August 5, Yondaime Year 5
It was still twilight when Ryouma woke, the pearl-grey light before dawn. Kakashi was a solid bar of heat against his back, an arm thrown over Ryouma’s ribs, a leg hooked over his knee. His bare knee, Ryouma realized. Somewhere in the night he’d kicked off the blankets, and also his pants.
Kakashi was wearing shorts, at least. Boxers. Close enough. And a t-shirt, soft against Ryouma’s back, a little sweat-damp. The bed really was too narrow for two. And too warm.
He tried to move. Kakashi made a faint, protesting sound, and tightened his arm.
“Just opening the window,” Ryouma whispered. He cast a fleeting glance at the alarm. “It’s barely 0530. Go back to sleep.”
Kakashi mumbled something that might have been mngrghf and sealed himself to Ryouma’s back. His hand flattened over Ryouma’s abs, fingers anchoring in the ridge under his ribs.
“Or we could just…stick together here…” In the warm, close air every breath filled him with Kakashi’s scent, the light citrus soap they’d used, the faint musk of skin and sweat. He inhaled deeply, diaphragm lifting under Kakashi’s hand.
It wasn’t the only thing rising.
Kakashi’s masked mouth and nose pressed against the back of his neck, every breath a faint stirring of filtered air. His vague, sleepy noise sharpened into something a little more aware and interested. The hand wrapped around Ryouma’s ribs bridged. Fingers scraped gently over Ryouma’s skin, and he shivered. Kakashi’s raspy voice rumbled through him. “Y’smell good.”
That was…encouraging. Ryouma freed his own hand to graze over the back of Kakashi’s knuckles. “You feel good.”
“Mmm.” Kakashi nuzzled at the curve between Ryouma’s neck and shoulder. His hand skimmed lower, tracing from abs to obliques. The exploring fingers paused at the waistband of Ryouma’s trunks, like a question.
Ryouma drew a dizzy breath. “Yes.”
Kakashi’s mouth curved against Ryouma’s shoulder. His fingers eased beneath the waistband, teasing around the tip and against the side of Ryouma’s cock before wrapping firmly around it. A masked kiss tingled Ryouma’s nape. “Good morning.”
“Morning.” Ryouma wanted to roll over, to kiss him properly. He wanted to never move again. Kakashi’s hand was warm and sure, slow, deliciously rough with callus.
A little too rough, maybe. Ryouma reached down the side of the bed, to the squeeze bottle of lube wedged between mattress and weapons chest. He slicked his fingers, returned them to Kakashi’s. “Oh, fuck, that’s good… Hold on, let me turn over.”
Kakashi eased reluctantly back, slippery fingers rubbing up Ryouma’s pelvis, and then immediately slid close again as Ryouma turned. The loose shirt rucked up over his abs. Dark boxers tented over his own arousal. Ryouma left Kakashi’s hand on his cock and reached for Kakashi’s, pushing the boxers down, curling his lubed fingers around Kakashi’s erection. “Here. Is this good? Can I—?”
He’d need to stop asking someday, he thought. He bent his head and sought Kakashi’s mouth through the mask.
Pressure met him, then a veiled suction, Kakashi catching at his lower lip. A muted graze of teeth. Kakashi made a frustrated noise. Ryouma pulled back. “I can close my eyes again.”
“No,” Kakashi said, distracted, intent. He pushed at Ryouma’s chest.
Ryouma rolled onto his back, shoulderblade meeting empty air at the edge of the bed. He got his free hand to the waistband of his trunks, shoved them down and kicked them off. Kakashi threw a leg over Ryouma’s thighs and swung upright, straddling him.
“Gonna fall off the bed,” Ryouma gasped.
Kakashi spread his left knee and shoved inward with his right, allowing just enough space for Ryouma to wriggle back to center. Then Kakashi’s knees closed again, and his weight came down. He braced his left hand on the bed beside Ryouma’s shoulder, and traced the tips of his fingers up the underside of Ryouma’s cock.
Without a hitai-ate to force it up, his hair fell down over his forehead, half-veiling the closed Sharingan eye. It fringed over his ears, flattened on the left side, then flung itself into wild spikes at the crown. His right eye was huge, black-pupilled, drinking in the dim light. The soft Shuriken Force shirt hung off the points of his shoulders, swallowed his muscles, draped over the base of his rigid cock.
Ryouma tugged at the shirt hem. “Take it off.”
No hesitation. Kakashi stripped it off and dropped it over the edge of the bed. His mask clung to the wings of his collarbones, dipping down low past the notch of his throat, but past its elastic hem his skin was pearl-pale, scarless and smooth. Muscles flexed easily in his biceps and across his chest. He leaned down over Ryouma again, and a growl rumbled in his throat. “Touch me.”
That was one order Ryouma’d always follow. He tugged Kakashi’s boxers lower and wrapped his hand around both their cocks together. Kakashi made a hungry noise; his hips surged. His pulse beat against Ryouma’s palm, against Ryouma’s cock. There was slick heat and friction and the first smeared drops of pre-cum, and this time Ryouma couldn’t stop talking.
“Fuck, you’re gorgeous. I love the way your skin feels. I love your weight on me. I thought about you doing this, when you pinned me that time with the dogs— I was so pissed at you, and getting hard, and that just pissed me off more, I couldn’t let you know—”
Kakashi twisted the silver ring piercing Ryouma’s nipple, cutting his words off into ragged panting. Short nails raked down his chest, dragged back up, leaving red trails over unmarked skin. Ryouma groaned. His grip tightened. Kakashi made a shivery little sound, and leaned down to nip at Ryouma’s neck. Sharp teeth scraped through the mask, before the soft pressure of his mouth soothed the sting. “You look good pinned.” His mouth moved to the thinner skin under Ryouma’s ear. His voice lowered. “You did then, too.”
“Fuck,” Ryouma said. “I want you to fuck me.”
Ryouma’s wits caught up with his tongue.
“I mean, not right now,” he said hurriedly. “Not ever, if you don’t want to. Some people don’t. And we don’t have time. And this’s probably too fast. Are you okay? Do you want me to stop?”
Kakashi pulled back. Under the shadow-fall of his hair his eye was almost black, ringed by only a thin band of grey. His breath quickened, blood pounding hot under his skin. Chakra-pressure tingled Ryouma’s spine. “I could do that.”
Ryouma’s mouth dried. He didn’t seem able to draw enough air. It felt like killing intent, almost: that immense overpowering presence, that blood-draining certainty — except the predator here was one he’d invited in. Fire, not fear, filled his veins.
“Next time,” he said. He shortened his stroke.
Kakashi caught his breath. His hand closed on Ryouma’s shoulder. Ryouma rubbed his thumb over the heads of both their cocks together, and Kakashi made an urgent, needy sound, his hips stuttering against Ryouma’s. He bent low again, his free hand finding Ryouma’s hair, his face, the edge of his jaw; Ryouma turned his head and sucked Kakashi’s fingers in, and they curled against his tongue, salt-flavored, callused, scarred from a thousand sharp edges the tanuki magic hadn’t smoothed away.
Kakashi came first. Ryouma took only two more strokes to follow him.
The light was strengthening, outside the window. Rose-grey, then gold. Kakashi’s ruffled head rested against Ryouma’s shoulder. Their legs tangled together in the ruin of sheets. Sweat and semen cooled sticky between them.
Someone knocked at the door.
Instant tension locked Kakashi’s shoulderblades together. His chakra, which had been relaxed and lazily drifting, snapped back under his skin. He lifted his head to scowl at the door, and tapped a silent question on Ryouma’s bare chest. Expecting someone?
Ryouma shook his head, brows tightening. There was a shift, a ripple — chakra reaching out, barely felt by Kakashi’s blunted senses. Rouma stiffened. “It’s Hakone,” he murmured, almost soundless. Then, loud enough to make Kakashi twitch, “What d’you want?”
“To have hot chicks throw themselves at me the way they do at you.” Hakone’s voice was clear and sharp. “Also to make sure Hatake didn’t actually murder you. You want to let me in, or should I keep talking about your business through the door?”
Kakashi peeled himself up, grabbed his shirt and kunai, briefly considered fleeing out of the window, and darted silently into Ryouma’s bathroom instead. He heard Ryouma fumbling behind him, throwing sheets over the bed, kicking abandoned clothes under it.
Footsteps padded towards the door — noisy for Kakashi’s benefit, unless Ryouma really was still that tired — then reversed with a muffled, “Shit, clothes.” Cloth rustled. Footsteps again. The lock clicking, hinges creaking partway. “Not dead, thanks for checking. Uh, what’re they saying?”
“That you and Hatake tried to kill each other on your way out of Sagara’s office. And on the way into yours. And then he took off with you chasing after him wailing apologies like a cheating lover…”
“I was not wailing,” Ryouma said indignantly, while Kakashi glared at the mirror.
Hakone ignored this. “It reeks of sex in here. And you have your ‘I’m hiding something’ face on.”
Kakashi had his chakra clamped down and his ANBU spark smothered, which was enough to hide from most ninja. But Hakone, he remembered abruptly, was a sensor. One in very close range. And already starting to sweep his chakra out.
In the scant second before that inquisitive energy found his, Kakashi ruthlessly compressed his chakra to his core, laminating it into translucent, inhuman shapes. His awareness of the world shrank to his own skin. His hands turned cold, his lips tingled. It was about as pleasant as voluntarily blinding himself, but Hakone’s sweep passed over him without a ripple.
Still in the hallway, he heard Hakone say, “Do I want to know?”
“Did you want to know in Bungobashi?” Ryouma demanded.
“Technically, no. But this isn’t Bungobashi,” Hakone said. There was a little pause. “At least you’re not locked up in an Uchiha holding cell.”
“Even Uchiha can be… reasoned with,” Ryouma said breezily. “Are you heading out to breakfast? Or training?”
On the one hand, implying there was a sexually bribable Uchiha still in his room was a reasonable excuse to make Hakone leave; on the other hand, Kakashi now had that image in his head and he might need to stab someone to get rid of it. Possibly himself.
Go away, Hakone.
The door creaked, as if someone had tried to stick his head in the room. And creaked again, as if someone else had tried to close it.
“Wow,” said Hakone, languidly. “That’s a new low for you, and a dereliction of duty for your Uchiha. If it’s another redhead, you owe me a round at the Pig next time we go.”
Kakashi shook his head. One, he didn’t care. Two, he really didn’t care. And three, minus ten points for shallowness.
“How many redheaded Uchiha are there?” Ryouma asked. Which, exactly. Shut up, Hakone. “No, don’t answer that. Look, I’m not dead, I’m very touched you checked in, I owe you a round anyway, you should get going. Have a good day! Don’t get eaten by bugs!”
Kakashi pressed a hand over his mouth to stop himself snorting.
“Fine, fine. I’m going. Don’t want to miss out on the cafeteria’s finest poached eggs. When you’re done being ashamed of whomever you slept with last night, come find me. I want to hear what happened with Sagara and you and Hatake. Rumor has it he’s suspended from duty. Are you suspended too?”
Kakashi had done a good job not remembering that until now.
“I’m not— not suspended, okay,” Ryouma said. “I’m going to the hospital for torture practice today, though. Not sure what shape I’ll be in after, but I’ll probably need a drink. Pig at 2100?”
The humor dropped out of Hakone’s voice, replaced by worry. “Fuuuuck. They’re doing torture resistance training at the hospital now? Not T&I? Last time I went through it they had a medic on call, but they weren’t actually breaking bones or pulling fingernails, it was all genjutsu.” Knuckles rapped against the doorframe. “Pig at 2100,” Hakone said decisively. “Send me a message if you need me to pick up beer and bring it to your hospital bed instead.”
Because that was the road to healing. Alcohol.
Kakashi rubbed his forehead and attempted charitable thoughts, since Hakone was trying to be a decent friend and only incidentally managing to be a spectacular pain in the ass, but it still came out as: Go away, Hakone.
“It’s not, uh…” Ryouma paused, apparently decided Hakone thinking he was going to be tortured for most of the day was the lesser of two evils, and finished brightly, “It’s not gonna be that bad. 2100. See you then!”
The door closed. A deadbolt slid home.
There was a little thunk, which sounded a lot like Ryouma’s forehead bouncing off wood, then quiet footsteps. The bathroom door opened.
Ryouma stood in the frame, dressed in rumpled pants and a dark red t-shirt, and managed to look only a little wild around the eyes. His bedhair stuck to his forehead. He smelled of sex.
It took unexpected willpower to not jump on him.
Kakashi hadn’t actually managed to put his shirt on, or stow his kunai away. He adjusted the waistband of his sticky boxers with dignity. “What happened in Bungobashi?”
“What happened—? Oh. Uh.” Ryouma scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to regroup his scattered wits. Why was Kakashi still shirtless? Why hadn’t Ryouma taken the chance to leave any marks on his skin?
Because you’re trying to keep this secret, asshole. And doing a fantastic job of it, clearly. If Hakone hadn’t put chased after Kakashi and stinks of sex together yet, it was only because Ryouma sexually servicing an Uchiha to get out of jail was probably more likely than Ryouma managing to seduce Sharingan no Kakashi.
Or get seduced by. Whichever.
“I slept with someone I shouldn’t on a mission in Bungobashi Province,” he said, “and Hakone found out, and then the other guy’s teammates found out, and they were from Wind Country and probably would’ve castrated us both. So I henge’d into a female form and pulled it off. And now Hakone thinks I’m a dirtbag slut, but fortunately he probably still thinks you’re unassailable.”
Kakashi pressed his fingertips to his masked mouth. After a moment he inquired, “Can I see the henge?”
Was that a glint in his eye?
Getting Kakashi to laugh might possibly somehow redeem the morning. Ryouma twisted up a shroud of chakra, shaped the seals, and blinked up at Kakashi through long-lashed eyes. “Like what you see, shinobi?”
Kakashi’s storm-grey gaze swept from the tumble of black hair down to the delicate bare feet. His fingertips curled against his mouth, as if holding something in— then, abruptly, released. His eye curved half-closed. He leaned against the doorframe, shoulders shaking, and laughed.
Ryouma grinned headily. “Two points to me.”
Kakashi pushed off the doorframe, turned to drop his crumpled shirt and — a kunai? — in the sink, and turned back. The bathroom was tiny enough that one prowling step brought him close enough to touch. His hands settled on the unaccustomed curve of Ryouma’s waist, fingers splaying over the flare of bare hip. His head dipped down to stop a breath away from Ryouma’s mouth.
“You got rid of Hakone. Five points, easy.” Kakashi’s voice graveled in its lower registers. His shoulders seemed broader, somehow. His jaw looked stronger, seen at eye-level.
Fifteen centimeters shouldn’t make this much difference. Had it mattered with Hakone? Ryouma couldn’t remember. They’d been so focused on misleading the Suna nin, danger and adrenaline raging through their veins. Nothing like the deep fire kindling now. He wondered, hazily, if a henge would last…
“We’ve still got thirty minutes before I’ve got to be at the hospital. I can get dressed fast.”
Kakashi’s brow quirked. A spark of interest lit his eye. “How detailed is your henge?”
“Never actually tested it, but we could find out.” He pressed experimentally closer to Kakashi’s chest. The compression was…weird, but not unpleasant. Maybe even good. This form was slim, small-breasted, based on a vague concept of opposite-gender translation mixed with a couple of actresses who’d caught his eye in Sword Dance at Midnight; it lacked his piercing, his tattoos, most of his muscles. It felt real, though. Maybe some of the henge theory books he’d never read would have said something about that.
Kakashi’s hands slid from Ryouma’s hips to his lower back, following the curve of his spine. His touch was careful, a little gentle, as if registering the comparative delicacy of this body. Or maybe just testing the new shape. He said, “What d’you think they’d do to you if you showed up late?”
“They’re going to cut me open anyway.” Which wasn’t exactly the most erotic thought he’d had recently. But Kakashi had a point. Ryouma’d won a shred of Sagara’s respect, last night; he couldn’t risk losing it first thing this morning.
And— did he actually want Kakashi’s first time fucking him to be with this strange, delicate, imaginary girl? Or with himself?
He pulsed his chakra, and let the henge dissolve. Kakashi was suddenly shorter, slighter, his hands cupped on Ryouma’s ass instead of his lower back. A thin layer of knit cloth separated fingers from skin. Ryouma caught at Kakashi’s hip to steady himself. “I could still suck you off.”
Kakashi’s breath caught. He tipped his head up, a little red above the mask, still close enough to kiss. “You’ll be late.”
“I won’t,” Ryouma promised recklessly, and sank to his knees.
He wasn’t late.
The massive clock over the hospital reception desk still stood at 0658 when Ryouma whipped through the sliding doors and skidded across the polished floor. A uniformed receptionist glanced up in alarm, spotted the jounin blues, and came hurrying around the desk to meet him. “Where’s your injury, shinobi-san? Your eye?”
“Not injured,” Ryouma panted. He’d raced through a two-minute shower and skipped shaving; he’d almost forgotten the black eye. “Just— on time. For volunteering. First day. Only day? She didn’t say.”
The receptionist looked like she was considering summoning the burly Akimichi orderlies by the door, possibly to sit on him until he made sense. He tried to catch his breath, and his thoughts. “Tousaki Ryouma, 010950. I’m here on Commander Sagara’s orders. Volunteer body for healing practice.”
“Oh.” She looked at him doubtfully, but beckoned him back to the desk. “It’s good of you to volunteer, Tousaki-san. Commander Sagara, you said…” She was running her finger down a list of entries in a heavy, bound book. “ANBU Commander Sagara?”
“Yeah. Did she say how long I’m here for?” Ryouma leaned over the edge of the desk, craning his neck to see if any readable numbers swam beside the dense black rows of characters.
“I don’t have that information,” the receptionist said faintly. She picked up a radio handset and stepped to the far side of the desk. “Miyahara-sensei, your, um, volunteer is here.”
The radio’s returning crackle was almost lost in the sound of the door sliding open again. Swift steps crossed the floor. A welcome chakra presence slotted into place at Ryouma’s side.
The receptionist looked up gratefully. “Can I help you, ojii-san?”
Kakashi tipped his damp grey head at her. “You’re new, aren’t you?”
He was lean and stark in anonymous black knits, long-sleeved, with a simple black eyepatch instead of hitai-ate. The mask should’ve been a give-away, though. And, really. Ojii-san?
The receptionist flushed dull red, but said doggedly, “If you can please provide me your name and your appointment details…” She trailed off before she had to stumble over another honorific.
Ryouma yielded to evil impulse. “He’s with me. Bodyguard.”
The receptionist blinked, looked at Kakashi, looked back at Ryouma, and then stared somewhere between them, helplessly confused.
“Ignore him. He thinks he’s funny,” Kakashi said. “I’m just here to make sure he doesn’t jump out of a window.” Or for moral support. One of those.
“O-okay.” The receptionist made a valiant attempt to do her job. “So, you’re not checking in?”
“No,” Kakashi said.
“Have a seat, please.”
The chairs were vinyl, and beige, with sad flat vinyl cushions. Kakashi picked one along the wall. Ryouma sat down next to him, smiling benignly.
“You’re mean,” Kakashi murmured.
“I can only be so much good in a day, and I used most of that already.” Ryouma turned the smile on Kakashi, unrepentant.
Kakashi ignored the little tingle that zinged along his nerves.
Fortunately for everyone involved, they weren’t kept waiting long. The swinging doors banged open and a short, muscular woman strode through. Her hair was pale blue and shaved on the sides, slick on top. She stopped in front of Ryouma and pointed at him.
“Close enough. I’m Sakai, one of Miyahara-sensei’s medics. You’re here because you did something stupid. None of us actually care. I just need you to not be stupid for the rest of the day. Agreeable?”
Caught off guard, Ryouma tripped a little before he answered. “Uh, yeah. Is it okay if my, uh, teammate comes too? He’s here to stop me in case I forget to not be stupid.”
Sakai raised thick blue eyebrows at Kakashi. “Are you volunteering skin?”
“No,” Kakashi said flatly.
He didn’t get along with medics on a normal day, barring one exception. Baby medics with blades and no awareness of his… particular triggers was, put mildly, not a good idea.
Something in his tone registered. Sakai grunted and turned back to Ryouma. “As long as he stays out of the way. C’mon.”
Ryouma pushed hastily out of his chair. Kakashi followed.
She led a brisk pace through a network of hallways, away from the more familiar emergency room, surgery suites, and wards. They passed one of the labs, noisy with machines and the high-pitched whine of a centrifuge; skirted pathology, crossed by a locked elevator that exclusively served the morgue; and turned down a side corridor that led to a simple maze of offices and admin.
They stopped outside Conference Room 6.
Sakai put a hand on the door handle, and gave them both a look. “You’re here as an important part of these medics’ education. Do not screw around, make comments, or interrupt the doctor. I will take the lidocaine away.”
Ryouma blinked. “I get lidocaine? I mean— yeah, absolutely. Here to serve.”
Sakai made a snorting noise that sounded like ANBU. “We’re not T&I. You might even learn something if you pay attention.” She pushed the door open.
It was a standard conference room. Grey carpet. Taupe walls. Fluorescent lights. One large table in the center, formed out of several smaller tables shoved together. A bank of windows with a nice view of Konoha’s river. And a handful of young teenagers clustered nervously behind a tall, weather-beaten woman with a pleasant smile.
Kakashi adjusted his worldview for the day. Painkillers. Actual baby medics. Ryouma would be fine.
A girl with a severe black bob took one look at Ryouma and turned pink. Standing next to her, a gangly boy swallowed and did the same.
Sakai dispelled the little moment of silence. “Proto-medics, this is Takeuchi-san—”
“Tousaki,” Ryouma muttered.
“Whatever,” Sakai said. “He’s volunteering himself for your little butcher knives out of the kindness of his heart. No one is allowed to permanently mutilate him. His friend is here to hold his hand— What, Ohno?”
One of the boys had thrust an arm into the air at the beginning of this speech and had begun waving it with increasing urgency. He dropped it now and tugged on — Kakashi assumed — Miyahara-sensei’s sleeve. “That’s Hatake Kakashi.”
“I’m aware,” the doctor said. Rin had probably passed out bulletins. She inclined her head. “My name is Miyahara. Tousaki-san, we appreciate your time today. Hatake-san, you’re welcome to stay, of course.”
“He’s in ANBU,” Ohno was whispering furiously to a friend. “He killed a mountain demon!”
“Are they both ANBU?” whispered a girl with orange braids, looking even more nervous.
Sakai cleared her throat loudly and clapped Ryouma on the shoulder. “Grab a seat.”
“—sister told me ANBU kill babies—”
“—and eat them—”
Ryouma raised his voice to carry. “Babies don’t have enough meat on ‘em. They’re mostly fat and bone. Jounin need more protein in their diet.” He pulled a chair out and sat down, loose-limbed, eyeing Ohno. “Who told you about the mountain demon?”
Ohno froze like a rabbit in front of a snake, possibly to contemplate his personal protein levels. “M-my little brother is in the same class as Uzumaki Naruto.”
Kakashi made a mental note to review confidentiality with Naruto the next time he saw him. And, he suspected darkly, with Minato’s ANBU guards. Gossipy bastards.
“Huh.” Ryouma studied Ohno for another measured moment, then shrugged. “Well, you’ve got good taste in idols.” He tipped his chin up at Miyahara. “What do you need me to do?”
“Roll up your sleeves for now. Let’s see, we’ll start with the left arm. Go ahead and place it on the table, inner side up — yes, just like that. Sugiyama, you can go first. Take the seat next to Tousaki-san and point out three structures between the wrist and elbow.”
A girl with close-cropped dark hair and a serious expression came forward, apparently uninterested in her classmates’ antics. Kakashi guessed she was around twelve, maybe thirteen at most. She sat next to Ryouma, stared intently at his arm, and then touched three spots. “Radial pulse point. Radial node, approximately here. Antecubital fossa.”
Miyahara crossed behind Sugiyama’s back and clambered up onto the table. She sat down cross-legged on the other side of Ryouma’s arm, out of her student’s way, but within easy reach of both of them. Sakai had taken her place among the group of teenagers, squashing gossip. At Miyahara’s request, she passed a small black bag over.
Miyahara extracted a syringe, a glass vial, and a box of alcohol wipes. “Now, in the field you probably won’t have the luxury of lidocaine, but can anyone explain why I’m using it today?”
“So Tousaki-san doesn’t kick you through a wall,” said the gangly boy, cheerfully. Sakai whacked him upside the head. “Ow.”
“Actually not a bad answer,” Miyahara said. “Shinobi are unpredictable creatures, especially shinobi in pain.” She smiled at Ryouma. “A medic should always be prepared to duck.”
Kakashi thought back to the two recent instances when he’d nearly throttled Genma, and couldn’t dispute that.
“Just warn before you cut. And come from a direction we can see.” Ryouma tilted his head reassuringly at Sugiyama, somehow achieving an angle that made his hair look particularly fluffy. “Shinobi get used to pain. Doesn’t mean we like it…”
Sugiyama nodded hastily.
“Now, before I stick this into Tousaki-san, what should I ask him?” Miyahara said.
The girl with orange braids put her hand up. “Is he allergic?”
“Or taking any medications,” said Ohno. “In case they might interact.”
“Does he have any medical conditions,” said the gangly boy.
“Nope,” Ryouma said. “Also haven’t overdosed on soldier pills in at least a couple weeks. They can impair your blood clotting,” he added for the benefit of the kids, in a very good mimicry of Genma’s teaching voice.
Kakashi eased himself up onto the table behind Ryouma’s shoulder. He folded one leg, let the other dangle, and listened with interest.
“Very good,” Miyahara said. “Tousaki-san, if you’d turn your arm over for me — just like that, yes. I’m going to numb a good section on the back here. Is that okay with you? Excellent. This will sting a bit, but it should ease off.”
She swiped his arm with alcohol, drew up a dose, and injected a neat ladder-pattern down the back of Ryouma’s arm. The lidocaine made little pale spots under the skin. Ryouma wrinkled his nose, barely even a wince. After a few minutes, Miyahara poked his arm with a gloved finger. “Feel that?”
Ryouma shook his head. His eyes were alight, fascinated. “Not even pressure.”
“That was a light touch, you’ll probably feel some pressure when we get started. Just let me know if you feel anything sharp.” She withdrew a scalpel from her kit. “Okay, Sugiyama, just like we practiced. I’m right here if you get into trouble.”
The girl swallowed, and her hands began to glow.
The doctor glanced at Ryouma, got his nod, and drew the scalpel down his skin, opening a precise cut that exposed slick red muscle.
It didn’t hurt. It might have been someone else’s arm on the table, the raw edges of flesh peeling back, blood welling up sluggishly over the edges of the wound. Sugiyama’s hands hovered a centimeter above the gash, wreathed in green light. Her fingers were thin, her hands barely half the size of Ryouma’s, but they held steady.
Slowly, the blood flow stemmed. Sugiyama’s tongue caught between her teeth. Was it the blood still clotting in the wound, or did the cut look shallower now? The girl’s eyes narrowed in concentration. Fine droplets of sweat misted her face. The edges of the cut began to draw together, squeezing a new dribble of darkening blood down the side of his arm.
Ryouma still couldn’t feel anything. Neither pain nor the familiar healing itch. An uncomfortable warmth seeped through him, but the sensation ended between wrist and elbow. He breathed out in frustration, almost ready to ask Miyahara-sensei to try again. Without painkiller this time.
Maybe he wasn’t trying the right senses.
He closed his eyes and focused on the chakra flow. Muted in the superficial posterior muscles, or maybe just his sense of it, but he could begin to catch the weave of the girl’s chakra with his own, the connection between them, as her chakra caught and reshaped his—
The connection broke. Ryouma swallowed a curse. Too soon, he’d almost had it! Why hadn’t he started earlier?
He opened his eyes and saw the girl, flushed and sweating, drop her hands back to her sides. He was sweating too, he realized; the bunched-up long sleeve of the jounin shirt clung damply to his biceps, and the vinyl chair felt sticky against his back. Sugiyama pushed short hair off her forehead with the back of her hand and said, “Done.”
Miyahara-sensei reached for an alcohol swab and wiped the blood away. A lurid pink line traced down the outside of Ryouma’s forearm, like a scar weeks healed. Sugiyama scowled.
“A little too much energy at the beginning, you didn’t leave yourself enough to finish.” Miyahara ran a green-lit thumb down the scar, wiping it away to an almost invisible thread. “But otherwise excellent, well done.”
“Erasing scars is that easy?” Ryouma had meant to be cool, experienced, worldly; a seasoned veteran, not these kids’ junior. He couldn’t keep up the illusion anymore. At least his voice didn’t squeak.
Miyahara looked at him thoughtfully. “Is hitting a target with a kunai easy?”
“Well, now it is. I take your point.” Years of practice, hours of singleminded focus: running, in the dark, blindfolded, facing away… He pulled the clinging collar of his shirt away from his throat, and asked Sugiyama, “How long have you all been studying healing?”
“Two years.” She kept scowling at his arm.
“Four years,” the gangly boy put in, hovering close. The others chimed in. Ohno’d been a student for three years, but the rest were the gangly boy’s agemates; fifteen or sixteen, Ryouma guessed, if they’d turned down the genin exam and started medic training instead immediately after graduating from the Academy.
He’d been a chuunin at their age. At fifteen he’d already lost track of the people he’d killed, but he hadn’t yet managed to save even one.
“What about you, Sakai-sensei?” the orange-haired girl appealed.
“Eighteen years.” She looked amused, leaning back in her chair with her arms folded across her chest.
Miyahara smiled. “Forty-seven.”
Two fingers tapped Ryouma’s shoulder. He managed not to twitch, just about. Kakashi murmured dryly, “Six minutes.”
“I’m a quick learner.” He looked up and back. Kakashi sat on the table behind him, not quite close enough to lean against. Close enough to guard his back. He could see Kakashi’s right eye; drying silver hair flopped loosely over the left. “Are you Sharinganing?”
“No, I already know this jutsu.” His eye crinkled. “Still can’t use it.”
“He electrocutes things when he tries,” Ryouma explained. “Very exciting.”
“Because you have lightning chakra,” Ohno said eagerly. “Right? You split a lightning bolt!”
“Interesting,” Miyahara said. “Ohno, since you’re so eager to share, let’s have you up next.”
Ohno bounced out of his chair, wiped his hands nervously against his pants, and came to take Sugiyama’s place. He kept looking at Kakashi over Ryouma’s shoulder. “Did Nohara-sensei really transplant your eye in the field? Without any tools or seal circles or anything?”
There was a short, taut silence. The kids were on the edge of their seats, even the one who thought ANBU ate babies. Kakashi turned his head to fix Ohno with a narrowed eye. He said, tonelessly, “She had a sharpened stick.”
Ohno drew a breath.
Ryouma said loudly, “Speaking of sharp things. Are you gonna cut me now, sensei?”
“Ah, yes.” Miyahara pulled her gaze from Kakashi and shook herself slightly, resettling her own mantle of professionalism. “Ohno, focus on your actual patient. Tousaki-san, still numb here? Yes? Very good.” She set the scalpel closer to his wrist and laid open a cross-shaped cut in two swift strokes. “Begin.”
The boy’s hands shaped quick, confident seals. Ryouma closed his eyes and focused. There was Ohno’s chakra, reaching out to mesh with his, like the fingers of two hands meeting in a seal. And then the united chakra, in Ohno’s precise control, sinking into the tiny fibers and vessels and nerves: stanching bleeding, knitting capillaries, coaxing tissue back into place, accelerating the growth of new flesh. Feverish heat swept back with each pulse of chakra flow.
Ryouma opened his eyes to see the livid scar fading first to dull purple, then to a dirty white. Ohno bit his lip, and the cut disappeared slowly into the healthy golden-brown of the skin beyond it.
Miyahara swabbed the drying blood away again. “Well done.”
Ohno was already flushed with effort, but his tired head lifted a little at her praise. Sweat plastered his short dark hair to his forehead. He croaked, “Faster than last week, too.”
Ryouma’s shirt was soaked through, his mouth dry. His voice sounded a little croaky, too. “Who’d you have last week?”
“One of the trainees from T&I,” a black-haired girl said. She held a water bottle out to him. “He wasn’t nearly as handsome as you.” Her cheeks flamed.
“Uh, thanks.” Ryouma took the water bottle, tried uncapping it one-handed, gave up, and held it up to Kakashi. “I’m very useful as a distraction for my team. They point me at the enemy and say Be Decorative! And then sneak around and get the mission done while I smile.”
Kakashi snorted. “Yes, we never make use of your actual skills.” He handed down the water bottle, uncapped. “Hands up, who’s heard of the face-melting ninja?”
Ohno was guzzling another water bottle. He shook his head, looking puzzled. Sakai’s gaze sharpened, though, and the lanky boy and Sugiyama tentatively put their hands up. Sugiyama had the solemn look of a girl who cared about getting the right answer. The boy, maybe four years Ryouma’s junior, said, “My older sister commanded a front-line unit in the war. She said there was a chuunin on her team, the only one who lasted, who could rot people down to slime…”
Ohno’s face cleared. “The people-puddle ninja!”
Kakashi opened his hands like a man presenting a festival sideshow: only one hundred ryou a try! “Tousaki Ryouma, melter of faces. Invented his own jutsu. Discuss.”
“Or we could not,” Ryouma said hastily. He’d kind of preferred being decorative.
The orange-haired girl, at the back of the group, looked ready to cry. Ryouma pointed his water bottle at the lanky boy instead. “Your sister was my jounin captain? So you’re a Kodama.” Not much resemblance that Ryouma could see, but Kodama Yoko had spent most of their six months together covered in blood, mud, or bandages, and this boy was clearly still growing into his bones. “Doesn’t your family have a clan technique? Why are you studying healing instead?”
Kodama’s narrow chin firmed. “Because I want to study healing. Not war. My sisters are fighting for Konoha. I can take another path.”
His sisters likely hadn’t had that option. But they’d needed healers five years ago, too; and Kodama Yoko would’ve known that bone-deep. It wasn’t hard to see her supporting her younger brother’s choice.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s see what you’ve got. Carve me open, sensei.”
Kakashi might have been disturbed at Miyahara’s willingness to comply, if not for 1. medics, and 2. shinobi. She cut a serpentine line down Ryouma’s arm, parallel to Sugiyama’s attempt. The uneven edges seemed to afford a greater degree of difficulty. Blood escaped in thin rivulets as Kodama sweated and strained to coax the flesh back together.
The end result was a raised purple line, smooth at the base, but puckered at the closest end. Kodama scowled, panting. “I lost it.”
Miyahara ran her index finger down the scar, which unzipped disturbingly in its wake, flattening back down into an open wound. The edges seemed angrier, red and swollen. “Overbuilt it, actually,” she said. “What’s the first rule?”
Kodama chewed his lip. “Save your resources.”
“And how does that apply here?”
“I put too much chakra in.” The boy made a frustrated noise. “But I kept losing my grip. I needed more to hold it.”
“And what’s wrong with using your hand?”
Kodama blinked, and flushed.
Miyahara put her fingers either side of the wound and pinched the lips together. With her other hand, she ran her thumb over the first few centimeters of sliced skin. The edges knitted back together like cloth re-weaving itself. “Give me your hand. Put it here. Can you feel what my chakra’s doing? I’m only putting it into the edges. I don’t need to hold the entire injury, just the surfaces I’m working with.”
Kakashi had spread his senses early in the exercise, gossamer-light so as not to throw the students off. He could feel Miyahara’s chakra like a shimmer on water, guiding delicate architecture back together, encouraging mated ends to find each other and re-bond. It was a world’s difference from rough field-healing.
“Your turn. Try again,” Miyahara said, halting the healing halfway through.
Kodama gave a jerky, determined nod and pinched the upper end of the wound together. Blood squeezed out between his fingers, but only a slow ooze. He fed his chakra back in, building a swift network.
“Ease down, less than that,” Miyahara murmured.
The chakra pulled back a little, until it was closer to a lamination along the inner edges. Slowly, painstakingly, with Miyahara’s guidance, the injury sealed. This time, the scar stayed flat, following the original curve.
“Good,” Miyahara said, satisfied.
Kodama groaned with relief and dropped his sweaty forehead onto the table. He was paler than when he’d started. Ryouma, by contrast, looked over-warm: shirt sticking to his skin, hair plastered to his forehead. Kakashi frowned at him, concerned.
Sakai clapped her hands together. “Time for a break. Sugiyama, Ohno, Kodama, come get a drink and a snack. Miura, take a juicebox to…”
“Tousaki-san,” said the girl with orange braids, nervously.
“Right.” Sakai nodded at Ryouma. “You want to borrow a scrub top? You look like you’re about to melt out of that one.”
“That’d be great,” Ryouma said, with enough relief Kakashi was surprised he didn’t skin out of his shirt right then and there. “If we’re fetching things, could I get a coffee too? Or just an IV caffeine drip if you do those?” At Sakai’s ironic eyebrow, he added sheepishly, “I was in a hurry this morning.”
“You — famous friend.” Sakai waved a vague hand at Kakashi. “Can we impose on you for a coffee run?”
He was almost starting to like her.
“Usual?” he asked Ryouma.
Ryouma’s head rocked back, startled, then his mouth curved in a slow smile. “Yeah. Thanks. I’ll be here.”
Had he really thought Kakashi didn’t know his coffee order? Idiot man.
Kakashi sought Ohno out of the crowd and said, “What’s the scariest story you know about me?”
The boy choked on his juice, and squeaked, “Um, Naruto-kun told us about the time with the dragon.”
Kakashi made an additional mental note: discuss the differences between reality and wishful thinking.
“Fine, remember that. Tousaki doesn’t make good choices. If he volunteers for anything without pain medication while I’m away, I’m holding you responsible.”
Ohno’s hands flapped in alarm, and also in the direction of his teachers. I’m not in charge!
“Just you,” Kakashi said, and slipped out of the door before there were follow-up questions.
When he returned, iced sugary caramelly-death thing in one hand, green tea in the other, Ryouma still appeared to be in one piece. He’d switched his jounin blues for a pair of lightweight green scrubs, and someone — probably Ohno, smart boy — had fetched an ice pack for the back of his neck. The girl with the severe black bob was leaning over his right arm, sealing a jagged cut that zig-zagged around Ryouma’s tattoo. Since Ryouma wasn’t wincing, and the syringe had moved places on the table, Kakashi stood by his choice of mild extortion.
He retook his place on the table, and handed Ryouma his drink. “Caffeine. Nakano-san says hi.”
“You actually had a conversation in the coffee shop?” And had gone all the way to Higher Grounds, when there was a decent coffee bar in the hospital cafeteria. But the hospital cafeteria didn’t do iced drinks, let alone caramel cream with extra espresso shots. Ryouma seized the tall frosty cup and sucked gratefully.
“I said I wanted the most ridiculous, over-sweet thing they had,” Kakashi reported, “and she asked ‘How’s Ryouma?’ So I said you were being stabbed by twelve-year-olds.”
“Fifteen,” the black-haired girl, Noguchi, muttered distractedly.
“And you didn’t actually stab me,” Ryouma pointed out. “Pay attention.” The lines of the cut were wavering under her hands; he could follow the chakra weaving without closing his eyes, by now. Enough to wonder if he dared try it himself…
Kakashi and Genma would both kick him in the head for that. He wasn’t supposed to try anything more than fish yet. Not until he’d taken the introductory courses these kids had passed years ago.
The kids taking the classes now were likely even younger. They were probably still using the under-sized desks from the Academy, which hadn’t really fit him even when he was attending the Academy. They would almost certainly still outpace him.
But he learned quickly. He’d catch up. At least enough to point out to Noguchi, “You don’t need to try to heal the tattoo ink. That’s there on purpose.”
“Right.” Color flared in her face, but the net of her chakra reshaped itself, abandoning the alien pigment trapped under the skin. At least she seemed to have gotten over her nerves about touching him. And her control was better; the wash of feverish heat seemed fainter this time, while the raw slices of wound knit smoothly together. Noguchi bent to wipe her sweaty temple against her shoulder, but her hands didn’t leave their spread-fingered hover over his arm.
The cuts closed. Miyahara wiped the blood away. A faded silvery scar remained, following the jagged line and curve of Ryouma’s forearm tattoo. The sharp clean edge of the tattoo was a little faded in spots. He’d have to see Takumi for a touch-up soon.
“Sorry about the tattoo,” Noguchi said, ducking her head. “I just— sank a little too deep, I’m sorry! There was something that shouldn’t be there, I didn’t think about what it was.”
Ryouma rubbed the tattoo. Faint pressure, nothing more. The feeling hadn’t come back in his left arm yet, either. “It’s fine. It’s an old one anyway.”
He’d started drawing the lines on his skin with a marker for jutsu practice, back when he was trying to figure out how to mold chakra into the Naizou Tokasu bolt. A swirl here, doubling back there, a spiky stair-stepping path to concentrate and then fire molded chakra in an arrow-fast projectile. When he finally demonstrated an original A-rank jutsu and earned his promotion to jounin, Takumi had offered to tattoo the design in commemoration.
Takumi had added plenty flourishes of his own, of course. But the core pattern-map was still there, unaffected by Noguchi’s healing. His own private notebook, in a way. He rubbed it again, and dropped his hand. “Who’s up last? Miura, right?”
The orange-haired girl made a small sound that might have been eep. But she came forward, nervously tugging on one of her braids before flinging both over her shoulder. “Can I do something different, Miyahara-sensei? He’s got a cut on his cheek already.”
Behind Ryouma, the air chilled.
“It’s a day old,” Ryouma said. “Older cuts are harder, aren’t they?”
“Where there’s already scabbing or scar tissue, yes,” Miyahara said, looking thoughtful. “And there’s the bruising, signaling deeper damage beyond the cut itself. A fist-fight, within the last eighteen hours, I presume?”
That was a question for Ryouma, clearly. He shrugged. “Training.”
Kakashi was silent. The cold eased, a little. Ryouma picked up his iced coffee in its place.
Miyahara rubbed her chin, and studied Miura. “Name the three things to be aware of with facial healings.”
“Arteries, nerves, physical appearance,” the girl rattled off.
“Transverse facial and lateral nasal arteries, zygomatic facial nerve, and, um.” Miura paused awkwardly. “Tousaki-san doesn’t have a lot of scars, so he probably cares about his appearance.”
That was — technically true, okay, but still. Ryouma protested, “Maybe I’m just really good at dodging.”
And had a magical tanuki god’s unexpected help, but that was supposed to be classified.
The silence behind Ryouma was starting to seem more amused than chilly. Miura twisted her fingers together and gazed at nothing in particular, which was somehow far worse than looking skeptical.
At least Miyahara’s expression stayed level. “In general, most people care about their appearance. But there’s a special consideration for shinobi who engage in undercover work. I suspect that’s not your area though, Tousaki-san?”
“Not since I hit my growth spurt,” he admitted. “I’m a ninjutsu man, heavy combat. I had— a really thorough healing, a couple weeks ago. But yeah, I’d like to avoid facial scarring, I guess.”
That sounded reasonably not-vain, didn’t it? Damnit, why was he justifying himself to some judgmental fifteen-year-old with ridiculous hair, anyway? Certainly it had nothing to do with the judgmental eighteen-year-old with ridiculous hair sitting behind him…
“If you feel ready, Miura, go ahead,” Miyahara said. “I’m here if you get stuck.”
The girl swallowed, lifted her chin, and stepped closer. She added one more seal to the familiar sequence — half reverse Boar, maybe? — before lifting her glowing hands to Ryouma’s cheek.
This time there was no lidocaine. Her chakra sank in to mesh with his, and warmth flooded his face as the scabbing cut over his cheekbone itched and cracked. Broken capillaries, clotted and pooling blood, tiny structures crushed and torn by a knuckle-edged blow. No clean surgical edges here, and the granulation tissue had already begun to form beneath the scab. Miura encouraged it, drew the undamaged tissue together, bridged new bonds and sealed them. The itching heat spread up to the orbit of his eye, as Miura smoothed the bruise away. Then it faded.
Miura sagged against the table, pink-faced but proud. “No scar.”
Ryouma lifted his fingertips to his cheekbone. They skated across smooth skin. No bruise-tenderness lingered, even in the deeper hollow of his eye. He whistled softly. “Good work.”
Miyahara slid her fingers under his chin and tilted his face up for examination. He winced a little as the fluorescent lights overhead struck his eyes, but her hold didn’t falter. The whisper of her chakra breezed through him. Finally she nodded. “Very nice.” Her hand fell. “How are you feeling, Tousaki-san? Good for one more go-round?”
The students groaned.
That was a challenge no ANBU could spurn. Ryouma took another long draft of his iced coffee, swapped the coldpack on the back of his neck to the front, and promised himself twenty minutes in the shower and ten hours in bed. “Ready when you are.”
It took another hour for the kids to add five additional silvery scars to Ryouma’s arms, variously shaped as lines, waves, Xs, and after Ryouma revealed his first name, the kanji for ‘dragon’.
If Kakashi tilted his head and squinted, it looked like Ryouma had been attacked by an academy class that inexplicably finger-painted in scars.
From a different angle, it looked like Ryouma was about to fall off his chair.
The baby medics were also gradient stages of melted, ranging from Noguchi’s tired slump against the table to Ohno’s total collapse on the floor. Sakai prodded the boy with one of her ugly-but-comfortable medic shoes; he groaned and made a sluggish attempt to roll away.
“I think they’re done,” Kakashi observed.
“Jus’ need ‘nother soldier pill…” Ryouma managed. Heavy eyelids lifted halfway. “Maybe not for them. Growing kids. Need sleep.”
“Sage advice,” Miyahara said dryly. “How old are you, Tousaki-san?”
“Twenty.” Ryouma shoved himself upright. “But I’m a jounin.”
“Of course,” said Miyahara, more seriously. She ran a glance over her collapsed students. “Can anyone explain why Tousaki-san is this tired, despite relatively minor healings?”
“Because we suck,” Ohno muttered into the carpet.
Kakashi braced an elbow on his knee and wrapped his fingers over his mouth, smothering unhelpful laughter.
“Not quite true,” Miyahara said. “Anyone else?”
Miura raked sweaty orange hair out of her face. “It is true, though. If you healed Tousaki-san, you’d use a fraction of the energy and he might feel a little hungry. We’re not that skilled, so we waste energy and use more of his cellular metabolism, and ours, which exhausts us both.”
Noguchi vented a frustrated sigh. “If it was an actual injury, like a big one, we’d have killed him before we healed him.”
Miyahara made a soft humming noise, which was not actually a denial, Kakashi noted. “And the solution?”
As a group, all five students chorused wearily, “Practice.”
Kakashi traded a dry look with Ryouma, who gave a sympathetic grimace.
Sakai clapped her hands. “Up, layabouts. Lunch will put arrows back in your quiver, and you can spend the afternoon writing up what you did and how you can do it better next time.”
The groans might have been pitiable, if Kakashi weren’t intimately familiar with just how good medics needed to be. One by one, the kids scraped themselves up and formed a ragged line. In unison, they bowed to Ryouma. “Thank you for your service, Tousaki-san.”
Ryouma ducked his head, embarrassed. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple. “See you around.”
Sakai marched the students out, like a shepherd with a group of sleepy ducklings. None of the kids bounced off the doorframe, but it seemed like a near thing. Miyahara gathered her medical supplies up, stowing them back into her black case. As she worked, she told Ryouma: “You can expect your skin to be numb for a few more hours. You may have some residual aching around the scars for a little while, but if it lasts more than a day or two, or anything becomes acutely painful, you need to see a medic.”
Ryouma nodded distractedly. Kakashi wasn’t convinced he’d actually taken any of that in.
Miyahara threw away the last piece of bloody gauze, snapped her case shut, and made for the door. Just before she reached it, Ryouma said, “Miyahara-sensei.”
She turned, head tilted attentively.
“What Miura said about healing— My lieutenant said something kind of like that too, once. He’s a field medic. He said if a medic gets chakra-meshed too deeply with a patient, their death could pull him down too. But those kids could’ve wiped themselves out without ever meshing that deep.” He took a breath. “Can a medic kill herself healing, even if the patient lives?”
The medic’s dark eyes had gone very thoughtful.“Yes,” she said, slowly. “It’s rare, but it has happened.” She set her bag down and perched on the edge of the table. “Not with minor healings like this, though. The body has built-in limiters: you’d pass out from chakra exhaustion before your heart stopped. But with grave injuries, I’ve heard of healers going so deep, being so desperate, that they’ve burned themselves up saving their patient.” Her mouth tilted down at one corner. “It’s poor medicine — what happens to the next gravely injured patient?”
“That’s what my lieutenant said. ‘A field medic’s job is to triage, treat, and transport.’” He hesitated. “He had to kill someone, because he couldn’t save her. Because we had two more lives in the balance.”
Kakashi. And the baby in his arms.
Miyahara looked up sharply. “Because he was incapable of saving her, or because her injuries were mortal?”
“She had a ruptured spleen.” Ryouma touched his own side, fingers lingering a moment. “She’d bled too much, before we realized. We were in the field, we didn’t have time… There was nothing he could do.”
There was a lurking question there, though. A stitch of vulnerability making Ryouma’s voice catch, as he looked at Miyahara.
Waiting to see if she’d tell him different?”
The medic’s expression lightened slightly, understanding surfacing. “I see,” she said. “Even an immensely skilled medic would have struggled in those circumstances, without a stabilizing team, without an operating room. A field medic, alone?” She shook her head. “Your lieutenant didn’t kill her, Tousaki-san. He eased her passing.”
Ryouma sagged back in his chair. All his bones felt too heavy, his muscles moldable as wax. Relief dripped into him, like sweat dripping out.
They’d known that. Genma wouldn’t make a mistake. He’d tried to save Fukuda, and then he’d stopped when he’d known he couldn’t: that every minute and every flare of chakra he spent on her would count against Kakashi and Sango, and wouldn’t make a difference for Fukuda anyway. She’d agreed. They’d all agreed he made the right choice.
Hearing it from Miyahara… still helped.
“One more question,” he said, before he lost the nerve. “Those kids. They’ve been studying three, four years, right? Full time. They’re not shinobi, they don’t run missions?”
That was more like two questions, and he still hadn’t gotten to the one he really wanted. But Miyahara nodded. “They’ve all been to the Academy, or received equivalent home-schooling, and graduated. I believe two were rejected from genin teams. Every medic’s start is a little different.”
He pushed himself upright again. Straight-backed, clammy hands braced on rigid knees. “So if they’re practicing wound sealing now, how long would it take someone— getting a later start? Studying part-time. If he didn’t need to be a surgeon, if he just needed to be a field medic. Just enough to help his friends before they bled out.”
Miyahara studied him, eyes dark and knowing. “I’m in the business of teaching hospital medics, not field medics. It’s a very different path. But for a dedicated student, with a good teacher and the proper drive — to be a field medic, first grade? Probably not more than a year. To be helpful? I’m sure you’re already qualified.”
Ryouma drew breath. Miyahara held up a finger. “Not that I am advising you to heal a person today. But the job is more than just knowing how to make your hands glow.”
He knew that. Didn’t he? “I can do bandages and splints and IVs and chakra transfusions. I set my lieutenant’s nose. I glued scalp wounds. But I could do that before. Anyone could. I want—”
I don’t want to see Genma pouring himself out. Or Kakashi or Raidou, bleeding out.
“My lieutenant’s been teaching me,” he said, when his voice was steadier. “We’re working on fish. They don’t explode, anymore.”
Miyahara smiled. “I cannot tell you how many walls I decorated with fish parts when I started.”
“We’ve been practicing outside,” he admitted. “Because the first ones rotted. But Shiranui-fukuchou said I was doing well.”
Why was he even telling her this? He wasn’t her student. He wasn’t officially a medic trainee. She didn’t know him, or Genma, or ANBU—
But she listened, anyway.
He said, “Do I need to come back here tomorrow?”
“Depends on you.” The smile softened. “Do you feel sufficiently punished?”
He looked down at his arms. Pale scars, jagged and wavy and straight; a few slightly raised, most flat and faded. “I look like a kid with too many knives and not enough sense,” he said ruefully. “Which is pretty much true.” He looked up. “I haven’t seen my captain yet. I don’t know what he’ll order. But— He’ll probably still be mad at me. So I might be back. Maybe when the kids are up for another round.”
Miyahara dipped an acknowledging nod. “Maybe.” She eased off the table, tucked her kit under her arm, and made for the door. But with her hand on the handle, she paused and looked back.
“In case you weren’t aware, you don’t have to be on punishment detail to volunteer for this. Just… a thought to consider.”
The door slid closed behind her.
Ryouma released a slow, shaky breath, and put his head down on the table.
It was cold, or at least not warm, which was nice. Flat, which was also nice. His cheek stuck unpleasantly. Maybe Ohno’d had the right idea, melting onto the carpet.
“Am I crazy?” he asked.
Kakashi’s hand grazed gently over Ryouma’s sweaty hair. “In general, or specifically in your goal to become a healing warrior monk?”
“Not a monk. They do the celibacy thing.” He shivered at the scrape of blunt nails against his scalp. “I bet you Genma could be, though. He’s already got the Buddhism down. Unless they made him shave his head…”
“Fairly certain the lieutenant isn’t celibate either.” Kakashi scratched lightly down the back of Ryouma’s neck. “But to answer your original question: no, I don’t think you’re crazy. Do you?”
“Crazy was signing up for ANBU. This isn’t worse.” He considered that. “Except ANBU I thought I could do, before I knew what it meant. Least I’m going in with my eyes open this time…”
He turned his head. He could see Kakashi’s thigh, hard with muscle under the loose black knits. Kakashi’s wrist and forearm, wintry-pale beneath the sleeve shoved up to his elbow, still slashed with familiar scars he hadn’t let the tanuki heal. Further up, Kakashi’s shoulder and masked jaw and the stark, clean lines of his face: no bare skin visible from this angle, except the unexpected glimpse of the soft lobe of his ear.
Ryouma said, “I never even asked you to come with me. You stayed anyway.”
Kakashi’s head tilted. His hand gripped briefly at the back of Ryouma’s neck. “I’m at least partly responsible for you being here.”
“Only if I’m also responsible for you getting suspended,” Ryouma said.
Kakashi snorted softly. “I think we’re becoming recursive.”
“I don’t know that word.” He could admit that to Kakashi, always; Kakashi had never mocked him for it.
“Circular, redundant,” Kakashi explained. He curled his fingers into the short hair at the back of Ryouma’s head and gave a little shake. “You need a shower before you fall asleep. Also, don’t fall asleep on a medic’s table. You don’t know what’s been on it.”
“Me. Hah.” Ryouma lifted his head anyway. He missed Kakashi’s hand when it fell back. “We need to fix the office door, too. Before Taichou hunts us down and orders us to.”
Kakashi shrugged one shoulder. “Maintenance probably already fixed it. ANBU is quick.” He slid off the table, stretched, and tugged at Ryouma. “C’mon, up.”
Ryouma groaned, but unfolded. He located his clothes piled on an empty chair, stripped out of the sweat-soaked scrubs, and pulled on the slightly drier blues. The scrubs, bundled up, went back on the chair; if ANBU had janitors, the hospital certainly did. He did sweep the empty coffee cup into a trash can, along with a few of the kids’ forgotten snack wrappers.
“Let’s stop by a conbini on the way back. I’d buy you a real lunch, but I’d probably fall asleep in it.”
Kakashi pushed his loose hair back from his face. His eye had grown intent since the shirt-swapping; he prowled a little closer. “We could get you another coffee.”
A pleasant shiver chased up Ryouma’s spine. “We could.” He added prudently, “And food.”
He managed not to yawn on the short walk to the nearest conbini, all the same.
The teenage girl at the cash register, nose-deep in a fat book, barely glanced up as they came in. Only a few other customers browsed the small convenience store: a stooped old man perusing the selection of magazines; a couple of kids buying ice pops; a long-haired young man in sunglasses, flip-flops, and a paint-stained t-shirt, filing his basket with onigiri and beer.
Ryouma stopped halfway down the aisle. “Lieutenant?”
The young man froze. He was wearing running shorts, Ryouma noticed idiotically; they were barely longer than his oversized shirt. The wicked purple scar down his thigh was unmistakable. Light reddish stubble sprouted unevenly over his jaw. Even on missions, the lieutenant usually managed to shave…
Genma turned. He didn’t take off the sunglasses. He said, “Tousaki.” His shoulders resettled. “Hatake.” It was the lieutenant’s voice, or not quite: maybe this was how the lieutenant would sound when he realized that he’d left his laundry in the machine overnight and it had already grown mildew, and he couldn’t just walk away and pretend it was someone else’s…
“Shiranui-fukuchou,” Ryouma said, fascinated. “Whose shirt is that?”
Genma looked down at his shirt for a blank second, as if noticing it for the first time. “Uh, I think probably Raidou’s? I mean Taichou’s.” He scrambled, recovered, diverted hastily: “I thought you were supposed to be volunteering at the hospital today?”
Kakashi tilted his head, catching the faint breeze of anemic air conditioning. He almost didn’t need it. Scent clanged off Genma like a sledgehammer: sour alcohol, sweat, exhaustion, and loudest of all, Raidou.
But not sex. Just Raidou.
He glanced sideways. Ryouma met his look with arched eyebrows, but gamely rolled up a sleeve and said to Genma, “We’ve just come from the hospital. Ten rounds of healing practice. See?”
Genma pushed his sunglasses up onto his forehead and bent over Ryouma’s arm. He traced carefully over the dragon kanji. “Did you ask for this? It’s nice work.” His fingertips found an angrier scar near Ryouma’s elbow, still puffy from Ohno’s second attempt. He frowned.
“Well, if I ever forget the strokes for how to write my name…” Ryouma said wryly. “No, honest, they needed to do a complicated collaborative piece and I didn’t want more fading on the tattoo. Are you hungover?”
Genma winced. More at the volume, Kakashi suspected, than at the actual accusation. “Yes. I am.” He shoved his basket into Ryouma’s hand. “If you two insist on being here, you can be useful. Hatake, help me find some ume onigiri.”
Kakashi’s insistence on existing near Genma was transient at best, but he wasn’t inclined to argue with a man experiencing some kind of flip-flop-related life crisis. He eased away to liberate ume onigiri from a shelf.
After that, the shopping list included cold barley tea, plain snack crackers, a pair of conbini bento, four apples (for health?), a box of hangover remedy packets (“Guaranteed to never fail!”), Genma’s ubiquitous sports drinks, and… fish-flavored cat food.
Kakashi turned the can over in his hand, dubiously eyeing the little cartoon cat. “New pet?”
“Not really a pet.” Genma selected two more cans and squinted at the labels, apparently torn between ‘Ocean Feast’ and ‘Salmon Paradise’. “I can explain later. What do you feed Pakkun besides beer?”
Kakashi sensed the tip of a much larger iceberg. “Steak, if he had his way. He does his own hunting, mostly.”
Genma rubbed his forehead and muttered, “Mouse livers.” Which… raised a few questions. More distinctly, he said, “I’m still pissed at both of you, and I don’t even know why I’m doing this, but I guess you’re the best person for me to talk to about this. You want to come back to my place? Raidou’s there. We plan to keep drinking.”
In the awkward little moment that followed before Kakashi found words, he was reminded of an instance during the war. When blood and bad news had been followed by a lot of alcohol, and Minato had gotten singing-drunk and fallen on a stranger’s tent, and cried when it collapsed. Kakashi had been fourteen or so, and struck by the realization that he might be the sanest one on the battlefield. The adults don’t know what they’re doing.
“Okay, lieutenant,” he said carefully. “Tousaki too, or can I take him home first?”
Ryouma said quickly, “I want to come.” He was hovering nearby with the basket.
“Up to you,” Genma said. “I mean, I want to talk to Hatake about summonses. And then keep drinking so I forget about yest—” He paused, cat food still in hand, and leveled them both with a suspicious glower. “You’re done trying to kill each other, right? Did you end up getting arrested?”
“I apologized,” Ryouma said, with perfect truth. “Nobody got arrested. We’ve been very good all day. Have you and Taichou been drunk together this whole time?”
“We also slept,” Genma said levelly.
Ryouma was starting to look much more awake, and dangerously intrigued. Genma, either oblivious or too hungover to care, abandoned the cat food, retrieved his basket, and took it to the register to pay.
Ryouma lowered his mouth to Kakashi’s ear, and murmured, “What were you saying about not celibate?”
Kakashi shook him off. “He doesn’t smell like sex.”
“Really? but— No, that’s definitely bedhead.” Ryouma frowned at Genma’s back. “Taichou never spent the night before. He always went back to barracks with us, when we were working on the lieutenant’s apartment. They didn’t just get drunk and pass out, right?” He sounded personally betrayed.
“It’s the captain,” Kakashi said. “Boundaries.”
Ryouma’s voice softened. “Oh. Yeah.” He looked at Genma for a long moment, then turned and threw a handful of protein bars in his own basket, to accompany the onigiri and other snacks he’d already gathered. “More reason to go keep them company, I guess.”
“When they’re drunk and hungover and mad at us?” Kakashi said.
“We won’t stay long. I’ll fall asleep on the floor, you can drag me home.”
“Someone’s going to slip off the roof again,” Kakashi predicted direly. “Or get pushed.”
But he still grabbed a couple of trays of sashimi to add to the basket, and followed Genma and Ryouma when they trailed out of the store. Genma immediately put his sunglasses back on, and looked like he was wishing for a wide-brimmed hat. Ryouma turned his face up to the sun, soaking it in. The light turned his cheekbones golden.
They could have gone back to their rooms and had food and sleep and possibly sex, but no, Ryouma had to go to the conbini, and now Kakashi had to deal with consequences. They were mostly the consequences for his own actions, but still.
Taichou was going to yell.
Kakashi sighed, shoved his hands in his pockets, and trudged to his fate.
Ryouma ate three onigiri on the short walk from the conbini to the warehouse. Genma, who would have usually chastised Ryouma for eating in the street, said nothing. He drained one of the sports drinks before they reached the warehouse, and dropped the empty bottle back into his bag to carry home.
Kakashi seemed certain the officers weren’t sleeping together, and Kakashi’s nose hadn’t been wrong before. But Genma’d never shown up like this before, either. He’d drunk as heavily as anyone that time they went to the nightclub, but the next morning he’d been cool and precise, while Ryouma died beneath a tree and then threw up on the training field. Of course, Genma’d mentioned taking hangover powders then, and they had been on duty, but—
Did he want to sleep with Raidou?
Ryouma crumpled the plastic onigiri wrapper, shoved it into his pocket, and fished a canned coffee out of his bag. Did Raidou want to sleep with Genma? Genma was smart, and competent, and kind; calm when you needed him, funny when he forgot himself, thoughtful always. He had warm hands and an expressive mouth and beautiful eyes.
And Raidou was perfectly capable of resisting all of that.
Maybe Ryouma would push him off the roof.
They reached the warehouse. Genma stopped at the bottom of the outside stairs, tipping his sunglasses up to stare at a fat calico cat lurking around the alley. The cat yawned, stretched, and strolled away. Genma muttered something to himself, dropped his glasses back down, and hauled up the stairs to his apartment.
Warm afternoon sunlight fell in thick stripes through the loft’s slatted windows. Overhead fans stirred the air, fluttering Ryouma’s hair against his forehead. Dust danced and drifted. One side of the loft was hazy with it, where framing and several panels of drywall had come up to replace the screens around Genma’s sleeping quarters. A distant figure moved through the dust, sweating and shirtless, calling out: “You got that beer?”
“Beer, food, cold drinks, medicine, and two strays.” Genma kicked his sandals off, pulled two bottles and the box of hangover remedy packets out of his bag, and passed the rest of the load to Kakashi. He headed across the loft. “I know we said we didn’t even want to think about them for at least 24 hours, but they cornered me in the conbini.”
“There was no cornering,” Kakashi said stiffly. He sneezed again.
“I distinctly remember being called out next to the onigiri.” Genma didn’t even look back at them. He reached Raidou, passed one beer over, and snapped the lid off the other.
The paint-streaked shirt he was wearing was definitely Raidou’s. It would stretch across Raidou’s broad shoulders, where it hung loose on Genma’s more slender frame. Raidou wore a pair of cut-off jean shorts that might have been borrowed, a thick coating of drywall dust, and nothing else. Sweat rolled clean trails through the dust as he tipped his head back to drink.
Ryouma looked down. After a moment he crouched to unlace his boots. “I just didn’t think you shopped in places like conbini. I thought maybe you made all your food at home, or in fancy small shops that only sell fifty kinds of handmade pickles.”
Genma leveled a flat stare at him over the beer. Kakashi sneezed three times in a row, shifted his bags to the crook of his elbow, and flashed through seals for a small wind jutsu that briefly skirled through the loft to clear the air.
Nobody thanked him. Raidou took another long swallow of his beer and then lowered the bottle to hang loose at his side. “Looks like you didn’t kill each other,” he observed. He didn’t sound glad. “Get arrested?”
He’d probably believe the seducible Uchiha more easily than a conversation over a giant dead deer and a couple of frank apologies. Ryouma tried not to feel that sting.
“We didn’t get arrested. We apologized to Sagara-sama and went to the hospital. I’ve had baby medics giving me fevers all morning. Kakashi brought me iced coffee and scared them into giving me painkillers. And then we met Shiranui-fukuchou and he wanted to talk to Kakashi about summons.”
“You apologized to Sagara-sama?” Raidou’s voice had just enough inflection to turn into a question, dubious rather than disbelieving.
“Yes,” Kakashi said. His voice was as grey as his hair. “She accepted it, but didn’t revoke my suspension.”
He glanced back at Ryouma. He drew a slow breath. Then he straightened his shoulders, stepped forward, and bowed deeply to Genma and Raidou. “Taichou, Fukuchou, I apologize. My behavior was insubordinate and unacceptable. I let the team down.”
His back was perfectly level. He held the bow, while all three of them stared.
Genma recovered first. “Thank you,” he said, quietly. As if he’d been expecting that apology, as if he’d never doubted Kakashi could give it.
Raidou clearly doubted. His surprise shaded into something closer to suspicion. One hand rested against his hip, fingers tapping twice on the neck of the beer bottle. He looked at Ryouma. “Did you coach him to say that?”
“No!” Ryouma said indignantly. “I mean — I told him to apologize to Sagara-sama, and he did, after I’d apologized first. To Kakashi. Not to Sagara-sama.”
So much for being well-spoken.
But Raidou’s hard eyes softened, a little. He puffed out his breath and glanced back reluctantly at Kakashi’s bent spine. “Okay, Hatake. Good start. Now what?”
Genma tore open a packet of hangover remedy, dumped the purple powder on his tongue, and chased it with a swig of beer. His eyes watered a little as he lowered the bottle, but he hadn’t winced.
Kakashi straightened. He looked taller, without his usual slouch; his shoulders seemed a little stronger. He met the officers’ gazes steadily. “I’ll find something useful to do with my suspension time. You’ll refrain from dying on the next mission. In the future… I’ll consider my words and actions more carefully.”
“Seeing as you’re the team member who’s come closest to dying on our missions so far,” Genma said dryly, “I think we’ll be fine.”
Ryouma, remembering the choking black of demon-rot and the exquisite pain of wolf teeth, said nothing.
Kakashi’s brow pinched, as if he might have argued that too. But he ducked his head, in the end. “Lieutenant.”
Raidou’s eyes narrowed again, searching for any crack of pretense in that remorse. Kakashi’s hand tightened on the handle of his plastic bags. He lifted his head, and waited.
At last Raidou said, “Hm.” He took another long draught of beer, lowered the bottle, and then strode forward and clapped Kakashi on the shoulder hard enough to bend his knees. “Apology accepted, even if you have the worst goddamn timing.”
Kakashi said faintly, “Ow.”
Raidou’s broad hand thumped Ryouma’s left shoulder as well, like a handshake from a mountain. “Are you boys sticking around? Because I’m going to make you help with drywall.”
Over his shoulder, Kakashi gave Ryouma a flat, warning stare.
“Ah,” Ryouma said. “Lieutenant, do you have coffee?”
Genma blinked, swallowed the rest of his beer, and shot Ryouma a critical look. “I should send you back to the barracks to sleep, since you spent all morning getting practiced on by newbie medics.” He shook his head, squinted at his empty bottle, and murmured, “What was I thinking?”
Ryouma was beginning to wonder if they’d actually stopped drinking overnight, or maybe just picked up for breakfast and kept going until an empty fridge sent Genma to the conbini. Did you still get a hangover if you didn’t stop drinking?
He probably knew the answer to that, in the fog of memory. He didn’t want to think about it. He wanted to be here, now, with officers who’d accepted an apology and the man who’d offered it.
He said, “I’m still on my feet. We’ll go away again after you tell us about the cats.”
Genma made a faintly pained sound. “Right. Cat, not cats. So far. Hatake, have you ever heard of anyone who summons cats?” He lined up his empty bottle with the neat brown ranks of its comrades on the table, relieved Kakashi of the shopping bag, and pulled out a barley tea and two ume onigiri. A silent message passed between the officers, flown on a winged eyebrow and a frown. Genma dropped one of the onigiri back in the bag, delved for a plastic-wrapped bento, and passed that over instead.
“Not recently,” Kakashi said slowly. “I know it’s been done. There’s a clan in Suna that partners with great desert cats, like the Inuzuka and their dogs. Why?”
“My mom’s family was from near the border with Grass,” Genma murmured, half to himself, half to his unwrapped onigiri. “So maybe there’s a connection with Wind if you go further back.” He took a bite of rice-seaweed-plum, chewed, and looked up. “A cat turned up on my doorstep last night and said the tanuki told her where to find me. According to her, my grandmother had a contract with them.”
Ryouma gave the line of bottles on the counter another, deeper look. Hangover, yes; but hallucinations?
Maybe they’d started with something harder than beer.
Kakashi tilted his head, intrigued. “Is there family history? Do you know if a contract was lost?”
“I didn’t know anything about it. I gather my grandmother died before she ever passed the contract on to my mom, and my mom died when I was a toddler, so even if she’d known about it, she didn’t get a chance to tell me…” Genma shrugged. “I need to ask my dad if he knows anything. But cats have always tended to like me.”
“You’ve got a cat at home,” Ryouma pointed out. “At your dad’s place. Was it spying on you this whole time?” Wait, that didn’t make sense. “Are the tanuki still spying on you?”
Kakashi shook his head. “We shared the scent with the Inuzuka clan. It’s possible tanuki could get through the village wards, but unlikely that no one would notice.” He took one of Genma’s cold barley teas, unscrewed the top, and handed it to Ryouma. “The cat — Mochi? — wouldn’t be a summons. They can’t survive outside their dimension for long.”
“Mochi’s just a good mouser,” Genma agreed. He eyed the stolen tea but didn’t object. Ryouma took a grateful drink as Genma continued, “No chakra— How do you know her name?”
He was looking suspicious again. Raidou, who’d sat cross-legged on the floor to eat his bento, glanced up with the air of a man who’d rather not administer discipline with chopsticks, but was prepared to wade in if necessary.
Kakashi shrugged. “You must have mentioned it.”
It certainly wasn’t because Kakashi had spent his first few weeks on the team industriously stalking each member. The rooftop across from Genma’s father’s bakery had a nice hidden overhang for cats to sun-bask and shinobi to perch.
The little white cat liked having the back of her neck scratched.
Genma gave him a narrow look, and then visibly decided not to care. “Anyway, there was a nin-cat on my doorstep. Hotaru. She said they’d been trying to find me for a long time, but didn’t have any way to do it until the tanuki let them use their gate to our world. She’s here to decide if I’m worthy of inheriting my grandmother’s contract.”
Ryouma bristled. “Worthy?”
Kakashi made a lowering gesture. “It’s a valid question. Summons put their lives in their summoner’s hands. They go to war when we do, for things they may not understand or care about. And it’s almost impossible to break a contract once it’s made.”
Shoulders easing, Ryouma settled with his tea and looked more thoughtful.
Genma nodded. “That’s what Hotaru said—they make contracts with ninja because they’re curious about our world and want a way in, but it’s a huge risk for them. I’d always thought summonses like your dogs were sworn to the village and Hokage the same way we are, but if it’s purely personal loyalty to the shinobi they make a contract with, that’s a huge responsibility.”
“Exactly.” Kakashi crossed to Genma’s couch, beat the dust off a pillow, and sat down cross-legged. Genma joined him, perched on the couch back with one leg dangling. “All contracts are different, depending on the family and the history. My dogs are loyal to me, but they’re also sworn to protect my mother, if she needed or asked. That’s a kin clause. My great-grandfather added it.” He tapped his knee contemplatively. “You could add one enforcing loyalty to the village or Hokage, but most summons probably wouldn’t agree. They’d want to make a direct contract with the Hokage instead.”
“Hotaru was offended I even asked about her loyalty to Konoha. But I guess it comes out the same. I’m sworn to the Hokage and village. If she were sworn to me, then she’d effectively be sworn to the village, too, unless I went rogue, and then she’d go with me.” His mouth twisted unhappily. “Like Orochimaru and his snakes.”
“Hence worthiness.” Kakashi leaned forward. “Did your cat make a decision?”
Genma shook his head. “She only just met me last night, and I wasn’t exactly at my best. She was critical of my diet, too. I can’t say I’m super excited about eating mouse livers like she suggested, though.”
Raidou snorted. Ryouma, still half-buried in his liberated tea, blinked.
Kakashi, more familiar with the uncanny intuition of dimension-hopping smartasses, tipped his head to the side and studied Genma’s face. Stubbled, sleepless hollows, pale. “When was the last time you had your iron checked?”
Genma opened his mouth, closed it, appeared to struggle internally with something for a moment — health advice from his most frequently unconscious patient, possibly — and finally looked down at his hand. Scarred skin stretched over knuckles. The nail beds were lightly pink, not as dark as Kakashi’s. A fading bruise wrapped over the prominent wrist bone. “After the Tsuto mission. It was low. I got it transfused.”
“You’ve been running on soldier pills, the last few missions,” Raidou said.
“You took as many soldier pills as I did, in Kiri,” Ryouma said, helpfully and not at all gleeful at someone else getting pulled up. “You never do that.”
Kakashi looked at Genma, and raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll… get it checked,” Genma conceded, reluctantly. “Next time I go in.”
“Which would be when?” Raidou said.
“Uh…” Genma busied himself unwrapping a rice ball.
“Tomorrow,” Raidou said firmly. “Take Tousaki. Maybe they’ll let him watch a hematocrit spin out.”
Genma sighed. “All right. Tomorrow.”
Ryouma’s lips shaped the word hematocrit silently, before he looked up. “I’m maybe going back anyway. For volunteering. If you don’t have other orders.”
“They take a blood sample in a thin tube and spin it on a centrifuge so the red cells all settle at one end, and then you can measure them,” Genma explained. He squinted at Ryouma over the rice ball. “They’d better be checking your chakra reserves and ‘crit, too, if you’re getting worked on by baby medics two days in a row.”
“Medical care for everyone,” Raidou said dryly. “Good.”
Before someone could point a health task at him, Kakashi asked Genma, “Do you want cat summons?”
“I never knew me having any summons was an option until last night. It’s… definitely a lot to take on, but I’d be a fool to turn it down, if they offered me the contract.” Genma took a sip of tea, and added quietly, “And I really do like cats.”
Good answer. A smart ninja didn’t turn down a useful weapon, especially when it fell into his lap.
On the other hand…
Kakashi’s mouth twitched. “I hope you know how to purr.”
Ryouma made an inelegant sound around a mouthful of tea, glanced between both officers, and went a little pink.
Genma snorted. “Okay, time to go home. Bye rookies. Raidou and I have drywall and drinking to do, and you clearly need sleep.”
Kakashi did not need to be told twice. He slapped his left shoulder in the approximate region of his tattoo, grabbed his sashimi, and herded Ryouma towards the door.
“No training tomorrow,” Raidou said, sipping his beer. “Hatake, when you get bored, drop by and help me put up drywall.”
“Taichou,” Kakashi said.
“I’m choosing to interpret the missing word there as ‘yes’,” Raidou said.
“That one, too.”
Kakashi shoved Ryouma out onto the iron staircase and shut the door. Ryouma blinked at him, sun-gold highlights in his eyes, and laughed. “I’m guessing you’re not gonna get bored tomorrow.”
“If I do, I’ll stab myself in the foot and make it interesting again,” Kakashi said, and headed down the stairs.
“Wait until I’m ready to start healing practice,” Ryouma said, around a yawn. He followed, bumping his broad shoulder companionably against Kakashi’s. “They don’t actually want us around, anyway. But they weren’t acting much different than usual around each other…”
“Neither are we,” Kakashi pointed out. “Except they actually didn’t smell like sex. Mostly beer.”
“Hm.” Ryouma was quiet as they left the alley, thinking over something that made his scent flicker. Kakashi caught a trace of sour guilt, and several shifts he couldn’t map onto a specific emotion. Then Ryouma blew out a breath and threw an arm over Kakashi’s shoulders. “Let’s go back.”
They were still in the back streets, away from Konoha’s main thoroughfare, and Kakashi’s senses were sharp. He couldn’t feel anyone watching.
He let himself lean against the warm slab of Ryouma’s side, tucked under the weight of a sheltering arm, and reflected that this was what it must feel like to be protected. It was nice.
“What are the chances of getting your pants off before you fall asleep?” he asked.
Ryouma’s arm tightened, just a little. “I think you could get lucky.”
Kakashi smirked, slipped free, and led the way home.