August 5, Yondaime Year 5
The Green Pig at 2100 was lively with a mix of diners and drinkers at booths and tables. A group of off-duty ninja still in their blues were racking the balls on the pool table in the loft, and the scent of fried things bubbled out from the kitchen. Hakone, knowing Ryouma’s insatiable hunger for greasy food, ordered baskets of fried chicken and oysters, and a frosty pitcher of beer, and settled down at one of their usual tables to wait.
At 2120 he reasoned that cold fried food would be terrible, and ate the oysters. Washed down with a good portion of the beer, because warm beer would also be terrible.
At 2130 he wondered if he should have checked at the hospital after all. He started in on the chicken, and decided to give Ryouma 15 more minutes before he commenced a search and rescue operation.
Ryouma beat the deadline by six minutes. He was freshly showered, suspiciously well-rested looking, and deeply contrite about being late.
“Hospital wiped me out. Overslept, sorry! Wasn’t sure if you’d still be here.” He pulled his chair back with a scrape and sat down. “Rest of the night’s mine, all right?”
“Acceptable,” Hakone said. He poured Ryouma a glass. “I’ll be sure to order expensive menu items so you learn your lesson.”
“All the prime otoro the Pig has on hand,” Ryouma agreed.
“In other words, none.” Hakone pushed the basket of fried chicken towards his friend. “If the Pig did offer sashimi, I’m not sure I’d trust it. I’ll take yakitori and some gyouza next round, though.”
Ryouma practically inhaled a piece of chicken, popped a second in his mouth, and said around it, “Yakitori, gyouza, more beer. Anyone else coming tonight?”
“Nope. You’re my date tonight. As long as you don’t expect me to put out at the end of it.”
Relief flickered in Ryouma’s eye, right before he choked on his chicken. He coughed, drained half his beer to get past it, and managed a weak, “I’ll get over the disappointment eventually.”
“Good man.” Hakone emptied the last of the pitcher to refill both their glasses. “So what did you actually do all day? After I left you this morning I went and double checked with my dad; they didn’t have any interrogation resistance training programs operating today, and definitely not at the hospital.”
“Interro—? Oh.” Guilt washed Ryouma’s cheeks red. For a ninja, he had a truly appalling poker face. “No, I was mostly being… nervous, this morning. Sagara-sama gave me punishment detail to volunteer for baby medics’ healing practice at the hospital.”
Ryouma extended his forearm on the table, displaying a fascinating collection of almost artistic new scars, including one that was unmistakably the ‘dragon’ kanji from Ryouma’s name. “It wasn’t bad at all. They gave me painkillers, and the kids were kinda fun, and the head medic let me talk to her afterward. I told you my lieutenant’s teaching me field medic basics, right?”
“You might have mentioned it ten or fifteen times,” Hakone said. “Which I definitely want to hear about. But first, seriously, Sagara sent you to be a lab rat for medics-in-training as punishment? That’s cold. And brilliant. Have I ever told you she’s friends with my dad?”
“No, because this spring was the first time I heard you had a dad.” Ryouma pointed a chicken piece at him accusingly. “I mean, that doesn’t surprise me. Do they get together for weekend pub crawls and see who can terrify the most poor chuunin?”
“I’ll count you not knowing about my dad as a success at stealth on my part, and not a failure of curiosity on yours.” Hakone smirked. “I’ve never seen either of them drunk, but she and her husband and my folks get dinner together pretty regularly. She’s probably the reason I tried out for ANBU. Well, that and wanting to do something interesting with my career.”
Ryouma frowned. “Interesting career I know about, but how does your dad’s friend make you want to join ANBU? I kinda figured you wanted a path that didn’t have anything to do with your dad.”
“You don’t see me in T&I, do you?” Hakone shrugged. “Sagara-san told me I’d do well in ANBU back when I first made jounin. I didn’t really consider how weird it might be to work directly for her until I was already signed up for the trials, and by then I figured I may as well go through with it. No weirder than Hatake’s situation with the Hokage, right?”
“Kakashi’s grown up following Hokage-sama’s orders, though. Or… arguing with ‘em, probably.”
Hakone snorted. “Sounds like him.”
Ryouma snagged the last piece of chicken out of the basket and ate it absentmindedly. “It’s weirder for him to be getting orders from Taichou. He’s doing better at it, though…” He refocused, blinked at his empty fingers, and pushed his chair back. “D’you want another pitcher, or one of your fancy brews?”
“That was one of the fancy ones. They’ve got a couple on tap, now. Trying to go upscale. I’m sad you didn’t notice.” Hakone rocked back on two legs and peered over at the bar. “Line’s short. Fetch refreshments, and then I want to hear more about your captain and Kakashi.”
To be fair, Ryouma had been using Hatake’s given name since at least their second mission. But there was something about the way he said it this time. Or maybe Hakone was imagining it based on the strange reports he’d heard about their fight yesterday. Either way, Ryouma definitely twitched when Hakone put emphasis on the name, so there was something worth pursuing there.
Ryouma sketched a hasty salute, and took the empty baskets and pitcher back to the bar with him to queue for his turn to order. When he came back a few minutes later, he had two half-liter glasses of frothy amber brew. “Sunburst Ale and Frostback Foundry Lager,” he said, setting both glasses in front of Hakone. “I’ll take whichever one you don’t want. Food’s coming.”
Hakone took the lager. He let Ryouma take a seat and take a sip before he said, “So what the fuck did you and Hatake do that got him suspended and you sent to get your name written in scars on your arm?”
Ryouma sighed. “You know half of it already. Remember what I told you out in Hotsprings Country?”
“About the extracurricular activities? Yeah. And it was pretty obvious your officers were pissed. But I gather there’s more to it.”
“We didn’t break orders, exactly, we just… didn’t ask. And our officers were pissed ‘cause we should’ve trusted ‘em enough to tell them first. And if we’re running off on—extracurricular activities, like you said—without orders, they can’t trust us either.” His gaze locked on his calloused brown hands wrapped around his glass. “We… talked that through, a lot, the night you met up with us and the morning after you left.”
Which all still sounded an internal matter, unless maybe there was a bigger reason they should have left their unsanctioned target alive.
“And once we got back, Sagara-sama summoned us for a lesson on chain of command.”
Hakone frowned. “The ‘go be a surgery practice-dummy’ punishment fits in a sort of ‘follow orders like you’re damn well told’ way, but I’m not seeing how Hatake’s suspension makes sense. Or why you and he were so pissed at each other when you came out of Sagara’s office that you tried to kill each other in HQ’s halls. And did kill your office door.”
Ryouma ran a finger around the lip of his glass, deliberating. “Kakashi got suspended ‘cause it’s the only punishment that’d matter to him. I started a fight with him ‘cause I couldn’t see why he’d wouldn’t just back down and apologize. And he hit me back ‘cause he didn’t see why I’d just show my belly without a fight.” He took a swallow of his beer, and gave Hakone a wry look. “I just chose the wrong time to show some spine.”
“Uh huh.” Hakone mirrored him, swallowing a mouthful of beer and wiping the froth from his lip. A server turned up with their tray of food before he could ask more, setting plates of crispy gyouza and charred skewers of meat, and a freshly sizzling basket of fried oysters in front of them.
When she’d gone, Hakone said, “Lot of questions, still. Like why you guys spent the last four days in closed debriefings. What exactly Hatake said that got him suspended. And have you heard even half the rumors flying around about Team Six? Because there are some real—”
“No,” Ryouma interjected. “What are they?”
Someone didn’t want to answer those questions.
“Sex features pretty heavily in most of them. Everyone’s talking about where you guys could have disappeared to and why. My favorite is the one where you all got dosed with some kind of plant sap or something that made you so horny you screwed each other for three weeks. You weren’t walking sore when we caught up to you, though, so I figure that’s not legit. I also like the one where you got your male lieutenant pregnant. How’s your crush on him going, by the way?”
“Not that well,” Ryouma said, fascinated. “Why is Shiranui-fukuchou pregnant? Why’m I the father? I mean, not that I wouldn’t absolutely try out Sexy Plant Sap, but—”
He caught himself short. Hakone’s gaze was a little too sharp.
“But nobody thinks I’m parent material,” he finished, and took a drink.
Hakone snickered. “Isn’t that something you should be asking Shiranui-fukuchou? I mean, if he thinks you’d be a good baby daddy, who is anyone else to judge?”
“Maybe he just wanted a donor,” Ryouma said. “I’ve heard some of the clans do that, when they want a cross-breed. And Gen— Shiranui-fukuchou’s got a really good support network. He could be a single parent.”
Unless Raidou appeared as the single parent’s savior: handsome, stable, successful, with a support network of his own and excellent carpentry skills…
“I think I saw that movie,” he said. He took another drink. “I don’t think this beer is worth nine hundred ryou. Is yours?”
Also, he’d had sex with Kakashi three times today. And he was still thinking about other people. What was wrong with him?
“Nine hundred ryou?” Hakone’s Judgmental Face flickered on, embedded in the tilt of a brow, the curl of his lip. “No way. Seven hundred at the most.” He sipped his. “Also your crush is still showing.”
Which crush, Ryouma thought wildly. That was the problem.
But maybe not a problem he had to solve all on his own. Hakone was a good listener. He’d kept silent about Ryouma’s unsanctioned kill, even to his own team. And he’d critiqued Ryouma’s bad decisions plenty of times, but he still stuck around.
“Hakone, look. You know I had— someone stay over in my room last night, right?”
“Someone who’s very skilled at chakra concealment, and might or might not be a mildly corrupt police officer? That you were ashamed about? That someone?” The Judgmental Face intensified.
“Yes, but why d’you assume I was ashamed? Maybe they were ashamed of me.”
Hakone’s brows snapped down. That wasn’t just Judgment, that was Disapproval.
But he was still listening. And he’d have good advice; he always did.
Ryouma kicked caution into the gutter. “Anyway it wasn’t just a one-night stand. We’ve slept together a few times now and I want to keep doing it. Hell, I want to do more of it. As much as he’ll— as much as they’ll let me. But I met up with my officers today and something happened and— And you’re right, I still kinda have a crush on them. On both of them. And meanwhile there’s this person who— I’m not ashamed of, but I can’t talk about, ‘cause… I can’t. But I’d still try out Sexy Plant Sap if both my officers were doing it. How fucked up is that?”
He didn’t, quite, run out of breath. Possibly out of courage. He buried his face in his beer glass, and wondered how red his ears were.
Hakone sat back. Two fingers tapped his glass in a slow rhythm. His brows unknitted a little, past Judgmental and back into Thoughtful. “I can’t say I get the attraction,” he said at last, “but according to Nakamura-senpai your officers are extremely fuckable, so since you like sleeping with guys…” He shrugged. “Also you have kind of a thing about approval from authority figures, so I can see it.”
There was no point in protest. Ryouma ate a fried oyster resentfully.
“The guy you’re having a multiple-night-stand with, though— is he the jealous type? Is that the issue?” Hakone picked up a skewer of yakitori, twirled it pensively. “Doesn’t explain why he won’t let you tell anyone, unless he’s high society and his family wouldn’t approve. That’d track with it being an Uchiha… I’ll come back to that. What exactly happened with your officers?”
“Nothing, apparently.” Ryouma sighed. “They got so sick of Rookie Drama that they bought beer and put up drywall. Overnight. I thought maybe— But Kakashi says neither of them smelled like sex. So I’m just being an idiot over nothing.”
“Drinking your cares away is a common practice,” Hakone pointed out. “Drywall a little less so. You were thinking soused carpentry was their version of foreplay?”
“Taichou’s finishing Fukuchou’s bedroom,” Ryouma explained.
“That doesn’t sound any less like foreplay,” Hakone murmured.
“It’s a new loft in an old warehouse. We were all doing carpentry the week before we left.” He ate another oyster. “It’s not like I’m jealous of them! Well, maybe a little. But I mean, Taichou has his ‘boundaries’ thing, so of course he wouldn’t do anything anyway. Even if the lieutenant wanted him to.” He pitched a crumb of golden-fried batter back into the oyster basket. “What a waste.”
“‘Maybe a little’?” Hakone’s eyes glinted, suspiciously bright. He bit into a gyouza.
Ryouma couldn’t really blame him for that suppressed snicker. At least Hakone tried. In his place, Ryouma would probably have been laughing his fool head off.
“So first you were peeved because they might have been having sex with each other over drywall, and then you were peeved because they probably weren’t having sex with each other, despite booze and drywall. I can see how that would be confusing.” Hakone set his chopsticks down to reach across the table and pat Ryouma’s arm. “There’s more to this, isn’t there?”
There was Kakashi’s storm-grey eye, lit by a hungry intensity; there were Kakashi’s callused hands, curious, fearless, delighted and delighting. There was Kakashi’s laughter, and his gentle mockery, and a sheltering steadiness Ryouma hadn’t had to ask for.
There was We’ll figure out definitions later, and yet they hadn’t.
“I am not fixating on someone — someones — unattainable because I’m feeling insecure in the person I’ve maybe attained. Obtained.”
“Attained is a word,” Hakone told him.
“It’s a stupid word. I’m stupid.” Ryouma dropped his head down on the table, regretted it, sat upright and slightly sticky. “Anyway I’ve done the Safely Unavailable Crush thing before, just— not at the same time.”
“First of all,” Hakone said, “bullshit. You’re objectively one of the smartest guys I know. Except when it comes to evaluating yourself.”
Compliment plus insult probably equaled truth. Ryouma pulled morosely at his beer.`
Hakone took another drink, too, and then sat back with his fingers drumming again on the side of the glass. “Second of all, if your new guy wanting to keep your situation on the down-low is the problem here, that’s one thing. If he’s making you feel ashamed, then he’s not good for you. But if the issue is you still have eyes and a dick, cut yourself some slack. You’re used to sleeping with anyone willing who catches your eye, right? It’s not like you go blind just because you’re getting regular sex with someone.”
Three times in a day sex, though?
Well, it wasn’t like he was feeling an overwhelming urge to go prowling up the Pig’s upper level looking for someone to take him home. He’d fallen asleep warmly sated that afternoon, and woken up feeling almost the same, except for the adrenaline hit when he realized he’d overslept the alarm and kept Hakone waiting. Kakashi had showered and dressed with him, and then slipped away to the training field with two swords and a book; but he’d kissed Ryouma first, on their way out the door, one swift press of masked lips before he was gone.
That wasn’t a man who was ashamed.
All right, so he’d darted into the bathroom at Hakone’s knock on the door. Ryouma hadn’t exactly stayed lounging naked in bed either. At least Kakashi hadn’t gone out the window. He’d stayed, and asked questions, and let Ryouma give him a blowjob; and then he’d gone with Ryouma to spend a morning in public at the hospital, doing nothing but watching Ryouma’s back.
“Fuck,” Ryouma said. “I don’t deserve him.”
Hakone thwacked the side of Ryouma’s head with an open hand. “What bullshit did you overthink yourself into instead of actually listening when I talked?”
“I listened!” Ryouma leaned out of range, rubbing his stinging ear. “He’s not making me feel ashamed. And we haven’t actually talked about keeping things quiet, it just… seemed like the thing to do.”
Hakone blew a sharp breath out through his nose. “Right. How could I forget you have a gaping sinkhole where your sense of self-worth should be?” He shoved his hair back from his forehead, drained the last of his beer, then smacked the glass on the table and stared Ryouma down.
“I don’t know what mental acrobatics you went through to get from, ‘my officers are still hot even though I’m seeing someone’ to ‘I’m stupid and I don’t deserve him.’ But stop it. There are three things I want you to do. Ask your new guy if he wants to go public, and if he doesn’t, ask why not. Decide if you want to go public, and if not, why not. And stop calling yourself names. Clear?”
“Yes.” Ryouma made himself meet Hakone’s level dark gaze. No looking away, no tracing wet beer-rings on the tabletop. He’d asked for this. He could listen.
He could already think of half a dozen reasons not to go public. Raidou’s strict moral boundaries, the fraternization rule Ryouma’d never actually read, the village’s whip-crack rumor-racing, Kakashi’s terrifying medic friend, Kakashi’s terrifying Intel friend, the Hokage—
But they could talk it over. Decide if this was just the sort of thing friends sometimes did, or if it was something tentatively, overwhelmingly more. Decide if it would last long enough to define. Whether Kakashi would change his mind.
Panic surged at that thought, quickly stifled.
Which… said something about what Ryouma wanted, maybe.
He lifted his glass, and found it empty. That, at least, was something he could fix. He pushed back his chair. “Another round?”
“Another round sounds good.” Hakone handed Ryouma his empty glass to take back to the bar. “And how about some yaki onigiri this time? Probably ought to get some edamame, too, so we can say we ate a vegetable.”
“They do tempura-fried okra,” Ryouma suggested, and laughed when Hakone didn’t bother to hide his disgust.
“I know being fried in batter and served with dipping sauce can make most things palatable,” Hakone said, “but not that. Tempura okra is like fried snot.”
“Well, the Pig’s okra probably is, but I had some once in Mangrove Country that was pretty good. And I had a slice of sea slug in Water Country that was pretty much like snot. Including the taste.” Ryouma’s nose wrinkled at the memory. “Both my officers liked it, though.”
“Yet you still want a threeway with them. No accounting for taste.” Hakone lifted a hand to forestall argument. “Go, beer boy, my glass isn’t getting any emptier.”
Ryouma sneered at him, but took the glasses to shoulder his way through to the gathering throng. He returned with another two half-liters: the lager Hakone’d had last round, and a darker amber ale with a foamy head. “Last one on tap,” Ryouma said, setting it down. “It’s called Buzzed Bear. Not sure if the bear’s drunk, or getting beestung, or crossed the wrong barber. Your onigiri’s coming.”
“You want to try the Frostback this time? It was pretty good,” Hakone said. “Buzzed Bear is what we were drinking when you got here and didn’t notice I’d bought a pitcher of the good stuff.”
Ryouma gave the glass of ale a second look. “Huh. Is this one worth nine hundred ryou?”
“I think so, but you tell me. You already had some, remember? You probably just couldn’t taste it through your emotions.”
Ryouma gave him a deeply hurt pout. “I didn’t cry on your shoulder or anything. Yet.”
“So tears are coming. Good to know.” Hakone took the Buzzed Bear and let Ryouma have the lager. “Let’s see if I can prime the pump. Do your officers know you want to sleep with them? And that you think they’re sleeping with each other?”
“No-o?” Ryouma’s voice stretched into uncertainty. “I mean, Taichou does. Did. But I’m pretty sure he thinks it’s over. Which it is! Mostly.” At least he was being honest with himself. “Gen— The lieutenant doesn’t. Fuck, I hope he doesn’t. I don’t think he’d teach me if he did.”
“He wouldn’t teach you if he knew you had a crush on him?” Hakone frowned. “Why? I mean, I can see him being awkward about it. The guy seems like the awkward, earnest type. But ANBU needs field medics. Sumeragi-taichou gripes about us not having one on our team all the time. If you have aptitude and willingness, I can’t see him turning you down for training because you might make longing eyes at him.”
“Genma wouldn’t be awkward,” Ryouma protested immediately. “I mean, he was in running shorts and flip-flops and Taichou’s paint-covered shirt when we ran into him in the conbini this afternoon, and he still pulled it off.”
Lieutenant wearing his captain’s shirt: maybe there was something to Ryouma’s suspicion about his officers.
“Though that might’ve been the hangover,” Ryouma muttered thoughtfully. He took a drink of his lager and wiped the foam with his wrist. “You’re right about earnest, though. Worse: he’d be kind. He’d try to let me down gently. And then he’d avoid changing in front of me, or closing the door when the two of us are in a room alone, or touching me. And he’d feel guilty if he forgot.”
“So he’d make you feel awkward. Got it.” Hakone pushed the plate with the last yakitori skewer towards Ryouma, to make room for the crispy pan-fried onigiri and bowl of soybean pods the server brought. “But he’s not doing that, so it’s not an issue. He’s teaching, you’re learning, and you’re keeping your bedroom fantasies to yourself.”
That left one member of Team Six Ryouma had been carefully avoiding bringing up. A member he’d brought to Hakone’s door for sartorial help. And with whom he’d had a full-on battle over an issue that Hakone still didn’t quite get. If Hatake wanted to piss off Sagara and get himself suspended, that was a problem for Team Six, but not something Ryouma needed to be personally invested in. (Although when had Ryouma shied away from being personally invested in anything?)
And then there were the tearful cries of apology. Multiple sources had been clear on what had happened after Ryouma and Hatake had destroyed their team’s office door, if perhaps a little emotionally exaggerated for the sake of drama. Hakone hadn’t witnessed it, so it wasn’t proof, but one party storming off after a bitter fight, while the other gave chase, wailing apologies, had ‘lovers’ quarrel’ written all over it.
And this morning someone very good at chakra concealment, who maybe didn’t want anyone to know he and Ryouma were doing the deed, had been hidden under Ryouma’s bed or in his closet or somewhere.
Hakone weighed his phrasing for a moment, but ended up with just, “So you and Hatake…?”
Ryouma flinched. And then grabbed the skewer of yakitori and tore savagely into the meaty morsel like he was too hungry to properly respond. Which in itself was a response. Ryouma was an exceptional shinobi with solid concealment skills when he was on the job, but right now…
Ryouma swallowed his bite and met Hakone’s eyes in a belated bluff. “We apologized. Like real grown-ups.”
They could play cat and mouse a while longer, or Hakone could just cut to the point and get Ryouma talking. “And kissed and made up, also like real grown ups.”
For half a transparent moment, Ryouma looked like he was going to deny it. But a complex mixture of guilt and relief washed over him, instead, and he bowed to the inevitable. “When did you know?”
And there it was. Score one for the ‘ask the question like you already know the answer’ technique. Hakone’d learned that one in childhood, at his father’s knee.
“I’ve had my suspicions since you and he borrowed my shirt. Which I want back, by the way. I was pretty sure after I heard about your fight. But I didn’t know for certain until you confirmed it just now.” He shrugged when Ryouma scowled. “You know me well enough to know my ‘pretty sure’ was going to turn into ‘definitely’ the next time I saw you with Hatake. Don’t beat yourself up for confessing. And don’t worry, I’m not going to say a word to anyone. Even Ayane. Especially Ayane.”
“Ayane and I aren’t— anything. No expectations, no obligations.” He dragged a finger through a wet ring on the table, head bowed. “We did talk about it, at least.”
“I know.” Hakone stripped a trio of beans out of their bright green shell and popped them into his mouth. “I was there for at least one talk. But I figured it’s still your business to tell, not mine. And she is my oldest friend, so if I was going to tell anyone, it’d be her.” He reached for another pod. “And I’m not going to. But you might want to at least let her know if you’re getting serious with someone, even if you don’t tell her whom.”
Ryouma groaned, dragging a hand over his eyes. “I know. I will. It’s just— Hell, Hakone, this is brand-new. Like…” He counted rapidly on twitching fingers. “Ten days, and I’ve spent all but one of ‘em on the road or in debrief.”
Ten days put Hakone’s earliest suspicions before anything had happened. Interesting.
It also put nearly all of Ryouma’s ‘a few times now’ squarely in the middle of their mission.
Hakone shook his head. “No wonder your officers were pissed at you. Multiple varieties of extracurricular activities. Or did you manage to throw them off the scent of the one thing by doing the other?”
“I didn’t murder a man to cover up fucking another, if that’s what you’re asking,” Ryouma said stiffly. “I murdered him because his daughter asked and he deserved it.” He remembered to lower his voice before any heads turned, but he was damned lucky it was noisy in the Green Pig. “And the officers don’t know. Kakashi knows about Taichou but not about the lieutenant, though if you can guess he probably can too.” He downed a good third of his beer in a long gulp. His eyes glittered dangerously in the low bar light. “Changing your opinion now about how fucked up I am?”
Navigating Ryouma’s moods was always a little like chakra walking on white water. Hakone sighed, reached across the table, and thwapped Ryouma’s ear. “What did I say about trash-talking my friend?”
Ryouma blinked and sat back, at least momentarily snapped out of his death spiral of self castigation.
“Do you actually think I was judging your choices here?” Hakone asked. “I mean, I was, a little, but not the way you think. You want to sleep with Hatake and he wants to sleep with you, great. Have fun. You want to keep it a secret? That’s between the two of you. You want to do heavily inadvisable things on a mission? Also your call to make. I’ll be pissed at you for about five minutes if Ayane comes whining to me she heard it through the grapevine you were unavailable for her stress relief, but even that’s not really my business.”
He picked up the thick triangular rice ball, but didn’t take a bite. “I was just asking if your officers knew what was going on with their rookies, which it sounds like they do not. But they aren’t stupid, Ryouma. I wouldn’t worry about Shiranui figuring out you want to blow him, but I would worry about Namiashi figuring out about you and Hatake before you tell him, since it sounds like he’s occasionally got a plank up his backside about rules and regs.”
“Plank? He’s got the whole damn fenceline.” Ryouma rubbed his ear once more and dropped his hand back to the sticky table. “But you’re right. Taichou… He said, our very first day on the team, that same-rank liaisons are allowed but not encouraged. Particularly not within our own team.”
He’d wound it up in a speech about respecting your teammates’ boundaries and requiring consent, and Ryouma and Kakashi had done that. They’d talked, they’d tested, they’d traded fears and honesty. On the shore of the tanuki’s pond, and in the woods outside Tanigawa, and in the rainy forest after meeting Team Nineteen.
Every time Ryouma asked, Kakashi met him, already offering.
Raidou wouldn’t necessarily see that, though. He’d see Ryouma screwing around and screwing things up; he’d see Kakashi killing Nomiya because Ryouma wanted it. And he wouldn’t be wrong, but would he see deeper than that? Ryouma hadn’t, at first.
“So there you go,” Hakone said bracingly. “Allowed but not encouraged. Good enough. It’s allowed, and unless you give Namiashi a damn good reason for it, he shouldn’t interfere. But finding out because it causes some kind of issue might be the kind of thing he’d see as a damn good reason.”
“Yeah.” Ryouma searched for support in his beer glass. “I get that. I wouldn’t blame anybody for getting pissed off, if it caused an issue.”
But Kakashi said it hadn’t. Kakashi said he’d made his own choices. And since then…
“I’d’ve punched Kakashi in HQ even if I hadn’t slept with him,” Ryouma decided. “I mean, I punched him the first time we met, so it’s not an issue. And him punching me back was just self-defense.”
“And the continued punching that led to the need for your officers taking up drunken carpentry?”
“That… might have been an issue. But Kakashi apologized today. For the insubordination, not officially the door.” Neither of them had apologized for that, but the officers hadn’t asked, so did it really count? “Taichou accepted the apology, anyway. And the lieutenant is maybe getting a cat summons, so they were distracted.”
Hakone didn’t quite choke on his beer. He dabbed at a few spilled drops. “A cat summons? Now? Isn’t he kind of old to just be getting a summons?”
“Apparently it was his grandma’s, and they lost the contract when she died. But then they… heard about the lieutenant, from, um, some kind of summons gossip vine. Some of Kakashi’s dogs are really talkative.”
Pakkun might never forgive him for that betrayal, but Kin would understand.
“Anyway, this cat shows up last night, says she’s tracked the lieutenant down and now she needs to judge if he’s worthy to renew the contract. And if he eats enough mouse livers. Which is maybe another reason why he’s still drinking.”
The Judgmental Face returned in full force. “Eww.”
Ryouma snickered into his beer. “Fukuchou wanted Kakashi’s opinion on whether summons are a good idea, or something, and then they tried to get us to help with drywall — or maybe scared us off with threat of drywall — but I think my point is, they didn’t act like they suspected anything. So they probably don’t. ‘Cause otherwise Fukuchou would’ve been asking us about more than summons, right? They just wanted to know if we got arrested. How come everyone thinks I’d sleep with an Uchiha to get out of jail?”
“Because you would sleep with an Uchiha to get out of jail,” Hakone said mercilessly. “Tell me I’m wrong.” He bit into his onigiri. “As I recall you actively attempted to mislead me into thinking you were sleeping with an Uchiha to get out of jail this very morning. Honestly, given the relationship between Hatake and the Uchiha clan, don’t you think that’s a little… tacky?”
He hadn’t actually thought about that at all. “You’re the one who brought up the Uchiha holding cell. I was just trying to get you to go away.” He split an edamame pod and squished the plump green beans out onto the table. “Which is pointless now that I’ve told you everything anyway. Maybe I should sign up for a torture resistance course after all.”
“Going out for beer with me is torture? I’m wounded, Ryouma. Deeply wounded.” Hakone finished his onigiri. “So wounded that I’d make you buy the next round except you already said you would anyway.”
“Just a scratch, then.” Ryouma flicked a bean across the table.
Hakone snagged it out of the air over his mostly empty beer glass, dropped the bean on the floor, and shoved his chair back. “I’m going to leave you alone for three minutes to think about what you’ve done while I piss.”
Ryouma waved him off, waited until Hakone was halfway across the floor, and flicked the next two beans accurately into his glass. Then he went back to the bar to order another round.
And to think about what he’d done.
He didn’t, despite everything, regret saying Yes to Kakashi. Not that night by the tanuki pond; not that morning in his own bed, or on his knees by the bathroom sink, or back in his room in the lazy golden light of afternoon. But that was just sex. Good sex, sure; Kakashi’s laughter, and his teeth, the dense pressure of his chakra and the low growl in his voice when he said Ryouma’s name. But sex with Ayane had been good too, so what was different there?
It wasn’t just the difference in their bodies, surely. They were both strong, lean-muscled, intent. Ayane’s waterfall of black hair, Kakashi’s silver rooster-comb. The lushness of Ayane’s mouth, or the dry, fuzzy press of Kakashi’s mask—
But Kakashi had taken down his mask. He’d trusted Ryouma to keep his eyes closed, and he’d kissed Ryouma, open-mouthed. He’d sat next to Ryouma in the sunlit grass on Inokosaka Island, and he’d talked about his sensei, and his father, and his Uchiha friend. He’d lowered his walls before he ever lowered his mask, and he’d let Ryouma in.
“Hey,” the bartender said. “Are you taking these or not?”
“Yeah,” Ryouma said, dizzily. “Sorry.” He collected the glasses and wove his way back. Hakone had returned to hold his old glass up to the light and stare distrustfully at the beans inside. Ryouma traded him for the new beer, patted his shoulder, and went past him to the bathroom.
There was another man at the urinals, a chuunin Ryouma vaguely knew. They politely ignored each other. He left while Ryouma was still washing his hands. That gave him the space to meet his own gaze in the cracked, grimy mirror, and keep trying to think.
He was beautiful. He’d known that since he was fifteen, a chuunin just off the front lines. His commanders wanted his jutsu; his comrades wanted his body. Only a few saw more than that.
Hakone had, but men didn’t interest him; he liked Ryouma for his jokes and his stories, for watching each others’ back on a mission and sharing a beer afterwards. Ayane… might have, but if she saw more, she never said. She’d helped Ryouma write out all the medical terms he knew, and she’d called him a good distraction, and she’d left in the morning before he woke.
Was that what it took to make the difference?
Kakashi hadn’t wanted Ryouma at the start. He’d… grown into it, maybe, after he’d already seen the worst of what Ryouma had to offer: the unsteadiness, the need, the gaping sinkhole of self-worth. And he’d looked beyond that, anyway.
Your worth isn’t your jutsu. It’s the mind that created it.
“He probably doesn’t even care that you’re pretty,” Ryouma told his reflection softly. He considered how he felt about that. “Maybe a little…”
He dried his hands, and went back into the bar.
“I was starting to think you’d ditched me,” Hakone said, when Ryouma finally sat back down. “Maybe beers with me is torture, and I should just accept the inevitable: someday I’ll turn into my father. I already have his hairline. Or is it just all the fried food catching up to you?”
“Aren’t you a little young to be worrying about hair loss?” Ryouma peered at Hakone like he was trying to see through the fall of Hakone’s hair.
“It’s never too early to start worrying about hair loss.”
“I thought your dad’s was mostly from scarring, anyway.” Ryouma hesitated. “Uh. No offense meant.”
“How dare you notice my dad’s extremely visible scars?” Hakone chuckled. “It’s not like he tries to cover them up. But I meant I have his hairline from pictures of him before his injury.” He shoved his hair off his forehead to reveal a distinctive widow’s peak. “He still has hair though, where it wasn’t burned away. So there’s probably hope for me.”
Ryouma toyed with an edamame pod, flipping it and catching it end over end. “How come you’re talking about him now? You never did before. We didn’t even know your family name until Trials. I thought maybe you didn’t have one.”
Hakone shrugged one shoulder. “It’s harder to hide it when half of ANBU insists on calling me by my clan name. And I guess it’s not such a big deal, now. I’m in. If people want to think I got here because of nepotism, not skill, that’s their prerogative to be wrong.”
Ryouma’s edamame pod stilled, then resumed its somersaults. “You were worried about nepotism two years ago in Bungobashi?”
“Not exactly?” Hakone blew a short breath out his nose. “I… When I was still in Academy, other kids started avoiding me because of my name. First it was because of my dad’s face. Then it was because of his position. Teachers treated me differently, too. So when Dad got made Director, I decided I’d just go by Hakone. Lots of people in the village have only one name. I mean, look at the Sannin.”
“I get that.” Ryouma watched Hakone. “You want to be known for who you are, not who people think you are.”
“Exactly. You’re not just a slutty freak who can rot people with his bare hands, and I’m not just the head torturer’s kid.” Hakone grabbed a small handful of the edamame before Ryouma made them all into toys. “Besides, I like my dad. I’m proud of what he does for the village. People don’t really see him for who he is, either.”
Ryouma tried to stand an edamame bean on end. “It’s like we’re all hiding our real selves in the leaves, or something.”
It took a moment for Hakone’s well-beered brain to process that. “Oh. Like Village Hidden in the Leaves. I get it.” He laughed.
Ryouma didn’t join in, though. He looked up from his bean architecture and said, “But you’re facing yourself, now.”
“Wait, are we doing sincere drunk tonight? I can do sincere. I kind of started it.” Hakone set his beer down with a burble of suppressed amusement. “Ryouma, my good man, I sincerely like you, even when you’re being an emo twit, or hiding your love life from me.”
An alarmed edge crept into Ryouma’s voice. “It’s not love!”
Hakone waved a non-apology.
“You’re a good friend,” Ryouma said more quietly. “Thanks for sticking it out with me tonight.”
“You were buying,” Hakone pointed out. “But if you want to thank me for something, thank me for waiting 45 minutes for you to get here. I might be torture to get beers with, but I enjoy hanging out with you. So put that in your sinkhole.”
Ryouma blinked, and completely failed at biting back a raunchy grin. “I just want you to know that I thought of three jokes about putting things in holes, and I’m not saying any of them. Just for you. That’s how grateful I am.”
“I appreciate your sacrifice.” Hakone raised his glass in a small salute. “Also, I don’t really want the details on your not-love-life. I mean, I like to know the who and the why, but please continue to spare me the how.”
“You seem to manage the how pretty well on your own, by all accounts.” Ryouma picked up his beer. “Do you have any new stories to tell?”
“As a matter of fact,” Hakone said, “I do.”
Ryouma seemed to have bounced back from his latest trip to his personal abyss without a hair out of place. That was possibly the fastest Hakone had ever seen his friend descend and recover, which said something. Hatake was a sharp-tongued asshole who didn’t tend to bother with normal human niceties, but this ill-defined, clandestine, non-love-affair situation seemed worth watching. Maybe it would even be good for Ryouma.
For now, Hakone went along with the pretense that everything was back to normal, and launched into a narrative of his last three weeks, starting with Nakamura’s Creative Accounting vs. Ushiro-fukuchou’s Deplorable Literalism.