May 8, Yondaime Year 5

kakashi 4Obito was an angry little bastard.

“You’re screwing up,” he snapped, young and petulant. Summer sunlight made his hair gleam dark and ruffled, and his eyes glitter.

One eye. The other eye was a red crater.

Kakashi lay on his back under an endless blue sky, surrounded by tall grass. It blew gently in the warm breeze, tickling his bare arms. He folded them beneath his head, and said, “Mm?”

“You’re screwing up,” Obito repeated, and kicked Kakashi on the booted foot.

“Ow,” Kakashi said mildly.

Obito kicked him again, with pointy teenage feet. Kakashi flinched and it hurt everywhere, like glass needles. The sky turned dark above them. The sun melted into red arterial streaks that pulsed out, thumping like a heartbeat. It smelled like rank copper.

Kakashi gave it a worried look.

“What’s happen—”

“You always screw it up,” Obito said. “You try, but you do it stupid. You’re being stupid right now—”

Kakashi’s eyes snapped open.

He drew a short, hard breath, and it still smelled like blood.

Obito’s eye stung viciously. He closed it, hot salt spilling down his cheek (Obito always cried), and struggled for his bearings. There were blankets; a wiry arm flung across his chest; dull sodium lights and a low, dark ceiling. Hair brushed his face, warm as sunny grass. It smelled of smoke and ginger— Katsuko.

On his other side, sleeping muscle: Raidou.

And—and—he couldn’t feel the others. He had no chakra sense, just drugs and sledgehammer exhaustion blurring the world, but itsmelled like blood.

He opened his mouth and a rasping croak came out. Katsuko muttered something and tucked her face down, warm breath blowing over the side of his neck. Her weight was leaden against his side, pinning him down. Kakashi tried again, made even less sound, and gave up. There were IV wires trailing out of the blankets, leading up to kunai staked into the walls. One for him, another for her.

He fumbled a hand over to Katsuko’s line, forced his fingers to curl, and yanked it hard.

It was like flicking a switch.

There was no pitstop at confusion. Katsuko surged awake in one dangerous movement with a naked kunai flicking into her good hand. She crouched over him like a lioness, scanning the room for threats.

She looked down at him.

She looked at her IV.

Bright red droplets beaded around the taped needle.

“I’m going to hollow out your skull and use it as a flower vase,” she said hoarsely.

Kakashi grabbed her by the hair, making her twitch. “Tousaki,” he forced out. “Lieutenant.

Katsuko sheathed her kunai. She disentangled his grip, worked her hand underneath his shoulders and hauled him into an awkward, upright seat, bracing him when he slewed sideways. His stomach clenched, hot and sick. Katsuko jerked her chin at a dark lump on the floor.

Kakashi managed to see what she was looking at: Ryouma, sprawled on his stomach with his face turned away, one arm wedged under a twisted blanket he was using for a pillow. His breath was slow and even, but his bedroll was kicked about. Restless sleeper.

Not bleeding.

Katsuko’s chakra swelled and bloomed out, searing against Kakashi’s ragged, stapled down pathways. He flinched, breath hissing between his teeth. He couldn’t feel how big it got. Enough to fill every corner of the bunker, probably more.

“Lieutenant’s in the next room over,” she said. “He’s okay.”

He’s not,” Kakashi rasped. “I smell— There’s blood. Check him.”

Katsuko gave a ragged, tired growl. “You!” she barked at a curious clone eyeing them from the door. It flinched upright, and Katsuko gestured sharply. The clone saluted and vanished. On Kakashi’s other side, Raidou snorted and rolled over.

In the tense beats of silence, Kakashi could taste his own heartbeat.

Then, from down the hallway, the clone’s voice echoed loudly, “Ewwwwww!

Ryouma jolted upright. “Whassit?”

Lieutenant, why?

That… didn’t sound fatal.

Distantly, there was the dull chakra-crack of a clone exiting the universe. Katsuko’s expression creased into faint horror as she got the clone’s memories, and that was not reassuring. “Lieutenant’s draining a leg wound,” she said, before Kakashi made a legitimate effort to scramble upright. “There’s blood, but he’s got it under control. He’s sewing it up.”

Kakashi sagged with relief. “Oh.”

Ryouma buried his face in his hands and sighed. Muffled, he said, “Does he need help?”

Katsuko moved to rub her face, almost accidentally yanked Kakashi into herself, and made a last minute trade for a one-shouldered shrug. “Didn’t seem too bad. My clone dispelled itself before it could get a good look, though.”

Ryouma groaned.

Before he could get up, Raidou rolled back over, hair sticking up in sleep-rumpled spikes. “I got it,” he mumbled. “G’back to sleep.” He heaved himself upright, taking a blanket with him like a cloak, and stepped over Ryouma on his way out.

The door clicked shut behind him.

Ryouma dropped his hand to blink at it, and then turned stiff-necked towards the bed-platform. “You’re awake.”

“I was sleeping,” Katsuko said grouchily. “Except fuzzybuns here decided to yank on my IV line.”

The adrenaline was slipping away, replaced by a warm, shaky blur, as if the world was made out of unstable cotton wool. Kakashi slouched against Katsuko’s side and remembered how to breathe. After a moment’s search, he found a hand to wave at Ryouma. “Hi.”

Ryouma stared at him, eyes cut to shadowed slots in the dirty yellow light, and slowly waved back. “You must’ve got the really good drugs. Or else I’m actually still asleep.”

“You’re on the floor,” Kakashi said.

Ryouma turned fully to face them, shedding out of the tangled layers of his bedroll, and crossed his legs. He regarded them, weary and thoughtful. “I think we’re finally operating on the same intellectual plane. Less exciting than I thought it’d be.”

“Come be unexcited up here,” Katsuko said, still grumpy. “You need to help me keep Kakashi from rolling face-first onto an explosion tag, or something.”

Staying upright was increasingly difficult, even with Katsuko’s arm bracing him and her angular side to lean against. Kakashi slouched a little further and discovered it didn’t hurt to start melting down, though it did make things slip and spin. Genma’s taped down senbon needles pinched at him distantly, warning to be careful.

“Hey,” Kakashi croaked belatedly, when he realized Katsuko had insulted him.

They’d both insulted him.

“You said that already,” Ryouma said, staying exactly where he was. “How’re you feeling?”

It took Kakashi a minute to figure it out.

“Floaty,” he decided. There was pain under it, waiting with naked teeth, but that was the beauty of good drugs: they made you not care. He cleared his throat with a raw catch, dry-mouthed. “And thirsty.”

And naked, except for bandages and underwear. He decided, deliberately, not to care about that.

Ryouma stretched out a bare arm to pull his canteen from his utility belt, which was discarded like a snake-skin with the rest of his scattered gear. He shook the canteen, discovered it was empty, and groaned. “Don’t roll on any explosive tags. Katsuko’ll cry.”

He staggered upright and slipped out.

Kakashi tipped his head to look at Katsuko, which made his hair fall across his face. “You don’t cry.”

“You’re damn right I don’t,” she said.

“Mm,” Kakashi said, and gave up on the last part of gravity. He slid out of her hold, landing half on her legs and half on the body-warm mattress. Both were comfy, though Katsuko was bony. “He does.”


“Dead-last,” Kakashi said. He thumbed the line of wetness away from beneath his left eye. Obito’s eye stung protest. “Maybe Ryouma, except I think he punches people instead. He punched me.”

“Oh, good,” Katsuko said distantly. Her face was unreadable, but light hazel eyes lingered on his wet fingertips. “What did you do?”

“Existed,” Kakashi said, put upon.

Katsuko snorted. “There, there, my little riceball,” she said, and patted him on the head. She lifted her hand and tapped Kakashi’s cheek gently, on the Sharingan side. “Don’t tell me anything more about this.”

“M’kay,” Kakashi said, blurry.

He blinked, lost a few seconds, and came back with a darker thought.

“You okay?” he asked, remembering the crack-crunch of bones. “‘tenant broke your shoulder.”

“I had a broken collarbone,” she said. “He reset it. Thanks for nearly making me pee myself, by the way. You were an inch away from mangling him.”

“He made you scream,” Kakashi muttered bitterly. He closed his eye again, face half-buried against Katsuko’s blanketed thigh. He didn’t remember mangling, but the sharp, high sound of Katsuko’s yell was clear enough, and fast movement, and…

There were holes in his head, stuffed with black. He left them alone.

Katsuko was silent for a long moment. Kakashi drifted, and came back down when her hand settled on his head, fingers sliding through his hair. They were calloused, not precisely gentle, but delicate, as if she thought he had edges that needed careful handling.

“I’m glad you’re on my team,” she said, and immediately ruined it by adding, “You gigantic loser.”

The door creaked.

“Lieutenant said he didn’t get the wound sealed properly before and it started leaking under the skin,” Ryouma said. “Woke him up with the pain. He had to drain it before it got septic—” He paused halfway across the room. “Not interrupting, am I?”

“Mnnngh,” Kakashi mumbled, and put out a blind hand for the canteen Ryouma hopefully had.

A moment later, warm fingers curled around his wrist and pushed it back down. “You’ll spill everywhere,” Ryouma said. There was a rustle, blankets moving—Katsuko snort-laughing as Ryouma did something ungraceful—and then solid weight settled against Kakashi’s left hip, and a combination of three hands forced him to sit upright again.

Kakashi complained the whole way, but found himself wedged securely between Katsuko and Ryouma, which wasn’t so bad. Ryouma was warm, Katsuko was warmer. Both of them were solid.

Ryouma uncapped his canteen and lifted it to Kakashi’s mouth.

The advantage of a bandage-mask, Kakashi discovered, was that he didn’t need to take it off to drink. Ryouma found a gap between cotton strips, and then there was cold, clean water sliding like diamonds down Kakashi’s throat. He drank until he choked, coughing, and leaned breathless against Ryouma’s shoulder.

“Was it too cold? I can make tea,” Ryouma said, sounding worried.

“If you move, I’ll bite you,” Kakashi rasped.

Katsuko—giggled was the only word, like a shiny river in his ear. “You’d have to lose the mask to do that.”

“I can bite through cloth,” Kakashi said, closing his good eye. “Sharp teeth.”

“Captain’ll yell a lot if he comes back and finds you doing something kinky,” Ryouma said.

“We could do an experiment to see if Kakashi really can bite through cloth,” Katsuko said reasonably. “It’s not kinky if it’s for science.”

“Then the lieutenant’ll yell at us for blood loss,” Ryouma said. “And I already got reamed out for getting hurt inside the bunker.”

Kakashi peeled himself upright enough to get a better look at Ryouma. “Hurt where?”

“Inside the bunker,” Katsuko repeated, slowly and loudly.

Kakashi pulled together enough coordination to jab Ryouma hard in the ribs. “Hurt where?”

A bandaged palm filled his worldview; Ryouma’s right hand, smelling of antiseptic beneath the gauze. “Touched the chakra limiters on that Kiri viper’s cell,” Ryouma said. “They bite.”

“Oh, you were stupid,” Kakashi said, relieved, and slumped back down against the comfortable slab of muscle padding Ryouma’s shoulder. Against his right side, Katsuko shook with silent laughter.

Ryouma snorted. “Guess so.” He dropped his hand. “You gonna sleep again?”

“Like it here,” Kakashi said.

Katsuko snorted, a higher stereo echo of Ryouma, but her good hand slid around Kakashi’s bare elbow and squeezed his arm, fingers warm between bandages. Kakashi tipped his head sideways and smiled at her, blurry.

“You are so drugged,” Ryouma said, sounding faintly awed. “I hope you remember this in the morning. Actually, no. You’ll probably try to beat me up again.”

“Only did that once,” Kakashi said. “An’ you started it.”

“You could try beating him up now, but I think you’d end up punching yourself in the face,” Katsuko said.

Kakashi laughed low in the back of his throat, because it was funny. Katsuko stared at him, wide-eyed, and Ryouma went still against his side.

“I saved you today,” Kakashi said, tipping his head to look up at Ryouma. “An’ the lieutenant. Too much effort to undo it. And you saved me back, right?”

Ryouma gave him a startled look. “I— yeah.” His mouth was a little bit open, showing the ridge of white teeth behind wind-chapped lips. His eyes were wider. This close, Kakashi could count individual lashes, though he kept getting lost around twelve. Long and dark, they probably made girls envious.

He’d stopped the Kirigakure captain from taking Kakashi’s head off tonight.

The memory was slippery, dark and bled-through with holes, but Kakashi remembered the gleam of steel, the fact of oncoming death. The black hole of exhaustion that made it impossible to fight or dodge, or think anything but, Dammit, I’m not ready.

And then Ryouma had ripped him through the universe and landed him on the other side, still alive.

Kakashi had said, Perfect afterwards, with blood in his mouth and cold leaching out of his bones, mud everywhere, no chakra left.Perfect, because any mission you could crawl away from. Because Ryouma had shorn his timing down to the razor thin line, but he’d gotten it right, and no one had to carry Kakashi’s dogtags home.

Minato was good at death, but he didn’t need more in his life.

Naruto deserved none.

Kakashi sighed, long and slow and soft, and let his arm drop down Ryouma’s back, curled his fingers into the hem of Ryouma’s shirt. “Thanks,” he said, while morphine was here to make it easy.

There was a fragile little pause, like the world breathing out. Just long enough for Kakashi to think, beneath layers of brain-candyfloss, Emotional idiot.

Ryouma’s mouth crooked into a tiny smile. “You did the same for me.”

“M’awesome that way,” Kakashi agreed.

On his left, Katsuko shifted silently.

He turned to say something uplifting for her, but misjudged his own complete lack of balance and managed to stumble while sitting, clipping his chin against the pointy edge of her unbroken shoulder. She blinked at him, head cocked back.

“Ow,” Kakashi said, surprised.

“Don’t end your moment on my account,” she said. “Especially if you’re going to attack me with your face.”

“Why is every part of you sharp?” he complained, and very carefully propped his head on her lethal shoulder. There was less muscle and more bone than Ryouma, edges cresting up beneath her skin like a rising wave, but heat shimmered outward from her core. She was warmer than anything else in the room.

“Sharpness is my secret weapon,” Katsuko said, with her head still tilted back at a safe distance, like Kakashi was a strange creature she didn’t understand and was cautious about getting close to. “I’ve killed a man with just my elbows before.”

“I believe it,” Ryouma said, behind Kakashi’s head.

Somewhere in the back of Kakashi’s hindbrain, Raidou was getting ready to kick the walls and make noise about boundaries, but Kakashi was warm and the closest approximation of comfortable he was likely to get. Katsuko smelled nice, like spice and soap and the memory of old explosions, the lick of worn out fire.

Her shoulder shrugged beneath him, miniature earthquake, then her arm stretched around behind him. She set her hand on Ryouma’s arm. “I’m just glad you both made it back,” she said, quiet. “Getting killed on our second mission would make the team look bad.”

“And on this team, we’re all about the looks,” Ryouma murmured dryly. He hesitated a beat, and then added, lower, “Thanks for coming to look for us. We—we were hoping you’d be here.”

Kakashi didn’t remember saying that, but he was sure he’d thought it at least once. A different memory nudged him. “Kiri captain said you were all dead,” he said. “Lieutenant called her a liar. You killed everyone, right?”

Katsuko let out a long breath, and something sour rippled through her scent. “Yeah,” she said. “Mission complete.”

“Good,” Kakashi said.

Her side had taken the children, he remembered.

Tsuto Tomoko, four. Tsuto Sorai, eighteen months. Kakashi had put together the fastest, cleanest game plan he could manage to take them out, along with their parents, but Katsuko and Raidou had held the blades.

Kakashi had stabbed a teenage girl in the throat.

He wasn’t sure why that memory came up now, when there were a dozen worse ones ready to take a bite. But there it was, rising like a rotted flower. Tsuto’s bedroom, the scuff of unexpected movement in the hallway. Steel in his hand, the flash of frightened eyes, steel in her throat. He hadn’t thought, he’d just moved.

The kunai hadn’t killed her. Ryouma had needed to finish the job.

But that was the price of discovering traitors: someone needed to kill them, and everything they cared about. Then you wouldn’t get more traitors.

They’d done the right thing.

He leaned more heavily against Katsuko, and didn’t let go of Ryouma’s shirt. “Guess what?” he rasped.

“What?” Katsuko said carefully.

“We don’t have to kill anyone else for at least a week.” He made his best approximation of a cheery noise. “Ta-dah.”

Katsuko stared at him for a flat, blank moment, then the corner of her mouth twitched. “That’s right,” she said. “It’ll be like a vacation.”

“You can sleep,” Kakashi agreed, encouraged. “And eat everything. And not break anything else.”

“Would you and Ryouma entertain me when I got bored?” Katsuko asked. “Would you play cards?” The corner of her mouth curved higher, and her voice brightened, only a little brittle. “Would you let me draw on your face?”

“No face,” Kakashi said, mellow enough about it that he even surprised himself. But he remembered Ryouma’s hand laid protectively over his mouth, like armor. Face was taken care of; nothing to worry about. “Tousaki does Five Finger Fillet, though.”

Ryouma stirred from his careful stillness. “Katsuko’s only got one hand, and no one’s trusting you with a kunai.”

“Could beat you both drugged, blind, and one-handed,” Kakashi said.

“Almost tempted to let you try,” Ryouma said, “but you were the one all upset about people getting hurt in the bunker.”

“Because it keeps happening,” Kakashi said. “I’m not passing out anymore. Every time I do, I wake up and more people are broken.”

“I don’t know if you can stop passing out,” Katsuko said. “It’s your defining character trait. Kakashi, the fragile fainting lotus bud.”

“Who beats S-class enemy ninja,” Kakashi said. “Judge me when you can do that.” He punished Katsuko and her ingratitude by shifting his weight away from her, bestowing it on Ryouma instead.

Ryouma showed his appreciation by going rigid. “You needed an assist from me an’ the lieutenant to get Iebara,” he said.

Kakashi was going to abandon them both. They could be argumentative and unnappreciative together, and probably injure themselves to death with safehouse paperclips. Then they’d be sorry.

Except—it was so much effort to move again.

He sighed heavily instead, loud and obnoxious, and closed his eye. There was another slip-slide of time, moments unreeling into warm darkness as the world got heavy. He jarred back awake just before his chin slipped off Ryouma’s shoulder.

A broad, long-fingered hand steadied his head, rearranging him more comfortably. Kakashi expected it to retreat, but it stayed there, fingers carding through his hair. Some of the tension unwound out of Ryouma, as if petting Kakashi was more for Ryouma’s benefit.

Katsuko had done that, too.

Well, yeah, Kakashi thought muzzily. That was why he liked petting his dogs. Everyone came away soothed.

“I thought maybe it was gel,” Ryouma murmured. “But your hair still dried all spiky.”

“Mm?” Kakashi managed, half-lidded.

“It must be a bloodline limit. Grants you special powers of snark,” Ryouma said, like he wasn’t rambling and crazy. Before Kakashi could work up enough will to respond, Ryouma said, more quietly, “Y’know, you’re better at people than you think.”

Kakashi blinked slowly.

No, still didn’t make sense.

“I’m really high right now,” he said, in case Ryouma had forgotten.

“There’ve been a few other times, too,” Ryouma said.

Kakashi managed to fight the pull of gravity enough to turn his head and give Katsuko a mute appeal for sanity.

“It’s okay,” Katsuko said soothingly. “Just accept it and let him pet you.”

She was no help at all.

“Wait, I want to pet you, too,” she added, and scooted in against Kakashi’s right side, reaching up to rumple her unbound hand through his bangs. He twitched, blinded by a sudden snowfall of hair into his good eye. Before he could protest, Katsuko swept it carefully aside again, clearing his field of vision, and settled into finger-carding a matted section by his temple.

Ryouma’s hand had paused. It moved again now, stirring Kakashi’s hair into backwards spikes.

“Takin’ advantage ‘f’a drugged person,” Kakashi muttered, but he could feel himself getting boneless and heavy, letting Ryouma bear almost all of his weight. Katsuko was a steady bracket on his other side, stopping him from tipping over.

“You’re so fluffy,” Katsuko said, marvelling.

“M’not fluffy. Professional killer, be ‘fraid,” Kakashi said, vaguely nettled. Someone’s nails scratched gently across his scalp and he added, involuntarily, “Mmm.”

Laughter rumbled against his skin. He couldn’t tell from which side. There were more things he wanted to say, starting with screw you both, but the world was made of golden syrup and exhaustion, and closing his eye seemed like a much better idea.

He half-woke when they laid him down and Ryouma pulled away.

“What’s— No, don’,” Kakashi slurred, trying to grab him again. Blankets got in the way.

“You’re okay,” Ryouma said, voice roughened by an unpracticed attempt at soothing. “Your IV’s nearly empty, though. I’m gonna get you another.” Lower, he said to Katsuko: “I’ll check on the lieutenant again. You’re right, they’ve been quiet too long.”

“They probably fell asleep sitting up,” Katsuko muttered. She gave a jaw-cracking yawn. “Come back soon or Kakashi will cry.”

Kakashi found his most coherent swear word and rasped it at them.

“Go back to snuggling,” Ryouma said wryly. He paused to scoop up a pile of abandoned dishes, and glanced at Kakashi. “I’ll be quick.”

The door clicked open and closed before Kakashi could say, Don’t get hurt. He made an aggravated sound and shoved his face down against the musty-smelling blankets. “He’s dodging again.”

Ryouma had been holding himself carefully distant all night, like there was shame under his skin and he didn’t want to touch them with it. Genma had spotted it once already, Ram seems unsettled.

“If he doesn’t get back in when he comes back, I’ll make him.” Katsuko wrestled with the blankets until she’d installed herself at Kakashi’s side again, radiating heat. “You two get into trouble unsupervised.”

“Broken collarbone,” Kakashi mumbled pointedly. “Twice.”

Katsuko sniffed. “This is the broken collarbone of a hero.”

Kakashi smiled wearily. That was one they’d used to toss around in the war, a reward for corpses and duty done. Sakumo had been a hero for a while, before he’d been a traitor, then a bloodstain. They hadn’t put him on the Hero’s Stone.

“Pretty word,” Kakashi said, and let it slide away.

Katsuko glanced up at him, then drew one of the blankets up over her face, bundling down into a self-contained curl. “The pretty distracts people from the ugly, I guess,” she said, muffled.

She wasn’t wrong.

Kakashi closed his eye and drifted.

He woke up with Genma crouched at his right side, displacing Katsuko, and a new needle in the crook of his elbow, injecting a rush of heat.

Oh good, more drugs.

“Sorry I scared you,” Genma said, sliding the morphine syrette gently free. Behind him, Ryouma was staking another IV bag to the wall.

“You didn’,” Kakashi said blearily.

Genma’s mouth quirked at the corner. His face was the color of bleached paper, but his eyes were bright enough, and his hands were professional-medic steady. He was crouching at an awkward angle, balanced on his left leg with his bad leg stuck out sideways. “Sorry I didn’t scare you, then. How’s the pain?”

“What pain?” Kakashi said, coasting on a new surf of narcotics.

“Zero out of ten? That’s good.” Genma held up one hand, three rawboned fingers extended. “How many fingers?”

“Eleven,” Kakashi said, and laughed at his own joke.

Two fingers folded down, leaving the index still standing. “Try again.”

“Three point one-four-one-five-nine…” Kakashi derailed at Genma’s expression, still laughing.

Genma closed his mouth on what was either surprise or amusement, and continued the sequence: “Two-six-five-three-five. How many really?”

“One,” Kakashi confessed.

“Well, cognition seems intact,” Genma said. “How about other systems? Need to pee yet?”

Kakashi made the mistake of admitting yes, actually, his kidneys were functional and he’d had a lot of IV today. Which turned the world into a much less pleasant place, because Walking is good for you, Hatake, and Raidou and Ryouma were both ready and willing to haul him up and deliver him into the bunker’s cramped little bathroom, where all manner of new indignities awaited.

Zero out of ten turned out to be an ambitious lie. He was back to a solid five by the time they returned him to bed, though at least that helped clear his head a little. Katsuko was laughing at him from her rumpled nest of blankets against the wall. Kakashi gave her a rude gesture, which she returned with interest.

“I hope your leg explodes,” he told Genma grouchily.

Genma rubbed his right thigh, where a new ridge of bandaging bulked out the line of his ANBU pants. “You’re too late, I already opened the pressure valve.” He didn’t seem particularly offended, but that was medics for you: they were used to bile. “Any other comments?”

“It’s fixed, right, lieutenant?” Katsuko said, with a glimmer of badly hidden concern.

Genma glanced at her, a strand of sweat-dark hair slipping across his forehead. “I just missed a bleeder when I closed it in the field,” he said lightly. “Caused a minor hematoma. Don’t worry, I’ve got hemostasis now.”

Don’t worry, I was just bleeding out under my skin and had to drag myself up in the murder-hours of morning to fix it. No big deal.

The gallow’s humor expression on Raidou’s face suggested he was having a similar thought, along with the dark new crescents of red under his nails. Whatever Genma had been doing, he’d needed help. There was a smear of dried copper across Raidou’s wrist, too, and dried splatters on Genma’s pants.

The size of that bandage didn’t go with a minor anything, either.

For a second, Kakashi thought about pushing the question—how bad are you really?—but a different answer wouldn’t change things. Either Genma had it under control or he didn’t. Kakashi wasn’t a medic; he couldn’t help.

Genma derailed his train of thought by circling cool fingers around Kakashi’s wrist, checking the pulse, and asking, “Anything else you need?”

He probably meant meds, but—

“Are we safe?” Kakashi asked, before he caught himself.

“Safe enough,” Raidou said, from his watchful lean against the bed-platform. “Two of Ueno’s clones checked in a couple hours ago. Uotani Temple safehouse is dealing with casualties. Team Twelve got badly hit, but they’ve got at least two members still breathing. They put their attackers in the ground. Uotani is sending messages home for them and us.”

The report was businesslike, but the lines bracketing Raidou’s mouth looked deeper, and his eyes were tired and sad. Leaning against the wall, Ryouma looked down and away, white-lipped.

Kakashi couldn’t remember anyone on Team Twelve. They weren’t a rookie team, but that was all he knew.

“Akasugi Ridge is quiet, and no word yet on Porei Cove, though it might not even be staffed,” Genma said, with the same temperate professionalism he’d worn since the mission began. “I don’t expect anyone to land on them. Team Twelve was the only one with a mission near us.”

Ryouma looked up. “Would we hear if others got hit?”

From within her tumble of covers, Katsuko mumbled, “Doubt it.”

“It’s unlikely,” Raidou agreed. “Unless they think we can help, or there’s something worse coming our way, and I’m voting no on both those options.”

“S’okay,” Katsuko said drowsily. “I’ll protect you all.”

Ryouma’s voice was quiet. “You’ve done your part. Go back to sleep, Katsu.”

“If the ceiling starts to come down, I’ll let you know,” Raidou said, wry and fond.

“You’d better,” she said, like her clones wouldn’t tell her first. “I wouldn’t want to miss that.”

“I would,” Kakashi muttered, thinking of rockfalls and bodies that broke under them. The demon caves had been bad enough, and none of them had a bloodline to yank out and share if they got crushed. A death down here would be double-wasted.

He kicked his mind towards more useful thoughts. It would take a radio message a few hours to reach Konoha, provided the channels weren’t compromised. Bird-carrier took at least a day, but was more secure. Then time for medical teams to scramble—and it would be teams, plural—and travel out to them. Team Six had made the journey in a day and a half, but they’d hustled. Konoha’s medics weren’t slow, though…

Two days, at the earliest. Probably closer to three.

Sharing space with the Kiri-ninja who’d nearly taken his head off. But she was injured and cell-bound. Raidou was mobile (though heavily bandaged), Ryouma was upright (and shadow-eyed), Genma was limping (and still lethal), and Katsuko was shattered inside her skin (but still capable of making things explode).

On-mission, that was about as safe as it got.

Then again… Kakashi pressed the heel of his hand against the hot, solid throb of Obito’s eye, and considered the two days of Team Six’s nurse-maiding ahead of him.

At least there were drugs.

On cue, Genma said, “I can give you acetaminophen to go with that morphine, if it’s not holding you.”

“It’ll pass,” Kakashi said, with more hope than belief.

Genma gave him a measuring look, as if he could see all the thoughts Kakashi was trying not to have. “Try me,” he said quietly. “Where’s your worst pain? Maybe I can do something about it.”

The morphine was already taking the edge off, but there was a lot of edge.

“Right arm,” Kakashi said, flicking an explanatory gesture at the Raikiri’s standard pathway: inner arm to wrist, ending at the palm, where the bones of his hand ached like exhausted fire. He’d re-routed a lightning bolt instead of mimicking one, but the principle was the same: lots of energy, one arm. He added, “Chest hurts a little.”

That was standard when you made a good effort to tear all your chakra out. The meridians liked to sit up and protest, especially the major seats between heart, lower ribcage, and the base of the spine.

Kakashi hesitated on a last thought. Genma tipped his head, eyes tired but knowing, and said, “Something else?”

Kakashi grimaced and pulled his hand away from his face, feeling the warm spill of another tear. “Eye,” he said.

Obito’s gift was never exactly comfortable, but when Kakashi really put it to the test, especially when he fed it something new and complicated, it sat like a hot coal, inflaming everything around it.

Genma’s mouth compressed to a thin line. “For the arm and chest I can add a few more senbon to gate your chakra flow more tightly, since it’s a specific set of channels. The eye… Is it a pain you’ve felt before?”

“Yeah,” Kakashi said, dropping that thread of hope. Full-blooded medics didn’t like to mess with Rin’s work; a field medic on the edge of his reserves definitely wouldn’t. “It’s normal; it goes away. Don’t worry about it, lieutenant.”

That didn’t ease the pinch between Genma’s eyebrows. “What do other medics do for it, besides morphine?”

Kakashi shrugged one shoulder. “You’re the first medic I’ve worked with long-term, besides Rin. Standard is morphine and a ride home.”

Where Rin would make that face, and Kakashi would have guilt for a week.

“How about a cold compress?” Genma said.

“Wouldn’t kick it out of bed,” Kakashi said, which made Katsuko laugh into her stolen pillows.

“I’ll get it,” Ryouma said, and peeled himself away from the wall.

“I like this thing where he’s the errand boy.” Katsuko freed her head from the blankets just enough to show one eye, having completely failed at following orders and going to sleep. Her temple was dappled with faint, shallow burns, like she’d stood too near a scatter-shot of shrapnel. Or thrown herself through a burning wall. “Can it be a permanent thing? Tea minion, beverage me!”

Ryouma turned, leaning against the doorframe. “Any other requests?”

Genma glanced up. “Since you’re making tea…”

“I wouldn’t turn down tea,” Raidou said.

Kakashi raised his left hand and waved it languidly, only briefly distracted when the edges blurred against the yellow lamplight. “Can you do a dance when you come back?”

“One cold compress, three mugs of tea, one Wind Country veil-dance, coming right up.” Ryouma dropped a remarkably fluid bow for someone who had to be stiff, and stepped out.

Genma and Raidou both laughed. Katsuko lowered the blanket another inch, showing a second eye, and said prayerfully, “Ohplease.”

“There’s money in my belt-pouch,” Kakashi said. “Someone get it so I can throw it at him.”

“How about we get your needles first?” Raidou said, sounding like he was fighting not to laugh again. “Then you can pay for dinner and a show.”

“Deal,” Kakashi said, and lay obediently still as Genma ran gentle hands over his right arm and shoulder, searching for new places to insert needles. He hissed a little when Genma swiped alcohol over his skin, but the sting was short-lived, and the hair-fine senbon didn’t hurt at all. His chakra rippled weirdly, fighting the new pull.

“Breathe,” Genma said. “Slow, in and out to a count of six.”

Kakashi inhaled through his nose and out through his mouth. On the fourth breath, he felt the thin edge of his chakra relax, settling into slow, loose curves. The throbbing pain trickled out of his muscles, ebbing like a tide.

He sighed softly, relieved.

“Better?” Genma asked.

“You still smell like blood,” Kakashi mumbled, eyes closed.

There was a moment of blank, confused silence, then Genma said, “Oh,” and cleared his throat. “Yeah. Not much I can do about that. I’ve got some clove oil for toothache I could dab under your nose, if you want.”

Kakashi shook his head, which made the room swirl like an oil painting. “Like to know what’s going on,” he said. “Can’t if I’m just smelling cloves.”

“Think you can eat a little before you pass out again?”

“Effort,” Kakashi complained. “Ueno can do it for me.”

“You sure?” Katsuko said, words smashed into fabric again. “Wouldn’t want to stunt your growth or anything.”

“Pretty sure you’re shorter,” Kakashi said. “And skinnier.”

“I’m prettier than you so it doesn’t count,” Katsuko said, like that made any kind of sense.

Kakashi scratched his jaw, adjusting the itchy layers of bandage-mask. “I’m going to remember this the next time you want my food. Wouldn’t help in a time of need…”

The door creaked, and Ryouma paused to lean against the frame again, balancing three steaming mugs, a canteen, a damp towel, and no veils of any kind. “Every time I come back, I feel like I’m interrupting something,” he drawled. “Getting bullied, Kakashi?”

Kakashi sighed. “Ueno won’t eat my food.”

“The food you don’t have,” Ryouma said slowly. “Right. Guess it’s a good thing I found protein powder and made you a shake instead.”

“Good thinking,” Genma said.

Ryouma’s mouth tilted up at the praise. He crossed the floor and passed out mugs to Raidou and Genma, who accepted them gratefully. Katsuko took more persuading to rise from her blanket-cocoon, but eventually she bribed Raidou to sit up on the platform so she could lean against him, still shrouded in covers, and cradled the final mug in her good hand.

Ryouma also hauled himself onto the platform and settled down in the empty space on Kakashi’s left side. He draped a cold compress over Kakashi’s face—it was damp, not quite dripping, and cold as ice melt. Kakashi pulled it down over both eyes and let out a long, slow breath as it numbed some of the ache.

“You’re my favorite person,” he mumbled.

“You owe somebody a dead rabbit if you wanna keep me around as your errand-boy. Dunno who you’d pay it to, though,” Ryouma said, but there was something pleased edging his voice. He settled the canteen in Kakashi’s hand. “That’s supposed to be chocolate-flavored. Think you can drink?”

“Or die trying.” Chocolate wasn’t a favorite, but Kakashi needed calories, and liquid-form was the easiest option he was going to get.

“I don’t recommend choking as a way to die,” Ryouma said quietly, which, yeah, since he’d recently half-drowned in Genma’s blood, and Kakashi had gotten to wear both of their blood like a noose— They’d reached their quota for the week.

“Needles are all in,” Genma said. “How’s that feel now?”

Kakashi flexed his right arm, muscle bunching around odd spots of numbness. The canteen wobbled in his grip; he tightened his fingers, but chakra drain liked to hit you where you lived. His grip slipped, too weak and tired, and the canteen fell.

Since it didn’t smack him in the stomach, someone else had caught it.

Kakashi nudged the compress up enough to see a glimmer of brushed metal in Genma’s hand, and the wry, tilted expression on Ryouma’s face, and said, “It hurts less?”

“Scale of one to ten?” Genma said.

“The frowny face in the middle, before it starts crying,” Kakashi said. When Genma did the lieutenant eyebrow at him, he added, “Three and a half.”

“Down from?”

“Seven,” Kakashi said. “Seven-ish. Drugs are great; everyone should have them.”

“You know what else is awesome?” Katsuko said. “Singing. You should sing for us. Feel free to warble.”

“I can sing,” Kakashi said, offended by warble.

Katsuko lit up like a woman presented with a glorious, shiny birthday present.

“But it’ll take a lot more drugs,” Kakashi said.

“Since three of you were recently strangled, let’s bench the singalong,” Raidou said. He’d shifted to settle his back against the wall, still supporting Katsuko’s weight. His tea was already drained.

“Help me slide out,” Genma told Ryouma, “and you can help Hatake sit up and drink.” His hand settled brief and cool on Kakashi’s shoulder, finding an unbandaged bit. “Sorry, I’m not much use as a brace right now.”

Kakashi patted Genma’s wrist and then, on impulse, reached up to catch one of the sun-streaked tendrils of hair framing the lieutenant’s face. Genma went very still. Kakashi turned the tendril between his fingers, watching it catch the light.

“Don’t cut this,” he told Genma.

Genma’s skin was still the color of old snow, but a faint ghost of heat tinged his cheeks pink, and a reluctant smile broke through his restraint. “Make you a deal. Drink at least half that canteen and I won’t.” He gently untangled Kakashi’s hand from his hair, and patted the back of it.

“M’kay,” Kakashi said.

Genma nodded at Ryouma, who helped him slide free. Genma’s right leg didn’t want to bend, but they managed a semi-graceful maneuver between the two of them, Ryouma supplying strength and Genma achieving a little flex. Genma settled on the edge of the platform, turned sideways to brace his bad leg up and watch them. Ryouma returned to Kakashi’s side, canteen glinting in one hand.

“No flirting with me,” Ryouma said, as he tortured Kakashi upright like a violent sadist. “I don’t want you beating me up again when you’re sober.”

“You’re no fun,” Kakashi gasped, catching his breath against Ryouma’s shoulder. Ryouma’s arm was a solid support around his back, one hand curling gently around Kakashi’s upper arm. The room did an interesting little kaleidoscope, smearing into fractals and back again. Kakashi closed his eye until it stopped, pulling the compress back into place.

“Rethinking that dead rabbit?” Ryouma said, and pressed the lip of the canteen to Kakashi’s mouth, between the bandages. “C’mon, drink up.”

The protein shake might have been chocolate in another lifetime. Now it mostly tasted like grit and sugary chemicals, but it was cold and wet, and better than the memory of last night’s blood. Since Genma had made it a challenge, Kakashi wrapped his hand around Ryouma’s heavy-boned wrist, steadying the canteen, and drank the entire thing.

“More?” Ryouma asked, sounding a little surprised as he tipped the empty canteen up.

“Only if you want me to throw up on you,” Kakashi said. He propped his chin on Ryouma’s shoulder, which was solid and broad and comfortable, and blinked when he inhaled something sweet. It was—coming from Ryouma? Underlaid with the edge of old rot, because that jutsu lingered forever, printed into Ryouma’s skin like a vengeful watermark, but there was a lighter scent on top. Something bright and clean, and weirdly fragrant.

“Y’smell like fruit,” Kakashi informed Ryouma. “Why d’you always smell like a lady’s bedroom?”

Somewhere to the right, Katsuko made a rough sound quickly muffled by coughing.

“I like smelling good,” Ryouma said mildly. “It makes a change. This one’s blackberry vanilla. I left the rest of the bar in the bathroom; you can try it tomorrow morning.”

Showering would probably make him feel like a new man, if only because it would kill the old one dead. Kakashi let that thought slide in favor of rubbing his nose against Ryouma’s shirt-strap, where cloth trapped scent against skin and made it curl up warmly.

“It’s nice,” he said indistinctly.

Ryouma laughed quietly, surprised; it made his shoulder quake. “Now I know the morphine’s kicked in,” he said, but he wasn’t sharp about it. The hand curled around Kakashi’s left biceps rubbed up and down, slow and soothing. Kakashi leaned heavier, feeling himself start to go liquid-relaxed. Ryouma said, “Hope it makes up for the rot. Sorry I dragged you through it, earlier.”

There was a vague memory of bodies slagging to black puddles beneath Ryouma’s hands—Remember this? Said I’d show you…—but it was distant and blurry, and Kakashi couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Mmm,” he said.

Genma shifted in the distance. “Ready to lie back down?”

“M’comfortable,” Kakashi protested. “Stop making me move.”

Katsuko stirred, peeling herself away from Raidou’s side to poke him gently in the ribs. “If you lie down, you can get hugged on both sides, my lovely coconut sprinkle.”

“Coconut’s gross,” Kakashi said, wrinkling his nose.

“My lovely butterbean pastry?”

“Okay,” he said, and pushed himself away from Ryouma’s shoulder—or tried to. The spin was more vicious this time, and Kakashi thought, Overdid it as he fell back against Ryouma’s side. Too much, too soon, because apparently sitting up was taxing.

He hated chakra drain.

“Whoa there,” Katsuko said, and steadied him one-handed on the left.

“Stay still, I’ve got you,” Ryouma said, still with his arm around Kakashi’s shoulders. There was a vertical shift and Kakashi realized Ryouma was very slowly reclining, lowering them both backwards in a kind of glacial reverse crunch. Katsuko came with them, steady against Kakashi’s left side, and then the mattress was there and gloriously, immovably flat. Kakashi sighed and sank into it.

Ryouma’s arm eased free, and then—

“Hey,” said Kakashi, cracking his eye back open. “Don’ leave again.”

“I’m sleeping on the floor—” Ryouma began.

“Stay with us?” Katsuko said. There was no teasing edge in her voice, just honest exhaustion, weary and worn down.

Ryouma hesitated, eyes lowered. Then, inexplicably, he looked at Raidou.

“You never been in a foxhole before?” Raidou said, wryly. “Hug your team, Tousaki. Someone should. I’m going to keep the lieutenant warm, in case he decides to open another vein.”

“Hey,” Genma said mildly. “I was closing the vein.”

“Don’t pass up a chance to snuggle with the captain,” Ryouma said, distracted. He held Raidou’s gaze a moment, searching for something Kakashi couldn’t parse—reassurance? further permission?—then dropped his eyes to Kakashi. “I left my blankets on the floor.”

He pulled free and slid down to the floor, padding across the room.

Kakashi watched the shadows ripple over his unarmored back and thought that, for being in a room full of people, Ryouma looked very alone.

“Does he need a hug?” Kakashi asked Raidou quietly.

“It couldn’t hurt,” Raidou said.

“Yes,” Katsuko said at the same time.

Raidou’s mouth tilted. He leaned across to brush Katsuko’s hair back from her forehead, careful around the faint, dappled burns, and then reached further to tap Kakashi’s shoulder. Kakashi blinked up at him.

“I didn’t get the chance to say this earlier,” Raidou said. “But good work today. I’m glad you’re on this team, Hatake.”

Something unexpected and warm lit in Kakashi’s chest, like the distant cousin to the sunbeam blaze of Minato’s rare and hard-earned compliments. He searched for words, found no good ones, and said, “Lieutenant’s getting cold.”

“You are all such nags,” Raidou said, but he sounded amused. “I’m moving. Be kind to the lesser people; they’ve had a hard day.”

“M’always kind,” Kakashi mumbled, and pressed his face down against Katsuko’s good shoulder. She still smelled like smoke and ginger. Apparently his whole team just smelled like candy-fruit when they didn’t smell like death.

“Uh huh,” Raidou said, and levered himself stiffly up, collecting mugs and the canteen. Over the very edge of Katsuko’s shoulder, Kakashi watched him meet Ryouma on the return and put his hand on Ryouma’s shoulder.

Ryouma let out a long, slow breath. An edge of brittle tension didn’t quite wash out of him.

Raidou squeezed gently, rocking Ryouma just a little on his feet. Then he scruffed a hand through Ryouma’s hair, turning it into a glorious disaster, and shooed Ryouma back up onto the platform. Raidou followed after him, dropping mugs and collecting Genma on the way. There was a mill of general confusion before everyone settled down again.

It resolved with Ryouma pressed warm and awkward against Kakashi’s side. Beyond him, Genma and Raidou buried themselves beneath a pile of blankets, hissing quietly at each other as they negotiated sharp joints and various injuries. Genma sighed, low and exhausted. Raidou mumbled something that sounded like, no more midnight bleeding.

Stopping bleeding,” Genma said.

Their breathing evened out shortly after that, and Kakashi thought, Veterans. They were both older; they’d done real time in the war. You learned to sleep anywhere after a while, and quickly.

Katsuko was chakra-warm and languid, sleepy but not yet gone. Ryouma was stiff.

Kakashi reached up and found the ruffled edge of messy hair, the rougher edge of an unshaven jaw. He patted the side of Ryouma’s face with an open hand.

“S’okay,” he said, hazy. “Whatever it is, we can kill it.”

Ryouma’s laugh shivered in the air, raspy. “Sure. If anyone could, it’d be you.” He put his hand up over Kakashi’s, fingers long and calloused, and slid Kakashi’s hand off his face, tugging it down to rest on the rumpled blankets between them. He didn’t pull his hand back afterwards. “Go to sleep, Kakashi.”

Vaguely, Kakashi thought, Ryouma’s melted people with that hand.

He’d seen it, just recently. Tsuto’s ravaged belly, Fukuda’s sword arm, the half-remembered bodies in the field. But Kakashi’s right hand had burned out more hearts than he could remember, and it was all just… weapons, sheathed and laid down for the night. Safe enough.

Ryouma felt like flesh and bone now.

The golden lights made warm shadows, soft and peaceful. Kakashi curled his fingers around Ryouma’s palm, ducked his head down lower against Katsuko’s shoulder, and drifted into the dark.

When he opened his eyes again, Obito looked up from a field of sun-stroked grass and smiled.

“Better,” he said.

Kakashi smiled back, and the sky was blue.



One thought on “The High Road

  1. I really love the idea of Obito vaguely haunting Kakashi and bullying him through the afterlife. Even if it is just morphine induced dreams, it’s one of my favorite things in the whole story.

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