Important note: I'm playing with the future tense in this story, so don't be surprised when the tense shifts randomly. If it's incoherent, I'm sorry. It makes sense in my head.

It's a Thankless Job…

By Geno Calamari

Hinata will one day realize that being a medic-nin is not what she wants in life.

In her mind, she sees herself as a beautiful woman who can heal the deadliest injury with the slightest touch. She sees herself moving through ward after ward of patients, reviewing medical records, using her famous bedside manner to brighten the days and spirits of even the most down-trodden of her charges. She'll be strong, brilliant, a glowing figure in the darkness, a beacon of hope… everything she isn't right now.

It's all bullshit. She's young yet and hasn't realized it.

What Hinata does not understand is that being a medic-nin is not sunshine and daisies and picnics on the lawn with the patients. No, being a medic-nin means dealing with ninja injured in combat.

Burns are very common in Fire Country. Blunt force trauma. Mangled limbs. Lacerations. Shinobi are trained to harm one another first and foremost, so it's only natural that dire consequences are a result of combat.

She doesn't stop to think about the pain and suffering she'll witness, doesn't consider the deadly cost of living the life of the ninja. And oh god, all the blood….

It will come to her, like an epiphany, when she is up to her elbows in a boy half her age that got ambushed during a mission that was misclassified as C when it should have been A. When that light in his eyes just… slips away… and there was nothing she could do about it, despite her best efforts, Hinata will realize that the best bedside manner in the world didn't mean shit. It didn't save that boy… even though she really wanted to, 'with all her heart' wanted to.

He might cry out for his mother. Adolescents have a tendency to do those sorts of things when they're scared. It'll break her heart, one way or the other.

The medic-nin training will be a shock. When she's vomiting after class, because she had to dissect a cadaver for a practice autopsy. That'll probably when she gets the first inkling that just maybe this career isn't the right one. Medic-nin do those sorts of things, she'll find out, much to her dismay. But she'll get through it, goddamn it, because she wants to be a medic-nin. And she's too passively stubborn to give up on her childhood dream.

So she'll pass the training, with honors even. People will call her 'a prodigy' and 'a genius' and she'll bask in the glow for a little while and think 'This is what I've been looking for…' Never mind that she had to use stimulants to stay awake because she worked herself so hard she was falling asleep. Never mind that during those four years of intensive training, she never went out on a date or hung out with friends or that her social life is virtually nonexistent. But that's okay, because now she's a medic-nin and it was all worth it, right?

Naruto, who'll become so powerful that he never ever requires medical attention, will look at her and say 'Wow, Hinata-chan! You're living your dream. Good for you!' and smile in that way that'll still make her knees weak. (Because in all her years training, she's never had any time to grow up.) He'll talk politely with her, but then he's always been kind to everyone.

Then he'll pull that fox mask down over his face and walk away. Because he's the commander of the ANBU now and they've got criminals to catch and wars to fight and people to put in hospitals just like hers. He's got to pursue his dream, now that she's made her own a reality. It'll spur him on to even greater heights and she'll see even less of her beloved kitsune.

It will occur to her, years afterward when she's tired and on-call 18 hours-a-day, that she takes double shifts because she doesn't have anything to go home to. He's not there, despite the fact she did all of this so that she could help him, heal his wounds, protect him.

There will be trials, and some of them she will not pass. Lives will be lost under her knife, because she's not a strong person by nature and having someone's life in her hands will not be something she's ever comfortable with.

Hinata wants to nurse, because she's a gentle person. It's a rare kindness and it will be stamped out for a time.

It's called an emergency room for a reason. She'll dread going there, much like she used to dread training with her father in the dojo. It'll become a place of desperate battles against time, struggles for life and loss and the feelings of inadequacy it brings. She'll hate it, because she's a calm and peaceful person.

Ninja with third-degree burns over the majority of their bodies, digits and eyelids and hair and soft flesh burned to cinders but refusing to die.

She'll also learn that medic-nin are called to the scenes of accidents, which are far more gruesome than any battle. Techniques gone wrong could incinerate the user from within. Mistimed jutsu can have dangerous and unforeseen reactions. Bodies crystallized into ice, then shattered. Awful, horrible distending of the flesh due to failed transformation ninjutsu. Scorch marks, all that's left of someone who once lived and breathed and loved.

There is a very fine line between being dangerous enough to kill someone and being dangerous enough to kill yourself. Many people blur the line.

Smears of red in pastoral clearings. Those are the worst. She'll see those in her sleep, the few hours she gets of it a night.

No one understands what a medic-nin sees. The medic-nin, much like the police officer, deals with the lowest and most desperate faction of society. She will see people collapse and die even as they crawl into the lobby. She will see parents crying as they are asked to identify the vivisected corpse of their child. After a while, she'll see death in her dreams.

Eventually, she'll never leave the hospital compound. It'll be much easier to crash in an empty bed than walk the ten minutes home. She'll live on coffee and the few instant foods that she can keep down. Not that she'll ever be very hungry, but it keeps the nurses from worrying overly much.

A patient will die because she's so nervous about making an incision that her hands won't stop shaking.

Life will begin to blur together, and she'll cry to herself when she can get a spare moment away from her colleagues. People will talk and she won't hear them speak about her.

Even Naruto will hear about her declining performance. But he's the Hokage now, and that's far more responsibility than he ever anticipated, so he's too busy to help her. Her old teammates, old friends, will become distant and she'll never stop to think about them some days and some days they're all she can remember.

It will hit bottom. An ANBU will come into the trauma ward, and he'll have only a few hours of life left without major surgery. They'll cart the ANBU in and put him on the table and call for her.

Because no one else can do this sort of thing. No one is as gifted or brilliant as she is. And the truth is that she will be the only one who can pull it off, because she has to operate on the Inner Coils system at the same time as the nervous system, because this poor bastard is all scrambled up inside.

She'll run in, feeling a bit of that inner fire once again. It'll just be adrenaline and that'll fall away as soon as she enters the ER.

Neji will be with him, because he's the captain and he feels responsible for his subordinate. He refuses to leave, so they outfit him with scrubs and tell him to shut up. He will wear a grimace and stare at her in a way that says 'Don't fuck this up.'

The entire time she's prepping, she'll feel his eyes on her. Hinata will not need to look to know. Because she knows more than anyone else that he doesn't need to look at her to see her.

She'll step up alongside the table, because she always was short, and her hands will shake again. Maybe it's the stimulants or the coffee or the late nights or the no sleep, the nurses will wonder. But she'll know. It's because of him.

A whole five minutes will pass before she can quell her racing heart. She'll start up her unique chakra scapel technique to make the necessary incisions, but she won't be able to maintain the length or shape of the blades. She's too nervous.

He'll notice. He always notices. Then he'll say something that'll just exacerbate her tension. But he's watching her with the Byakugan now, and she knows that he's considering the surgery, what she has to do. Asshole comments are his knee-jerk cover for being caught in an uncomfortable situation; she knows this. He's just as nervous as she is, but he's as cool as a block of ice.

His waning patience will snap when the victim's EKG begins to drop and she's still trying to form the blades. Then, before she can even do anything, he'll push her out of the way and flare up his own chakra scalpels. In the short minutes he leaned against the wall and watched her technique, Neji will be able to copy it. Because he can do those sorts of things. He's Neji-nii-san, after all. And he always was handsome and strong and brilliant… invicible… and not at all like her.

The staff will stand dumbfounded until he takes command.

"Tell me what to do," he's gonna say and they will. He'll work, a look of blank concentration plastered on his face, hovering over his fallen teammate and making the proper delicate incisions and applying the little chakra characters in the proper patterns. He'll do it perfectly. And Hinata will never move from the floor while he works.

Thanks to her cousin, the ANBU will live. The doctors will call it 'unorthodox' whenever she's around, but 'brilliant' when they think she can't hear. He'll just smirk, knowing that his incredible genius has saved the day again. At some point, Neji will turn to her and give her a look that plainly says, 'I told you not to fuck up." Then he'll leave without saying goodbye, but that won't be anything new.

It will hit her hard, knowing that her cousin could do something so difficult perfectly the first time through. Watching him work… she'll realize how born to pressure Neji is. How brilliant and strong he was, when she couldn't even pull off the technique properly. (All thought of it being his fault for making her so nervous will be conveniently forgotten.) The man could have become an unsurpassed surgeon, had he the inclination. But he is more attuned to dealing death than staving it off.

She'll spiral into depression. For a time, she will find that nicotine calms the shaking… but only for a time. And cigarettes taste so wretched, but she'll do it because of some misguided belief that she needs to. Anything to stop her shaking hands, because the next one that rolls through those damn doors could be Naruto and he might just slip away like so many others because her hands are twitching when they need to be rock-solid.

She isn't sure she could take it if he died on the table, right there in front of her. And that thought will send her running to the janitor's closet so she can quietly break down without anyone seeing her cool-and-in-control façade slip. She'll forget for a little while.

She will forget that when you are at the bottom, nothing can get any worse.

And then Kiba will come through those double doors. He'll have a fluid IV and be prone, bleeding to death from a dozen injuries, but he'll come. Suddenly the bottom gives out and she's falling farther again.

They'll call for her, and she'll lock up the moment she sets eyes on him. It's Kiba… and she'll realize that she hasn't seen him, said hello to him, for… she won't be able to remember how long. Won't remember when they last had lunch together or when they passed each other on the way to work.

The screeching of the monitors will bring her back. A fight with an Uchiha, they'll tell her.

In that moment, Hinata will realize that this isn't what she wanted to do. But she'll do it anyway, because she… no, Kiba has no choice. That fire will light behind her opaque eyes for the first time in months and she'll suddenly be that sterling girl fresh from training. The girl who could do no wrong and had the world in her cupped hands.

It'll be even worse than it looks, but she won't give up. Because she can't let him die. No, not this one, she'll think. And she'll fight, in her own way, harder than she'd ever fought before.

During the grueling eight hours of surgery, Kiba will crack an eye and stare at her with one of those slit canine pupils and muster up the strength to raise his head just an inch or two. He'll call her beautiful, because Kiba always was stupid like that. Despite all the years since, she'll blush.

"I'm glad I got to see you… one last time…" his voice will trail off, and he'll smile that soft smile she always associated with Kiba. He knows how bad it is. Even if she won't give up, and smiles at him sadly, he will know.

Then the effort of holding up his head through all the anesthetics will catch up to him. He'll pass out and go into shock. The poison in his veins will be making his dreams feverish, but he won't be able to thrash about for how tightly he's cinched down.

The monitors will flatline, that damn monotone she associates with failure. Her eyes will tear.

The other surgeons will call him 'hopeless' and tell her to stop, because his heart has stopped beating for over two minutes now. But she won't give up. Because this is Kiba and Kiba was a person who always looked out for her, comforted her, cheered her… and she never saw it…


She'll get that steel in her blank eyes, even as she forsakes the instruments entirely and begins to inscribe delicate characters around his heart, using blood drawn directly from the heart tenketsu. It'll be all chakra manipulation, and she'll never be able to explain how it works, if it does at all, because she's never done anything like this before. But it just feels right, you know?It's completely theoretical, pushing the envelope of medical jutsu… but they're out of options and feeling is the only thing left.

And she'll place her palm over his heart and force it to work again, half with chakra, half with will. Because it's Kiba's heart and it has always belonged to her, even if she didn't know. Kiba doesn't want to die. Not now. Not after all this. She wants him to live, because she cares for him… a lot more than he realized, and she can't live with the thought of never finding out how much.

His heart will beat again, breathing will start again, and the color will come back to his face.

The other surgeons will stand slack-jawed for just a moment and then explode into action around her. They'll shout and holler and come back more energetic than before, because just like that, she'll have turned galvanized them into action. "No sign of brain damage," they'll say and her heart will sing.

In the end, she'll save him, because even though she may not like it, she's the best damn medic-nin Konoha's got. That thought doesn't fill her with the same pride it used to…

The technique will drain her more than she anticipates. As soon as they move him to a comfortable bed in the ICU, she'll collapse in a chair next to him. She may hate being a medic-nin, but in all her time at the hospital, though all the blood and death, she will have forgotten the most important part of being a medic-nin.

Sometimes, people die. Sometimes, they can be saved. Sometimes, miracles do happen.

Medic-nin make miracles. She makes miracles.

It'll leave a smile on her lips as she falls asleep, her head laying at the tips of his fingers.

Kiba will recover. His brush with the other side will encourage him to remove himself from active ANBU service. Neji will be pissed to lose such an effective tracker, but he'll get over it… maybe. He's got Uchiha to hunt, so he'll be a little busy.

She'll come to see him as many times a day as she can, but for the first week all he does is sleep.

They'll talk when he wakes. Kiba will get her to leave the hospital and take some vacation time. 'You're burned out,' he'll say and she'll be ruffled like an offended bird. But deep down, she will know that he's dead on correct.

She will decide to take that vacation time as soon as Kiba is well enough to take some of his own. They can go together. He will come to understand that she wants to go with him as much as he wants her to come along.

If he realizes that she's tired of being sad, tired of crying and she's grasping at straws in the hope that somehow, someday she might be happy. He knows she used to be in love with the Hokage, but it never really bothered him. That boat will have sailed already anyway, so he had nothing to worry about. Uzumaki will marry his wife in the spring. She will be pregnant by early autumn.

Hinata knows she's not beautiful, she's probably malnourished because she hasn't been taking care of herself these past few years, and she's not really as brilliant or genius as everyone says she is. It's always been desperation that's pushed her to succeed, even in that fight against Neji all those years ago.

Kiba doesn't care, because he's always thought she was beautiful, in a mute, understated, shy sort of way. And he loves that. Because he has always been more than fond of her, even back when they were a team all those years ago.

Dogs are wonderfully, stupidly, blindly loyal that way.

The vacation will pass, as vacations do. Too quickly.

The prospect of returning to the hospital will frighten her, but she will come to understand that what everyone said about her being the best medic-nin in Konoha was true, hard as that was to believe. Now she has a duty to understand her success… no, miracle.

Kiba will smile and support her and go that very day to Naruto's office and hand in his resignation from the ANBU. The Hokage will look at him funny and ask him to reconsider, but Kiba will be adamant. Then he'll apply for a genin team.

Only then will Uzumaki get it. He will always be kind of thick.

Hinata wants to make this work, because she will understand that this is her last (and best) chance for happiness. As much as she will save Kiba, he'll save her as well. She'll come home after work. No more stimulants and coffee to keep from falling asleep standing. No more cigarettes, because her hands won't shake anymore, she will tell herself. No more double-shifts.

Even if she doesn't see it as such, he knew that she tried to bury herself in her work, but that was the problem in the first place. She just set herself into a vicious cycle and he is going to fix that, because she needs someone with a firm hand to keep her on course.

Eventually, she'll be able to walk into work in the morning and not tremble as she steps into her office. There'll be pride in her eyes as she works, because she's really damn good at what she does. That'll be good enough for her. Someday, a family will wait for her at home, but there was still time for that and she knew that Kiba wouldn't let her become like other career kunoichi who 'forgets' about having children until it was too late. And everything will be wonderful and beautiful, because they're gonna make it work.

And they won't invite Neji… okay, they will… if he behaves. But it's neither here nor there, she'll think.

Right now, she has a job to do.

It's a thankless job…

… but somebody's got to do it.

May as well be someone good at it.

Author's notes:

I do not claim to have any medical knowledge, so if I made a mistake, oh well. I won't fix it, because I rather like the way I've assembled this. I was really going for a horrible/gruesome in this one. Emphasis on the negative and all that.

Yes, for those of you wondering, I did just take a shot at Hinata. I think she's naïve and weak-willed and I can really see her falling into a career that she doesn't enjoy and she can't force her way out of it. But mostly because I don't think that this sort of fic happens enough. Everyone demonizes Sakura, Ino, Sasuke, and Neji and all the other characters, even to the point of painting them wildly out-of-character, but Hinata's like some sacred calf or something. I don't care, she just as human as the rest of them and bad things happen to human beings. They fuck up and make mistakes and people die because of them sometimes.

There will be someone this story offends, I'm sure. I'd apologize, but I'm not sorry. It's alright to be angry at me for writing this. I think that may have been what I was going for in the end. My father always said that good writing always made you feel something, and even if someone's yelling at you because of what you wrote, it's still a compliment. There's too much apathy in this world, and if you can get somebody angry, then you've knocked them out of indifference and that's something. Neglect is worse than outright hatred, which is a common theme in Naruto, I think.

Oh, and I've rated this PG-13, because I'm not sure where to put it. If you review, tell me if you think I should change it to R instead. I think I'm treading the comfort line with this one.

I'm Geno Calamari and that's all for today.