Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or the characters contained therein, they belong to Masashi Kishimoto who is kind enough to let fans write fiction. I make no profit from this nor do I intend to.
A/N: I'm working under the assumption that one way or another Sasuke eventually makes it back to Konoha and is accepted back into the ranks of shinobi. This fic is for FlameTwirler who has been kind enough to encourage me to post this and offer services as a beta. Thank you! (I'm sure I'd still be waffling over this now if you didn't poke at me about it. :D)
Chapter One: Thank You
Just as she was finishing up with her last patient before her much anticipated afternoon tea break a familiar but unnamed jonin discretely cleared his throat. She had to fight to keep from starting since she hadn't even heard him enter the exam room. Absently she figured she might be allowing her non medical skills to get a little rusty. She nodded her acknowledgement before turning back to the young patient before her.
"You're all set to go Sota, however," she made sure to catch his brown eyes with her own green eyes to stress the importance of what she was going to say to him. "I don't want to hear of you attempting to climb trees again on your own without proper training and supervision from your sensei. Just because your friends are doing it doesn't mean that you should be too. Understood?"
Grave brown eyes widened and the small child nodded. He hadn't told her how he had broken his arm and ankle and accumulated any number of minor scratches and bruises, she had somehow just known. Unknowingly she had just perpetuated one of the many rumors amongst the younger generation, the rumor in question being that she was scary smart as in too smart to be human. The reasoning was that she would have to be, to be able to deal with Naruto and Sasuke as if they were minor annoyances rather than two of the strongest shinobi in the village. It was well known that all she needed was either a well placed glare or petite fist to stop either of them in their tracks. Hastily the small child hopped down from the table and rushed out, leaving the medic alone with the unknown jonin.
Her eyes made their way questioningly to the quiet shinobi, noting with slight irritation that his eyes had been fixed several inches below hers. An eyebrow twitched, unnoticed by the unknown jonin. "Since I don't know you personally and you appear to be uninjured, I'm assuming that this would be a business call?" She hoped the slight stress on 'business' would relocate his eyes to a more appropriate place.
His eyes snapped up to meet hers with only a slight tint of pink hinting that he knew he had been caught by the ever observant medic nin. Quickly covering his social faux pas, he nodded and silently handed her a small scrap of paper. He took one last moment to take in the appearance of the young kunoichi while she was examining the paper he had handed her before hastily taking his exit. A vision she may be, but her temper was legendary amongst those of her own generation and older, and he figured the less he said the less likely he would be on the receiving end of it.
As he exited he vaguely wondered if he should check the dice his watch partner had used to decide who would have the 'pleasure' of delivering the message. This was the 9th time in a row he had lost using his partner's dice and things were beginning to look a little suspicious. Granted he had just been given a chance to see the well-known kunoichi up close and personal, so perhaps losing this time hadn't been such a bad thing after all. Now he could personally attest to her reputed assets.
Briefly he wondered if he might have a chance with a kunoichi like her. After a moment's thought he quickly dismissed it as a lost cause for two quite notable reasons. Absently he sighed and wondered if there would ever be someone brave or rather foolish enough to openly go for the attractive yet ever single medic. He grinned and inwardly hoped so, though he certainly wouldn't allow himself to be the imprudent one. After all, the village could certainly use some drama not related to a life and death situation, though granted with her two friends it could unintentionally end up that way.
Curiously she unfolded the bit of paper, inwardly frowning at feeling the jonin's eyes on her again before he made his exit, to find a fairly cryptic two word message. 'He's back.'
"Shit!" she swore as the meaning of the messenger and message became clear. He was actually early and she hated it when one of her boys showed up early – especially this one. Nothing good ever came of him returning sooner than anticipated, particularly since he had practically made a career of being late.
Quickly she made her way to her small office, shed her long white medic's overcoat, and grabbed the special kit she kept for such occasions. Upon closing her office door she moved the ridiculous flower shaped marker from 'on duty' to 'special' before taking her leave of the hospital. She had been scheduled for a tea break and then rounds until the end of her shift, but whenever her marker was placed on 'special' someone would be found to cover for her.
As she hopped from rooftop to rooftop with the help of a little well placed chakra her mind frantically searched for an excuse. She preferred plausible, but it was getting to the point where anything, so long as she hasn't used it before, would do. If it hadn't gotten so difficult she may have found the situation humorous, with old roles seemingly reversed.
All too quickly she found herself at the foot of a familiar yellow, slightly shabby apartment building. Once she would have paused uncertainly at the entrance long enough to gather both her self and her courage before entering. But now that she had been here so many times she no longer felt the need. She still felt like an intruder, but a tolerated one – a necessary evil so to speak.
Allowing her feet to correctly guide her though the maze of hallways and stairwells to his floor on their own she permitted her mind to continue the search for an excuse for her unexpected visit. Much too quickly, and still lacking an excuse, she finally found herself stopping outside his door. She could sense that he was in, but only barely. The pink haired kunoichi couldn't tell if it was because he was halfheartedly trying to hide himself from her or if he was in more need of her skills than usual.
Actual panic started to edge its way into her mind at the thought that this time he may truly be seriously injured and in need of her help. This was the real reason she came running upon receiving those cryptic scraps of paper. When one of her 'boys' called she came, and when they didn't call she came running. This particular one never called, so she always came; and though he never thanked her she still felt that on some level she was appreciated.
Shaking her head and brushing those troubling thoughts from her mind she brought her hand up to the door and firmly knocked. She waited. After a few moments she sighed, realizing that it would appear that he was going to try and avoid her this time. Absently she wondered if she should have sent his apartment manager a larger fruit basket the last time she had taken extreme measures to enter the stubborn shinobi's dwelling, seeing as how it appeared he hadn't learned from the last time. Sighing again inwardly she decided to grant him one more chance before resorting to force. Cautiously she brought her hand to knock again only to be stopped mid-knock by the slow opening of the door.
He eyed her warily with his lone dark eye for a moment before sighing audibly and opening the door wide enough for her to enter. He winced as he moved, "figured you might show up sooner rather than later…" He had removed his vest, over-shirt, gloves, pouches, sandals and leg wrappings leaving him in the form fitting navy blue sleeveless undershirt that also formed his mask and his baggy blue pants.
Cautiously she entered, turning to give him a concerned look. It must have been worse than usual for him to just let her in without asking for another of her increasingly lame excuses or an argument. Though she could see no obvious external signs of injuries other than his stiff movements, she figured there must be something he needed her to do. He just didn't seem to be in bad enough shape to willingly allow her to help. Otherwise, why would he have let her in without a fight, verbal or otherwise?
"Go on through to the kitchen, I'll be right there," he gestured somewhat stiffly for her to continue on through to his kitchen. Oddly enough she had found through experience that it was the largest and brightest room in his bachelor flat. Carefully she set the larger than average medic kit down next to his table and remained standing, waiting for him to join her. She didn't have long to wait. He entered a few moments later removing his forehead protector and wearily running his other hand through his already messy hair. He opened his Sharingan and regarded her silently, unreadable.
She looked into his mismatched eyes wondering what she should expect from him. He was behaving distinctly unlike himself. Generally she had to argue with and bully him until she wore him down to get him in his kitchen so she could treat whatever wounds he may have collected on his mission. This time he actually seemed as though he may be ready to cooperate without so much as a word from her. Vaguely the thought that he may try to use his Sharingan to convince her to leave him alone crossed her mind, but was quickly dismissed – she wasn't worth the trouble and she could tell by his posture that he was completely exhausted.
Feeling faintly defeated he slowly pulled two of the chairs out of the way and gingerly eased himself onto the edge of the table as he had done many times before, letting out a sigh of pain mingled with anticipated relief. As much as he hated to admit it, he was glad she was there and he did need her help. She was the only one he ever willingly allowed to see himself like this, granted it had taken her years of forcing her way in to earn the privlege, but it was still something of an achievement. He attributed it to her own stubborn perserverence and perhaps the recently discovered soft spot he seemed to have for his only female student.
The old man had been particularly gleeful in pointing out this newly discovered weakness of his. How the old man, a life-time prison inmate for his brutal crimes against his own people now filled with remorse and regret, had figured it out from the scant little he had told him of his life he would never know. Regardless it did nothing to change the fact that he did indeed seem to have a bit of a soft spot for his only female student. Upon thinking about it he found that over the years he had let her get away with far more than her two fellow teammates and, after the team had been disbanded, more than most of his oldest friends. Take for instance her barging in on him at all hours to check up on him after missions and heal any injuries he may have.
Tsunade had tried on occasion with zero success to send other medics when he was too injured and stubborn to go to the hospital and Sakura was otherwise occupied or not available. Even injured he was still a shinobi to be feared. Invariably the replacement medics would be run off or just plain avoided – they couldn't heal what they couldn't find or catch. And either he would wait for Sakura to become available or Tsunade herself would have to seek him out for healing. On rare occasions ANBU trainees would be sent to retrieve him. It was the least desirable training exercise and was generally given out as part of a punishment due to the difficulty and fear quotient usually involved.
Inwardly he had to admit he was one spoiled shinobi when it came to his healthcare as Sakura's mission status had been limited since that last incident involving a rookie ANBU operative and a semi-conscious Copy Nin. The lesson learned that day was don't mess with him, particularly his mask, when he wasn't all there as his control could slip and make things messier than need be. Either way, she probably hadn't noticed that her status had been restricted since her work at the hospital had become so important to her that she rarely sought out missions anyhow. Instead she accepted what was given to her and happily spent the remainder of her time working at the hospital.
His mind wandered back to his soft spot for his former pink haired student and the old man's gleeful insights into his own possible reasons for having such a weakness. He had never intended to tell the old man as much about himself as he had, but somehow he had felt something of a kindred spirit in the older prisoner. It certainly didn't hurt that the old man bore a faint resemblance, mostly in his coloring, to his former sensei; that is to say if his former sensei had lived to reach his sixties. After spending months listening to the stories the old man had to tell of his life and the many mistakes he had made, he had been startled to find how similar many of the crossroads in the old man's life had been to his own. Circumstances were vastly different as he was a Master Carver not a ninja, but the old man had fallen to the same sins of arrogance and pride that had plagued him in his childhood on through his young adulthood and had been forced to deal with similarly painful consequences. He too had lost all the ones he loved or cared for through complications caused by his own prideful actions.
The stories of his life he shared with the older man were heavily edited in order to fit his cover-story of a wandering warrior forced into the ways of a brigand in order to survive. He never offered any personal information freely or without prompt, but somehow the old man knew what to say at the end of his own stories to elicit a response from him.
The prisoner he was originally to target in the mission had started a brawl the day before he arrived and earned several months in solitary confinement as a punishment, thus he had to wait it out in order to get to his target. After spending months with nothing to do other than swap tales with the kindly old man he had been surprised when the old man had decided to try and give him a bit of advice.
The Master Carver had been no fool and knew that the strange silver-haired man wasn't exactly what he seemed to be; he shrewdly guessed he wouldn't be serving his entire sentence and offered some advice for when he got out.
Looking back on it he did have to admit that his pink haired former student had figured into more of the stories he had shared with the old man than she should have. Somehow he couldn't blame the older prisoner for the conclusions he had drawn. Instead he forcefully reminded himself that it didn't mean the old man had been right in his observations in regard to his feelings for the pink haired medic because, after all, he didn't know the full story. But he knew, deep down, that at the very least he did have unacknowledged feelings for her. The problem was exactly what those feelings were.
Inwardly he winced at the fact that had been the most startling discovery of all; the old man had definitely hit the nail on the head with this one. The reason he had a soft spot where she was concerned was not because she was a kunoichi and he felt he had to be easier on her because she was innately weaker and in more need of his aid or protection. He had a weak spot for her because he simply couldn't bring himself to stop her from doing the little things he would normally find insanely annoying coming from anyone other than her. And if there was ever something he could do to prevent her from suffering one way or another he would always find himself doing whatever was necessary. Upon making this realization he had been at odds with himself for the remainder of the mission, going so far as to even manage to finish early, something that would no doubt go down in the history books – the first and last time Kakashi Hatake ever arrived early for anything.
As soon as her reluctant patient was still she imediately set to work, figuring that if she paused to question his sudden cooporative attitude he may change his mind. Almost absently she reached to pull a kunai from from her pouch, as she had many times before, when he waved her off. Puzzeled, she waited to see what he wanted. Wincing slightly as he moved his arm above chest level, he managed to pull gently at the fabric around his neck. She could see the suggestion of a grin through the grimace of pain as he showed her he had finally given in to his more frugal side and had someone hem the ragged edges of one of the shirts she had already operated on, creating two seperate garmets from the original one.
Unable to help herself she laughed, breaking the tension she had not realized was there until it was gone. "I see you've finally given in to common sense." She raised an eyebrow, "though it would make even more sense to do away with that silly mask entirely." She flushed a little and continued, surprising herself, "from what I've heard you don't have anything to hide."
He chuckled at her halfhearted attempt to get him to vountarily remove his mask and winced a bit at the pain the simple movement of a chuckle caused him. The older shinobi had to give her points for not giving up on catching a glmipse of his face after all these years. Though he wondered what she could have heard and from whom to convince her he had nothing to hide. Gingerly he tried to remove his shirt hissing with pain as he only managed to get it partway up his chest before the pain became too much for him to continue. Sensing his plight, she gently eased the fabric from his unresisting fingers to completely remove the shirt, considerately making sure his mask remained in place. Though she was still dying of curiousity, even after all the years of trying unsuccessfully to catch a glimpse of his face, she wouldn't stoop to trying to remove it when he was in an injured state. It just didn't seem right and it would ruin their game.
Once she removed his shirt she hissed in sympathy. He was sporting a patchwork of dark ugly bruises layered over older and older, but still equally ugly bruises gracing his pale already battle-scarred chest.
"What the hell happened to you?" she exclaimed, unable to stop herself or keep the incredulous tone from her voice.
She was used to seeing him come back with either wounds involving blood - and lots of it - or massive internal damage caused by pushing himself beyond his limits for extended periods of time. He rarely came back with injuries not inflicted by either himself or weapons with razor sharp edges. He was too good for this sort of injury generally caused by close range unarmed combat, his Sharingan – if he were using it – pretty much guaranteed it.
He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze, grunting with pain as he moved. "Took a couple hits for a fellow inmate…" he trailed off realizing he probably shouldn't tell her too much since it was classified information and, he silently had to admit, not exactly within the scope of his assigned mission. He had been there to get some information from an inmate, not to befriend and protect an understanding elderly lifer nearing the end of his time.
"A couple…" she trailed off realizing that she probably didn't want to know the real story. Grimacing sympathetically she decided not to press further for information. She was actually slightly shocked to get anything out of him and figured not to push her luck. Instead she started the all too familiar process of assessing the damage. As gently as she could she ran her chakra infused hands lightly over the areas with the ugliest bruising, almost afraid of what she would find beneath the badly damaged skin. She inwardly cringed from the broken ribs and carefully probed deeper, leaving small pockets of chakra to encourage proper healing behind as she went, looking for additional internal damage or worse, bleeding.
Breathing a sigh of relief she hadn't realized she was holding she carefully withdrew from him. It had been a long time since she'd actually been worried about one of her 'boys' as she liked to refer to them. Granted the label really was a loose fit at best considering Naruto and Sasuke were, like she would be in a couple days, 22 and Kakashi was well into celebrating the sixth anniversary of his thirtieth birthday. Regardless of the ill fit she still thought of them as her boys. She wasn't exactly sure when or how, but somehow over the past few years her former sensei had been lumped in along with her other boys and she found herself worrying over him just as much as she did Naruto and Sasuke. She had seen many, many shinobi come through the hospital and too many of those who came in didn't make it out. The little worry line in-between her eyebrows disappeared as her concern faded completely. His injuries were nothing she couldn't easily heal, even after a particularly busy day at the hospital.
She started when she felt rather than heard the light chuckle from the erstwhile silent shinobi and flushed suddenly unable to meet his eyes. He had caught her worrying over him. Hastily she gathered her chakra to finish healing him, paying particular attention to his ribs – it was at least the 10th time she had mended them and she wanted to make sure she left no inherent weaknesses to cause them to easily break again. Though judging from the bruising and internal damage they hadn't broken that easily. Once she finished with healing the ugly bruises on his chest she flattened both of her hands completely against him to send tendrils of chakra through the rest of him to make sure she had found and healed everything.
Letting out a deep breath she finally withdrew completely from him for the last time, wiping the small beads of perspiration from her forehead and stretching backwards slightly to remove most of the kinks from her back. Scrunching her back into odd angles for extended periods of time and coming away with stiff shoulder or back muscles was one of the few physical drawbacks of being a medic. Absently she handed him his shirt as she readied herself, still trying to remove that last stubborn kink, to leave as was her usual procedure: force her way in, heal him and leave before he could get angry with her for 'taking advantage of him while he was in a less than optimal state.' Though he had never actually voiced a genuine complaint about her tactics, she always kept it in mind that she was successful in treating him because he allowed her to bully him into submission. It took quite a lot to put him completely out of commission and into such a vulnerable state that anyone could easily care for him and she knew he took pains to avoid it at almost all costs.
"You're all set." She paused before exiting his kitchen to show herself out. "Try to be a little more careful next time, please?" She asked, knowing he couldn't make that promise, but it was what she always said to signal to him she was leaving and was glad to have helped him. And no she wasn't expecting a thank you because she knew he did appreciate it on a deeper level.
Cautiously he shifted rising from the table and testing out his chest muscles before smiling and pulling his shirt back over his head. "Thank you."
"Eh?" she turned, her hand going to the stubborn kink in her neck as she wrenched it. She was faintly startled to be greeted with two smiling eyes and the suggestion of a grin beneath his mask. She knew that on some level he did appreciate her making him cooperate and receive medical treatment, but he had never shown it. Her reward would usually be a grumpy retort as she took her leave and an occasional meal usually several days later and seemingly by chance.
Confusion clearly leaking into her voice she responded, "Um, you're welcome. Er, any time." She smiled brightly through her bewilderment, beginning to wonder if there had been something she had missed, like perhaps a head injury caused by an exceptionally hard rock or maybe an enemy's fist.
He moved closer to her; she figured he was walking her out and obliged starting again toward the door, stopping when she felt his hand on her shoulder. Startled once again she tried to turn to face him but was halted when he added his second hand to her other shoulder effectively keeping her in place.
Feeling more confused than before, her mind raced looking for a rational explanation for his peculiar actions. "Kakashi?" she almost whispered, the rest of the unasked question caught in her throat as she automatically stiffened her body against his hands, not knowing what to expect from her former sensei. He had been acting strangely since she'd arrived. Had she not seen the familiar scar bisecting his left eye, the always activated Sharingan, his slightly faded ANBU tattoo and all of the many familiar scars gracing his chest and arms she would begin to suspect he was an imposter.
She was barely able to suppress a shiver at his voice almost right next to her ear, "Easy now." His hands moved soothingly over her shoulders, down her arms, and back up to her neck again in an effort to get her to relax a little. "Just relax for a moment."
Unsure of what to expect but trusting him completely, she hesitantly let the tension slowly ease from her neck and back muscles at his prompting. As soon as she relaxed a little his hands started to move again, kneading her neck muscles almost inquisitively, as if looking for something. Subconsciously she arched her back a little pressing her neck into his hands as he hit the stubborn kink she had been unable to crack. He chuckled at the little sigh of relief mixed with pleasure he received upon finding and soothing the elusive and stubborn knot. Unbidden his hands loitered on her shoulders for just a fraction of a second longer than strictly necessary before removing themselves.
She flushed, feeling completely unsure why she was reacting to him as she was. His hands had felt incredibly good; working wonders with her work stressed and tensed muscles in an extremely short amount of time. Had he been any other man she may not have thought too much about it, but he wasn't. He was Kakashi Hatake, the legendary Copy Ninja, Kakashi Sharingan, her former teacher and team captain. The first two were fine, it was the third that raised a troubling feeling – it complicated things.
Making an aborted attempt to turn to thank him, but unable to complete the action with the scarlet blush coloring her cheeks and his hands lingering on her shoulders, she settled on nodding her head and mumbling, "thank you," before making a b-line for his door. She completely forgot to mention to him the birthday party she was sure Ino would be throwing for her within the next few days. The pink haired medic had been disappointed when he had left on his last mission. It was long term with an extension and he wasn't expected back until her birthday, meaning anywhere from three days to a week later Kakashi time. She had wanted to have all of her boys back for her birthday, but figured it wouldn't happen with Kakashi away. Ironically enough he had made it back in time and the other two had been sent out on a last minute urgent mission that would keep them away for her birthday and several weeks after. Absently she wondered if some other improbable event would happen, perhaps Tonton would sprout wings and learn to fly. Heck anything seemed possible after the encounter she had just had.
If she had been just a little bit slower in her departure she might have heard his amused chuckle as he turned back to head toward his kitchen with thoughts of rummaging up something for dinner. Almost absently he had to admit that the old man had it right after all and he hadn't the least clue what to do about his apparent new, or if one were to believe the prisoner old, problem. Suddenly allowing himself to take the time to appreciate the small things in life had taken on a much larger meaning than he had originally realized and it complicated things more than he would ever have thought.
The fact that his hands had lingered on her shoulders of their own accord troubled him. He had enjoyed removing the stubborn kink and had felt more than a sense of satisfaction at the little noise of pleasure that had escaped her lips as he removed it. He set about warming water for tea and instant ramen - drat that Naruto kid for getting him hooked on the noxious but non-perishable stuff - letting his mind wander just a bit to a certain medic and what he could do about her. The old man had convinced him that despite all of the horrible things he had done and all of the times he had failed the ones who meant the most to him he still deserved a little bit of happiness or pleasure here and there – he had just never thought that he would start out in such an inappropriate source. Or rather he had hoped that the old man had been wrong in his diagnosis of either his own dormant or ignored feelings for his former student. Now that he was back he was finding that knowing no longer allowed those feelings to lie dormant or be as easily ignored as had been his custom. Belatedly he realized that his somewhat peaceful, given his profession, and uncomplicated life just became more complicated than he had ever expected.