Asuma sat back in his molded plastic chair and took his pack of cigarettes from his vest pocket. Absently, he tapped out a smoke and his fingers fiddled with it before placing it between his lips.
The week had been a long one. Kakashi, lying silently beneath the pristine white sheets of his hospital bed, had awakened twice in the last forty-eight hours, both times unaware of what was going on around him and mumbling in a one-sided conversation to Obito Uchida. It chilled Asuma to witness this, bringing back memories he wished he did not have. Memories of a distraught ANBU, speaking to his long dead teammate.
Asuma closed his eyes.
How many lives can one person have?
"It's a hospital, Asuma."
The jounin opened his eyes to find he was being watched through a heavy-lidded brown eye.
"It's not lit," he answered casually, removing his cigarette from his lips and holding it in his fingers.
"Still a hospital." The eye drifted closed, but Asuma could see the man had not drifted off to sleep again. He was simply too tired to keep it open.
"It's good to see you alive, Kakashi."
A sound of assent rumbled in his throat.
"How do you feel?"
He couldn't help it. Asuma chuckled at the dry answer, watching in silence as Kakashi opened his eye again and began testing his limbs, wincing in pain each time he jarred the injury in his side. It was lightly amusing, the jounin decided. Each time Kakashi was brought in with an injury, the first thing he did was begin checking himself over, making his own assessments of how long before he could check himself out (or escape through a window). He was probably the only patient the hospital staff preferred to see with chakra exhaustion, as it meant the man would not be moving on his own for an extended period of time.
"You had those kids worried, you know," Asuma began conversationally. "Pakkun, too. I've never seen him so upset."
"What happened?" Kakashi asked, done with his self-examination and settling deeper into the pillow.
"I wasn't there," came the answer. "Kurenai's team went looking for you, plus Naruto and Sakura. Kurenai said Pakkun actually led them to you."
"I don't remember."
"You wouldn't. You were an inch from death. Well, you were dead for a little while."
This caught Kakashi's attention.
"That's what I heard. Heart stopped and everything. CPR was halted, no one was touching you, and suddenly your heart suddenly started beating again." He eyed his friend closely. "Someone was looking out for you."
"Hmm?" Kakashi didn't seem to be listening anymore.
"Pakkun said you were talking to Obito as he was leaving you."
Silence. That brown eye continued to stare up at the ceiling.
"What happened, Kakashi?"
"I know what's going on when you start talking to him." Asuma was trying to keep his tone level, to keep calm. He was one of the few people who were not easily ruffled by Kakashi's personality- his keen sense of selective hearing. Kakashi Hatake was rarely truly disconnected to what was going on around him. "And I know what's going on when you start seeing him."
"Asuma, what makes you think I saw him?" Again, that damnable calm tone.
"I know you too well, and I know that look. God knows I've been with you enough times when you've almost died."
"Perhaps I should find someone else to watch my back then." He smiled at Asuma, his eye curving down slightly at his joke, but Asuma was not amused.
"I've pulled the blade from your hand twice, Kakashi. If something's wrong with you again, I want to know it."
"I'm fine, Asuma." The smile had slid from his face, smoothly morphing from humor to honesty. "My wounds were not self-inflicted."
"That's not what I meant."
"And in all fairness, it has been five years since that time."
"Hai, since Rin."
Silence fell between the two comrades who had shared so much life and death. It stretched out beyond the room, beyond the day, to times and places long past. At last, Asuma realized that Naruto and Sakura would soon return to check on their sensei. He removed the pack from his vest again and slid his cigarette back inside.
"I just don't want you to give up, Kakashi. Things get awful quiet around here without you to annoy Tsunade."
Kakashi didn't answer for a long time. He simply continued staring, though Asuma, who knew him so well could see he was not looking at anything, but at the past.
"I don't remember much of it, to be honest, but I think there was a moment where I had a choice." Slowly, his gaze swept over to one of his few friends. "Strange, I think, that I could have the choice when I've taken that choice from so many others."
Asuma stared for a moment, then concentrated on sliding the pack back into his vest pocket. "Don't start getting all philosophical on me. You know it annoys me."
The door opened and Naruto and Sakura walked in, seemingly in the middle of an argument. They were nearly to the bedside when Naruto realized they were being watched by their very amused sensei.
"Kakashi-sensei! You're awake!" he cried, bounding toward the bed, with Sakura, much more demurely, behind him.
"How are you feeling?" she asked. "Should I call Tsunade-sensei?"
"Baka!" Naruto cried, pointing an accusing finger at the patient. "Do you know how worried we were?"
Asuma stood, enjoying the look on Kakashi's face at the sudden noise that had whipped into the room, but it was time to go. He was sure the two would want to speak with Kakashi themselves, and if not, Asuma wasn't sure how long he could deal with Naruto in an enclosed space.
"It was the right choice," he said, laying a hand on his shoulder. He couldn't help the smirk on his lips, and although Kakashi's look was no longer calm as it had been, he obviously agreed.
As he walked across the room, he heard Naruto ask, "What choice, Kakashi-sensei?"
The door was closed before the answer came.
Sorry. This was meant to be short. Originally, it was meant to be a one-shot, but developed into something slightly longer. This chapter is one I envisioned a long time ago and is related to another story I'm currently working on. Unfortunately, it's still in the prewriting stages, so it will be a while. Hope you enjoyed!