Kakashi’s eyes flicked open.
There was a confused moment of chakra interwoven with the normal world, laced together in the double-vision headache of having both eyes open at once and no context to brace against. He blinked, seeing wild hair and the curve of a shoulder (meridian points and cascades of half-ordered light), then the world resolved into Ryouma.
It had been real.
The sharingan caught a perfect, permanent snapshot of Ryouma’s broad, sharp-angled grin and locked it away forever. His lips were dry and a little chapped, mouth bracketed by those new lines; there was a slight chip in one of his lower incisors that Kakashi didn’t remember being there.
He looked amazing.
Kakashi couldn’t help smiling back, feeling light for the first time in years. He closed the sharingan, unlocked his hands, and stretched, arching the kinks out of his back.
“I’m a cuddlebug,” he drawled, breath hissing as he discovered new aches in hard worked muscles. Ryouma’s six month plan had almost been worth waiting for; he’d slept like the dead afterwards. “What time is it? Did you sleep?”
“Not a wink. Just been watching you all night. You’re adorable, by the way,” Ryouma said, grin widening. Kakashi might have been alarmed at that, if the pillow marks and ruffled bedhead hadn’t identified Ryouma as a deadpan liar. Ryouma twisted to look at his alarm clock. “Seven-forty. We sure don’t cut corners when it comes to sleepin’ in.”
“It’s that late?” Startled, Kakashi pushed himself up to look. The blinking red numbers agreed with Ryouma. He fell back, laughing raspily. Obito was going to think he really had died. “You’re a bad influence.”
Ryouma was still leaning over him. Something a little wicked flitted across his face. “You didn’t seem to mind last night,” he said slyly.
“I was distracted,” Kakashi said. “And temporarily taken leave of my senses.”
Ryouma opened his mouth. Kakashi shoved him flat on his back and rolled on top of him, pinning him to the bed with a handhold at each rawboned wrist. Ryouma was naked and warm and laughing now, only putting up a token protest as Kakashi growled threateningly, trying not to grin. There was a fresh red bruise on Ryouma’s throat, and a bruised bite mark capping his shoulder that Kakashi didn’t recall putting there. Possibly he’d been been distracted at the time...
He pressed his mouth against it, teeth carefully tucked away. “If this keeps up, you’re going to have more scars than skin,” he murmured, a little apologetic.
“Thought you said I was still pretty,” Ryouma said reproachfully. “Or d’you say that to all the boys?”
Kakashi glanced up from underneath the rumpled grey brush of bangs, regarded him levelly for a moment, and then bit down.
“Oi,” Ryouma said, and bucked against Kakashi’s restraining weight. Heavy weight, as it turned out. Kakashi had gained muscle, and Ryouma’d lost it. Six months ago Ryouma had had maybe twenty-five or thirty pounds on him, and now it was entirely possible that Kakashi outweighed him.
Kakashi was still ticklish, though.
The breathless, laughing wrestling match ended when Ryouma rolled them over and they both fell off the bed. Ryouma was still leg-shackled in tangled sheets; he looked like an idiot and had never cared less. Panting, laughing, he dropped his head back onto Kakashi’s chest and just lay there for a moment, listening to the slowing thud of Kakashi’s heart.
Gentle fingers carded through his hair. “Cheater.”
He liked the way Kakashi’s voice buzzed through his chest, Ryouma decided, almost more felt than heard. That was another detail he’d never thought of.
“No such thing as cheatin’ in bed,” he said, and reconsidered. “Um. Okay, that wasn’t--”
Kakashi’s laugh sent tiny shock-waves through his ribcage, like the after-ripples of an earthquake. Ryouma grinned--and then lost it, and pushed himself up on his elbows, against Kakashi’s hand. He’d almost forgotten this section of his script, dreading it more than any part but one. But he’d been a coward for too long already, and now that it was before him again he had to say it, or poison everything that came after. He didn’t think Kakashi’d hate him--but it still hurt to meet his eyes and dredge up the words.
“I did,” he said. “On that mission to Lightning, when I ran--I slept with my partner, on the way home. Broke all my rules to do it, ‘cause--’cause I was scared, and she was nice, and--an’ I just wanted to not think, for a little while. Forget the future. I meant to tell you, when I came back. Get my head straight, apologize--for that, an’ for what I said at the Stone--work things out, if you wanted to. But I was runnin’ a soldier-pill overdose, and then I crashed, and then they sent me out again, and then... At least I got a lot of thinking done, these last six months.”
As Ryouma talked, Kakashi’s smile faded.
“I know,” he said. “I met Katsuko on the training fields, after your mission. She was wearing your shirt.”
Ryouma winced, gaze dropping. He forced it back, meeting Kakashi’s eye again. “I lent it to her on our way home. Her shirt got ruined in a wind jutsu, an’ I was just wearing bandages.”
Katsuko hadn’t been in great shape, Kakashi remembered. Exhausted, wounded, defensive, and just as angry as Kakashi by the end of the conversation.
Do you want him? he’d asked her. It hadn’t been an offer.
What for? He won’t want me.
But she’d abandoned Ryouma at the hospital -- hadn’t even stayed to check on his injuries -- so Kakashi thought she’d forfeited her right to sound bereft. He had gone to check, but Ryouma had already been home and flattened from his soldier pill crash, and Kakashi had stood silent at his door for twelve long minutes, smelling the weary, bloodied despair, before he’d left Ryouma to sleep.
He’d regretted that later.
But Ryouma had made it home after all, and Kakashi was sick of saying things he regretted; he didn’t plan to start again now.
“You can’t cheat on a relationship you never agreed to be in,” he said carefully, pushing himself up on one elbow. He found a jagged smile. “We said no strings. And I spent most of my time pushing you away, anyway.”
Ryouma drew in a deep breath, let it out again. “That’s what I told myself. Worked in the moment, didn’t help the guilt later.” His scent twisted into something black and unhappy, burning at the edges like charred paper.
I just wanted to not think.
Kakashi reflected on the bottle of shouchuu in his fridge: a not-quite-so-adequate substitute for every man he’d slept with in the last six years, since he’d figured out that hard, masked, anonymous sex could wipe his mind clean in the way that nothing else would. Apparently it worked for other people, too.
But everything with Ryouma had been better. Enough to break Kakashi in half when Ryouma had died.
When Kakashi thought he’d died.
He drew his own deep breath, sat up far enough to lean against the edge of bed, and curled his fingers over the sharp-bladed edge of Ryouma’s shoulder. Anchored himself. Told the truth. “I was so angry at you. I don’t think I’ve been that mad at anyone since I was a kid.” Since his father had gutted himself on the living room floor, perhaps. “But you can’t get that tied up in someone if you don’t care about them, and when you didn’t come home...”
Ryouma winced again.
“I didn’t care about Katsuko. I didn’t care if you hated me for everything I’d said to you at the Stone. I just wanted you back safe.” He leaned his head against the bed, half-closing his eye. “They didn’t tell me you’d vanished until three weeks after. They didn’t tell me at all, actually. It was all classified; Ginta figured it out. They’d sent three search teams after you and found nothing, and I was too stupid-angry to notice. I just thought you were on a long one, or had double-ended your missions. But Ginta caught it and brought it to me, and we went out together after you. AWOL.”
Ryouma startled, something unreadable flashing behind his eyes. Had he thought no one would look for him?
“There was no trail -- it was too late, and Ginta kept slowing things up. His leg was still injured, and he wouldn’t give me your mission details. Too afraid I’d bolt off without him.” Granted, Kakashi would have, but the memory still made him clench his teeth. “We couldn’t find a sign of you, but we ended up near your old Lightning stomping grounds, and Ginta knew the safe house your team had been based in. So we went there.”
“Shit!” Ryouma startled all the way upright, and Kakashi’s hand fell away. “It wasn’t still standing, was it? We had Kumo-nin on our tails, we trapped the hell out of it for them--”
Kakashi’s fingertips went to the side of his head, where the scar from the falling, exploding masonry was hidden in his hairline. “I know,” he said dryly. “Nice message you left.”
Thanks for all the fun. Hope you die slow.
Love, Team Badass.
Ryouma looked more alarmed, and slightly guilty. “Message was Arata. The jutsu was mostly mine.”
“It felt like your chakra,” Kakashi agreed. “So we got trapped,” because they’d been idiots, “and the hunters the Hokage sent after us had to dig us out. Which is my personal worst, as far as rescue attempts go.” He snorted in self-contempt. “And that was it; we got dragged home, Ginta wound up on medical leave because of his leg, which was worse, and he smashed his face up badly. And I...”
His smile was wan. “I don’t actually remember if they put something on my record. I didn’t care. You were gone, probably dead, and they hadn’t even told me. I was in hospital for a couple days, then I started taking missions again, and nothing really mattered all that much.”
Ryouma looked white and stricken, cheek hollowed in a way that said he was biting it on the inside. They were both naked and sleep-rumpled and sitting on the floor, and Kakashi felt faintly sick at everything spilling out of his mouth. But Ryouma had told the truth, had always told the truth, and Kakashi owed him at least that much.
“And then I got kicked out,” he finished, voice rasping a little; too many words, too early. “Which you already knew, but the point is...” He steeled himself, meeting Ryouma’s eyes. “I really don’t care about Katsuko, and somehow we’re both still alive, so if it won’t send you running, I think I’d like to try something with strings.”
“I think,” Ryouma said, very quietly, “I’m done with runnin’.”
Had been done with running even before he woke, dizzy and sick with the lingering drugs, in a dungeon in Sunagakure no Sato. He’d known his feelings long before that, but that was only more reason to run, when they’d fought at the Heroes’ Stone and he’d heard every word like acid in his ears.
Weak. Broken. Failure.
In his moments of lucidity in Lightning Country, he’d told himself he didn’t care what Kakashi thought--he just had to prove him wrong. It took him until Wind Country to realize that Kakashi had never actually said any of that in the first place. Whatever Ryouma heard had been the old self-loathing still snaking through his head, triggering a flinch every time he saw Kuromaru, boiling into fear and fury when he heard Kakashi say broke under torture. Because he had, and he knew it, and he was terrified of what Kakashi would think of him once he knew it, too.
Terrified that he’d see Ryouma the same way Ryouma saw himself.
But Ginta had been right, he’d realized one blazingly hot morning in Sunagakure, lying on his bed in a clean white room and counting the hours away. Maybe Kakashi wasn’t the man Ryouma’d thought he was. And if he wasn’t--if that fight at the Heroes’ Stone had hurt him as much as it hurt Ryouma, if he’d meant what he said about letting Ryouma make his own choices and fix his own mistakes--then maybe there was still something to come back to.
When Kakashi greeted him on the Hokages’ Monument, he’d thought that was enough. He’d never dared hope for this.
“You warned me once,” he whispered, “not to run around givin’ my heart away. Said you didn’t want it. You changing your mind now? ‘Cause if you’ll take it, it’s yours.”
Kakashi let out a slow, shaky breath, and Ryouma’s courage nearly failed him. He dropped his gaze, cursed himself for a coward, and dragged it back up just in time to see the anxious tension in Kakashi’s face blaze into a smile like the sun coming out. A real smile, relieved, happy, like a man with a future handed to him as a gift. “You losing your memory too? I said I didn’t deserve it.”
“You did,” Ryouma said fiercely. “Do. If I can be wrong you can, too. An’ I’m not wrong about this. But it’s your choice. I came back, an’ I’m not running again. Whatever you want, I’ll stick around. Strings or no strings or, I don’t know, bondage ropes, it’s up to you.” He drew a burning breath, and added belatedly, “Though we’ll have to talk about the kinky stuff.”
Only Ryouma could say I love you and follow it up with bondage.
Kakashi laughed, startled and thrilled and a little bit terrified, and barely recognized the sound as himself. Ryouma’s smile flicked like a switchblade, there and gone, sheathed by nerves. His scent was anxious-pleased, mostly uncertain, as if he’d flung himself into thin air and still expected Kakashi to turn around and say actually, wait, I changed my mind.
Given that they’d already been down this road once and it had ended in I don’t love you. Change the subject, Kakashi couldn’t really blame him.
“We can talk about anything you want,” he said, reaching out to cradle his hand around the nape of Ryouma’s neck, pulling him forward. The grip was almost familiar again; relearned. “I don’t know that I deserve anything, but I’m done trying to make you leave. Might even have some rope around here, somewhere, if that’s what you want.”
Ryouma didn’t touch the joke. “I’m serious,” he said, eyes dark and intent.
Me, too, Kakashi thought, but didn’t say, because Ryouma deserved a better answer and Kakashi damn sure owed him one. He drew a breath and let it out, releasing the odd giddiness that felt like concussion and blood loss. Like shock. He’d wanted Ryouma to say yes; he just hadn’t expected to get everything, all at once, held out with both hands and fierce courage. Here’s everything I have, take it or not, I’m not leaving.
Whatever you want.
“You once told me that you’d regret missing the chance to see me happy more than you’d regret leaving,” Kakashi said quietly, remembering the riverbank and Ryouma’s lightning-confident smile, back when his tattoos had been whole. Kakashi lifted his chin. “I want you happy. And -- and I want you.”
Whole and healthy and in one piece.
Kakashi drew another breath. “Don’t join ANBU again. Please.”
Whatever you want, he’d said, and meant it. He’d done his thinking, in that white-washed room in Sunagakure, chosen his path, made his peace. He’d thought he was ready for whatever Kakashi might ask of him--ready even if Kakashi asked nothing, which would be infinitely harder.
He hadn’t expected this.
Should have, maybe, after Kakashi’s carefully strained reaction last night, but he’d been distracted, and they’d dropped the subject, and then he’d been...more distracted. It had never been in the script, and he hadn’t had a chance to think, and now, kneeling in front of Kakashi with one ankle still wrapped in bed-sheets and the morning air chill on his naked skin, he had no answers at all.
Whatever you want.
There was one.
He closed his eyes for the barest moment. Opened them again, and met Kakashi’s sword-grey gaze. “What d’you want me to do instead?”
“Anything,” Kakashi said instantly. “Be a jounin. Guard the Hokage. Teach. You’d do it better than I would, anyway.”
“Probably,” Ryouma agreed, trying for a grin. “Though can you see any self-respecting ninja parents trusting me with their kids? Leastways if they had you they could go all bragging about how Sharingan no Kakashi’s teaching their brats. I’m probably better off stickin’ with the street kids...”
Who must believe he was dead, now. Along with Tsume, and Kuromaru, and Ginta and Sumire and Katsuko, and Genma and Raidou and Morimoto and Daisuke and Arata and Hiroyuki and all the other friends he’d left behind. He’d thought about the nature of friendship, too, in Sungakure: the lines he’d always drawn, the people he’d let in despite himself. He’d sworn once that he never wanted anyone to mourn him; part of him still hoped they hadn’t, but he thought maybe the kids, at least, would. They weren’t quite jaded enough yet not to hurt when one more adult abandoned them.
Kakashi’d told Ryouma straight off, that day on the riverbank, that he couldn’t let anyone else close enough to hurt. In his own way he was as badly damaged as those bruised, whip-shy kids--and Ryouma had lowered his head and bulled in anyway, accepting the risks and the regrets in exchange for the chance of a real smile. And then he’d gone ahead and proved Kakashi right, and there was a bottle in the fridge and a black mark on his record and an empty apartment in ANBU HQ to show just how well Kakashi hadn’t coped.
He’d been silent too long. Kakashi was still leaning against the bed, still holding the back of Ryouma’s neck in one hand and bracing himself with the other, but his muscles had gone wire-tense beneath his milk-pale skin, and one sharp canine was pressing a deep dent into his lower lip. Ryouma couldn’t smell anxiety the way Kakashi could, but he could read the signs of it well enough. How much did it matter to Kakashi, that Ryouma not go back into ANBU without him?
“I signed up for ANBU ‘cause it seemed like the right place to be,” he said, haltingly. “Spent five years on the border, off and on, and it was either mind-numbing or deadly.” He pressed a hand against his stomach, over the long ridge of scar-tissue curving from ribcage to hipbone. “Closest I ever came to death was as a jounin, up in Lightning Country. Got a good view of my own guts then, and still stuck around for more. But half the time we were just the back-up, me and my team--they’d send a pair of ANBU out and wouldn’t even tell me what they were doing, just I was supposed to use my team however the ANBU said. Until the ANBU screwed up and we got busted saving him, which is why we trapped the hell out of that bunker and spent the next three months on the run. I figured after that, I wanted to know who I was killin’, and who was comin’ for me, and why.”
“You joined the wrong side of ANBU for that,” Kakashi said colorlessly. “Intel gets the details. Hunters get the orders.”
“Well, yeah, I figured that out. Maybe I should’ve gone for Hokage instead.” Ryouma’s mouth twisted wryly at the thought. He still wasn’t sure he’d made his point, or that he even had a point to make. Something about what ANBU meant to him, maybe, or that service in the regular shinobi corps had been just as dangerous, or perhaps even that he wasn’t always the one to make mistakes. But for once Kakashi wasn’t hearing what he meant. And Ryouma knew that this time, above all times, he needed to be clear.
“I don’t know what ANBU meant to you. An’ I didn’t have all that much time for it to mean something to me. I didn’t get the bad missions, the ones Ginta warned me about--all the guys I had to kill were bad guys, and mostly I killed ‘em. Most of the partners I paired I was proud to be with. I got hurt some, but I pulled through.”
He took a deep breath.
“But I don’t need it. Not like the way I need you.”
Ryouma smelled like sweet-rusted steel, fear hammered into certainty, and just a trace of something like regret. Something a little feral trying to make itself tame.
Kakashi inhaled shock and found himself saying: “Why?”
Ryouma gave a one-shouldered shrug, hesitating only briefly. “Why’s the moon orbit the earth?” he said. “You make me better. Stronger, braver, tryin' to live up to the man I want you to see. You care too much, even when you're pretendin' you don't. You don't smile much, but when you do the world lights up. You didn't laugh when I said I couldn't read, an' you left me a dog when I was alone, an' you drank my shot when you didn't even know that it was drugged or why I was scared. You're the first person who ever stayed.”
Kakashi suspected he was turning red, which was frankly mortifying, but he almost didn’t care. Of all the things Ryouma had just listed, not one of them was ‘you’re an amazing killer’, or even ‘you look really good in a uniform’ -- they were real things. Odd things. Things that only Ryouma had seen and paid attention to, and thought were important.
Though Ryouma was ridiculous if he thought Kakashi made him better. It had always been the other way around.
Ryouma was staying out of ANBU.
“You’re worth staying for,” Kakashi said finally, borrowing a piece of Ryouma’s conviction and handing it back to him, because sometimes he thought Ryouma had no idea how much he was worth, despite how much he bragged.
Ryouma grinned crookedly, scent warming to something pleased and a little relieved. “Well, I am well-known for bein’ the hottest guy in Konoha. And the most humble.”
Kakashi snorted laughing. “You’re idiotic,” he said, and rose from his lean, shoving Ryouma into a flat sprawl and pinning him there. Ryouma went willingly, even tilting his head to bare the side of his throat, and Kakashi couldn’t help thinking mine.
It wasn’t a completely new thought, but the shape of it was different now--frightening, but exciting too, like free-falling over uncertain ground. More permanent, though hopefully in a way that wouldn’t involve hard landings and broken bones.
Now he was being idiotic.
He kissed Ryouma’s desert-chapped mouth hard enough to hurt, and felt the rumble of laughter shake through Ryouma’s chest. Long-fingered hands steadied his jaw and tangled in his hair; despite the cool autumn morning and his recent starvation, Ryouma was hearthfire-warm and strong enough to take Kakashi’s weight. He kissed back open-mouthed and enthusiastic, tongue finding the points of Kakashi’s canine teeth with apparent fascination. Kakashi nipped his lower lip gently, then harder when Ryouma groaned.
Proceedings were just starting to get really interesting when someone knocked loudly on the door.
Startled, Kakashi’s head came up. “What?”
“Message from Arakaki,” a voice came back. “Tousaki Ryouma is due for a briefing at nine AM. Um. Arakaki said he would probably be here?”
Kakashi glanced at the clock, which was now blinking an accusatory 08:20, and let his forehead thump against Ryouma’s chest. “Damn,” he muttered.
“Um,” said the door-voice. “I can come back later?”
“I don’t need an escort to ANBU HQ,” Ryouma said dangerously. “The brain damage was fake.”
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.
“Damnit.” Ryouma sat up, naked and more than half-aroused and abruptly furious. “I’m with Sharingan no Kakashi--if I do go mad and run amok he’ll do a better job of restraining me than any of you goons could.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Kakashi murmured. He sat up as well, leaning one elbow on his knee and raking his hair out of his face. Ryouma blinked at him, startled out of anger for a moment, before he realized what Kakashi meant. And then spent a whole moment more on a deliciously distracting train of thought involving Kakashi and restraints, before he realized that Arakaki’s bearer of bad news was still lurking outside.
“Fine,” he snapped, and surged to his feet. He grabbed the trailing sheet, wrapped it untidily around his waist, and stalked to the door. Kakashi made a startled sound and went for mask and pants, but Ryouma opened the door only a hand’s-breadth and then blocked the narrow gap entirely with his own body.
He didn’t recognize the chuunin standing in the railed landing outside, pink-cheeked in the early morning chill. Kakashi’s apartment was on the second floor; Ryouma entertained momentary fantasies of kicking the chuunin straight over the railing. That probably wouldn’t bolster his claims of sanity, though. He scowled down a full eleven inches instead. “Give me thirty minutes. And bring me a uniform. Jounin blues.”
He shut the door again before the kid could stammer out a response. Across the room, Kakashi zipped up his pants and raised an ironic eyebrow. “I thought I was the mean one.”
“I can be mean,” Ryouma said. “I can be really mean when I’m well on my way to getting nailed through the floor--or nailing, whichever, the point was I was about to find out when Arakaki’s damned brat showed up--”
He stopped himself, took a deep breath, and scrubbed a hand over his face and through his hair. “Oh, well. At least there’s tonight. Assuming I’m invited back.” He glanced around his wrist at Kakashi, suddenly unsure. “Am I? I mean, I’ve still got that voucher for the hotel...”
Kakashi had seen Ryouma twist himself out of will-fire and certainty onto unstable ground before, but this was the first time he’d done it on Kakashi’s behalf and not taken Kakashi with him. This was the first time, now Kakashi thought about it, that he’d ever been certain about Ryouma.
He abandoned his shirt, crossed the floor, and backed Ryouma up against the door. Something flickered a little warily behind dark eyes, if Ryouma wasn’t sure whether he was about to be hit or kissed, but he let Kakashi box him in.
Kakashi tapped his fingertips gently against the deepening bite-bruise on one broad shoulder.
“You should bring back pie,” he said. “I don’t have anything sweet in the fridge.”
Some of the uncertainty left Ryouma’s scent. “Would you try it, if I brought it?” he asked testingly.
The thought of blood-sweet cooked sugar wasn’t the most appealing thing, but Kakashi was a ninja; he could eat skunk if necessary.
“On one condition,” he said.
Ryouma lifted his eyebrows.
“Don’t blame me for being late.” He pressed a kiss to Ryouma’s cracked, surprised mouth, wrapped his hands around the too-sharp angles of Ryouma’s hips, and slid down to his knees. Ryouma’s breath hitched raggedly. They’d only ever done this once, an even trade of mouths and challenges and chakra in the aftermath wreck of the mission that had left Ryouma with that bite mark on his throat, and Kakashi with a blade scar in the same place. He still didn’t have a full memory of the fight that had put it there.
But the last time, Kakashi hadn’t been kneeling.
Ryouma’s sheet was pinned between his back and the door, gaping open at his leg, almost kimono-like. Kakashi pulled it aside, stripped his mask back down, and couldn’t resist grazing his teeth over the bloody dagger tattoo inked into Ryouma’s right hip. Lean stomach muscles tightened; Ryouma’s breath hissed between his teeth.
His hand slid around the back of Kakashi’s neck, tangling in his hair. “Can you do that chakra trick again?” he asked, rough-voiced.
Kakashi grinned, inhaled and breathed a shatter of blue-white chakra sparks across Ryouma’s lower belly. Ryouma twitched, ticklish, grip tightening. There had already been plenty of interest, despite the interruption, but now raw thunder rolled through his scent, bringing a tide of heat and want and nothing like uncertainty.
Kakashi let sparks dance between his fingers, tasted them on his teeth; he breathed in against Ryouma's skin, traced a close-mouthed kiss to the side of the thick scar ridging down Ryouma's belly, and ducked his head.
Closed his eye, relaxed his throat, and set about proving that Ryouma was wanted, and he damn well had things to stay for.