September 8 – 9, Yondaime Year 5
A day of sleep followed by a night of additional sleep left Genma feeling better rested than he had in weeks. It didn’t hurt that Raidou and Kakashi were safely back behind Konoha’s walls, and Kakashi was, according to Raidou, discharged from hospital and on his way to recovery. The thing that really settled Genma’s mind and proved life was starting to approximate normal again, though, was team practice.
Raidou was generous to his sick-listed teammates, and scheduled it for well after dawn. Even so Kakashi was late, but both officers let it slide with little more than a lifted eyebrow and pointed glance at his watch from Genma, and a faint scowl from Raidou. Ryouma had only barely made it on time himself, with hair still damp from a pre-workout shower. Raidou tipped his head at Genma and stepped back, leaving Genma to lead today’s exercise.
“I can’t take a hit yet,” Genma told them, “and Hatake can’t use chakra or hold a weapon safely, so taijutsu, ninjutsu, and kenjutsu are all off the table. Instead, today we’re doing yoga.”
“Hatake also can’t balance on his hands safely, so…” Kakashi piped up, “Permission to sit by the juice boxes?”
“Permission denied.” Genma shook his head. “I know your restrictions and limitations. I won’t have you do anything you shouldn’t be able to do.”
“Don’t mind me,” Kakashi muttered. “I’ll just be doing Panting Wolf on my face.”
“If something actually hurts, just tuck yourself into the Seedpod pose,” Genma told him. “But you can at least try to follow along.”
“As soon as I get a third eye installed, I’ll keep it open for enlightenment,” Kakashi promised. But he did, reluctantly, settle into a loose posture, ready for instruction.
Raidou rolled his eyes, but with a flash of amusement despite Kakashi’s vague insubordination. He bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, eager to get moving.
Ryouma, who’d joined Genma for daily yoga while the other two were away, had already assumed a serene attentiveness, waiting for Genma to choose the first pose.
“Greet the day,” Genma said, “and then we’ll start with Willow in a Breeze.”
He led them through a series of warm-up moves, and then got down to business with the real workout. By 0730, they were sweaty, tired, a little out of breath, and very limber. And Kakashi had only resorted to the Seedpod a couple of times.
Ryouma sat up from their final cool-down pose and stretched luxuriously. The hem of his t-shirt rose with his shoulders, sliding reluctantly over damp, tan skin. “I have to get to class,” he said, “We’re doing visceral injuries today.”
“Go.” Genma sat up, too, and waved a hand at him. “Don’t be late. I’ll meet you at noon to go over your new homework with you.”
He and Raidou sent Kakashi home to recuperate, along with a generous allotment of sports drink packs in several flavors. “Even I’m starting to think of them as ’juice boxes,’” Genma said.
“At this point you should probably just give up and accept the inevitable,” Raidou told him.
“And be laughed into an early grave next time I go to the QM to resupply and ask for them that way.” Genma shook his head. “Guess there are worse ways to go. Here,” he held out a watermelon flavored drink to Raidou, “have a juice box.”
“If it tickles the QM that much, the man is not getting out enough,” Raidou said. One straw jab and three loud slurps was all it took for him to empty the container.
Genma handed him another one. “Before we get to fun things like paperwork and supply management, you got a minute?”
Raidou’s focus sharpened immediately. “Of course. What’s up?”
“Well…” Genma took a breath. “Judging by the lack of any awkwardness from Tousaki, I’m guessing Hatake hasn’t spilled the beans about us and Kurenai yet.”
Raidou nodded slowly. “Seems that way.”
“I’m thinking it’d be better to get ahead of this before it turns into something—” Genma mimed a small explosion between his palms. “I could talk to Tousaki today when I meet him for lunch and homework. Unless you want to be there, too. But you and he have some complex history.”
“He’s already picked up on something between me and Kurenai, and tried to save me from myself and certain ruin at her hands,” Genma said. “So it’s not going to be a complete surprise. Or at least that part isn’t.”
“Certain ruin?” Raidou echoed, baffled but amused.
“She’s in Intel, she’s from an important clan,” Genma said, ticking Ryouma’s points off on one hand. “And evidently, where Kakashi is a knife, she’s, in Ryouma’s words, ’a sharpened corkscrew.’” Genma smirked. “He suggested rock-climbing without chakra, or testing all the poisons in the lab as safer alternatives to flirting with her, if I needed an adrenaline rush.”
It took Raidou a moment for all of that to sink in. At length he said, “The more I get to know Tousaki, the more I realize that he is a deeply weird man. He does know that we — him included — are ANBU, right? Adrenaline built in?”
“He actually called me out for being as reckless as the rest of you over this, so I think he realizes,” Genma said. “He just thinks I hide it better. I didn’t disagree.” He laughed. “I wish you could have been there. It was a sweet moment of bonding.” He chewed the senbon that had somehow found its way back between his teeth when their yoga ended. “Hope this revelation doesn’t ruin it.”
“If it does, then our foundation wasn’t much to begin with,” Raidou said, with a wry twist of the lips.
Genma nodded. “I think — well, hope — you’re right. You probably are.” He slid his foot across the grass to touch toes with Raidou. “Besides, I already did the actually scary part of all this and successfully flirted with both you and Kurenai.”
“Are you sure?” Raidou asked, with ironic eyebrows. “Maybe Yuuhi just maneuvered you into thinking you flirted, and she really rigged the game from the start.”
Genma shrugged. “If she did, it’s worked out well for me so far.” He tossed Raidou a grin.
“And me.” Raidou’s answering laugh kindled a bright spark somewhere below Genma’s solar plexus. Raidou stood, stretching. His sweat had dried a bit, and his shirt rose more easily than Ryouma’s. Genma stayed where he was in the grass, admiring the delicious view.
“This was a nice warm up, but I need to do some real training,” Raidou said. He offered Genma a hand up. “Want to join me?”
Genma let Raidou pull him to his feet. “As long as we’re careful of my spleen, I’m game for anything.”
“How about a run?” Raidou suggested. “I always need to work on my long-distance, and your tender bits stay safe.”
“I really appreciate how you take care of my tender bits,” Genma said, and almost managed not to snicker at his own joke. He locked amused eyes with Raidou. “All I have to be is showered and ready to meet Ryouma by noon. Plan our route and post-run time accordingly, Rai.”
Raidou flashed him a sharp little grin. “Of course, lieutenant. I’d never make you late.” He took off at a brisk pace from their training field into the surrounding woodlands, and then to a steep and slippery path, heavily overgrown and littered with roots where it wasn’t shattered shale and spring-fed mud. A seldom-used path away from Konoha, that became more secluded with every footfall.
Raidou was a good planner of both route and time. And more than careful with Genma’s tender bits. They were finished in plenty of time for Genma to meet Ryouma for lunch, freshly scrubbed and smelling faintly of the jasmine green tea soap Ryouma had given him for his birthday.
By pre-arrangement they met at the bento stall across from the outpatient clinic entrance. Genma’d already decided on combo three—a variety of pickled and prepared veggies and seaweeds surrounding a beautiful slice of smoked trout atop rice—when he caught sight of Ryouma and waved him over.
“How was class?” he asked, stepping aside so Ryouma could peruse the display case.
“Kawasaki-sensei spent the first five minutes ribbing me for missing two days, and the next twenty grilling me for details about what we did. Except I’m not sure what’s gonna end up classified and what’s not, so not much I could really say.” Ryouma studied the offerings for a moment before pointing to one. “The karaage combo bento for me, please,” he told the stall-owner. While she wrapped it up for him, he resumed his story to Genma. “Pretty sure at least a couple of the younger kids think I killed someone, on the one week I haven’t.”
“Ironic,” Genma said with a laugh. “But you can’t control other people’s imaginations. At least not without a genjutsu.” He paid for his own bento and a can of cold barley tea, and led the way towards the riverfront park. “I suspect a lot of it will be classified, but Kawasaki-sensei might be able to get a waiver to hear at least some of the details. If they figure out how to replicate the technique you used, they might even end up teaching it to all the higher-level medics and field medics. Although I hope it’s not something anyone ever needs. But think of the applications to more conventional chakra poisoning.”
“I’d actually been wondering, sort of, if I could figure out a way to reverse the effects of my Nikutai Tokasu,” Ryouma said. “Like if I hit someone accidentally, which I’ve always had nightmares about. Maybe I could suck it back into me…” He flexed hs free hand, looking down at it like he could see the chakra surging through the coils beneath the flesh. With his coursework’s intensive anatomy study, he could probably picture them almost textbook perfect. “Seemed a bad idea to experiment with, though.”
“I’ll be honest,” Genma said. “’I’ve wondered the same thing. Not specifically filtering it like you did for Hatake, since we didn’t know that was a possibility until now. But I’ve put some thought into whether there might be any way to reverse it once the jutsu is burning through a victim’s chakra system. Short of amputation, anyway, like with Fukuda.” He didn’t add that he’d considered the specific case of Ryouma going rogue. Those fears belonged to his darkest moments, and mostly to months past.
Ryouma shook his head. “It’d eat through anything you did with chakra. That’s what it’s made for. It only doesn’t eat me ’cause… well, ’cause I got lucky when I was figuring it out, I guess.” He gave his hand a dissatisfied scowl and shoved it into his pocket. “Wanna eat over there?” he asked, tipping his chin at a little bit of green space with benches and trees near the waterfront.
Right where the Obon festival had been held, where Genma’d had his first date with Raidou and Kurenai. Wasn’t that appropriate? What had Genma been thinking, aiming them for this particular piece of waterfront? But the benches were unoccupied and shaded by leafy cherry trees, and the river sparkled prettily in the midday sun. “Sure,” he said, swallowing apprehension about conversations to come. The current one still had plenty of meat to it, after all. And it was much less troubling, at least in some ways.
They mirrored each other at either end of the bench, one knee drawn up onto the seat in a half-lotus, the other leg dangling, with their bento and drinks between them on the bench slats. “You don’t know what it is you’re doing to stop the jutsu backflowing into your system?” Genma asked. “Is it like with a katon? I guess I don’t really think about how I stop the fire from backburning, either. I just do it. Like how you don’t think about how you walk.”
“I had to think about how to walk when I broke my knee,” Ryouma said indistinctly, around a mouthful of broccoli. “I could cripple my chakra system an’ then re-engineer how to make it work again…” He waved a hand when Genma started forward in protest. “That’s a joke, lieutenant.”
“Not a funny one,” Genma said. “Please don’t pick up Hatake’s bad habits.”
Ryouma shook his head. “I’ll work with the hospital to figure out how the oystering works, and if other people can do it.” His face settled into something almost stony. “But I’m not sharing the Nikutai Tokasu.”
Ah. The perpetually sore subject of Ryouma’s jutsu.
“No one’s asking you to,” Genma said. “Or at least I’m not.” He held Ryouma’s gaze for a moment before turning away to look at the sunsparks playing on the water’s surface. “I’m honestly not sure I’d want to learn it even if you did want to share it, given what it does to your chakra, and what we’ve learned about Iebara’s jutsu.”
“Well, at least it doesn’t make me crazy,” Ryouma said, easing up a bit. “Just sexually insatiable. Also a joke,” he added hastily.
“Uh…” Genma snared his thoughts before they vanished down that treacherous rabbit hole. “Who knows how sane you’d be if you’d never invented it. Maybe you’d be the sanest, most boring jounin in Konoha.”
But there was his opening. Sort of. If they were going to talk about what he’d actually brought them there to talk about, he ought to bring it up before their lunch boxes were empty.
“Um.” Genma took a steadying sip of tea. “I… There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about, though. Besides your jutsu and your homework, I mean.”
“Hmm?” Ryouma looked up, with chopsticks still in mouth. He pulled them free and hastily swallowed his bite of karaage. “Sure. What’s on your mind?”
Genma rubbed a hand over his chin, pulling at the faint prickle of fresh beard stubble. No way out but through. The same mantra had seen him through terrifying moments during the war, steeled his courage before treacherous missions. This was just a conversation with a fellow ninja. A subordinate on his team. But Ryouma was more than that. Over their several weeks of study together, they’d become something like friends. Or were on their way to friendship, in any event. And this was a bridge on that road; one that Genma might be about to take down as thoroughly as Usagi’s exploding tags had destroyed Mist’s aqueduct.
The growing worry in Ryouma’s dark eyes loosened Genma’s tongue. “It’s nothing you’ve done. You’re not in trouble or anything,” Genma said. “It’s something I did. Am doing. I— You remember when you warned me away from Kurenai?”
Ryouma’s eyes narrowed as his worry took on a different shape. “Yes. And you said you knew what you were doing.”
“Well. Yeah. And I do know what I’m doing. So, I’m seeing her.” He hesitated a moment, then plunged ahead. “And also, uh… So is Raidou. I mean. I— we’re…”
Ryouma waited for a second, for Genma to spell it out. When Genma didn’t, he said carefully, “So she’s seeing both of you. And you and Taichou… Are you okay with this?”
Genma winced and shook his head. “This is coming out wrong. What I mean is, Taichou— Raidou and I are seeing each other, and we’re both dating Kurenai.” He let the rest of a held breath go through his teeth, and waited for whatever was going to happen next.
“Oh.” Ryouma was quiet for a long moment, then he set his bento aside on the bench, carefully, and stared out at the river.
Genma’s heart thudded against his ribs in the stillness. He realized he had a death grip on his can of tea, and made himself set it down.
When Ryouma finally turned to look at him, it was with an unexpected, rueful smile.
“Well, I can’t really fault you or Taichou for judgment,” he said. “Maybe you can keep each other safe from Kurenai.”
Genma blinked, unprepared for such a mild reaction. “Yeah. Strength in numbers, right?” He shrugged, cautiously relieved. Ryouma hadn’t yelled or stormed off or called them all hypocrites. He didn’t sound exactly thrilled, but he seemed to be… supportive? Maybe?
“But she’s really not as scary as you think. She’s caring. Tender, even. And thoughtful. So is Raidou. We considered it for several weeks before we… Started anything. Konoha comes first. The team comes first. And they know I’m talking to you about it.”
“Oh,” Ryouma said again. “Did you— Were you worried I’d cause problems?”
“I was worried you’d be angry, or I don’t know. Upset. After all the emphasis Taichou’s put on boundaries,” Genma said. “Which doesn’t mean we don’t have boundaries now. We do. Big ones, between who we are on duty and who we are in our free time.” He took a breath and plunged ahead. “And I was worried you and I— I don’t have so many friends I can afford to lose one without it really mattering.”
Ryouma’s dark eyes flashed. “So long as you’re not kicking me off the team, you’re not losing me,” he said, as adamant as steel.
Relief washed through Genma and left him unaccountably tired. He smiled at Ryouma. “Thank you.”
Ryouma seemed tired, too. He heaved a sigh and leaned back on the bench, fiddling with his chopsticks. “I mean… I don’t blame you for worrying. I had that… thing with Raidou last year, and… Well, I haven’t always managed to stay professional.” His cheeks colored a dull red. “But, look: you and Taichou work well together,” he said, lifting his head. “Not just as teammates. Off-duty, too. I thought maybe there was something between you this summer, when we were working on your loft, but Kakashi said— Anyway.”
“He— Kakashi said what?” Genma asked. “You’re not wrong. The attraction was there, but we hadn’t— we didn’t act on it. Then.”
“Yeah, that’s what Kakashi said.” Ryouma’s gaze tracked a dragonfly hovering over the water’s surface for a moment, then his head snapped up, eyes riveted on Genma. “Does he know?”
Genma winced. Why hadn’t it occurred to him until now that this was going to be part two of the awkward conversation? “He does,” he said slowly. “Not because we told him. He sort of walked in on us the night he and Taichou left for their mission with Jiraiya-sama.”
“He didn’t tell me,” Ryouma said. He sounded almost hurt. “Guess he figured it wasn’t his business.” His gaze drifted back to the river, unfocused.
Considering how close Kakashi and Ryouma had grown since Katsuko’s departure, maybe it felt like a betrayal of trust.
“He hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to tell you,” Genma pointed out. “Seeing how seriously he was injured and everything. But he did tell Taichou it was his and my business to tell you, when they were on their mission. I mean, they talked about it then because it had just happened. I didn’t tell you while they were gone, because…. Well, just because, I guess. It didn’t feel right.” He shook his head. “I guess we were hoping to keep our personal lives personal for a little longer…”
Genma glanced at Ryouma, who was still staring across the water, and sighed. “So now you both know.”
“I can understand that,” Ryouma said. “Wanting to keep it personal. Not knowing where it’s going, whether it’ll last, whether bringing it out in the open will make things change…” He looked away from the river, finally, and give Genma that wry half-smile again. “Sorry, Fukuchou.” He sounded genuinely apologetic. “If Kakashi told Taichou he’d keep it secret, he would’ve kept his word. You didn’t have to tell me.”
“Well, I—” Genma started. He made himself take a breath. “Thank you. For understanding. For obvious reasons I—Raidou and Kurenai and I—hope this doesn’t change anything for us. But…” He shoved a few escaped wisps of hair out of his face. “It didn’t feel right to not tell you. Not with Hatake knowing, even if he’d have taken the secret to his grave. We’re teammates, you’re not some outsider.”
“Somebody on this team should be having hot threesomes. Congratulations on making it you.” Ryouma picked up his lunch again, with a determined show of nonchalance. “You’ll speak up if you ever want to really put that orgy loft to use, right? Maybe when Kurenai’s away.”
Genma choked on his own saliva. “You— I—” he cracked a sharp laugh. “I’d mention boundaries, but that seems a little absurd given this whole conversation.” He reached for his own lunch, aiming for the normalcy Ryouma seemed to be trying to reclaim. “If I were really going to do that, why would I leave Kurenai out of the fun? Or you mean only invite you if scary Intel lady isn’t there?”
“I’m much more fun when I’m not terrified,” Ryouma said with a firm nod. He plucked up a bite of karaage and chomped it down, then went for another bit of bright green broccoli.
“Fair point,” Genma said. He tucked into his own bento, flaking a bite of trout free from the filet. They ate in companionable silence for a bit, settling into the new shape of the world where Genma’s secret was out.
When their boxes were nearly empty, Ryouma put his chopsticks down. “Fukuchou?”
Genma turned to look, but Ryouma was still watching the river. “Hm?” He scooped up a last bite of kinpira gobo.
“I hope it works out for you.”
“Thanks,” Genma said, unexpectedly warmed. He smiled down at his empty bento box. “So do I.”
“How does that feel?” Daitan-sensei asked.
“It hurts,” Kakashi said.
“Okay, and if you spread the fingers out?”
“Still hurts,” Kakashi said.
“More or less?”
“About the same.”
“Make a fist. How about now?”
“Hmm. Touch your thumb to your pinky?”
There was a pause while Kakashi made a few faces and shook his hand out.
Daitan made a note on her chart. “Interesting. Closing motions seem to be the worst. Any cramps?”
Kakashi pressed his fingertips to the table and eased some weight onto them, stretching his palm. “A few.”
“You’re taking your supplements, right? Getting enough potassium?”
“Hm. Well, I still think it’s just a matter of time.”
“How much time?”
“Depends. You’re doing your stretches?
“Three times a day?”
“And no jutsu?”
“No.” He missed his dogs.
“Well, keep at it. You’re making improvements.”
On a molecular scale, maybe. In the real world, he was still dropping mugs. Kakashi sighed. Daitan, being an astute and caring soul, made a sympathetic face and got out the big elastic bands to torture him some more.
Physical therapy ended with a paraffin wax soak and acupuncture, which left his hands soft, full of tiny holes, and temporarily pain-free. Kakash celebrated this by going up to the Hokage Monument and taking a nap in a sunbeam. After that, he met with Akimichi Nomikomu, his prescribed nutritionist, who lectured him (again) on the importance of protein and gave him more supplements.
Then he had lunch, with supplements, and did more stretches.
Then he had a few options. Find and bother Rin, except that she was probably in the middle of life-saving surgery. Find and bother Minato, except that he was definitely busy running a village. Find— well. Naruto was still in school. Ryouma was in class. Jiraiya had already skipped town. Who knew what he’d find Genma and Raidou, plus or minus Kurenai, up to?
Obito wasn’t the best company, but at least he was always free.
Ryouma’s class broke up by mid-afternoon most days. Kakashi wandered that way, but stayed out of sight until the excitable younger people had dispersed. Ryouma hung back to ask the teacher a few questions, as he usually did, then stepped out of the room with an idle, habitual chakra flick.
Kakashi, who’d left his own chakra open by necessity, was located immediately. He eased out of his protective hallway and offered a quick wave. “Learn anything fun?”
“Spent an hour on sucking chest wounds. Mostly we learned how to get out of the way for a more experienced medic.” Ryouma’s dark, sharp eyes swept from Kakashi’s hair to his booted feet. There wasn’t a lot of difference between a shinobi’s and a medic’s once-over, except the end result. They both hunted for weak spots. “How was your evening with Hokage-sama and the kid? You looked pretty drained at practice this morning.”
“Naruto tried to feed me,” Kakashi said. “He’s still mastering chopsticks.”
Ryouma winced. “Any new puncture holes under that mask?”
“Come find out,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma blinked at him.
“That was an invitation for handless sex,” Kakashi said. “Well, on my side. You can still use your hands.”
Ryouma cracked a laugh, surprise and delight making him younger. “Is ‘handless sex’ the new way we’re desrcibing blow jobs, or were you thinking of something else…? Let’s get out of here.”
Kakashi’s laugh was softer, held behind his teeth, but just as real. It was a quick journey back to the ANBU dorms, and a diverting, distracting afternoon of new positions.
“The lieutenant told me,” Ryouma said, a long time later. “About him and Taichou.”
Since Ryouma was naked and sweat-soaked and reclined on Kakashi’s bed, it took Kakashi a minute to focus on what he was actually saying. When the information made it through the sleepy, satisfied fog, Kakashi lifted his head and blinked. “What’d he say?”
“They’re both dating Kurenai. And each other.” Ryouma folded an arm underneath his head, looking up at the ceiling. His gaze was unfocused — probably not looking at the stain near the light fixture. “Still pretty new, I guess, but not just a one time thing. They’ve been quiet about it ‘cause they wanted to keep things personal. But since you knew, he figured I should too.”
“So much for blackmail opportunities,” Kakashi said. He quirked the corner of his mouth when Ryouma cut him a sharp look. “Kidding. Did he tell you how I knew?”
Ryouma didn’t look angry, but sometimes the warning signs were hard to spot until the ground started to rumble.
“Said you walked in on them together the night before your mission. And that you told Taichou it was their business to tell me.” Ryouma’s expression shifted — unreadable at first, then more ironic. “I did know already you keep your promises.”
Kakashi relaxed. Not quite all the way, but enough to settle back down against Ryouma’s side, head propped on the heavy ridge of collarbone. “Feel okay about it?”
There was quiet for a while, which Kakashi recognized as Ryouma trying to pull order out of spirals. He stayed silent, content to wait it out.
Okay was probably one of the feelings stewing inside, but Ryouma might easily reach a hand into the pot and scorch his fingers on something else: guilt, a little regret, two different kinds of jealousy…
He’d kept the lid on so far. He could, he recognized, continue keeping it there. Let all the prickly raw emotion simmer into something shapeless and stodgier, more easily discarded without examination. Much better than the eruption everyone else seemed to fear from him — though what was there to erupt, anyway? Who was there to be angry at? What reason did he have to feel hurt? He’d been through this already, when he first admitted to Kakashi that tangled mess of desire and denial.
Talking things out had helped, then.
Maybe it still would.
“I’m glad for them,” he said. He felt the skeptical twitch of Kakashi’s brow against his skin. “Honestly, I am! Well, not about Kurenai, she’s still terrifying, but Raidou and Genma’ve wanted each other since that day Genma told us about his summons. Maybe before, I don’t know.” He brooded briefly over this. “And it’s just — stupid, obviously, to wish that if they were gonna look for somebody else — and of course there’s no reason they should, even though they don’t know about us — but, y’know, there was still a possibility. And now there isn’t.”
That made just about as much sense coming out of his mouth as it did in his brain. He thumped his head back against his bracing hand. “You can still change your mind on me, if you want. That’s the advantage of not telling people. You won’t have to admit you were wrong.”
Without lifting his head, Kakashi reached a casual hand up and smacked the side of Ryouma’s jaw. Then shook his fingers out, as if they stung, and tucked his hand down against Ryouma’s chest again. “I’m not breaking up with you because you have emotions. Continue.”
“They’re stupid emotions,” Ryouma said. He scowled at the ceiling. “The lieutenant called me his friend, and said he didn’t want to lose me over this, and that felt — pretty great and pretty awful, at the same time, because what kind of asshole would drop a friend over something like this? And everything feels like that. I didn’t tell him about us. Some part of me wanted to, and part of me was jealous they don’t have to hide, and part of me felt kinda sorry for him because they don’t get to just keep it to themselves anymore. They’ve got all this pressure now of trying to prove it won’t affect the team — you saw how Genma thought twice before he let Raidou give him a hand up at practice this morning, right? And maybe that’ll change things. Maybe they’ll decide it won’t work after all, when it’s not just between the two of them. Three of them.”
Silence eddied for a moment. Kakashi’s breath warmed his skin, unfiltered by a mask. Fingertips tapped thoughtfully against Ryouma’s ribs.
Then Kakashi lifted his head. His Sharingan eye was still squeezed shut, but his open eye met Ryouma’s unhesitatingly. “I have a couple of thoughts. Do you want problem-solving or reassurance?”
“I’m pretty sure the solution is ‘get over it’,” Ryouma said. “Can I have them both, just in case?”
Kakashi sat up.
Ryouma propped himself up on his elbows, too, unsure if this was a conversation that required getting out of bed or putting on more clothes. But Kakashi just scooted back against the headboard and pulled Ryouma into his lap. Gentle fingers carded through Ryouma’s hair, only a little clumsy.
Ryouma told himself the motion was probably therapeutic for Kakashi. It wasn’t wrong to accept.
“First of all,” Kakashi said, “I think you need to accept that you find authority figures sexy and your default is to want to sleep with them.”
“I don’t always—”
“Ssh.” Kakashi patted his head and continued over him. “Second of all, I don’t fully understand your feelings for the captain and lieutenant, but I don’t think you do, either.”
That was… true. Unfortunately.
“My guess is that since you’ve known them for more than five minutes and like them as people, you feel guilty about turning them into sex objects — or unworthy of being their sex object, I’m still working that out. But now that they’re sleeping with each other and Kurenai, you’re mad at them and worried about them — which is unnecessary, by the way; Kurenai’s got more emotional intelligence than the rest of us put together. And if you still want to sleep with them, or occasionally think they’re attractive and translate that into thinking you want to sleep with them, or… tangle your value up in being a sex object and now think you’re worth less to them even though the point of being on the team is as a ninja, not for sex—”
He paused. Caught his breath. Ryouma was holding his.
“Anyway, that’s more guilt-inducing because you’re also sleeping with me.”
“We talked about that,” Ryouma muttered into Kakashi’s thigh. “I want you. Not just ‘cause I can’t have other options.”
Kakashi petted his head again. “Yes, I know.”
All right. So long as he did. Ryouma relaxed, a little.
“Taichou’s right,” Kakashi admitted. His fingers returned to their slow combing through Ryouma’s hair. “Relationships on a team are messy. But he’s also a giant hypocrite, so. Anyway. For solutions — ignore their relationship unless you want to try and join it, which I think is a bad idea while you’re still on the same team. Focus on the rest of your first year in ANBU, since it’ll define the rest of your career. And stop deciding you’re a terrible person and I should leave you, because that actually is stupid.”
“At least I was right about ‘get over it’.” Ryouma lifted his head, craning his neck to see Kakashi’s face. “How are you not jealous?” A terrible second later: “Are you?”
“Of them? No.” Kakashi wrinkled his nose. “But I just don’t see them as a threat. If you wanted to sleep with someone else… Maybe. Probably. Depends on the person.”
“Oh.” There was a low, pleasant warmth in the pit of his belly, and a surging nausea higher up. He struggled back to his elbow. “It’s…a little reassuring, honestly. I mean, I’d just feel more awful if I was over here dripping all— this over you, and you didn’t care.” There was no danger of Kakashi being too inhumanly, perfectly forgiving. The real fear was that it wouldn’t matter to him because Ryouma didn’t matter. “But I don’t want to, to upset you, either. I don’t want to try and join their relationship, really. Not in the way I want to be with you.”
Kakashi lifted an eyebrow. A little of the familiar sharpness returned to his voice. “What do you want?”
He’d been unhesitatingly honest already. Ryouma owed him nothing less in return.
“I want to be with you. And on this team. And in some fantasy world where I could get anything I want without consequences, I’d like the lieutenant to occasionally pat my head when I’m studying with him and tell me I’m a good boy and I can suck his cock. I’d like to get home from a hard mission and have the captain tell me I’ve done well and I’ve earned a hard fuck. And then I’d like to go ho— to go back to you, and have you fuck me till I forget them.”
He drew a measured breath. “But, like I said. That’s the fantasy world. I know I’m in the real one. And we’ll be lucky enough if all of us are still breathing this time next year.”
Kakashi blinked. The Sharingan eye almost opened, a glint of glowing red beneath the lid, before it squeezed shut again. His bare mouth looked strangely vulnerable, lips parted in a way that never showed under the mask. “I didn’t think you’d actually admit that.”
“To you, or to myself? I’m capable of some self-reflection. Before I squash it under guilt.”
Kakashi’s mouth tilted a little. He reached out and tapped his fingertips lightly on Ryouma’s cheekbone. The familiar thoughtful fidgeting, hands moving while his brain spun, except that his hand fell back to his thigh instead of staying to cradle Ryouma’s cheek. “And if you only have me — is that enough? Or are we just treading time until the team breaks up and you can chase the other two?”
Honest as a knife between the ribs. Ryouma flinched.
This felt like a conversation that required clothes, after all. Maybe armor. Ryouma sat up instead, moving slowly enough to signal his movements. He had to swing his legs off the bed but didn’t stand. Not yet.
“I… don’t know. That’s as honest as I can be to either of us. I want to tell you I know how to be loyal, how to be true, but I’ve never done it before. We’ve been together a month and a half, not counting the time we lost to the tanuki, and that’s longer than I’ve been with anyone. And I stopped sleeping with Ayane when you came along, so how can I say I’ll never change my mind about what I want? Except that…”
Except that no one else looked at him the way Kakashi did, past the glib jokes and the cocky grins and the great ass, and said Why do you think you’re worth less? No one challenged him the way Kakashi did, or made his heart hurt, or offered the safety and comfort to help it heal. No one did all that and had a body like glass and steel, and a wicked low growl that shivered down his spine and into his cock, and talented hands and bony elbows and dangerously sharp teeth.
No one else perceived him down to his bones, all the darkness and messiness and hunger and fear, and saw in him someone worth wanting anyway.
“I think,” he said slowly, “when we break up, it won’t be because I’m chasing people who don’t want me anyway. It won’t be because of anybody else. It’ll be because we broke something between the two of us that we can’t fix. But, Kakashi— I’ll always try.”
‘When’ struck Kakashi as pessimistic. They’d started this thing with the understanding that they could die tomorrow, so why not try? But that was a might, maybe, perhaps wouldn’t happen. Not a certainty. Not when we break up.
Then again, a smart man anticipated failure. And if Kakashi put himself under the microscope, he didn’t turn up much hope for a long, happy future. The lifestyle wasn’t compatible. Ask Kushina. Or Sakumo. Or anyone that wasn’t shackled to a clan and made to step back off the field when they got tied down.
Which left today. And the certainty that tomorrow was unknowable.
It was a freeing thought, in a morbid way.
It also made ‘I’ll always try’ seem sweet, if doomed. Kakashi caught up Ryouma’s hand, lacing his fingers between Ryouma’s long, calloused ones. Ryouma looked like he was braced for a flaying, which was probably because Kakashi had been silent for at least forty-five seconds.
“As long as you want me, I don’t care if you want other people,” Kakashi said. “If you sleep with someone else, I want to know about it. I might be jealous. I’ll probably be jealous, but that’s my problem, not yours.” He tightened his grip on Ryouma’s hand. “But if you sleep with someone who hurts you, I will hurt them. Badly.”
Ryouma, a little wild-eyed, quipped, “Pick your partners wisely; you may save lives?”
“Yes,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma sobered up. “All right.” He squeezed Kakashi’s hand back, hard enough that sharp, scalpel-bite pain coursed down the nerves. Kakashi controlled a wince. “That’s fair. More than fair. I can do that.”
“Good.” Kakashi extracted his hand, waited a moment to see if Ryouma would add more, and when nothing was forthcoming, tipped his head in question. “What do you need from me?”
A moment of hesitation.
“If I did sleep with someone else — and there’s no one else right now, ‘cause Taichou and Fukuchou aren’t options — would you want to know before, or after? You can have a vote to say no.”
Kakashi considered this. A future came to mind: Ryouma presenting choices for Kakashi’s inspection, those choices immediately fleeing for the hills. Or worse, Ryouma outsourcing his common sense to Kakashi, who could barely manage being in a romantic relationship, let alone judging the suitability of outside flings. “Afterwards. Your decisions should be your own.”
Ryouma looked at him for a moment — steady, searching. Whatever he was looking for he seemed to find, because he blew out a breath. “I’m not sure if that’s trust or— something even more terrifying. I’ll just have to trust myself, I guess. Much more terrifying.” He didn’t look terrified, though, if the slow growing smile was anything to judge by. “So I’d come tell you afterwards. With just enough detail to make you jealous, let’s say.” He leaned in, voice dipping to a lower, huskier register. “And then… you show me what jealousy looks like on you?”
A dark little thrill tightened in Kakashi’s chest. “You just want to be tied to a bed, don’t you?”
“Maybe when your hands work better. I figure you’d have some problems with knots right now.” Ryouma’s smile was definitely becoming a smirk. “Sakamoto Ginta offered to teach me shibari once. You could ask him for tips.”
A flicker of a growl edged around Kakashi’s vocal cords, before he could get it back under control. “I have books.”
“They make books on—?” Ryouma cut himself off, morphing surprise back into a smooth purr with admirable speed. “Well, book-learning can’t compare to field experience. You could practice on me.”
Kakashi smiled. “That was always the plan.”
Ryouma’s eyes, always dark, turned molten. He raked a look over Kakashi’s naked body which left goosebumps in its wake. “Until then, guess I’ll have to show off my field experience.”
He rolled them both over, and the last splinters of the uncomfortable conversation melted into mutual heat.
The afternoon drifted into evening, time lost in sex, showers, and a dinner that Ryouma made and Kakashi doctored with yet more supplements. They stretched together, Ryouma working on finger dexterity and healer forms, Kakashi just trying to regain function. A little before sunset, Ryouma complained about the air getting stuffy, and Kakashi let himself be dragged outside.
They wandered away from the ANBU barracks, taking no particular route, and ended up at the Hokage Monument. Below them, long fingers of shadow stretched over the village. On the opposite horizon, the sky over the forest was turning orange and pink. Rays of light caught in delicate wisps of cloud, turning them gold at the edges.
Ryouma whistled softly.
Kakashi said, “I’ll tell Minato tomorrow, if you want.”
“Tell him what?” Ryouma said absently. Kakashi studied the sunset for a beat. Ryouma’s eyes widened and he swung around. “I didn’t— I wasn’t asking— None of this was meant to pressure you into anything.”
“Well, obviously,” Kakashi said.
Kakashi looked at him for a moment. There was the obvious answer — Ryouma had said he was jealous of Genma and Raidou and Kurenai not having to hide. Forgetting, perhaps, that he’d already told Ayane and Hakone, and Kakashi had told Kurenai. But there was a better answer.
“So I can show you off,” Kakashi said.
“To the Hokage?” Ryouma’s mouth opened, closed, opened again. “He won’t be impressed. Or approve.”
Sometimes Kakashi really wanted to dig out Ryouma’s self-worth and club it over the head until it got the message.
“You’re wrong,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma flushed, hurt or angry, and Kakashi didn’t need a Sharingan to know the next thing out of his mouth would be cutting.
“No,” Kakashi said, holding up a hand before Ryouma could say anything. “You’re just wrong. Minato is my almost-family and if I think you’re worth showing off to him, we’re going to trust my judgement, not the voices in the back of your head. Second, I’m getting really tired of trying to convince you that you’re worth something and you not believing me. It’s horseshit. Your grandfather? Horseshit. Old teammates? Horseshit. Random fucking asshole ninja in the middle of a war? Horse. Shit. Stop listening to them and listen to me.”
Ryouma made an abrupt motion and swung away. His fists were clenched. The dangerous flush burned high on his cheekbones. He stared out over the village for a long moment, while Kakashi watched him tensely, then swung back, unclenching his hands and jamming them into his pockets. “All right. I’m listening.”
Well, the point had been kind of built into the statement. But okay. Here went nothing.
“You’re smart,” Kakashi said — snapped, really. He threw it at Ryouma like a kunai, and found himself with a whole quiver more ready to hand. “You’re adaptable, and curious, and kind. You’re a phenomenal assassin, and you’d be even better if you stopped letting your emotions trip you up. You’re driven and scary creative. You’re just the right amount of dangerous most of the time, and more than that when you get bleak. You make me feel actual feelings. You have no idea how good you are and it’s infuriating.”
Kakashi stopped to catch his breath. Kicked a stone off the edge of the Monument, watching as it clattered down the side of Nidaime’s giant stone nose. Fought the urge to kick several more, mostly at Ryouma’s face.
“You’re great with Naruto,” he ground out. “Who adores you, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed. My dogs love you, in case you hadn’t noticed that either. Minato chose you for ANBU. You’re already becoming a good field medic even though you can’t read. And I am not actually stupid, so if you could stop insulting my life choices that would be really helpful.”
Ryouma couldn’t have looked more stunned if Kakashi had actually whacked him with a fence post. His eyes were wide, lips parted on an unvoiced sound. It took him a couple moments to come up with words, and what he finally offered was: “Do you want to kick my ass into the training field?”
But — no. It might be cathartic for Kakashi right now, body humming like a tightening wire, but Kakashi wasn’t the point. Hurting Ryouma wasn’t the point.
Kakashi shook his head. “No. No distractions.”
“Okay. Yeah. I just thought— No. I get that.” Ryouma sighed and pulled a hand out of his pocket to rake through his hair. It fell back across his forehead in fine dark strands. “You make me sound like an actual catch. Without even mentioning my looks, which— I’m sorry. I should’ve expected more from you. Fuck, that sounds like an insult again, doesn’t it? I don’t mean—”
He turned away again. This time, he didn’t turn back, just stood there, one hand still hidden in a pocket, the other dangling loose and uncertain at his side. Kakashi heard him take a slow, steadying breath. “It’s just… You see me the way nobody else does. And it’s hard enough to believe anybody’d sign up for more than a great lay, once they see a bit more of me, but you’ve seen all the way through me. And you’re still here.” He half-turned his head, profile catching the light so that his skin turned gold at the edges. A man carved out of precious metal and misery, but trying to find his way, maybe, to hope. He chewed his lip, looking down at the Hokage’s palace in the deepening shadows. “Which should tell me something, I guess. I’m not that good a liar. And you’ve got a sharp eye. If you see something, maybe it’s there.”
Kakashi eased closer, joining Ryouma on the lip of the edge. Leaned a little weight against Ryouma’s shoulder, then a little more, when Ryouma leaned back.
The silence drifted between them. Not easy, but not brittle either.
“You’re not that good a lay,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma snorted and shoved his shoulder against Kakashi’s. “What do you know?”
Kakashi’s mouth tucked up at the corner. Hidden again, behind his mask, but he thought Ryouma was probably getting good enough at reading him to know it was there. “I have researched extensively on the matter.”
Ryouma snickered. “I do appreciate the results of your research.” He faded quickly back into silence, brows furrowing as he looked down at the palace. “If you still want to tell your sensei… What about waiting til next month? After my medic classes end, if I pass the assessments and get to start the practical field training component under Fukuchou. I’ll have… something real to be proud of, then. And we’ll have had a few more weeks together. We’ll know better how to make this work.”
Something real to be proud of.
Kakashi thought, ANBU.
Kakashi thought, Nikutai Tokasu no Jutsu.
Kakashi thought, walked back to Konoha on a broken knee.
Kakashi thought, put his bare wrist between a wolf god’s teeth.
Kakashi thought, how much difference is there, down in the bones, between ‘makes a great lay’ and ‘makes a great medic’, if all you see is the utility of the thing and not the person behind it?
Kakashi thought, does Ryouma know he’s not just a container to hold useful skills?
Kakashi looked down at his hands, laced with scars he’d made the Tanuki leave behind, and thought, do I?
You couldn’t win every war in just one battle. You couldn’t fix a life’s worth of damage in one conversation. Especially when you barely had any idea what you were doing. Especially when you were barely an example of an emotionally functioning human yourself, and it was probably a miracle you’d both limped along this far together.
“I can wait a month,” he said, leaning a little harder into Ryouma’s side. “I can cut him and you can heal him. That’ll really impress him.”
“Well.” Ryouma, daringly, wrapped an arm about Kakashi’s back, warm fingers curling over Kakashi’s opposite hip. They’d be a featureless silhouette to anyone looking up at them. “Exclusive front-row seats to a duel between the Konoha’s Yondaime Hokage and Sharingan no Kakashi: how could any man say no? And if I’ve got a month to practice, maybe I’ll even be able to carry on a decent conversation along with the jutsu.”
Kakashi smiled to himself. “If it helps, Minato’s only smooth when he’s talking to council leaders and foreign dignitaries. The rest of the time, he’s got cereal in his hair and Naruto underfoot and he barely knows what time it is.”
“And you’re never impressed by anything,” Ryouma said, sounding fond. “Wish I’d known that when we first met. I might not’ve tried — no, I probably would’ve tried harder to show off.”
Kakashi tilted his head. “You could have tried harder?”
Ryouma smirked. “I didn’t take you up on that offer for sex in the shrubbery, did I?”
“To your great loss,” Kakashi said, as if he wouldn’t have broken Ryouma’s jaw and bolted if Ryouma had shown an ounce of true interest.
Ryouma laughed. His fingers shifted and tightened at Kakashi’s waist. Long, calloused fingers that could span half the distance of Kakashi’s stomach and hold him still, if Kakashi let them. “That’s right,” Ryouma said, voice sliding low. “Guess I’ll just have to make up for it now.”
Kakashi glanced up. Tucked close like this, Ryouma’s height made a visceral difference. Made warmth twist low and dangerous in Kakashi’s belly, even though he knew he was perfectly safe. Made him want to stretch and flex and fight a little, force Ryouma to earn his place on top or have Kakashi snatch it away from him. Not a good idea, with Kakashi’s hands the way they were, but Kakashi could be creative.
Kakashi lifted on his toes to murmur in Ryouma’s ear. “If I can pin you, I get to ride you.”
Ryouma blinked at him, and Kakashi used the moment to slide free of Ryouma’s grip and start back towards their rooms, glancing over his shoulder to see if Ryouma was following.
Ryouma was right on his heels. “First time I’ve looked forward to losing a fight.”
Kakashi grinned and picked up the pace.