Just a Smile

By: Alesca Munroe

Disclaimer: They're not mine. Won't be, ever. I made up Hanabi's team, and put her in this fic because she seemed to fit the bill. And needed some screen time.

Notes: I got bored and wanted to try writing in present tense for once. This probably doesn't flow or make sense, but I tried, and any criticism is welcome. Enjoy.

Kotetsu knows quite a bit of random information. Some of it is from gossip that travels through the Hokage's office, but most of it is what he learned just by observing. Lately, he has been observing people's smiles.

He knows that usually when Tsunade smiles, she has just gotten her way, whether it comes to sake or affairs of state. Sometimes she smiles when Naruto passes by, even on the days that he calls her an old hag and it takes all of her self restraint to keep from throwing him off the Hokage Mountain. The woman smiles when Jiraiya comes by, even though more often than not he will end up leaving with a few new bruises.

It's hard to tell when Kakashi is smiling if you're not looking at his visible eye, but he smiles more than he lets on. When the Jounin smiles, it's because his team is working well now that all the pieces are together again. It's because Jiraiya's latest book has come out, or when he makes Iruka flustered enough to turn that odd shade of red. Kotetsu doesn't and probably won't ever understand why Kakashi interacts with Iruka the way he does, though Izumo says something about getting Iruka out of his comfort zone when Kotetsu asks him. He smiles sadly when his team acts like his own team did back in the day, and gives a tight little not-quite smile when he receives a mission that he would rather not do.

Sasuke doesn't like to smile, but he does when he thinks no one is watching. Ever since the business with Orochimaru, he's been a little more careful and doesn't show a lot of emotion, because emotions are what got him into that mess in the first place. Sometimes, however, he can't help but smile back when Naruto smiles at him, or when Sakura proves again that she is worthy to be on a team of legends.

Hanabi smiles too, but bitterly. It's well known to those who look that she doesn't want the honor of the clan leader title, but she doesn't want to be given the Branch House seal either. She forces a smile when Hinata argues with the clan elders over the issue because she knows that for all her trying, Hinata is only prolonging the inevitable. Kotetsu sees her almost resentful smile as she watches her teammates, one of the many Kamizuki boys and a clanless orphan out to prove himself to the world, mock spar in the mission room before the morning crowd and their Jounin sensei arrive. There is a real smile for an instant when her teammates gift her with twin dazzling grins before including her in their morning romps one day, and then the crowd arrives and her smile is gone.

Genma's smiles are mostly forced these days. He never left the ANBU after rejoining them during the early years of the current Hokage's reign, and it's beginning to take its toll. Raidou tries to help his friend, but there's not much he can do. Occasionally, Genma will walk in whistling, but those days are few and far between. It's Kotetsu's opinion that he finally realized that he was getting to be almost past his prime, and that it bothers him that he hasn't gotten settled down with a nice girl yet. No one asks Kotetsu's opinion, though, so he doesn't give it.

Izumo worries a lot, so he smiles about as much as Genma or Hanabi gives a real smile. He's supposed to take over as clan head when the current Kamizuki clan head dies, and that day seems to be coming closer. Izumo hasn't lived in the estate of the House of the Divine Moon for over a decade, and had planned to keep it that way. Most of his generation of Kamizuki died in the kyuubi attack and the war with Sound, and the few remaining were deemed unfit, much to their relief. Izumo doesn't understand how being an errand boy for the Hokage in times of peace and a guard in times of war makes him fit to be a clan leader, but then he doesn't seem to get how truly capable he is – they all insist that he apply for Jounin, with the skills he has – so that doesn't say much in his favor on the matter.

When Kotetsu forgets what Izumo looks like when he smiles, he pulls out a scrap book of the old days of delusions of grandeur and invincibility and reminds himself. These pictures show that to smile is nothing new for the man, but just a smile, a real smile, from Izumo, from anyone these days, is something to treasure.

Kotetsu walks into the mission room one morning where he's due to meet Izumo and finds most of the usual before-hours group there: a tired Genma, Hanabi and her team, Iruka, Tsunade, and Kakashi and his team. Izumo is at the mission desk, sorting papers already. All of them need cheering up.

"Good morning," he greets them cheerfully, smiling brightly. They all look at him like he's crazy. He probably is, but he keeps smiling. "It's good to be alive."

Slowly, slowly, Sasuke smiles. It's faint, but it's there. This causes Sakura and Naruto to brighten, which cheers Iruka into forgetting momentarily that Kakashi was three weeks late with his last mission report. Hanabi tries to frown, but her teammates return the greeting exuberantly, grinning cheesily so Kotetsu knows they were doing something that their elders would disapprove of, and she ends up half-smiling at their attempts at subtle. Kakashi smiles before opening his book again and Genma grins for the first time in weeks before walking out whistling. Tsunade smiles in relief that the Jounin is somewhat normal again before heading up to her office. Kotetsu walks over to his partner and beams at him until Izumo ducks his head to hide the fact that he, too, is smiling.

"You're crazy," Izumo declares as they follow Tsunade. "Absolutely mental."

"Why's that?" Kotetsu grins cheekily. "It's just a smile."