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The Talking Cure [Kakashi][Feb. 5th, 2012|05:20 pm]

[Begins on May 15th, a week after To Fit the Crime and a month after Ryouma's disappearance.]

Shira Yumon tapped his fingers gently on his desk, and studied the ID photograph paperclipped to the upper corner of the open file. A stony-faced, masked young man with mismatched eyes stared back, looking directly into the camera. Hatake Kakashi, the White Fang’s only son. Twenty years old, ANBU Hunter for five of them.

It was going to be an interesting day.

“Tell me a little about yourself,” Yumon invited, starting things easy.

The blank stare he got in return was, at best, slightly off-putting. Hatake Kakashi was a wall of black, dressed head to foot in dark, nondescript clothes, with his arms crossed over his chest and absolutely no expression on his face—what little of it Yumon could see, anyway. The only hints of colour were the silver in his hair, the pale skin of his half-gloved hands and the visible quarter surrounding one eye, and the white bandage wrapped around his head. He was carved in monochrome, like ANBU armour brought to life.

And decidedly non-verbal.

“Your day so far, perhaps,” Yumon suggested. “Or a favourite hobby.”

The stare continued, unchanging.

“Your name?” Yumon tried.

Kakashi might as well have been chiseled from a block of breathing ice.

“Is there anything you’d like to say?” Yumon said.

Kakashi blinked, once.

Yumon subsided. They sat in silence for the rest of the session.

The second day went the same, except that Kakashi folded his arms right over left instead of left over right.

On the third day, he was back to his original posture.

Yumon’s division supervisor, Mano Hoji, was less than sympathetic. “You have to engage him,” she said, on the fourth morning.

Her office was small and cramped, swarming with paperwork. Yumon sat carefully on the wooden-backed chair on the other side of her desk, and tried not to overturn anything.

“But how?” he said. “I can’t even get him to talk. He just sits there. I waited three hours yesterday; I had to cancel two appointments. He doesn’t even move.”

“He’s reserved,” Hoji said.

“He’s mute,” Yumon said. “I can’t tell if he’s breaking, or traumatized, or just bored. Are you sure his head injury was fully cleared?”

“Definitely. He had three chakra-healings on that skull fracture, and Arakaki-san confirmed that he spoke in the hospital.” Hoji consulted the file laid open between them. “He was debriefed, anyway.”

“Did he ask after his teammate? I didn’t see any kind of note in the file.” At least that would be a sign of some interest in the outside world.

“Not that Arakaki-san mentioned to me.”

Yumon sighed. “I’ll keep trying.”

Despite the chakra-healings, Kakashi was still wearing the head bandage when he turned up for the fourth afternoon session, so Yumon had to conclude there was still some mending happening underneath all that unique hair. A headache would account for the faint pinch between iron-grey eyebrows.

Kakashi took his customary seat in the centre of the sofa, crossed his arms, and said nothing.

“Afternoon,” said Yumon, friendly-like, because it was worth a shot.

Kakashi continued to say nothing.

“Alrighty,” Yumon said. “I thought we might try something different today.” He pushed his chair back from the desk and got to his feet, picking up a heavy little wooden box from atop a stack of paperwork. When he walked around the desk and moved, very carefully, within six feet of Kakashi, he won his first reaction.

Kakashi tensed fractionally.

It was subtle, just a slight change in the way he held himself, but it was there. Yumon restrained himself from dancing a little jig.

“This is a Himitsu-Bako,” he said, presenting the box. Late spring sunshine gleamed on the latticed wood pattern. “It’s a puzzle box. Belonged to my grandfather. It’s made from Katsura and Spindle trees, apparently, which is how you get that pretty black and white effect. Here, have a look.”

He took life and limb in hand by reducing the distance from six feet to arms-reach, where he held the box out.

Kakashi regarded him.

And regarded him.

Yumon sighed quietly. “It’s just a puzzle box,” he said. “Please, have a look.”

At last, Kakashi unfolded his arms and took the box, scrupulously careful not to touch Yumon’s fingers. He turned it over with odd gentleness, studying it.

Twelve quick flicks of movement, and the lid opened.

Yumon’s jaw dropped. “How did— It took me weeks to figure out the right sequence of moving parts.”

Ignoring him, Kakashi reached into the interior of the box and withdrew a coloured cube. He snapped the box back together and set it aside, turning the cube between his fingers. It was covered in multi-colored squares, all scrambled into a patternless mess. Experimentally, he twisted the cube; the squares rotated.

“It’s another puzzle,” Yumon explained. “You have to reorganize the squares into one solid colour on each side. I’ve only ever managed to get three sides.”

Kakashi turned the cube over again, frowning faintly.

“Want to give it a shot?” Yuman said. “It’ll probably be more interesting than staring at me for an hour, unless you’re finding something especially meditative about my eyebrows.”

The look Kakashi gave him made him feel like he’d just tried to coax a tiger into rolling around in cat nip. Yumon took a hasty step back without any intervention from his brain.

Very quietly, Kakashi snorted.

Well, it was a sound, even if it made Yumon feel like a genin again, instead of an experienced jounin. He gave Kakashi a crooked, self-deprecating smile and retreated back behind his desk, grabbing the first folder that came to hand. Yawan Nahi, a kunoichi left with screaming nightmares and a slight tendency to attack her teammates after almost being burned alive. He devoted himself entirely to re-writing her most recent case report.

When the clock chimed 1600, a slight displacement of air announced Kakashi standing. Yumon glanced up and startled violently when he found himself almost face-to-chest with an apparently cat-footed ANBU agent.

Kakashi set the cube down on his desk, turned, and left.

Yumon stared down at it.

Every single side was a uniform colour.

“Son of a bitch,” he said, and picked it up, turning it over. Red, white, blue, orange, green, yellow—all perfect. He tossed it in the air, caught it again, and grinned. “Not bad.”

Now he just had to think of something for tomorrow.

On the fifth day, Kakashi was two hours late.

Between the distraction of the two shinobi who did show up for their appointments, Yumon had almost forgotten about him. Had forgotten him, until Yumon walked out of his office, folders stacked under his arms, and almost walked straight into the man.

Wragh!” Yumon said and dropped most of the folders, because it was not his day to be dignified.

Kakashi startled back, charka snapping restlessly under his skin. He froze on the next step, as if he’d just jarred an injury. Faint lines creased at the corner of his visible eye.

“Headache?” Yumon said, flustered. He dropped down to scrabble at papers. “Serves you right. You just about gave me a stroke. Get down here and help, would you?”

Kakashi leaned his shoulder against the wall, crossing one leg behind the other, and made no attempt to assist.

“Charming,” Yumon said. “You’re really kind of a bastard, you know that?”

“So I’ve been told,” Kakashi said. His voice was low and rusty, as if he hadn’t spoken in days, and so completely startling that Yumon almost fell over sideways.

“Have you been waiting for me to insult you all this time?” he asked, when he’d recovered.

Kakashi twitched one shoulder in a minimal shrug.

“No, don’t do that. You just proved you can talk,” Yumon said, forgetting the files and climbing back to his feet. “Why are you late? Did something happen?”

Again, the bare edge of a shrug.

Yumon restrained himself from shaking Kakashi by the shoulders. It would only get him killed. “Well, I can’t stay,” he said, feeling mulish. Breakthrough or not, there were boundaries, and even complicated geniuses had to stick to them. “I have dinner plans.”

“Psychologists have friends?” Kakashi said, still leaning. There was more of a drawl to his voice now, cool as arctic frost.

“If we’re lucky,” Yumon said. “Do you?”

What little expression there had been in Kakashi’s face fled, leaving nothing behind, and Yumon wanted to smack himself in head. Challenge was all well and good, but there needed to be rapport first, not just salt in a fresh wound.

“No,” said Kakashi.

Not anymore.

“Look, I didn’t mean—” Yumon began.

“Enjoy your dinner,” Kakashi said, and just... vanished somewhere between one blink and the next. Yumon couldn’t tell if he’d translocated, kawarimi’d, or dissolved out of the visible light spectrum.

After a moment, he remembered to try a kai, just in case.

Kakashi was gone.

“Goddammit,” Yumon said, and bent to collect his scattered paperwork.

Kakashi was a no-show the next day. Yumon wasn’t surprised.

“I’m not cut out for this one,” he told Hoji, resisting the urge to lay his head gently on her paperwork. It was the morning of the seventh day and he’d come straight to her office, bringing coffee and bagels along with him because it never hurt to bribe your boss. “Can’t he talk to the Hokage? Or someone else with brains? I think I’ve used all mine up.”

“He spoke to you,” Hoji said, looking over the transcript he’d scrawled in ballpoint pen on a napkin. All eight lines of it.

“Actual words,” Yumon said. “Until I shoved both feet down my throat. He didn’t come in at all yesterday.”

“I’m not expecting perfection,” Hoji said. “God knows we don’t have the budget for it. You’re not there to fix him, just to figure out if there’s anything salvageable left. He hasn’t attacked you yet, has he?”

“... the ‘yet’ is extremely comforting,” Yumon said.

“Look, I don’t care what you have to do to draw his issues out. Antagonize him, if necessary. Just figure out if he’s an active risk and cut him loose. He’s an S-ranker; he’s needed.”

“He’s hurting,” Yumon said.

“They’re all hurting,” Hoji said brusquely. “That’s the price, and be thankful it isn’t bigger. If this was Mist, every graduating class would be forced to butcher each other down to the last twenty standing.”

“Must be why they’re such a global power,” Yumon said, bone-dry.

She bounced an emphatic pen off his forehead. “I don’t want to hear it. Get Hatake back here and make sure he isn’t about to murder everyone because his boyfriend died.”

“And if he is about to murder everyone?”

“Activate your seals and hand him over to the MPs. You know how this works.” She eyed him narrowly, and decided, “You’re just stalling. Sakmoto’s paperwork was finally cleared; it’s on your desk. Now get moving, Shira. Your 0900 will be here soon.”

Ochiain Noro: torture victim, paralyzing fear of confined spaces, missing three fingers and one ear. Not much prognosis.

Yumon sighed and flicked a salute. “Bet you a hundred ryou he doesn’t show up again.”

The faintest edge of a smile lifted one side of Hoji’s full, scar-cut mouth. “Done,” she said. “Thanks for the coffee.”

The walk back to his office was mostly silent, barring a brief altercation with a blue-haired boy talking to a potted plant.

“Hey, Taisei,” Yumon said. “Where are your lightbulbs?”

“Collecting jam,” the boy said, waving one absent hand at him. Thin silvery scars shimmered under fluorescent strip-lighting.

Yumon couldn’t help asking, “They do that a lot?”

“Only on Wednesdays,” Taisei said solemnly, which probably meant he was winding Yumon up.

“It’s Saturday,” Yumon began, then interrupted himself. “No, wait, I know this one. Lightbulbs can’t tell time.”

“Don’t tell them that,” Taisei said, wide-eyed. His pupils were blown, leaving his irises just a thin circle of jade green. New meds. “They’ll be insulted.”

Yumon mimed zipping his mouth closed and left the kid whispering sweet nothings to the hallway fern. He made it to his office by 0850, which was just enough time to re-familiarize himself with Ochiain’s file and finish the last half of his bagel, and maybe bang his head once or twice on the desk—

Except that Hatake Kakashi was stretched out on his sofa, asleep.

Yumon wasn’t quite sure how to process that.

“Uh,” he said at last, which came out less of a word and more of a squeak, half an octave higher than his normal voice.

Kakashi’s eye opened, the shifting grey of a water-marked blade. His hair looked cleaner and the bandage was gone, which meant he’d finally gotten the stitches out. He was still wearing nothing but black, except for the silver plate of his hitai-ate: not a jounin uniform, but not the ANBU armour underpinnings, either. Training clothes, perhaps.

He looked at Yumon and said nothing.

“Hello,” Yumon said, once he’d switched his higher functioning back on.

“If you reacted that slowly in the field, you’d be dead inside a week,” Kakashi told him, with another one of those abrupt swerves into human speech.

“Good thing I’m in an office,” Yumon said. “The only lethal thing in here—” besides you, “—is the stapler, which does have it in for me.”

Kakashi closed his eye again, apparently disinterested in the dangers of stationary supplies.

“I just lost a hundred ryou because of you,” Yumon realized. “And also you’re on my sofa. What’s going on?”

“It’s unethical to make money on your patients,” Kakashi said, eye still closed.

“How about losing it?” Yumon said. “I think I can reconciliate my immortal soul to the price of a sandwich.”

“Slippery slope,” Kakashi said.

“I’m prepared to risk it.” Yumon set his bagel and cooling coffee down on the desk, noting Sakamoto Ginta’s cleared file placed prominently in the centre. Had Kakashi looked at it? “Look, I don’t want to be rude—”

“You love being rude.”

Yumon pursed his lips, pulling an expression his jounin-sensei had once affectionately referred to as his angry duck face. “I have an appointment showing up in a minute. You’re welcome to come back and argue with me this afternoon.”

“You need to sign me off,” Kakashi said, as if he hadn’t heard him.

Yumon paused. “You haven’t given me a reason to.”

“ANBU needs agents,” Kakashi said, which was perfectly true, but no good reason for a grieving man to fling himself back under the blade edge.

“ANBU always needs agents,” Yumon said. “What makes you different?”

“Five years and six months,” Kakashi said.

“Your service record,” Yumon translated.

Kakashi pushed himself upright, swinging long legs around to set his feet on the floor. He braced his elbows on his knees and looked up at Yumon without quite lifting his head, which gave him the air of a predator waiting to strike. “How many agents last that long?”

Almost none.

“Some might say that you’ve done your duty to the village,” Yumon said, and blinked once when Kakashi flinched. Ochiain was going to arrive any moment, but that was a raw nerve reaction and apparently he’d just stepped all over it, which meant there was something to work with there. “You don’t think so.”

“Duty isn’t finite,” Kakashi said, which rather neatly side-stepped the question. “It doesn’t have a cut-off date.”

Yumon tapped Sakamoto Ginta’s file. “And if you’d done it right, Tousaki Ryouma wouldn’t be dead,” he guessed.

There was a fragile moment of silence. Kakashi raised his head and Yumon slid his hand under the lip of the desk, fingers resting on seals, fully expecting to be murdered on the spot. But Kakashi just looked at him, chakra leashed down so tightly that Yumon could barely feel it. If there was killing intent bleeding though, it was impossible to tell.

That’d be the ‘S-ranked shinobi’ element coming into play, then.

“Ryouma was always going to die,” Kakashi said at last, so quietly the words were almost inaudible.

Yumon frowned. “Because he wasn’t good enough?”

“Because he was very good, and he tried to be better.” There were shadows in Kakashi’s eye, and twisted through his voice. He looked exhausted, suddenly. Or perhaps he’d always been exhausted and now he just wasn’t hiding it. “And he wouldn’t listen when I told him I’d get him killed.”

There was a knock at the door. Yumon cursed silently. “Hold on,” he said. “I’ll send her away. Just—wait there.”

Ochiain blinked when he opened the door six inches and pulled an agonized face at her.

“I’m really sorry,” he said, hushed and quiet. “I have—look, I can’t really explain, but can I swap you to 1500 today? It’s crucial.”

She raised a scarred eyebrow at him. “You better not have a girl hiding under your desk.”

“If I did, you’d be the first to know about it,” he said. “Please, just this one time?”

“Okay, okay, no worries,” she said, waving him away with her functional hand. She retreated back down the hallway, and he shut the door.

When he turned back, Kakashi had gone.

Goddammit,” Yumon said, and kicked the desk hard enough to hurt his foot.

He brought Ochiain back for her 0900. Kakashi didn’t show up for the 1500.

Yumon wasn’t greatly surprised.

“I was so close,” he said later, resisting, once again, the urge to lay his head down on Hoji’s strewn desk. “He was talking.”

Hoji’s eyes flickered over the transcript he’d scribbled out, this time on real paper. Her eyebrows lifted. “You actually said this?”

“Every word,” he said.

“And he didn’t attack you?”

Yumon shook his head. “He barely moved, just looked at me. He seemed... I don’t know, defeated? Despairing? It’s like he just expects people to die, and there’s nothing he can do about it.”

Hoji tapped blunt-nailed fingers on top of Kakashi’s file. “But he kept control of himself.”

Yumon recalled the single flinch, the subtle ways Kakashi had tensed. “Almost perfectly.”

“Good. He has anti-interrogation training. I believe he has been interrogated, actually, though it’s all classified, but you can tell from the shape of the censoring in his file. You were lucky to get anything out of him at all.” She nodded decisively. “Good job.”

Yumon frowned. “Wait, you’re not suggesting I’m done? He’s only just started talking—”

“You pushed him, he held it together. That’s good enough.”


“He’s not injuring himself,” she said. “Or showing up drunk, or drugged. He hasn’t broken down and throttled you, or tried to slash his wrists. He’s given you half a runaround, like he was trained to do, and shared just enough to prove he’s sane. Or close enough.”

Yumon raked both hands though his hair, making it stand up in ruffled spikes. “The only lover he’s ever taken has just died.”

“For the village, doing his duty. Hatake should be proud.” Hoji twisted the worn golden band around her left ring finger, like an unsubtle tic. Her husband had died in the Fox attack, five and a half years ago. Cut in half by a single bite. “Either way, he’s dealing with things. And he can do that while he works.”

Yumon bit down on an unwise reply, anger bubbling in his ribcage.

“Five years and six months,” he said.

Hoji’s brow furrowed. “What?”

“That’s how long he’s worked already,” Yumon said. “He’s never taken a vacation. Do you know how much leave time he has saved up? A lot. And that’s just ANBU. He was running jounin missions before that. Chuunin missions when he was six.”

“You’re awfully invested in him,” Hoji observed, leaning her chin on her hand.

“He’s my patient,” Yumon snapped.

“He’s a cipher,” Hoji said. “You’re enjoying the puzzle.”

“He’s in pain,” Yumon said, and knew immediately that he’d lost the argument, because they’d covered this ground already. He rushed to add: “I can get him to open up. I just need the time. There’s real emotion there, buried deep, and if I can just get at it—”

“You’ll break him in half trying to put him back together,” Hoji said flatly. “Leave it alone, Shira. He doesn’t need you fumbling around in his shiny genius brain, especially when you have actually non-functional patients who need your help more.”

he wouldn’t listen when I told him I’d get him killed

“He can’t hold it together forever,” Yumon said. “He thinks it’s his fault.”

“We all carry guilt,” Hoji said. “Most of us have learned to live with it. Write up your final report, Shira, and get him off your desk.”

Yumon set his jaw and bowed, stiff-necked. “Yes, Mano-san.”

She was quiet as he stalked out of the office.

Naoku was waiting for him at home, mud-splattered but victorious from a day of bullying academy students into throwing kunai in a straight line and learning their multiplication tables. She took one look at him and kissed him right on the mouth, tasting like earth and home.

“Bad day?” she asked, and made a startled sound when he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face into the curve between neck and shoulder. The fabric of her unzipped chuunin-vest bunched under his fingers. She hugged him back, fierce and strong. “Honey? What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he said, muffled. “Just want to hang onto you for a minute.”

“Sure,” she said, and slid her fingers through the short hair at the nape of his neck, and kissed him on the top of his head. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“You better not,” he said, mock-growling, which made her laugh and squeeze him tighter and demand who’d ruined his day. He sighed against her skin. “No one.”

“Hoji,” she translated accurately. “Is this about your new patient? The mute one?”

“No,” he said. “Yes. Maybe. I can’t really talk about it.”

She made an amused sound. “I know. Did he speak again, at least?”

“Full sentences,” he said, proud and weary. If Kakashi had stayed silent, there might have been more time to work with him. More chance for him, if he was only a little more visibly broken...

“She’s making you give him up, isn’t she?” Naoku said, with her usual gift of telepathy.

“I don’t even want to know how you know that,” he grumbled. “You’re like a one-woman security risk.”

“Educated guess,” she said, a trifle smug. “And you did mention it was a worry.”

He pulled away from her and dropped down into the first available seat at the kitchen table. The tiny kitchen was a puddle of late evening sunlight, catching the last licks of warmth through the west-facing windows. They’d only moved in a few months ago, and Naoku had insisted on painting the walls yellow, but now everything was softly golden and peaceful, backlit by a sky blushing pink.

“He’s going to snap,” Yumon said. “I can just... feel it. One more tragedy, one more push—and that will happen if he goes back into ANBU. It’s just a matter of time.”

“Maybe he’ll be strong enough to weather it,” Noaku suggested, ignoring the other chair in favour of dropping into his lap and resting her forehead against his temple. She was actually a little taller than him, brown-haired and dark-eyed against his black hair and pale blue eyes, a scar-cut autumn to his winter. “If he’s survived this long...”

“Then it will be spectacular when he breaks,” Yumon said.

“Not everyone does,” she said, and took hold of his ear, giving a gentle tug. “S ome of us become gloomy psychologists instead.”

“Don’t try to cheer me up,” he said grouchily. “I’m enjoying my bad mood.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “You stew and kick the furniture, and I will enjoy the sukiyaki I made with fresh beef, like an actual traditional housewife, and admire the cloud of misery hovering over my husband.”

He lifted his head. “You made sukiyaki?”

“All by myself,” she said proudly.

He looked over her shoulder towards the stove, where a pot was bubbling quietly and releasing the delicious scent of simmered meat and vegetables into the air.

“But the kitchen still appears to be standing,” he said at least. “Did you draft in a neighbour to help?”

“It’s a good thing I love you, or I’d have to kick you into the river,” she said. “I can cook, you know.”

“You can,” he agreed. “Sandwiches, toast, plain rice... No, wait, you scorched the plain rice.”

“Funny,” she said. “Keep talking and see how much beef you get.”

She slid off his lap, muscles gliding under skin as she went to check the contents of the pot. He leaned back in his chair and let out a long, low breath, resettling back into himself. Kakashi and all other problems could wait until tomorrow. For now, he was home and there was sukiyaki on the horizon, and his wife really could make a mud-splattered chuunin uniform look astonishingly sexy.

He got up, crossed the kitchen floor to her, slid his arms around her waist, and kissed the back of her neck. There was an old ridged scar there from an incident years ago, tracing a fine white line up into her hairline.

“Hello,” she said, voice turning just a little husky.

“Hi,” he murmured. “So I’m trying to think of a clever line, but all I have a really terrible jokes about beef. I think you knocked the wit out of my head.”

She laughed. “What wit?”

“Ouch, right in the ego.” His hands found the curve of her hips, fingers skimming lightly up under her shirt, resting on warm skin. He breathed her in, turning thoughtful. “We’re really lucky, you know that?”

She turned in the circle of his arms. “Every day.” A smile lifted her mouth. “You more than me. I had lots of suitors.”

“And when I die, I expect you to stuff me and put me on the sofa, so I can glare at all of them,” he said agreeably. “Make sure I look extra fierce.”

She laughed again, light and warm, and kissed him right between the eyebrows. “You are creepsome and weird, husband.”

He grinned at her, still enjoying the title after eight months. “You are beautiful and astonishing, wife.” He tipped his head sideways, getting a better look at the pot. “And holding out on me. That looks incredible.”

“Flatterer,” she said, amused.

“It’s poisoned, isn’t it?” he predicted. “You’re trying to get me stuffed early.”

She whacked him with the wooden spoon, leaving a sauce stain on his ear. “Go get the bowls before I toss you in with the beef.”

He saluted smartly. “I live to serve.”

“I know,” she said, laughter fading into a quiet smile as he went in search of cutlery and china.

Final report

Patient: Hatake Kakashi, 009720
Psychologist assigned: Shira Yumon, 007357

It is my recommendation that Agent Hatake Kakashi is of minimal risk to his teammates and the citizens of Konoha. He is functioning, baseline communicative, and eager to return to duty. I believe it is in his best interests...

Yumon stared down at the paper and chewed the end of his pen. He sighed.

...to resume an active role in ANBU without restriction.
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