Asuma blames himself for the injuries his genin team suffered when attempting to retrieve the Uchiha. [complete, one-shot]
Everything else: I actually wrote this the day before I wrote Ingress/, but my brain supplied me with a title to /Ingress first, so. This is generically devoted to everyone at Ima Made Nandomo, because I had never really taken a second look at Asuma before I volunteered to play him in the RPG. And then all of a sudden he took over my mind. Funny how characters do that to me. :D
Visiting hours were over. But really, in a shinobi village, what was the point of visiting hours? Any ninja who put his (or her) mind to it could get into (or out of) a hospital whenever they wanted.
And besides, Asuma only bothered to follow the rules when the consequences were too messy to deal with.
The ninja eased up the window of the hospital room, using the heels of his palms to avoid leaving fingerprints on the glass (old habits died hard, after all). The attendants hadn't bothered to lock it; most people weren't interested in climbing through a sixth story window, and if the patient felt like jumping out and falling to a gory death he could just open the damn thing himself.
Man, he could have done without the mental image of someone's remains splattered all over the sidewalk. Especially when the remains wore the signature reddish-orange hair of the student he was coming to visit. Mind your thoughts, Asuma.
He slipped through the window, automatically crouching on the floor with one hand on the windowsill as he surveyed the room. A typically pristine place like one would see in any hospital, with the white tiled floors and white sheets and white walls and white instruments that beeped quietly to themselves as they puttered away at whatever it was they did. The curtain that separated the two beds was white as well, but it was almost invisible when pushed out of the way against the wall (which looked like the same shade of white, but it was hard to tell in the half-tone shadows of midnight).
The ninja had always wondered why white was the color of choice in hospitals. He could only assume it was because the blood easier to bleach out of it.
It was cooler inside the hospital than outside, powered by the wonders of central air, but rather than being comforting it just rose goose bumps on his skin. Hospitals were always too cold. And the sheets they gave you were always too thin.
He rose to his feet. The saline drip that hung off a hook by the bed glimmered in the pale light brought in through the window, the steady drip drip drip of its contents an off-beat from the rhythm of the heart monitor. He knew from experience that saline drips were uncomfortable - not just because they stuck a long ass tube in your arm to keep the vein from collapsing, but because of how it made your fingers swell and your skin tighten like it was stretched too tight over a balloon waiting to pop. And the goop they used to made sure the electrodes to the heart monitor got a good connection was disgusting and felt like it would never wash off.
Asuma had spent too much time in hospitals throughout his life. Enough to get the creeps just by walking into the lobby. Enough that he had found excuses to not visit injured friends in the past (and felt horrible about copping out for weeks afterward).
He rolled the unlit cigarette to the other side of his mouth with the tip of his tongue. He didn't want to be here. But more importantly, he didn't want Chouji to be here, didn't want to be staring down at a face that was too pale and too thin and not right no matter how far in the clear the Hokage said he was. Chouji had almost been killed, damnit, had almost /died/, and he hadn't been there to do a thing about it. He hadn't been there to protect his own students.
It didn't much matter that the whole point of their being his students meant that someday he wouldn't be responsible for protecting them, that he was teaching them to be responsible for protecting themselves/. That someday in the distant future, when he was old and gray and sans a lung and plus a cane and rocker, /they would be protecting him/. That he was preparing them for the life of a ninja by putting them out there in the thick of it and possibly risk their lives while doing so. The /point just didn't matter any more.
Or maybe it wasn't so much that the point didn't matter, but that the point had /changed/. Like Kakashi, this was his first crop of genin students. All the other times the issue of him mentoring had come up, he had either turned the offer down or had conveniently been on a mission somewhere else. He had never been particularly fond of kids (though he had never hated them, either). He had never understood what it was about teaching that fascinated Iruka. He didn't even much like group missions, unless it was with someone quiet like Kurenai or Kakashi.
And then he had gotten conned into a drinking contest with - who had it been that time? Anko? Genma? - and had signed up for the next batch of genin before he even had the sense to get a hangover. And woke up a few days later with three know-it-all kids tied to his apron strings. As if the life of a ninja wasn't already enough to drive the cost of his smoking habit through the roof.
And then... somewhere along the way, he had started caring. Had stopped thinking of Chouji as a fatass and Shikamaru as a lazy bastard and Ino as a shrieking teenybopper. Had been touched when the three of them pooled their money and took him out to dinner on his birthday. Had been amused instead of annoyed when Ino decided his bachelor pad 'needed a woman's touch' - and then actually kept most of the changes. Had felt so goddamn proud when Shikamaru had been the only genin - out of one hundred and fifty-three! - to pass the chuunin exam.
Had started thinking of them as his kids.
But he didn't really know what to do with this... feeling/... when he looked down on Chouji's sleeping face. As soon as he had turned in his mission report, as soon as Tsunade had told him of the failed attempt to bring the Uchiha back, as soon as that /feeling had grabbed the bottom of his lungs, he had raced here... even though there was nothing he could do anymore. Even though Chouji was no longer in danger. Even though Shikamaru had come out with nothing worse than a broken finger. Even though Ino hadn't even gone anywhere.
It was a feeling of dread anticipation, of needing to do something. To fix things and make them better. He hadn't slept in three days, hadn't showered in four, and was pretty sure he'd find twigs in his beard when he got around to trimming it, but the level of adrenaline singing in his veins demanded action. Except he couldn't do anything. Couldn't check on Shikamaru or Ino, because their parents wouldn't appreciate him dropping in at two in the morning (or their mothers wouldn't, anyways). Couldn't wake Chouji to see how he was doing, because the boy needed his rest. Couldn't do anything but stand around and damn himself for being elsewhere when it had really been a jounin's mission in the first place.
One corner of his mouth quirked up in a bitter smile. He couldn't understand how any one could bear to have children, when watching them step into the world and get hurt felt like /this/. He should have listened to Iruka.
Chouji flinched slightly when Asuma rest a palm - lightly, barely a touch at all - on his forehead. Didn't wake, though his eyelids fluttered and he did tense for a long second before relaxing again. A ninja habit. Something Asuma had taught them - something that might save their lives someday.
He brushed the bangs off Chouji's forehead and pulled away. There was nothing he could do here, but he would never be able to go home and shower and sleep as if having one of his kids in the hospital meant nothing. Inaction here was better than inaction somewhere else.
Well, at least he'd had the sense to buy a few packs of cigarettes on his way to the hospital.
Asuma (quietly) dragged a chair over to the open window, where his smoking wouldn't set off the alarm or bother Chouji's breathing. He lit up the cigarette with the new matchbook he had picked up at the cashier's window, leaned an elbow on the windowsill, and consigned himself to a few hours of sitting and smoking and generally feeling miserable.
"Man," he said to the sleeping city outside the window, "I'm never having kids."
Asuma had just tossed his twenty-eighth butt out the window when the hospital door opened. (Though not for the first time - he had about scared the bejeebus out of the first nurse, and then had to sit through a stern lecture about smoking in patient's rooms and honoring visiting hours and blah blah blah. He'd lit up again as soon as she walked out the door.) It was two minutes to seven according to the clock on the wall, and he was beginning to think his eyes would start bleeding if he kept them open much longer. The muscles behind his eyeballs burned something terrible when he glanced at the opening door.
Shikamaru blinked at him dumbly like a... well, a deer caught in headlights.
He looked good, though. In that he was cleaned up and the nick on his cheek was healing nicely and he wasn't missing any body parts. But he didn't look like he had been sleeping well. And god only knew what kind of effort (/what kind of fear, what kind of helpless feeling/) it had taken him to be up and moving before seven in the morning.
Something tight and nameless in Asuma's stomach eased up. Just a little.
Shikamaru stood in the doorway and stared at him, and the jounin broke eye contact to tap another cigarette out and place it between his lips. He looked back up when the stick was lit and there was a calming cloud of nicotine in his lungs. The boy hadn't budged an inch. It was six fifty-nine in the morning.
"Hey," he said softly.
Shikamaru's brows came together sharply, in an expression of - anxiety? relief? something too complex for the jounin to pick out - the muscles of his jaw jumping as he pursed his lips and struggled to contain his expression.
"... hey," he said after a minute, voice thick. "I didn't... I didn't know you were back."
"I got back last night," Asuma said. "Late."
The genin - no, chuunin now - nodded and dropped his gaze to the floor. The clock ticked on to seven.
Asuma didn't know what to say to break the silence. Didn't know what to do. With Ino it'd be perfectly acceptable to hug her and let the girl start bawling on his shoulder, but... that sort of thing just wasn't done with guys. Guys should only cry when they're drunk, and he wasn't about to take Shikamaru out to a bar at seven in the morning (though he'd be perfectly happy to do so in another eight years). Emotion was just... too hard to deal with by yourself, let alone around other people.
"... I'm sorry I wasn't here," he said finally.
I'm sorry I wasn't here to help you. I'm sorry I wasn't here to take the mission - and the responsibility of failure - for you. I'm sorry that I'm a terrible teacher.
Shikamaru rubbed the back of his hand against one eye and looked up. Smiling.
"S'okay," he said. "I'm glad you're here now."