September 5 – 6, Yondaime Year 5
Healing, by itself, wasn’t easy.
Far less easy than the Naizou Tokasu no Jutsu, which was almost instinct by now, like walking into a familiar room to turn on the light. Ryouma knew all the toe-stubbing and shin-bruising obstacles, how to sidestep the errant pitfalls that could ignite a wildfire or fizzle it all out. Healing — even the ordinary kind, the kind he’d stupidly thought himself beginning to master — took concentration and effort, a careful navigation through a dizzying web of capillaries and meridians and muscle fibers.
And even that carefulness hadn’t saved him from a mistake that — might cripple Kakashi’s arms, or save them.
He sat cross-legged on a mat in one of the hospital’s locked-down chakra surgery suites. Probably not the same one he’d had knee surgery in, though his memory of that room was muffled by painkillers and panic. Maybe it was a perception thing. Adrenaline. He could already feel himself slipping into combat-lockdown: colors too bright, distant sounds dampened, sudden peripheral movements triggering an instinctive reaction. He managed, just barely, to hold himself still as a medic-nin reached past him to adjust one of Kakashi’s monitoring lines.
Genma and Raidou had been sent home. To sleep, Naito-sensei suggested, though Ryouma doubted it. Minato had stayed through Kakashi’s sedation and intubation, standing at a carefully judged angle that blocked Kakashi’s unmasked face from anyone but the anesthetist and Rin. When the Hokage left, a loosely draped piece of fabric in pale hospital blue covered Kakashi’s face like a shroud. The anesthetist stayed, fussing with the tubes that ran out to blinking, humming machines arrayed around the surgical suite.
Kakashi lay very still. He’d been stripped to the waist, his chest studded with monitors and leads. It rose and fell shallowly, ventilator-assisted. His arms lay limp at his sides. Even in sleep, his muscles were never so slack.
Ryouma didn’t want to touch him.
That was stupid, a child’s squeamishness: He feels wrong. Dig one level down, and it got more raw. I’ll hurt him.
But he knew his jutsu, every twist of chakra, every shape and flavor in that matrix of molded physical and spiritual energy. The rot hadn’t bled into his first attempt at healing Kakashi. That wasn’t a real fear.
I’ll hurt him, and he won’t even know until he wakes up.
A thousand other ways to damage Kakashi, even if the corrupting energy of the Naizou Tokasu didn’t seep through. Scars in his chakra channels. Death. Disability. He might not wake up. He might wake up ruined.
He’d agreed to this anyway.
Ryouma squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Opened them. Said, in a voice that wasn’t quite steady: “Should I start?”
“When you’re ready,” Naito said, after the anesthetist gave a confirming nod. They both sat on Kakashi’s other side: the anesthetist intent on their machines, Naito more comfortably settled on a cushion. She looked tired. The wrinkles around her mouth had carved themselves deep. “Nohara-sensei will help you keep your chakra contained. Start here, at the left shoulder, and work down towards the hand.”
Rin knelt on Ryouma’s right side, closer to Kakashi’s head. She gave Ryouma a reassuring smile that still, somehow, reached her eyes.
She’d done scarier surgery in worse circumstances, he remembered. Successfully.
He breathed out. “All right.” His voice was steadier, this time.
His hands never shook. They formed the seals carefully but fluidly. Rin touched his elbow, her eyes narrowed in concentration. He felt her chakra rise to meet his: Water and Fire, cool rain and steam, creating a conduit for his own chakra to fill.
Her other hand rested on Kakashi’s chest, just against the hollow point of his shoulder. Ryouma could sense the dam of energy she placed there. Cut off from circulating through the rest of his body, the chakra in Kakashi’s left arm eddied murkily through shadowed pathways.
Naito leaned in, her own hands glowing. There was no more reason to delay.
Ryouma touched his fingertips to Kakashi’s shoulder, and began to sieve.
He slept, when it was over.
(Not done. Not yet, not til Kakashi woke up and they found out — whatever they’d find out. But over. For now.)
Rin found him an empty bed and bullied him implacably through most of a bowl of noodles. “I’ve worked longer than thirteen hours before,” he tried to tell her, blinking hard as the noodles blurred in his vision and his chopsticks clattered empty against the side of the bowl. “I’ve run longer than thirteen hours. I’ve probably… um… fought longer—”
“You’re only barely certified in Bruise Level 2 and Wound Closure Level 3,” Rin said, not unkindly. “You haven’t maintained a healing jutsu longer than thirty minutes before this, have you?”
“Save the protests for a time when you’re not faceplanting in your noodles,” she advised him. “And drink this.”
He barely registered the sweet-salty taste of the drink. The whole world was going soft round the edges, and cold. They hadn’t let him have a soldier pill during the chakra-sieving work, or afterwards. “If this filtration effect is something you do naturally as you generate and mold your chakra, you need to keep doing it naturally,” Naito had told him. “Besides, I want to measure the rate of your regeneration from a state of chakra exhaustion under controlled conditions.”
Right. He did that faster, too. Something else he’d done to himself as a boy, running on the ragged edge of survival? He was too tired to remember.
He shivered on the bed. Someone got an armful of heated blankets out of a warming cupboard and draped them over him, and then everything faded away.
If he dreamed, he didn’t remember it.
He woke in early daylight. A quiet four-bed ward: curtains drawn around one, the others empty. A softly beeping monitor at his bedside, tethered to him by sticky leads at heart, solar plexus, and wrists. He tugged experimentally at his right wrist, and the beeping grew reproachfully louder.
“Chakra monitor,” Genma said, behind Ryouma’s left shoulder. “Leave it if you don’t want Naito-sensei to yell at you.”
Ryouma twisted his head around to see the lieutenant sitting upright in a visitor’s armchair. He wore jounin blues, no vest, his hair tied back under a bandana-style hitai-ate. The table beside him held two lidded paper cups and a small white bakery box. Genma warmed one of the cups with a brief flare of chakra and passed it over. “It’s 0630 on the sixth. Kakashi’s stable. How’re you feeling?”
“Like I slept for twelve hours without brushing my teeth.” Ryouma struggled gingerly upright without dislodging his monitors. The bed wasn’t one of the self-raising kinds, but Genma propped pillows up behind him until he could drink. He sighed in bliss at the first taste of caramel-cream coffee. “That helps. Thanks. Kakashi’s stable — he hasn’t woken up yet?”
“He’s rousable, but still sleeping last I checked. Between painkillers, healing stress, and mission fatigue, it’s not surprising.” Genma opened the box and produced a pair of golden brown anpan dusted with black sesame seeds. “Naito-sensei seems content with how things are going.”
Rousable meant a patient could be woken, with verbal or physical stimuli, but wasn’t awake. Ryouma imagined Kakashi being shaken awake, threatening to eviscerate the unfortunate nurse tasked to check on him, and immediately passing back out again. It was a strangely cheering image.
He bit the proffered anpan in half and washed it down with another gulp of coffee. “Nohara-sensei said she thought it went well yesterday, but Naito-sensei wouldn’t commit until Kakashi wakes up. I couldn’t sense much more of that demon shit left in him, but I wasn’t really sensing my own fingers by the time we finished.” He hesitated. “You said you checked. Did you…?”
“His chakra felt low and a little ragged, the way it did when he was recovering from nearly frying his channels fighting Iebara. But it felt like him. Nothing foreign or corrupt that I could sense.” Genma dusted sesame seeds off his fingers and patted Ryouma’s arm. “Whatever you did, it seems to have worked. Your chakra is a little muddy, though.”
Still? Ryouma stuffed the rest of the anpan into his mouth.
Genma’s chakra swept over him and receded in a gentle wave. “Like you sucked the poisoned chakra out of him and into you,” he said slowly. “But you seem to be clearing it on your own. It already feels cleaner than when I first came in, and I haven’t even been here an hour.”
Ryouma took another drink and considered his words. “You’ve been to Mangrove Country, right? You’ve eaten oysters there?”
Genma blinked at him. “Yes. A couple times, actually. Why?”
“Apparently they eat by sucking in water and filtering out the nutrients, then flushing the rest of it out. Really good for maintaining water quality around them, I guess. Seems gross to me, but… apparently that’s what I can do. Human oyster. Or chakra oyster, anyway.” There’d been plenty of time to debate it, in those hours when Naito and Hyuuga Mitsu and the rest of their elite colleagues — and, eventually, the Hokage and Rin — had argued over the best possibilities and procedures to treat Kakashi’s corrupted chakra. No one had come up with any better analogy, though.
“I could strip the Dodomeki’s chakra out of Kakashi’s channels, but then it didn’t have anywhere to go. We couldn’t leave it floating around in his system, it’d just stick to him again. But when I did it the first time, I accidentally kind of pulled it back into myself. And then…dissolved it, the same as the corruption in Iebara’s jutsu, or in my own. So we ended up doing that on purpose for the Dodomeki’s chakra.” He slumped down again, slurping the last few drops of his coffee. “That’s why it took so long. Don’t tell Kakashi.”
“Don’t tell him?” Genma leaned back in his chair, studying him. After a moment he said, more gently: “I won’t, since you don’t want me to, but you should. Otherwise he’ll learn it from Nohara-sensei, or steal and read his medical chart and find out for himself.”
Or extort it from Ryouma in another of those dangerous moments, when the relentless push for answers pivoted suddenly into a patient invitation to open up, and Ryouma, off-balance, confessed all.
Well, with any luck Ryouma’s system would have cleared the last fragments of dissolved Dodomeki chakra by then, and he could pass it off as nothing to worry about. He reached for another anpan. “How’s Taichou?”
“When I left to come check on you, he was still asleep. Tired enough he was snoring a little.” Genma stretched out his legs and picked up the other cup, running a finger around the brim. His eyes softened. “You know how he does. But he’s fine. Megumi’s keeping watch. She’s the black and white cat. Very nice, won’t try to force feed him mouse livers.”
“I still think you should try summoning a tiger,” Ryouma said. This was a well-developed debate over the past two weeks, though he hadn’t yet found the winning argument. “Taichou could, like, sleep on the tiger instead of your couch.”
Genma snorted. “Of all your arguments for why I should summon a tiger, that has to be the weakest. Can you imagine Taichou trying to sleep on a tiger? Or a ninja tiger — who is undoubtedly a combat powerhouse — letting him?” He took another anpan for himself. “Try again.”
“I would sleep on a tiger,” Ryouma countered. “And your cats all have really firm opinions about everybody getting proper nutrition and naps — at least, the ones we’ve met so far — so maybe a tiger’d let me. Taichou’d just have to fight his tiger first.” He considered this mental image. “That’s a fight I’d like to see…”
“You would sleep on a dragon if they still existed. And my opinionated cats would probably have something to say about that, too.” But Genma cocked his head, considering. “Taichou and a tiger… I’m not sure who’d win that fight. If it were just a regular tiger, though, not a summons? Taichou, definitely.”
Genma’s mental image of Taichou-fighting-a-tiger was probably still wearing a shirt and doing proper martial stances. Ryouma relinquished his own imaginings with only a little shame, and finished his coffee. “Maybe someday we’ll get to see. With our luck it’ll probably be a tiger-demon, though. D’you think I could see Kakashi if I took the chakra-monitor with me?”
“I think you should stay here and rest until Naito-sensei gives the okay.” Genma gave him a faint, sympathetic smile. Of course he knew that wasn’t what Ryouma wanted to hear. “They’re trying to calibrate how quickly your chakra recovers and clears out the Dodomeki contamination. If you get up and start roaming around, you could throw off their measurements. Besides, you don’t want to risk waking him. Kakashi needs the sleep even more than you did.”
Right. And Ryouma wasn’t the most restful of visitors. He fidgeted, he paced, he struck up conversations with the nurses when they came to check monitors or update charts.
He sank back into his own bed, pried the lid off the coffee cup, and began morosely unrolling the paper rim.
“I could go find Naito-sensei and ask how long they want to keep you monitored,” Genma offered.
“No, that’s okay. I mean, if you want to…” He trailed off. Hesitated. “Would you?”
“Yep.” Genma set his cup aside and stood, brushing crumbs off his thighs. “If I don’t find her, I’ll leave a message for her.”
“Thanks. And—” he hesitated again. “If it’s gonna be a while… I’m missing class, yesterday and today, but we could probably still keep up with the readings. I’ve got all the books sealed up in my belt-pouch. If you’ve got time…”
“Let’s do it.” Genma scanned the ward for Ryouma’s clothes, found them folded by the window, and tossed Ryouma the belt-pouch with an easy underhand. His eyes warmed when Ryouma didn’t fumble the catch. “I’ll check in on Kakashi on my way back from looking for Naito-sensei, too.”
“Thanks, lieutenant,” Ryouma said, and meant it.
As it turned out, it wasn’t a long study session. Ryouma’s post-healing fatigue outstripped his enthusiasm for Chakra Principles in Bone and Tendon Remodeling after just an hour and a half of study. A nurse brought a hearty dish of eggs, dried fish, and rice, which Ryouma scarfed down between yawns. When his plate was empty, he protested weakly that he could keep going with their reading, and yawned again so cavernously Genma could have conducted a full dental exam on him.
“Sleep, Rookie,” Genma told him. “I’ve asked your nurse to keep you updated if anything about Hatake’s condition changes. Which I expect will only be for the better,” he added, when he saw the spark of worry rekindle in Ryouma’s eyes.
Ryouma made an abortive attempt to protest, but Genma shushed him. “I’ll be back later. Want me to bring you anything?”
An unsuccessful effort to stifle his next yawn, and a skeptical arched eyebrow from Genma, were enough to see Ryouma sinking back down into his pillows in defeat. “Nah. Maybe I can just sleep until Naito-sensei lets me out.” He waved a hand vaguely towards the door. “Go do something for yourself, Fukuchou.”
“Sleep well, Ryouma,” Genma told him. He set the books in a careful pile on the bedside table, refilled Ryouma’s water glass, and patted the blankets smooth. “If you need me before I get back, I’ll probably be at my place.” He shut the curtains around Ryouma’s bed to keep out the mid-morning light. One last stop confirmed that Kakashi was much the same: sleeping soundly, no worrying changes to his vitals, rousable and cranky if disturbed. With that reassuring report, Genma headed home.
He stopped at the conbini near his loft to pick up breakfast supplies and two steaming cups of surprisingly good coffee, climbed the stairs to his door as quietly as if he were on a mission, and let himself soundlessly in.
Megumi greeted him at the door, winding herself between his ankles and purring loudly. The shower was running, the bathroom door half-ajar to let the steam out. “Guess I don’t need to be quiet,” Genma told the cat, running calloused fingers through her soft fur. Her purr intensified. He slipped his shoes off and set his purchases down on the kitchen table. “I’m back!” he called, uncertain if his voice would carry over the sound of the water. A flare of chakra was enough to earn an answering pulse. The rice cooker was going and he was still slicing tofu and green onions for miso soup when the shower stopped.
Raidou stuck a damp head and shoulders out of the bathroom door. “Any news?”
“Hatake’s stable but hasn’t been fully reassessed. They think the surgery was a success, though. He’s asleep. Ryouma’s sleeping again, too. He insisted on studying for a bit, and he’s worried, but he seems like he’s handling it. His chakra was muddy when I first got there but it was clearing fast.” Genma shook his head. “Even accounting for natural variability, he’s got some amazing chakra. Explains how he managed to invent such powerful jutsu at such a young age.” He set the knife down and crossed the room to hand Raidou one of the coffees, and plant a greeting kiss on his face. “How’re you?”
“Relieved,” Raidou said fervently. He handed the coffee back, cupped Genma’s face for a return kiss, then ducked back into the bathroom to dress. He emerged still damp and shirtless, but wearing a low-riding pair of dark blue sweats. There was no visible waistband above them. Genma had to drag his eyes back up before he lost the plot on breakfast.
“Mostly awake,” Raidou said. The faintest hint of a smirk said he knew where Genma’s eyes and mind had wandered. He took his coffee back and took a long sip. “Coffee, thank you. Your cat tried to sleep on my face. How’re you?”
“Same as you, minus the cat problem,” Genma said. He gave Megumi a reproachful look. “No smothering people who aren’t enemies,” he told her. She mrrrped in reply, whatever that meant, and hopped up on the back of the sofa, stalking along it to a broad sunbeam, where she curled up.
Genma drank some of his own coffee and got back to work on breakfast, sliding the tofu cubes and onions into the simmering pot of dashi and miso paste on the stove. “Eggs cooked or raw?” he asked, holding up the carton.
“Chef’s choice,” Raidou said, sounding confident Genma would make the eggs tasty even if all he did was crack them over the hot rice. He came up behind Genma, still shirtless, and rested his chin on Genma’s shoulder, watching breakfast taking shape. “Did the medics have a plan for Hatake, or are we waiting and seeing?”
“Three or four different plans,” Genma said, “depending on how he is when he’s up and functioning again. If his chakra is completely recovered, then it’s rehab and reconditioning for the injured channels. If it isn’t, they may tap Ryouma for another round of chakra skimming. But I couldn’t sense any of the Dodomeki chakra lingering when I saw him, and neither could his doctors, so it looks hopeful.”
He decided on soft boiled eggs, which unfortunately meant sidling away from Raidou to fill a small saucepan with water. A sustained burst of fire chakra started the water simmering before he even turned on the burner. Almost as soon as he returned to stirring the soup, Raidou was at his back again, chin on his shoulder. The casual intimacy after their ten days apart struck Genma abruptly. He leaned back against Raidou’s chest and breathed out a deep sigh. “I’m glad you’re back.”
Raidou wrapped an arm around Genma’s waist, a steady, bracketing weight. “Me too. I wish we’d made it back with tidier results, but at least everyone’s still breathing.”
“Better than just breathing,” Genma said. “I heard your archer—Goya-san?—is going to be fine, she’ll just be on soft rations for a couple weeks. Usagi’s on the good antibiotics and her injury isn’t that deep. Should heal completely in about the same time it takes for Ginta’s ribs to knit. Abe and Kasumi just need to sleep it off. And Jiraiya-sama is… Jiraiya. He was sitting with Hatake earlier. You pretty much can’t tell where the burns were. He was delighted to make me guess.” He gave the soup one more stir and turned in Raidou’s arms to face him. “I’m kind of disappointed I had to miss this one. If I’d been there, maybe there would have been fewer injuries, but also it sounds like it was one hell of a good mission.”
Raidou’s mouth twisted in a rueful grimace. “I don’t know about good, but at least it was simple. Kill a monster, come home. No traitors, barely any politics.”
“Grass ninja sad Konoha had all the fun?” Genma guessed.
“And took the trophies. They’re allies, they’ll get over it.”
“Nice.” Genma said. “Labs will be busy.”
Raidou rubbed a thumb over Genma’s hip. “Abe tried his best, but his healing skills aren’t a patch on yours. He looked dead on his feet afterwards.”
“I think he only just passed his medic-three cert,” Genma said, ducking his chin to hide the pleased flush at the compliment.
“Maybe by the time Hatake’s done healing, your blood will be behaving again and we can actually have a mission with all four of us,” Raidou said, then bit his lip. “Unless you think the hospital’s planning to steal Tousaki for his… sieve magic?”
Genma frowned. “I’ll admit that worries me, too. But how often does anyone come in with chakra corruption like that? Hatake’s their first and only case, as far as I gathered. Even if they want to have Tousaki on call in case this ever happens again, I don’t think they could justify taking him out of the field. He’s too valuable of a combat asset. Especially once he’s passed his first-level field medic exam.”
Raidou took that in, and nodded. “When do you think that’ll be?”
“End of the year?” Genma said. “Exams are usually held in December and June. He’s got a decent shot at passing in December, and if not then, he’ll definitely pass the June exam. I’ll make sure of it.”
“December it is,” Raidou said, with perfect confidence. “May as well put this downtime to good use.”
“He’s been diligent. We met nearly every day while you were away to go over his homework. He’s really stepped up. I’m proud of him.” Genma turned back to give the soup another stir and lift the eggs out with a wire skimmer. The rice cooker piped out a cheerful little tune to announce the rice was ready.
Raidou moved to get rice and soup bowls out of the cupboard. “I’d expect no less. If this experiment works as it should, Kakashi will owe his arms to Tousaki. And to you, for taking Tousaki on in the first place.”
Genma dished up soup while Raidou scooped rice. “I guess that’s one way to look at it. How was Hatake on the mission, by the way? Did he work well with the others? With you?”
“Surprisingly well, except for the side-commentary.” Raidou made a quick gesture that included himself and Genma and the missing space where Kurenai might have been. He’d filled Genma in on Kakashi’s acerbic opinion about their interrupted morning-after when Genma had brought him home from the hospital to sleep. Genma had absorbed the information with a sigh, a nod, and a complete lack of surprise. “He followed orders, used his words, played nice with Thirteen. Well, except for Kasumi, but I think that was actually more her problem than his. He was miserable on the way home, but he wasn’t a monster about it.”
“Well, that’s unexpected but good,” Genma said, cautiously optimistic. “Any idea why Kasumi was picking fights? I don’t know anything about her family, but now I’m wondering if she’s one of the anti-Sakumo crowd.”
“I think it was more of a personality clash,” Raidou said. “I didn’t catch any sly barbs, leastways. And the anti-Sakumo crowd aren’t that subtle about hiding them.”
“True. And she certainly does have an abundance of personality, albeit entirely scathing and judgemental — maybe with her and Hatake it’s like identical magnetic poles repelling each other.”
There was probably some truth in that. The sharpness in controlled moments, the kindness in wounded ones. Raidou had seen Kasumi trying to care for Kakashi in her own way, after Kakashi had been injured. It had reminded him of a porcupine trying to care for a porcupine. At least no one had been fatally stabbed.
The conversation derailed for a few minutes while they ate their eggs and rice and soup. When the dishes were in the sink and Genma had refilled his third cup of green tea, Raidou considered the impending day and what, if any, routine he could weld onto it.
Going to the hospital. That was a given.
Making sure Ryouma wasn’t worrying himself to a nub. Also a given.
And then— what? Training? More debriefing? Checking up on Thirteen and Goya? Definitely that last one. Goya had needed surgery. Genma had said she was going to be fine, but she’d been on Raidou’s team, however briefly. He owed her a look-in.
Genma pushed a coffee mug into Raidou’s hand, pressed a brief kiss to his temple, said, “I’m too tired for training,” and went to take a shower. Raidou blinked after him, then realized he’d said at least half of that out loud. He snorted at himself.
“Training when we’re tired is good practice for the real thing,” he called after Genma.
The bathroom door clicked shut with polite finality. Megumi jumped up onto Raidou’s lap with one of her little mroowwp noises and commenced industriously kneading one of his thighs. He scratched the back of her neck, which made the little engine of her purr kick back on.
It was strange how not strange it felt to sit in Genma’s kitchen, shirtless and breakfasted, petting a non-speaking summons and putting his own thoughts into order. Domestic, kind of comforting. It only missed Kurenai offering her incisive opinion, pulling the larger picture into focus.
Raidou wondered how she liked her eggs.
The bathroom door opened a crack, letting out a cloud of steam. “I suppose I could manage some stretches…”
The door stayed open, invitingly.
Not that tired, then. Raidou’s mouth curved. He scooped Megumi gently off his lap, depositing her on the kitchen table, and went to investigate exactly how flexible Genma was feeling.
Quite a lot, it turned out.
A while later, twice-showered and smugly pleased at the number of new fingernail-marks on his shoulders, Raidou put on clean clothes and asked, “Going to get some sleep?”
A lovely golden sprawl on the bed, Genma half-opened one eye and said, “Mmng.”
Raidou drew the sheets up, left a glass of water on the nightstand and Megumi curled at the foot of the bed, purring like a tiny thunderhead, and made it to the door when Genma roused enough to say, “I can go with you ‘f you want.”
Raidou smiled. “Sleep. You pulled a long night.” Raidou had slept, once he’d filed his multitudes of reports, spoken to four or five Intel officers, Sagara, and then Minato — boring, necessary, scary, terrifying, in that order — but Genma had barely catnapped, and he’d left before the sun had risen to return to the hospital. “Megumi, if he gets up, sit on him, okay?”
Megumi rose, stretched, and draped herself over Genma’s shins like the world’s smallest sandbag. She weighed, maybe, three kilos.
Genma made a noise that wasn’t quite a yawn or a sigh, but something in between, and settled back down. “‘f you’re sure,” he mumbled. “Tell Tousaki I can work with him on his homework this evening.”
“Sure,” Raidou said, and let himself quietly out. The protective seals brushed over his skin and curled back up as he closed the door, like a large sleepy tiger wrapped around the entire building.
He dropped by one of Ryouma’s favored little coffee shops to pick up a few things, then made his way to the hospital.
Goya was in the process of getting discharged, which Raidou took as an encouraging sign. Her jaw was swollen and bruised, and she spoke with a thick slur, but her teeth weren’t even wired together. Raidou blinked at that, tripping over one of the odd little reminders that this wasn’t wartime anymore. Medics had time and resources for deeper healing. She accepted his proffered smoothie with a polite nod, waved away his offer of further assistance, and winced slightly when he asked if her broken bow could be repaired.
No. It could be burned, and buried, and replaced.
Raidou grimaced. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged, the same way his mom shrugged when people asked about her missing leg. Better than a life.
He left when the nurse came back with discharge papers for her to sign.
Ryouma next. It took Raidou a while to track him down. Eventually he found his second-most problematic rookie tucked into a quiet, mostly empty ward in the back end of surgery, nestled between a bustling recovery ward and the surgeons’ break room. Ryouma had adopted a more-blankets-was-better policy, and was barely visible beneath a giant marshmallowy cotton stack. At least he seemed comfortable. Or suffocated.
A chorus of monitors beeped softly around the bed. The chakra readings didn’t mean anything to Raidou, but the EKG and blood pressure values looked happy enough.
He set a take-away cup and paper bag offering on the bedside table, found a chair to sit in, and waited to see if the hibernation could be interrupted by the smell of breakfast.
It took a few moments, but eventually the blankets stirred. Tousled black hair emerged. The blankets slipped a little more, and then there were sleepy blinking eyes and a long, rumpled yawn. “Taichou? You came to spring me?”
“From a nap?” Raidou said, amused. “Just checking in, delivering — well, lunch at this point.”
A small skirmish under the blankets ended in a wobbly truce between pillows, monitor leads, and Ryouma’s ability to sit upright. He punched a last pillow into submission and rubbed his face. “Not much to check on. They’ve only let me out of bed to pee. S’posedly I’m a regenerating oyster and they gotta measure how much.” He spotted the paper cup and came alert. “Oooh, coffee?”
“Hot chocolate,” Raidou said. “Figured you probably need sleep more than caffeine. There’s cream and chocolate shavings in there, though. And an egg sandwich in the bag.”
Ryouma pretty much fell on the food, saying something about sugar and protein and substitutes that was lost in the first bready crunch. The sandwich vanished in a handful of bites, leaving greasy fingers and a trace of crumbs behind. The hot chocolate followed in short order, consumed in gulps and rewarded with happy sighs.
Well, everyone knew that renewing chakra ramped up your metabolism. Regenerating oyster, indeed, whatever that meant.
“Want another one? I can send a clone.”
Ryouma looked wistfully at the crumpled paper. “I’m supposed to be getting lunch here. Eventually. Unless they let me go first. Did you see Kakashi? Or hear how he’s doing?”
Raidou popped a clone up and sent it off with money.
“Hatake’s my next stop,” he said. “Want to tag along?”
“Yes.” Ryouma very nearly shot out of bed, as if someone had threatened to staple him into it and he was seizing his one chance for freedom. The EKG gave a protesting series of beeps as the lines tangled. Raidou snorted, caught Ryouma by the shoulder and gently shoved him back. Ryouma gave him betrayed eyes.
“Sit,” Raidou said. “Let me clear it with a nurse before you set off an alarm and they chase us down with sticks.”
The nurse’s desk was just down the hallway. A slightly harried older man said “yes, what?” three times in a row before Raudou was actually able to make him focus.
“You want to what?”
Patiently, Raidou explained his plan, i.e. walking an adult ninja down a very safe hallway to see another adult ninja, and probably sitting in chairs if they could stand the excitement.
“Oh, Tousaki? Yes, fine. Just make sure he keeps his chakra monitor on.”
An alarm squealed in the recovery ward. The nurse vaulted over the desk and went through the double doors before Raidou could even say thank you.
Raidou squinted after him. “If that’s Hatake,” he told the empty hallway, “I swear to everything ever…”
Fortunately, it turned out Kakashi was in a different ward.
Kakashi’s arms hurt.
The rest of his body did too, oddly.
He was aware of this in a distant sort of way. It was a different hurt than it had been before, when he’d been carrying around a double-armful of demon chakra. Cleaner. Something closer to torn muscles than poisoned, iced-over chakra.
He didn’t seem to have a lot of chakra left, granted, so maybe that was why it hurt less.
Except that usually hurt more.
There was a clock on the wall that seemed to have gone rogue, eating up hours every time he closed his eyes. He might have noticed it less, except that people kept coming in to wake him up and tell him how important it was to sleep. He thought about putting a notice on the door — “I AM SLEEPING, GO AWAY” — but his fingers still weren’t that dextrous, and he kept nodding off before he’d worked out a plan to steal a piece of paper.
So, all in all, about a standard hospital stay.
He was deeply buried in a cocoon of blankets and drugs and bedhead when the door hissed open. Again.
Someone stepped into his room. Again.
Okay, words. Find the growl. Easier now, his voice was made of rusty hinges. “‘f you have actions, m’not gonna b’ responsible for m’needles.”
Wait. That didn’t seem right.
Ryouma’s voice, warm with amusement and affection, said, “Fresh out of actions and needles, but we got a clone following with lunch. How’re you feeling?”
Kakashi flung the blankets off— or tried to. They fought back. He adjusted tactics, managed not to throttle himself on his IV line or EKG leads, and surfaced after an awkward battle to find Ryouma and Raidou standing just inside the doorway. Raidou leaned on one hip, lips pressed in a way that looked like he was trying not to smile. Bastard.
Ryouma was smiling. One of those rare, quick, unselfconscious ones that made his whole face lighten. He looked tired and rumpled behind it: dark smudges under his eyes, a shadow of stubble over his jaw, hair flattened to one side of his head and wildly spiked on the other. He’d been forced into the same kind of hospital pajamas as Kakashi: washed and rewashed to the point of being just barely blue. The shirt had a wide-necked collar that allowed for monitor leads and — in Ryouma’s case — artfully showed off his collarbones. A chakra-monitor on wheels trundled faithfully behind him, emitting quiet beeps.
Kakashi just wanted to look at him for a minute. And might have, since the room got a little awkward at the edges. Someone said something, then repeated it loudly.
Kakashi blinked. “What?”
“Never mind,” said Raidou, folding himself into a chair. “Glad you’re enjoying the pain meds. Shiranui says hi.”
Kakashi had a hazy memory of Genma being one of the people doing the poking, but wasn’t sure what had happened to him afterwards. Hopefully Kakashi hadn’t strangled him again.
Probably not. Since, see: dexterity.
“Shiranui’s where?” he said.
“Home,” Raidou said, speaking more slowly. “Sleeping.”
“Hypocrite,” Kakashi said. He focused on Ryouma again, because there was a detail trying to catch his attention. “Why’re you on a monitor?”
“Measuring oyster regrowth,” Ryouma said, nonsensically. He stepped around Raidou’s chair to take his own seat on the foot of the bed. One hand squeezed Kakashi’s ankle. A tingle followed: a wash of chakra against Kakashi’s anemic senses, thin but jounin-smooth. Ryouma was low, too.
Kakashi clicked, after a second. Oysters filtered. Ryouma was the oyster, filtering whatever he’d absorbed in the process of stripping the Dodomeki out of Kakashi’s channels. It must have cost him more than expected, if they were monitoring him. Or Naito was simply being cautious.
Kakashi turned a few more thoughts over, and informed Ryouma, “You’re a bivalve.”
Ryouma blinked back at him, tipping his head. “Are you awake enough for puns?”
Gratified that Ryouma had caught the pun, Kakashi didn’t kick him off the bed for insulting Kakashi’s obvious wakefulness. Bisexual mollusc. Hah.
Ryouma breezed on before Kakashi could finish assembling a response. “Lieutenant was right. You’re feeling ragged, but clean.” Another ankle-squeeze, tighter this time.
Kakashi would have patted Ryouma’s head reassuringly, except that Ryouma kept choosing to sit on the hinterland end of the bed and not anywhere actually within reach. A comforting kick to the hip would probably just turf him off the bed and make him sad.
Kakashi held up one hand and flexed his fingers instead. Clumsy, aching, but it didn’t shoot shards of agony up his arm. “Feels better,” he agreed. “Hurts less. Anyone doctor-y say anything to you? They just keep telling me to sleep.”
And helping the process along, he thought, with a dirty look at the little cluster of IV bags. His brain was three-quarters of a giant pink cloud.
“Not yet,” said Raidou easily, getting out of his chair. His mouth was doing that not-laughing thing again. “I’ll see what I can find out, though.”
He stepped out, sliding the door half-closed behind him, and strode off down the hallway.
In the silence that followed, Kakashi contemplated whether Raidou had just left to laugh (bastard), and how Kakashi might persuade Ryouma to move further up the bed.
Ryouma let out a soft breath. “Your chakra’s okay,” he said, and it sounded like wonder. “You can move your hand. You’re okay. I was so worried—” He broke off. Swallowed. “It worked. You’ll be okay.”
Kakashi looked at him for a moment. Remembered the fear, the falling apart, Raidou of all goddamn people putting him back together. Death, disability, it might not work. An untested solution stitched together from hope and hypotheticals and sheer lucky chance that Ryouma’s chakra was an oyster. The rest of Kakashi’s career balanced on Ryouma’s shoulders, when Ryouma hadn’t even tested to be a field medic yet.
Kakashi nodded once, and said, “I never actually doubted. Would you come up here so I can hug you, already?”
The door wasn’t quite closed. Raidou would be gone a little while, at least, tracking down whatever doctor was currently on-duty and sufficiently informed, but nurses could come in at any moment.
Well, Konoha nurses had certainly seen worse.
Ryouma shifted up, dragging lines and the beeping chakra monitor after him. Tangled briefly with Kakashi’s own tethers, until they figured out an arrangement that didn’t risk tugging leads or toppling Kakashi’s IV stand. Wrapped Kakashi in his arms, buried his face in Kakashi’s wild hair, and felt his racing heart finally begin to slow.
“You were gone too long,” he muttered eventually. “And then asleep too long. I’m not used to this worrying-about-people thing. It sucks. I didn’t get enough sleep. Let’s make them let us go, and then get back to barracks and nap together.”
Kakashi’s masked nose rubbed back and forth against Ryouma’s collarbone — not shaking his head; maybe nuzzling in? He looked up, after a moment. His eye was rain-grey, enormous, the pupil constricted to a tiny black dot; it took him another blinking moment to focus. “You worry too much,” he said, gently. His hand lifted from Ryouma’s shoulders and clumsily cupped the back of Ryouma’s head. “But I like this plan.”
Ryouma was about to explain that he’d just said he wasn’t used to worrying about people, no wonder he wasn’t good at it, and he’d like it if they stopped making him practice— but Kakashi forestalled him by edging out of the embrace, carefully inspecting his own arms, and then presenting an IV-impaled inner elbow for Ryouma’s inspection. “They show you how to take these out yet?”
“We haven’t done anything with hospital settings. Just chakra-work, for immediate use in the field.” He took Kakashi’s arm anyway. Felt his pulse, which was slow but strong. The machines in the corner probably tracked that already, but puzzling out their incomprehensible displays wasn’t the same as feeling it. The steady beat of blood circulating in the pathways where it belonged; the icy-clean tingle of his chakra, muted but unmuddied, flowing steadily now without the blockages the Dodomeki had left. “Would Rin disembowel us if we snuck out?”
“Probably,” Kakashi said, glumly. He lowered his arm to rest on Ryouma’s thigh. “If Naito or Sensei didn’t get to us first.”
“I’ve gotten yelled at by Naito and beaten up by the Hokage once already. Not really anxious to find out what Konoha’s best surgeon would do.” He rubbed his thumb over Kakashi’s wrist. Warm skin, velvet-soft, and an oddly soothing motion. He kept doing it. “One of them should be coming back on duty soon, though. Not the Hokage, I mean — Naito-sensei, or somebody else who knows what’s going on with us and has the authority to make decisions about it. They’re just testing my chakra-regeneration, but the monitor’s battery-powered, I could take it home. And you’re clean.”
He couldn’t suppress the note of delighted incredulity that crept into his voice and almost broke on a laugh. It still seemed impossible, magical, undeserved — not for Kakashi, who deserved clean chakra and functional hands and everything else good in the world, but for himself. How the hell did a fuckup fourteen-year-old’s experimentation with killer jutsu turn into something that could save a man’s hands and his life, instead of ruining them?
“Yep,” Kakashi said. A smile crept around the edges of his voice, too.
Then he cocked his head, glancing at the door. “Captain’s coming back.”
Ryouma beat a prudent retreat to the nearby chair, towing all his monitor lines with him. By the time Raidou, his captive doctor, and his sandwich-bearing clone piled into the room, they were engaged in an entirely professional analysis of whether or not Dodomeki eyeballs were too disgusting to count as a ‘sorry-you-missed-the-mission’ present.
The doctor declined to give an opinion on either the eyeballs or anybody’s hospital release. “Your vitals are good,” he reported. “There’s a note on your chart to alert Naito Rumi-sensei when you’re conscious enough for chakra exercises. I’ll have someone see if she’s come back on duty.” He paused on his way out the door for a slightly sympathetic smile. “I know you ANBU-types don’t take bedrest well, but we do appreciate it when you don’t try sneaking out the window with your needle ports dripping. Shouldn’t be too much longer.”
It took almost another two hours, in the end. The sandwiches disappeared. So did the significantly less appetizing hospital lunch. An annoyed nurse came to collect the data from Ryouma’s chakra monitor and scold him for making her trek halfway across the hospital. She stopped scolding only to make suspicious noises at the data. “How long have you been wearing this thing?” she asked Ryouma, and looked even more harassed when he told her.
“I bet she makes maintenance double-check the machine,” Kakashi announced as the door closed behind her. “You’re upsetting someone’s thesis on chakra recovery rates.”
“Just so long as they don’t decide I have chakra cancer or something.” Not that chakra cancer was a thing. He was pretty sure. Maybe they just didn’t cover it in field medic classes. Ryouma slouched aggressively lower in his chair — they’d stolen a second one from an empty room down the hall, once it became clear they’d be waiting a while longer — and studied the back of the newspaper Raidou was either reading or napping behind. Huh, there were two characters he recognized, above a black-and-white picture of some shattered buildings. “Who’s blowing things up in Water Country now?”
Raidou flipped back a few pages. “Domestic extremists, apparently,” he reported. “Except that’s what they said when we blew things up.”
“Huh. Hopefully it’s true this time. Maybe they’ll stop killing bloodline babies.” He straightened up, hopefully, as the door opened.
Genma had a saying about good things coming to those who waited. This time, for once, it was true. The annoyed nurse was back, but Naito-sensei entered after her, followed by Hyuuga Mitsu and another nurse. Raidou folded up his newspaper and retreated to the window, relinquishing his chair to Naito-sensei’s use.
“I hear you’re today’s biggest success story,” she told Kakashi, settling into her seat with a smile. “How are you feeling?”
“Not demon-poisoned,” Kakashi said, lifting his arms to demonstrate. “When can I go home?”
“When I’ve verified that you’re stable and on the path to recovery,” Naito said dryly. She looked up at her colleague. “Mitsu?”
Byakugan examination ensued, followed by Naito’s own thorough chakra sweeps. Ryouma strained his senses at the fringes of their scanning. Was that ripple in Naito’s chakra-sweep a natural pause, or the detection of a lingering blight? He was leaning forward in his chair, hands clamped tight over his knees, when she sat back at last.
“Well,” Naito said, on a long exhale. She exchanged glances with Hyuuga Mitsu. “There’s certainly some scarring.”
“Less extensive than we feared,” Mitsu murmured. Her Byugakan was still engaged, pale pupils almost distinct. “None of Hatake’s chakra pathways were irrevocably breached, and the residual tenketsu blockages appear to be a natural function of the body’s healing process. I’d expect clearance or rerouting within the week.”
“When can I expect dexterity back?” Kakashi asked. His fingers flexed stiffly, demonstrating the point.
“That depends on how diligent you are with your physical therapy,” Naito said, with the barest hint of sympathy. “That means following all the instructions, including the ones about rest and recovery time. Someone from that department will be in to see you before you’re released, just as soon as I’ve had a chance to discuss your case with them. I’m sure you know the drill.”
“So he can go home?” Ryouma said, seizing on the only part of this that seemed at all manageable yet. “He is clean? And he’ll get better?”
“Home to continue healing,” Naito emphasized. “That means good nutrition with plenty of protein, rest or sleep when you’re tired, and no activity that causes pain. No molding chakra for jutsu until I see you in outpatient clinic next week. If you try to push it, you’ll only slow your recovery — and maybe end up with permanent impairment.”
“There are no traces of foreign chakra in Hatake’s system,” Mitsu said, more reassuringly. “Barring anything exceptional, I don’t see any reason he won’t be back to his baseline within a week or so.” She added to Kakashi, “The scarring isn’t likely to impact chakra recovery rate, but will make your pathways more fragile in the short term. Even once you’re cleared for duty, you’ll need to be careful not to overload your system. Another episode like the one in your records from this summer might burn you out permanently.”
“Ah,” Kakashi said, quietly.
He looked down at his hands. They lay still in his lap, pale against the pale blue blankets, ridged and reddened with scars across the knuckles and the pads of the fingers. His forefinger twitched, with effort, and curled to just barely press against his thumb.
Ryouma’s throat closed up, watching him.
There was a stain on Kakashi’s right palm, something like a starburst carved out in white and purple. Not quite a scar, but a remnant of hundreds of fistfuls of chakra and birdsong. A Raikiri watermark. He’d made Himself leave it, along with every other mark up to the elbow.
There’d been logic for that. And, okay, a little emotion. The tanuki grandfather had erased a lifetime of injury with a few tailsweeps, but not the face, not the hands. Not the scar that had taken Kakashi’s eye, or the knotwork of learning between his knuckles. Nothing that might affect the Sharingan, or how he worked seals. Nothing that might be visible to enemy ninja.
He wondered, now, what his chakra pathways would look like if he’d let Himself touch them.
But he hadn’t, so that was that.
He turned his hands over, palms down, and adjusted his mindset. Careful not to overload your system. That removed the ultimate fallback from his armory, which would be… an adjustment. In the past, he’d always held that in reserve. If plans A and B and C failed, if he ran out of tricks and stamina and options, there was always the chakra-burning batshit crazy alternative. It hurt like a bastard, but he’d always recovered.
“What about ordinary burn out?” he asked.
Naito’s expression turned very dry. “No competent medic would ever advise that burning your chakra reserves to near zero is a safe or reasonable practice. But in your case, even, as you call it, ‘ordinary’ burn out would be disabling at best. At worst…”
It took Kakashi a second to realize she’d stopped speaking. He looked at her. She looked back, steadily. She knew what the Sharingan did to him.
Ryouma said, “What about soldier pills? Chakra transfusions?”
“Either or both would help, of course,” Hyuuga Mitsu said. She released her Byakugan. The veins around her temples slid back under milky skin, like underground predators retreating. “And we’re talking about the immediate healing period. Longer term, what I said about scarring damage remains true, but you’d probably recover from a severe chakra drain as well as any ninja, especially if you had chakra support in the immediate aftermath.”
That was a little more optimistic. He’d still have to get smarter about rationing his chakra use. Less Sharingan, more practical options with sharper edges. Wire, weapons, traps. It was a long-standing problem — he’d had less chakra than most jounin even before Obito had left him a decorative chakra drain for the face — but he’d managed until now. He’d figure this out, too.
Ryouma still looked worried. “What about… building up his reserves somehow?”
“That will be part of his therapy,” Naito said. “But he’s — you’re both — still growing. You may have reached your adult heights, but you’re both still filling out and will be until you hit your mid-twenties.” There was a by-rote quality to her tone, as if this was a lecture she’d given more than once. It was certainly one Kakashi had heard more than once. “The best thing you can do is manage your nutrition carefully and work on adding muscle mass.” She made a note for herself. “I’ll get Akimichi Himari to consult on optimizing your diet.”
Kakashi sighed. “Is that necessary? I know how to cook.”
Raidou cleared his throat, loudly.
“I mean, thank you, sensei,” Kakashi corrected himself. “I’ll be interested to learn more about vitamins.”
“I’ll come along,” Ryouma interjected, before Naito could say anything. “If they let me. Maybe it’d count for make-up work on my medic training. And I can help you sort your meals if your hands get achey.”
Oh. Well, if Ryouma was going to be sweet about it.
Kakashi ignored Naito’s approving nod and Mitsu’s obvious attempt to hide a smile, and shrugged loosely, as if his chest weren’t full of warm cotton wool. “You’d think the radical experimental healing jutsu would count for something, but if lettuce will help, sure, I guess.”
Raidou made a rough sound of amusement. “Well there’s your first problem, mixing up lettuce and protein. Maybe this Akimichi will have something to teach you.” He turned to Naito. “Okay then, discharged to home for Hatake, and on medical leave until further notice. What about Tousaki? Continued light duty, or can he go back to full once his chakra recovers?”
Naito nodded. “Correct. Assuming Hatake-san heals at a normal rate, I’d expect him to be back to light duty within a week. For Tousaki-san…” She studied Ryouma’s tethered chakra monitor and exchanged a glance with Mitsu; they shared a small sound of interest. “Full duty as of tomorrow.” Her tone shaded a little warmer, almost fond, as she looked at Ryouma. “Try not to immediately go out and get yourself injured so badly you end up in our care again, hmm?”
“Next mission nobody gets hospitalized,” Ryouma vowed. He tugged at one of the monitor leads. “Can I take these off now? And…. maybe get a note telling Kawasaki-sensei I did radical experimental healing jutsu and he shouldn’t kick me out of class for missing too much?”
“I’ll make sure he knows where you’ve been and why,” Naito said, waving at him to proceed. “You might even get extra credit. I won’t get you out of missed homework, though, so make sure you turn it in.”
Ryouma nodded fervently and stripped out of the leads in record time, while Raidou stepped out to find a nurse. Despite Kakashi’s dire expectations, it didn’t take long for his discharge to proceed, and he only dozed off once.
Soon the world contained real pants, a thick sheaf of discharge instructions, a few rattling bottles of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and a band-aid where his IV had been. Naito and Mitsu had vanished to deal with their next complication, and Raidou took his leave to HQ to do whatever captainly thing one needed to do when one half of one’s team kept getting alternatively injured and reinstated. Paperwork, probably.
Gravity was a little loose when Kakashi made his way to the door, but he’d survived worse.
“Ramen,” he told Ryouma, when it was just the two of them and the elevator. Ryouma was holding the pills and the discharge papers — when had he taken them? Kakashi held onto the wall. “Or soba. I need noodles in my life.”
“Can you eat noodles?” Ryouma asked.
Kakashi considered the relative dexterity required for chopsticks. “Sushi. That’s finger food.”
“There’s that place we went last time. It’s not far.”
Far was a somewhat abstract term right now, but they made it without disaster or social embarrassment. Kakashi ordered— something. Probably fish. He suspected money was exchanged. Most likely Ryouma’s, since Kakashi had lost track of his wallet in the last few days. Presumably it was with his original ANBU uniform, which was also— somewhere. Hopefully somewhere with a washing machine. The hospital was usually good about returning things.
There was walking. Fresh air was amazing. And then, thankfully, his front door. The protective seals nudged against his aching chakra like warm, worried puppies. Glad he was home, concerned he didn’t feel right, but they unlocked for him.
The room smelled stale, but not terrible. For once he hadn’t left something to die in the sink. Ryouma got plates. Kakashi found the bed and collapsed on it.
Sushi happened. Kakashi managed not to drop anything. It was wonderful.
Ryouma tidied, made Kakashi drink a glass of water and take his pills, and then started making awkward noises because he’d run out of obvious tasks, and because, on a basic soul-level, Ryouma was an anxious border collie that needed a job or a lot of distracting belly rubs.
Since Kakashi planned to fall asleep as soon as possible and his hands weren’t up to rubbing much of anything, he formulated an alternative plan. “I need you to get three things.”
Ryouma came to attention in a way that was both gratifying and endearing, as if he expected Kakashi to send him on a mission to the dangerous wilds. Except he probably would go if Kakashi asked, but that was a thought for another day.
“Your TV,” Kakashi instructed, “your five favorite movies, and at least four more pillows.”
Ryouma squinted at him doubtfully. “I don’t have that many pillows. And you’ll fall asleep before the first fight scene.”
“I’m flexible on the number of pillows.” Kakashi flapped an arm at him. “The movies are for you. I would like to fall asleep on you, but if you need to go do something else, that’s okay. I’m going to pass out either way.”
Ryouma’s face softened, the tense edges of I Am Doing Things easing away. His shoulders came down, as if he’d realized they were up near his ears. He started to take a step towards Kakashi, then glanced back at the door. “Five minutes. You should brush your teeth.”
He vanished with a turn of speed that had to be chakra-aided.
Kakashi blinked, laughed to himself. “Border collie.” He got up to locate his toothbrush in the tiny attached bathroom, and wash his face for good measure. He swapped his escape-the-hospital clothes for a soft t-shirt and a loose pair of training pants. He didn’t put his mask back on.
Ryouma returned sooner than expected, carrying his heavy TV carefully. A clone trailed after him, carting pillows, movies, and what looked like a paper bag of snacks and bottled drinks. Ryouma had also changed into sweats and a t-shirt: the black one with Shuriken Force spelled out in cracked, faded white kanji. He toed off his shoes outside, closed and locked the door, and pulled up short when he saw Kakashi’s bare face. A slow, irresistible smile broke over his face.
“Take care of this,” he told the clone, setting the TV down with excessive care on the floor.
Time did another one of those hazy blips, because then Ryouma was right in front of him. Kakashi leaned back on his palms, looking up, up, up the tall landscape of Ryouma’s body. Like a tree, he thought. Not an oak — Raidou was an oak, solid and sturdy and possessing a very boring woodgrain. Ryouma was something else; dark and rare and scarred but standing, something that could weather lightning storms.
Warm hands cupped Kakashi’s jaw. Ryouma moved slowly, telegraphing his intent, but without hesitation. Kakashi tilted his head up into the kiss.
It still felt illicit, naked mouth to naked mouth, like there was some law being broken. But it was just the one inside Kakashi’s head. Ryouma kept it chaste, at least at first: a simple press of lips, a hand sliding around the back of Kakashi’s head. Then, very gently, he caught Kakashi’s bottom lip between his teeth and pressed down. A heady, hazy shiver tingled over Kakashi’s skin. He made an involuntary sound.
Ryouma broke the kiss, eyes clear and bright, and said, “Sorry. It’s been— I missed you.”
Kakashi planted his face in the center of Ryouma’s chest, in the little dip between pectorals where Ryouma’s shirt was soft and his scent collected like sleepy smoke, and mumbled, “Lie down.”
Ryouma lay down.
The clone bustled about, plugging in the TV, choosing the first movie, laying out snacks and drinks and organizing pillows. Kakashi settled himself into the curve of Ryouma’s body. The TV turned on, playing a burst of static before the movie loaded in. Ryouma slung an arm over Kakashi, pulling him in close. Kakashi tucked his head under Ryouma’s chin.
He felt… small, like this. Like he didn’t quite reach the edges of his own skin. But sheltered, too. Safe to pull inwards and work on getting his house in order. Ryouma could handle the rest for a while. Whatever the rest was.
Behind him, the opening credits started and the clone, mission completed, vanished. Kakashi drifted a little, half-listening to the start of a plot about violence and betrayal and possibly yakuza. Ryouma’s hand made long, steady strokes up and down his back.
Kakashi was somewhere twilighty when a soft question brought him back. “Can you do a little chakra spark?”
“Hm?” Kakashi blinked his eye open.
“Not a jutsu or anything,” Ryouma added quickly. “Just a spark.”
Ryouma had done more than a few chakra-sweeps since Kakashi had woken up, as if he didn’t trust Kakashi’s chakra coils were still attached. A spark didn’t prove much. It was children’s magic. The first sign that a chakra system might be more than just civilian. But it wouldn’t hurt, Kakashi thought. And he didn’t even need his hands.
He pressed his mouth to Ryouma’s throat, near the pulse, and teased a spark free. A tiny flash of blue light between them, before it sank into Ryouma’s skin and made him twitch.
Ryouma swallowed. “Thanks,” he said, a little hoarsely, and resumed stroking Kakashi’s back. “Sleep well.”
“Mmhm,” Kakashi said. He tucked his face down into the warm hollow at the base of Ryouma’s throat, and did exactly that.