May 9 through 11, Yondaime Year 5
Kakashi woke up again because the world smelled different.
Now it was full of medics.
Groggily, he counted four white hats and five new ANBU masks, and then there was a penlight in his face and he went blind.
Katsuko yanked the medic’s hand away before Kakashi snapped it off.
“Don’t do that,” she told the room, quiet and cold, kneeling at his side like a guardian lion.
Kakashi blinked shadowy after-images away, and registered Ryouma crouching on his other side, watching the room with a mix of wariness and relief. Genma was sitting on the edge of the bed-platform, legs dangling, while a different medic bent over his wounded thigh. Raidou was talking to a tall, light-haired woman in a crane mask.
“Another captain,” Ryouma said, tracking Kakashi’s gaze.
Kakashi tried to put two and two together. “Are we getting rescued?”
“Yep,” Katsuko said.
“Oh good,” Kakashi said, and pulled the blankets back up over his face. He was asleep again in seconds, bracketed between his teammates.
The next penlight was held by a medic he recognized, and she woke him up to ask first.
Hyuuga Iori looked the same as Kakashi remembered from the Trials — pale, professional, and unimpressed with him.
“I see you’ve managed to incapacitate yourself again,” she said. “Most new ANBU wait at least a month between events.”
“Wanted to get a headstart,” Kakashi mumbled. He squinted when she did terrible penlight tricks to his uncovered eye.
“I suppose I should be thankful it’s not poison this time.” She tucked the penlight away and checked his pulse with cool fingers. “Can you name the current Hokage?”
“Blond idiot,” Kakashi said, and measured a hand against the bridge of his nose. “About yea high.”
Iori did not look amused. She had the special Hyuuga trick of sucking all the humor out of the air and compressing it down into a cold singularity that questioned your poor judgement. “Try again.”
“Namikaze Minato-sama,” Kakashi said, cowed.
“Very good,” she said, and didn’t ask him any further questions. The advantage of Hyuuga eyes was that they killed the need for patient participation. Iori didn’t have to ask where it hurt; she could tell with a glance.
A creepy, vein-bulging, skin-crawling glance.
“Hm,” she said, after a moment that stretched far too long. “Your medic did acceptable work. I’m going to alter the placement of some of these needles, and then we’re going to stretcher you home. If you injure one of my medics in the process, it will go poorly for you. Do you understand?”
Kakashi felt himself heat behind his makeshift mask. “Yes.”
“Good.” She began peeling tape away to pluck out the hair-fine senbon. After a moment, she said, “What exactly have you done to your hair?”
Kakashi touched a hand to his head, where the collection of elastic-banded tufts felt like they’d been severely mashed by a pillow. “Uh,” he said, heating more. “Ueno.”
“Do you need them?” Iori said.
“No,” he said, and began to strip them out.
On the edge of the platform, Genma hissed softly between his teeth as his medic did something green-handed and glowy to his broken nose. Raidou didn’t break away from his discussion with the Crane-masked captain, even when another medic began checking over his bandaged hands. A third white-hatted medic pressed firmly on Katsuko’s broken collarbone, making her breath catch.
Ryouma sat alone with his bruises, and smelled like guilt.
Clothes came next. A set of basic jounin blues the medics had brought with them, and a medical mask that covered Kakashi’s mouth and nose, even if it left more of his jaw visible than he would have liked. The stretcher came after that.
Iori wouldn’t let him hold his tanto. Raidou took it, already wrapped, and hung it with his black-bladed sword. Most of the time, he was good about standing where Kakashi could see him.
Genma got a stretcher too, after a stern admonishment to stop walking, Shiranui-san, have you no sense? Raidou and Katsuko were instructed to take things easy and stay within the guarding flank-lines of the new ANBU team, but they were allowed to keep their feet. Ryouma, at Genma’s instruction, was given the job of paying close attention to the medics. Kakashi wasn’t quite sure why.
Fukuda also got a stretcher, and restraints to keep her in it.
The journey home was like being at sea, except over land.
Katsuko had enough chakra to create three pairs of stretcher-bearing clones, with each clone supporting the front and back of a stretcher. They ran in perfect time, but the world still swayed gently—and less gently, when the new ANBU went stiff and alert, and doubled everyone’s speed.
Kakashi thought about Team Twelve and their slaughtered members. At least two still breathing, Raidou had said.
He wondered if they could still run. How they were getting home.
Crane’s team was number Twenty-Eight. They were all veterans, called each other exclusively by their mask names—when they bothered to speak at all—and worked as a sleek, synchronized unit. They all had scars.
One of them, a lean-shouldered man with pale curly hair, was missing his right ear.
If they had any thoughts about Team Six, they kept it to themselves.
There was still morphine in the world. It made things shiver-slip sideways, time unreeling past in a blur of valleys and grasslands, light-dark-morning-night, until there were forests unfolding like the green arms of home, and Konoha’s tall walls rising on the horizon.
They didn’t go in the front gate.
The back road curved up through sharp, hard-edged hills, past Konoha’s defenses — Kakashi couldn’t feel the checkpoint, but Genma’s head came up, and Crane tipped her mask in acknowledgement — and then into the wild ANBU training fields before they finally came upon the dull, squat HQ building.
Team Twenty-Eight took Fukuda’s stretcher and peeled away, accompanied by a lone medic. They left one short, hard-muscled kunoichi in a bear mask as final vanguard. She tipped her head at Iori and the remaining medics.
“Hospital,” Iori ordered. “If Sagara-san needs them debriefed immediately, we can arrange private rooms.”
Bear nodded, and took the lead on silent feet.
Kakashi thought they went over rooftops, but he closed his eye too long. When he opened it again, there were hospital hallways streaming past. He could tell by the taupe, and the way the air smelled like bleached-away blood.
He rolled his head sideways and found Raidou walking next to him, grey-lipped.
“Almost there,” Raidou rasped.
He looked tired. At his back, Katsuko was stumbling forward with her eyes half-closed, one hand bracing her injured, sling-bound arm. Behind them, next to Genma’s stretcher, Ryouma looked like he was just about managing to walk a straight line. Kakashi couldn’t see Genma.
Had they even rested?
“Taichou,” Kakashi began, voice grating.
Raidou looked down at him, but then they turned a corner and the hallway was full of nurses and new medics calling sharp commands, and the team was torn apart like fruit segments.
The intensive chakra-injuries ward was about the same as Kakashi remembered it. The bed in room seventeen still had the knot in the mattress, right under his left shoulderblade. The grey floor tiles were curling up in the east corner.
It was almost like being at home. Except not really.
Nurses took blood and vitals, asked a hundred invasive questions, and attached half a dozen machines that beeped softly and scrawled accusing green lines across tiny screens.
“Where’s my team?” Kakashi demanded.
“They’re being taken care of,” said a nurse with calm brown eyes.
When Iori came in, flanked by two medics with serious faces, Kakashi asked again. He got the same answer.
One of the new medics, a short, elderly woman, picked up his chart and said, “I hear you can channel lightning now.”
“Not sure I’d recommend it,” Kakashi said.
Except that wasn’t quite true. It had nearly killed him, but there’d been a moment standing underneath that waterfall of light, right before it had blasted his senses white, when he’d felt the full strength of a storm pour through his blood and strike something that echoed.
He’d been lightning, for just a moment.
If the chance ever came to do again, he’d take it with both hands.
“Typically I advise my patients to avoid direct contact with elements that can kill them, but I understand that can be challenging,” the woman said, with dry sarcasm. “My name is Naito Rumi. I’ll be taking over from Iori-sensei. ” She gestured at the third medic, a dark-skinned man with short, springy hair. “This is my intern, Sawaguchi Bunta.”
The man bowed respectfully.
“Hi,” Kakashi said, with a little wave. “Where’s Rin?”
“If you’re referring to Nohora-sensei, she’s currently in surgery,” Naito said.
“Oh,” Kakashi said, disappointed. “Does she know I’m home?”
“I don’t have that information. Which hand did you direct the lightning with, please?”
Kakashi sighed and turned his right hand palm-up.
There were more tests, and more questions, and some excitingly colored drugs in plastic IV bags, and what seemed like a rotating squadron of Hyuuga traipsing through to glare at his chakra coils — though none quite so intensely as Iori, who’d finally been told to go home and sleep — and Kakashi lost track of time again, even with a clock hanging across the room.
Somewhere in the orange hours of the afternoon, Ryouma slipped through the door with wet hair, obviously borrowed hospital scrubs, and hollow cheeks. He was holding a paper cup of coffee like it was his last lifeline. “Lieutenant’s in surgery,” he said. “Medic took a look at his leg and threw a fit.”
Kakashi felt his stomach clench, small and tight. “Career ending?”
“Probably not.” Ryouma rubbed a hand over his eyes, blinking. “Said we’ll know more when they’re done. Captain’s getting his hands looked at; medics didn’t like that much either. An’ Katsuko’s getting her collarbone fixed. How’re you doing?”
Kakashi looked up at his IV pole, with its small balloon parade of drugs. “Think I’m still high,” he said. “My whole head tastes blue.”
Ryouma’s expression didn’t change at all. “You’re actually probably higher. They have better drugs here.”
“And grouchier medics,” Kakashi said sadly. “I miss the lieutenant. He doesn’t scowl so much.”
Ryouma’s voice was quiet and distant. “Yeah, he’s not so bad.” He folded down onto the edge of Kakashi’s bed and took a long swallow of coffee. The collar of his scrub-shirt was too loose; it gapped at the back of his neck, showing smudged bruises down the ridge of his cervical spine.
There was a lot Genma hadn’t been able to heal, but at least he’d been nice about it.
“You miss him, too,” Kakashi said.
Dark eyes gave him a startled look. “No, I—” Ryouma broke off into a short laugh; it rasped in his throat. “Hell, sure. Maybe. This whole team grows on you.” He took another drink.
Kakashi had never liked people after only a month before.
Well, except for Minato, and that barely counted. Minato was blinding and Kakashi had been seven; he’d never stood a chance.
“Did I grow on you?” he asked.
That earned him a quick sidelong look, then a crooked smile. “You’re not even gonna remember this tomorrow, are you?” Ryouma said, cradling the paper cup between his hands. Long, scar-bitten fingers overlapped on the cheap cardboard sleeve. “Yeah, you grew on me. Took you about ten minutes, but you managed it. I told you, you’re better at people than you think. Bet you half the Uchiha I know wouldn’t have closed the Sharingan when I asked. And none of ’em would’ve talked to me afterwards.”
It took Kakashi a second to place Ryouma’s meaning, then he remembered. The first Trial, when Ryouma had punched Kakashi in the ribs, threatened to liquify his lungs, and melted a pig carcass to black slag and bone. Kakashi had closed his Sharingan because Rin had said, Try to make friends. Just try.
Apparently it had worked.
“I’m great at people,” he said victoriously, lying back on his pillows. “Much better than Uchiha. Though that’s like being better than rocks.” He considered the ceiling tiles for a moment, and added, “Mean rocks.”
Ryouma snorted. “Mean rocks who’re still convinced they’re better than you. That’s one thing I like about you: you’re too damn good at nearly everything, but you don’t get pissed off when someone is good at something else.”
“Am I supposed to?”
“Well, no, but—” Ryouma broke off to take a drink of coffee, and looked entirely betrayed when he found his cup empty.
Kakashi laughed, hoarse and soft. “I’ve got IV, if you want it.”
Ryouma scoffed. “Your drugs make you sleepy. I’m sleepy to death already.” He crushed his cup and tossed it accurately into the wastebasket, making a discarded rubber glove jump. “Are you allowed to eat? Want me to bring you anything?”
“Or you could slee—” Kakashi started.
There was a quiet knock at the door, and a harried looking nurse with red freckles stuck his head through. “Tousaki Ryouma? There’s an Intel agent asking for you.”
Ryouma gave a heartfelt groan and bent forward, burying his face against his knees. “I will never sleep.” He straightened and scrubbed his hands over his face, then through his hair, until it stuck out in half-dried spikes. “Okay. This is payback for that time I napped while you guys did paperwork, right?” He patted Kakashi’s blanketed feet, and wavered up to his own. “Get some rest for me.”
Even through the drug-cloud, Kakashi gave Ryouma’s back a worried look, but door slid closed before he could think of anything smart to say.
The silence pressed back in.
He tried to sleep. It was harder.
Later, when the sun had dipped low and lazy, sliding long, slotted shadows through the partly drawn blinds, and more Hyuuga had been by to yank and replace needles, the door slid open again.
“Heeeey, sleeping beauty,” a low, familiar alto said.
Kakashi peeled himself out of pillows that wanted to eat him, and floundered up to find Katsuko leaning against the doorframe. She looked like she’d taken a recent shower; her skin was scrubbed pink and her hair was damp and drying, curling a little around her neck. Someone had loaned her a pair of overlarge scrubs too, sherbet orange and cuffed at the ankles. Her right arm was braced and strapped into a dark, low-profile sling that kept her elbow hugged in close to her side.
The scrub-shirt had a little spray of flower petals trailing down one sleeve.
“Y’look like a girl,” Kakashi said, baffled.
“I’m going to tell you a secret,” she said, very gravely. She came over, dropped into a chair at his bedside, and leaned forward to say, in an intense whisper, “I am a girl.”
“But with flowers.” He looked down at his own shirt, which was now standard hospital-issue mint, and complained, “Mine’s boring.”
“Maybe if you flutter your eyelashes really nice at a nurse, they’ll get you scrubs with flowers on them, too,” she said. “That’s what I did. How are you holding up, bunny bear?”
“Everyone keeps leaving,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on, and no one’s talking to me. Is the lieutenant okay?”
Katsuko’s eyes softened, green flecks showing against the darker brown. “Lieutenant’s going to be fine. Doctors are saying he’ll probably only need crutches for a while before he makes a full recovery.” Her mouth quirked, just a little. “I’ll tell him you wept and wrung your hands out of worry for him.”
Relief made Kakashi feel warm and tired. “Don’t do that,” he said. “He’ll fuss.”
“Big fat tears,” Katsuko said mercilessly. “Tears of sadness and worry. I will tell him you cried into a handkerchief.”
Kakashi’s shoulders quaked with brief, silent laughter. “I don’t have a handkerchief.”
“We can make one out of your old hospital scrubs, after they give you the new scrubs with flowers on them,” she said, eyes gleaming. “A nice little handkerchief made out of medical material. The lieutenant will like it, cause he’s a medic. Get it?”
“Thoughtful,” Kakashi said. He wanted to put his head down on her shoulder and sleep, but they weren’t in the bunker anymore. This was home, and people had jobs, and he needed to get it together. “How about the captain?”
Her expression closed down, like a shut door. “Captain’s with Intel right now; medic said an agent crashed his healing session. He’ll be a while.” She brightened. “Oh, but he gave me this before he went.” She shoved a hand down the front of her shirt, which was not the most alarming thing she could have done, but definitely ranked in the top ten, and then withdrew—
A hilt, dressed in familiar dark bindings.
He had no idea where she’d been hiding that, but he didn’t care. He sat up, reaching out one IV-strung hand to grab the welcome, reassuring weight of his tanto. The blade was still wrapped in cloth, missing its sheath, but the metal sang at his touch, even without chakra to make it blaze. One anchor, in a sea of none.
Katsuko flicked a glance at the door and hissed a warning. Kakashi shoved the tanto beneath his pillows just before the freckled nurse stuck his head back in, inquiring if they needed anything.
“Jello,” Katsuko said immediately. “In every color. And something tasty for his highness.”
“I want soup,” Kakashi said.
Light red eyebrows lifted in amusement. “Anything else?” the nurse asked.
“Pudding,” Katsuko said. “And also lemonade. And a TV that works.”
“No promises,” the nurse said, and ducked back out, sliding the door closed behind him.
“Lemonade?” Kakashi asked.
“If life doesn’t give you lemons, demand them,” she said, and lounged carefully back in her chair, propping her feet up on the edge of the bed. The light drifted across her face, shadowing the bruised curves beneath her eyes and picking out the shrapnel-scatter of scabbed cuts across one temple. She sighed, long and low. “I think I’m never moving again. Can I sleep here?”
“Yeah.” Kakashi closed his hand around the tanto’s hilt, feeling himself settle and steady. “I’ll keep watch.”
She did sleep, tucked into a loose, guarded curl with a blanket wedged against one side of the high-backed chair to make a pillow. The sun drifted lower, picking out the lighter browns in her hair, and a few subtle white scars scattered over her face, one just edging her right eyebrow. For once, she was too exhausted to talk in her sleep.
The nurse returned eventually with two flavors of jello, chicken soup with crackers, and lemon water. No TV. He offered Katsuko a book of half-completed sudoku instead, which she peered blearily at and then handed off to Kakashi.
The soup was good. The sudoku made his vision blur.
He was halfway through wrangling a puzzle with Katsuko’s yawning help when the door slid open and Ryouma stumbled in grey-faced, collapsing across the foot of Kakashi’s bed. “Lieutenant’s out of surgery and awake,” he said. “He’s talking to Intel. Captain’s been summoned to meet with Sagara-sama.”
The head of ANBU.
The air went out of the room. When it came back, Katsuko said, “Okay. That’s normal procedure.”
“It is?” Kakashi said.
“No,” she said, and scrubbed both hands over her face.
“They wouldn’t let me see the lieutenant, but I got a glimpse of him through the glass before they pulled the curtain,” Ryouma said. “He looked stressed.”
“He just had surgery,” Kakashi pointed out.
“Man knifed his own leg open in the middle of the night, in another room, so he wouldn’t disturb us,” Katsuko said. “I don’t think he does stress like normal people.”
Ryouma yawned, jaw cracking wide enough that a tear squeezed out of the corner of his eye and tracked down his cheek. He rubbed it away. “I think it was the Intel agent. She looked pretty grim.”
“But… the mission was successful,” Kakashi said. “Both of them.”
Silence trickled in, cold and heavy.
He knew before he asked. “Weren’t they?”
Ryouma bit the inside of his cheek and looked at Katsuko. She’d gone closed and still again, folded into the professional, unreadable lines of a shinobi with a faultline in front of her and no way around it. “Taichou and I completed our side of the mission,” she said. “The port was destroyed in the process.”
Ryouma’s mouth dropped open. “The whole port?”
“A noticeable portion of the port.”
Kakashi tried to make his brain function. He couldn’t remember enough details to make anything cohesive. The captain’s hands were bandaged. Katsuko had broken bones and smoke in her hair. He’d asked her— He thought he’d asked her about the mission.
You killed everyone, right?
Yeah. Mission complete.
But that was supposed to mean dead children, not half a town.
He said, low, “What happened?”
Katsuko’s blankness slipped, just enough to show the exhaustion beneath the cracks. “I can’t tell you,” she said, and looked down at her hands. Three of her nails were cracked. She curled them into her palms.
“So—there might be a reason he’s getting pulled off to HQ so quick?” Ryouma said.
“Yeah,” Katsuko sighed out, and rubbed her unbound hand over her mouth like she wanted to wipe the words away. She looked at them helplessly. “I— promised the captain I wouldn’t tell anyone what happened, not until he’d decided what to do. Intel snatched him up before I could ask him what he’d settled on.”
Kakashi was starting to feel sick.
It couldn’t be that bad if they’d completed the mission. Property damage was an unavoidable consequence of fighting within city limits. Kakashi’s side had been lucky to run into Iebara’s team on open land, where the only casualties were trees and combatants. If Raidou and Katsuko had run into that kind of firepower in close quarters, they might have dinged buildings, torn up some streets, angered a few public officials, but it wasn’t failure.
He reached back and clenched his fingers around the tanto’s hilt, until the bindings bit into his palm.
Even if it was, ANBU wouldn’t announce it. There’d be no public outcry. No scapegoat. Just a running byline in the news for a few weeks, coda to the deaths of real traitors, and a few more headstones in Tsurugahama Port. There was no war effort to injure.
Nothing Raidou might hurt himself over.
Except that he was an honorable man, and they were the worst for bleeding over their sins.
Kakashi said numbly, “No one went with him. Someone needs to go with him.” He tried to push himself upright, tangled in medical wires and sheets, and didn’t make it. One of the monitors trilled angrily.
Katsuko lurched forward to steady him, and Kakashi grabbed her arm. “We’re supposed to be a team. No one’s with him.”
That hit a nerve. Her eyes went dark and narrow, and she snapped, “Think, Kakashi. Raidou’s with Sagara-sama right now. You want to go toe-to-toe with the ANBU Commander, be my guest. Raidou would want me here, with the team.” Her fingers were like iron on his skin, giving no quarter, and for the first time Kakashi saw the superior in her. The woman who’d lived in the crucible of ANBU for a year, and only come out stronger. She stared him down until he went still, frozen in her grip and gaze. Then she let him go. “Now lie back down.”
Kakashi hit the pillows and ducked his chin, dropping his gaze. Anxiety still twisted like barbed wire in his chest, but there was no place for it to go.
Ryouma had been sitting frozen. Now he said, worried and uncertain, “Should I go—wait for him, at least?” He began to push himself up.
Katsuko nailed him with a look. Ryouma dropped and laced his fingers together, knuckles blanching. Katsuko sighed softly.
“I know this is hard,” she said. “I know, alright? But Raidou knows what he’s doing. Trust him to handle his own business.” She tipped her chin, looking at them both. “You’re our rookies. It’s our job to take care of you.”
Even when rank didn’t follow skill?
It was an ugly thought, and Kakashi wasn’t supposed to have it. But shinobi had dark thoughts. If you didn’t watch for fractures, you’d never catch them. And then it was your fault, just as much as theirs.
What was the point of having smart eyes, if all you did was close them?
He said tightly, “Who takes care of you?”
Hazel-green eyes gave him a searching look.
“Kakashi,” she said, and reached over to wrap a hand around his shoulder. “You are very, very high and very, very injured. That’s why you feel like you’re five seconds away from a panic attack. Deep breaths.”
That was the second time she’d said his personal name.
Kakashi drew a shivery breath and said, “I’m not being irrational.”
“No, you’re not.” She squeezed his shoulder, fingers warm and strong. “But right now you need to rest. I’ll make some clones. They’ll keep an eye out for the captain and the lieutenant.”
That was something. He nodded once, vision silvering when his hair fell into his face. “Okay,” he said, and almost reached up to touch her hand. But that was childish, and she’d been pretty specific about him staying still. He said again, quieter, “Okay.”
Katsuko’s hand dropped away.
Ryouma had lowered his eyes to his locked hands, but he raised them now, looking at Katsuko. “Will you sleep, too?” he asked softly.
Katsuko opened her mouth, but a clear, light voice interrupted her.
“I think everyone needs to sleep,” Rin said, standing just inside the door.
Kakashi’s entire chest lightened. “Rin,” he rasped.
She glanced at him, brown eyes warm and worried, and then at Ryouma, giving him a medic’s swift, professional once-over, before landing on Katsuko. There was a thin clipboard tucked beneath her arm, with Kakashi’s ANBU number printed on the top corner, and tired smudges beneath her eyes. Whatever surgery she’d been in had clearly been long and tiring. He hoped her patient had survived.
And then he wondered, abruptly, what they looked like to her, Ryouma sitting close and exhausted at the foot of the bed, well inside Kakashi’s personal radius, and Katsuko still carrying the weight of rarely seen authority, all her laughing edges folded down and hidden.
Rin sighed gently, and said to Kakashi, “What am I going to do with you?”
He really didn’t care, so long as she stayed in the room.
“Don’t yell,” he said instead, because he was drugged but not stupid. He pointed at Ryouma and Katsuko in turn. “That’s Tousaki Ryouma and Ueno Katsuko-senpai. They’re on my team. You can yell at them, if you want to.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Ryouma said, with what sounded like pure reflex. He blinked at Rin, staring for a moment, then belatedly appeared to remember the concept of manners, and levered himself upright. He moved with ancient, rickety stiffness, but managed to approximate a bow. “Nohara-sensei, right? You know—” He stopped and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Of course you know Kakashi.”
“Sit down, Tousaki-san,” Rin said, voice light with amusement. “You look like you’re going to fall over.” She inclined her head at Katsuko, who gave a half-bow in return.
Ryouma dropped back down, and Kakashi stared at the back of his head.
Team Minato had been more than five years ago. It was becoming more common for people to know Rin purely on the merits of her own reputation, instead of a medical footnote to the beginning of Sharingan no Kakashi. She was one of the hospital’s rising stars. The next Tsunade-sama, according to some.
Personally, Kakashi thought people should have figured that out when she’d performed a living eye transplant under fire, without anesthesia, at thirteen. But people were stupid.
Still, he thought Ryouma would’ve at least known she and Kakashi were former teammates. But now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure he’d ever mentioned Rin to the team.
He wasn’t in the habit of mentioning much of anything to the team.
“I’m not going to yell at you or your teammates until all of you are in fighting shape again,” Rin said, pulling him out of his thoughts. “Speaking of, I think it’s time Ueno-san and Tousaki-san went home. They can visit tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Kakashi said bleakly. He gave himself a little shake. “Yeah. That’s probably smart.”
He felt Rin’s eyes on him, reading more than he wanted.
“Hm,” she said, after a beat. Her expression softened a little, and she looked at Ryouma and Katsuko, who had conspicuously failed to move. “Tell you what. Promise me you’ll get at least eight hours sleep, and I’ll have a word with the nurses to let you in early tomorrow.”
Ryouma flattened his hand over a long, hard yawn. “If I fall asleep, I’m not sure I’m waking up again.” He looked down at Kakashi. “You’ll be okay here?”
To his right, Katsuko had gone aggressively neutral in her chair, face expressionless. “I was planning to make bunshin later to keep an eye on my team,” she said.
Rin nodded once. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Ueno.”
“All of it flattering, I hope,” Katsuko said, inscrutable as glass.
Kakashi traded a baffled glance with Ryouma, who just shrugged, too tired to comment.
“Let’s just say it made an impression,” Rin said. “I need to talk to Kakashi alone, but after that your bunshin can stay as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the nurses. Thank you for looking after Kakashi, by the way. Both of you.”
“I’m right here,” Kakashi said.
“Hush,” Rin told him.
Ryouma patted him on top of a blanketed foot. “You needed a lot of looking after.”
“You’re high-maintenance,” Katsuko agreed, a familiar glint re-entering her eyes.
Kakashi sank back into his collection of pillows and dragged one down to cover his face. “Everyone get out,” he said, muffled.
Ryouma patted his foot one last time, fingers warm through the rough cotton weave. “Sleep well,” he said. The bed dipped and rose as he levered himself back to his feet. “I hope you’re out of here before I wake up.”
“Get your rest, honey bun,” Katsuko said, standing up. She skimmed her fingers quickly through Kakashi’s hair, chasing out one of the crimps she’d knotted into it. “Try not to play catch with lightning again.”
Kakashi made a dark sound, but eased the pillow down enough to watch them slip out of the room. Ryouma tall and staggering, ready to collapse on the first safe horizontal surface that presented itself. Katsuko lighter and leaner at his back, with a cup of stolen jello stowed away into her sling and lingering tension stitched into the curve of her spine.
The door slid closed, and clicked.
In the silence that followed, Rin drew the narrow blind across the glass pane in the door, and then padded to the bedside. She looked down at Kakashi, fingertips tapping gently on her clipboard. “Playing catch with lightning, hm?”
He needed a much bigger pillow to hide behind.
“You just argued with my team,” he said, because defense never worked with her, but offense sometimes made a dent. “The team you explicitly told me to make friends with.”
“I was testing the waters,” she said serenely, and leaned forward to ease the pillow down from his face. He uncurled his fingers and let her have it, grateful there was still a thin white layer of medical mask between them. Rin said, “How’re you feeling?”
Exhausted, chemically altered, bone-deep sore. Rattled about the captain. Worried about the others.
But there was one other thing, too.
“Proud of myself,” he said.
Rin’s eyebrows cut dangerously upwards, but she stayed silent just long enough for him to explain.
“I was smarter this time,” he said. “We did terrible things, and other teams died. But ours didn’t. We got attacked by an S-class team. We should be bones in a field. But the lieutenant helped, and Tousaki helped, and I channeled real lightning, Rin. Right through my own hand. And we came home.”
Understanding slipped across her face, like dawn light. Her eyebrows lowered, and there was pride there, and sorrow, old and dark, and, cresting above everything else, love. She set her clipboard aside and pulled him into a hug, cupping a hand around the back of his head.
Kakashi made a startled sound. Her scent curled into his lungs, carrying soap and weariness and the touch of spring she always wore, green things and growth struggling away from winter. Gentle chakra curled around him, cool against all the places he was ragged and raw.
The world shifted, then steadied.
Slowly, Kakashi slid his arms around Rin’s back, and curled his fingers into her shirt. They didn’t do this often. Rin patted hands, or touched cheeks, but she didn’t hug. There was too much between them that hadn’t worked, too many failings. Things she’d wanted that he couldn’t give. All the ways he’d let her down. There would always be Obito, the empty grave at their feet.
But she was here, and she still hadn’t yelled, and everyone was alive, and he thought his throat might be closing up.
“I’m so glad you came back,” she said, soft and tired. “If I lost you, I—”
She broke off and tightened her grip.
Kakashi let his forehead rest against her collarbone, and closed his eye. “Can you stay for a while?”
“For as long as I can,” she promised fiercely.
An hour, then, perhaps two before someone else’s personal tragedy called her away.
He’d take it.
“I missed you,” he mumbled, into the dark hollow space where drugs made it easy.
“I missed you, too,” she said, so quietly he almost missed it. There was an edge in her voice that, in any other woman, on any other day, he would’ve said sounded a little choked.
But it was Rin, so he kept silent and let himself lean on her while it lasted.