“Mm,” Kakashi mumbled.
Threads of dreams snapped around him as Ryouma moved, forcing Kakashi to turn his head or be smothered by a shoulder. He made a faint sound of protest, not quite willing to wake up yet. It felt early, and he was short on sleep...
There was a hand clenched around his. It wasn’t Ryouma’s.
He blinked the world back into focus, abruptly drenched awake, and looked up. “I can explain.”
The smokey confusion in Ryouma’s scent was starting to teeter into amusement. “Please do. ‘Cause this is fascinatin’.” He pushed himself higher, looking over Kakashi’s shoulder with raised eyebrows at whatever picture Katsuko made. “She sure managed to get cuddly with you a lot quicker’n I did. Should I wake her up an’ ask for tips?”
Kakashi was really getting tired of turning red.
“It’s not what it looks like,” he said, pulling his hand free from Katsuko’s crushing grip. His fingers were bloodless-numb. Katsuko made a mumbling, incoherent sound, but didn’t wake. Ryouma’s eyebrows were still up to his hairline.
"I'm still tryin’ to decide what it looks like,” Ryouma said. “You borrowed Katsuko for seal practice, knocked her unconscious, an’ scorched off her clothes? She picked up a new hobby of dirty-laundry-theft, an’ you caught her at it and decided to keep her til I woke up and decided what to do with her? I'm pretty sure I’d’ve woken up if you were having sex next to me, but maybe ninja sex..."
“There was no sex!” Kakashi hissed.
"Because gay. Right!" Ryouma said cheerfully, as if he’d only just remembered. He tipped his head sideways, still looking over Kakashi’s shoulder. "Y'know, I did think she was a boy, first time I ran into her. If it was really dark, you might've made the same mistake..."
Kakashi pushed himself up on one elbow, grabbed his pillow, and shoved it into Ryouma’s face. Ryouma fell onto his back, clutching the pillow and shaking with silent laughter. His shirt was rucked up to his ribs, baring lean-cut stomach muscles, and for a moment Kakashi was severely tempted to give him another bite-mark scar.
“Keep laughing,” he said instead, glancing over his shoulder. “I hope you choke on goose feathers.”
Katsuko was pulled in on herself, curled small and private, swamped by Ryouma’s borrowed tee-shirt. With her usual sense of perfect timing she twitched, eyebrows drawing down, and rolled away from them. Kakashi grabbed the back of her collar before she could throw herself off the bed in her sleep.
She made a slightly flaily gesture, like half a seizure, and settled with one arm hanging off the mattress, still asleep.
Ryouma shed the pillow and pulled himself up, bright-eyed and wildly tousled. He leaned against Kakashi’s back, propping his chin on Kakashi’s shoulder. “So why is she here?”
There was no way to explain without telling secrets that weren’t his, but if Katsuko had wanted to stay private she wouldn’t have crawled into bed with them. He reeled her back onto the bed. This time she rolled over towards them, and sort of... pressed her face against his knee.
Something twisted in Kakashi’s ribcage, like cold failure. He still didn’t know how to save her. “Bad dreams,” he said. “She came around last night after you fell asleep.”
The amusement faded out of Ryouma’s face and scent. He looked down at Katsuko for a moment, then reached out, gently, and brushed the dark strands of hair away from her forehead. “Bad enough she wanted to come cuddle you?”
Kakashi’s teeth caught the scarred corner of his mouth. He’d brought the woman home, put her in the same bed. If Ryouma had tried that, Kakashi would have thrown him out the window. He was owed an explanation. And he wasn’t so fragile that he couldn’t handle one.
“She wanted to get drunk,” Kakashi said. “Her chakra makes it dangerous. She needed a suppressing seal, and someone to watch and make sure she wasn’t about to do something stupid. So we went up on the roof for an hour, and afterwards she wasn’t steady enough to go home alone.”
Which still didn’t explain the reasoning behind putting her in the bed, but he’d wanted them both within reach. It made them easier to protect.
“I would have woken you up,” he added carefully. “But you haven’t been sleeping well, either.”
“I wasn’t sleeping well anyway,” Ryouma murmured. He tucked an errant lock of thick dark hair behind Katsuko’s ear, and dropped his hand.
It shouldn’t be surprising, really. People drank, got drunk; it was an accepted fact of ninja life. Hell, he’d taken women out for dinner and even bought them drinks, though he’d never joined them.
But he couldn’t help thinking of his dream, of the old men with their rotgut on the streambank. Had Kakashi joined Katsuko for drinking as well as company? The shouchuu bottle had vanished from the back of the fridge between one day and the next. Neither of them had ever mentioned it. What right did he have to ask or forbid?
He sat fully up, balancing crookedly on one hip in the narrowness between Kakashi and the wall. Katsuko had nearly half the bed to herself but was eeling for more of it, uncurling a little from her hedgehog ball to hook an elbow around Kakashi’s weight-bearing wrist. He startled back against Ryouma, like a skittish horse, then sat still. Katsuko sighed, rubbed her cheek against his knee, and uncurled a little more.
She’d slept curled into herself that night at the ryokan, as if cold, or frightened. Ryouma remembered waking in the night with her face pressed against his chest but her knees drawn up between them, arms cuddled against her breasts. The next time he woke she was already dressed, sitting on the edge of the futon and out of reach.
She’d wanted to get drunk, and she’d wanted Kakashi to guard her, and Kakashi hadn’t wanted Ryouma involved.
As ruthlessly protective as the wolf, in a way, and maybe he should be more grateful for it. He’d been grateful for the wolf; he hadn’t minded if it thought he was weak. But this wasn’t his dream and Kakashi was neither wolf nor rabbit, and Ryouma wasn’t so weak he had to be shielded from a drunk girl.
Or maybe Kakashi knew him, and understood him, and just wanted him to get some damn sleep.
He sighed, and scrubbed a hand through his hair. “S’fine. I’m not jealous at all ‘cause you left me out of your roof-party. Still curious about the part where she ended up in my shirt, though. Did she get naked? Was there a strip-tease? You could’ve woke me up for that, instead of letting her waste it on you. Did you tell her that shirt hasn’t been washed in six months?”
“Somehow, that slipped my mind,” Kakashi said dryly. “Must’ve been all the traumatizing nudity. I made her take a shower.”
Ryouma brightened. “So she did get naked!” he exclaimed, and actually punched the air.
“She kisses girls, too,” Kakashi said, hooking an arm back to trap Ryouma’s head and scruff his ridiculous bedhead. “You should ask her about it sometime.”
Ryouma went faintly cross-eyed. “That barista at the coffee shop by the river likes girls...”
“It’s amazing anyone in Konoha ever has children,” Kakashi said thoughtfully. “Since everyone seems to be gay.”
“Asuma’s not! I could set her up with him, if the barista doesn’t work out,” Ryouma said, with the kind of fervour that normally led people to shave their heads, take up prayer beads, and stand on street corners handing out pamphlets that said Have You Taken The Light Of Matchmaking Into Your Heart Today?
Katsuko drew a half-smothered breath against Kakashi’s knee. Her arm was still curled loose around his wrist. She smelled like trapped chakra and scorched heat, toothpaste and stress and half-drugged sleep. There were shadows beneath her eyes, and a restless downturn at the corners of her mouth.
“How about I figure out how to get her to her next birthday first,” Kakashi said, low-voiced, dropping his arm loosely around Ryouma’s shoulders, fingertips resting against one heavy collarbone. “Then you can throw her at the Hokage’s nosy brat.”
Ryouma closed his eyes, just for a moment. “No luck yet?”
“I know about twelve new ways to twist her coils up and kill her,” Kakashi said wearily. “Not sure that counts as progress.”
Ryouma turned his head and pressed his mouth against Kakashi’s knuckles. “Sure, that’s progress. Twelve ways not to do it.”
“Optimist,” Kakashi accused, mouth quirking despite himself. He brushed his thumb over Ryouma’s knife-blade cheekbone and looked back down at Katsuko. “Is there a protocol for insomniac drunk girls the next day? Or do we just draw on her with a marker and take pictures?”
“I like the marker idea,” Ryoum said, lifting himself higher on his elbow, glancing around the apartment. “Do you even have markers? Do you have a camera? Is she blackmailable?”
“I have ink,” Kakashi began, then cut off abruptly when Katsuko nuzzled her face against his knee again, drew a snuffling breath, and whimpered. Her scent spiralled tightly inwards, breaking into rust and nightmares, echoed by the lines drawing down between pinched eyebrows.
She grabbed his arm with her other hand and hugged him tighter. Kakashi froze, because markers were one thing but reflexively breaking your houseguest’s fingers probably crossed the line. Very, very carefully he extracted himself, shoved up, and got himself over Katsuko and out of the bed before she could latch on again.
Ryouma blinked, and Katsuko rolled into him, grabbing limpet-like.
“Your turn,” Kakashi said, and made his escape to the bathroom.
“You weren’t nearly this cuddly before,” Ryouma told the woman burying her face in his ribcage. “See the evils of drink? It makes you cuddle people you’d never otherwise cuddle, and you aren’t even conscious to appreciate it.”
Water hissed in the bathroom. Katsuko shuddered, hands fisting tight in his tee-shirt. “No,” she mumbled against his side. “Please.”
He didn’t want to know what she was dreaming. He just didn’t want her dreaming it anymore.
The wolf had come for him when nothing else could. He didn’t know any jutsu that would help him invade her dreams, but he didn’t need to enter it to end it.
“Katsu,” he said, sitting fully upright again. She curled against his shoulder. He hooked a hand around her back and shook her. “Katsuko.”
Katsuko twitched a full-body shudder and gasped awake. Her eyes were almost green in the early morning sunlight, wide and panicked; her mouth formed a word that didn’t come. He held still, waiting for the world to reform itself around her.
It came slowly, a piece at a time. She drew a deep breath and her eyes found focus on his tee-shirt, only a few inches away. Her brows furrowed. Her gaze dropped swiftly to her own hands, still clenched tight around fistfuls of loose cloth at his ribs, and then lifted again. The top of her head was nearly level with his chin; she had to tilt it back a little to see his face.
Their eyes met. She blinked, squawked, flailed out of his hold, and tumbled off the bed.
Usually, Ryouma liked to tell himself, women competed to throw themselves into bed with him. This was the first time anyone had ever hurled herself out.
He leaned over the edge of the bed and stared down at her. “You okay?”
Katsuko pressed her hands to the sides of her head and squeezed her eyes shut tight. “I just,” she said. “I wasn’t that drunk.” She squeezed an eye open, stared down at her own borrowed tee-shirt, and sighed in fervent relief. “At least nobody’s naked.”
“Were you thinking you’d taken advantage of me?” Ryouma asked, fascinated.
The other eye slitted open for a baleful glare. “Where’s that fluffy-headed bastard?”
“In the shower. Getting significantly less fluffy.” Ryouma dropped on his stomach, pillowed his chin on his crossed arms, and kicked his legs up against the wall. “In case you were wondering, I don’t think he’d be up for a threesome. But you could always ask.”
Her head hurt. Her face hurt. Everything was too bright and too loud, and why were people talking?
Katsuko gave Ryouma a flat look. “Kakashi wouldn’t know what to do with a vagina even if we drew him a diagram.”
Ryouma actually looked like he was considering it. "I'm pretty sure he knows the theory. Just don't think he'd be excited about the application.” He shrugged, cheerfully. “Sorry."
“No you’re not,” Katsuko said. “Why are you smirking. Stop that.” After a second, she gave it up as a lost cause and hobble-crawled over to the bed, grumbling. The covers were a tangled mess dangling over the edge of the mattress; she grabbed the nearest corner of a blanket, tucking it around herself, and rolled away. She ended up on her back a few feet from the bed, blanket wrapped around her like a fabric spring roll.
Ryouma chuckled and swung his long legs off the bed, getting to his feet and heading to the kitchen. Katsuko tried not to whimper like a baby as cupboard doors were rattled open and drawers noisily rifled through. A minute later, however, the racket ceased, and the pad of bare feet against the floor announced Ryouma’s return. She lifted her head up a bare fraction, saw the glass of water and wet washcloth in his hands, and sighed in relief.
"You missed my speech about the evils of alcohol,” Ryouma said, crouching down next to her. “I can give it to you again if you want."
“Try it, I dare you,” Katsuko said, sitting up. Ryouma dropped two painkillers into her hand; she knocked them back dry, grimacing at the taste and snatching the glass of water to take a long swallow. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and gave him a grateful pat on the cheek, sinking back down onto the floor again with another heartfelt sigh.
"It mostly revolved around how sad it is that you got to snuggle with Kakashi but won't even remember it,” Ryouma said, grinning. “Though I could probably add details about hangovers now. You want to move back to the bed? It'll be more comfortable than lying on books."
“So that’s what the crinkling noises are,” Katsuko said. “I thought this floor felt funny.”
The hiss of water from the shower stopped. A muffled voice came from behind the bathroom door. “Get her off the books!”
Katsuko grumbled. “But the bed’s so high up.”
Ryouma slipped an arm behind her back and the other under her legs and swung her up, blanket and all. Katsuko made an undignified sound as the world lurched and did her best not to turn green as he walked her across the room. He deposited her gently on the bed and went back for the wet washcloth, coming back to drape it over her forehead, and then hesitated. After a moment, the mattress dipped as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "Are you doing okay?"
Katsuko stared up at the ceiling for a moment, thinking, before tugging at his sleeve. “Lean down,” she ordered. He blinked at her and obeyed, putting the top of his head within reach, and she reached up to ruffle his hair. “You worry too much,” she said, and smiled. “I’ll be fine, Ryouma.”
Liar, Ryouma thought.
But he’d told the same lie, when Kakashi asked: Everybody has bad dreams. I will be fine.
And he was, mostly, in the light of day, or in bed with Kakashi beside him, in a village where he knew every street and half the faces. He’d known where he was when he woke up almost every day this week. He was building muscle, taming his chakra, recovering stamina; yesterday at the training field he’d managed to sustain the Nikutai Tokasu for almost thirty minutes, throughout two full series of katas.
His chakra wasn’t burning him up from the inside out.
He smoothed a hand over Katsuko’s hair, smearing the wet trickle from the washcloth. “I don’t have enough little sisters I can afford not to worry about ‘em.”
Katsuko’s half-slitted eyes flared open. She stared up at him for a moment, silent, lips half-parted on an indrawn breath. Then her gaze slid away to the wall as a flush warmed her cheekbones. Her lips tugged on a smile. “I’m not calling you nii-san.”
“S’okay,” Ryouma said. “I know you love me.”
“More than pie,” Katsuko told the wall solemnly, and then looked back at Ryouma long enough to stick her tongue out at him.
He tugged at her hair. “Whether or not I love you, on t’other hand...”
Katsuko cackled, pinched his cheeks in both hands, and pulled.
“She-demon!” Ryouma gasped, and attacked her blanket-swaddled ribcage. As he’d suspected, she was even more ticklish than Kakashi; she convulsed with giggles, nearly kneeing him in the gut, and relinquished her grip on his cheeks to draw her elbows in and guard her sides.
Her arms were bare, livid with scars. He did his best not to touch them. She had no such compunctions, he learned when she head-butted him in the chin. He reeled back against the pillows, and she made a ridiculous noise of glee and pounced.
The bathroom door opened.
Kakashi slipped out with a damp white towel tucked low about his hips and a hand-towel held to his face. His hair was darker grey with wet, roughly toweled into messy spikes; a few gleaming drips rolled down the back of his neck and traced their way between muscled shoulder-blades toward the small of his back.
Kakashi grabbed a set of folded blacks out of the closet, added a roll of underwear and a clean mask, and turned back for the bathroom.
The door closed behind him.
Ryouma’s head thumped back against the pillow. “The Lords of Karma are real, an’ they love me.”
“Yes,” Katsuko said, dazedly, still replaying the image of sleek muscles moving under pale, scar-cut skin. “Yes, they do.” After a moment, she blinked and looked down at Ryouma. “How much do I have to pay you to drop something in front of him and make him bend over to pick it up?”
Ryouma was still grinning up at the ceiling. "A-rank mission rate. We need to start savin' for our retirement."
“At least you’re pimping him out for a good cause,” Katsuko said, mentally calculating her savings. “You want a house out in the country or a classy condo?”
"Save your money,” Ryouma said, gaze refocusing on her. His smile sharpened, hard-edged steel lurking underneath easy humor. “You're gonna need it to hire us to go after Kaminari with you."
It was too early in the morning to deal with something like this. Katsuko sat back, mixed gratitude and shock closing up her throat. “You don’t...” she said, and looked down at her hands. A fuzzy memory from last night resurfaced, a glimpse of Kakashi’s face hovering over hers like a shield.
When you go after Kaminari, tell me. I want to help you break her in half.
“I don’t understand,” she said at last. “Why would you-- for me?”
Cloth rustled, and Katsuko looked up to see Kakashi, fully dressed, leaning against the bathroom doorframe with his arms crossed. He met her eyes and said, quietly, “Because he doesn't like it when his friends get hurt.”
Water trickled down her temple, and Katsuko realized that the washcloth was still clinging damply to her forehead. She gave a strangled laugh and tugged it off, twisting it in her hands. “You’re both crazy,” she said. “Springing this on a girl before breakfast.”
"Well, I would've told you before, if you'd invited me to the party," Ryouma said, not even trying to make his attempt at disgruntlement convincing. One large hand rubbed soothing circles over her knee, easing some of the tension knotted underneath her breastbone. "Get off me, an' I'll make you breakfast."
"I'll make breakfast.” Kakashi eyed both of them, what little she could see of his face extremely unimpressed. "You can fix my apartment. And you better hope you haven't ruined any of my scrolls."
“Noooo,” Katsuko said, and rolled off of Ryouma to collapse on the bed. She dragged the covers up over her head, grumpily. “I only crinkled them a little bit.”
"You sure you want me arrangin' all that?" Ryouma asked Kakashi.
“She can read, you can stay upright,” Kakashi said unrelentingly. “You’re the perfect team.”
Katsuko made a sound of quiet despair and curled up into a tight, blanket-trapped ball on the bed. After a second, her hand reappeared and dragged a pillow underneath the covers.
Ryouma sat up, pink-cheeked and wildly ruffled, and looked down at the crumpled papers on the carpet. At some point in their scrum, Katsuko had caught the neck of his shirt and stretched it, baring the shadows of one collarbone.
“I could smooth out some of the wrinkles...” he said at last.
It was like dealing with puppies, except puppies didn’t smell like thunderstruck lust when Kakashi walked around without his shirt on. Which was something he was grateful for--in actual puppies, anyway. In present context, he was keeping hold of the dark appreciation in Ryouma’s eyes and trapping it inside his ribcage, like a warm secret.
He wasn’t quite sure what to do about Katsuko, except feed her and kill for her, and try to stop her chakra eating her alive.
“That’s a start,” he told Ryouma, both answer and echo to his own thoughts, and strode over to untangle Katsuko and check the seal he’d applied to her stomach.
She didn’t react well to being foisted from the covers, batting weakly at his shoulders and clutching her head. “Go lift Ryouma’s shirt up.”
The paper seal was still holding, glued firmly to her skin despite last night’s shower, keeping her chakra leashed down tight. It hadn’t been twelve hours yet.
“Voyeur,” Kakashi told her, and wrapped one hand around her upper arm, pulling her out of her hungover nest and dragging her to the edge of the bed, next to Ryouma. “Get up. Work and food’ll make you feel better.” His mouth quirked. “Mostly work.”
“You want everything just stacked?” Ryouma asked, looking at the mess with a dubious eye. “‘Cause it looked kind of like a tornado hit, before. Now it looks like an angry tornado.”
“Yeah,” Katsuko said, bleary-eyed and rumpled. “Who did that?”
Side by side, they looked like a matched set of trouble. With bedhair. It was probably a piece of foolishness to trust them with tidying anything, let alone fragile documents and valuable books, but it would keep them busy and distracted, and Kakashi kind of wanted access to his floor again.
He folded his arms and looked at Katsuko. “Technically, you did, seeing as this is all for you. And you should note that I am allowing you to touch my things. Stacking’s fine. Just help Ryouma before I change my mind and make oatmeal instead of bacon.”
Katsuko looked down at the floor. Her scent curled somewhere between pain and uncertainty, with a green edge of nausea playing tagalong, but she made an expression that was almost smile-shaped. “Does this mean I can make a scroll fort?”
Ryouma glanced at her, then at Kakashi, and cracked up laughing. Then he slid off the bed and began stacking things into quick, neat piles. Katsuko sighed and slid down after him, subtly attempting to bring a pillow with her.
Kakashi regarded her. “Maybe oatmeal would be better.”
“Bacon,” Katsuko croaked plaintively, like a woman on her deathbed.
“I am being good,” Ryouma said virtuously. He picked up a crumpled page, studied it, turned it upside down, studied it again, gave no recognizable sign of comprehension, and tucked the page inside an open book. “So what did you two talk about last night, aside from how hilarious things were going to be this morning?”
“Sushi,” Kakashi said, relenting long enough to crouch down, spin a quick jutsu, and wrap his hands around Katsuko’s visibly aching skull. She stiffened at his touch, muscles tensing beneath that borrowed, too-big shirt, then let her breath out on a low hiss when he locked a band of chilled air into place around her head, like an invisible hitai-ate. Little ice crystals that froze and melted and froze again, cooling her skin.
“And you,” he added, leaning across to flick Ryouma gently between the eyes, before getting to his feet. “Be careful with that book. It’s been in my family for years.”
Anything else was Katsuko’s choice to tell. Kakashi made his escape to the kitchen and left them to it.
Ryouma hadn’t even known Kakashi liked sushi.
Well, there were plenty of things Kakashi didn’t know about him, either. He wasn’t entirely sure he could think of any of them, right now, but they’d come. He set the heirloom book on the desk, on top of a stack of six other indistinguishable volumes, and looked back at Katsuko. She was still leaning against the bed, poking her forehead with an expression of complicated awe.
“Sushi,” he said. “So, who likes salmon an’ who likes tuna?”
“Well, mostly Kakashi watched me drink myself silly and kept me from falling off the roof.” Katsuko considered this. “He’s more of a saury guy, though.” She stretched a leg out, flexed her bare toes, and nudged a precariously stacked pile of scrolls. Ryouma snagged two before the rest spilled across the floor. Katsuko beamed beatifically and snuggled her pillow.
“Oatmeal,” Ryouma reminded her. “I could tattle.”
She stuck her tongue out at him again.
Ryouma swatted the sole of her foot with a book. “Shift over, if you’re not gonna help. You’re sitting on things again.”
She rolled laboriously clear. He swept crumpled papers up into an efficient stack and tapped them on the floor to level them. The rest of the scrolls went on the desk, too, which ate up all the available surface. He started stacking books by the wall.
“I’m sorry,” Katsuko said.
He stopped, a half-rolled scroll draped over his hands, and looked at her. She set the pillow on the floor and looped her arms around her knees, leaning forward. Her gaze met his, abruptly serious. Loosed of laughter, her face looked older, and far more tired.
“I wasn’t,” she said, and stopped. Started again. “Last night, I was...off. I hadn’t slept the whole night through in, well. A while. I needed to stop...everything. Just for a bit. I thought about getting you too, but, well.” She lifted a shoulder in an expressive shrug. “Alcohol. And Kakashi had the seals.”
He’d never told her he didn’t drink, or that he was uncomfortable around people who did. Had Kakashi? Or had she known it already--learned it while mourning him--when she came to get Kakashi instead?
Her fingers twisted against each other, popping joints in a mindless fidget. “Kakashi watched me, but he didn’t drink. So, um. If you’re mad, it’s not his fault.”
Ryouma didn’t know how long he’d been holding that breath. He hadn’t any right to ask or forbid--but Kakashi had made that decision himself.
“I’m not mad,” he said, quietly. He finished rolling the scroll up, tied the ribbon, and set it aside. “Thanks for lookin’ out for me. I’m sorry I couldn’t for you.”
Katsuko gave him a blank stare. “What? That’s it? You’re just,” she flapped a hand at him. “Saying it’s okay and then apologizing for, for not looking out for me when you--” Deep breaths. Deep breaths, unless she wanted to add hyperventilating to the headache and the nausea. After a moment, she sighed and tried again. “Ryouma,” she said. “I was prepared to go AWOL as soon as I found whatever hole Kaminari was hiding in. I’d never thought of just buying the mission to hunt her down for myself. I didn’t even know I could.”
Ryouma reached out and rested a hand on her head-- not ruffling, just touching. "Hey, that's why you've got me, right?” he said, gently. “Someone's gotta be the beauty and the brains. Since you've already got the brawn covered." He paused, thoughtfully, before adding, “I'm pretty sure you can buy the mission yourself, anyway. Never heard anyone say you couldn't. We take any client, so long's she's got the money and it doesn't interfere with Konoha's interests. Hell, if Kakashi's too expensive for you, I'll help fund it. They got my accounts straightened out last week, an' I haven't spent all my back-pay yet."
Katsuko smiled. “Maybe you can get him to give you the boyfriend discount. Use your masculine wiles to sway him over to the dark side.”
“Actually, I'm pretty sure we did that already,” Kakashi said from the kitchen, dry as dust. “Except I did the wiling.” His voice darkened. “I'm not in ANBU, so you'd get a cut-rate anyway.”
She was wearing an anti-hangover headband made out of ice, and her former one-night stand and his boyfriend were offering her a discount to help her kill the woman who’d tortured her for six months. And she still had a headache.
“I said the dark side,” Katsuko drawled after a moment. “Not the gay side. The gay side has rainbows. The dark side has me paying you to chidori people in the face.”
“Gay chidori,” Kakashi said, sounding amused. Ryouma hid a snigger behind a cough.
“A thousand screaming gay birds,” Katsuko said, contemplating that mental image.
“Hell,” Ryouma said. “I’d run.”
Kakashi sounded like he was fighting down a laugh. "Gayly." A beat, then, “With limp wrists.”
“I’m not gay,” Ryouma said. Something in his tone made Katsuko stop giggling. “I’m monogamous.”
A crash came from the direction of the kitchen. Katsuko swiveled around to see the frying pan rattling on the floor and Kakashi bent over his foot, swearing softly.
“Oh,” Katsuko said, delighted. “Oh. Now kiss!” After a second, though, the full implications of the dropped frying pan registered and she made an outraged noise. “My bacon!”
Bacon nothing, he’d broken his foot.
Kakashi kept his head ducked, half-dried hair obscuring his face as he worked through the bone-stinging result of the least ninja-like thing he’d ever done, and tried to get over his shock. Which was stupid, because it shouldn’t have been a shock. They’d had the whole conversation already, the first morning after Ryouma’s return, when Kakashi had said I want strings and Ryouma had said I’m done running, and it had somehow ended in Ryouma’s promise to stay out of ANBU and Kakashi on his knees.
Which, really, was not a bad way to end any conversation.
But they hadn’t talked about it since, even when Kakashi had given out his front door key. Ryouma had just... stayed. And continued to stay. And brought lunatics into Kakashi’s life.
Ryouma was on his feet now, hands loose at his sides--not stepping forward, but the leashed set in his muscles said he wanted to. The uncertainty guttering in his scent held him back. “You okay?”
Kakashi made a sound that approximated argh. “Fine, just stupid,” he said, and grabbed the upturned frying pan, leaving a carnage of bacon and raw eggs on the kitchen floor as he straightened. He dropped the frying pan on the stove top. “Guess it’s oatmeal after all.”
Katsuko’s noise of anguish was like a single kitten crying all alone in an empty cave.
Oats were in the cupboard by the sink. He was pretty sure he had enough milk for three people, and sugar somewhere for the two who’d inevitably prefer sweetness over salt...
He looked up without moving, meeting Ryouma’s eyes. “You mean that?”
Ryouma took two short steps, then visibly caught himself, every muscle tense. “I told you before,” he said, plain and certain. “As much as you want of me, I’m yours.”
Whatever you want, I’ll stick around.
I need you.
Kakashi swallowed. “You’re going to have to get over here,” he said. “I don’t think I can walk yet.”
If he’d blinked, he would have missed Ryouma moving. Ryouma was just there suddenly, tall and broad-shouldered, blocking the view to Katsuko and her sad, betrayed-by-bacon eyes. It was like seeing him fresh, re-learning him all over again, as Kakashi did every struck moment he realized Ryouma was still alive, back home, not six months dead and buried in an unmarked grave.
He was right here, saying whatever you want all over again, except this time he’d picked a solid place to stand first.
In front of the woman he’d run to.
“I want everything of you,” Kakashi said, and meant it, because he’d lived through both sides of that coin, having Ryouma and losing him, but his inability to cope wasn’t any basis to build a relationship on. He reached out and wrapped his fingers lightly around the scarred side of Ryouma’s throat, thumb braced across Ryouma’s jugular pulse, and said, low, “But I won’t put a leash on you. If you turn around in six month’s time and there’s someone less crazy, or better looking in armour.” His mouth pulled sideways. “Or female--”
Ryouma cut him off. "You're less crazy already. Better lookin' won't happen. I like you male."
I’ll look after you.
Across the room, Katsuko made a whispered sound very much like now kiss, then there was a scuffle of blankets and a tightening spiral of chakra as she wrapped herself up in covers and resettled, scent turned sleepy.
For once, she’d given out a good piece of advice.
Kakashi pulled his mask down, tangled his fingers in the stretched neck of Ryouma's shirt, and reached up to kiss him.
I want everything.
Ryouma could give that.
He stepped in closer, deepening the kiss, hands settling around Kakashi’s waist as if they belonged there. Kakashi leaned back against his grip, tugging at his shirt, dragging Ryouma’s head down towards him; he laughed suddenly into Ryouma’s mouth, ridiculous and ticklish and happy, and only the vague memory of Katsuko drowsy behind them kept Ryouma from pressing him up against the cabinets and taking him there.
Instead he tightened his grip on Kakashi’s hips, swung him up onto the counter, and set about kissing the laughter out of his mouth.
They were both breathless when he pulled away at last, reluctantly, and touched the back of his hand to his swollen lips. “Guess we better feed Katsuko before we kick her out. You stay put. Where’s the oatmeal?”
“Fooood,” the blanket-wrapped bundle behind him moaned piteously. He glanced back in time to see her roll halfway under the bed before hitting the stored table with a solid thunk and an indignant “Ow!”
Kakashi caught Ryouma’s shirt again before he could go retrieve her, and reeled him back. He leaned down to kiss the thin silvery scars at Ryouma’s temple, where the mask had smashed on their second mission together. His lips brushed Ryoma’s cheekbone, then the corner of his mouth. At last he pressed his forehead against Ryouma’s and drew a long breath, like a man coming home.
“If we pretend hard,” he murmured, “she’s not actually here.”
“Minute she leaves,” Ryouma told him, “I’m gettin’ naked. So’re you. I don’t think we can pretend that hard.”
Kakashi didn’t draw back, or even look up. “Katsuko, there’s a cafe across the street. They have bacon. Go fetch.”
The blanket-wrap gave a long, loud, fake snore. After a moment it reached out a hand and stealthily dragged the pillow under the bed with it. “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I’m too busy sleeping.”
Ryouma laughed despite himself. “You brought her home, this time. She’s your responsibility. I’m makin’ breakfast.” He stole a brief kiss and slipped away to find the oatmeal.
And clean up the eggs, before he tracked orange goo over any more of a formerly clean floor.
Katsuko poked her head out from under the bed, just in time to catch Kakashi staring-- maskless-- at Ryouma’s back. She had enough time to see a fine-bladed nose and a thin, scar-cut mouth before she clapped her hands over her eyes, retreating back underneath her blankets. “I didn’t see anything!”
There was a faintly strangled sound, followed by what Katsuko could only assume was Kakashi yanking his mask back up. There was a thud and a cut-off curse, and Katsuko uncovered her eyes to watch Kakashi’s bare feet limp slowly over to her hiding spot. He stopped a few inches away and crouched down, craning his head sideways to glare at her, and said, "You are not three. Stop hiding under the bed."
“I’m a grown woman,” Katsuko said, stubbornly. “If I want to hide underneath your bed, I’ll hide underneath your bed.”
Ryouma glanced over his shoulder from where he was measuring out oats at the counter. "You're a grown woman. You don't fit under the bed."
“It’s the effort that counts,” Katsuko said.
“And there are spiders under there,” Kakashi added.
“What?” Katsuko launched herself out from spider territory, knocking her head on the bed-frame during her mad scramble. Kakashi was directly in her line of retreat, but Katsuko decided that collateral damage wasn’t too high a price to pay for her escape and braced herself for impact. Kakashi made a startled noise as she slammed into him, catching her reflexively as her momentum carried them to the floor. She landed on his chest with a solid thump, making a pained sound as her head flared in protest.
Kakashi coughed, winded. She gave him a sheepish grin and blinked when he caught her head in his hands, taking the weight off of it. The band of ice wrapped around her temples shaded colder, muting the pounding agony in her skull. He didn’t push her off of him. "Graceful."
Ryouma was leaning against the counter, the water on the stove momentarily forgotten as he watched them with an intensely amused expression. Katsuko blew him a kiss and looked back down at Kakashi. “I am the graceful swan prince,” she told him, solemnly. “And you are my new pillow. Accept your fate.”
Kakashi looked at her like she'd just entirely stopped making sense. Finally he said, "Don't you mean princess?"
Katsuko scoffed. “Please. You’d look much better in a dress than I would. Ryouma could be your prince. He can’t be the swan prince though, that’s already me.”
“I can be the raven prince,” Ryouma said, helpfully. “But Kakashi has to be a prince, too. I like his butt in tight pants.”
“I agree with this idea,” Katsuko said. “Alright, Kakashi, you can be the pigeon prince.”
It was amazing how red a man with half of his face covered could turn. "You're both insane," Kakashi said. He gave her a push. "Get off, I'm not your cuddle-bug."
“No,” Katsuko said. “You’re the pigeon prince.” But she rolled off of him to sprawl out on the floor, crossing her arms behind her head. “I’ll forgive you for ruining my bacon just this once, but you owe me.”
Ryouma’s voice was very dry. "Bacon or life-saving?"
“Both,” Katsuko said, smugly. “I am just that awesome.” She grinned at him, then glanced over at the stove. “Is breakfast ready yet?”
Katsuko had rolled exactly two inches away, still close enough to press warm and bony against Kakashi’s hip and shoulder.
"Five minutes, once the water boils. Which it isn't, yet," Ryouma said, making clanging noises as he rummaged around the kitchen. The fridge door opened. "Okay if we use the blueberries?"
“Sure,” said Kakashi. “They’re for you, anyway.”
Katsuko giggled, squirming to get more comfortable as she said, “Awwww....”
“Someday, Katsuko-chan, you’ll meet a man who buys you blueberries,” Ryouma said warmly, while Kakashi elbowed her in the side. “Don’t let go.” Ryouma set the carton of berries down on the counter, left the water to boil, and came over to them, navigating the wet but thankfully clean floor. He looked thoughtful, suddenly. “Actually, how’d you like me to set you up on a date?”
Kakashi raised an eyebrow. Katsuko blinked, pausing.
“A date?” she asked. “How does that work? Do you have to dress up?”
“Don’t look at me,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma’s expression was equally fascinated and alarmed, like a man regarding a strange species. "Neither of you've ever been on a date before?"
“Not unless you count the mission with the nightclub,” Kakashi said dryly.
Katsuko frowned. “What do you do on dates?”
Ryouma made a frustrated gesture with his hands, trying to carve living ideas from thin air. “Talk. Eat. Watch movies, visit parks, go to festivals. Make out...” He glanced at Kakashi and said firmly, “We’ll fix that.”
Kakashi folded an arm behind his head. “But we do all those things anyway, except the festivals.”
“Take pictures!” Katsuko said brightly, having apparently decided to approach the conversation on a new, random trajectory. She tipped her head back, regarding the ceiling plastered with seal designs. A rueful smile edged her mouth. “A date. Sure, why not? Time to live a little.”
Ryouma’s mouth firmed, resolve clanging like sudden steel in his scent, and Kakashi spared a thought of vague sympathy for Asuma, who was presumably still Ryouma’s first choice for matchmaking.
"All right. I've got a guy in mind. I'll let you know,” Ryouma said, bestirring himself back to the kitchen. Over his shoulder he added to Kakashi: "Dates are different. One of us has to ask. You buying me the jacket might count, though. I didn't make the rules."
“Since when do you follow the rules?” Kakashi asked, trying to wrap his mind around the idea of doing something public and civilian for fun.
“... there are rules for dating?” Katsuko asked, horrified.
Ryouma’s tone turned a little defensive. "One of my old girlfriends was in the seduction corps. There're all sorts of rules. An' some of 'em are stupid, but they make girls happy... I sent you flowers, didn't I, Katsuko? From the hospital. While I was ODed on soldier pills."
Kakashi propped himself up on one elbow and gave Ryouma a dry look. “I invite you to reconsider three of the things you just said, starting with making girls happy. I thought you liked me as a man?”
Ryouma opened his mouth, made a slightly alarming croaking sound wrapped around the word “I--” and shut his mouth. He rallied and tried again. “I did. I do. I’m speakin’ purely from an advisory standpoint, and I’m shuttin’ up now to stir the oatmeal.”
He turned his back. The tips of his ears had gone pink.
Kakashi mentally awarded himself fifty points for rendering Ryouma speechless.
Katsuko broke down laughing, rolling over to shove her face against Kakashi’s side. Her skin was a strange mix of hangover-hot and ice-cold through his shirt. She howled for a moment, making unladylike snorting sounds, then sat up and wiped her eyes. “Wait, does this mean I have to get the guy you're setting me up with flowers?"
There was a beat of silence.
“Do I have to buy him dinner?”
Ryouma closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the fridge, like a man seeking sanity amongst magnets. “He buys you dinner,” he said, as if he just couldn’t stop himself speaking. “You smile pretty. If you sleep with him, he sends you flowers. I will get you some if you want, Kakashi!”
“Still not a girl,” Kakashi said, watching with interest as the two supposedly sane people had mild hysterics. “Can we just stick to sex? Flowers make me sneeze.”
Katsuko collapsed across his ribcage, cackling. “So— so basically, flowers mean 'thanks for the sex; here, have dead plants',” she gasped, and dissolved into whooping laughter.
Ryouma thumped his head once, gently, against the fridge, then turned around and leaned against it, arms crossed over his chest. His ears were still pink, but there was a suspicious twitch lurking at the corners of his mouth. “Given that the girl who taught me that was an Eros agent, it's probably a better lesson than ‘Thanks for the sex, here's a kunai in your ribs.’”
Kakashi shoved Katsuko gently off; she fell back to the floor, her ice-crown melting away into her hair as the jutsu faded, spiking it out in ridiculous ways. She was still clutching herself with mirth. She was so easy to amuse, despite the cut-short future hanging over her head. He couldn’t help poking her in the ribs, just to see if it made her kick and squeak.
He looked up at Ryouma, reflecting, once again, on all the ways he’d gotten so very lucky. “I like your back-rubs better than flowers, if we’re picking lessons learned from Eros,” he said. “But I’ll go on a date with you, if you want to.” He nudged Katsuko in the ribs again. “And you should definitely go on a date if it’ll stop you from showing up and being insane.”
The oatmeal was thickening. Ryouma stole a brief mental-health moment to stir it, while the stupid heat in his ears faded. Of course Kakashi was winding him up. The problem was that he’d let himself be wound, rather than teasing right back. If he’d just shut up and thought for a moment, instead of letting his idiot mouth run him right into trouble--
But Kakashi was still relaxed on the floor, easy and comfortable, as if it were a dog he was playing with and not a woman whose life he was trying to save. And Katsuko had laughed til she cried, so maybe a little embarrassment wasn’t too much of a price to pay.
“You’d miss my luminous presence here, admit it,” Katsuko informed Kakashi solemnly. “You’d pine.”
“I’d have no one around to traumatize me with breasts,” Kakashi drawled. “How would I cope?”
Ryouma found bowls, divided oatmeal into three roughly equal portions, and turned to ask Kakashi if he wanted blueberries, too. He was just in time to catch Katsuko pulling up the hem of her over-large shirt.
“Don’t you dare,” Kakashi said, horrified. There was a brief moment of wrestling--Kakashi didn’t seem sure whether to pull her shirt back down or escape to the furthest corner of the room, and Katsuko was laughing too hard to put up an effective fight.
Ryouma decided Kakashi could just deal with the blueberries, and added sugar and spoons. He came back, balancing three bowls carefully in his hands, and toed the two apart so he could settle between them. They sat up reluctantly, and he plopped bowls in their laps. “Both of you have already been naked today. It’s my turn now, and I want breakfast first.”
Katsuko cradled her bowl in both hands and gazed sweetly over its rim at Kakashi. “Kakashi votes you get naked first, since my nakedness was unsatisfactory.” She spared one hand to flap the hem of her shirt at him again.
If Kakashi did twitch, he managed to suppress it well. He gave Katsuko a level look and pulled Ryouma against him, arm around his waist, chin on his shoulder. “Kakashi votes you don’t make a show out of his boyfriend, because you don’t need the encouragement.”
Ryouma sat still.
Katsuko had used the word before, wary or teasing, and neither of them had contradicted her. Hell, Ryouma had thought it. But he hadn’t dared put the thought into words, because words meant something, and it had been hard enough getting Kakashi to agree to even the label of ‘friend’...
I want everything of you.
Maybe he didn’t have to be so careful.
He set his bowl on the floor and wriggled down through the warm circle of Kakashi’s arm, until he was comfortable on the floor with his head in Kakashi’s lap and his legs stretched out almost to the wall. Then he retrieved the bowl, and balanced it on his chest.
“Naked later,” he said, around a mouthful of oatmeal and brown sugar and blueberries. “When you’re gone. I’ve reconsidered my earlier wild ways an’ become a one-man man now. You can just look forward to your date an’ hope you’ll get lucky.”
Katsuko shoveled a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth and grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ll stun him with my beauty,” she said, except it came out more like “Don’ worry, I’ll shtun ‘im wif m’beauty.”
Kakashi gave her an unimpressed once-over. "After you make him treasure hunt for it?"
Ryouma giggled. "Beauty as a blackjack..." he murmured to himself.
Katsuko pointed at them accusingly with her spoon. “Those who have confined themselves solely to dicks have no right to pass judgement on my radiance.”
Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "If you're referring to the gentle glow of craziness you're carrying around, I'm not judging so much as waiting for you to attack someone with a spanner."
“Huh,” Katsuko said, thoughtfully. “A spanner. I’ll take that into consideration.”
"I know you're new to this, Katsuko, but generally it's a good idea to try to avoid concussing your date." Ryouma tilted his head a little to look up at her, upside down and grinning. "Besides, you're pretty. You shouldn't need to hit men over the head an' drag 'em home. 'f they're smart, they'll follow."
"And you're a good ninja," Kakashi said, like that was higher praise in regards to potential datability than you're pretty.
“Hmm,” Katsuko said, and stirred her oatmeal. “My problem isn’t getting them home, it’s getting them to stay when I take my shirt off and they see I look like a jigsaw puzzle. This guy you wanna set me up with, Ryouma, you think he’d freak out over that?”
He lifted his head off of Kakashi's legs to look at her, serious. "He's ANBU. He's got more than a few scars himself. And--" he swallowed. Carefully, he said, "He ran a mission with Tsume, after--after she got her bandages off. When I asked what she looked like, he said, Sexy."
Katsuko looked at him, then reached over to ruffle his hair. “Alright. I’ll take your word on it.”
"Some of us like scars. It's proof you survived," Kakashi said, quietly. He splayed his hand flat over Ryouma's shoulder, where Ryouma’d been hit by the lightning jutsu during the mission he and Katsuko had ran, and looked up at her.
Katsuko smiled crookedly at Kakashi. “Some of us have good taste,” she said, and leaned over to ruffle his hair. “You guys just don’t want an audience for your happy-couple-funtimes.”
Kakashi spluttered, turning red, and Katsuko had to resist the urge to crow in triumph. He ducked out from under her hand, gaze sliding away, and said, "Puppies."
Katsuko blinked, remembering last night’s random game of Nice Things, and grinned. “Puppies.”
Kakashi looked at the TV. "You both probably watch cartoons, don't you?"
Ryouma licked his spoon, laughing, and dropped his head back down into Kakashi's lap. "You're not getting up to turn the TV on. I'm comfy here. If Katsuko wants cartoons she can get them herself."
Kakashi glanced down at him, smile visible even through the mask, and Katsuko didn’t even try to tamp down the sudden surge of fondness for them both. “My boys,” she said, a little wonderingly, then shook herself. “I’m a fan of the Furious Five Rangers, I’m warning you now. Ranger Crimson, all the way.”
“And people criticize my taste in media,” Ryouma scoffed. “I’ve seen that one a couple of times. A genin could take down those kids. Maybe even an Academy student. Probably even my street-kids...”
Katsuko threw a blueberry at his forehead and hoisted herself up to turn on the TV anyway. Ryouma ate another spoonful of oatmeal and tilted his head back to study the seals taped to the ceiling. Kakashi’s fingers combed lightly through his hair. He sucked on his spoon, eyes drifting half-closed.
“Y’know,” he said dreamily, as Katsuko flipped through two variety shows and the cooking channel, “the third one from the left looks an awful lot like something I saw in Mist. I was there on a mission, years ago. On recall from Team Badass. There was this guy who could paint seals on things an’ they’d detonate, even without explosion tags.” He squinted a little more, letting the lines blur together. It was upside down and sideways, and there were more squiggles in the center than he remembered, but the basic structure still looked similar.
“I tried to learn how he did it, but he wasn’t too keen on sharing, an’ I’m not too good with seals. Would’ve been cool, though. You didn’t even have to feed your own chakra in for the explosion, beyond just a dribble for the ignition. Sort of fed on itself after that...”
Kakashi went very still beneath him. His chin tilted slightly, as if he was following Ryouma’s line of sight. “An exponential loop,” he murmured absently, “but I looked at that already...”
Every muscle went rigid. Ryouma tensed in reflexive sympathy, but Kakashi was still staring at the ceiling.
“Mist,” he breathed. “It’s not Aken Shaneo, it’s his student. That’s Kamiya Ukan’s energy work! That’s why it’s not making sense. It’s not conversion, it’s a chain reaction--Kunuya’s Law. That’s why the drain is self-sustaining!”
His bowl of oatmeal clattered untouched to the floor. Kakashi seized Ryouma’s head in both hands, bent double, and kissed his forehead. “You’re a genius.”
Then he was scrambling up to grab the nearest set of scrolls and riffling through them so savagely that a few almost tore. He sprang onto the desk, yanked the seal-sketch down from the ceiling, dropped to the floor again, and went on another mad search for pen and paper in the organized chaos of his desk.
Ryouma rolled slowly to his stomach. Katsuko was watching Kakashi, too, wide-eyed, lips parted. On the TV, a perky young woman told her how she could preserve fresh vegetables longer with a green plastic bag. Katsuko ignored her. But her lips pressed tight together, and the blooming hope in her eyes faded. Her face shuttered. She stood suddenly, stiff, almost jerky. “Excuse me.”
Kakashi didn’t hear her.
Ryouma sat up, but Katsuko shook her head and slipped past him into the bathroom. The door closed quietly behind her, and Kakashi reached for another book.
It was too much. All of it was too much. Last night’s revelations on the roof, the hangover, Ryouma’s little sister and Kakashi’s I’m going to fix this-- and now this, hope like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, the possibility that, that--
Katsuko made it to the toilet just as her stomach started to heave, rejecting breakfast with an accompanying wave of nausea. She knelt on the floor, clinging to the toilet seat, and closed her eyes as dizziness made her vision grey out.
A minute or an hour later-- she didn’t know, really-- the door opened. Katsuko glanced up just long enough to see that it was Ryouma, then went back to the entertaining job of vomiting up everything she’d eaten for the last two days. She flinched as Ryouma’s fingers grazed her temples, skimming along the damp cold left behind by the band of ice; he paused, but pushed the hair back from her forehead and gathered it in a knot at the base of her skull to hold it there. He didn’t say anything, just knelt down beside her and waited.
Eventually, the heaving stopped long enough for Katsuko to lean away from the toilet, grimacing. “Thanks,” she croaked, and reached out to push down the flush lever. She slumped back against Ryouma’s shoulder, closing her eyes again.
Ryouma released her hair and looped his arm around her shoulders, tugging her in to lean against him. "He'll do it. He's got kind of a thing about saving people--but he always does it."
Katsuko smiled. “I call emotional bias.” After a moment, she sighed and drew her knees up against her chest, wrapping her arms around them. “It’s... it’s just been so long. Since I could let myself think that I might... that I’d be okay.”
Ryouma rubbed a hand up and down her arm, mindlessly soothing. "Got a whole life ahead of you. Well, a ninja's life... You'll be okay." Fiercely, he said, "He'll save you."
She was crying, Katsuko realized, numbly, water trickling down her cheeks and dripping onto Ryouma’s shirt. She gave a choked laugh and wiped her eyes. “Alright,” she said. “But he still owes me bacon.”
Ryouma laughed softly at that, still rubbing her arm, and gave her a little tug, encouraging her to get to her feet. "C'mon. He'll be buried in his books the rest of the day. I'll get you bacon."
Katsuko snorted and let him haul her up. “You should probably get him bacon then, ‘cause otherwise he’s not gonna eat.”
The click of the bathroom door opening skirted entirely under Kakashi’s radar. His complete focus was on the puzzle beginning to come together in his hands, metamorphosized by the corner piece Ryouma had provided. Lightning shape and Mist influence balanced around the inverted fire tri-point, crippled by the dead spaces that made everything unstable, but now he had the angle to replace those...
Ryouma had to shout twice before his voice registered. “Kakashi! If I get takeout, will you eat?”
“What?” Kakashi waved him away, not really listening. “I’m fine, I don’t need anything.”
A warm, bony weight draped over his shoulders, smelling like salt-stung illness and fading shock. He stiffened, and Katsuko wrapped her arms around him, pressing a kiss into his hair.
“Kakashi,” she said, sing-song. “If you faint from hunger it’ll just take longer to solve my seal. Eat something. It’s not going anywhere, and neither am I.”
She was kissing his hair.
And she smelled like tears.
He twisted around, half-breaking her hold, and pulled her out of his blind spot. She was paler than she’d been a moment ago, lips blanched and eyes reddened, damp-spiked hair dragged back from her face. Her breath smelled of fresh mouthwash. Kakashi stared at her, then raised his chin to look for Ryouma.
Ryouma was by the door, shrugging into his leather jacket, fastening his sheathed knife at the small of his back. He strode to the kitchen counter to fetch his new wallet, then one-eightied back to the door. “Don’t break him before I get back,” he told Katsuko, cheerfully.
Kakashi stared at him, too.
“What--” he began, but Ryouma was already out the door, seals flaring back up behind him.
Katsuko rubbed her chin on top of Kakashi’s head.
“What the hell did I just miss?” Kakashi said.
She laughed, shaky and scoured raw. “Nothing much. Just me realizing there's a chance I might get to see the end of the year in one piece, and making a tactical retreat to the bathroom to vomit and cry like a baby.”
Kakashi absorbed that. “Do you... need a cup of tea?”
Katsuko dissolved with laughter, draping across his back like a beaten rug. He held very still as she buried her face into the curve between his neck and shoulder, making strangled howling sounds, and weakly hit an open hand against his side. Catharsis again, except Ryouma had left and Kakashi was mildly concerned she was about to blow her nose on his mask.
Katsuko lifted her face, colour in her cheeks again. “Yes,” she said at last, breathless.
He started to extract himself, but she didn’t let go. In the end he just brought her with him to the kitchen, stepping carefully over scattered paperwork. Her arms slipped down to wrap around his waist, and she kind of... pressed her face between his shoulderblades. The angle was too awkward for him to pet her hair. He filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove, instead.
“Black or green?” he asked.
“Green,” Katsuko said, voice muffled flat. “With as much sugar as possible.”
Kakashi pulled a face at the wall, but retrieved the sugar from where Ryouma had left it on the counter, loading three teaspoons into a chipped blue mug. There were only three green teabags left; he’d have to get more. The gas-burner flame hissed as a drop of water slid down the side of the kettle.
“Do you want me to do anything?” he tried.
"You and Ryouma've already done so much," she murmured, still pressed against his back. Her voice sounded dazed. "You're the only ones who never gave up."
Sometimes, she’d said last night, tired and resigned, talking about a family who’d fed her into the teeth of a war and walked away when she’d come back broken. Sometimes it’s the people you love who hurt you the most.
People were stupid.
"Come here," Kakashi said, and reached behind him, catching her shirt and pulling her around by it. She made another one of those yowling-cat sounds, like an animal dragged from its warm safe place. He kept tugging until he had her in front of him, facing the counter, and pulled her back against his chest. She was fairly tall for a kunoichi, but still short enough for him to rest his chin on top of her head--which made a difference from craning his neck at Ryouma. She smelled like snowmelt and exhaustion, like too many hard changes all at once.
He picked her hands up by the wrists, setting them around the unfilled cup, and kept things simple. “Help me make tea.”
Katsuko made a startled sound. Then she shrugged, shoulderblades scraping his chest, and took hold of the cup. “Slavedriver,” she grumbled, reaching for a teabag.
“No sugar in mine,” Kakashi said, unrepentant.
“I’ll put salt in yours,” she muttered, sounding much more like herself. “So much salt.”
“I’d make you drink it,” he said. He tipped his head to the side, ducking down closer to her ear. Softened his voice a little. “Can I ask you a favour?”
"I don't do anything involving small children or animals," she said instantly, voice wary.
Kakashi blinked. “What? No. Well, maybe I should make you walk the dogs, but that’s not what I was thinking of.” He refocused. “If I’ve actually cracked this, and I think I have, I’m going to need to spend at least a few days down in the seal labs testing prototypes, probably more. I can’t take Ryouma down with me. He’d go stir-crazy. But... he has this habit of vanishing when I’m not around. Or getting in trouble.”
Which made Ryouma sound like he was four, but Kakashi persisted.
“He trusts you. Would you... stick around? Make sure he keeps safe?”
The kettle started to whistle. Katsuko turned the flame off and lifted it off the stove, keeping one hand on the lid as she started to pour boiling water into the first mug. “I see how it is,” she said, smugly. “Asking me to babysit your boyfriend, are you? Make sure he doesn’t run into doors and hold his hand when we cross the street, those sorts of things?”
Kakashi was quiet for a long moment. "I just don't want him to get hurt again."
Katsuko wanted to close her eyes, but she was busy filling up the second mug to the brim and that would have ended badly. “Yeah. Yeah, I know what you mean.” She set the kettle back down. “I’ve got plenty of experience dealing with silly brothers. I’ll make sure Ryouma keeps safe.”
"Thank you," Kakashi said, soft and sincere. He returned to resting his chin on top of her head. "Of course, I'm going to ask him to do the same for you, otherwise you'll be upside-down in shrubbery before the week's out."
“Ten extra points to me if the shrubbery’s on fire,” Katsuko said, gleefully, and handed him his mug of tea. “Look! I didn’t put salt in it.”
"Minus twenty for lack of stealth," Kakashi said instantly. "But I guess you can have a point for not poisoning the man trying to save your hide."
“Not poisoning potential rescuers is basic etiquette,” Katsuko agreed, and stirred her own tea. She let it steep for another couple minutes before removing the tea bag, pausing to wrap it in a paper napkin and toss it into the trashcan across the room.
"You'll tell me you have manners next," Kakashi said, sounding suddenly amused. He poked her gently in the ribs.
Katsuko made an indignant noise and nearly dropped her mug. “More manners than you, you pokey bastard.”
Kakashi’s only reply was to set his mug down and goose both hands up either side of her ribcage, because he was evil and mean and Katsuko did drop her mug this time, but caught it before it could spill. She set it down on the counter and headbutted his chin, gently. “Vengeance,” she promised.
Kakashi leaned around to look at her from his sighted side, very clearly grinning behind his mask. "I dare you."
“Challenge accepted,” Katsuko said, smirking back because the world was clear and bright and beautiful and she was going to live, and leapt at him.