Author's Note : This is the work of a french fan. I don't own the world of Naruto and english isn't my mother tongue. Since this is unBetaed, expect some mistakes; if it bothers you, please send me a nice review with the correction and I'll fix it.
The door of the Inuzuka clinic opened quietly, letting through a warm breeze. Hana was washing her hands in the backroom and listened distractedly as her aunt greeted their customer.
"Hatake-san, here for your usual order? You're a bit early."
"Ah, no, Inuzuka-san," came the lazy drawl from their regular customer. "I'm here for Bisuke. He's complaining about stomachache."
"Poor boy. Go to the back then, Hana-chan will take a look at him."
The veterinarian quickly dried her hands and stepped towards the examination table as Hatake Kakashi walked in. The small ninken he was carrying had tan and brown fur, long ears and round eyes. The poor dog looked miserable, squirming in his master's arms and whining faintly.
"Good afternoon Hatake-san, Bisuke," Hana greeted them as the Haimaru brothers watched quietly from the corner.
The jounin nodded to her but didn't bother explaining himself again, knowing that her hearing range was just as good as his own. He carefully laid down Bisuke on the table and petted him gently when he tried to move closer to his warmth.
"Let's see what's wrong," Hana murmured as she put a hand above the dog's belly and closed her eyes to focus on her diagnostic jutsu. After a minute, she hummed thoughtfully. "Did you bring him to any swamp area recently, Hatake-san?"
"Yes, during our last mission, one week ago."
She nodded and looked up. "It's a parasite worm. Someone drank where he shouldn't have..."
"Maa, Bisuke, you know better," Hatake scolded softly. Every ninken was taught to wait for their master to provide their food and water outside of Konoha, unless they had been given the green light to hunt. Water purification pills weren't only for humans.
The ninken whined. "You were busy and I only drank a mouthful."
"As you can see, a mouthful is enough to make you ill," Hana noted with a small pat on the dog's head. "Fortunately, you brought him early enough, Hatake-san. I'll give you pills. He has to take them on an empty stomach. The first one right now, the second one in two hours then one in the morning for three days. Will you be able to watch over him?"
"I should be."
Hana nodded, understanding that an elite jounin like him could be called away for emergency much more often than it happened to her. "Bring him here if anything changes."
"Aah, thank you."
She went to the lab bench to prepare the drugs, asking Haimaru to bring her what she needed as she set to work. From the corner of her eyes, she saw Bisuke snuggle up to his master's vest. The jounin was petting him with tender care, humming low when some whines became louder. Hana hid a soft smile behind the collar of her medic coat and focused on grinding the plants she needed.
At her feet, Ru whined softly. She nodded her head. The younger of the triplets climbed on the examination table to curl around the sick and smaller dog.
"Look at who's keeping you company, Bisuke…" Hatake scratched the back of his head sheepishly as he admitted: "Maa, Hana-san, I'm afraid I don't know your ninken individual names or how to differentiate them."
She shook her head. "Few people do. Boys. Introduce yourselves."
"Hai!" The one standing beside the backdoor said.
"Ma." The one curled around her feet yawned.
"Ru," finished the one on the table as he nuzzled Bisuke.
Kakashi snorted. She shrugged. "They don't need fancier names. The eldest is Hai. You may notice he's slightly bigger. Ma has a scar on his left forepaw. Ru has a small slit on his right ear." There were many other ways to differentiate them of course: they didn't have the same posture, habits or personality, but those were the easiest for outsiders. Even Kiba had troubles sometimes if he couldn't see the physical differences.
"I see. Thank you then, Ru." Hatake offered his hand to the youngest brother who licked it without hesitation. "They talk?"
"Only when they want to. Ma and Ru don't like it so they don't train and can only speak small specific words. Hai is better at it – his father made sure he was, as the eldest. He can communicate with my teammates when needed."
"Their father is your mother's ninken, isn't he?"
"Kuromaru, yes. He can be a slave driver. Isn't that right, Hai?"
The ninken whined before rolling on his back, paws up and tongue hanging out to play dead in a very theatrical way. The humans snorted and Hana shook her head. "Being the eldest, such a hardship…" she teased before dosing each pill and rolling them in a perfect ball. She moved closer to Bisuke and offered him the first dose.
The small ninken whined and withdrew. "Smells bad."
Kakashi poked him on the muzzle. "But it'll make you feel better. Be a good boy and swallow what you're supposed to, Bisuke."
The dog relented and Hana went to finish the other pills. Hatake nodded and thanked her as she gave him a small paper bag. He put it away in one of his vest's pocket and carefully lifted Bisuke in his arms before taking his leave politely.
Hana washed her hands and her workspace with great care before relenting and glaring at her ninken. She could feel their stares. "Oh, shut up, boys. I'm allowed to like someone who takes such good care of his ninken and isn't family, alright?" The Haimaru brothers lolled their tongue at her mischievously. She grumbled and turned her back to them as they continued to mock her silently. "And remember our deal, not a word to anyone about this, are we clear?" She sent them a glare over her shoulder. If her mother or brother learn about this, she would never hear the end of it.
Two days later, she stepped into the clinic at nine in the morning to find Bisuke lying on the examination table.
"Oh, Bisuke. Since when are you here, boy?"
"Not long. Kakashi said 'sorry'. He was in a hurry."
"It's alright," she assured him, petting him softly. "Ru, find a good cushion for him." Her youngest ninken was always eager to help in the clinic and comfort her patients. He cuddled with Bisuke after a quick examination to make sure everything was going smoothly.
Once she had tended to her little patient, Hana focused on her work for the day.
When Hatake came back, late in the afternoon, she was reading a medicinal scroll with Bisuke on her lap, petting him absent-mindedly. The Haimaru brothers had left to train with some of their canine friends and she had a lot to study.
A soft cough startled her and she spun around in her chair to see Hatake leaning against the door. She hadn't heard or smelt him. Elite jounin, indeed.
"Hatake-san, come in. Bisuke seems to feel much better already; he recovered his appetite a few hours ago."
"That's good to hear. I'm sorry for dumping him on you without a word."
"Any ninken is welcome here, anytime. I was just worried he had to wait alone." She scratched Bisuke's chin and smiled when he wagged his tail with pleasure.
"Maa, Hana-san, you're spoiling him." Hands in his pockets, the jounin stepped forward and leaned above them, tutting softly. "Don't get any idea about pretending to be sick to see the nice veterinarian, boy, you hear him?"
Hana raised a questioning eyebrow.
Hatake shrugged. "It happened. Pakkun had a crush on your aunt when he was a pup. He wouldn't stop whining about going to live with the Inuzuka. It was a bad time."
Hana chuckled at the tilt of Hatake's head. Even with most of his face covered, he was able to pull off resignation with dry humor. She lifted Bisuke from her lap. "Well, we can't have that. As much as I love ninken, I wouldn't want to alter the efficiency of your summons. I know how that feels."
"Like a nasty headache?"
They nodded in commiseration.
As she stood up to see him to the door, knowing that her aunt manning the desk had left for the kennels, a few barks came from the open window. One of the Haimaru brothers was leaning over the windowsill with a little guest on his head.
"Yo!" Pakkun said, paw raised toward her in greeting. "The scroll has been delivered, boss. Bisuke, you look better."
Surprisingly, the tan dog growled and turned his head away. Hatake poked him on the muzzle. "Don't, boy. If Pakkun hadn't told me you were sick, it would have been worse."
"Whatever. Let the pup whine," Pakkun responded with a shrug before jumping on the desk besides Hana to nudge her hand. Ignoring Bisuke's protest about being called a pup, Pakkun enjoyed his petting with a blissful look. "It's been too long Hana-chan. Did you miss me?"
"I can't say I did, Pakkun, mostly because you're hurt when I see you. I'm never eager to see my patients sooner."
Pakkun whined. "That's because Kakashi is boring. I told him to bring me when he comes buy our food but he never listens."
"I wonder why," Hatake muttered as the pug roll on his bag for a belly rub.
At the window, the other two brothers appeared. Haimaru barked enthusiastically. Pakkun immediately wiggled his tail. "Oh, that's a good idea!"
Torn between glaring at her ninken and wanting to kiss them, Hana rubbed her jaw and explained to Hatake: "The Haimaru brothers are asking for a… playdate with all your summons. If you're willing, I can make dinner for everyone."
"Maa, I don't want to intrude…"
"You won't. Mum is on a long mission and Kiba is on a camping trip with the academy." She shifted uneasily, wondering what would convince the jounin to agree. Considering he was coming back from some mission or another, maybe some promise of rest. "You can keep me company without being bothered and get some homemade food in exchange?" She offered with a bit of uncertainty. Oh dear, she was bad at this. Well, it was a good thing she wasn't planning to ask him for a date (she wasn't delusional).
"Come on, Kakashi!" Pakkun pleaded, soon joined by Bisuke: "Please, boss? Please, please, please!"
The jounin scratched his mask before shrugging. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt."
"Oh yeaah! Inuzuka dinner, here I come!" Pakkun shouted, paws raised to the sky as he sat on his hind legs. Hai nipped his ear and the other brothers barked. "Maa, of course, I like you too, guys, but… food!"
His master facepalmed and sighed. "Last chance to get out of this before they eat you out of house and home, Hana-san."
Hana chuckled and shook her head. "It won't be the first time or the last." She took off her medic coat and proceeded to close the clinic. When she turned around after locking the door, Hatake had summoned his ninken and told them the good news. The ensuing clamor only faded when they scattered for a game of tag.
The jounin watched his dogs play and enjoy themselves. "I suppose it has been a while since they had someone else to play with." For a second, she thought he sounded a little guilty before he turned to her with a smile. "Thanks for the invitation, Hana-san. Need help with the food?"
"I won't say no to that."
They walked deeper in the compound to the clan's head house. Inuzuka's houses were traditional, built with wood around a private courtyard to provide open space. Hana had started a little medicinal garden along the patio, with around ten different herbs and many more planned. Now that she had finally managed to train every ninken in staying away from them, she could try some more delicate plants.
It was a warm evening in September. With all the paper doors opened to increase airflow, they were surrounded by mint and lavender's scents as they prepare their companions' dinner in a comfortable silent. It was routine for both of them and they only spoke to share some advices or comments on their ninken's preferences.
Hana went to the kitchen to prepare their own meal as Hatake filled eleven bowls with water. Feeding their companion before themselves was one of the first lessons Inuzuka clansmen learnt. Hatake seemed to share a similar mindset, if only because he would be more likely to have some peace during his meal that way.
As Hana set the table in the living room half an hour later, she caught sight of the jounin lying down on the patio, reading his infamous book peacefully. With his bare feet against the wood floor, knees bent and one arm under his head, it was the more relaxed she had ever seen him. She took a few seconds to watch him quietly before calling him.
"I hope you don't expect anything fancy," she said when he stepped inside. "I'm a relatively good cook but ask me to make things like those cute bentos trending currently and it's a disaster."
"Anything edible and homemade who is done by other hands than mine is quite enough of a treat for me."
"Good. Last time I tried too hard, I nearly made Kiba cry when I told him his onigiri was supposed to look like Akamaru. I admit it looked more like a ghost."
He chuckled as they sat down at the low table.
Hana ate slowly. Table manners weren't a priority in the family but she wasn't willing to embarrass herself in front of her guest. As they ate in silence, she kept her eyes on her food until she went to fill her bowl with noodles from a shared dish and saw that her guest had already ate twice more than she had. She blinked in surprise before remembering how one of her older friend, Kurenai, used to complain about him eating too fast to keep his mask on. That wasn't very healthy. "If you wish to eat slower, Hatake-san, I can promise you I won't try to look," she offered, keeping her eyes down. She was curious, of course, but she had manners (where did they come from? No-one knew).
A few minutes later, he stated: "Maa, you should call me by my first name, Hana-san."
She nodded, accepting without a word, but hid a small smile behind her bowl of soup when she noticed he had slow down.
They were finishing their plates when incoming noises warned them of their ninken's return. The ensuing contest to reach their meal first shattered the calm the shinobi had enjoyed. Hana watched with narrowed eyes as Haimaru pushed one of the smaller summons away. She whistled sharply, immediately reminding the brothers of their manners. They looked up at her sheepishly and let their guests reached their bowls first. Only then the peace returned.
Satisfied, Hana checked that Kakashi had put down his chopsticks before looking at him. His eye was curious as he stared back at her.
"Maa, I don't remember ever having such a quiet time with an Inuzuka before. Do you never shout Hana-san?"
She snorted. "Oh, I do. At my idiot of a brother, quite often. It seems like it's the only way he listens sometimes – I blame mum." She pushed away her hair from her face and shrugged. "I like the quiet. I'm definitely not used to it but I'm enjoying it as long as I have it. Would you like some tea, Kakashi-san?"
"Please." He nodded and stood up as she cleared the table. "Let me help. Pakkun, behave."
"I'm an example of perfect behavior!"
"Then keep your paws to your own bowl if you want Hana-san to invite you again."
Hana laughed softly as she stepped in the kitchen and distantly heard Pakkun's whine. Kakashi followed her and put down the dishes next to the sink.
"If I were you, I wouldn't invite them, they're uncouth scoundrel," he murmured with false honesty.
She chuckled. "One would wonder what their summoner must be like."
"The worst rascal ever, I heard."
She laughed frankly and raised her voice to answer the ninken's protests: "You are welcome anytime, boys!"
"You will regret this," Kakashi announced solemnly, a glint of mischievousness in his eye betraying his satisfaction.
"I don't doubt it," she agreed with a wide smile.
But not today.
They spent the evening drinking tea and reading peacefully while their canine friends slumbered in a big pile, exhausted by their games. Kakashi had resumed his previous position, lying down with a cushion under his head. On the other side of a tea tray, Hana was sitting with her feet dangling from the patio.
"It looks like some heavy reading," Kakashi noted after a while, glancing at the scroll she was furrowing her brow at.
"Iryou ninjutsu. I need to understand this before my shift at the hospital tomorrow afternoon or I won't hear the end of it." She sighed and ran a hand through her hair – she had let it down after doing the dishes. "I hate biochemistry," she sighed and put her scroll away. She needed a break. Lying down, parallel to Kakashi, she watched the darkening sky, pleased to find the crescent moon already up.
"I thought you only worked at the clinic?"
She snorted. "Oh, I wish. No, as a registered medic-nin, I have a quota of hours to do at the hospital. Since I'm specialized as a veterinarian, it's cut by half, but still. My goal is to become a field medic. Then I would be able to share my time between the clinic and the missions only. No more smelly hospital. Plus, it would be more interesting." She smiled brightly, excited by the prospect.
Kakashi hummed quietly. "A worthy goal. When do you plan on it?"
She deflated and pouted slightly. "Sensei says I'm not ready yet. I have to be able to cleanse the blood from basic toxins." She nudged her scroll despondently. "I hate poisons."
He chuckled and she glared at him, pouting more. His eye crinkled and he waved a hand. "I'm sure you'll do fine. You're smart, it won't resist you for long."
Appeased, she nodded and grabbed the scroll. "Damn right!" Ignoring his small chuckles, she went back to work.
When Kakashi took his leave an hour later, he thanked her with a small bow and she reiterated her invitation for another time. Something told her he wouldn't come if her mother and brother were at home but maybe if she was alone again… Ah well, it didn't matter. It was nice while it lasted.