Set after the end of ch.238. For Tin's anon!meme, request: "Kabuto/Shizune (Naruto). Not anything fluff, though, please."
There are six levels of restriction for Konoha doctors. Most medics only need access to the first three, picking up their team's orders from the registered nurses on call. The majority of requests come from kunoichi, which Shizune has always found unfair: gender bias, girls and boys and automatic role stereotypes, but at least there are less narcotics pilfered and more stolen contraceptives.
Because she's the Hokage's second-in-command -- for the medical division, only the medical division -- Shizune is trusted with access to the entire hospital along with several of the smaller clinics. Tsunade has established her reign in two departments simultaneously, calling for a revamp of Konoha's hospital at the same time that she wars with the elders. There's only so much that one person can do without becoming exhausted, so it's natural for Shizune to step in, to volunteer for a share of the responsibilities. To help.
Which leaves her with the keys. There are six levels of security for Konoha's medical supplies, and Shizune is the glorified accountant for them all. Tsunade trusts her to keep an eye on them. It's an honor that few receive. Shizune earns it because she's practical in times of duress, and patient enough to go to work each day as a glorified accountant. The armband marking her designation always comes loose and rides down her arm, bunching around her elbow, crumpling the painted 6 into a black squiggle. The doctors who see it nod to her in respect; the visitors don't understand the significance, but they assume she's more important than the standard 2's and 3's.
Even so, when Shizune is making her rounds through the fluorescent-lit halls, heavy keyring bouncing against her hip, all she can think about is her resemblance to an Academy janitor.
Most of her time is spent the same way, filing reports and playing fetch. There are numerous seals and locks protecting the hospital's supplies, and every day it seems that Shizune has to undo them all, negotiating fifteen minutes of security protocol while she inserts key after key. Afterwards, there are always documents to sort. Each floor has a records room to keep organized, contents typed by the various operations performed on that level. The fifth floor was the worst; that one involved digestive disorders.
She pushes open the door to 4-R with a sigh and flicks on the light.
The teenager's mouth comes slowly open in a gape; the flashlight in his hand wobbles, sliding a yellow oval across his lap. Papers skim across the floor as he drops the folder that he'd been reading. A thick scroll is jammed into one pocket, and even as he scrambles to recover the documents, it starts to tip out.
She draws in a deep breath to scream for the guards.
There's only one word that has any chance of stopping her, and he is lucky enough to say it.
Her next instinct is to step inside and close the door behind her to keep him from bolting out. A twist of her fingers latches it from inside; a token defense, but enough to possibly slow him down. Shinobi training kicks in, rattling off a mental list of which weapons she'd remembered to bring to work that morning, and which could be improvised.
He's still talking. "There's a child. A daughter of the innkeeper where I've stayed at the last few nights. According to her father, it's an illness that strikes some of their family -- a degeneration of the chakra coils which connect to the spine. Her case is the worst yet. Please," he repeats, and his voice has a desperation she's heard before, because she's sounded like it more than once -- always alone, always by herself, whenever there's a conundrum that refuses to be solved. "She's already forced to use crutches. If it continues at this rate, she'll lose all mobility in less than six months. Then her vision will fail. My dad... he had a similar case he treated a couple of years back. That's why I'm here. I wanted to reference his notes, but I don't understand all the terminology that he uses."
"Why don't you just go back home and ask him then?" she dares, and is rewarded by a slight wince around his eyes.
"This was my last option."
The only barrier between them is a withered examination table, wide enough to hold a body, long enough to measure a corpse. Old chalk lines dust either end; ancient markers of where a person's head lay in comparison to their feet. Kabuto sets the folder down in the middle. His hands are slow, held out from his body, so Shizune watches his eyes instead to predict his next angle of attack.
When it doesn't come, she speaks. "Why do you care about this child? Sound didn't exercise any mercy the last time you came to gut us. I should know -- I was there to do clean-up of the bodies."
The verbal parry is deft, too deft to be sincere. "War is one matter. Medicine is another. You and I both took our lessons for the same reason. We want to cure people."
She doesn't believe him. She likes the choice of words even less: cure, not save, not heal. Her counterattack comes swiftly, armed by the memory of his talents in battle. "I find it hard to believe that someone with your training is having problems with any patient."
He laughs. She hates him for it. The sound is toneless, lacking all humor, easy to sympathize with. "I wish I could say that I know everything. But I don't. Some things take practical experience to master. I hate to admit it, but there are limits to even my knowledge."
Arrogance matches arrogance; Shizune gives a toss of her head, folding her arms. "How can I trust that? You're Orochimaru's lackey. For all I know, this is just a cover-up for some disease you're trying to infect us with, or another child you want to steal away."
Kabuto doesn't lash back. The only response is a sigh as he fists his hands against the table, leaning forward; the front of his shirt is dusty from the filing cabinets. "Tell me, Shizune," he offers. Her name sounds dangerously familiar on his tongue. "Is there anything you don't admit to your master?"
A protest is on her tongue before she can wrap it up with wit. "I tell the Lady Tsunade everything. Everything," she stresses, glaring at the pale-haired spy. "Particularly about unwelcome guests."
"You're a good servant then. Better than I am. If you could save a life by talking to me," he continues smoothly, transforming sheepishness into a challenge, "would you?"
She lifts her chin. The back of her mouth tastes like the sour tea she'd had that morning, too tired to brew a fresh pot in the hospital's waiting room. "Tell me where the girl is, and I'll go take care of her myself."
"And if you knew? Then you'd discover where Lord Orochimaru is. I can't let that happen either. That's why I need your help."
She shakes her head, obeying her instincts and their growing sense of unrest. What she knows of Kabuto involves blood and heresy: the fight between them had been messy, ugly, and she hadn't expected to win it. All she had hoped for was to buy time.
The single overhead light flickers. For one minute, Kabuto's glasses shine, and then he straightens up, studying her.
"I'm not asking you this as a fellow Leaf-nin," he whispers finally, and she thinks she can see a hint of despair despite all her efforts to ignore it. "I'm asking you this as a doctor."
Which I'm not, is her first, bitter reaction. The breakthroughs that she's witnessed in the employ of Tsunade have been no less than astounding, but Shizune is a bodyguard now, not a researcher. She gave up all chances of advancement years ago, when Tsunade first left the Village. It hadn't been a choice.
"You can make a difference here," he repeats, splaying his hands across the documents. "Help me understand."
"Why?" she snarls back, wanting him gone even as her own curiosity flutters for an answer. The attention makes her uncomfortable. A spy is dangerous the longer that they speak -- but Kabuto was a doctor's child, Kabuto was a student. Kabuto knows medicine. Not just poisons, which every shinobi is taught since childhood, but how to help people.
She wants to trust that even as she wants him dead.
He doesn't disappoint her.
"Because you're the same as I am. An assistant to a Sannin who takes it for granted that you'll always be there, always ready, always loyal." Sliding the scroll onto the table, he nudges the diagnosis in her direction. It rolls a few inches before coming to a halt, resting innocently on the hospital file. "Because I'm offering you something. A secret that's yours -- yours alone, that you don't have to share with Tsunade. A time when someone came to you, not to the famous medical genius. I know what that's like, Shizune. This case is just between you and me."
The outer string hangs loose off the scroll's casing. Shizune uses it to pull the document closer, watching Kabuto even as she peels the cool parchment open. The man's hair is disheveled; he has a grass stain on one elbow, a shadow under his eyes, and her attention marks off the details for later review.
I will remember these things about him, she tells herself stubbornly. I will memorize all the little clues and even if I don't report to Tsunade, then I'll still know what Sound is planning. Helping him helps me. It will help Leaf too.
Kabuto's penmanship is remarkably clear for a spy. Even as Shizune attempts to read the girl's case using only peripheral vision, she's drawn to absorption of the words. The usual physical statistics are easy to skim over: eight years of age, female, blood type B positive. History of light-headedness, no allergies.
She's in the middle of reading through a review of the patient's family when Kabuto's fingers settle on her shoulders. Somehow he'd walked around behind her while she was busy concentrating; Shizune's body freezes even as she gathers herself for the blow she's sure will come, but Kabuto's hands aren't hurting her. They're soft, almost hesitant as they walk along her back. His fingers reach her neck and gather her hair up, holding the strands away from her skin and allowing the air currents to tickle her spine.
Her hands clench. "What are you doing?"
He lets go and steps away. The intimacy vanishes. "I'm sorry. I'll be outside."
"No!" The outburst is stifled quickly; Shizune lowers her voice to a growl. "Someone will catch you. Stay -- stay here where I can see you," she orders, nerves irritable enough to howl.
The lingering heat from Kabuto's fingers feels like a dozen cinnamon blisters on her skin, tight and uncomfortable. Dimly she remembers the rumors: that Orochimaru can inject poison with his bite, or apply one of those damned Curse Seals with his tongue. One of her hands comes up and rubs angrily at the spot where Kabuto touched her. It doesn't feel like poison, but her body is humming anyway.
He circles the table, a slow orbit that brings him back around in front of her. There he stops. "I came to you," the man repeats, the emphasis gentle, but relentless. "I need your help."
"I haven't promised anything yet."
She doesn't want to admit just how easily those words plunge past her defenses. She's always been susceptible to vulnerability -- it's a reflex that's been honed even sharper from taking care of Tsunade time and time again when the Sannin goes drinking and retching and borrowing money to cover her gambling fees. Kabuto's loyalty is a known factor, but his honesty is less certain, and Shizune hates the idea that he might be real.
Shaking herself back to the task at hand, the woman focuses on the diagnosis laid out on the table. "Did you try -- "
"Yes," he murmurs back, already reading her mind. One finger extends to indicate a line of delicate kanji, stating the chemical mixture with the appropriate times of ministration. "Here. Unresponsive."
"Repeat the dose. Your father's records," and she doesn't even pause over that line, that reminder that Kabuto had once been a Leaf-nin sleeper, "indicate that the coils must be fully saturated before there will be any change in their energy structure. You didn't provide the patient with enough time to adjust to the supplement. See?"
His hair whispers against hers as he leans forward, both of them focused on the charts. Their shadows meet and wrestle. And the smell of him -- fresh rain, fresh dirt from the road -- reminds her suddenly of how little time she's actually been allowed outside. Work has kept her latched to the clinics.
"But won't that cause a problem with the protein inhibitors?"
"No." She gives an impatient tap of one foot. "Not yet. You can up the dose by another 0.5 ccs without concern for any buildup, but you'll want to make sure the patient is fully hydrated at all times. If you continue injections for a week, you should be able to wean the patient onto a common herbal substitute that will help keep her chakra stable once her coils have a chance to recover."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Yes, this will fix it," she thinks she says aloud, but his hands are off the scroll now, his hands are brushing against her throat. She pulls back automatically, shoulders tensing in defense -- but his thumbs are tracing along her jaw, fingers in her scalp, soft as razor whispers.
"Thank you," he whispers into her ear. "You've just saved a life."
Then he's pulling her across the table and she's meeting him halfway, the scroll crumpling under one knee. Papers hiss. They're fighting again, and it's just as ruthless as the stone battlefield of their first time, when neither can allow the other domination. She opens her mouth; he kisses her, a sloppy, hungry gesture that's as much to block her from spitting needles as it is to swallow any protest.
She makes up for it by grabbing his wrist and twisting. The tension in her body feels like a jutsu suppressed, burning into her body; his limbs are supple in comparison, allowing her to pin him with her weight until she can trust that he's not reaching for a kunai. Her muscles are still wary, still angry. She knees him in the stomach in revenge.
Her fingers leave bruises behind on his skin, and she's glad, glad to win this tiny struggle between Leaf and Sound when she pushes him down, glad that it doesn't even matter what side they're on because the case involves a third-party innocent. She's tired from being on guard all the time. She's tired of war.
Kabuto groans when she bites his shoulder. His hipbones grind against the heels of her hands. His skin tastes bitter, bitter with all the lies, all the poisons, all the death that medics bring when they should be healing others. Dark hair mixes with light; Shizune fists her hands in his shirt as she bends over him, panting into his chest and hearing him moan softly to the ceiling.
She makes him leave first, not trusting the man in the records room alone. He is tactful enough not to say anything in farewell. His hair is milk-grey in the light as he scoops up his glasses from the floor, lips swollen from her teeth.
"Another 0.5 ccs." Her voice stops him as he ties the scroll closed again, but he doesn't turn to face her. "Don't forget."
He unlatches the door and is gone.
Shizune sits alone until the hostility ebbs out of her body. A brief self-diagnosis eases her suspicions: there were no drugs introduced into her system by the contact, nothing exchanged but normal bodily mess.
She gathers the scattered papers back into their folder and files it properly under the case name.
Later that evening, when Tsunade's asking for the classified serum samples they'd recovered from the latest Sound foray, Shizune discovers empty shelves where antivenoms should have been. And not just those vials, but more: restricted chakra boosters, blood coagulants, experimental drugs to heighten the senses. They've all been cleaned out. The security seals are unbroken; there's no sign of assault to the S-6 cabinet, which indicates someone with access performed the deed.
As her hand darts to her waist, she realizes that there are only five keys left on the ring.
The last is nowhere to be found.