of astonishment and disgust. Kids these days. Can't decide on one thing.

"You two always greet like that? Hope I won't be that messed up after few years of duty." Raised brow and she disappears back into the room, leaving the door wide open. I look at Raidō, he looks at me, both clearly on the verge of laughing out loud. Nevertheless it's a mission, and we have our duties. One of them being scolding juniors for insubordination..

"Oi, Yamanaka! Get here, now." He says letting me through to the chamber. As he gives a reprimand to Ino, I sit beside Ichirō, take the flask he hands me. Plain water, but tastes sweet after all day without anything in my mouth. I close my eyes for a while, feeling how tired I am, now that I don't have to focus any more. Ah, wait. Still have to make a report. I turn to Raidō, but apparently he's in a middle of a monologue. He always loved that. Yamanaka looks as if she wanted to cry, but oh well, Raidō does that to people. I turn back and motion for Yamamoto to come a bit closer.

"So, what thrilling things have you been doing, while I worked?" He looks at me cross-eyed, but otherwise does nothing to straighten up that not only I was working. I grin over the senbon I slid in my mouth as soon as I stopped drinking.

"We set traps around, cleaned up here a bit, sorted our gear, that kind of stuff." He took some dried rice and fruits out of his bag, along with – what a surprise – fresh tangerines. "Here, Captain found them when he went to the village."

"Thanks." I murmur and start eating. I really can't wait for this mission to end. Imagine I could be sleeping, after all day's work by the desk, in my very own bed. With freshly changed sheets. Stupid Raidō.

"Report." I hear above me and I straighten my back – when did I slouched anyway? - to see him standing right before me. I swallow what's left of the rice in my mouth.

"Right away, Sir!"

Ino sits opposite me, Raidō takes a seat to my right. I take out and unfold the map I worked on today. Three of them bent down to examine the annotations I made.

"The mansion is located on a hillock, surrounded by bushes much like the ones here. The fence surrounding the house is irregular, hexagonal, and along it there's a path, patrolled by two pairs of guards 24/7. Approximate interval between reaching the same point by one of patrols is twenty minutes. Now something cool. All around the place there's no chance of establishing wireless contact. I double checked it."

"How are guards communicating then?" Ino raised slender brow inquiringly and cocked her head to the side.

"There is an internal line in the mansion; transmitting-receiving posts are placed around the fence, but I haven't got enough time to investigate their placement, so I marked only two I ran into." I showed them which points I meant. "Outside the fence, on the north exactly, there is security headquarters and dormitory, I think it's former servant's house. One guard is looking over the personnel entrance from the riverside, and there are two watchman by the main gate. Other than that I reckon there is four guards in the house itself, two constantly by the target's father..." I paused to get a swig of water. "As for the target's family, there are the honourable Dad and Mum, who sleep in a room on the first floor, on the eastern side, two guards in the corridor, two sisters, nice kids by the way, they have room next to parent's, opposite to the target's. Two maids and the cook are from the village, the only servant sleeping in the house is the butler. And last but not the least is a secretary. I mean, I'm not quite sure yet what his position in the household is, but he seems to be the right hand of the daimyo."

"Whoa! You got all that information in one day? Alone? What did you do?" Ichirō said disbelievingly. I looked at Raidō, who scowled, but didn't say a word. I took out another piece of paper from my vest.

"Just sat and listened, exactly as I was thought back into the Academy, when I was a kid." I straightened up the paper I got out of my pocket. "Here, makeshift plan of the house and names of staff I managed to write down. 'S all I investigated on the day one, Sir." I turn to Raidō. He took the map and notes, looks at them silently for a while. Then he slide them into his hip-pouch, plays for a while with one of his rings. Sighs and raises his head.

"Okay then." Smiles lightly. "Let's hit the sack. Morning briefing at five."

Kids get up after a while. I peel one of tangerines I got from Ichirō, finally, close my eyes and contemplate fresh fragrance that surrounds me for a while. I'm tired, more than I have the right to be on that kind of mission. I open my eyes and slid part of the fruit into my mouth. Kids lay out their sleeping bags, and prepare to sleep hastily. I should do the same.

Raidō nudges me lightly with his knee. "Go to bed already." He says with a smile.

I smile back, nudge him back. "That's an order?" I ask, playfully, but before he have a chance to answer I add. "How's your leg?"

"Bruised, though otherwise fine, thank you." He looks as if he'd like to say something more, but then there is faint 'goodnight' from both Ino and Ichirō, and he falls silent.

I stand up, pat his shoulder, and without further delay go to sleep. I don't even notice how fast I fall into oblivion.

Surveillance Day Second was rather uneventful. Kids were designated to investigate guards closer, I kept on listening to the resident's daily life, Raidō scouted around the estate, looking for routes for withdrawal. I hoped he'd opt for retreating to the grove between the mansion and the river – I had no intention to swim in cold water. Especially twice, since our HQ was on the same side of the river as the mansion.

I walk back to the camp, earlier than yesterday, with few tangerines in my hands. Figures there is lots of wild-grown trees in the neighbourhood. Actually, it's quite nice area, last post of real green before sea of waving grass and mounting stones. Singing birds, murmuring river, humming trees. Pure poetry. Pity, that in two, three days at most, there'll be an apocalypse of officials running around. But we will be long gone by that.

I entered the hut and went down. Out of habit I made sure not even one floorboard squeaked when I passed through dusty living room to the hidden staircase, so when I nearly reached the door to the basement's chamber, I was able to hear heated conversation. I wasn't into eavesdropping at the moment, but then my name caught my attention, and I positioned myself back to the wall, beside the closed entrance, listening, strangely curious what did kids have to say about my humble person.

"So what, you say they're a couple?" Ichirō sounds baffled.

"Sure they are!"

"How can you be so sure?" Good kid. I'll ask Raidō to write him a praise in mission report...

"Oh, but it's so obvious!" Is it, really? "Those looks! Affection! They work together like, all the time!" Huh? My mind is temporary unavailable it seems, because I'm starting to wonder if it makes sense... "Don't tell me you haven't heard how they talk to each other! They read each others mind!" Well, maybe we do, but to thing we're together in 'that' way? No way. "Besides, I can feel it. Women's intuition, you know." Women's intuition? Is that the reason, why I haven't got a stable relationship for more than one year and miserable half? Is that why Kumiko dumped Raidō? Because she felt that we're a couple?

"But... Don't you think it's not enough? I mean, from what you're saying, your former team-mates might be a couple as well, but we all know they're just fiends... Right?" That's right! Just friends! Nothing more, because otherwise it's just unbelievably ridiculously stupid.

"Oh I can assure you, Izumo is not the type to hug just anyone..." What? Kamizuki kid?

"Might be..." Ichirō sounds pensive now. "And come to think of it he really looks somewhat like Shiranui-San, have to agree on that too..."

Oh. I fell victim to one of the worst things that can pop out on a ninjas path. The Coincidence. Supposed I came back ten seconds earlier, I'd hear noting interesting and just go into the room. But there was the almighty fucking Coincidence bitch, so I spent last few minutes letting some random gossip mess with my head. I really was tired...

I sensed someone upstairs – damn that floor, there's no way anyone could walk unnoticed when there are so many holes – and prepared a knife. Just in case. Three seconds of tense waiting and I saw characteristic sandal-clad foot, bandaged calves and so on. Raidō. I motioned for him to stay silent, when he sent me surprised look. If I'd be lucky, he won't ask about my curious behaviour any time soon.

We marched to the chamber. Raidō nodded to kids in greeting, and without further delay motioned for us to gather. We sat in a circle, identically as yesterday.

"Yamanaka, report." Raidō's voice is somewhat strained. I know what it means. He's restless and stressed-out – we're about to start main part of the mission. One day earlier than planned.

"Our surveillance confirmed Shiranui-San information about number and position of guards. From observation we gathered it seems, that there is total of eight transmitting-receiving posts on the fence. Here's the specific location." Ino motions to the map the medic just unfurled. "About estimated level of skills of guards – it's very varied, or so it seems. None of the guards behave like ninja, but there are three man, that are slightly more professional than the rest."

"Here, I made their sketches..." Ichirō chips in. He places three neat drawings beside the map; they're really good, so lifelike. "Weaponry is the same for all guards: standard kunai holster, wakizashi, two smoke bombs."

Wait, that's weird. "What for they might need smoke bombs?" I wonder aloud. "In this shithole?"

"Whatever it's for, we don't have the time to investigate it, Shiranui." Oh, so professional. No chance that Yamanaka confuses us for a couple, Raidō's tone is sharp as a scalpel. "I want to carry out the main task tomorrow."

"I was abut to suggest that, Captain. From my observation it looks that the day after tomorrow target's father will receive a very important guest. As an outpost, confidential of the guest will come tomorrow. It would be an outside witness, and important at that, without new guards, who most assuredly will come with the main guest. Considering the jutsu that is going to be used, I strongly recommend south part of the mansion to conduct the action."

Raidō nodded. "Yes, I was thinking of that part myself." He turned to Ino. " Your Mind Transfer Jutsu is close range, right? How far you can reach with it?"

"Maximum nine meters, Sir."

"I see."

I knew what he was thinking of. Raid from the front to secure that the target will be less guarded from back, then switching mind, Ino playing with target's surroundings and retreat. There were only two questions – how to synchronize frontal attack with Ino's jutsu - not to bump on guards - without using radio, and how to make the target come at least few meters closer to the fence ...

Raidō turned towards me. "What is the distance between the house and the fence?"

"About twelve meters. The garden consist mostly of dwarfish shrubs, lawn and some crooked trees. There is also the hedge, which is quite tall and thick, but it grows right beside the fence."

"Okay, so this is what we'll do. Yamanaka, you hide in the bushes on the south, along with Yamamoto. Yamamoto, you know what to do, watch over her while she performs the jutsu. The signal to start will be the third explosion at the front of the mansion. Find the best moment to switch with the target; under no circumstances cross the fence. Shiranui, you help me to place the explosives, then you're going to the south-east corner and support Yamanaka and Yamamoto if necessary. I'll carry out the explosions and then move to the mission camp. All of you have to head towards it as soon as you complete your task. Understood?" He gave us all solemn stare.

"Yes, sir!" We said in unison.

"Good. The mission starts in-" Quick glance at the watch. "Three hours. We set off at quarter to two. Take your backpacks, we're going to go back home right after the mission ends. At ten to two, we're gonna split. After that there's only waiting, until the mission itself. Any questions?"

"What if we'll be discovered and attacked?" Ichirō inquires. He's visibly unsettled, this action being one of his first duties in the field. His hands are trembling ever so slightly.

"You fight. Shiranui will assist you if a need for that arises. If no one of you shows up at the spot five minutes after the beginning of the action, I'll go aid you myself. Anything else?" Silence and shaking heads. "Good. Now go rest some and prepare to the operation."

We nodded, and everyone went to their backpacks, sorting things that were needed to the mission and so on. I rearranged things in my hip-pouch, examined placement of scrolls and needles in my vest. We all kept silent, as if with the mission's start clearly set and so close, invisible gloom surrounded all of us. I imagined big, thick cloud of insecurities and worries. In my mind, it was pinky-orange. I snorted. Stupid old brain. Preparations done, I sat on my sleeping bag, musing if I really need to sleep, or maybe soldier pill would do the trick. Sometimes it was better to pass on sleep instead of getting one or two hours of unsatisfying, shallow and nervous sleep, that left me even more exhausted and in wanting of a month vacation. But the medical service always stress out that even a cat-nap is better than no sleep at all, so maybe better not play with drugs too much? Then again I always get groggy after insufficient amount of sleep. While it's acceptable on a regular day, when I have enough time to wake myself up, right before the mission starts it might be a little risky.

I settled more comfortably, took the medic case from my backpack. Ichirō sent me scrutinizing look. The med-nin himself was obviously preparing to get some sleep, but my untimely violation of his competences effectively kept him awake. He looked as if he wanted to say something. Damn my poor timing today.

"Go get some sleep, kiddo." I said before he decided to talk to me, tone devoid of any emotion. He made a face, but didn't say a word. Minus point on your evaluation, Yamamoto. Medic should press if they think that team-mate do something that could put at risk anyone or compromise a mission. Kids this days...

I popped one black pill into my mouth, took a sip of water, unfolded the map. Time to entertain myself for the next two hours. To think I could be home, curled on my couch with an interesting book keeping me company. Stupid Raidō. He was sleeping already, the jerk.

I was running in my head fifth scenario of what could go wrong during the mission – Ino performed a jutsu, but they were discovered, so she had to end it before she had the chance to perform the task – when I felt someone approaching me. I raised my eyes and cocked my head to the side. Yamanaka. Interesting.

She knelt down beside me and bowed slightly.

"You're going to be my support on this mission, Shiranui-San. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu."

I paid no mind to mind to the smoke screen and waited for the main dish. Just kept staring at her.

"So... I was thinking, wouldn't you help me to choose a spot for hiding. Since you're not going to sleep anyway. I was scouting the area myself, of course, but you might have found some spot that was better than what I've in mind, so I thought I'll come and ask you, Senpai."

Ooh, it's gonna be fun. Little girl asks for help. How cute is that? I got really curious over what she's really in for, and played along, discussing quietly best places to lurk in. During our talk she changed position to more comfortable one – leaning on one hand, hip seductively pushed out, legs bent slightly and laid out so she looked like temptation personified. Nice, she definitely did her homework for Academy's Data Collecting class. Make the target as relaxed as possible, be frivolous and vague, beat around the bushes. Very good.

What does she want to know from me, though?

"Senpai, say... What do you think about relationship between team-mates?" So straightforward? Means that's not the main dish; not all of it, at least. Wonder, if that has anything to do with her earlier discussion about Hagane and Kamizuki with Ichirō? I better play dumb.

"Relationship? Like friendship?"

"No, other than that..."

No, really? "Rivalry, then?"

She squirmed, irritated. I made sure to keep most confused and honest expression. Oh, kids there days... Adorable.

"That's not quite what I had in mind." She looked to the side. "Since you're so experienced, Senpai, I wanted to ask what do you think if there's this... special kind of friendship, between team-mates..." Who would have thought?! I decided to play dumb while being cruel. Just because I can.

"Like the relationship between your father, Shikaku-Senpai and Chōza-Senpai?"

"What?!" She raised her head sharply, face beet-red, eyes wide as saucers. Oh, so cute! "That's not exactly what I was asking about either..."

"You sure?" I asked playfully. She knitted her pretty, slender brows. Finally, there was glimpse of understanding in her eyes. She pouted.

"Really, Senpai, I ask you politely and what do I get in return? You mock me."

"Oh, it's only half-serious, you know." Another outraged look. "Look, when you are on active duty for few years, you'll understand. Once you get to live through few hard mission nothing's gonna be black and white only. It's the same with team-mates and what you thought of friendship or relationship in general. Sometimes a friend can be closer to you than family, be it spouse or a child, and other times, you may do things you'd never classify as friendly to your comrades."

"I think I get your point, Senpai."

"Good." I ruffle her hair a little, gesture copied from Kakashi. "So what is that you really wanted to ask me about?"

She heaves an exasperated sigh. "Well, I was wondering about those people I know. They are friends, some even say that more than that, and I always thought that feeling this way is an obstacle at being a ninja. You know, that if you care too much, it can be dangerous. But they seem to be unable to act separately, they're that well-integrated it seems they read each other's mind. So which is it? Feelings help or not in our work?"

"I see. So, suppose you would be on this mission with, for example, Uzumaki, and accidentally, you'd be in love with him, you couldn't concentrate on your task, right?" Her eyes narrowed slightly at the mention of Kyūbi container, but she didn't comment on my choice of her assumed love.

"That's, roughly, my point."

"I see. It might be harsh, but I think you'd be better off keeping your parent's flower shop instead of playing kunoichi, if you really think that way." Shocked gasp. I really hope she doesn't think so. After all she's quite skilled and talented. But at some point it's the way of thinking that matters the most... "Sure, no one says you have to complete a mission at the cost of your comrades, but you have to be able to act without thinking about safety of someone else than you, if necessary. Concentrate on performing your part of the task as best as you can. In an ideal case, others will do so as well, and it should all work perfectly well. But in the real life... it's best to try not to let any feelings, be it worry, or love, or hate, or something else, taint your thinking while conducting an operation." I smile, and feel it's somewhat bitter. "In fact, it's best not to think at all."

"But what about those people I asked about? They obviously care for each other and that's why they fight in a combo. You yourself, Senpai, are friendly with Captain, so how's that to this talk about not letting feelings in the way?"

"Good point. But you mentioned two relationships that are in fact, opposite to each other."

"How so?" She's confused now. "I thought you're friends with Captain."

"I fancy myself into thinking that too." I wink. "But there is distinct difference between Kotetsu and Izumo, and Raidō and me. You noticed yourself they act together all the time. It's both their strength and weakness. They obviously care for each other, so it's not difficult to try and manipulate one of them by threatening the other. They're good ninja but they do not excel at anything. Now, I can work myself, with Raidō, with someone else, and none of it lessens my abilities. Though, while working with a friend there's slightly more trust between you two, so it's possible to do some things better. Like telepathy, you just act and you know the other party understands your motives. On the other hand it's hard not to worry sometimes. Though, you have to make the decision yourself – do you want to be a good shinobi or do you want to have lots of living friends." I smile. "Just remember what you felt when your rookie friends went to retrieve Uchiha... That will probably be one of your happiest memories if you ever become a jōnin."

Her eyes widened again. I can bet, until this moment the episode I mentioned was one of the worst things that happened to her. So many kids were on the verge of dying then. Young Nara, depressed after the fiasco. Ino's other team-mate almost dead. Gai's students bedridden for weeks. That little Inuzuka traumatized by what happened to his precious dog. She stooped.

"Nah, now's not the best time to ponder over it." I give a little laugh and sheepishly scratch the back of my neck. "This mission is not that bad, so just try not to fall in love with Ichirō and you'll be okay."

"Senpai!" She smiles too. Good. I hope she'll think about what I told her, though. Only later.

"Go grab a nap or something." I said, standing up. "I'm gonna take a walk."

It's never an easy mission, when they send two jōnin. I should have known.

At first nothing seemed out of order. We set explosives without any disturbances, waited for the guest to arrive. At the appropriate time, Raidō blasted off the bombs. Ino used the best opportunity she had to perform her jutsu. The target went for his father's throat, guards baffled, family scared. And then something happened, I couldn't see what exactly, but kids cover was blown. Someone noticed them and we started regular battle.

It turned out that those three exceptional guards were or have been ninja, because I was engaged in a fight with one of them for about three minutes now. He was quite fast, and didn't let me slow the peace for one moment. I'd be glad, if not the little fact, that Ino was still weak and Yamamoto had some problems with two guards himself.

Another were approaching.

I braced myself and in thirty seconds finished off my opponent with a nasty blow in his back. He collapsed almost immediately, his liver split, but I was already dashing forward to help Ichirō. Next opponent eliminated I let the kid handle the other and turned to the mansion. There was faint sound of clashing metal and painful groans to the right. Raidō must have arrived, because for the moment no new guards were coming our way. Good. Yamamoto finally knocked out the man he fought with; didn't kill him though. Nice kid. Too nice for a field duty, it seemed.

"Help Yamanaka to stand up and go to the Captain, he's somewhere by the river." I ordered. "I'll check if there're any guards left here."

I carefully peeked through a hole in fence and hedge someone had cut out. In the middle of a lawn there was the target and his family. Unfortunate kid was held down by one of the guards, his kins few feet away, their faces twisted in incomprehension. Between them there was the secretary, looming over the boy with something in his hand. Looked like a needle...

"Master!" Have to play the comedy till the end. I leapt over the hole, thrown few shuriken at the guard and secretary. Kid looked at me with utter horror, his watchman took few steps back. I noticed one throwing star protruding from his side. I threw a kunai, hit juncture of his stomach and hip. Immobilized, good. Now for the man holding weird object in his hand...

I felt sharp pain at my neck, hand clasped on my shoulder. Out of instinct I grabbed the hand with syringe – so it was a needle after all! - turned and broke the aggressor's arm. Warm plastic felt too light in my hand, so I tucked the syringe into my vest. Force of habit made me kick the secretary in the groin, twisting his broken hand further in the process. Inhuman howl sounded beside me. Can't endure some pain, apparently. Good, opponent immobilized. Two guards run out of house, so I used this as an opportunity for retreat.

"Mission failed, master." I snapped out at the kid on the ground and disappeared from their view. Now it was time to find my team. I ran in the general direction of the river. After fifteen seconds I was greeted by the sight of Raidō doubled with pain, Ino and Ichirō on his sides, trying to fight two remaining guards from the suspicious trio.

Without stopping I jumped on one of them, knife smoothly slashing his throat. The other didn't have a chance to change his stance, kids threw themselves at him simultaneously, I sunk another kunai into his back on a roll. Straight into the kidney. And then I turned him, pathetic doll gurgling up blood, and made one more blow, right through the heart. Good, eliminated.

Yamanaka and Yamamoto were standing before me in horror. I straightened up, wiped the knife nonchalantly on my trousers. Ichirō jumped to Raidō and I saw characteristic glow of medical jutsu. Ino fixed her eyes on my bloodied hand.

Someone was approaching. Before I had the chance to open my mouth, Raidō ordered us to run to the camp. So we dashed through the bushes, first heading South, than turning to East and then North. As soon as we reached the camp, we took our baggage and without any delay went back to Konoha.

Kids kept their distance from me, so I settled for protecting the rear.

And we ran.

High on adrenaline we went beyond our limits and made it to the hut with monstrous fireplace. Unlike three days ago, even though all of us were drained, no one went to sleep immediately. As soon as they entered the house, Ichirō and Ino seated Raidō on the bed and checked his side. Stubborn idiot refused to stop until we reached the hideout. It was so like him. I kept quiet all the way and listened as kids tried to persuade him to at least check if everything was really okay.

I circled the house, checking if all of the traps were in their respectable places, adding some on my own accord. Then I took a bucket of water from the well on the courtyard and entered the hut.

"Come here, let Yamamoto check if you're really, really okay." Raidō said as soon as I opened the door. I smiled, glad that his voice was filled with venom, because it meant he is fine. I sighed and opened my mouth to say...

My mind was blank.

I knitted my brows and tried again.

Something was really wrong. Rally, really not good.

I tried yet again to... say? But what?

Raidō rose abruptly, jumped over to me in one leap. "Genma, what's wrong?" He grabbed my shoulders and I looked at him with confused eyes. What's wrong, indeed? "Talk to me!"


Then I remembered. The syringe. I reached and produced the damned thing from my vest. Some of the transparent, yellowish fluid was still inside. I gave it to Raidō and exposed the injury on the right side of my neck.

Please, understand. I can't talk!

Raidō paled, horrified. "You can't talk, right?"

Do I have to do something now? Because he looked rather expectant after that question.

Oh wait! I think I should answer.

How do I answer questions, though?

"Listen to me carefully." Once again he grabbed my shoulders and made me face him directly. He looked so worried. Hey, Raidō I'm fine, just can't talk. You always complain I'm talkative anyway. I smirked. "Don't smile like that!" Angry now? I sent him questioning look. Why angry at me now? Did I do something bad?

Well, okay, maybe getting myself drugged wasn't my greatest accomplishment...

"Do you understand me?"

Damn good question! I think I do, but whenever I try to tell you that or express it any other way I get dumb. So, do I understand?

"Captain..." It's Ichirō's voice. "I think I might know what is the matter.

We both turned to the kid.

"My pharmacology teacher once told us about less known drugs and poisons used to confuse opponents. One of them had similar symptoms to what Shiranui-Senpai goes through. I don't remember its name, but I recall it's not life threatening." He visibly focused on grabbing hold of his vague memories. "I think he can understand what we're saying, he can think, but due to the drug he can't communicate." He motioned to my neck. "See, it was injected into the right carotid artery. It supplies left brain with blood. So now Shiranui-San's left brain is drugged, and since it is responsible for language, Senpai is temporary devoid of any communication skills."

"What, he can't sign either?" I regarded Ino with respect. Oh, these kids are really smart!

Or maybe I'm just stupid because of the fucking poisoning...

"No, he can't, since it's a language as well." Ichirō explains.

"It is? But..." Before Yamanaka has a chance to steep us in her linguistic ignorance, Raidō snaps at medic-nin.

"Temporary you said? How long does it take before the drug wears off?"

"I don't know. It depends on the dosage of course. And we didn't discussed it in detail, just mentioned it, so I really have no idea. But it definitely is not permanent, and shouldn't make any damage to the brain."

Raidō's hands tighten painfully on my shoulders. "Thank gods!" He exclaims with a sigh and then, for the briefest moment, I think he'll hug me. He doesn't, of course, though the amount of relief that is shown on his face is very, very unprofessional.

"Okay, let's wash and dress our wounds for now. We head home at dawn, no night watch tonight."

Kids mumble their approval. Yamamoto tends to the injury on my neck, Ino and Raidō wash using up the water I brought. They're done quickly. So is Ichirō. I stretch and peek into the bucket. Almost empty.

"I'll bring more water." Says Yamamoto and reaches for the handle.

Oh fuck, I set some new traps.

I push his hand away, take the bucket. How to say without words, that there are surprises in most unexpected places? Very nasty surprises. I look at Raidō.

Understand me, please. I'll go. Follow me.

To my astonishment he nods, as if I said something. I turn around and head out. He's right behind me. One after another, I disable all extra traps I set. Raidō and kids watch from the threshold. When I'm done I draw the water and calmly walk back.

"How did you know, Captain?" Ino exclaims. "How did yo know Shiranui-san wants to tell us something?"

Raidō's lips quirk in a wicked grin. "Why my dear Ino, isn't it obvious? It's this telepathy between friends you talked about yesterday."

I can't hold back and laugh. So he was eavesdropping on me?

Stupid Raidō.

Longest thing I ever wrote.

In eglish, that is. :)

i stil need a proofreader/beta-reader. Please, volounteer?

Yes, you!