Author's Note: This happens after Gaara becomes Kazekage, and also after he loses Shukaku and is brought back to life. Therefore, also after the touching series of events in which Baki finds Kankuro and stays by Kankuro's hospital bed.
The emergency room waiting area had bare adobe walls and featureless metal chairs, unadorned walls, and was steeped in the scent of the powder that came off of latex gloves. Baki hated it. He gave his name to the female med nin behind the registration desk. She made a note of it in her log and told him to sit down. He sat down around half a dozen other people and tried not to think.
The village outside the small window was dark.
Baki was definitely nervous about more than one thing. Sure, his stomach pain was unlike anything he'd felt before. But there was also the fact that he wanted to be in and out quickly. A: He wanted relief. B: He was terrified of being found out.
But there was also a cluster of less defined things. What if the med nin didn't believe him? What if it was nothing? What if it was something? What if his team leader had been right not to excuse him from work?
His team leader's decision to make him suck it up was why he was now in the emergency room waiting area in the middle of the night.
And of course he hadn't gone over to Kankuro's house to tell him or anyone else that he was feeling this way. How could he? It was three in the morning. He'd only wake them up for nothing.
Because it was nothing.
A nothing inside of his stomach that had him privately tensed up with agony, but it was still nothing.
He wished he had just told Kankuro and everyone else. But what was he supposed to do? Wake them up? That didn't make any sense. He was a 33 year old jonin who didn't need to be bothering his former students. They were expected to get up early in the morning, every morning, and would be for the rest of their lives, now that Gaara was the Kazekage. How could he justify waking them up at three in the morning?
And Kankuro had admitted before that most of the time, he didn't drop off until midnight. How was he supposed to wake up Kankuro with three hours of sleep? That would be heartless.
Baki was stuck waiting for three hours with the same six people before he saw one of them - an older lady in a blue print dress - get admitted into the actual emergency ward.
He felt terrible. Both for wasting his time - apparently the emergency room was for someone exsanguinating within minutes and not for stomach pains - and for waiting and worrying alone. What if it took so long that he missed the lunch that he'd already promised to have with Kankuro today?
Then Kankuro would find out where he was...Baki didn't even want to know what would happen then. He felt like crying. But grown up shinobi didn't cry, and men didn't cry either. Suna culture was clear on both counts. And it sucked.
Baki massaged his eyes with one hand and tried to wait calmly.
After another hour, a nervous med nin with a vocal tic called his name.
Baki stood up. His legs immediately shook.
He was suddenly not eager to see what was on the other side of the big white door behind the med nin.
Feeling ill under the med nin's stare, Baki followed the expectant woman into the ward, into a room separated from the hallway only by a curtain, and was left there to change into a gown and lie down on the hospital bed.
Five minutes after he reluctantly lay down, another med nin came in and took his vital signs, promised that the jonin med nin would be on his way, and then left.
It was half an hour later when the man finally showed up. The jonin explained in clipped, rapid fire words that it was probably something Baki ate, or it was in the water - contamination had been reported in the area where Baki lived - or that it was a stomach virus going around, since a dozen other shinobi had come into the ER in the last two days asking for relief.
That didn't comfort Baki in the least.
"I'm going to give you something for your pain," the jonin med nin said, and then he swiftly poked an IV into Baki's arm and injected something.
Something unexplained that made Baki taste metal in his mouth.
Two seconds later, his vision was actually skipping like a broken film reel, and he was overcome with a sense of vertigo.
He couldn't deny his stomach didn't hurt, though. And his vision going haywire was an effective - if disturbing - distraction.
His vision settled down after a minute and then dimmed. Baki belatedly realized that was because he was closing his eyes.
Finally, the fact that he felt cold caught up to him, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
The med nin left to check on other patients, leaving him with a chuunin, and Baki lay in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar bed wondering why he'd come to the emergency room at all.
The jonin med nin hadn't done anything, after all. Just administered pain medication.
I am in so much trouble, Baki thought randomly.
He hadn't so much as thought the thought when a familiar chakra approached in the hallway. A familiar and very disturbed chakra.
Baki cringed with dread. How did he find out?
Kankuro opened the door and stepped in without preamble. "Baki?"
Baki looked right at Kankuro, panicked, looked at the IV stuck in his arm, and then at the chuunin standing on the other side of his bed.
She looked up and gave Kankuro a professional smile. She'd been monitoring the medical equipment hooked up to Baki's vital signs. "Yes, this is Baki-san." She bowed to him. "Kankuro-dono, please come in. I am Miuri, the med nin in charge of monitoring Baki-san this shift. I get off at six, and will be replaced by Tsuchi-san. He is also a very good med nin."
Baki looked at the ceiling, feeling utterly exposed and horrified.
He couldn't think of a single thing to say. And the chuunin was saying everything anyway.
He guessed he couldn't feel betrayed about that. Kankuro was the brother of the Kazekage.
The chuunin indicated the clipboard hanging at the end of Baki's bed. "Baki-san was admitted for stomach pains oh...about an hour ago."
Kankuro was instantly by Baki's bedside, deathly pale and mostly expressionless-his reaction to all things medical. "Are you okay?" he asked. "I was worried when I couldn't find you. I thought I was just being paranoid when I checked the ER . . ."
Baki's lips felt cold and numb. He looked up at Kankuro, realized what he'd put Kankuro through - still, in spite of all his intentions - and was completely terrified. "I - W-Why did you come here? I thought - You shouldn't even be up yet. I tried..." Tears leaked out and slowly ran down his cheeks. He really was doped up. "I wanted to be out of here by now. I didn't know it would take so long. I just wanted help."
"We got you in as soon as we could," the chuunin said. "There was a glut of patients because it is the weekend."
Baki ignored that, annoyed at her defensiveness.
Kankuro dropped into the chair by the bed and took Baki's hand, squeezing it. "Hey . . . hey . . ." He was trashed to see Baki crying. "It's okay." He wasn't sure why Baki was so scared. "I came because Gaara had an emergency mission come in-S rank. He wanted you on it, but you weren't home. So I came in search of you." He watched him closely. "You don't have to apologize." Not that he had, precisely; he just sounded like he thought he should. "Are you okay? Can I stay?"
Baki clung to Kankuro's hand. He cried at the whole situation. At Kankuro's worry, at being scared, at not knowing why his stomach had hurt, at not being able to convince his team leader that his stomach had hurt enough. At being needed by the people he loved - Kankuro, Gaara - and not being available.
He nodded and forced himself to speak. "Please stay. I don't want to be alone in here. I want to go home." Being totally drugged was acting like a truth serum. He hated that. He'd never been pumped full of medication this strong before.
"They didn't tell me why I hurt."
"You shouldn't hurt anymore," the chuunin said, looking at him doubtfully. "What Samuji-san gave you should be enough to knock out any pain."
"I don't hurt now," Baki said irritably. "I hurt then and I still don't know why I hurt at all."
"The CAT scan technician will get here at eight," the chuunin said. "We'll continue to control your pain, and we'll get you a CAT scan as soon as possible." She was obviously disturbed by his state of mind.
If he hadn't been totally knocked flat on his back by this chain of events, he would have put her through a wall.
Baki looked to Kankuro. "Please don't go. Please say you can stay..."
"CAT scan?" Kankuro asked numbly. His horror was so great he had to try to pretend like he hadn't even heard the words.
"Samuji-san's opinion is that Baki has food poisoning or a stomach virus," the chuunin said. "He wants to rule out anything going on in the abdominal cavity that would contradict this, so he has ordered a CAT scan. I am sure his initial diagnosis is correct. Samuji-san is a good med nin. He's been a jonin for many years."
She added critically, "The fact that none of your symptoms includes vomiting shows that this condition isn't serious. Both food poisoning and a stomach virus would cause vomiting and fever. You have neither."
"Then why am I high on pain meds?" Baki mumbled.
"You rated your pain an 8 or higher," the chuunin said simply.
Kankuro ignored her and turned back to Baki. "Of course I'll stay." He wasn't going anywhere now. "And just so you know . . . you didn't have to come alone. I would have come in with you from the start."
"I'm sorry," Baki said miserably. He felt like the chuunin was picking on him, and if Kankuro had been here from the start, he know he wouldn't have been so scared. "You were sleeping. I came here at three. You would have just gone to sleep. I couldn't wake you up. That would be selfish. And I really thought I could come in and out. I thought they'd just tell me what was wrong and send me home with some advice."
"A CAT scan technician will-"
Baki glared at the chuunin. "I know."
Kankuro slanted a look at her; he just wanted her to leave.
"I see why you did that," Kankuro admitted. "But like I said, I would've come. Just so you know."
"It would have been too much trouble," Baki mumbled. "You would have been sleepy...I just...My team leader didn't seem to think it was anything to be worried about." He wanted to talk to Kankuro about that, and he couldn't feel comfortable with the chuunin here. He gave her a plaintive look. "Can't you just leave me alone? Kankuro's here now. We'll press the button if we need anything. Just go away."
Not his usual tact, but that was Samuji-san's fault for pumping him full of whatever the hell this was.
The chuunin bowed stiffly. "Buzz if you need anything." She left.
"Thank God," Baki complained. "What a stupid bitch. I can't stand people like her."
Kankuro grimaced. "Yeah . . ." He frowned at Baki. "Your team leader?"
Baki thought back to what was now yesterday afternoon. He felt a fresh wave of misery. "I was falling behind. My team leader asked why. I told him: stomach pains. He called it indigestion and gave me some antacid tablets to take, then told me to keep up."
He shook his head. "I just...In front of everybody. He said it wasn't anything. And I was still in pain, and he snapped at me: What do you expect me to do? Stop in the next village we get to and leave you in the ER? We don't have time for that!" Baki sighed.
"What a jerk," Kankuro said, irritated.
Baki could feel the bubble of pain in his chest that meant more tears were on the way. "I said no, I just...I just wanted him to do something. And he said: I can't do anything. Get back to work. You're just overreacting. If you want to go to the ER, fine, but I'll count it as AWOL and tell the Kazekage why you stayed behind instead of coming back to the village with us."
Baki squeezed Kankuro's hand. "I was angry...I said some things I shouldn't have...and he said: Fine! I'll leave you behind! Is that what you want? So I went. I couldn't be left behind...I was terrified. How could I handle being in a foreign village alone, thinking there might be something to my stomach pain?"
He forced himself to take a deep breath. "And it went away...over about an hour. But then it came back. And I couldn't sleep. And I came here. And they just - they just -" He started crying again. "I just want some help."
Kankuro had experienced similar injustices before, so he felt a great deal of sympathy for Baki. "I understand that," he said gently. He pressed the back of Baki's hand to his cheek.
Baki let out a shuddering sigh and felt some of his tension slip away. "You don't blame me?"
"No," Kankuro said. "Of course not. Not at all." He was surprised at the question.
Baki relaxed, and could finally appreciate that his stomach didn't hurt right now. "I was always the least popular person on my team. Now it's the same, I think. I hoped for the better, since I'm older and more experienced, but it still didn't go well." He felt like he was rambling, but he couldn't help himself. "I think they hate me now. They probably feel poorly of me because I did this this morning - or yesterday now. Or whatever."
Normally, he didn't put much thought into his popularity. He was somewhat surprised that in his drugged-up state, he apparently cared a lot.
"I just want to make friends. You know? But I guess no one's ever going to be like you. Or Gaara," he added mostly for Gaara's sake. "But no one like you. No one who actually wants to know me. Everyone just...hates me. It's always been this way."
He was horrified to be blurting out this old pain. "Sensei was nice enough, but the other students? Hmph. They hated me, and it was all so obvious in light of the way Sensei tried to protect me from them. I wasn't popular, and I wasn't right. I couldn't do things right. I always shied away from them. I would do the activities with them, but no one wanted to be my sparring partner, and it was always really uncomfortable, and Sensei took pity on me by making me the demonstrator with him to do the exercises, so I didn't have to be paired with anyone else, because people complained."
It was all tumbling out too fast to stop. "The other students complained when they were paired with me. And sometimes I'd actually have fun, but that would be ruined by the students suddenly getting fed up with me, or complaining about the way I smiled, or that I didn't want to talk with them, or something. They were always saying something wasn't right about me. I didn't want to hang out with them because I was concentrating. You know? That's normal. I took it seriously. How can you not take self-defense seriously?"
Baki suddenly realized that he wasn't letting Kankuro get a word in edge-wise and felt guilty. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I'm just being...It must be the medication. I'm just a talk-box right now."
The IV in his arm was a little uncomfortable, and so was the hospital gown. It made him feel vulnerable. Like he wasn't protected enough.
"That's fine," Kankuro said, listening attentively and disturbed by how Baki had suffered.
"I just - I just wanted to be saved. I wanted to be noticed," Baki said impulsively. "For every teacher there was like Sensei, there was a teacher that wasn't impressed with me, didn't care. I got called a genius without personality once. The teacher liked kids with personality, not the ones who did their work quietly."
God, it hurt so much to remember. "At the Academy, it was always: stand out and get noticed. Stand out and get special treatment, get awards, get help, get people to notice you and put you on the fast track, the right teams, the right clubs, the right opportunities. I was too shy for any of that. I wanted to go to the dojo at Sensei's, not stay after school at shuriken club or whatever the hell they offered. Clubs for wall walking, clubs for practicing taijutsu, clubs for practicing disguise work, or even clubs for anime and manga appreciation. I didn't want them. I just wanted to be home, at Sensei's dojo..." He sighed. "I didn't want to go places and do things. That was threatening. I didn't want to be exposed. I didn't want to be..." He wondered what he was talking about.
"I was bullied sometimes, but not often," Baki said. "That's not it. That's not why I was afraid. I didn't get bullied often at all."
Kankuro nodded. "I was bullied all year one year, but that wasn't enough to make me not want to be there. I already didn't want to be there."
Baki squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry..."
He wished his brain didn't feel so hazy.
He found himself wondering about his current situation. Why had he assumed it would be a bad idea to wake Kankuro up? This was clearly where Kankuro preferred to be. Kankuro had come anyway, in spite of him. "I got hurt and I didn't tell anybody." Baki thought about it. "I guess that's the way it is. I never tell anybody. I don't think they care. I tried to reach out this time, but my team leader called me an asshole and sent me back to work."
He sighed. "I guess I gave up after that again."
"Why don't you think they care?" Kankuro asked. "I mean, besides the jonin asshole yesterday."
Baki chewed his lip. "I don't know. They don't care. That's just the way it is." He went back and forth in his mind. "I can't always tell them. But I shouldn't have to tell them. I look hurt. I did look hurt, didn't I? I was bloody on my knees. I had a hurt showing. They didn't send me home. My teachers didn't say anything...the med nin at school..." He shook his head, frowning. "I don't know. I just...don't get attention. I just melt away, somehow. Sometimes no one notices me. I just go on."
He said suddenly, "I came home from the neighbor's house being hurt and nobody noticed me. I went inside and nobody cared. My mother asked how I got hurt. I didn't know. I didn't remember. I just did. I did get hurt. And she said, 'Well, don't play in the neighbor's yard again. You're not supposed to be there'. How was I supposed to know?"
"You weren't supposed to know," Kankuro said, having a similar wound himself.
"I don't understand," Baki said, sighing. "I don't understand why no one did anything. I was hurt, wasn't I? But no one seems to think there is anything they can do. So why ask them, anyway? I don't understand anything about this. I just feel alone." He squeezed Kankuro's hand. "Until you're here."
Kankuro unabashedly kissed Baki's hand. "I . . ." Kankuro had no great wisdom for that. He had wounds about getting help, too. Big ones.
Baki gave him a sad smile. "It's okay. You don't have to answer that."
The chuunin suddenly came back into the room. "The CAT scan technician came in three hours early on another case - an emergency - so he's ready for you now."
Baki was startled. "But -"
"The CAT scan will take fifteen minutes. The technician is coming now." The chuunin left again.
Baki looked to Kankuro. "I guess...that's a good thing?"
"Yes," Kankuro said. Waiting at hospitals was a rank 8 torture.
A young man with blonde hair popped in. "Hi, I'm Michiro, the CAT scan technician." He bowed. "Good morning, Kankuro-dono. I'm just gonna take Baki-san down the hall for a quick CAT scan and get him right back to you."
Baki sat up.
Michiro held up his hands. "No, no, your bed's on wheels. Don't worry about a thing." He crossed the room.
Baki hesitantly lay back down. "I'll see you?" He looked to Kankuro.
"I'll be right here," Kankuro assured him.
Baki relaxed. "Okay. I love you." The addition slipped out.
Kankuro was surprised, but he had no trouble replying. "Love you, too."
Baki smiled at him.
"Away we go," Michiro said cheerfully. He wheeled Baki out, steered the bed down the hall, and into another room. Baki climbed out and spent 15 minutes inside a clunking machine, then came back, via the bed again.
Michiro bowed. "I'll have the results for you in half an hour."
"Thank you?" Baki meant it more as a question than anything else.
"Half an hour?" Baki mumbled.
The chuunin came back in to hook up Baki's vital signs again and took his blood pressure on top of it.
Baki only relaxed when she left.
"When I get out of here, can I go home with you?" Baki asked plaintively.
"Sure you can," Kankuro said. "It's no problem." He'd just send a quick message off to Gaara, and that should clear the day for both of them.
Baki let out his breath. "Thank you, Kankuro. I really don't want to be alone right now."
Either his head was beginning to clear a little, or he was just getting used to being high. He couldn't tell which. At the very least, he had the illusion of being able to think better.
"I'm afraid," Baki admitted. "I've been afraid since the mission started."
Kankuro chewed that over for a moment. "What do you think made you afraid?" That wasn't exactly Baki's MO, after all. He wouldn't be afraid without cause.
Baki grew reluctant. "The mission." He had the feeling he would be talking about this whether he wanted to or not. His tongue was still loosened by the pain medication too much to stop his momentum. He squeezed Kankuro's hand. "Kankuro...would you hate me if I were a coward? I mean, if I were really not brave? Because..." He fumbled for the words.
"Because I'm scared. I dunno. Something went off in my head, and I just..."
Baki took a deep breath. "Felt dizzy. I mean, I felt shocked. And I don't feel shocked about things. And I just...didn't wanna be there. And I didn't say anything - why would I? - but then...like five, six hours later...my stomach started to hurt. Really badly. These sharp, twisting pains. And I didn't know what to do about it. I mean, I could hardly run. I was slowing down. I was definitely not at my best...but I just...I feel like I ran away. Even though I didn't. Because I said I wanted to leave. I admitted that I wasn't feeling my best."
His chest was tight. He realized he felt nauseous. "I mean, what if..." He was afraid to say it, but on the other hand, the CAT scan was being processed, and he wanted to beat the med nins out if they were going to say it anyway. Baki searched Kankuro's face. "What if it is really psychosomatic? What if it's in my head?"
"It could be," Kankuro said simply. "I've gotten psychosomatic stuff a lot in my life. I was told it was anxiety-related." He shrugged. "I don't think you're a coward. I think you're in pain."
Baki felt tears in his eyes. "But what if I can't control it? Doesn't that make it my fault? Isn't it up to me to make it stop?"
Kankuro shook his head. "It's not your fault. It's the fault of whatever or whoever gave you the anxiety. And I wish we could all just spontaneously make these things stop, but the truth is . . . you have to deal with the source of the fear first."
Baki took a deep breath and drew comfort from Kankuro's words, forcing his panic back down. "I...I wish...I'm scared, and being here just makes it worse. I didn't feel like I could go somewhere else for help, but I feel like no one here helped me either. And if you weren't here, I'd be even more scared." He squeezed Kankuro's hand tightly and closed his eyes. He pressed, but a few tears escaped anyway. Baki had to let them go.
And he felt better once they were out. The frustrating part was always the mockery. Which he didn't get around Kankuro, so it was okay. But he hated to cry around other people.
Kankuro leaned over and hugged him.
Baki hugged him back one-armed, unable to move the one with the IV in it very much.
He found he craved Kankuro's warmth. He still felt cold.
"I wanna go home," he mumbled. "I just want to be home with you. I don't want to be afraid anymore. And I'm not afraid when you're around, and I'm not...exposed. I'm under-clothed. This hospital gown is awful. It doesn't protect me from anything. I want my flak jacket. I want my pants."
He realized he was talking in circles, but he figured he was stuck until he could leave.
At that moment, the jonin med nin came back, carrying a clipboard. He flipped through it. Then he glanced at Kankuro and bowed. "Kankuro-dono. My name is Samuji. Ohayo."
"Ohayo," Kankuro said. Let's hear it and get this over with.
"Well, do you have the results back?" Baki asked. His voice came out flat.
"Indeed I do," Samuji said. "I see here by the readout that you have no organ damage. You're not constipated. There doesn't appear to be any internal bleeding, any abcesses, no tumors, no hernias, kidney stones, any of that stuff. Your abdominal cavity is clear. You have nothing on the inside that causes the pain as far as physical damage goes." He checked something else. "And I see here the bloodwork came back clean."
Baki didn't even remember blood being taken.
"Your white blood count is a little elevated, which can happen because of stress or infection, but you don't show any signs of bacterial infection, no blood poisoning, food poisoning, anything like that. So it's not contaminated water or food." He gave Baki a small smile. "Likely it's just one of those 24 hour viruses that's been going around. I've prescribed some pain medication for the next three days, and if the pain continues, please see us again. Other than that, you're clear to go." He crossed the room and held out a pen. "I just need your signature on these release forms."
"Thank you." The med nin took the clipboard and pen back.
"Can I get dressed now?" Baki asked.
"A chuunin will be in to take out the IV and get you prepared," Samuji said. "After that, yes, you may get dressed." He bowed. "Have a nice day." He left.
Baki gave Kankuro a look. "I knew it wouldn't be anything," he muttered.
Kankuro was wondering if it weren't psychosomatic after all. It hardly mattered to him, though, as long as Baki's health was in the clear. "Well, we'll get you out of here as quickly as possible."
Baki nodded, feeling a little sick to his stomach. He imagined being alone in his house and immediately felt his stress skyrocket. "I can spend the day with you, though, right?"
"Sure," Kankuro reassured him.
Baki relaxed. "Alright. Yes. Let's get out of here. I'm sick of this."
A chuunin - a man this time - swept in, removed all the sensors, the IV, and gave Baki a paper bag that had the medication in it, along with some instructions. Then he left.
Baki handed the medication off to Kankuro.
He groaned a little at sitting up. "I'm doped up as hell."
He rubbed his head for a moment, then got dressed, not caring particularly that Kankuro was in the room with him. He'd rather have someone he trusted watching out for him.
The only thing he didn't do was put his helmet back on. He just didn't feel like it.
Baki stood, holding his helmet under one arm. "Okay. Let's go I guess."
Kankuro nodded. He took Baki's elbow and led him out, taking the 'doped up as hell' under advisement. He went straight to the Kazekage Mansion.