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The Curative Career of Kaori the Ninja Nurse

Author's Notes/Disclaimer: Kaori is the nurse at the shinobi hospital. She doesn't have a surname so I used the surname of Rukia from Bleach. Otoha is a nurse seen without her uniform at the bath house. None of the medics is actually an original character. I do not own any of the Naruto characters which were created by action God Masashi Kishimoto. I do own Kaori's relatives who do not appear in Naruto.

Part 1 - The Fair Kaori

Paperwork

Things were finally calming down at the shinobi hospital since the war with the Sound. Most of those injured during the battles had been happily discharged. There were still a few long term cases like that of unfortunate genin Rock Lee, whose bones were crushed in the chuunin exams even before the war, but sadly there were always a few chronic cases since the premiere shinobi medic and legendary sannin, Tsunade, left many years ago.
 
The nurse on duty, Kuchiki Kaori, now finally had a chance to catch up on paperwork - a lot of it, piled in three one foot stacks on the desk that she shared in rotation with the other nurses. It seemed her predecessor had scarcely made a dent. She sighed and picked up a folder, wishing very badly that she knew some jutsu that would automatically take care if it all.
 
Before she finished the first stack of reports, there was a ruckusby the main doors. A bizarre man in a hideous green jumpsuit came in carrying a body carelessly slumped over his shoulder. Kaori immediately pressed the emergency button to summon a medic.
 
“He's been out for over two hours now. We thought he just needed a rest, you know Kakashi's chakra stamina is nowhere as good as mine, but he's not waking up…”
 
“Gai you go after Sasuke, I'll fill them in,” an attractive kunoichi in a red and white dress interrupted as Iashi, the medic on duty arrived.
 
“Right, Kurenai, I'll leave him to you.”
 
Iashi wheeled in a bed where Gai deposited his human bundle.
 
“Kaori, hook him up to an IV and take his vitals,” Iashi, ordered as he gave Kurenai a form to fill out. Kaori pushed the bed into a room in the ICU.
 
“Umm…isn't all this information in the system?” Kurenai frowned at the unnecessary paperwork. Her red eyes seemed to dim at the prospect.
 
“Fill in as much as you can and we can pull the rest off the system,” Iashi compromised. `Sigh, these shinobi just don't understand the necessity of proper admittance procedures.' He took out a pen and another form and started asking questions, “Okay, what happened?”
 
“Uchiha Itachi is what happened,” Kurenai said angrily with a flip of her dark hair. “He came back for what was apparently not a friendly visit. Asuma and I tried to question him, but he and his companion were too strong,” she admitted reluctantly. “Kakashi saved us, but then Itachi used some kind of special doujutsu associated with his sharingan. Kakashi told Asuma and me to keep our eyes closed so we didn't actually see what happened. Kakashi said that he had protection against Itachi because of his sharingan, but one second Kakashi and Itachi were talking, next second we could hear Kakashi in pain and collapsing. I don't think they physically moved toward each other. Luckily, Gai showed up at the last second and they decided it was too risky to continue. We brought Kakashi home first - you know how he hates hospitals...”
 
Iashi nodded, “Yes, he's missed his annual checkup for the past five years or more.” He frowned in disapproval. `These shinobi just don't understand the importance of annual checkups.'
 
“Anyway, after two hours, he still wasn't coming around. Then Uchiha Sasuke found out his brother was in town and took off after him. Gai just left in pursuit, Asuma is filing the report with the elders, and here I am doing paperwork.” Kurenai sighed as she looked at the lines requesting Kakashi's ninja registration number (no idea), address (okay, she knew that one), medical history including parental background and allergies (no idea again), closest living relative (none that she knew of), contacts (she tentatively put her own name down). She returned the mostly blank form back to Iashi.
 
Iashi took all the forms, handed them over to Kaori, who just returned after setting up the patient, and ordered her to fill in the rest. “Thank you Kurenai-san. We'll take it from here. It looks like you could use some rest as well.”
 
Kurenai nodded tiredly and left the shinobi medic to his work. Iashi followed Kaori into the ICU room where Kakashi lay with an IV saline drip hooked up to his left arm, and a blood pressure/pulse monitor attached to his right arm. Iashi took out a penlight and shone it into Kakashi's eyes. Then he hooked up another instrument to monitor Kakashi's brainwaves.
 
Kaori noted with curiosity that one of Kakashi's eyes was dark gray while the other was red with strangely shaped black dots. Of course she knew of the great Konoha copy-nin, Hatake Kakashi of the sharingan, and had even spoken to him on several occasions when his genin had been admitted to the hospital, but she had never seen that eye before. When Uchiha Sasuke was brought in after the second and third chuunin exams, his eyes stayed naturally dark. She also noticed that Kakashi's face was still masked. `How odd, no one's bothered to remove it to help him breathe better.'
 
Now she observed admiringly, almost enviously, as Iashi concentrated his chakra to scan Kakashi's body, sending chakra pulses that echoed back information his trained nerve receptors could interpret. It never ceased to impress her, the power of a shinobi medic. To her eternal regret, she was not able to make the cut and was relegated to being just a nurse, little better than a civilian midwife. But she was satisfied with her role, after all, nurses filled a necessary void between the needy patients and the impatient, busy doctors.
 
Iashi finished his exam with a concerned frown. “There's no physical damage as far as I can tell. No trauma to the brain. No internal bleeding, no damage to the organs.” He looked at Kaori, expecting her to write all this down. She immediately started scribbling in Kakashi's file. Iashi sighed and added, “I'm not sure what we can do. The brainwave pattern indicates he's in a coma. Well, at least he's breathing on his own. Not much is known about the sharingan's power anymore and the one person who can help us is unconscious. If only Tsunade-sama were here. If only one of us had her expertise and power…I'm afraid right now the best we can do is make him comfortable and monitor his vitals.” Still, he proceeded to draw a few vials of blood to check for toxins.
 
“How long will he be out?"
 
"Hard to say, sometimes patients come out of a coma after a few days, but sometimes it could be months, years or never.”
 
'Never? How tragic.' "Should I put him in one of the private long rehab rooms?” Kaori ventured to ask.
 
Iashi nodded. “He's important to the welfare of Konoha. One of the top jounin, you know. He should get the best care we can offer so, I want you to personally monitor his case."
 
“Me? I'm just a nurse…” The idea of such a long term responsibility depressed her.
 
“Well, that's all he needs right now. There's not much us medics can do. Like I said, just make him comfortable.”
 
“Would he even notice? I mean, the man's in a coma.” `Just my luck to be assigned to such a futile case.'
 
“They say even coma patients dream and react to their loved ones speaking to them. It might help in his recovery to have someone talk to him.”
 
“I'm sure he'll get lots of visitors since he's so famous.”
 
Iashi nodded doubtfully, “Well, he doesn't have any family that I know of and there's none listed here. Check in the system. Kurenai-sensei listed herself as the contact, but that's probably because she didn't know whom else to put down. I guess they might be involved, but there should be someone else closer to him. Find out and advise him or her about talking to a coma patient. I'm going to put the patient's body in stasis, that way we won't have to worry about bodily functions and waste removal. He won't need the IV after this.”
 
Kaori nodded and mentally noted all that Iashi had said. Iashi performed a complicated seal sequence to channel and mold his chakra. A stream of green medical chakra flowed out of his hands and dispersed over the patient. There was no obvious effect but it seemed Kakashi's breathing became even slower and more even. After the medic was done, she removed the IV then wheeled the bed to the private part of the hospital for long term, often terminal, cases. She adjusted the bed so his head was slightly elevated and made sure all the monitor leads were secured and the instruments were working properly.
 
Kaori took some time to examine her patient, or rather study his physical attributes. He was still dressed in his dark blue shinobi shirt and pants. His sandals, gloves, and forehead protector had been removed, allowing his white-gray head to tousle down attractively over his forehead. In her many years she had seen numerous scars, missing limbs, missing eyes, ears, even noses…so sad and disturbing, but this scar was interesting. A scar vertically down the left eye. A ragged imprecise scar, not a surgical scar but a battle scar. `He must have lost his original left eye,' she surmised. His mask still covered the lower half of his face so she reached over and pulled it down to make him more comfortable.
 
`He's absolutely gorgeous!' She couldn't help but stare for a minute, two minutes... five full minutes passed. Beautifully formed full lips meant for kissing. A lovely aquiline nose. Deep set, probably soulful, eyes. Expressive eyebrows, currently knit in a painful frown. A strong chiseled chin. Well defined cheekbones. Pale perfect skin. `What a shame to hide it behind a mask.' She couldn't help but reach out to brush a lock of his wild gray hair away from his noble brow.
 
“Well, good-bye for now, sweet prince.” Kaori smiled at the nickname she gave him, then went back to her regular station to process the paperwork on her newest patient.
 
`Hatake Kakashi…' Kaori typed into her computer and pulled up his file. `Age 27, a year younger than me, thought he was older with all that gray hair…Blood type O, parents deceased, no other living relative listed, no contact listed, received eye transplant at age 13, last checkup was nearly seven years ago, very bad, these shinobi should be more proactive about healthcare… no recent admittances, he must have had no serious injuries, in fact no visits since his last checkup. Oh, I see, his medical jutsu rating is pretty high, he'd be considered a mid rank medic here, probably treats himself…was admitted for psychiatric evaluation after death of teammate Uchiha Obito…and after the death of Yondaime. Passed psychiatric tests but recommendations for counseling were ignored. Special requests…do not remove mask unless absolutely necessary...'
 
All in all, his record was spotty. The most disturbing part was the lack of family or any contact - that was unusual. There must be someone she could inform, so she decided to question Gai sensei and Kurenai sensei tomorrow. Surely his fellow comrades would know.
 
Kaori looked at the clock. Her regular shift was almost over. Then pickup some dinner, she did not feel like cooking today, and home to soak in a nice hot bath with lots of bubbles. The comforting thought was disrupted when the odd man in green reappeared with a young dark haired boy slumped over his shoulder.
 
“This is Uchiha Sasuke, he's been attacked by his brother Itachi with the same jutsu that knocked out Kakashi. He's been out for nearly an hour now…”
 
For the second time that day, Kaori immediately pressed the button to notify the medic standing by in the emergency room and directed Gai to come with her.
 
This time Houshou was on duty. The medics had better hours than the nurses she noted bitterly. She instinctively readied the IV drip and monitors while Houshou spoke to Gai about paperwork.
 
“Uh…isn't all this information in the system?” Gai frowned at the unnecessary paperwork.
 
“Fill in as much as you can and we'll pull the rest off the system,” Houshou sighed. `These shinobi just don't understand the importance of documentation.' He took out a pen and another form and said, “So tell me exactly what happened.” Houshou didn't realize he should have never used the word "exactly" with Gai.
 
“I was coming back from training, you know I do 100 laps around the village everyday, when I sensed trouble with a capital `T.' I looked over my shoulder and spied, with my better than 20/20 vision and beauteous eyes, two strangers confronting my fellow sensei, Asuma and Kurenai, and my eternal rival Kakashi, you know I've got 52 wins now to his 51." Gai flashed his 100 watt smile at the pretty nurse. "I knew something strange was going on since Asuma and Kurenai had their eyes closed and Kakashi was helplessly down on his knees in obvious pain. The big ugly shark guy with a funny looking sword, looked like he was about to attack. I reacted instinctively and with my superior speed, I'm the fastest jounin in Konoha you know," he winked at Kaori, "I blocked his attack with my whirlwind kick, arriving in the nick of time to rescue my eternal rival. Upon directly facing Konoha's Noble Green Beast, Uchiha Itachi and his shark friend shook in fear at my luminous presence and using their wise judgment, decided to depart and abandon their quest…”
 
“What happened to Uchiha Sasuke?” Houshou iterated.
 
“After we brought my unconscious rival back to his place, Asuma, Kurenai and I held an important meeting to discuss why Uchiha Itachi returned to Konoha and to address the last thing Kakashi said, something about the Fourth Hokage's legacy and Naruto. And now that there is no Hokage, we didn't know exactly…”
 
“What happened to Uchiha Sasuke?” Houshou reiterated, continuing to be patient.
 
“Well, then Aoba showed up asking about Itachi, apparently word got around fast after I informed the Anbu. Then Sasuke showed up right behind him and heard everything Aoba said, especially the part about how Itachi's after Naruto, so Sasuke took off in pursuit. I helped Kurenai bring Kakashi to the hospital, being the chivalrous considerate man that I am..." Gai struck a manly superhero pose with his hands on his hips and his chest thrusted out. "...since he still wouldn't wake up, low stamina you know. Then I went after Sasuke. Now since my speed is superior, I'm the fastest jounin in Konoha you know, I caught up relatively quickly, but I didn't know exactly where he was in Otafuka so I had to ask around and search…”
 
“What happened to Uchiha Sasuke?” Houshou sighed.
 
“I heard a ruckus at this inn and when I arrived, I astutely used my forehead protector to spy around the corner and I saw Sasuke unconscious and someone standing over him. I, uh, accidentally dealt a blow… you don't need to know that part. Anyway, Jiraiya-sama told me Sasuke had been attacked by his brother Itachi with a mental sharingan jutsu. I shrewdly deduced it was probably the same jutsu as what he used on Kakashi.”
 
Houshou sighed again and wrote down “Unknown metal attack.”
 
Gai sighed as he looked at the lines requesting Sasuke's ninja registration number (no idea), address (somewhere in the Uchiha clan complex), medical history including parental background and allergies (parents deceased was all he knew), closest living relative (Itachi but he didn't count did he?), contact (Kakashi, but he was out... who else?); He tentatively put Haruno Sakura, his teammate, since Naruto was out of town. Gai returned the mostly blank form back to Houshou who barely glanced at it before handing it over to Kaori.
 
“Excuse me, Gai sensei,” Kaori walked over to the giant spearmint stick. “Does Kakashi-sensei have anyone we should inform of his condition? He doesn't have anyone listed as his contact in the system.”
 
“Kakashi? Hmm…I guess you should inform Haruno Sakura. She's one of his genin, along with Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto. I can't think of anyone else.”
 
“Haruno Sakura… she's the pink haired girl who's been visiting Lee and…”
 
“Yes! She's also Lee's important person!”
 
“You listed her as Uchiha Sasuke's contact as well.”
 
“He has no family other than the brother who put him here.”
 
“I see,” Kaori sighed. So sad not to have family. She warmly thought of her younger siblings and parents - being regular civilians was better in many ways.
 
“Oh, I forgot to tell you that Jiraiya-sama and Naruto are looking for Tsunade-sama. She should be able to cure Kakashi and Sasuke and my beloved Lee,” Gai smiled his shiny million ryou smile at the pretty nurse who seemed to be strangely unimpressed.
 
“When do you think she'll get here?” asked Houshou.
 
“Well, there is a problem with that. They're not sure where she is. Apparently she moves around a lot, hiding from creditors.”
 
“Creditors?” both medical staff personnel asked in unison.
 
“Gambling addiction,” Gai explained.
 
The two nodded knowingly. Tsunade was famous in more ways than one. Her superior medical jutsu were only matched by her poor financial handling.
 
“If I'm done here, I'm off to visit Lee.”
 
“If there's any change in Kakashi-san's or Sasuke-san's condition I'll be sure to inform…” Kaori started to say but Gai had already left. It seemed his priority was very clear.
 
Houshou was finishing up his exam. “Like what Iashi wrote in his report on Kakashi, no physical damage, coma brainwave. Prep a private room in the wing for minors,” he ordered abruptly.
 
Kaori thought about objecting. It was already past her regular hours, but she nodded and noted to put in her overtime card, again. “Shouldn't I put him in the same wing as his sensei?” she asked.
 
“Rules are rules. Kids, shinobi or not, go to the pediatrics ward,” he said coolly.
 
“Right, the rules,” she sighed as she prepped the bed. She mentally noted to herself that someone else would have to be Sasuke's primary caregiver. She already had too much to do. It was harder being a nurse than a doctor. Nurses saw the patients every day, several times a day. A doctor may check in on a patient a few times a week, maybe even face to face for a minute, but it was the nurses who really cared for them, encouraged them, talked to them. Kaori prided herself on being a good caring nurse, yet one who never let her personal feelings interfere with her job.
 
After setting up Sasuke, she returned to Kakashi's room. Kaori remembered the request about the mask. It was more than odd. It was an almost ridiculous request. Why? Why would someone not want his face revealed even when in a hospital? Still, she had to honor it. Her hands hovered above his face. But instead of pulling his mask up, she gently caressed his cheeks. They felt cool and clammy, but smooth and soft. One hand reached over to touch his forehead. She stroke it absently, trying to erase the crease between his eyebrows. He appeared to respond and the painful frown on his face smoothed away under her touch. She knew she was not ethically allowed to gaze upon his handsome visage again so she stared for another minute, caressed his face again and pulled up his mask.
 
“Good night sweet prince,” she whispered in his ear before she quietly left the room.
 
On her way home, Kaori first stopped by the ramen stand for a takeout order of seafood ramen. The young ramen waitress took her order with a smile, handed her the bag with a smile, and took her payment and thanked her with a smile. For some reason, that annoyed her.
 
`That ramen girl is always smiling at her customers. Does she really love what she does? Cooking and serving ramen? Can that possibly be a fulfilling job?' Kaori wondered
 
`Just because you would be miserable doing something so mundane, doesn't mean someone else can't be satisfied,' she chided herself. `You should be less judgmental. That's why your family thinks you can't find someone. No one can be as perfect as you.'
 
`I'm not perfect. I just try to be. Everyone should try to do their best,' Kaori argued with herself on her way to the Haruno household.
 
She knocked on the door and patiently waited for someone to answer. It was just past dinner time for most people. `That girl Sakura is lucky, she has parents and a regular home,' she noted to herself, `not a dormitory like Naruto, or a tomb like Sasuke.' She knew the type of domicile her patients lived in just based on their address. Where they lived told her a lot about their lives which was important in treating a patient psychologically. Not every medic or nurse understood this important facet of a patient. She had noticed that Kakashi lived in one of the academy sponsored apartment buildings, not a family home, and…
 
Her thoughts were interrupted bythe pretty pink haired girl in a red dress who answered the door. Kaori immediately recognized her. “Sakura-san, I'm nurse Kaori from the shinobi hospital. I want you to know that Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke…”
 
“Sasuke! What happened to Sasuke? Is it he hurt? He ran off this afternoon looking for Naruto…if that idiot did something to my darling Sasuke, he'll have to answer to me!” the girl immediately ranted.
 
“Both Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke-san are at the hospital in a coma. They were attacked by Sasuke's brother Itachi. Jiraiya-sama and Naruto-san are looking for Tsunade-sama, the great shinobi healer…”
 
“Sasuke's in the hospital? I have to see him now!”
 
“Visiting hours will be over soon. But when you visit them tomorrow I suggest you talk to them or read to them. They say people in comas can still hear. It just might help them get better.”
 
“I'll talk to Sasuke until there's no breath in my body if that will save him.” Sakura started to cry as she thought about her love lying alone in the hospital.
 
“Well, I'm sure that won't be necessary. Visiting hours start at 8AM. Good night,” Kaori replied, feeling a bit annoyed with this young girl who had not expressed one iota of concern for her sensei. Then again she was obviously in love with Uchiha Sasuke.
 
`When was the last time I felt like that about a man? How long has it been since the last time I thought I was in love. It's been years,' Kaori thought as she walked slowly home. A couple of years until the big “3-O” and her love life was nil.
 
Her parents bugged her every time she visited. “So, seeing anyone special?” was their not so subtle attempt of finding out when their oldest daughter would finally tie the knot like her younger siblings.
 
But Kaori was a career woman who loved her job, most of the time. She worked long hours and thus had little time for a social life. She was very pretty, even in her plain white nurse's uniform, and the doctors and patients noticed. They used to hit on her all the time. But now it was less and less, especially with the addition of that new nurse Otoha, seven years her junior, of the big, big, oversized bust, not balanced by a brain or any nursing talent.
 
Kaori had gone out with a few of the medics, but she did not approve of dating at the office. It made things awkward when things did not work out. But the real problem was the arrogance of the shinobi medics who instantly saw her as an inferior.
 
She had dated Houshou for a while, but that didn't work out. All the other nurses thought he was a perfect catch, handsome, caring, nice, and a medic. What else could a woman want? They criticized her for being too picky when she broke it off just a few months ago. There was just no chemistry, that intangible element required for love.
 
She was happy with her life, wasn't she? Or rather she was usually too busy to think about whether she was or not. What she was was complacent. She had fallen into a routine and used her busy schedule as an excuse not to start a relationship.
 
So what did she want out of life? She wanted a family. She wanted to have children. She wanted someone of her own to care for. She wanted to continue working as a nurse. She wanted the power to heal. And like everyone else, she wanted to love and be loved in return, and preferably by the same person.
 

 

The Injured Genin

 
“Ugh, another day,” Kaori moaned into her pillow. Yes she loved her job, but she loved sleep nearly as much. But then she thought about her sleeping prince and smiled. She stretched her limbs lazily and then rose from her bed. She forced herself to do her despised morning exercises. She was not a shinobi, but she had some training long ago and that reminder made her stick to her exercise schedule.
 
Kaori started bending and stretching for five minutes, then jumping jacks for two minutes, then pushups, just twenty, then sit-ups, fifty was the usual goal. She finished with some more stretches before she headed to the bathroom.
 
Breakfast was simple. A look in the refrigerator told her it was time for a trip to the market. She poured the last bit of orange juice into a cup and that was breakfast. Now time to practice her chakra channeling and molding.
 
“Bunshin no jutsu,” she announced and two and a half bunshin appeared. The “half” was an incomplete attempt, an almost unrecognizable amorphous figure that looked as if a large boulder had rolled over it. “Henge no jutsu,” she announced as she transformed into Haruno Sakura (for some reason the genin had popped into her head). Sakura, the thought of the girl annoyed her and she was annoyed that she was annoyed
 
`Stop being so judgmental,' she scolded herself again. `She's only 12, 13 years old, of course she's a selfish brat. What do you think you were like back then? Didn't you have a crush on some boy?'
 
`Did I? I can't remember anymore. I've lost touch with just about everyone. All the ones I admired are now either dead, gone, or busy with their own lives.'
 
She held the transformation for as long as she could, which was only a couple of minutes. Sadly, she had not improved since she was twelve years old. But if she didn't practice every day, she would lose what little power she had. At least she could heal minor cuts and bruises with chakra.
 
`That's all I am - a band-aid,' she thought ruefully as she changed into her uniform. `But I will be the best, most waterproof, nonstick, anti-bacterial band-aid possible,' she thought encouragingly to herself as she applied her makeup.
 
Kaori was not a vain women; vain women did not become nurses and emptied bedpans and bottles of urine. But she did care about her appearance. First, a light layer of powder carefully matched to her skin type and color, then a stroke of dark brown eyeliner under each eye, a touch of blush on each cheek, and finally carefully coloring her lips with a lip pencil which stayed on better than lipstick. Patients always felt better seeing a pretty young nurse rather than some old hag that reminded them of their mortality. So in effect the makeup was for her patients as well.
 
Being a senior nurse, she had the privilege of choosing her hours and she opted for the normal 9 to 5 schedule. But it never seemed to be 9 to 5. She always ended up doing overtime, usually leaving at 7, sometimes even midnight. But someone had to do it and the younger, less reliable nurses, cared more about their social life than their patients.
 
Kaori resolved that her patients came first, before any man, and that meant today it would be Hatake Kakashi, who just happened to be a very handsome man, though rather immobile at the moment.
 
When she arrived at the hospital, the first thing she did, as she did every morning, was to clock in with her time card and check her inbox. There was another pile of paperwork from yesterday that she was supposed to enter into the computer, including more notes on Kakashi's and Sasuke's cases. She decided to check in on her patients before tacking the tedious paperwork. Since Sasuke and Lee were in the same wing, she headed there first.
 
Lee was already awake and doing his physical therapy exercises in the courtyard. Actually he was already beyond doing his normal exercises and was over exerting himself as usual. Kaori sighed as she watched Lee in his green jumpsuit. His injuries had improved since he was admitted to the hospital but he still favored his left arm and leg which had been crushed. He still had to use a crutch and as he was doing pushups, she could see he was clearly leaning more on his right arm.
 
"...291...292...293..."
 
“Lee-san, 300 pushups is not reasonable at this stage in your recovery. All you're doing is straining your muscles and not giving them a chance to recover…” Kaori scolded for the umpteenth time to no avail. That was her professional advice, secretly she was impressed by the sheer number of pushups he could do while injured and with one hand.
 
But as usual Lee ignored her and continued. Men, even boys, were just too stubborn, and shinobi were even more stubborn. She watched as Lee collapsed at 298 pushups and as he swore to himself to do 400 the next time.
 
“Now will you let me check your vitals?” Kaori asked as she guided Lee back to his room.
 
“Kaori-san, thank you for your assistance but I am able to return to my room unaided,” Lee said politely as he shook off her helping hand.
 
Kaori followed Lee's hobbling figure, ready to assist him at a second's notice should he stumble.
 
Back in his room, she noted the barely touched breakfast. She eyed the bran muffin hungrily as she did not have a good breakfast. Hospital food was better than nothing. "Lee-san, you have to eat to regain your strength."
 
"I am sorry, but I am just not hungry in the morning," Lee replied indifferently.
 
Kaori noticed the boy still looked depressed and she tried to think of something to cheer him up. "Hey, I saw Haruno Sakura yesterday. She's a nice girl isn't she? I know she plans on visiting today." Of course Kaori neglected to tell Lee that it was because Sasuke had been admitted to the hospital again. "You can't face her with a rumbling stomach, can you? Wouldn't it be embarrassing if..."
 
Lee needed no more words of encouragement as he grabbed the bran muffin and crammed the entire thing into his mouth, and seemingly swallowed it whole without any chewing. The chaser was a glass of milk, also downed without any apparent reflex of the esophagus.
 
'What the hell? Is that a special technique?' Kaori wondered. 'I thought only the Akimichi clan could do that...Maybe it's a snake technique...' She continued to watch in fascination as the green tinted rehydrated nutritionally fortified scrambled eggs were shoveled into his mouth at lightning speed, followed by a wedge of orange. In a total of 9.5 seconds, Lee was finished with breakfast, or he would have been if he had remembered to remove the orange peel before shoving into his mouth. Unlike the other soft foods, the orange wedge would not go down and Lee started to turn a funny shade of blue which clashed violently with his green jumpsuit.
 
Kaori quickly got behind him and wrapped her arms around his mid section. With her fists folded together she pushed hard, in and up. The action dislodged the orange peel from Lee's throat and harmlessly landed on the breakfast tray.
 
"You...you saved my life!" Lee started to shed tears of joy. "All that I have been through...I thought how pathetic... to be done in by a piece of citrus...You are a life-saving angel!"
 
Kaori smiled at the over emotional adolescent. "Not an angel, just a professionally trained board certified nurse with framed diplomas to prove it. Please eat more slowly next time, in case I'm not around. I'm sure Sakura-san would be very sad if something happened to you."
 
Lee nodded and looked at his caretaker in a new light as she shoved a thermometer in his mouth and wrapped a blood pressure monitor around his arm. 'This woman is beautiful both inside and out. She is caring and good and smart. An angel. A perfect angel. She would be perfect for my perfect sensei. Gai sensei I found the one for you!'
 
Lee's temperature read 99.2 and his blood pressure 140 over 80. That was normal for him as they were always a bit above average. The medics explained that it was because of his passionate (hot-blooded) spirit. "Looks good. Any new developments?" Kaori asked kindly.
 
Lee shook his head and replied sincerely, "Thank you for the excellent care and concern you have shown me all these weeks."
 
"No problem, it's all part of my job," she smiled.
 
"No, it is not. You are really a good caring person. Your...precious person is very lucky."
 
"Precious person? Do you mean like a boyfriend?" Kaori laughed. The poor boy was probably developing a crush on her, quite common. "No, I'm afraid I've been too busy to find that special someone."
 
'So she is available! Perfect!' Lee smiled back. "I am sure he will come along soon...very soon." He gave her a wink with a shiny smile and a thumbs up.
 
"Well, I guess you never know. I'll be back later. Please get some rest," Kaori advised as she left Lee's room.
 
Lee nodded. Rest. Yes, he would now spend some time thinking about how he could get nurse Kaori together with Gai-sensei.
 
-...-...-...-
 
Next up was Uchiha Sasuke. Kaori heard murmurs behind the closed door to his room and wondered if he were coming out of his coma. But it was just that girl Sakura sitting by his bed and reading from a book. 'She must have arrived as soon as visiting hours were open,' Kaori surmised.
 
“Oh, hello Kaori-san,” Sakura greeted her with a sad smile. “I've been reading to Sasuke-kun like you suggested. I tried to pick out something he'd like. `The Count of Monte Cristo.' It's an adventure story about a man who exacts revenge…” Her blue-green eyes started to tear as she thought about Sasuke's futile attempt to seek vengeance against his own brother. “He'll be better soon, won't he?”
 
“Yes of course. We just have to be patient. Any type of healing takes time,” Kaori said encouragingly even though it was unlikely to be any time soon. “And remember, Naruto-san and the great sannin Jiraiya-sama will be bringing back Konoha's legendary healer, Tsunade-sama.”
 
“I wish they'd hurry up,” Sakura frowned, “the two of them don't seem to be terribly reliable. Naruto's always fooling around and that Jiraiya-sama writes smut books.”
 
Kaori raised her eyebrows in surprise. That she didn't know. Why did this girl know and she didn't? Well then again, it's not like she read that kind of stuff, but then again Sakura was too young…how did she know? But Kaori let it pass. It was probably from shinobi gossip and she didn't need to know stuff like that to do her job. “I'm sure the two know how important it is to bring her back to the village. I'm sure they're spending all their energy and resources looking for her. I bet within the week they'll be back.”
 
Sakura nodded and smiled at her encouraging words. Neither one of them knew about Jiraiya's female proclivities and did not realize just how long it would actually take for Jiraiya to complete his investigation.
 
“So are you visiting Kakashi-sensei after this?” Kaori inquired.
 
“I'm going to stop by to see Lee-kun and then I'll look in on Kakashi-sensei. I need to run some errands for my parents and do some training and then I'll come back to visit Sasuke again.”
 
“Do you think you'll have time to talk or read to your sensei?” asked Kaori, trying hard not to lose her patience with this love obsessed girl.
 
“Well, quite honestly, I don't have much to say to him. He's only close to Sasuke, I think. Besides, Kakashi-sensei prefers…adult romance novels and I don't like those,” Sakura explained. She figured everyone knew about Kakashi's taste in reading material so Kaori would understand what she meant. “I'm sure his friends will drop by and talk to him. Like Gai sensei, he'll be visiting Lee soon.”
 
Kaori nodded and wrote down the latest info from the monitors onto Sasuke's chart. As expected, there had been no change in his condition. On her way to her next patient, she thought about what a sweet polite boy Lee was, nothing like that arrogant Uchiha brat who never thanked her for anything during his last stay. He just looked at her with those cold, but beautiful, black eyes as if the service she provided were nothing less than expected from a subservient catering to her lord and master.
 
Too bad Haruno Sakura was obsessed with someone like that. Too bad she couldn't see that Lee was a much better, much more deserving person. Of course it was obvious why...Lee just did not rate on the looks scale.
 
First there was the hair. Only little children had bowl cut hair like that. But that could be easily remedied with a good pair of scissors for a nice layered look. Then there was the abnormally thick eyebrows that looked as if they could fall off his face at any moment and start crawling toward you like in some B horror flick. A little waxing should do it. It would be painful but that kind of pain was nothing compared to what Lee went through in his fight with that Sand genin. And then the clothes - all women know that clothing makes the man. Unless he were training he really should not be wearing a monochrome mold green jumpsuit all the time. That should be for field camouflage, not daily wear. The boy needed something more fashionable and... less green.
 
-…-…-…-
 
Kaori finished her morning rounds in the children's wing and was on her way to the adult wing when she passed by Lee's room and heard Lee's sensei noisily encouraging his genin to do more exercises.
 
"That's it Lee, no pain no gain. Real men don't feel pain. It's all in the mind..."
 
"...323...324...325..."
 
Kaori quickly cut in, “Stop! What do you think you're doing? Lee-san needs rest, not more training!”
 
Lee was in the middle of doing a sit-up in bed as Gai held down his ankles. The two peas of a pod stopped and looked at the young woman whose face was red with frustration. Gai immediately stood up and bowed to the lovely lady before him. “Good morning nurse Kaori! Thank you again for taking such excellent care of my young protégé!”
 
"Kaori-san, Gai-sensei was just helping me strengthen my abdominal muscles which were not affected during my fight," said Lee.
 
"By strengthening Lee's abdominal muscles, that will relieve the pressure on his back and back muscles which were injured," Gai explained.
 
Kaori thought about it and it did make sense, but still... "Just don't over do it. 300 is plenty."
 
"300? Why I was able to do that many when I was a toddler. Before I could walk..." Gai boasted.
 
"300 is plenty," Kaori insisted. "By the way, Gai sensei, I thought you'd want to know that both Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke-san are both in stable condition but still unconsious. Their brainwave activity indicates they're in a coma state and will remain so indefinitely. Talking or reading to the patient is supposed to help stimulate the brain so Sakura-san has been reading to Sasuke-san but I would like someone to read to Kakashi-sensei. If you could..."
 
"Read? Like in books? Such a static activity does not suit someone with as much vitality as I have. Can't remember the last time I read a book, probably back in the Academy. Well, I have read training guides and books on taijutsu by past masters (they had pictures), but Kakashi isn't interested in books like that. I'm sorry, but I have to spend my limited free time with Lee here to ensure he recovers to reach his full youthful potential. I'm sure you'll be able to find someone else for such a mundane task."
 
"Well, Kurenai-sensei listed herself as Kakashi's contact. Is she his..."
 
"Kurenai and her team are on a mission but they'll be back tonight."
 
"What about Asuma-sensei?"
 
"Mission."
 
Kaori sighed. After the war, it seemed everyone was busier than ever, especially with Konoha out to prove its strength and rebuilding at the same time. "Why are you here instead of on a mission?" Kaori asked curiously.
 
"Hah, I'm glad you asked. As industrious as I am, I finished my mission in record time. They would have taken a normal team all day, but I made my team get up before dawn, early bird gets the worm you know. Following my example, my team used our super speed and efficient teamwork to accomplish everything within hours, so now I have free time to spend with my precious Lee before our next mission." Actually, Tenten and Neji just watched as Gai did everything himself in order to expedite the mission (C mission to capture wild raccoons, boars, and a wolf, all possibly rabid).
 
"That's quite...admirable," Kaori admitted. Such devotion to a student was rare... and rather peculiar actually. "Well, you two take it easy okay? I have to get back to work," Kaori said as she continued toward the adult wing.
 
After the pretty nurse was out of view, the injured genin turned to his sensei and said, “I think nurse Kaori-san is wonderful! She would be perfect for you!”
 
“Hmm? Well, she is a lovely flower, but not as close to perfection as I am.” Gai ran his fingers through his perfectly neat head of hair and struck a model's pose with his hands on his hips and his broad chest stuck out. 'She's kind of lacking in the chest area,' he added to himself.
 
“But she saved my life today!”
 
“What! What happened? My precious Lee's life was in danger? Who dared…let me at him!” Gai cracked his knuckles dangerously.
 
“A piece of dangerously cut fruit got stuck in my throat. I could have died, but nurse Kaori saved me!” Lee started to tear up at the thought of his near death encounter and the angel who had saved him.
 
“I see…" Konoha's noble green beast evaluated. "Then it's been pre-destined! Nurse Kaori and I are meant to be together!” announced Gai with an obsessive gleam in his eye.

Just about everyone, and no one better than his eternal rival, knew how obsessive Gai could be once he latched onto an idea.

 

 
First Reading
 
After finishing her rounds with the regular patients, Kaori headed toward Kakashi's room, her last stop before tackling the new pile of paperwork that magically appeared whenever she was not around.
 
There he lay, just as he did yesterday, in the exact same position, but the little troubled crease between his eyebrow was back. "Good morning Kakashi-san," Kaori said brightly. "It's another lovely day in Konoha. Let me open the shades and let in some light." She adjusted the blinds to a comfortable level, wondering if coma patients could sense light. She checked the monitors, no change, as expected.
 
"Has Sakura-san been by to visit you? I asked her to talk to you or read a bit, but she said she was busy today. She mentioned you liked romances. I happen to be reading a new book called 'Gone with the Wind.' It's a romance about a girl from Wind Country and a boy from Fire Country and how war affects their relationship. It's amazing how quickly some writers can turn out a novel. I mean, the last war was only a month ago and someone's already capitalizing on it. If you like I can read some it to you. It's actually pretty good. Even though some parts are rather contrived, the characters are well developed. It is rather typical, warring clans, star crossed love, you know, that sort of thing, but it's a good read."
 
Kaori took out her book, which she grabbed when she passed her desk on the way to the adult wing, and started to read. She was already about halfway through. She usually read a bit during her lunch hour, or rather half hour, and before she went to sleep. It was actually kind of nice to be able to read during official work hours. In fact, she could probably read for a whole hour or more and none of the medics could complain, as this was a rather special assignment. That small rebellious thought made her smile and she read out loud with greater enthusiasm, even giving the characters different voices, but she skipped the R rated scenes.
 
After nearly an hour of reading, Kaori felt her voice giving out and decided to stop. "Well, stay tuned for next time. Back to paperwork for me, but I'll drop by later," she said to her sleeping prince.
 
Back at her desk, Kaori saw junior nurse Otoha who had just arrived for her shift. As a relatively new employee, Otoha should have had the graveyard shift but she somehow convinced the hospital director to give her the 11AM-7PM shift, which allowed her to party after work till late. No doubt her boobs did the convincing.
 
The younger woman smiled and greeted her coyly. "Good-day Kaori-sempai. I hear you've been assigned to watch over Kakashi-sensei. You're so lucky!"
 
"How is that lucky?" Kaori asked indifferently.
 
"You get to sneak a peek at his face. He's really hot isn't he? Or is he hideously deformed?"
 
"The former I guess."
 
"I knew it! Please let me take a look, please?"
 
"No."
 
"But I'm a nurse too..."
 
"No, it says in his file the mask stays on unless it's an emergency."
 
"That's ridiculous!"
 
"Maybe so but that's the patient's wish."
 
"But you got to see..."
 
"Only when he first came in. The mask stays on now."
 
"You are such rule sticker. Who's going to know? What harm can it do?"
 
"I'll know. And when he wakes I won't be able to look him in the eye if I betray the trust between a medical professional and a patient,” Kaori said firmly.
 
"Sigh, fine whatever," muttered Otoha who then added to herself, 'I'll wait till she leaves...'
 
"And no peeking when I'm not here!"
 
"Huh? I wasn't thinking anything like that!"
 
"I'm sure you weren't. If I find the patient's privacy has been violated, I'll report you."
 
"I'm not going to do anything, okay." Otoha flipped her long luxurious black hair back angrily as her blue-gray eyes rolled in their sockets. 'Anal retentive bitch,' she thought, `always lecturing me on medical ethics. She needs to get a life, or rather get a man, or rather just get laid!'
 
Otoha then saw Kaori's book. 'Hey, what's that book you're reading?" she asked curiously.
 
"I've been reading this to Kakashi-sensei. They say it helps stimulate the brain of coma patients," Kaori explained, blushing a bit.
 
"What are you reading?" Otoha asked again.
 
Kaori showed her the book.
 
Otoha laughed, "That's not the kind of book he likes!"
 
"What do you mean? I heard he likes romances and this one's pretty good," Kaori replied defensively.
 
"That's like a Harlequin romance! Everyone knows he likes..." Otoha leaned over to whisper in Kaori's ear. Kaori's faced turned beet red.
 
"How do you know that?" Kaori demanded.
 
"He doesn't hide it. He reads that stuff in public. Really Kaori, if you didn't have your head stuck between tongue depressors and bandages all day and just socialize a bit, you'd know all the shinobi gos…I mean news... you would know important stuff like that."
 
Kaori went silent. What kind of man was this Kakashi? Not another pervert!
 
"Was the matter Kaori? Burst your bubble? Did you fall for him? No surprise, so have half the women in Konoha. And he's probably had half of those as well. He's a notorious ladies man!" Unbeknownst to poor Kaori, Otoha was a notorious creator and spreader of shinobi gossip.
 
"Really?"
 
"Of course! He must be - look at the books he reads. Only bad bad boys read those, especially in public," Otoha maliciously speculated.
 
"Er…so what exactly does he read?" asked Kaori tentatively.
 
"The Icha Icha series - there's already a movie out based on the first book. The second one is in the works. The movies are rated R but the books are more explicit."
 
"So you've read them?"
 
"Well...yes...they were on the Konoha Times' best seller's list. They're really quite romantic. Not as bad as some prudish people make them out to be," the younger woman added pointedly, thinking how Kaori fell into that category.
 
"Well, I'm sure what I'm reading is fine. I'm not going to read smut books out loud!"
 
"You are such a prude. What's the big deal? It's just you and an unconscious patient. You should read them for yourself. I mean considering..."
 
"Considering what?"
 
"Your lack of action..."
 
"What the hell do you mean?"
 
"Well, when was the last time you got any?"
 
"Any what? You mean going out on a date?"
 
"I mean being really really intimate with a guy."
 
Kaori's face returned to the deep red color. "None of your business!"
 
"All I'm saying is those books are good company when you're not getting any other action."
 
Kaori seriously considered Otoha's advice. What harm could it do to read just one?
 

 

The Strange Man in Green
 
The rest of Kaori's morning was spent catching up on paperwork as usual. When lunchtime came around, it was Otoha's job to see to the patients and Kaori was left manning the front desk by herself.
 
Curious to learn more about Kakashi, she logged onto his administrative records and learned he graduated the Academy at age 5, became a chuunin at 6, and a jounin at 13. His distinguished career included 38 S missions, 276 A missions, 413 B missions, 189 C missions, 197 D missions at the last computerized update.
 
As a senior medical professional, she was also able to access other confidential records. A search on Hatake revealed there was no more of the Hatake clan in Konoha. Each available record had deceased at the top of the file. Hatake Sakumo, his father was apparently a great shinobi who died when Kakashi was 8, by suicide according to the autopsy records. Kaori also ran a search on Kakashi's teammates whose names she retrieved from the admin records. She felt like a stalker but convinced herself she needed to know all about him in order to help him. It was not some strange obsession.
 
She found that Kakashi received the sharingan from Uchiha Obito, his teammate. His other teammate Rin was also deceased. Kaori vaguely remembered Rin. She was a shinobi medic and thus attended a few of the same medical classes with her, but Rin was much more advanced. `See what talent gets you,' Kaori thought sadly, `Guess I should be glad to be a lowly nurse (but a damn good one!).' And of course his sensei, the Fourth was also long gone.
 
The more she learned about her sleeping prince, the deeper her sympathy, and a great respect for this man, who sacrificed so much of himself for the village, developed. She could not reconcile the image of the man she formed from his paper trail with Otoha's allegations. Was he a pervert? It couldn't be true. How could a man with such a distinguished service record, who kept his mask on all the time (indicating an obsession with privacy), who had had no sexual harassment charges on record, be a pervert?
 
Was he really a notorious ladies' man? That didn't make sense either. How could a man who perpetually wore a mask be… intimate with that many women without his face being known? `Unless it was all done in complete darkness…how…kinky…'
 
And what about all of Gai's boasting that he was better than Kakashi? Based on their mission records, Kakashi was definitely better, with more A and S class missions. Gai's assertion, that he saved Kakashi, seemed to be rather suspect in her opinion.
 
Kaori decided that all of this was hearsay, just shinobi gossip perpetrated by envious imps to tarnish an honorable man's reputation. Of course Kaori did believe he read smut books, all men were addicted to porn, but being an actual pervert was something entirely different.
 
Her ponderous thoughts were interrupted by a flash of bright green. Gai suddenly appeared before her, smiling his shiny white smile. Before she could greet him, Gai launched into his prepared speech. “Nurse Kaori, I would like to thank you again for the excellent care you have shown to my dear Lee…”
 
“You're welcome, I'm just doing my job…”
 
“Maybe so, but I would like to do something special for you. You deserve it.”
 
`Is he trying to bribe me into letting Lee do more exercise training?' “Thank you but it's not necessary…”
 
“I am offering you the honor of accompanying me to dinner.”
 
Kaori was confused by his words. `Does that mean there's an award ceremony he wants me to attend?' “Sorry, I can't get involved with patients…”
 
“I'm not a patient…” Gai pointed out.
 
“…or their parents or relatives or friends.” Not exactly true but her usual excuse when she was not interested.
 
“No problem. I'm Lee's sensei. So when should I pick you up?” the man in green insisted.
 
“I can't…I have several errands to run today…”
 
“I'll run all your errands for you,” Konoha's noble green beast offered.
 
“Er…no thank you. It involves…female stuff.” `That always works!'
 
“Tomorrow then?” Gai asked, nonplussed.
 
“I'm having dinner with my parents tomorrow…” A true statement.
 
“The day after that?”
 
“I…I…I'm having dinner with my…dog.” `No one can continue to miss the brush off with that excuse, especially since I don't have a dog.'
 
“Ah, yes, ensuring your pet feels secure and loved is of utmost importance. I treat all my summoned animals the same way. I see we have much in common. Well, in that case you may join me for lunch now.”
 
“Now? I…I…uh…I don't have much time. I was just planning to grab something from the hospital cafeteria.”
 
“Ah, that's a wonderful place of quiet ambiance.”
 
`You have got to be kidding me! Who likes hospital cafeterias much less the crappy food? Well, if I have lunch with him just this once, then I'm off the hook. He just wants to do something nice because of Lee. It's not like he's interested in women,' Kaori appraised. “I guess that would be okay. I just need to wait for Nurse Otoha to return from her lunch rounds.”
 
“Then I'll wait.”
 
“How about you wait in the cafeteria for me. I should be there in about 20 minutes.” Kaori wisely suggested since she did not want Ms. Gossip Otoha to know.
 
“All right, I'll be waiting with my eternal patience.”
 
Kaori just nodded at the strange man in green. `How bad could it be? It's only a 15 minute lunch break…'
 
When Kaori arrive at the cafeteria, she found several small tables pushed next to each other with food laid out end to end. Gai had ordered one of everything available, including all the different colors of jello (they all tasted the same). He was sitting there with Lee at his side. The doublemint twins smiled and waved her over.
 
Kaori looked around the cafeteria and was relieved to find there wasn't anyone else around since it was already late and most preferred lunch elsewhere.
 
Gai quickly got up and pulled out a chair for her. Lee stood up as well, though a bit wobbly. Gai bowed like a maître d' and waited until Kaori was seated. “I took the liberty of ordering for all of us,” he said, proud of his generosity and his solution to saving time and wondering what kind of food Kaori liked.
 
“Food is always better with company,” Lee said with great alacrity, proud of how smart his sensei was to have ordered all this food.
 
“Er…yes…this is a lot of food.” Kaori frowned at the waste. There was no way the three of them would be able to finish it all. But then she had a practical thought - she would be able to save some food for later and postpone another night of cooking. “So Lee…it looks like you've regained your appetite.”
 
“Oh yes, and it's all thanks to you.”
 
“Me?”
 
“My near death experience with the slice of orange reminded me how lucky I am to be alive despite my injuries. I must consume an adequate supply of calories and nutrients in order to fully recover.”
 
“Well I'm glad you realize that.”
 
Meanwhile Gai had compiled a plate for Kaori. “Judging by your height and weight, estimated daily physical activity, and pallor of your skin, you require a minimum of 5700 calories and an extra dose of vitamin D.
 
Kaori looked at the pile of food on her plate. If she were to eat like that everyday, she would easily gain ten pounds a week. It seemed they based her calorie requirements on their physical activity.
 
“The cheeseburger is the perfect food. You have your meat, dairy, grain, fruit and vegetables all in one,” Gai explained.
 
“Fruit?” asked Kaori.
 
“The nutritious tomato is actually a fruit,” Lee pointed out.
 
“A slice of pizza with everything on it is also perfect,” Gai continued. “There's sausage and pepperoni, mushrooms and peppers, cheese, crust, and tomato sauce. Something from each of the required food groups.”
 
“That's true…but I really can't eat that much. I don't need that many calories.”
 
“Sure you do. You're too thin,” Gai bluntly pointed out.
 
“Thank you for saying that but I won't be if I eat all this.” `I'm not too thin, based on the standardized height and weight charts, I am at a perfectly desirable ratio,' Kaori added to herself.
 
“You need some more meat on your bones which you can then develop into muscle,” Gai insisted, “Then you'll be closer to perfection like I am.”
 
“Huh? I don't need to be perfect. I'm happy with the way I am.”
 
“Of course you are but there's always room for improvement. We should all try to be the best that we can be,” Gai said encouragingly.
 
Lee nodded enthusiastically at his sensei's words. “Yes, if it were not for Gai-sensei's training and nutrition program, I would not be the shinobi I am today.”
 
“That's true…but…” Kaori weakly protested.
 
”Eat up!” With that demand, Gai and Lee dove into their food.
 
Kaori stared at the grease on her plate. When was the last time she indulged herself? And Gai did have a point about covering all the food groups. So she picked up the cheeseburger and bit deeply into it. “I'll just have the cheeseburger, no pizza, fries, or dessert,' she compromised. `Well maybe the green jello, no not green, no more green! The red jello…'
 
Meanwhile her lunch dates proceeded to consume everything else, even the fried chicken bones, which were an excellent source of calcium.
 
Kaori ate in silence, concentrating on chewing her food thoroughly, wondering if the two were long lost brothers since the age differential indicated they could not possibly be father and son. `Or maybe the shinobi medics succeeded in their cloning techniques…'
 
In between impossibly large gulps, Gai regaled his audience with tales of his most exciting, most dangerous missions (with Lee adding reminders of details Gai left out, apparently Lee had memorized all the stories), including how he saved his eternal rival Kakashi from the Uchiha prodigy missing-nin Akatsuki member. He further tweaked the story with more bells and whistles from the first time Kaori heard it.
 
At the mention of Kakashi, Kaori immediately perked up. “So Kakashi's your eternal rival? Since when?”
 
“Since we were in the Academy together.”
 
“But he graduated before you did.”
 
Gai frowned at the accuracy of her information. “I graduated just a year after him.”
 
“So you've been in pursuit of him practically all your life?”
 
“Pursuit?”
 
“Seems like he's always ahead of you in graduating, making chuunin, jounin…”
 
“Not anymore! I have surpassed my rival! I have a record of 51 wins vs his 50. I killed 38 enemies during the Sound and Sand attack versus Kakashi's 37.”
 
“Really? You've fought him that many times? You keep count of how many you killed? Is that really something that you should be proud of?” Kaori did not mean to be critical but she couldn't help but disapprove of the super-competitive nature of most shinobi which, lead to many serious and unnecessary injuries. `He seems to have an unhealthy obsession with Kakashi. Hmm…I wonder if it's something more…'
 
“A rival is a shinobi's greatest strength. That's how I've kept my resolve to improve. I learned that from Gai-sensei,” Lee said defensively.
 
“That's right, Lee. Everyone should have a rival in life or love. That's what tests your mettle. That's when you can show what kind of person you can be.” But inwardly Gai was taken aback by Kaori's words. This woman of his destiny seemed to be strangely unimpressed by his exploits, but a woman who plays hard to get just makes the pursuit more challenging…

And Gai always loved a challenge.