"Congratulations Gai." Kakashi clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Let me buy you drinks to celebrate."
"Ahh, thank you!" Gai's grin brightened, if that was humanly possible. "Lee-kun says Sakura-chan did well too."
Gai's entire team of genin had been promoted. From the so called no-talent taijutsu user, to the genius of the Hyuuga. Gai had just finished describing how Neji had saved the lives of both the kazekage and Takigakure's jinchuriki and been promoted straight to jounin.
If only Sasuke had received better guidance, he thought as a wave of guilt washed over him. The last Uchiha had held untold potential in his future, yet Kakashi underestimated his thirst for revenge. Hokage-sama had trusted him with the Uchiha heir. In a way he'd seen mentoring Sasuke as a chance to redeem himself the tiniest bit for what happened to Obito, to pass the will of fire to the last viable remnant of his best friend's clan, yet he'd somehow fucked that up badly enough that Sasuke was now a missing nin apprenticed to the most dangerous traitor to leave Konoha's gates.
"Mah, you're a natural teacher," he said. "The next genin team you get will become just as strong."
They entered the sake bar and slipped into a booth. Kakashi rested his forearms on the table, silently swirling the drink in its little cup when the waitress placed it in front of him. He wondered how his three would have fared under Gai's tutelage. At least Sakura and Naruto were safe in the hands of their new senseis.
"Gai, may I ask you a favor."
His friend leaned forward, dark eyes glinting intensely. "Anything. What is it?"
"Mari-chan has decided to train to become a shinobi."
Gai nodded approvingly. "I'm not surprised. She is a hard worker full of youthful spirit."
An involuntary scowl crept onto Kakashi's face. Why was everyone so enthusiastic about this but him? "She's also been a civilian her entire life. The Inuzuka have strong taijutsu, but none of them have dealt with a shinobi who can't use chakra before. She may develop some limited use of it in time, but her stores are very low."
Gai's bright teeth flashed in a crooked grin. "Leave that part to me."
"There's another complication," Kakashi said. "Danzo-sama has been tailing her, contrary to Tsunade-sama's orders. Mari has been put into protective custody. She is not to be left without a jounin level escort to prevent him from seizing her. So far it has only been Tsume-sama, Hana-san, the medic nins at the hospital, and me."
"Danzo, hnn?" Gai closed his eyes for a moment, looking uncharacteristically somber. "Why does he want her?"
"I have some guesses." Kakashi set the glass down. "None that I want to mention in public." Fuck Danzo. He'd die before he let that withered old locust put a finger on Mari.
Gai downed his glass of sake in one gulp. "I will do it. You can count on me."
"Thank you." His body sagged slightly in relief. Even if Mari didn't progress much in her training, he knew she would be safe spending time in Gai's presence. This would also be a good test to see whether her actions were as serious as her words. Gai's training regimens were the type to make or break someone.
My forehead rested on the smooth wooden surface of his table. It felt like nap time. Kakashi patted my back consolingly.
"I know you're tired, but you're the one who wanted to be a shinobi. Remember?"
"I don't need to read to be a shinobi. Unless there's some way to destroy my enemies with the power of the written word," I mumbled into the table. The cool wood felt, so, so nice on my aching head.
"You'd be surprised, actually," he said. "But you're a long way from that."
"Wait, what?" I blinked, then waved my hand dismissively. "Tell me more about the different ways people can kill me later."
"That's fair," he said. "You still need to strengthen your basics. Which is why Gai is going to be teaching you taijutsu."
"WHAT?" My voice was maybe a little more shrill than intended. "You want WHO to train me in taijutsu?" This was not a good day to be upright.
Kakashi shrugged, "Gai's students are very successful shinobi. Neji was just promoted to jounin."
"Between him and Tsume, my muscle fibers are just going to disintegrate."
"Mah, they'll be careful with you."
The rolling of my eyes was obscured by hair since I still hadn't sat upright. "Right. Besides, why won't you do it? Are you worried Tsume will be mad?" My badass new mother was still a little tetchy with him, notwithstanding the Super Secret Inuzuka Techniques For Women In Relationships that she shared with me. I shivered involuntarily. I mean, some of it sounded promising, but the source. . .
"I've never had much luck with teaching," he said.
I lifted my head and rubbed what was probably a big red spot in the middle of my forehead. "I've only met one of your students and Sakura's pretty badass."
"She got that way on her own. I haven't been a very good sensei to her." Kakashi grimaced. "I couldn't keep my promise to her to keep the team together. She came out of the academy with excellent chakra control. Really I neglected her. The boys bickered so much. She wasn't much better sometimes, but she never tried to kill a teammate."
Wait, they what?
"Hold on, even without more details I know you didn't cause them to become like that."
He stared sullenly at the wall. "I saw it from the beginning. The signs were right in front of me. I could have sent them back to the academy, but I didn't. It was pure arrogance on my part. I thought I could guide them into becoming a strong team."
"Hey now," I tugged gently at his sleeve. "They're all alive, and from what I understand that's a big accomplishment in your world."
Kakashi lowered his head and sighed. I bit my lip, it was hard seeing him like this and not be able to cheer him up.
"You know, it's okay to be sad that things didn't work out like you wanted. But try to remember, your students are people who make their own choices. Plus Sakura and Naruto are still around and training, and as long as Sasuke is alive there's still hope for the three of them."
He didn't reply for a minute or two. I sat with him wondering if I'd said the wrong thing, or if I'd misremembered words and lost something in translation. Eventually his shoulders relaxed, and he slipped an arm tight around my waist.
"Let's take a break for now. You'll have an easier time reading once your headache goes away."
I want to thank everyone who has stayed with this story over the years, and that are back after my long recovery. I'm sorry this is such a short update.
Head injuries are very serious. If you or someone you know EVER gets hit on the head, crashes without a helmet, anything of that nature please take them to an emergency room IMMEDIATELY. I was lucky to receive medical treatment right away, and still needed a lengthy hospitalization to recover. It has been over a year and I am finally able to write more than a few sentences in one sitting without it causing a migraine. I still struggle with reading. Emails and facebook posts are okay, but I haven't been able to read a book since hitting my head, which makes me super sad. I do still plan to finish this fic to the end, and had some future scenes written out before the concussion so there is definitely more to come and even if it comes more slowly than before this story will be seen through to the end.
One positive thing that came of my head injury, is I started a webcomic project. Writing = pain. Drawing = pain relief. And since drawing is another way to tell stories, this has kept me sane. If anyone is interested I might PM them the name of the project after I get a couple of episodes posted.
Also, thank you to everyone who has reviewed so far. And also to those whose reviews trickled in during my recovery when I wasn't posting anything. Before sitting down to try and continue this, I had to sit down and reread all the old stuff I've already posted, and then I reread all the reviews. Thank you all for your gracious kindness. It means a lot to me.