And We’ll Laugh About It

Takes place during Chapter Seven of Half Without Another One. While Sakura is gone her boys fret and try to distract themselves and take care of each other. Drama, Angst, Humor I-3

Sooner

The third time Naruto blew up his study room, trying to separate out the fox’s chakra from his own once he’d already expressed them together, Tsunade didn’t even yell. She just gave him a narrow look, hands planted on her hips, and called for Iruka-sensei.

Naruto kind of thought that was cheating.

Iruka-sensei, when he arrived, cast an experienced eye over the smoking splinters of Naruto’s work table and crossed his arms in that immovably teacher-y way of his and declared, “No sparring with Sasuke-kun until you finish this exercise. Without blowing anything up.”

Naruto stared at him in absolute betrayal. “That’s cheating!” He pointed at Iruka-sensei, outraged. “Tsunade-baachan, that’s cheating! I mean, that’s just mean!”

“Naruto!” Iruka-sensei drew himself up, and Naruto wilted a little. “Do you think bandits or enemy shinobi are going to wait until you’re not distracted? You need to learn control of the Nine-tails’ chakra, and you need to learn how to focus on your work. Even when you’re worrying.”

“But…” Naruto mumbled at his feet, “it’s Sakura-chan. I mean, what if something happens? How will we know?” Iruka-sensei stopped looming quite so much and reached out to rest a hand on his head.

“Sometimes we don’t know,” he said more gently, “and that’s a painful thing to live with. But that’s our job. That’s what we are, Naruto.”

Naruto crossed his arms tightly. He knew that. Of course he knew that. But he’d never had to do it before. Even when Sasuke had been gone, they’d know Jiraiya was with him. Wherever Sakura was, she was all by herself!

Tsunade-baachan finally pushed away from the wall where she’d been leaning and shook her head. “Go get something to eat, kid. And then you’re going to come back here and do this exercise right. And then,” he could totally hear the grin in her voice, “you can go out to play with Sasuke.”

He straightened up and glared at her. “We’re not kids.”

She was grinning all right. “Glad to hear it. So you’ll come back this afternoon and concentrate like a working shinobi, right?”

Naruto grumped and huffed to himself. This was blatant entrapment, was what it was. “Okay, fine. Yes.” He pointed at Iruka-sensei again. “But I want ramen first!”

Iruka-sensei was trying to look stern, still, but a corner of his mouth was twitching up. “Just one bowl,” he specified.

“Deal!” And he would get the exercise right, Naruto resolved as he followed Iruka-sensei down the stairs of the administrative building. Because he really, really needed to see Sasuke every day and make sure he was okay.

He kind of thought Sasuke felt the same way.


Naruto sprang out of a tree, grinning hugely as he bore straight down on Sasuke; this time he had him!

And then he squawked as a leg wrapped around his and arms snaked through his elbows, locking his knife hand. A weight that could only be Sasuke was against his back, and the illusion on the ground flickered out, and the ground itself was coming up fast. Really fast.

Thud.

It took Naruto a few moments to get enough breath back to wheeze, “Fuck.”

“You really need to work something out so you’re not so vulnerable to illusion,” Sasuke agreed against his shoulder. He didn’t sound nearly as winded. Of course, he’d had Naruto to cushion his landing. “You’re not nearly as observant as S—” He cut off abruptly, and Naruto lay quietly, not fighting it as Sasuke’s hold tightened. When Sasuke spoke again, his voice was rougher. “Hell, neither am I. So you need to compensate. Will your Shadow Clones be any good for this?” Finally he let Naruto go and pushed up to his feet.

“I dunno.” Naruto wriggled his fingers and toes to make sure everything was still attached and rolled to his feet. “I guess if I hid one to watch… but I’d have to yell or signal to warn myself.”

“Not necessarily,” Kakashi-sensei spoke up from his perch on one of the training ground’s huge boulders, eye fixed on his book. “You haven’t noticed so far, which, I must say, says a few things about the lack of organization in your brain. But Shadow Clones return experiences to their originator when they disperse. It’s one of the reasons the technique is so dangerous.”

Naruto’s eyes widened. “Wait, wait. So you mean… I could have had Shadow Clones do all my homework while I was out eating ramen and painting the monument?” And no one had told him?

Kakashi-sensei actually looked up from his book, and his expression was pained. “Naruto, Shadow Clones are complete copies of you. They would have blown the homework off too, and if they hadn’t they would still have returned just as much boredom as you’d have experienced doing the homework yourself. Multiplied.”

Naruto quailed at the thought. Okay, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Sasuke had collapsed cross legged in the dust and had a hand over his face, shoulders shaking with stifled laughter. “You would totally have done it. Your face would have been great.”

“Oh shut up.” Naruto glared, but not too hard, because Sasuke wasn’t laughing very often lately. “So anyway.” He folded his arms with dignity and looked back at Kakashi-sensei. “If the Shadow Clone just disperses once it spots an illusion, then I would know?”

“If you were paying attention,” Kakashi-sensei murmured, turning a page.

“Great!” Naruto produced about twenty, who grinned back at him and scattered through the trees. This time he’d definitely get Sasuke!

Sasuke was smirking. “This should be interesting.”

Sasuke could be a total bastard, and way too smug about using his Sharingan to set illusions on all Naruto’s clones at once so they all came back at once with nearly two dozen different views of Sasuke. But he gave Naruto an ice-pack for the headache afterwards, so Naruto figured he’d forgive him this time.

Besides, it kept them from thinking too hard about Sakura.


Naruto sat on Sasuke’s bed and sulked as Sasuke packed. “Why do you have to go?”

Sasuke rolled a spare mesh shirt and stuffed it into his bag. “He says it’s because Hidden Stone might be researching forbidden techniques, and the team that goes in has to be both as strong and as small as possible.”

“So why can’t I go too?” Naruto grabbed Sasuke’s medical kit out of his hands to double check it himself, before it was packed.

“Because the Elders still want to chain you to the Hokage’s desk," Sasuke pointed out dryly, stowing ration bars instead.

Naruto growled as he went to rummage in Sasuke’s kitchen for ingredients to make some extra warming pills; Sasuke always managed to exhaust his chakra if no one was around to watch him, and then he caught chest colds, and then he was a pain-in-the-ass patient for weeks. “They’re gonna have to let me go some time,” he declared, grinding dried ginger like it had the Elders’ faces on it.

“Some time, probably,” Sasuke agreed, checking his shuriken one by one. “But not this time.” They were both quiet for a few minutes. Naruto was rolling paste into pills when Sasuke said, “I’ll be back in three weeks. Even if I have to tie the old pervert up and drag him back.”

Naruto cracked a grin at that mental image and relaxed a little. “Yeah. Okay.” He gave Sasuke back his medical kit and met his eyes steadily. “I’ll be here.”

Sasuke’s shoulders eased a little, too, and he nodded.


“Sasuke,” Jiraiya said, exasperated, the fifth time Sasuke circled their camp, “sit down already. Everything’s secure. Have a drink or something.”

“You drink enough for three, let alone two,” Sasuke shot back, but it was half-hearted. He knew he was more wound up than he should be. Or, at least, wound up over things that weren’t their mission. Witness the way he jumped, startled, when Jiraiya’s hand fell on his shoulder.

“Sit down,” Jiraiya said firmly, pushing him down beside their tiny fire. “Sakura’s first status-check said she was all right, and Tsunade will keep Naruto from blowing up the village while you’re gone.” He paused and added thoughtfully, “Probably.”

“But they wouldn’t tell us what her message actually said!” Sasuke burst out.

“Mm, it’s always hard to have a partner in Intelligence.” Jiraiya sat down beside him. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, though, Sasuke; you aren’t the first. Intelligence has learned not to lie to a shinobi’s working partners.”

“Do we still count as that?” Sasuke could hear how uncertain he sounded, and bit his lip, looking away. Jiraiya’s large hand rumpled his hair until he looked back around just so he could glare. Jiraiya was smiling.

“I’ve heard some of the things Kakashi says to them about the three of you. You count.”

Sasuke took a breath, charging himself to remember that, and that Intelligence had said that Sakura’s message was a ‘so far so good’. “Okay.” Lower, he added, “Thanks.”

“Get some sleep,” Jiraiya told him, more gently than usual. “We’ll be home again soon. Until then, we have work to do.”

Sasuke nodded silently. Hell, maybe this trip would even take his mind off things for a while.


Every now and then, not often but now and then, Sasuke was willing to admit that his infuriating and cheerfully perverted teacher really did have a certain amount of wisdom. Today he would admit it, because the first thing Jiraiya asked when they reached the gates of Konoha was, “Is Naruto on shift at the hospital, today?”

The four genin on gate duty, none of whom Sasuke knew by more than sight, looked at each other. “I… don’t know?” the oldest said.

“Oh, hey, Sasuke!” Ino popped out of the gate house. “You guys are back! Yeah, Naruto’s up at the hospital again.”

“Again?” Sasuke asked, wary and frowning. What was Ino doing on the gate? She was Intelligence, like Sakura. Shouldn’t she be out on annoyingly incommunicado and very likely dangerous missions, too?

“Yeah, again. After that first week you were gone, when he almost trashed an operating room and the Hokage made him mediate for, like, four days without stopping,” Ino supplied, sauntering up to them. “Smugglers,” she breathed through unmoving lips, and gave Sasuke a bright, slightly bloodthirsty smile. “So, yeah, go on, you can find him there.”

Ah. That made more sense, yes. Sasuke liked it when the world made sense. He should probably repay Ino for that by playing along. He smirked at her and murmured, “Have fun babysitting the gate, then.”

“You shut up!” Ino shot back, loud enough to bounce off the nearest buildings. “It’s only for a little while, because we’re short handed!” All four of the genin edged away, and she bared her teeth with self-evident satisfaction. The gleam in her eye told Sasuke that she probably would have a great deal of fun, just as soon as she caught her smuggler targets. That was right and proper, too, and he breathed just a little easier as he followed Jiraiya into the village.

“Go on and see Naruto,” Jiraiya said quietly once they were a few streets in. “I’ll report what we found to Tsunade.”

“I’m perfectly capable of making a report like a decent professional,” Sasuke bit back.

“I don’t doubt that.” Jiraiya looked down at him, eyes dark and old. “But you need to see him, and he needs to know you’re back safe.” His mouth quirked up at the corner, though that didn’t erase the tight lines there, and he clasped Sasuke’s shoulder. “More efficient this way than waiting for him to come crashing into her office in the middle of a mission report. Go.”

Sasuke swallowed, feeling the shivers building up, only stilled for a moment by his teacher’s firm grip; he’d felt them all the way home. “Okay.”

He took to the roofs to reach the hospital, flinging himself through the air as if it could sweep away his memory. It couldn’t, though, and he must have been showing the fact because as soon as he came through the hospital doors the tall, thin medic on the desk zeroed in on him and came out, moving slow and smooth and keeping his hands where Sasuke could see them. “Can you tell me where you’re injured?” the man asked quietly.

Sasuke shook his head, every movement sharp with the tickle of potential laughter and potential screaming in his throat. “I’m not— There’s nothing— That’s not it. Just… is Naruto available?”

The medic didn’t look like he entirely believed Sasuke, but he just nodded and waved at a passing orderly. “Get Naruto. Tell him there’s an AFS requesting him at the front desk, no C/O. IMP is basic NNS.” note

Sasuke twitched away from the man’s hands as he was herded over to a chair; he was pretty sure that last bit had been some direction about what to do with him. But it had been directed to Naruto, he reassured himself, so he could pretty much depend on it being ignored. And it was only about four minutes, by his count, before Naruto burst into the waiting room like a medically scrubbed, blond whirlwind.

“Okay, so what’s— Sasuke!”

Sasuke swallowed and leaned into the hands suddenly locked around his shoulders. They were bruisingly tight, but that was okay; he needed the anchor. “Naruto.”

“Sasuke?” Naruto frowned. “What the hell happened? You’re not actually hurt, are you? If you’re hurt and you didn’t say so…”

“Shut up, idiot,” Sasuke ordered, relaxing into this familiarity, into the stable point of his teammate’s loud impatience and concern. He lifted his hands to wrap them around Naruto’s arms, staring at him. “You’d never do it,” he said quietly. Naruto would never, ever countenance or perform or let be performed the operations he’d seen the results of up in Stone. And Naruto still insisted he was going to be Hokage, and, even if that didn’t work out, at this rate the idiot was looking to be Konoha’s top medical ninja after Tsunade. So that was all right.

“Never do…?” Naruto’s question trailed off as he looked at Sasuke and his mouth tightened. Abruptly, he pulled Sasuke against him, one hand sliding up into Sasuke’s hair and pressing his head down very firmly against Naruto’s shoulder. “No,” he said with bedrock surety. “I’d never do anything that would make you look like this. Never. So breathe, damn it.”

Sasuke laughed instead, unsteadily, fingers digging into Naruto’s jacket, until Naruto thumped him on the shoulder.

“I said breathe,” he barked, and the startling authority in his tone made Sasuke suck in a breath and let it out. “Better. Keep doing that. Just a little at a time and pause. Little more. Little more. Now let it out. There.”

Sasuke followed Naruto’s directions, and felt his lungs finally relax, and his stomach too. Apparently Naruto had been learning more than chakra manipulation. He was starting to feel a little light-headed, though, and asked dryly, “Can I stop yet?”

“Well you can’t stop breathing, no.” But Naruto finally let him lift his head again and examined him with a critical eye. “Wanna stick around for the end of my shift?”

Sasuke looked around the entry of Konoha’s hospital, its off-white tile, and alarmingly cheerful pink and yellow stripes at waist height on the walls, and the chipped edges on everything because this was, after all, the hospital of a hidden village, and shuddered. Just about the only difference was that Ishi’s hospital had more green, and had slate floors. But it wouldn’t happen here. He wouldn’t let it, and Naruto wouldn’t let it, and when she got back Sakura certainly wouldn’t let it. He had to remember that. “Yeah,” he finally answered, a little rough. “Yeah, that would be good.”

Naruto’s eyes on him were sharp for a moment, but he didn’t ask, just nodded. “Okay. Come on.”

Sasuke followed after him, quiet and contained, watching the reassuringly normal routine of the hospital as Leaf’s medics dealt with reassuringly normal spills and scrapes and training injuries. Not here, he reminded himself. It won’t happen here.

Maybe it was even a good thing Sakura was out on her own mission, right now, because otherwise she might have been the one sent to Hidden Stone. It could have been her who saw the results of one too-charming medical researcher’s experiments, cared for now as best their village could manage for however long they would live. He didn’t want her to ever have to see something like that. Not her, not Naruto, they shouldn’t have to look horror in the face.

He knew that was a stupid thing to hope, for two other working shinobi, but he still hoped they wouldn’t have to. And if it did happen, the way his gut knew it might well, if it did… well, it wasn’t like Sasuke hadn’t seen horror before. He’d help as best he could.

He breathed a little easier once he decided that.

 

Later

Naruto trudged into Sasuke’s room and slumped down over his table. It hadn’t been a good day.

“Told you they wouldn’t tell us anything more,” Sasuke said, not looking up from the shuriken he was sharpening, cross legged on his bed.

“It’s been over five months,” Naruto groaned.

“She said it might be a year.”

Naruto shuddered. “Don’t say things like that.” After a moment he sighed and added, “I’m so incredibly bored.”

Sasuke finally sighed and put down his shuriken. “You are such a baby. Okay, fine, if we go out on patrol, will you stop complaining?”

Naruto perked up. “Patrol? Hey, yeah, they’d let me do that!” He paused and frowned. “Will they let you do that? I mean, without the ero-sennin? ‘Cause he’s away for two more weeks, isn’t he?” Allegedly on a mission, but Naruto had seen the look on Tsunade-baachan’s face when she agreed to it and kind of figured it was another of those ‘research’ trips where Jiraiya would spend most of his time in bars and baths and definitely not come home before he had to.

Sasuke smirked and fished a folded piece of paper out of his sleeve, flicking it at Naruto so it bounced off his forehead. “Kakashi-sensei can come along instead.”

“You sure?” Naruto eyed his teammate with some doubt, even as his fingers worked the paper open eagerly. “Kakashi-sensei’s on light duty. Tsunade-baachan said so herself, and you could hear her all the way down the other end of the hall.” But there it was in black and white on the paper, a six week rotation of short patrols for Uchiha, Uzumaki, and Hatake. Naruto grinned hugely. Finally, something to do.

Something he didn’t have to feel guilty over being happy about, the way he’d started to with the bone-healing Tsunade had started letting him help with.

“I think he argued that, for the great Copy Nin, short patrol is light duty,” Sasuke said dryly. “He’s got a point, especially if he’s out with both of us.”

Naruto looked up at Sasuke for a long moment and smiled. “Yeah. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he gets better.”

Sasuke looked away with a short huff. “Not like I was worried.”

Naruto gave him a tolerant look. “Yeah, yeah. Okay, then, let’s go terrorize the bushes and bandits, and shit.” If he couldn’t take care of Sakura right now, at least the rest of his team was where he could keep an eye on them.


Kakashi raised an eyebrow as Naruto crashed out of the trees followed by four Shadow Clones carrying two bandits between them. At least he assumed the pair were bandits; they were wearing enough pieced-together armor and knives for it, as far as he could tell under the coils of rope that nearly cocooned them from neck to knee.

Naruto was grinning hugely. “There! Now I’m ahead again!”

Kakashi stifled a smile behind his mask. “Sasuke came back with one more while you were gone. The two of you are even.”

Naruto pouted indignantly (all five of him) and dumped the latest catch at the end of today’s line. “Then I’m going to sweep the river next! I’ll get lots more than him there!”

And he was gone.

Kakashi shook his head and marked his place with a finger, regarding Naruto’s most recent contribution to the safety of Konoha’s roads. A man and a woman, both fairly young looking though that might just be their dazed expressions. He picked up a pebble and flicked it up to hit Shikamaru, napping on a branch above him, on the ankle. “Shikamaru, you’re the recorder for the day. Get statements from these two.” Since this was, after all, nominally Shikamaru’s patrol sector; best to keep the paperwork in order. He went back to his book as Shikamaru grumbled his way down the tree and slouched over to run through the formalities.

Most of the bandits Naruto and Sasuke’s little competition had brought in had been too shocked by the speed of their abduction to even try lying about their business before it was too late. The five ninja from other villages they’d caught so far had been sent back for Interrogation to deal with.

“Someone should have thought of this sooner,” Genma murmured lazily from under his own tree, one ankle propped on the opposite knee. “It’s doing them good to take out their worry on something productive. Doing the patrols good, too; everyone was getting a little worn down covering both the short and long rotations while we get back up to strength. Good to have a little break while those two take over for a bit.” He accepted one of the skewers of meat and vegetables Chouji had been carefully roasting for lunch and took a satisfied bite.

“Mmm,” Kakashi agreed around his own very tasty mouthful. “And now I see why this year’s patrol commander is hanging around in this sector.”

“I visit all the sectors sooner or later.” Genma grinned and licked a bit of savory sauce from the corner of his mouth. “I just take a little longer in Shikamaru’s. An Akamichi’s cooking is something to take a little time over, even in the field.” He eyed the day’s handful of bandits critically. “You might be moving on before I do, in fact. They haven’t caught nearly as many today as they were bringing in two days ago. When you get to the next sector, remind whoever you send off to cover the one you’re supposed to be in to relieve Hikaru and tell her where to join back up with Shikamaru.”

“I’ll make sure,” Kakashi promised. He didn’t actually want to disrupt the regular schedules of the other patrols, after all. Not more than was therapeutic, at least. Not more than would keep his team from fretting themselves and everyone around them to bits.

Not more than could be helped. For now.

He stared at his book, unseeing though his eyes traveled slowly over the lines. Another two weeks and he’d have completed his evaluation of the shinobi currently on patrol. He already had a list of a dozen or so who could be pulled off this duty without impairing their teams too badly, without showing too clearly that the Leaf was raising strength to attack someone. Soon.

They had the location of enough bases, now, to gut Hidden Sound if they had to, and Miuhara was confident Sakura could get them the last few. Soon they would have enough people gathered to get Sakura out of Orochimaru’s main base, even against resistance. He could feel the tightening of nerves that said this operation was nearing its end, approaching whatever climax it would come to.

This had all been a lot easier when he was the one in the field, not his student.

Be safe, he told Sakura silently, turning another page. Stay smart. Let me have been right to teach undercover skills to you, of all my students. As he heard the rustle of someone dragging something large through the brush, again, he gave one last silent hope to the wind to carry away.

Let her come home safe.

End

A/N: Medical jargon in more than one country is characterized by a certain morbid humor and tendency to shorten by elision or acronyms. IMP and C/O come from US hospitals and stand for “impression [of what the problem is]” and “complaint of”. AFS and NNS are original to the Naruto-verse and stand for, respectively, “Another Fucking Shinobi” and “Ninja Needing Sedation”. In other words, “there’s a typical shinobi at the front desk saying he’s perfectly fine; I think he’s full of it and may be about to snap, so bring the good drugs/knockout jutsu”.

Actually, of course, those are translations, localizing the jargon for English speakers. The "original" terms are probably something more like:

AFS = ImaKuShi: Imahitotsu Kuso Shinobi (いまくし or いま糞忍 in writing), "another shitty shinobi".

C/O = probably not shortened, since most of the words for "complaint", for example "fuhei", are already only two syllables and two simple characters.

IMP = Me: "eye" as in "looking at it" or "eyeballing it" (め or 目 in writing).

NNS = NiChiNyuu: Ninja Chinsezai Nyuuyotte iru (にちにゅう or 忍鎮入 in writing), essentially "ninja needing sedation".

Personally, I suspect there’s a lot of hiragana used in ninja patient records, both to keep patients from snooping and for speed. back