Chapter six - Exhaustion

The next mission Cat was assigned on, turned out to be a little more troublesome than was expected at their assignment.
To be honest, it already started out on the wrong foot when Kakashi – no, Captain Wolf, he was in uniform - arrived two hours late with a certain Eternal Rival clinging onto his arm as if trying to hold him back. Maito Gai was nagging at him and then started nagging at the Third Hokage, spouting out some kind of nonsense about 'Beloved Rivals not being suited for the Darkest of Darknesses'.

(It was that very moment Tenzou decided he found Gai to be one meddlesome guy, and realized that his captain must be either bat-shit crazy, or had the patience of a saint. Or maybe he was just very skilled in the Art of Ignoring. Witnessing Gai's rant on 'the Un-Youthfulness and Implied Insanity of Anbu', Tenzou was sure Kakashi was an absolute master in the Art of Ignoring: the man hadn't done as much as twitched his eye during the entire rant while still standing stiffly in position, ready to receive orders).

After the Third Hokage had almost given Gai a restraint-order, which then caused the man to leave in tears in reaction to the threat, the Anbu-team had received a mission that seemed rather easy at first: infiltrate a small group of bandits, then kill their leaders and make it look like an accident. Of course, Konoha was not involved officially, meaning they'd have to be stealthy and ruthless.

As soon as they went on their way, it turned out to be a mission riddled with numerous difficulties, and it had ended in much more bloodshed than had been expected – after infiltrating the group and investigating, the leaders of the gang turned out to be missingnin from Kiri, which were harder to kill and would not go down without a fight, much less die in some kind of 'unfortunate accident'. Sabotaging would not work, meaning the Anbu-team had had to engage them in battle. The team had not been allowed to leave any witnesses…

Tenzou didn't even want to think about the horrid outcome of their mission. Even going by ROOT-standards, the mission had been gruesome, and he desperately tried to repress his memories.

Leaping through branches that tore at their clothes and scratched their exposed skin, the Anbu-team was glad to see the walls of Konoha getting closer after every leap they took. The forest was thinning out, and in the dim sunlight of the setting sun, the gates seemed to beckon them with promises of security and warm beds and edible food. And showers.

Cat, still tense from the mission they just completed, whirled around when he heard a loud 'thud' followed by a barely audible groan of pain. His right hand went to grasp the hilt of his sword as he made a hand seal with his left hand, ready to dispel any genjutsu; the wood-user was ready to attack whoever had felled one of his teammates. He narrowed his eyes in concentration and made sure some of his killing-intent was released in order to frighten enemies.

On the ground was Captain Wolf, laying face down in the dirt, his torn red scarf pooling around his neck like a puddle of blood. For a moment, Tenzou's heart stopped. A soft breeze stirred the dead leaves on the ground. It was silent.

Next to the wood-user, Crow just sighed, "Easy, Cat." He placed a strong hand on his teammate's shoulder, "The captain is just exhausted. Again."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Exasperation was evident in Boar's voice as he moved over to his fallen superior, who was making a rather futile attempt to get back on his feet again. "You could've just told us – ordered us, if you wanted to - to slow down a little, and you would've avoided this scene." The taller man hoisted his captain over his shoulder like he was nothing more than a sleeping bag or a large sack of rice, "No offence, sir, but I think I can understand why the medics think you're a pain in the ass. You're not even heavy – perhaps really you should put on some weight, because I'm pretty sure this is not healthy…"

Captain Wolf, who had collapsed due to chakra exhaustion (and accidentally triggered Tenzou's fighting instincts in doing so), laughed sheepishly and brushed him off with idle words, "Maa… I just wanted to get home and be done with this mission. I thought I would be able to reach the hospital before getting a little weak in the knees…" He was silent for a moment and then deadpanned, "We're in front of the gates, too. I almost made it."

Boar and Crow both groaned, and Cat closed his eyes as he hung his head. For a moment, the wood-user felt like strangling his superior; the brown-haired man just was too tired for his antics and just wanted to go home to take a shower. He disliked the feeling of blood crusting in his hair and wanted nothing more than being clean. Crow seemed to share his sentiments and told Boar to move on.

When the taller man passed Cat, who now took the back of their small formation, Wolf managed to lift his head a little and the smaller man caught a glimpse of his dark eye through the eyehole of the chipped, snarling mask. It crinkled up just slightly, and Wolf said in utter seriousness, "I wont let my teammates die and I won't let my stamina affect the outcome of our missions, don't worry about it, Cat."

Trotting after Boar and the useless captain Wolf, Cat stammered, "O-of course I know that, senpai! Just stop neglecting your own needs, then I'll stop worrying about you!"

"Did you hear that, Boar?" The silver-haired captain asked in a way too chipper tone of voice, "He told me to-" Before he could finish talking, Boar strengthened his grip on Wolf's midriff, "Show some tact, Captain; you suddenly collapsed, and though you often suffer from chakra-exhaustion, everyone would worry about your well-being after a mission like this. Don't ridicule Cat just because he cares." Boar wasn't in a good mood at all.

The silver-haired Anbu-captain started coughing when the man who was carrying him did not weaken his hold on his diaphragm, "Boar, you're too harsh, I was just joking…"

Silently, Tenzou thanked his older teammate, for he wasn't sure if he would've been able to keep himself from trying to actually strangle his superior would he have finished that mocking sentence. The captain truly could be an idiot when he decided to be one, and the wood-user really did get aggravated whenever such was the case, no matter the amount of respect he held for the man.

Crow fell in step with Cat, and said: "Stop fighting, we've completed yet another mission! Let's drop off Captain at the hospital and go for a drink afterwards. I feel like celebrating having survived yet another B-rank-turned-S-rank."
"I like the sound of that, Crow." Boar said, and Cat nodded in agreement, "I'll report to Hokage-sama first. Shall we meet up at eight?"

Reaching the gates, they finally entered Konoha. They were home at last.

"You're late, Raido." Genma said. He rolled his senbon between his lips, "It's not like you… Even Tenzou-kun has finished his first drink." Tenzou looked up from his glass and smiled at the scarred man when he sat down next to him, "Good evening, it is nice of you to join us, Raido-senpai."

Raido didn't acknowledge their greetings and immediately ordered a drink. Genma raised an eyebrow.

Though Genma was in a light mood and Tenzou seemed to be in higher spirits than when they'd first entered the village, Raido didn't seem to be all too happy. A scowl darkened his features considerably, and his eyes were unreadable. In the flickering lights of the bar, his scars seemed more prominent; he looked older, tired even.
Scrutinizing his older teammate, Tenzou could detect a slight crusting of blood behind Raido's ears. The man had washed himself, but clearly was a little out of it. Something was wrong.

After a while, Tenzou became slightly annoyed by Raido's rhythm-less strumming on the counter, and he made up his mind to ask what was bothering the scarred man. The tapping of Raido's fingers was getting on Tenzou's nerves, and the older shinobi was clearly upset about something, which in turn made the younger man feel very uncomfortable.

"What's it?" Genma asked before Tenzou could voice his thoughts.

"What's what?" Raido said without looking at his companions. He downed his drink in one go.

Oh. They were going to play the guessing-game? Tenzou was rather good at this, "You're bothered by something. Of course the mission is still bothering you, but I'm sure this is about something else… I bet it's Wolf-senpai."

"Not everything is about Kakashi, Tenzou." Genma said, shaking his head. Sipping his drink, he turned to Raido, "Though this time, our little Tenzou-kun might be right. Raido, stop brooding and explain your dark mood. I'm even willing to pay your drinks if you spill the beans right now."

The scarred man sighed deeply, "You guys…"

The senbon-chewing man elbowed him in the ribs, "Come on! You're making your cute teammates worry!"
Raido rolled his eyes but smiled woefully nonetheless, "What if I'm not willing to share my thoughts with you?"

Genma said, "Hey, I'm offering you free drinks…"

Tenzou merely shrugged and said, "I'll stare at you if you don't."

Raido raised an eyebrow at Tenzou's answer, "So what?

Taking out his flashlight and carefully schooling his features to give Raido the creepiest stare he could muster, Tenzou looked the taller man dead in the eyes, "I'll stare at you. The entire night. You won't be able to sleep, and I'll cause you nightmares in the nights to come…"

At this, Raido actually burst out laughing, and Genma gave the wood-user a bemused stare as if complimenting the younger man on his work. Raido ordered another glass and turned on his seat to lean his back against the counter. He crossed his arms and looked at the floor, not meeting the expectant eyes of his teammates, "I guess there's no hiding it from the two of you?"

"Nope." Genma said semi-cheerfully. Tenzou casually leaned over and smacked the senbon-chewing man, "Do tell what is bothering you, Raido-senpai."

"… The captain is more trouble than he's worth, I swear." The scarred man huffed, "When I dropped him off at the hospital, the medics asked for his condition, and I told them he was suffering from chakra exhaustion once again. Guess what happens next? The captain decides to speak up for himself and notes that he might be poisoned too, and that the wound in his side – the one he stitched up himself! – probably reopened during our race back to the village…!"

Raido mournfully hung his head; "He would've died if he hadn't gotten into hospital today. We didn't have the right antidote in our packs to cure him, and he had been aware of that; he had needed medical help that we couldn't provide. Now I realize just why he never slowed down even with his chakra reserves depleting…"

He suddenly slammed his hand on the counter, and Tenzou had to grasp his glass to stop it from spilling its contents on the wood. Raido stared at his hands after he'd calmed down a little, "Today, the blood soaked in my gloves wasn't just my enemy's. The blood of our captain stained them as well, and though it was not me who inflicted the wound to him, it was me who hadn't noticed because my gloves were already covered in too much red… What is the world coming to?"

Tenzou didn't know what to do. He wasn't used to emotional outbursts of any kind, be it happiness, anger, or sadness; the fear that wrenched up Raido's face was foreign to him. Yet, he could understand the man's feelings: he would've felt exactly the same shock should he himself have witnessed Kakashi-senpai's admittance of being close to death.

He had frozen when he'd seen his superior face-down and unmoving on the forest soil. The idea of the invincible captain almost dying instilled a cold-seated fear in his heart. The fact that Raido had planned on not telling his teammates shook him to the core; no one should have to carry the burden of worry all on their own. Raido was strong, but judging from his emotional outpour, he wasn't heartless.

Genma snorted, and Raido looked up, irked, "This isn't funny!"
The honey-haired man smirked at him, "It isn't funny, but you shouldn't act as if this is all your fault. That's selfish."
Tenzou gawked at him in confusion, "How in the world can that be selfish?"

Genma raised his index finger, "All right, was it Raido's fault the mission was bad? No, it wasn't. We just hadn't received enough information to properly work with." He raised a second finger, "Was it Raido's fault Kakashi got injured? Obviously, it wasn't. Our insufferable captain just shouldn't have taken on that katana-wielder all on his own."

Genma laughed mirthlessly as he raised a third finger, "Was it Raido's fault the blade was poisoned? No, it wasn't – it definitely wasn't." Raising his pinkie, he concluded, "And was it Raido's fault Kakashi didn't tell us?" Genma shook his head, "Absolutely not. There is no 'Raido-factor' to this story, with exception from the part in which he carried Kakashi to hospital, saving his life, of course."

He downed his drink, "We can blame the situation on the course of events and on Captain's stubbornness as well as his will to survive. Should Kakashi have told us he'd been poisoned? I'm pretty sure he should have, but it would've complicated matters; he'd have us worrying for him, which would have added an edge of tension we didn't need at the moment, and it wouldn't have saved him either."

Raido felt the need to argue, "But we would've been able to carry him... We could've sped up!" Genma raised an eyebrow; "You're saying he wasn't egging us on to move at top speed already?"

Tenzou finished his drink, "You are right, Genma. But I still think he should've told us. It would've spared us the shock and worry later on. Even so…" the brown-haired man paused, unsure of what to say, "I can't blame Captain for not telling us either. You saw him react to my worries: totally serious, yet mocking me. With poison getting to his head, who knows what would've happened had we made a fuss out of it…"

'Fuss' was the understatement of the year.

Genma slung his arm around Raido's shoulder, "Listen up, we'll all go and visit him at the hospital tomorrow, and we won't let him get off the hook this time, all right? You can rant at him all you want, but lets first toast to being alive and kicking, shall we?" He ordered another three drinks, "Tabs on me, guys."

When their glasses arrived, Genma raised his drink and said, "To another completed mission."
Raido followed suit, "To Konoha."
Tenzou raised his glass, "To Kakashi-senpai, for having pulled through despite being an idiot."

They all laughed, but it was without their usual cheer.

In the hospital, Kakashi sneezed through his surgical mask, and sighed deeply, "…I bet there's someone talking about me…"

A/N: My sincere apologies for the incredibly late update. I hope you can forgive me for having put this on hiatus without a sign... Even so, I have not abandoned this story - updates might be slow, but I will continue.

This chapter is rather short, and of less quality that I would've liked, but I hope you found it an enjoyable read nonetheless.

(Also, the ANBU-Kakashi Arc of Naruto Shippuuden is quite interesting to watch, despite being a filler; it inspired me to continue this story).