As it turned out, Kaori Shin's temple-gate seal wouldn’t bastardize for anything.
Kakashi sat in the centre of a flat tornado, surrounded by scrolls, scribbled-on pieces of parchment, and a double-dozen replacement prototypes for Katsuko’s disintegrating seal—and threw a book at the wall.
On the bed, Ryouma startled halfway awake. He muttered something that sounded like I don’t need orange shoes werble smurf, blinked hazily at the room, then rolled onto his side and dragged a pillow over his head. He didn’t quite snore, but the rhythm of his breathing picked up a raspier edge.
The red numbers of the alarm clock blinked an accusing 04:13 AM. Ryouma had only fallen asleep, fully dressed, barely an hour ago, sometime around his fifth cup of coffee. Whenever he moved, paper crinkled beneath him.
Quietly, Kakashi balled up the diagram he’d just finished and threw it after the book. Then he sprawled onto his back, groaning soundlessly as his spine stretched the kinks out. Pinned to the ceiling above him, half a dozen more sketches drew his attention. He couldn’t help tracing the sinuous coils of one design: maybe if he inverted a fourth fire pole to stabilize the central helix...
Katsuko would overload and explode.
“Argh,” Kakashi muttered.
You do. You actually think you can do this.
He’d promised her. If there was a way, he’d find it.
The crack of knuckles on wood made Ryouma twitch without waking. Kakashi lifted his head and stared at the door. The only reason for someone to call in the middle of the night was a mission, but neither one of them was mission certified. Unless something had gone badly wrong...
Suddenly very awake, he hauled himself up and made it to the door in three strides, undoing the protective shields with a flick of chakra. On the other side—
Was Katsuko, like his very own personal bad luck charm.
The flip-flops caught his attention first, closely followed by the pyjama pants with little electric-blue stars on them. An overlarge hoodie hung its sleeves well over Katsuko’s hands; the hood barely concealed the wild tangle of her dark hair. Kakashi’s gaze went to the six-pack of beer tucked under one arm, then to the bottle of rot-gut shouchuu dangling from the other hand, then back up to Katsuko’s face.
Her scent was sweet, and sick, and hurting.
“If you want Ryouma,” Kakashi said. “You can’t bring those in.”
Ryouma didn’t drink. Katsuko knew that much, at least, from the long six months keeping his memory alive with all the others he’d left behind.
Katsuko shook her head. “Don’t want Ryouma,” she muttered. “Want you.”
Kakashi’s eyebrow lifted a bare fraction. “For what?”
A second later, Katsuko choked in comprehension. “Woah woah woah, don’t look at me like that. I know you don’t like vaginas.” She shrugged, helplessly. “Couldn’t sleep. Dream things. Nightmare things. Pills won’t work. Already tired as fuck so training won’t help.” She met his eyes and forged on ahead. “Need to get drunk. Really, really drunk. Have to have someone there to slap a dampening jutsu on when my chakra goes wonky. Because it will, if I drink enough.”
He looked at her for a long, unreadable moment. “Talking won’t help.”
It wasn’t a question.
Katsuko barked a short laugh. “Got it in one.”
"I could knock you out." No threat, just a simple statement of fact.
“I’ve tried that before. Ended pretty badly.” Katsuko glanced over Kakashi’s shoulder, raising an eyebrow at the mountain of scrolls, texts, and stray pieces of paper visible from the hall. Drafts of the seal on her belly were pinned to the wall and ceiling. A lump on the bed that had to be Ryouma snuffled and rolled over, dead to the world.
For her. All that mess was for her. Now wasn’t the time for warm fuzzies, so Katsuko swallowed them down and gave Kakashi a pleading expression. “C’mon. Even geniuses need a break. We can go sit on a roof somewhere and cause as little property damage as possible.”
What she was asking for didn’t sound much like a break.
Kakashi’s tongue found the edge of his teeth, resting on the razor line. “I can’t drink with you,” he said, thinking ever so briefly of the half-empty bottle of shouuchu he’d thrown away from the back of his own fridge, and every reason why. “Are you sure you don’t want Ryouma? He’s better at... all of this, than I am.”
She gave him a thinly veneered stern look. “Now you’re just trying to get out of it.” Before Kakashi could argue that he hadn’t agreed to get into it, she sobered, bare bones showing through. “I'm not making Ryouma watch me drink myself into a stupor. I know you wouldn't do that to him."
There was another reason not to get to know people. Once they found your buttons, they could kick you in them.
“That’s not—” Kakashi began, before abandoning the line of thought entirely. She didn’t want words. She didn’t want Ryouma’s dark eyes and careful hands and earnest attempts to help, watching her while she cracked hollow. She just wanted a guard. “Wait here.”
He didn’t close the door on her face this time, though it was tempting.
Ryouma was still asleep, tangled in blankets and books he couldn’t read, breathing soft and even. He barely twitched when Kakashi ghosted fingers over his arm, thinking. Ryouma couldn’t read a note, and Kakashi didn’t think it was possible to effectively convey ‘I’ve stepped out to ensure your extremely strange former one-night-stand doesn’t blow a crater in Konoha, back soon’ in pictograms. Ryouma didn’t seem likely to wake before dawn—he was still easily exhausted, still building his reserves back up—but he’d gone to sleep trusting that he was safe, and that Kakashi would be around when he woke up.
A quietly summoned clone was the best attempt Kakashi could make at being in two places at once.
He left it frowning at the scattered collection of notes, and grabbed a handful of supplies from his desk, along with his jounin vest, before heading back to the door, resurrecting the protective seals as he went. He was halfway there when Katsuko said: “I didn’t bring glasses.”
“Drink from the bottle like an adult,” Kakashi told her.
Katsuko’s attempt at dark, mournful eyes failed to move him. “But then I can’t mix the beer and shouchu together,” she said.
“Good,” he said, stepping out and locking the door. The seals flared and set behind him, lively and lethal. “Then maybe you won’t be sick. Where do you want to go?”
“Not anywhere inside,” Katsuko told him. “I’ve had enough of closed rooms for a lifetime. The roof of this place’s flat. It’ll do.”
Kakashi glanced up, shrugged one shoulder. "Good enough. Just don't wake the neighbours; they're tetchy."
He turned and started walking up the wall, glancing back to make sure she followed. Katsuko rolled her eyes and started after him, clutching the bottle of shochu to her chest when it sloshed alarmingly. The roof of the apartment complex was pretty clean, as far as roofs went. The Hokage’s Monument loomed high in the distance, stone faces carved in stern lines.
Katsuko set the six-pack down, dropping into a loose tailor’s seat. “Well?” she asked Kakashi. “You gonna stand there all night? Cause I gotta say, you’d make a good weather-vane.”
“Better lightning-rod.” But he padded over, tipping his head to look down at her with one unreadable eye, and sat. “I should seal your chakra now, if you really want to do this.”
She popped open the shochu bottle, considering. “Yeah,” she said at last. “Yeah, that’d be best. Go ahead.”
Kakashi already had a paper seal out, inking in a few last-minute additions before turning to her. “Shirt up.”
Katsuko sighed and dragged the hem of her hoodie and the t-shirt under it up, suppressing a wince as he leaned right over and stuck it on her stomach. The paper rustled, a little ominously, as Kakashi flashed through a series of hand seals that ended with a shove of chakra. A little lurch, like the world was turning on its axis, and then—nothing. The energy in her coils was locked away, easing the weight in her chest. Katsuko took a deep breath, savoring the lightness.
Kakashi sat back. "That should hold you unless you do something really stupid. It'll break down by itself in about twelve hours."
“I’m taking a day off of stupid. It’s hard work, you know, making bad decisions. Thanks.” She raised the bottle of shochu in a solemn toast, then tilted her head back and took the first deep swig.
This didn’t seem much like a good decision, but at least it might end in sleep. Or unconsciousness.
Kakashi folded a leg up to brace his arm on the knee, and watched Katsuko throw back two more long draws of shouchu, her throat flexing. She winced and coughed, wiping her mouth. The bottle dangled between her skinny fingers.
“Drink often?” Kakashi asked.
She smiled at him, looking happy and smelling nothing like it. “Actually, no.”
Wonderful. “Have you eaten?”
Her shifty-eyed pause both failed to reassure him and got her a mental point deducted for stealth. “Since when?”
Kakashi gave her a long look. “Not to criticize your coping mechanisms, but alcohol poisoning probably won’t help you. Slow down.”
“How is this my life?” Katsuko muttered, raking her hood back and tousling her hair into a schizophrenic bird nest. She set the bottle down by one flip-flopped foot and dug into her six-pack, popping the tab on the first can she touched. This time she drank slowly.
“You can always quit,” Kakashi suggested, lifting his chin to look at the Monument’s silhouette. “Retire and be a baker.”
She followed his gaze. “I have as much a chance of doing that as you do,” she said, stripped down flat. She caught his eye, twitching one shoulder in an angular shrug. “I’m a ninja. There’s nothing else.”
Kaminari and her husband are still out there. Whatever time you can get me will have to be enough.
A week ago, he might have taken the bottle and toasted her with it. But with Ryouma asleep (alive) two stories below, he just nodded once. We have that in common.
Except she was still ANBU, and he was...
Sharingan no Kakashi, last of the Hatake clan, the Yondaime’s student, who survived six years in ANBU and has now retired to begin a distinguished new career as the village’s top jounin.
He braced his weight more firmly on his knee. “You never told me how you escaped.”
Katsuko chuckled, running her tongue over the front of her teeth. Her skull was already starting to buzz a little pleasantly, making it easier to dig up old memories than usual. “Straight to the point. I like that.”
His mouth under the mask moved, as if he was possibly considering smiling. "Compliments are a good way to derail a question."
“Even if they’re sincere?” She batted her eyelashes at him and took another long swallow of beer, wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her hoodie. “Well...I’d been in the labs for six months when Kaminari finally managed to put a successful seal on me. This one.” She motioned at her belly and stared out into the darkness, remembering flames licking at the bars of her cell. “The ANBU arrived a day later. The orderlies panicked and set the holding cells on fire. Burning people alive. Wanted to tie up loose ends, I guess.”
Kakashi was a still shape in the darkness, as immovable as the men carved onto the Monument. Katsuko met his eye, glad that his mask hid any expression; she didn’t want to know what he was thinking. Not right now.
“There were dampening wards in the stone, in the walls,” she said. “It was what kept me from frying, that first hour after they threw me back. While my chakra adjusted. That fire—it burned through them, easy as anything. I lit up; I glowed. Blue, for some reason.”
Smoke in the air, a man screaming as he burned alive, the scratch of Asuma’s calluses against her skin the second before she let go of his hand—
She licked her lips, looked away. “An ANBU translocated me out to keep me from bringing the whole damn facility down on their heads. That was how I escaped when everyone else, well.” She shrugged, took another swallow of cheap beer.
Kakashi’s voice was very quiet. “I’m sorry.”
Katsuko barked a short laugh. “I never know how to answer when people say that. It’s over, it happened, it’s done with. Nothing can change that.” It was high time for another dose of shochu, she decided. She wasn’t nearly drunk enough for this conversation. She set down the beer can and went for the long-necked bottle.
Katsuko settled back against the structure that housed the generator for the building, legs sprawled out in front of her. “You’ve been through worse, I imagine. A lot worse.”
Kakashi’s eyebrows arched. “So far, I’ve managed to avoid being set on fire,” he said mildly.
“I guess there is that,” she said, straight-faced. An edge of something dark and wry lurked in her voice. “It’s not as much fun as you’d expect.”
He snorted. “I believe it.” His fingers tapped a meaningless morse code against his leg, before he added: “I did get hit by lightning once. Not sure I’d recommend it.”
Katsuko cackled, slapping her free hand against the rooftop. “A lightning rod!” she cried, looking very much like she wanted to sprawl on her back and roll. “Not a weather-vane, but a lightning rod!”
“Told you.” Kakashi’s mouth quirked. “Made my hair stand up for weeks.”
Katsuko blinked, laughter draining into something mystified as she took another mouthful of shochu. “You mean it can stand up more?”
“No, that was the—never mind.” It hadn’t been much of a joke anyway. He probably shouldn’t joke at all, but I’m sorry hadn’t been helpful, even if it was true, and he didn’t intend to share his own tragedies. He’d done enough of that with Ryouma, possibly for a lifetime.
Katsuko’s long, thin fingers wrapped around the neck of the bottle, holding it to her mouth. A twist of alcohol fumes hit Kakashi’s nose as she snickered and said lightning rod to herself.
On the other hand, maybe jokes were just fine.
Katsuko set the shochu down after one last swig and picked up her beer again, still sniggering quietly. After a moment, though, she stopped smiling and looked back up at the monument. The Yondaime’s face stared down at her, carved eyes blank and unreadable. “How long have you been a ninja?” she asked, thoughtfully. “Longer than most, right?”
He gave her a wary look. “All my life.” After a beat, he added, “Graduated when I was five. What about you?”
“When I was ten.” She scratched her head. “And you’re, what, twenty, twenty-one? So that’s sixteen years for you, serving.” Her beer can was empty. She popped open another one, letting out a bitter chuckle. “Sixteen years of giving whatever they asked of you, and never taking.”
Kakashi been a ninja longer than he’d been a child. So had she, but the difference in years wasn’t as stark, wasn’t as heartbreaking. Katsuko knew the story of Hatake Sakumo as well as anyone in the village did, knew the rumors about grueling missions and torture that would have broken anyone lesser. A lifetime serving as a human weapon, suffering through abandonment and betrayal, and still Kakashi had given her this—given her hope, his help, a watchful eye when all she wanted was to break down and not have to worry about dragging the surrounding buildings down with her.
She toasted him. “For that, and for everything, thank you.”
“You’re kind of a lightweight,” he said at last, when better words refused to present themselves.
“I know,” said Katsuko, over the lip of her beer can. “It’s beautiful.”
“Makes you a cheap date,” he said dryly, watching as she made hard inroads on her second beer. At this rate, she’d be comatose within the hour—or throwing up everywhere.
Sixteen years of giving whatever they asked of you, and never taking.
Either she was disturbingly psychic, or she’d been one of the ninja assigned to watch him and Ryouma—or he’d been exactly right about her the first time they’d met. It had taken most of that short, bruising conversation for him to get past the gut-shock of anger (hurt) at finding her training in Ryouma’s shirt, drowning in Ryouma’s scent, enough to see her as an actual person. Only when she’d gotten angry, injured and betrayed in her own right, shoving her hands into her pockets and canting her weight sideways, eyes hooded and hard, mouth dangerous.
He remembered looking at her, and thinking maybe she was not so different from him.
Katsuko scoffed. “Ninja,” she said, in an eerie little echo of his thoughts. “Even if I’m three sheets to the wind, I can still break someone’s fingers if I don’t like where things’re heading.” She considered that for moment. “No, not fingers. Legs.”
Kakashi snorted darkly. “Depends on the someone,” he said. “Anyone can get taken by surprise.”
Katsuko gestured grandly with her beer can, as if she were bestowing permission on him to be maudlin. “Fine, be like that.”
“No,” he said quietly, remembering the world-lurching crack of bones breaking. His nose; Sadeo’s fingers. “Anyone can get taken by surprise.”
Like Ginta, three years before, by the same damn man. Or Ryouma, a lifetime before that. He was grey hair and a yellow grin, and he was so drunk I could taste it afterwards. It was probably a piece of irony that he had to yank up the only living girl he knew on what was more usually a kunoichi issue, but he was so tired of running into people who’d lost something that should never be taken.
Katsuko caught the clue, something like quicksilver flicking through her scent. “I know. That’s why you’re here,” she said. She shrugged one angular shoulder, tossing back another mouthful of beer. “Anyways, this is the third time I’ve gone drinking in five years. The less said about the first, the better.”
Kakashi lifted an eyebrow. “You realize I’m now obligated by law to ask, right?”
Katsuko winced. “Actually,” she amended. “What I meant to say was nothing at all happened the first time. Nothing. At all.”
The set of Kakashi’s shoulders was extremely unimpressed. "Ryouma may not have mentioned this, but I can smell when you lie."
Katsuko...didn’t fall of the roof. Not exactly. It was more like her jerking back in shock brought her closer to the edge than was prudent, because while she’d retained the ability to roll backwards she hadn’t kept the motor skills necessary to roll forwards again. She flailed, attempting to stick to the tiles with chakra that had been locked away, and tried to remember how to sit up.
It was all very undignified, and in the end Katsuko was only saved from an ignoble death by Kakashi wrapping a hand around her bicep and yanking her away from the roof’s edge.
His voice was very dry. “Graceful.”
Katsuko blinked up at him and grinned in agreement. “Graceful like a swan, and don’t you forget it.” The night sky was very pretty, so she decided to stay sprawled out on her back and groped a hand out for her beer can. It hadn’t spilled, surprisingly, so she rested it on her stomach for safekeeping after taking another long gulp. “Now, what was this about smelling lies?”
"That was mostly it. If you lie, I can smell it. Like just then, for example." Kakashi settled down beside her, eye tracking her movements. Katsuko didn’t have the heart to tell him she wasn’t in the mood for anymore somersaults into thin air.
“Man, that’s awesome,” she chortled instead. “No wonder you keep your face covered all the time, if your nose’s that sensitive. Gotta protect the sniffer.” She frowned. “What were we...? Oh! Right. The first time I had a drink, after the labs. Well, my teammates an’ I went out to celebrate on my eighteenth birthday, see. And it was nice for a bit, but then we got in a fight. Well, I started the fight. Don’t remember why. Didn’t like the other guy’s face, or something. Anyways, I’m in the middle of winnin’ when one of his friends comes up and hits me over the head with a chair.”
“I know, right?” Katsuko nodded. “Anyways, I get really pissed off, an’ I go for my chakra, an’ then... boom.” She threw her hands out, fingers splayed wide. “Next thing I know, there’s the whole back wall of the bar missing.” She sighed. “It sucked. I really liked that bar.”
Kakash’s eye narrowed in consternation. "What about the ninja?"
“Oh, them?” Katsuko shrugged. “It was a pretty minor slip, so the idiots just ended up getting knocked out. My teammates were kinda freaked.” To say the least. Beni still had a scar on his cheek from where a piece of flying shrapnel had caught him. “But the story has a happy ending, cause when the Uchiha came one of the squad rookies was really cute so I asked her out for dinner! And she said yes, and that was nice.”
Kakashi glanced sidelong at her. "If you ever tell Ryouma that particular detail, would you make sure I'm in the room? I'd like to see his head explode."
Katsuko giggled. “For you? Of course.” After a moment she sighed. “You an’ Ryouma...it’s really nice, y’know. Seein’ you two together. Like, whenever he looks at you, he gets really...shiny. Happy shiny. An’ you get shiny too, except more quietly. Makes me feel warm n’ fuzzy just bein’ in the same room.” She patted Kakashi on the hand, fondly. “It’s nice. You’re nice. You both deserve nice things, and you’re each other’s nice things.”
At this rate, he was going to have no reputation left.
“I think you may have had enough,” he said carefully, extracting his hand. Katsuko laughed, bright and jangly as blood-tarnished silver bells, then leaned over to ruffle his hair. Kakashi caught her by the wrist. “Definitely had enough.”
She twitched the fingers of her captured hand in a little wave. “You’re adorable.”
“Shiny, fuzzy, adorable—have you met me?” he asked, exasperated, because everything he and Ryouma were was not something for other people to see, even if the thought of Ryouma lighting up happy around him made something warm and fierce burn in Kakashi’s ribcage. “I’m mean. I yelled at you before you even knew who I was. I’m—” he tripped over ‘dating’ and settled on, “seeing the man you like. I insult you. To your face!”
“Sometimes,” Katsuko said, with the benevolent wisdom of the rapidly intoxicated. “Sometimes, to break down a wall, you have to run into it a lot.” She leaned directly into his personal space, fluidly graceful and smiling. "You're not so bad. Lots of people who yell aren't mean. It's just that they're hurt."
Six months ago, Kakashi thought distantly, he might have broken her hand for that.
Katsuko frowned at him. "Wait, you think I like like Ryouma? Is that why you've still been growly?" She snorted. "I don't like Ryouma that way. Not anymore. But as a friend, he's one of the best."
It was hard to tell past the scent of booze and bad dreams—something like charred flowers and stress—but nothing about her said lie.
“I know that,” Kakashi said, knee-jerk, before he realized he actually hadn’t. He’d known Ryouma’s side of it, I was scared an’ she was nice, but they’d talked that out and it had ended up somewhere with done running and I want strings and Kakashi on his knees with Ryouma’s fingers leaving bruises on his shoulders. But he’d never gotten Katsuko’s side—he’d just thrown his trust at Ryouma’s feet and decided not to care about her.
His fingers were still around her wrist. He loosened his grip and let her go.
“Ryouma’s a good man,” he said, a little stiffly. “He should have friends. He does have friends.” Reiko and Asuma, apparently, and half a dozen others who’d damn near kicked the door down to see if he was really alive. Hitomi, though she was more teacher than friend. “He’s... good at them.”
Katsuko scratched her head, tangling her hair even further, and smiled at him a little sadly. “You’re a good man, too.” She contemplated her mostly finished beer. “Even if you are a little silly at times.”
Kakashi gave up, leaned across, and poked her. “Me?” he said. “You’re the one in flip-flops. It’s winter, you lunatic.”
Katsuko chuckled. "I’m too awesome for the cold to affect me,” she declared, with another grand swooping gesture that spilled her beer. “I shouldn't have to dress for winter. Winter should dress for me."
She didn’t get cold, he remembered abruptly. Too much chakra; too much heat in her coils. She didn’t have balance, either. He caught her arm again before she tipped herself backwards off the roof. Beneath the frayed cloth of her hoodie, her skin was fever-warm.
“If winter wore clothes, we’d all drown in wool,” Kakashi said, re-steadying her. “How’s your chakra feeling?”
“S’weird,” Katsuko said after a moment. “Like I’m on one side of a door and it’s on the other, tryin’ ta get in.” The slow burn of her coils was muted, in any case, sullen and low. “It’s nice.”
Was this how civilians felt? Light and free, barred from ever having to strain their coils or suffer from burnt pathways? Katsuko propped herself up against Kakashi’s shoulder and crossed her arms, considering. “I’d miss being able to walk on walls, after a while,” she told Kakashi. “And water. Walking on water’s cool, except when it’s the ocean and there’s sharks tryin’ to eat you ‘cause you’re bleeding. I hate sharks.”
Kakashi braced his arm behind her back, giving her somewhere to lean. "I'm going to fix this. Then you'll be able to walk on anything you want."
The corners of her eyes prickled. Katsuko swiped at them with her sleeve. “Thanks,” she muttered thickly. “You didn’t have to help me, but you did. An’ you didn’t have to watch me, but you did. I told you you weren’t mean.”
He cleared his throat. "If you ever tell anyone, I'll kill you dead."
“Won’t,” Katsuko chuckled. “Cross my heart and hope to...actually, no, that’s a bad way to promise something. Let’s just say I won’t, an’ leave it at that.”
Kakashi tilted his head to look at her, unreadable but not unfriendly. "You should finish your beer."
“Knew they called you a genius for a reason.” Katsuko lifted her can in a benevolent toast to the Monument, then knocked the rest of it back in one long swallow. She sighed and leaned against Kakashi, tipping her head against his shoulder to blink up at the night sky. “Forgot how floaty alcohol makes you feel. Weird. Nice, though. Not having to think about the dark things, and the dead people.”
If Ryouma was here, he probably would have hugged her. But Ryouma was good at that—good at people. Kakashi was mostly awkward.
I thought happy thoughts for you, once.
He had, and Kakashi had copy-catted him back a bedtime story about burning rabbits. Ryouma had fallen asleep anyway, curled close and exhausted, wrapped around Kakashi like a broken shield. But there was ten months of history there, fractured around six months of absence. Eight years, if you counted that long-ago meeting when they’d both still had teachers and Kakashi had hated Ryouma on sight.
He didn’t know Katsuko. Except that they both had the same taste in men, and alcohol.
“Puppies,” he said at random, snatching the only topic that wasn’t revenge out of mid-air.
Katsuko looked at him. “Puppies?” she repeated, slowly.
“They’re nice,” he said. “Fluffy.”
Katsuko threw her head back and laughed, something like silver and solace coursing through her scent. “I didn’t know it was possible to get secondhand drunk.”
Kakashi ignored the sudden heat in his face. “Your turn,” he said, persevering. “Pick a nice thing.”
She tapped her chin. “When rather fit shinobi bend over to pick things up.”
“Sex,” he agreed, mouth quirking. “Pick another.”
“Fresh pork buns from the bakery,” she said, frowning in thought. “Oh! And egg custard tarts, too.”
Figures she’d like sweet things.
“Salt-fried saury,” he offered back. “That’s my favourite.”
A grin sharpened the angles of her face. "I love saury! But my favorite is tuna. Hey, you like sushi?"
It felt oddly like admitting a weakness. “I do,” he said, a little cautiously. “Saba’s good—strong flavour. Anago, unagi, bonito—I think I’m making myself hungry.”
Katsuko’s stomach rumbled loudly. “I forgot that I hadn’t eaten,” she said, glum-voiced.
Kakashi glanced sidelong at her. “If you’re drunk enough, we could get food.”
Katsuko hummed, leaning over to flick at the zipper on his jounin vest. “Depends,” she decided at last. “How far away would we be going for food? Because I like this roof. This roof is nice. Also I don’t think I’d be able to walk straight.”
"I can send a clone,” Kakashi offered. “No moving required."
She grinned at him. “That’d be awesome. I want a pork bun, please.”
Kakashi looped his other arm around her to start the hand seals, holding her upright as he summoned a clone with a twist of chakra. Katsuko blinked as the doppelganger appeared in a burst of smoke, staring at her and its creator with an eyebrow raised.
"Shut up and get food,” Kakashi ordered. “She wants pork buns. I want—"
"Sushi. Yeah, I know, you summoned me hungry." The clone vanished.
Katsuko snickered. “Mine talk back too. Except I can never summon just one. It’s always got to be five or more. Five different me’s talkin’ at the same time. It’s weird.” She stared down at her hands mournfully. “The one that gets latrine duty always complains the most, though.”
Kakashi looked at her, hesitated, then dropped his hand on her head, tousling her hair. "Personality is good. Show's you've given them enough of yourself to make them useful."
Katsuko hummed and leaned into his touch, happy to be petted. “It’d be more useful if I could summon ‘em mute. The last one I called up told me I needed to eat more and came back with my neighbor’s stash of potato chips.”
Another cloud of smoke and Kakashi’s clone appeared, holding a plastic bag in each hand. Katsuko cheered, swaying a bit as she reached out one hand.
The clone gave Katsuko a dry look. “You are such a lightweight,” it judged.
Kakashi snapped it out of existence. Katsuko managed to catch one of the falling bags, almost pitching onto her face. Kakashi grabbed her by the hood, pulling her back, and caught the second bag. The heat and scent suggested pork buns.
“I think I got yours,” he said.
Wordlessly, Katsuko dropped her bag in his lap and held her hand out, imperious as a daimyo’s daughter. Kakashi gave her the bag.
“Don’t make yourself sick,” he warned. “Because I’ll just laugh at you.”
“I’ll make sure to projectile vomit in your direction, then,” she said, and fell on the food like a starving wolf, shoving buns wholesale into her mouth. Her distraction made it easy for him to eat. He barely had to do the one-handed dance of no-face-here; she wasn’t interested in catching a look.
The sushi was rich, salty, and good. Katsuko’s continued lean against his shoulder was a little disconcerting, but she seemed comfortable, and her scent had lightened up. Less death, more intoxication. She wasn’t too far from done, if he was any judge.
When her eighth bun was tidied away, she turned against his shoulder and slouched down, propping her head on his thigh, stretching her legs out. The glow of distant streetlights made her half-lidded eyes hollow, like an ANBU mask imprinted into skin.
Have you eaten?
How much did she have to eat to keep up with her chakra?
He looked down at her, but kept his hands out of her hair this time. For all that she hurt, she wasn’t Ryouma, or one of his pack; he had no right to pet her. She wasn’t one of his.
Even if she thought he was one of hers.
Which of course was the moment she looked up and narrowed a glare at him. “Do more of that stroking thing,” she demanded.
Caught short, he snorted. She lifted slim eyebrows, flushed and glazed and drunk on two beers. A little more than that, if you counted the shochu. He’d promised to help her.
Maybe if he was lucky, she’d never remember this.
Careful-handed, he swept dark hair back from her forehead, finger-combing it back into some kind of order. Her skin was still fever-warm. Her hair was surprisingly soft. She made a faintly contented sound deep in her throat, eyes sliding closed.
“You’re not allowed to go to sleep on me,” Kakashi said.
Katsuko cracked an eye open. “Challenge accepted.”
Kakashi paused in his ministrations. "...I'm going to regret asking, but what does that mean, exactly?"
“You issued a challenge. I accepted. Now I’m gonna have to go to sleep on you, or I’ll lose.”
He stared at her. "I'm having sudden, disturbing flashbacks to the academy. Are you five?"
“I was a perfectly well-behaved five-year-old,” Katsuko retorted, straight-faced. She pushed her head against Kakashi’s hand until he resumed petting her hair again.
"And I was the Queen of Tea Country," he said, dryly.
“Your people miss you, Your Majesty,” Katsuko cackled, grinning up at him. After a moment, though, she sighed and crossed her arms, staring up at the sky. “Hey, are we still playin’ the Nice Things game?”
He looked at her. After a moment, he said softly, “Ryouma.”
“Ryouma,” Katsuko agreed, smiling. “Ryouma and you.” She yawned, closing her eyes again. “You know what else is nice? The sky, and the moon, and stars. They’re always there, and you don’t know how beautiful they are until someone takes you away from ‘em. Look.” She waved an arm in the general direction of up. “It’s up there, an’ we’re down here, an’ Ryouma’s down there, and everythin’s where it should be. And everythin’s beautiful.”
Actually, Kakashi really wished Ryouma was up here.
He tipped his head back, looking at the scatter of constellations back-lighting the monument, casting the weathered carvings into silhouette. Three dead men and one living leader who probably wished he wasn’t. The moon was a curving silver-blue blade, like a knife in the sky. Behind them, the village was a sprawling web of lights and lives, defended by tall walls, natural cliffs, and Fire Country’s forest. By the forty or so ninja out patrolling the streets, gates, and high places. And the hundred more running missions.
“It’s just a village,” he said at last, quiet treason in the dark. “Someone died for every piece of it.”
Katsuko snorted roughly. “Of course it’s just a village. I fucking hate half the people in this place.” He stared at her, startled; she looked away. “But the rest... there are a few, who make it worth it. Who’ll always be worth it.” Her voice was soft. “The people who died for it... they thought it was worth it, too. For the most part.”
All of them.
Kakashi drew a breath that hurt, sharp and bright and sudden, and bent forwards, lifting the leg Katsuko wasn’t resting against. He braced his arm, bowed his head, mantled over her like a hawk. Or a man with a gut-injury.
“Who did you lose?”
She didn’t ask him to explain. “My sensei, Miyamoto Hideki. He was trying to defend me from Kaminari’s people. Akimichi Honoka, three months ago. There are more, but those two are my personal failures.” Her eyes flicked up, catching his. “You know what I’m talking about.”
I've been a ninja for fifteen years, he’d told Ryouma once, broken-nosed and bloody-mouthed and trying to warn the stupid new rookie who’d just rescued him from rape that ANBU broke people. A jounin for seven, and an ANBU for five. I've run four-hundred and twenty-seven missions, lost one genin team, sixteen dogs, and eighty-seven genin, chuunin, jounin, and ANBU. One hundred and one teammates. And one sensei.
Sixteen years, now. One hundred and three teammates. He’d stopped counting missions.
Stacked against her number, it sounded like boasting.
“What happened to Honoka?” he asked, instead.
Katsuko rubbed her throat. "Mission went bad. The Intel agent we were sent to retrieve had infiltrated a missing-nin group; their leader ran him through and stabbed Honoka in the throat." She paused, something bitter weaving through her tangled, drunken scent. "Cut off her brother's leg, too. It was the mission where I lost control. S'when my chakra started degrading."
His hand was still in her hair. She was slim and dark-eyed, angular-jawed, cut like a blade herself. The muscles under her ridiculous clothes were hard and trained. The shadows behind her eyes matched his. But he had one living person, and she only had revenge.
And nightmares. And no time.
She still thought the stars were beautiful.
Very carefully, he curved his hand around her head, bracing her a little better.
“If you’d ever had the choice,” he asked, “what else would you have been?”
Katsuko worried her lip, thinking. “Never thought about that before,” she admitted. “If I had a choice, maybe... I’d have stayed with my mother, taken over the dojo when she retired. Taught Hyoho Niten jus’ for the joy of it, y’know? It’s not just a killing art. My little brother could open up a studio nearby when his apprenticeship finished, so I could keep an eye on ‘im an’ things.”
She could see herself in a master’s gi and hakama, leading a group of students through the first forms while her parents watched from the house’s wide porch, a tray of tea between them. Katsuko swallowed down the knot of wistful longing in her throat and sighed. “I don’ regret it,” she whispered at last. “Becomin’ a ninja, I mean. My parents needed one kid for the village and one for themselves, y’know? My little brother... he’s a painter. He’s got talent. I wouldn’t have wanted him out in the field.”
Makoto was too kind for this life. It would have chewed him up and spat him out, leaving all the good things about him broken. She’d go under Kaminari’s knife a thousand times to stop that from happening.
There was a slight pause before Kakashi asked, "Your parents are dead?"
Katsuko blinked. “What? No. Um. They’re both still alive, as far as I know. I haven’t talked to ‘em in years.”
He pulled back just enough to stare at her. "Why?"
Katsuko rubbed a hand over her face. “My fault. After I came back from the labs I was a little...one-track minded. Couldn’ see how much I was hurtin’ everyone, just threw myself into missions. My mom...she didn’ like feelin’ helpless. There was a fight, as in a sword fight. I won, and she didn’t like that, either.”
"But you were family." The muscles of Kakashi’s leg stiffened. "I mean, good family. Ryouma's threw him to the wolves, but yours...they let you go?"
“Sometimes,” Katsuko murmured, thinking of Hatake Sakumo and the child he left behind. “Sometimes, it’s the people who love you that hurt you the most. That’s just how it is. I don’t blame my mother. Must have been terrifyin’, havin’ to stand by while I ran myself into the ground.”
Kakashi struggled to contain a snarl. “That’s no excuse.”
She tipped her head back to stare at him, pupils blown wide and cheeks flushed. On a man he might have mistaken it for attraction; on her it was just drink. “What?”
“That’s no excuse,” he snapped, abruptly furious. “They abandoned you. Gave you to Konoha and didn’t like it when you came back different. You shouldn’t forgive them, you should hate them.”
For a long, silent moment, Katsuko said nothing, then a fine tremble ran through her. A harder shiver followed, blanching the colour out of her face. It was like watching shock in slow motion. Her scent was black.
“I don’t—” she said. “I can’t.” She broke off in a jagged breath, covering her face with both hands, and Kakashi remembered Ginta saying what the village asked of your father was wrong. He’d shut Ginta down. The village wasn’t wrong. It had hurt too much to think anything else.
Was this what he’d looked like from the outside?
Katsuko’s breathing rasped ragged, then it twisted into laughter. Kakashi gave her an alarmed look. Her hands pulled down, fingers spread over a raw, rueful smile. Her eyes were too bright. “Nobody’s ever reacted like that before,” she said hoarsely. “I was a little—thank you. Thank you.”
“I thought you were having a seizure,” he said, caught between relief and continued alarm. “Don’t do that.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, giggling. It would have been funny if the edge of hysteria in her voice hadn’t cut like a razor. "Man, you know what I'd really want to be?" she asked. "A cat. Lazy fuckers just get to eat and sleep all day. That'd be the life."
It was an obvious attempt to swerve the conversation back onto safe ground. Kakashi exhaled and didn’t call her on it.
“Dogs’re better,” he said, pulling up the shadow of a smile. “Collars and leads, for starters.”
Katsuko sputtered at him. “Did you seriously—did you just say that? Oh man, where do I even start. It’s like you’ve laid all the kinky sex jokes at my feet. All of them. I don’t even know, there’re so many choices.”
Kakashi chuckled. "I had to wear a collar for a mission, once, with Ryouma. This stupid seduction thing..."
It felt like she’d been slapped over the head with a fish. A gay fish. “What?” Katsuko demanded. Indignation, amusement, and glee pitched her voice several levels higher than normal. “Why does no one tell me these things? Was Ryouma wearing a collar too? Did you guys get naked?”
"No collar, but the Quartermaster put him in painted-on jeans and this shirt." Kakashi made a vague hand gesture that Katsuko could only take to mean it was really fucking sexy. "Black and torn, like he'd tangled with a tiger, riding high. He got this fake wolf tattoo, too, and an ear cuff. And this long leather coat." A growl rumbled deep in his chest, pleased and possessive and velvety. "He turned so many heads."
This was like her birthday times three. Katsuko stared at Kakashi in delight. “He definitely turned yours, from the sound of it.” She could imagine it now, Ryouma hooking two long fingers through the collar buckled around Kakashi’s throat. “Did you guys dance?”
"Danced, kissed, killed." Kakashi dragged a hand through his hair, tone turning rueful. "Got myself drugged stupid, but Ryouma handled everything."
“Drugged?” Katsuko jerked upright, feeling like someone had dumped ice water over her head. If they’d went to a club for the mission...
She gripped Kakashi’s wrist. “The people who did that to you,” she said, slowly. “You killed them, right?”
He blinked at her, startled. "Ryouma rotted them all to sludge, far as I remember." He glanced down at her hand on his wrist, then back up at her. "Thought I was supposed to be looking out for you?"
Katsuko sighed and uncurled her fingers from around his wrist, slouching back down to resettle her head on his thigh. “Silly man. It goes both ways.” With a burst of venom she added, “And I’m glad those fuckers died. Hope they suffered.”
Weird thing about trust, Ryouma has said once, a lifetime ago, it cuts both ways.
Sometimes Kakashi wondered if there was a memo that went around that never made it as far as him.
He’d kissed Ryouma for the first time a moment after, uncertain and new and half-expecting to get punched for it. He didn’t plan to kiss Katsuko now, but some of the same feeling was there, like a trial by fire hammered into a single moment. Broken families and my boys and a reflection turned female and lonely.
“They suffered,” he said, soft-voiced, and leaned down again, bending until he could almost rest his forehead against Katsuko’s. Her dark hair tickled his skin. “When you go after Kaminari, tell me. I want to help you break her in half.”
Katsuko’s eyes flew open. This close, he could see the glitter of lights reflected in the irises. “I...” she said. The shock in her scent twisted away, replaced by a sweeter harmony of blood-fire and relief: a warrior with back-up. “Yeah. Yes. I will.”
Then she ruffled his hair again, because she was ridiculous. Kakashi huffed and twitched away, but didn’t entirely dislodge her hand. Her vengeance was half an impossible pipe-dream; even if she could find the scientists who’d hurt her, there was almost no chance Konoha would let her chase them, and another AWOL attempt on Kakashi’s part would be a good way to get himself executed...
But she’d been hurt in Konoha’s service; the village owed her.
“We’ll get Ryouma to help,” he said, ignoring the flicker of thought that said he really needed to stop mentioning his... person in front of the girl who’d lost him. Katsuko didn’t seem to care. “His jutsu hurt more than mine, and he’d kill me if we left him behind.”
“Really?” Something like uncertainty touched her voice, as if she still couldn’t quite wrap her head around the idea of help, readily available. It made him want to bite something. She shook her head, grinning up at him. “Man, we’ll be unstoppable.”
Just as soon as he got her fractured seal fixed.
If he could get it fixed.
Her hand was still tangled in his hair. He leaned his cheekbone against her wrist, thinking of dark-haired boys and brown-eyed girls. Obito and Rin; Ryouma and Katsuko. He was older, smarter, faster than he ever had been, a jounin among other jounin. Not a thirteen-year-old leading children into landslides. Maybe this time he could do it better.
Cuts both ways.
Maybe this time, someone else would lead.
He leaned sideways and wrapped his arm around Katsuko’s narrow ribcage, hauling her up. She made a yowling, protesting sound, like a cat dragged out of a sunbeam.
“C’mon,” he said, bringing her up with him as he climbed to his feet. “It’s late and I’m freezing. You can stay at my place tonight.”
The world spun slightly as Katsuko tried to remember how to do feet. “Your place,” she mumbled. “Good, that’s good. Your place is close. No walking.” Her knees buckled for an alarming second; swaying, she looped her arm through Kakashi’s and frowned as the world swam in and out of focus. Kakashi took her weight without complaint, shifting to accommodate her inelegant stumbling as they made their way across the roof.
“Oh Kami,” Katsuko said helplessly, when they made it to the roof’s edge. She peered down at the walkway below. “Has that always been so far down?”
Kakashi glanced at her. “If I translocate us, will you throw up?”
The world swayed again; Katsuko blinked and clutched at him. “Maybe you should...translocate us to the bathroom. Just in case. Of things.”
He snorted. "I did warn you."
Katsuko raised an eyebrow, then squawked as Kakashi bent to pull her effortlessly onto his back. He started walking down the wall, ignoring her noises of confusion. When they made it down to the walkway he let her off, steadying her as she wobbled again. She rested her head against his shoulder, dimly aware of him deactivating the wards and guiding her through the door with a gentle hand. The rustle of paper underneath her feet made her pause and look down; a crumpled draft of her seal stared back up at her.
“Huh.” Katsuko glanced around, taking in the scrolls and texts covering most of the available space in the apartment. Ryouma was still asleep on the bed, pillow pulled up over his face. “I could clear off a space on the floor,” she offered.
A sensible man probably would have taken her up on that.
“Don’t be stupid,” Kakashi said, keeping his voice low. The clone was sitting at his desk, thumbing through what was either an ancient booklet on articulated water seals, or the take-out menu from the curry shop around the corner. It acknowledged him with an absent flick of fingers, making scout sign: no problems. Kakashi set his hand between Katsuko’s shoulderblades and pushed her towards the bathroom. “Shower and mouthwash first if you want to stay.”
She kicked her flip-flops off and made a faint grumbling sound, but didn’t protest, shuffling barefoot where he directed her. She managed to stay upright all the way to the bathroom door. Kakashi flicked the light on, turned the shower on to warm, and looked at her.
“There’s a clean towel on the rail. Can you manage alone?”
She flapped a dismissive hand, sure as any shinobi who’d managed to stay on her feet after injury, blood-loss, and concussion. “Sure.”
He gave her a doubtful look, but ducked out hastily when she stripped her hoodie off, revealing nothing but bare skin and scars underneath. She was lean, small-breasted and angular, and someone had once dragged a blade from her left shoulderblade down to the opposite side of her ribcage, leaving a slashing white scar behind. He did not need to see that.
Something like a raspy chuckle followed his escape.
“Bringin’ girls home, now?” the clone murmured, unfolding from its chair. “That’s new.”
“If I let her go home, she’d’ve made it halfway and fallen in a ditch. Or accidentally shut herself in her own fridge.” He hunched a defensive shoulder and crossed the room back to Ryouma. Everything’s new.
“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” the clone said, coming to stand next to him. It looked down at the bed. “He’s been fine, mostly. Had a nightmare, but didn’t wake up.”
Kakashi sighed softly. You’re a grown man. If you say you’re fine, I’ll believe you. Ryouma wasn’t fine, and he wasn’t talking. But there was a lot they hadn’t really talked about yet, and Kakashi was in no hurry to push him.
He leaned down and pressed a hand to Ryouma’s shoulder. “Katsuko’s here,” he said quietly. “She’s going to stay—”
“Because I’m insane,” the clone interjected helpfully, in his own voice. “And trying to collect a set.”
Kakashi snapped it out of existence with a flick of chakra. The knowledge of everything it had done while he’d been up on the rooftop flooded back into his head. It had looked at seals, mostly, and made awkward soothing sounds when Ryouma had twitched, shivered, and groaned, because apparently Kakashi hadn’t put enough helpful personality in the construct to actually be useful.
“Idiot,” he muttered to himself, and eased the pillow away from Ryouma’s face, carding apologetic fingers through short dark hair. Ryouma grumbled and turned into Kakashi’s hand, breathing easing into something less raspy, more comfortable. Still asleep.
Carefully, Kakashi pulled the diagrams out from under him, dropping them onto the bedside table.
Ryouma was the friendly one. The good-at-people one. The one who’d brought Katsuko in for breakfast, and dropped her scars and stories and problems into Kakashi’s life. Just try talkin’, friendly-like. He’d probably be delighted to wake up and find her around, so long as Kakashi could get the alcohol scent off her.
With her usual sense of timing, Katsuko pushed open the bathroom door in a cloud of steam, and stuck her head out. “Where’s your mouthwash?”
She was wearing a towel, but only around her hips.
Kakashi fixed his visible eye firmly on the ceiling. “Under the sink.”
“Okay.” She ducked back inside, leaving the door open, and rattled through his things in a way that made him physically twitch. Her hair wasn’t dry; she was dripping water everywhere.
“I question your taste,” Kakashi told Ryouma, who only barely stirred, and went to rescue his sanity. He grabbed one of Ryouma’s discarded shirts along the way, because the apartment was warm and Katsuko didn’t get cold.
She was spitting blue into his sink when he made it to the bathroom. He shoved the shirt at her.
“Here, achieve clothes.”
Katsuko caught the shirt, blinking at Kakashi in puzzlement before shrugging and patting her face dry with it. She dropped the towel, ignoring Kakashi’s faintly despairing sound, and pulled the shirt over her head. “I’m clean now,” she announced, triumphantly.
Kakashi covered his eye with one hand and turned away. "Pants, woman."
“Oh. Whoops.” Katsuko looked down at her bare legs and realized that she’d put the shirt on backwards and inside-out. She shrugged again, flicking at the tag, and went hunting for her pajama bottoms. Picking them up from the floor, she put them on one leg at a time and pulled the waistband up over her hips. She looked at Kakashi, proudly. “I achieved pants.”
He risked a look at her, relaxing at the lack of bare skin, then stepped in close and leaned down to inhale audibly. After a moment, he nodded. "You'll have to do." He snatched up her discarded towel from the floor and started drying her hair roughly, ignoring her sputtering. By the time he stopped her scalp was tingling.
“Can I sleep now?” Katsuko asked plaintively, patting her hair down from the messy spikes it’d been towelled into.
"Water first. And painkillers." Kakashi eyed her appraisingly. "At least you already ate. Stay quiet, or I'll make you sleep in the bathtub." He tugged her over to the kitchen, where he filled a glass from the sink and dug through the drawers for a bottle of ibuprofen. Katsuko obediently gulped down two little white pills, using both hands to tip the glass back as she drained it dry.
“I don’t like sleeping in bathtubs,” she complained, setting the cup down on the counter. “It makes my neck hurt.” She looked back over at the mess of books and notes on the floor, brow creasing in puzzlement. “Wait. Where am I sleeping?”
Kakashi hesitated for a long moment, then rubbed the back of his neck and glanced towards Ryouma. "Left side of the bed."
Katsuko raised an eyebrow. “Then you’re in the middle? Kakashi, you dog.”
The strip of skin above his mask flushed just the tiniest bit red. "You can't sleep on the floor. I have an order; you'll mess it up."
“Sure, sure.” Katsuko grinned and grabbed his wrist, pulling him over to the bed. “Admit it, you jus’ like the cuddlin’.” She pushed at him expectantly. “What are you waitin’ for? Person on the end can’t get in till the person in the middle does.”
Kakashi made an aggravated sound deep in his throat and stripped off his jounin vest, laying it aside. He glanced at Ryouma, who was sprawled on top of the sheets, and paused. "Wait." Padding over to the closet in his basic blacks, he got out another blanket and draped it over Ryouma. Katsuko grinned, goofily; Kakashi shot her a glare, daring her to comment, and climbed onto the bed with ill-tempered grace. "Just so you know, this is the stupidest thing I've ever done."
“Really?” Katsuko asked gleefully. “Because it’s not the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” That particular honor belonged to an ill-advised game of tag with an angry bear summons. Still grinning, she clambered onto the mattress after Kakashi and tucked herself up against his side. The little part of her that had been quailing at the thought of sleeping alone tonight relaxed; she made a contented sound and drew the blankets up.
Judging by the grin, he just didn’t want to know what the stupidest thing she’d ever done was.
“You’d better not snore,” he murmured, almost soundless.
"If I do, I will snore right in your ear," she said, soft and fond, as if he were something fluffy and amusing instead of a ninja who could kill her with one hand. She curled towards him and pressed in close, damp hair brushing his shoulder, breath warming the skin through his shirt.
Mission, he told himself firmly, before panic could set in and demand what the hell he was doing letting this strange, cuddly, damaged woman into his bed. Teammates bunked together on missions all the time. For safety, for heat, for comfort.
He’d replaced that with rough-hurting sex for years, but he’d still sought people out.
Katsuko was like a hot brand against his side, burning chakra in the dark. Still drunk, but less shaken. On his left, Ryouma was a soft-breathing, hard-muscled press of long limbs and cooler skin, tucked in almost as close because the bed was really too small for three people. As Kakashi looked at him, he sighed and shifted, dropping his head against Kakashi’s shoulder and wrapping an arm across his chest.
“Hey, Kakashi?” Katsuko said quietly. He turned to look at her. “Thanks.”
Kakashi. She’d stopped calling him Hatake.
It took him a moment to remember what her family name was: Ueno. She’d drawled it at him the first time they’d ever met.
He licked his teeth, then shifted, lifting his arm up to let her press in against his ribcage, and dropped his hand across her blanket-covered back. Her shoulderblades were hard ridges beneath his fingertips. She let out a long, slow breath and hummed softly in the back of her throat, as if cuddling up against him was the most natural thing in the world.
“Go to sleep, Katsuko,” he told her.
Obedient as she had been all night, she did, going lax and quiet beneath his arm. It took all of a minute before her muscles twitched and a line drew down between her eyebrows, something like a thin moan rising from her throat. Can’t sleep. Dream things. Nightmare things. He eased his hand down her back, then reached up to flick his hitai-ate up, opening Obito’s eye.
He didn’t know her well enough to give her a personal image, but it was easy to spin out a fine thread of genjutsu and press it into her mind, reshaping the disorganized panic of chakra coils there into something simple and peaceful. Warm sunbeams in a grassy field. Maybe she could dream about being a cat.
He held the jutsu until her scent had calmed, then released it, dropping his head back onto the pillows. Enough of a nudge for her mind to pick up the slack and run with it, hopefully.
Almost immediately, Ryouma’s arm tightened around his chest, and a grating-glass groan made Kakashi’s heart sink. When it came down to it, he wasn’t a whole lot better than his clone had been at soothing, and he didn’t think Ryouma would appreciate secret ghost-fingers in his brain after six months of drugs and fear and iron-willed self control; six months relived under Inoichi’s jutsu.
Kakashi tucked his masked chin down onto ruffled black hair, brushing the barest whisper of shaped chakra around the edges of Ryouma’s mind. No image, just a feeling: safety, home.
The sound Ryouma made was almost a whimper, and Kakashi wanted to kill something.
“S’okay,” he said, around the catch in his throat. “Everything’s okay.”
Ryouma mumbled something unintelligible, fingers twitching against Kakashi’s chest, then finally settled again. He smelled like a bruised thunderbreak; Katsuko smelled like ginger candy and half-comforted tension. The weave of both of them made something restless and unhappy, blended like a broken pack gone to ground against stormy weather.
He’d promised Katsuko help.
He’d promised Ryouma (strings, no running) almost everything.
The numbers on the clock said 05:23. Kakashi kept his chin resting on Ryouma’s head and his arm wrapped around Katsuko’s back, and hoped, just this once, that he’d actually be able to keep those promises.
He guarded against nightmares until the sun began to rise, turning the distant sky pink, and sleep dragged him down into his own uneasy dreams.