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Little Lion Man [Sep. 21st, 2014|11:30 am]
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[Takes place May 12, Yondaime Year 5, about nine days after Breakfast of Champions and the day after One of Those Lives (Get Used to It).]

Naruto approved of the new housekeeper from the start. Turtle recommended her, and Naruto got to interview her, and she turned out to be a short, lean, iron-grey person with her hair all up in a topknot and one eye missing. She wore an eyepatch when she came in for her interview, like Kakashi-niisan did.

Naruto asked her what was behind it. Dad made an exasperated noise and said "That is the kind of question you don't have to answer."

"I don't mind," Ogata-san said briefly, and took off her eyepatch.

There was a hollow where her eye should have been, and a knotted mess of scar tissue, all faded red. Naruto made an excited noise and tried to jump out of his chair to get closer and see, but Dad grabbed him and put him back down.

The corner of Ogata-san's mouth twitched up. She said to Naruto, "We didn't have masks, the way Turtle-san does, when I was young."

She was Turtle's aunt. She had been ANBU until she lost her eye, under Nidaime, when they were just barely beginning to be ANBU, and then she had been a jounin sensei twice, and then she'd retired after the war and gone to cooking school in Hikouto, only she lost her job at the last restaurant she worked at because she threw a cleaver at the head chef.

Naruto started bouncing again. "Did you take his head off? So he's not head chef anymore?"

This time Ogata-san laughed. "No," she said. She told Dad, "He'd cornered one of the youngest waitresses in a storeroom."

Dad's mouth went thin, and he nodded.

Ogata-san shrugged. "So I came back to Konoha. Thought I'd spend some time sitting in the sun, but two weeks of that and I got itchy again. And then Turtle told me about this."

"Well," Dad said, "you won't have much time for sitting in the sun. He's stopped taking afternoon naps."

"If I need a spot of peace and quiet, there's always the Temporary Paralysis Technique," Ogata-san said, and smiled at Naruto.

He liked her immensely. She made a full breakfast every morning and packed him fancy bentos for lunch, and everyone at preschool wanted to trade. She didn't mind reading the same picture-book three times in a row, and she told him stories about the genin she'd taught as a jounin sensei and about what Konoha was like under Shodai and Nidaime and the sort of games they used to play when she was a little girl and Konoha was new.

One afternoon, almost a week after she first came, she picked him up from preschool and said, "A little turtle told me your niisan is back."

Naruto dropped his empty bento box. "Kakashi-niisan?"

"Do you have many others?" Ogata-san asked, smiling.

Naruto wasn't listening. He'd already taken off, yelling, down the street.

But Ogata-san caught him in three strides, scooped him up, and pointed the other direction down the dusty lane, towards the tall bulk of the hospital towering over the other buildings and shops around it. "He had a hard mission," she said. Her voice sounded tired. "He's resting at the hospital, and there will be lots of people who want to talk to him, but if we're quiet and good we can talk to him too. Do you want to bring him anything?"

Naruto had never brought Kakashi-niisan presents before, but he liked this idea. He put an arm around Ogata-san's neck and locked his legs around her waist, so she'd have to carry him. "Jello!" he said. "An' salt mackerel! An' all my tapes of Captain Seaweed! An—"

A thought struck. He lowered his voice, craftily. "There's a store that sells Captain Seaweed plushes. Kiba told me. He had one at preschool but his sister's dogs ate it. Kakashi-niisan's dogs won't eat it though. They're summons. They can talk but they say bad words."

"Most summons do," Ogata-san said. "Do you want to buy Kakashi a plushie?"

"Yes," Naruto said.

They spent twenty minutes in the store deciding between the First Mate plush and the Samurai Dolphin. Naruto settled on the First Mate, finally, because First Mate was a seagull and you could make the soft, fuzzy wings flap. He tucked First Mate very carefully under his arm and took Ogata-san's hand when they crossed the street to the conbini, where she bought jello in little plastic cups.

Naruto tried to tell her that you could steal jello for free from the hospital cafeteria, but she put her eyepatch up and looked at him with her scarred eyesocket, which was their signal for when he was being naughty.

"Konoha shinobi steal on a mission," she said, "at Konoha's orders. If you steal without orders, or if you steal inside Konoha, you're not a shinobi. You're a thief."

Then she told him a story about a thief in Wind Country who stole a winged horse and a prince, and by the time she got to the part where the thief was in chains and the evil Chief Minister had the winged horse and the prince, they were at the hospital.

Ogata-san signed them in at the reception desk in the main lobby. They took three flights of stairs and turned down several corridors, and another receptionist pointed them to Room 17.

There was a sliding door with a window in it, but the window was too tall for Naruto to see. He tried jumping. Ogata-san put her hand on his shoulder. "Remember," she said, "your niisan needs you to be very quiet and good. No bouncing." She looked through the window herself, and then rapped the back of her knuckles on the door.

Naruto stood still, vibrating, while someone came to the door. The person was a medic in a white coat, who talked briefly with Ogata-san about not disturbing the patient. Naruto tried to peer around their legs. Finally the medic gave a short laugh and stepped back. "Well, he could probably use some cheering up. How do you feel about visitors, Hatake-san?"

Naruto poked his head around the door.

There was one bed, with a chair and a table beside it, and Kakashi-niisan was in the bed. He had a doctor's paper mask on his face, a wrap of bandage over his eye, and a lot of black ink scribbled on his skin. Some of the ink was wiggling. He lifted his head from the pillows, looking very pale and worried, and then he saw Naruto and all the unmasked parts of his face brightened. "Come to jailbreak me, trouble?" His voice sounded all raspy, like his throat was sore.

"We brought presents," Naruto informed him, and bounded into the room.

He stopped just short of the bed, eyeing Kakashi doubtfully. There was a lot of ink, and some of it was melting into Kakashi's pale skin, uncovering the faint red lines of new scars on his arms and above his collar. He had a clear plastic tube taped to his wrist, leading up to a fat bag of liquid hanging on a stand beside the bed, and there was dried blood in the roots of his hair, like he hadn't washed very well. He wasn't getting up from the bed, either.

"Do you hurt?" Naruto asked, clutching First Mate close.

"A little, but they gave me good medicine for it." Kakashi gave the plastic tube an absent tug and gazed curiously at First Mate. "Is that my present?"

"His wings flap," Naruto told him, scrambling up the side of the bed. Kakashi made little ouchy noises but curved his body so there was space for Naruto to snuggle down. Naruto put First Mate on Kakashi's stomach and showed him the little felt pirate hat and the beady glass eyes and the beak that opened and closed, and the hole in his bottom where you could stick your arm up and make his wings flap. "But he doesn't talk," Naruto concluded. "There was one that you squeezed his beak and he said Aye aye, cap'n! but his wings didn't flap. This one is best."

Kakashi brushed his fingertips gently over First Mate's forehead, rubbing the velvety plush against the grain. "He's soft," he said, like that was worth something special.

Naruto beamed at him. "You can sleep cuddled up with him at night. So you're not alone." He nestled the seagull up under Kakashi's ear to demonstrate, then plopped it back down on his chest. "How come they drew all over you?"

"They're healing seals," Kakashi began, and broke off. He was looking at the doorway, where Ogata-san was chatting with the medic. He nudged Naruto, and nodded at them. "New victim?"

Naruto blinked.

"I mean housekeeper," Kakashi explained.

"Oh! Yes." Naruto puffed up. "Turtle found her, but I kept her, like you said. Ogata-san!"

Ogata-san and the medic both came over. The medic twitched Kakashi's plastic tubing straight and began fiddling with some of the machines around the bed, while Ogata-san began unpacking jello from her bag onto Kakashi's table. "Naruto-chan insisted your favorite flavor was mackerel," she said, setting out a rainbow of colors. "As the convenience store was out of that particular variety, we got you one each of the others." She set the last carton down and cocked her eye at Kakashi's wriggling black ink. "They had you in a chakra circle?"

Kakashi watched her for a moment. He had his blind side to the wall, so he could see her with his good eye, and it narrowed thoughtfully. Ogata-san put her hands in her pockets and looked steadily back at him.

Naruto wondered if he should tell Kakashi about Ogata-san's missing eye, so they could be friends, but Kakashi said finally, "For most of the morning. Lots of glowy lights, but I'm told there's healing underneath if I'm very good and only move when the medics tell me to."

Ogata-san's mouth twitched.

"Is the kitchen still standing?" Kakashi asked.

"Naruto-chan helped me scrub out what was left of the smoke damage," Ogata-san said. There was a smile at the back of her voice. "He told me what happened with Saya-san. And I heard a few more details from Turtle."

"Turtle's Ogata-san's sister's daughter," Naruto told Kakashi. "She—"

He stopped.

"You said a little turtle told you Kakashi was back. You meant Turtle-san! I thought you talked to turtles." He added, accusingly, "My dad talks to frogs."

"Toads, I think," Ogata-san corrected. "Did I say my family doesn't have a turtle summoning contract?"

That was confusing. Naruto sucked his teeth, thinking it over.

Kakashi said over his head, "Is there combat mileage on a turtle?" He sounded fascinated.

"I can see you've never tangled with a plated snapper," Ogata-san said cheerfully. "I reckon you've met young Jiraiya's Gamabunta, though. Try adding armor and a beak."

Naruto had met Gamabunta once, though Dad didn't often summon him. Dad said that Gamabunta insisted on drinking parties whenever he was summoned, and Jiraiya-ojiisan's liver was better suited to that than Dad's was.

"Do turtles drink sake?" he wondered. "Ogata-san, Jiraiya-ojiisan is old."

"I'm older," she said calmly. She told Kakashi, "I'm also very, very retired. You'll have to ask my sister's children if you want to meet a turtle summons." She picked up her handbag again. "I'm going down to the cafeteria for a cup of tea. I'll be back in thirty minutes. Naruto-chan, if your niisan falls asleep before then, you come and find me, all right?"

"All right," Naruto said dutifully, and poked Kakashi. "But he's not gonna fall asleep."

Kakashi twitched very slightly. Maybe he was tired. Usually he saw Naruto's pokes coming well in advance, and guarded against them. He pulled First Mate down like a shield between his ribs and Naruto's hand, and said, "I've slept enough already."

The medic snorted.

Kakashi whispered to Naruto, "Brace yourself."

The medic finished fiddling with the machines and tubes around Kakashi's bed, and crouched down next to Naruto to check the tape that covered the place where the plastic tube went into Kakashi's hand. "Hatake-san has had a long, difficult healing procedure this morning. It's very important that he stays quiet and still, and gets lots of rest so that the seals can do their job. If we're lucky, he'll only need to go back for one more treatment. Provided, of course, that he remembers not to use his chakra."

"I'll remember for him," Naruto promised. He waved at Ogata-san. "I'll guard him! You can trust me."

She smiled and waved back. "Don't eat too much of his jello."

"The nurse will be back in 45 minutes with the next dose of painkillers," the medic added, and tweaked Naruto's nose. "Make sure you don't tug on those lines."

The door slid closed behind them.

Kakashi craned his neck on the pillows to look down at Naruto. "Mackerel jello?"

"Maybe they make it!" Naruto said defensively. "They make grass jelly!"

Kakashi looked thoughtful, or else his eye was having trouble focusing. "True. And there's calf's foot jelly—aspic, I think. Maybe it'd be good." He poked Naruto in the tummy. "What do you think of your new housekeeper?"

"She made me a Captain Seaweed bento," Naruto bragged. "And she can whistle loud—loud—loud without using her fingers. An' she got hit in the eye with a shuriken an' it popped."

Kakashi's good eye winced a little, but he said, "What did she do next?"

"She said she fell over and screamed a lot," Naruto admitted. "Her sister killed everybody. They used to be a team, but her sister got married and had babies." He sat up, and poked very carefully at the loop of soft white bandage over Kakashi's left eye. "Is that what happened to you?"

Long, callused fingers caught gently at Naruto's: not pulling him back, but holding him still. Kakashi didn't say anything at first. Then, finally, he said, "It was a kunai for me." His voice was low, and sounded sad.

Naruto reached up in distress to pat Kakashi's cheek with his other hand. "Did it hurt a lot? Does it hurt now? Don't be sad!"

Kakashi's eye softened. "It doesn't hurt," he said. "It was a long time ago. It's healed now. See?" He let go of Naruto's fingers and pushed the bandage up to his forehead.

Naruto had seen the white scar on his eyelid before, but it was just part of Kakashi, the way Dad's scars were part of him, the way Naruto had a belly button that was a scar too. But he'd seen Ogata's scars now, and he kept thinking about the dull kunai Dad let him play with and the sharpened kunai Dad wouldn't let him touch. Dad had showed him why. You could bang a dull kunai on your arm and it would hurt, but it wouldn't cut. But Dad picked up a sharp kunai and had Naruto drag it across the outside of Dad's arm, and the skin opened up and the blood leaked out.

He thought of that happening to Kakashi's face, the sharp edge cutting a long line from Kakashi's forehead down onto his cheekbone, and the eye—

"Aaaagh!" He burrowed down against Kakashi's chest, burying his face in First Mate's velvety softness. "No! I don't like that. I don't want your eye to pop!"

Kakashi's arms came around him, and a warm hand rubbed down his back. "It's okay," Kakashi said softly. "When it happened, I was with Rin and another friend. They made it better."

Naruto sniffled. "Because Rin-neesan healed you?"

"She did," Kakashi said. "She always does."

He was silent for a moment, his hand stroking down Naruto's back. Naruto could hear the chirp and hum of the machines, the scuff of shoes and voices in the hall, and, very quiet, the whisper of Kakashi's breathing against the mask. He pushed First Mate away so he could turn his cheek against Kakashi's chest and feel the slow thump of his heart.

Kakashi's hand rested over Naruto's shoulder blades. He said, "Do you remember that I once told you I'd gotten a gift? That was true. It came from my other friend, and it's one reason why I'm such a good ninja." His voice turned a little dry. "And why I'm well known. You can see it, if you want to."

Naruto wiped his nose on Kakashi's shirt and looked up. Kakashi's scarred eye was almost always squeezed shut, but now it opened. Naruto saw red, and a slow whirl of little black dots, and then Kakashi winced and the eye closed again.

"You know about how the Uchiha clan have weird eyes?" Kakashi asked, pressing his hand against his eye like it hurt. "They're called Sharingan. This one replaces the eye I lost. My friend told me it would help me see the future." He dropped his hand, and his grey eye curved a little with a smile. "He always was a little dramatic."

Naruto thought about this.

"So if you look through that eye you can see the future? Can you beat Dad at his game where you try to bite the toast when it jumps out of the toaster? Because it always hits me in the face."

Kakashi blinked, just with the grey eye, and then laughed raspily. "Maybe. Might be tricky with a mask."

"It would hit you in the face too," Naruto decided. He picked up First Mate again. "Did your friend grow his eye back after he gave you one?"

The laughter faded out of Kakashi's eye. "No," he said. His voice was gentle but something in it made Naruto's stomach hurt. "He died."

Naruto wrapped his arms around First Mate. "Like my mom?"

Kakashi wrapped his arm around Naruto again and pulled him close. "A lot like your mom," he said softly, his chest rumbling under Naruto's ear. "Except your mom saved the whole village, and Obito just saved me. But they're both on the Heroes' Stone."

Naruto had been to the Heroes' Stone. He and Dad went every year on his birthday, and Mom's birthday, and Mom and Dad's anniversary, and sometimes just because. There were a lot of names there. There were often flowers, too, or bottles of sake, or photographs, or incense and fruit. Naruto had taken one of his drawings, last time.

He snuggled up against Kakashi. "Next time we go see the Heroes' Stone I'll bring a drawing for Obito-san too. To say 'Hi' and thank him for saving you."

Kakashi's arms tightened. "I think he'd like that." His voice was thick, and shook a little at the end.

"Okay." Naruto squished First Mate up underneath his chin. "I'll draw him a picture of you killing bad guys with your eye. An' beating Dad at the toaster game. An' sailing with Captain Seaweed and First Mate and Samurai Dolphin. An' getting tattoos on your face…"

Kakashi chuckled damply. "You should draw one of your pretty princess pictures. He'd fall over laughing."

"I'll draw him a whole storybook," Naruto promised. "You can do the words." He wiggled his legs more comfortably. "Did you kill lots of bad guys this time?"

"Yep," Kakashi said. He pulled the bandage back down over his eye and tugged Naruto down to lie against his side, head pillowed on Kakashi's shoulder. "Got a big bad guy. Your dad's going to be pleased." He yawned. "How is your dad?"

"Busy," Naruto said, in deep disgust. "He didn't eat dinner last night. Or breakfast." He remembered abruptly, and sat up. "You need to eat jello!"

"I'm not all that hungry," Kakashi started, before he looked at Naruto's face. "Or I could try the lime."

"Lime! That's green!" Naruto nested First Mate down in the tufty fluff of Kakashi's hair and scrambled up. If he kneeled on the edge of the bed and leaned out far he could just reach the table with the jello cups. There was a little spoon taped on top of each package. Naruto found the green one and took yellow and red for himself. He tumbled back, arms full, and arranged himself cross-legged in the hollow of Kakashi's side again.

But Kakashi didn't want to let Naruto pull his mask down for spoon-feeding, even though no one else was there. "I can eat with it on, Naruto-kun."

"I can cover the window!" Naruto jumped off the bed, ran over to the door, ran back to get the chair, and dragged the chair over to the door. When he climbed on top of the seat, he could just reach the curtain that covered the glass window set high in the door. He pulled it across so that no one could peek in, hopped down, and dragged the chair back halfway across the floor before abandoning it.

Kakashi had finished his jello.

"You cheat," Naruto accused, clambering back on the bed. "I was supposed to feed you and make you better."

Kakashi rumpled a hand through Naruto's hair. "You did."

That was something, at least. Naruto settled in against him and tried to open a jello cup. Kakashi yawned beneath his mask and tugged at his pillows. The ink marks on his skin were nearly all melted in now. Naruto traced the last of them very carefully with his spoon. If he squinted, it looked like a butterfly. Like a tattoo!

"Did the melty guy come back with you?"

"Mm, Tousaki?" Kakashi was starting to sound blurry. "He did. He's the only one who managed not to get his head kicked in. I think he's still at home, probably asleep."

"Tousaki-san." Naruto wasn't going to forget the name again. Tousaki-san with tattoos. "Did he melt people?"

"He did," Kakashi said. "Couple of times. And then he scrubbed up with blackberry and vanilla soap and smelled like a flowery trashcan."

"A flowery trashcan," Naruto howled, and fell off the bed.

Kakashi's eye was all crinkled with a smile when Naruto climbed back up. He reached up over his head to pull First Mate down. The fuzzy wings flapped, and Kakashi's voice went all low and squawky. "Awk, what a terrible smell. Someone should dip that barnacle in the sea."

"Tousaki-san is a barnacle!" Naruto put on Captain Seaweed's voice. "We'll scrub the decks with him!"

Kakashi laughed and waggled First Mate's wings. "Flip him upside down and scrub it with his hair!" He made First Mate fly through the air and land on Naruto's head. "Do you know what a barnacle is?"

Naruto cast a suspicious look at the closed door. "Is it a bad word?"

The paper hospital mask didn't cover quite as much of Kakashi's face as his normal mask did. He blinked, and then his eye scrunched up, and Naruto could see the funny way his cheeks hollowed out, like he was trying not to laugh again. "It's a sea creature," he explained. "It has a shell, and it's about as big as your hand. They like to stick to rocks and the bottom of ships."

Tousaki-san would look pretty funny as a tiny turtle on the bottom of a ship, Naruto decided. "Are they fuzzy?"

"More like...slimy?" Kakashi tried to sketch a shape in the air, dragging the plastic tube along with his wrist. He gave up halfway through to yawn. Naruto never gave up halfway through his drawings. "I think they're sort of roundish, or maybe triangularish, and they look like grey chewing gum on the inside."

"Gross," Naruto said happily. He ate some of his jello. "Someday I'm going to the sea. I'm going to make friends with a dolphin and ride it. And then I'm going to beat up pirates. And I'll make friends with a barnacle and bring it back for Tousaki-san. You can have my dolphin's big brother. They can live in the river and we can ride them every day…"

Kakashi made an agreeing sound, but he had his head back on the pillows and he wasn't watching Naruto anymore. His good eye was closed, and he was starting to breathe slow and deep.

Maybe he was going to fall asleep.

"It's okay, niisan," Naruto told him, very whispery. He put First Mate inside the crook of Kakashi's arm and reached up to pet Kakashi's hair. "You can nap. Don't have bad dreams."

He looked at the door. Ogata-san hadn't come back yet. She had told him to come to find her in the cafeteria if Kakashi fell asleep, but he had jello here so he didn't need to go to the cafeteria. She could come find him when she was all done. In the meantime, he would guard Kakashi. And tell him bedtime stories.

He sprawled onto his stomach beside Kakashi, and put his head down on Kakashi's arm. "When I get tall," he began, "I'll be a hero. I'll fight all the monsters. I'll tell you about a monster I'm going to fight. It lives in the Forest of Death…"

Ten minutes later, when Ogata-san rapped gently on the door and then slid it open, Naruto was asleep too.
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