CH_3.39 (098)
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Takuma woke up to the sound of his doorbell. He glanced at the bedroom wall clock, telling him it was already eleven in the morning. He had returned late last night from his journey to Dai's parent's house, and he had only gotten a couple hours of sleep after returning home.

He pulled himself off the bed, grabbed his weapons pouch, and kunai in hand as he walked to the door while the doorbell rang again. He cracked a peek through the peephole, and his sleep vanished a level as he opened the door to Taro, Ai, Nenro, and Masaaki in front of his house.

"This is a surprise," Takuma said as he returned the kunai to the weapons pouch. "What are you guys doing here?" He could guess why they were here altogether. It was obvious.

"How are you?" asked Ai, worried as she looked him over.

"I'm fine," Takuma fully opened the door and stood aside. "Come inside."

All four entered the apartment, instantly crowding the small living room more than ever. Takuma had two chairs for his small dining table— there used to be a two-seater couch that Takuma had long ditched— as such, Nenro and Masaaki had to sit down on the floor while Ai and Taro took the two chairs. Takuma served them with refreshments before sitting down on the floor.

"This is the first time you guys are here, isn't it," said Takuma to his friends. He had been to Taro and the trio's home, but they hadn't been to his. "How do you like my humble abode?"

"You should've told us," Taro spoke. "It doesn't feel good to know about these sorts of things from the rotating gossip." 

Takuma pursed his lips, feeling his friends' gazes on him. "I didn't have the time," he said. "I was in the village for a night before I was out again. I was going to tell you guys today."

"Did you have to leave so quickly? Where did you go?" asked Ai.

"I had to," Takuma said— he didn't answer the second question.

"… What happened?" Masaaki asked.

"The mission went wrong, people died." The particulars of the mission were under lock because of the international relations implications between the Hidden Leaf and Hidden Frost, so he couldn't divulge the particulars to anyone, and he didn't want to. "The remaining team had to go ahead to minimize our casualties, and I was asked to follow, which I did. The injuries made the journey back home a hassle and took a lot of time… but other than that, the way back was uneventful."

Ai and Masaaki were worried while Nenro and Taro were searching.

"You all don't have to look at me like that," Takuma shrugged. "Things went south, but I'm here now, and the problem with the mission doesn't happen often— it was a C-rank mission, for god's sake. Worry about me when I'm doing B-rank missions; I'll dump all over you guys then."

They didn't laugh, but Takuma saw a smile or two of relief crack up on their faces.

"What is that?" Nenro pointed at the wall across him.

Takuma looked up at his information wall that detailed his Ring fights, combat records, notes on skills he was learning, some of his drug dealing records, and other things he needed to visually track.

"All kinds of things," said Takuma with a small smile. The notes were openly displayed, free for anyone in his house to read, but Takuma wasn't concerned. They were written in a combination of two 'otherworldly' languages that didn't exist in the world. He knew for a fact it was nigh impossible to decipher an unknown language— especially language as complex and fully formed as he was using. There was no known language to use as a reference or obvious picture references that could give meaning to a particular sentence. It was a dead language(s). It was another skill he could add to his repertoire as a creator/user of coded language, but for that to happen, he would need to teach the language to someone else, but that wasn't in Takuma's plan— a way to store information only accessible to him was a huge advantage.

"I don't recognize the language," Nenro said.

"That's the point. Don't worry about it. It's some stuff I'm working on. It helps me keep track of random things."

"You created a new language to keep track of… random stuff?"

Takuma shrugged. "You gotta do what you gotta do," he gave a nonsensical answer that seemed to make sense but didn't on a second thought. He didn't mind these four people finding some stuff about him that didn't make sense, except he didn't want to explain.

"Never let your guard down," Takuma suddenly said, making everyone take their eyes off the wall. "When you're outside, always be on the lookout— keep track of your surroundings. Maintain active communication; sound out abnormalities so your team is aware of them. Rely on your teammates, but never become dependent. Trust, but not blindly. Even if someone is your ally, if you don't know them personally, be conscious around them. You're responsible for yourself on the field, never forget that, even for a moment."

The room's vibe immediately turned grave as Takuma looked at them severely. He didn't want them to one day go out for a mission and not return. He was aware of the unavoidable risks if they continued to grow as shinobi and eventually got dangerous missions; however, if he could even remotely reduce the risks by making them aware, he would scream his words from rooftops.

"What are you going to do next? What did they say?" Taro asked.

"My chunin team lead is taking a break for some time, so I'm stuck to D-rank missions until he starts retaking C-rank team missions. I've to start Monday to safely make the monthly quota," Takuma sighed— he wanted a slightly longer break but had to work to not get penalized.

Ai frowned, "They aren't reclassifying the mission to a higher ranking?"

Takuma shook his head, "Not yet. It'll happen after they complete their investigation— it'll be a while before I see the effect of reclassification if it happens."

Because of how the mission had gone, and the ongoing investigation, the two C-rank missions that should've been added to Takuma's record were put on hold, which meant he was coming short of his mission quota. He had to work overtime to meet that quota. If the investigation went well, those two C-rank missions would be added later, or the classification might get elevated to more C-rank missions or even a B-rank mission— but who knew when that might be.

"Do you want me to talk to one of my chunin?" asked Nenro.

"No, I'll take it easy for a moment. I'll tell you when… Thanks," Takuma sighed.

The two weeks had been longer than he had expected and planned for before leaving the village. He had to return to his dealing in the village and get his usual life back on track.

… It was alright, he needed to work right now.



"I'm fine," Takuma told Maruboshi, who slightly cocked his head. "Everyone remotely aware of the mission has been asking how I am. I just answered if you wanted to know."

"But you are not… fine, are you?" Maruboshi replied. "Doesn't seem that way to me."

"Should I be smiling constantly so people would leave me alone?" asked Takuma, feeling the irritation bubbling up inside of him. He had gotten sick of random people who he had perhaps talked to once or twice coming up to him, all but demanding to know what had happened on the mission as if it was their birthright.

He looked at Maruboshi, and his half-glare softened as he audibly sighed. "I'm sorry, that was unwarranted. I… just," he sat down on the tree stump in the same training area they had met during Takuma was in the academy.

Maruboshi sat down on the grass in front of Takuma. "You do not have to apologize to me, child. I understand what you are feeling right now."

"Do you?"

Maruboshi stayed silent for a moment. "Unlike you, I was on a jonin team when I was a genin"— Takuma knew about that, Maruboshi had mentioned it in passing— "my teammates were as close to me as my blood sister, if not closer. My jonin teacher was strict, but he was closest to what I had to a big brother. The way I taught you during the year was majorly based on how he taught us…. Do you know where they're now?"

Takuma slowly shook his head. He could tell where Maruboshi was going, but the exactness of it was lingering out of his reach.

"They all are dead," Maruboshi stared right into Takuma's eyes. "They did not die one-by-one during their own missions or during the war. They all died on an inconsequential mission while our team was still operational. And they died due to me because I made a reckless decision— my teammates got wiped before I could move a finger, and my teacher had to sacrifice himself to allow me a chance to escape.

Do you know how close we had to be for a jonin to sacrifice himself for a genin? Closer than family."

Jonin were infinitely more valuable than genin. Everyone knew that. The jonin knew, the genin knew, and it universally understood that if the entire ship was sinking and there was no way to salvage the situation, the jonin's life was a priority— even if the rest of the team had to die, the jonin had to come out alive.

"Did you not ever think why I am still a genin?" asked Maruboshi.

Of course, Takuma always had that question in the back of his mind. But he never asked because it would be rude.

"… They held back your promotion because of your team's death?" Takuma took a guess.

"Would anyone still be a shinobi if the village kept them down with no future prospects? Especially at my age?"

Takuma shook his head.

"No, I would not have been. I have rejected promotions at least twice yearly for decades because I do not think I can lead shinobi on missions. I led my teammates to death once; I do not want to do it again," Maruboshi firmly grasped Takuma's shoulder. "But you are different, my child. You are bright, competent, and hardworking— the type of shinobi this village needs and deserves. You cannot get bogged down because of this mission. What happened was not your fault. You were not prepared for the mission that you faced. So do not blame yourself for their deaths."

Takuma closed his eyes and bowed his head. His heart felt like lead again.

"I can't get them out of my mind," Takuma held his head in his hands. "They're always there when I close my eyes."

"It's okay, it's okay," Maruboshi rubbed his arm. "What you're feeling right now is normal. Death of closed ones is not easy— it never was, it never will be."

"How do I get them out?" Takuma asked. Yumiko and Dai always came smiling, but they always changed to them being dead. He didn't want to think about them, but his mind betrayed him. It was as if they were etched behind his eyelids.

"The dead are remembered and survived through the living, Takuma," Maruboshi said. "You have to grieve… take it one day at a time. In my experience, you do not do anything special or different to cope, you just do. You just keep living and put one foot in front of the other. Everyone says time heals, but I not know if that is true—" Takuma looked up at Maruboshi— "but it does help you forget more often. Life will be good again… just in a different way."

"That sounds terrible," said Takuma, tears welling in his eyes.

Maruboshi hugged Takuma, "Death always is, my child."



"W-What… did you say?"

Takuma stared at Iruka sitting across from him with a baffled experience.

"Genin Takuma, your transfer out of the Genin Corp has been expedited and finalized," said Iruka as he placed a scroll on the table in front of Takuma. "You now fall under the directive authority of the Leaf Military Police Force… effective immediately."

"… What?"



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