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Laws of Gravity[Aug. 1st, 2016|06:48 pm]

[Takes place the afternoon of May 20, Yondaime Year 5, following Worth the Pain and The End Is Where We Begin]

The ward was quiet after Ryouma fell asleep.

Unobserved, Kakashi took the shameless opportunity to study him. On missions, Ryouma always made a point of turning his back on the team and shrugging his blankets up, hiding his face. That probably had something to do with his grandfather, Kakashi thought darkly.

Right now the sheets only came up to Ryouma’s chest. The low, v-shaped neckline of his hospital gown was pulled askew, showing a slice of collarbone. If Kakashi leaned close enough, he’d be able to see Ryouma’s carotid pulse beating.

Since he was supposed to be guarding, not identifying target points, he stayed where he was and looked at Ryouma’s face. It was strange to see it unanimated. Without humor or tension lending their edges, Ryouma looked both younger than he was, and older than he should have. Faint lines had already started to etch the corners of his eyes, and there were shadows that ran deeper than just a few nights’ missed sleep. A couple more years and he’d probably have some silver hair of his own.

Kakashi tilted his head and tried to picture Ryouma ten years younger. The sharp jawline would have been shallower, the cheekbones less defined, the straight-bladed edge of his nose might not have had that broken dip in the bridge. He was a handsome man now; he would have been a beautiful child. And smart enough to create his own jutsu a few years later. Exactly the kind of boy who’d make his family proud.

Except the only family Ryouma had ever mentioned was a mother who’d died, and the grandfather who’d taken him afterwards, now also dead.

He had me for three years.

Where had the father been? Where had Konoha been? Young shinobi were a precious resource. Who’d let Ryouma vanish halfway through a war with a drunken, bone-breaking bastard?

And after everything, Ryouma had limped back to Konoha and signed up to protect it. Probably for the same reason he wore an extra dogtag around his throat, separate on its own chain: it was the closest he could get to home.

Kakashi could see the edge of that tag now, tucked beneath Ryouma’s gown. He’d glimpsed the name on it — Tousaki Miyako — before and assumed it was a mother, sister, or wife. Ryouma was only twenty, but that was still old enough to be a widower. Now, though, he had a better idea.

Very gently, Kakashi slipped a finger under the chain and tugged until the old, scarred tag came into sight.

REG 002950
DOB 06/05/初代 Y-17

Ryouma’s blood type was B-positive. Shodai’s 17th year was 42 years ago. Miyako could only be his mother. Kakashi wasn’t the authority on healthy maternal relationships, but he was learning Ryouma, and Ryouma wouldn’t wear a memorial to someone he’d hated.

Kakashi wondered if she’d been anything like her son.

He let the chain and dogtag settle back. Ryouma barely twitched.

The ward stayed quiet until a nurse came back around to check Ryouma’s blood pressure, earning a grumbly protest from her victim. After that, Ryouma hauled a pillow over his face, which at least made him look more like himself.

“How much longer is this going to last?” Kakashi asked.

The nurse checked her watch. “I’d give him another half hour before he’s back to himself, but he’s probably going to be tired for the rest of the day. Chakra surgery takes it out of you.”

Ryouma had yet to meet a moment he couldn’t fidget through. Kakashi doubted any surgery would put him down for long, but he agreed politely until the nurse went away.

When precisely half an hour had passed, he raised a foot and thumped Ryouma in the ribs. A reflexive, vengeful pillow bounced off his prudently raised hand. Ryouma jerked, swore when that jolted his knee, shoved himself up on one elbow, and gave Kakashi a wild, ruffled look. Sweaty hair stuck to his skin, a valid argument against smothering yourself in your sleep.

“Did you run out of sympathy points?” he demanded.

“Oh good, you’re sane again,” Kakashi said.

“Sober,” Ryouma corrected, sounding remarkably clear-headed. (Adrenaline, Kakashi thought smugly.) “Except the hangover’s in my knee.” He pushed himself upright, shoving the blankets and icepack down to glare at his knee. “Doesn’t look like it should hurt that bad.”

To Kakashi’s eye, it looked like a mildly swollen knee wrapped in a heavily articulated brace. There were still black seals inked across the skin; they wouldn't budge unless Ryouma scrubbed them with alcohol. Other than that and a faint, lingering redness, it was an unremarkable joint.

Since that had been the whole point, it was profoundly relieving to see.

“Perhaps you’re just delicate,” he told Ryouma.

Ryouma gave him a tired, baleful look— then blinked. “Did you tell me a story about pirates fighting giant talking pigs?”

“No,” Kakashi said. “And I’ll deny it if you tell anyone.” They’d been wild boar, anyway.

Amusement kindled in Ryouma’s dark eyes. “Well, I might’ve dreamed the part where they all sat down and ate shave ice.”

“That was us,” Kakashi reminded him.

“You sure?” Ryouma said, with a sidelong glance. “There were lots of piggish grunting noises. Guess I wasn’t really watching you eat…”

He was still just drowsy enough for Kakashi to flatten with a pillow, but he went down laughing and came up grinning, and somehow Kakashi lost the moral victory. Of course Ryouma took the fun out of assaulting a post-surgery patient.

“Get up and acquire pants so we can leave already,” Kakashi said impatiently.

Ryouma dropped the pillow on the bed, still snickering, and glanced around the curtained cubicle with its distinct lack of pants. “I left all my clothes in the locker room. Do we have to go hunting for them?” He began picking at the leads stuck to his chest.

“I’ll find them. You stay here and try not to fall on your face,” Kakashi said.

He left Ryouma wrestling with chakra monitor lines and the blood-pressure cuff, and backtracked to the lockers. When he returned with an armful of clothes, Ryouma was chatting cheerfully with Niimi-sensei while a nurse removed his IV. A pair of crutches (extra tall) stood leaning against the wall, ready for use.

“—expect excellent results,” Niimi-sensei was saying. “But make sure you put absolutely no weight on it before your next surgery, or you’ll undo all my good work, and I’ll have Hyuuga Mitsu-sensei shout at you. Very fearsome woman when she’s riled.”

“I believe it,” Ryouma said, with healthy respect. “My genin sensei was a Hyuuga.” He poked gingerly at his knee-cap, just visible beneath the brace. The skin blanched for a moment, then flushed red again. “Ice-packs and flashcards it is. Tonight’s gonna be fun. And back next week for the rest?”

“Yep,” Niimi-sensei confirmed. She nodded at the nurse. “Hirata-san will set you up with an appointment and painkillers on your way out. Now enjoy that rest; your knee’s earned it.” She thumped Ryouma briskly on the shoulder and strode out, curtain swinging shut behind her.

Hirata followed her, with an admonishment for Ryouma to call for help if he needed it.

Kakashi dropped the bundle of clothes on Ryouma’s lap and turned his back.

“Thanks,” Ryouma said. There was some muffled rustling, an ominous silence, then: “Kunai?”

Kakashi handed one back without looking.

Fabric tore. The kunai hilt thumped back into his hand. There was more rustling, a few grunts, and what looked like half a pant leg unceremoniously tossed over the end of the bed. Then Ryouma’s hand landed on Kakashi’s shoulder. He hauled himself upright.

Kakashi kept forgetting how goddamn tall Ryouma was, until he was close and towering. When Kakashi looked over, his eyeline was right at Ryouma’s bottom lip — currently being bitten while Ryouma balanced on one leg and fastened his pants one-handed.

His half-pants. The right leg ended about four inches above the knee-brace.

“That’s a look,” Kakashi said.

“Gonna be all the rage next year.” Ryouma sounded breezy, but there was a thread of tension underneath. Pain, Kakashi guessed. “This thing’s heavy. Pass me a crutch?”

Kakashi passed him two, freeing his shoulder from crutch-duty in the process, and noted with approval that the brace was angled to create a natural knee-bend that barely allowed Ryouma’s toes to brush the floor. Ryouma handled the crutches with familiar skill, which was a thought Kakashi wanted to be angry about — he wanted to be angry about a lot of things today, starting with Ryouma’s grandfather dying before Kakashi had a chance to break a few joints in return — but most shinobi grew up with a working knowledge of the occasional assistive device, and were thankful they weren’t permanent.

“Okay,” Kakashi began. “Let’s—”

He paused.

“What?” Ryouma said, but then his head came up when the chakra signatures tickled his senses. Surprise flickered over his face, followed by a glimmer of something warm and pleased. “Didn’t figure the captain was allowed to visit.”

“Neither did I,” Kakashi said slowly.

Genma brushed through the curtain first, face set and calm. Raidou followed a step behind, and nothing about his expression suggested a social visit. Kakashi inhaled, tasting salt and stress and a faint, sour edge shared between them: alcohol.

Everything warm had vanished from Ryouma’s face. He looked at them, eyes narrowing, and then at the empty space behind them. “Where’s Katsuko?”

Kakashi sat down on the bed.
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