You’ve got your eyes on sharpened knives.
You’ll turn your friends to alibis.
I can see it, it’s inside of you.
I heard it in your voice last night.
You’ve got your eyes on sharpened knives,
and it’s cutting your life lines.
— House of Heroes,
It started with a song.
Kakashi dropped into Ryouma’s room to complain about something (the team, Minato, training, the universe at large), and the scratchy little bass beat on Ryouma’s plastic radio punched him in the chest.
He said, “What’s that?”
Ryouma cocked his head, listening for a moment. “Shuriken Force, Red Strings. Why, you like it?”
“No,” Kakashi said, and launched into his complaint, but his attention kept slipping sideways.
The next day, he found a brand new CD case leaning against his door. The yellow post-it note stuck to the front had someone else’s handwriting on it:
Hatake, Ryouma says you need this in your life. Personally, I think his taste is shitty, but enjoy.
The picture on the cover was a winter battlefield, with scarlet poppies instead of fallen bodies. A torn banner flew from an upstanding spear.
Kakashi thought, What do rock bands know about war?
But he took the CD inside.
Two days later, he bought a CD player.
A lot, it turned out. They knew a lot.
Kakashi’s musical education was a slip-stitched mess. He had a few childhood songs his mother used to hum at the kitchen table, old and slightly off-key, background sound to the glide of sharpening steel. And the terrible pop anthems Minato liked to inflict on captive audiences (read: his team, his son), sung at full volume with half the lyrics misremembered. Naruto had already picked up that habit, except his favorites were TV theme songs, like the opening to Captain Seaweed that Kakashi now had entirely memorized, down to the gestures.
Then there were the war songs.
Handed down from one trench-fighting generation to the next, meant to be sung in the dark and the cold, when your breath misted on the air and dawn was still far away. They were all about pretty girls and boys left behind, or the noble, blood-soaked ways ninja died for each other. Like Aiko’s Heart, which was a ballad about a chuunin who cut her heart out rather than be taken prisoner and used against her shinobi lover.
When they weren’t about leaving and loss, they were about sex, like all good soldier songs. Some of those you could even sing in the daylight, when there was running and work to be done.
Ryouma’s music was different.
The first two songs, Kakashi didn’t like. They were slow and floating, a chorus of harmonized voices sliding over intermittent drums and thin guitars, and he didn’t get it. He almost reached for the off-button, planning to return the CD player in the morning and mock Ryouma for his personal choices—then the third song came on.
It was the one he’d heard in Ryouma’s room, except this time he got to hear it from the beginning.
in the moments that left me behind
Kakashi sat and stared at nothing as one voice cut up alone, lifting above a heartbeat guitar. Drums kicked in, and other voices, an actual rhythm that dragged rough and raw, but it was the first voice that slid like a scalpel beneath his ribs and carved something out.
So boots and saddles, get on your feet
There’s no surrender, ‘cause there’s no retreat
The bells are sobbing in this monster land
We are the descendants of giant men
Kakashi thought, oh.
He stayed up half the night, listening on repeat.
Morning practice dawned misty and cool, and Kakashi missed his footing on a dodge that nearly got him pasted into the ground. Ryouma hauled him back up and said, “What’s with you today?”
Kakashi said, “Do Shuriken Force have more albums?”
Ryouma blinked. Then he grinned.
Hakone’s next post-it note said: Now I’ve lost all faith in your taste.
It was attached to four albums. Two Shuriken Force, one Strands of Life, and a black-covered album that just said Blind in stark white characters. Kakashi couldn’t figure out if it stood for a band name or an album name, but he rapidly stopped caring when he threw the album on and heard the lead vocalist sing like they wanted to set the sky on fire.
An evening lecture on poisons waited, a necessary extra credit to fill in the further education requirement he was already lagging on.
He stretched out on his bed, arms folded behind his head, and closed his eyes instead. Music painted new landscapes across the inside of his mind, filling the space where guilt usually liked to crouch, sharpening its teeth.
That night he slept deeply, and dreamed of different things.
After morning practice, Ryouma invited him out for coffee, bought himself a black with four sugars and Kakashi a hot tea, and said, “Well?”
“Shades of War was shaky,” Kakashi said, naming the second Shuriken Force album he’d listened to.
“It was their first EP,” Ryouma said dismissively. “What about Dog Days?”
“Hated the first song.” Kakashi felt his mouth twitch behind his mask when Ryouma visibly wilted, and relented. “But I liked the rest.”
Ryouma lit up like there was light being poured beneath his skin, eyes brightening with excitement. “Code Name: Raven?”
Kakashi hummed for a second, then sang low: “You’re the only reason I stayed/In this coward’s melee.”
A grin sliced across Ryouma’s face. “You did listen to it,” he said, surprised and pleased. He broke into the next part, quite a bit more tunefully than Kakashi had managed. “I’d rather die than live without mercy and love/ Sing while the city decays/ We’d rather go up in flames.”
“Cheerful song,” Kakashi said dryly.
“I like that it isn’t,” Ryouma said, curling both hands around his steaming coffee mug. Slower, quieter, he offered up the last line. “I’m on your side until my body drains of blood.”
“Were they soldiers?” Kakashi asked.
“Kei, the lyricist—he plays the bass—he was a genin in the war.” Ryouma took a sip of his coffee. “Saw action at Iwatobi bridge. His older brother died there.”
Kakashi leaned on his hand, fingers curling under his chin. “Maybe that’s why it feels familiar.”
A week later, distracted on the run home from a mission, Kakashi whistled a tune quietly to himself, and Katsuko said, “Hey, I know that.”
“So do I,” said Raidou, sounding thrown.
Katsuko threw her head back and belted out the next line, scaring a flock of birds out of the trees. After a beat, Raidou laughed and joined her, which was how they found out the captain could actually sing.
“I have a guitar at home,” Raidou explained.
“It’s like all my birthdays at once,” Ryouma said.
“Give us something else, sparkle-toes,” Katsuko said, poking Kakashi in the ribs
White Teeth Teens by Blind turned out to be equally popular.
Even Genma joined in, once Ryouma taught him the chorus.
The next post-it note was a lime green one, with Katsuko’s spiky handwriting scrawled across it: To continue your education, fluffers. She’d drawn a little smiley face, with Xs for eyes. Ryouma must have filled her in, traitor that he was.
The CD case was midnight blue, with a shattered glass pattern. Kakashi turned it over and read, Hime.
On the principle of fair play, he threw it on.
The lead singer was female, with a low, rolling voice like a leopard stretching.
roughing up our minds so we’re ready when kill time comes.
Wide awake in bed, words in my brain,
“Secretly you love this, do you even wanna go free?”
Kakashi played it again.
The day after, Kakashi tripped over a CD walking out of his room. When he scooped it up and flipped it over, frowning, he found an elegant cover with a modernist impression of a biwa on a deep red background. Gods of Shamisen. And another post-it note.
Save yourself, before it’s too late.
It turned out to be jazz with biwa, slow and melodic, with a single wavering singer gliding over intermittent plucked strings. Kakashi tilted his head, trying to figure out why, and almost jolted off the bed when a frantic bass line kicked in.
He taped the CD to Hakone’s door, with his own post-it. Too late.
Konoha had three music stores. One that sold instruments and music lessons, staffed by serious men with serious hair reigning supreme over a motley crew of small children and tortured instruments. Kakashi gave that one a wide berth.
The second had a curtain of hanging beads over the door, and the air smelled strongly of… herbs. He ducked in anyway, just to see, and spent a fascinating hour listening to a group of young adults argue about the merits of hemp and wheatgrass juice, while something upbeat and dirty played over the store speakers.
He walked out with a faint headache and gnawing hunger pangs.
The third store was tucked behind Silver Street, thankfully next to a tiny takoyaki stand (he’d never wanted to eat fried foods more in his life), and there was only one person behind the counter. A tall, dark-skinned women with her hair twisted into hundreds of incredibly intricate braids, dyed blue and purple. Silver shone in her left eyebrow and the center of her lower lip, putting Kakashi in mind of Ryouma’s glinting nipple-ring.
She glanced up when he hovered in the doorway. “Dude,” she said, like it was its own single, self-contained phrase.
Kakashi raised one hand and tried, “Hi.”
“Love the hair,” she said. “You looking for something?”
The walls were painted black and crowded with posters, most of them pasted over each other, like a living history of music. He spotted one that said STRANDS OF LIFE in bleeding blue characters.
A little reassured at something familiar, he ducked in and went to the counter, laying out two Shuriken Force CDs (not Shades of War), the one copy of Blind, and Hime.
“I want more like this,” he said.
She picked up Dog Days, turning it thoughtfully over between purple-nailed fingers. Then she tapped Blind and grinned. “You’re Handsome’s project.”
“I forget his actual name, Handsome works well enough. Y’know, tall, pretty, cheekbones." She made an expressive gesture and slid out from behind the counter, walked down past a long, colourful stack of shelves. “Been in two or three times, lookin’ to educate his deprived friend. Brought the grouchy fella with him, and the firecracker girl once.”
Hakone and Katsuko.
“His project?” Kakashi said.
“Who needs lots of help,” she said cheerfully. “He told me that you were to be pitied, not blamed. I guess wee ninja don’t get tunes in their winter festival gifts? You’re more with the stabbing and murder.”
“My captain plays the guitar,” Kakashi said defensively.
“Bonus,” she said, and picked four CDs off the shelf, ducking back around behind the counter again. “Good news is, you’re never too old to find something you love. Try this one.” She flicked a silver CD into the store-player, selected a track, and leaned on her elbows, watching Kakashi’s face.
It started with strings. Then violins, a man’s sliding-rough voice, and a scorching bass beat.
Except the moment I decided to move on and I ignited,
Disappear into the fear
You know there ain’t no comin’ back
When you’re still carrying the past
Kakashi exhaled. “Who’s that?”
“Diamond Son,” she said. “Want another?”
Send me on my way still smiling
Maybe that’s the way I should go
Straight into the mouth of the unknown
He spent the entire afternoon in Oka’s store, and insulted her about nine times, which she seemed to find hilarious. They shared three bamboo boats of takoyaki covered in sauce and bonito shavings, and she asked what he was hiding under his mask, which he ignored.
They listened to a lot of music.
He hated Amaryllis and Blowfish-and-the-Brains, and couldn’t work up more than an ‘eh’ for Mourning Side. Terminate and Seven Nation Stand were only okay. Acid Hounds gave him a headache.
“Picky, picky, picky,” Oka murmured, and pulled something off a back shelf. “How about Shutdown Assassin? They’re a classic, one of Handsome’s old favorites.”
He’d seen Ryouma in a Shutdown Assassin t-shirt once, worn faded and thready with years of love.
“Yeah, okay,” he said, and sat on the counter, legs dangling, while she cued it up.
It wasn’t… nice music.
The beat kicked in first, low and throbbing, undercut by the stamping rhythm of marching feet. Sliding knife-steel, then the guitar, someone screaming, and finally the singer, slow and almost gentle.
Go back to sleep
Safe from pain and truth and choice and other poison devils,
See, they don’t give a fuck about you, like I do.
Count the bodies like sheep
Go back to sleep
“Too much?” she said, looking at his face.
Old favorite, Kakashi thought. Something Ryouma had probably listened to in the war, while he was learning to blend fire and water into a jutsu that melted flesh from bone. When he’d been sixteen and indestructible, and the whole world had probably felt like a slow-burning wasteland.
Counting bodies like sheep
to the rhythm of the war drums
“I want that one,” Kakashi said.
Oka’s pierced eyebrow flicked up, but she put the album on the slow-growing stack, where it joined another Hime CD, a new band called Chalk Outline (female band, who Oka described as Hime on steroids, just listen, thank me later), another Strands of Life album, and two from Diamond Son.
She put on Dog Days while he packed up and paid, to ‘mellow things out’, and hummed the high notes while Kakashi leaned half-lidded against the counter, tapping his fingers gently to the now-familiar beat. ‘By Your Side’ had become one of his favorite songs.
The bells over the door jangled faintly, but Kakashi ignored them until a warm shadow got into his personal space. Even that didn’t trigger much of a warning.
He tipped his head back, and Ryouma looked down at him, dark-eyed and oddly fond.
“I left you alone for a day,” he said.
“I found music,” Kakashi said, pleased with himself.
“And you smell high,” Ryouma said. He raised his chin, glancing at Oka. “Enhancing the experience now?”
She put her hands up, grinning. “He came in that way. Blame the neck-beards with beads and bongs. I just fed him. Knowledge and fried things, best of both worlds.”
“What’d you get?” Ryouma asked Kakashi curiously.
Kakashi slid the paper bag across. Ryouma made several approving sounds, leafing through the options — “Diamond Son, great band, I want to get tickets to them sometime,” and “The hell is Chalk Outline?” (“Awesome,” said Oka, “They’re awesome.”) — but his hand paused when he reached Shutdown Assassin.
“Huh,” he said, turning the case carefully over.
The cover was monochrome, with a knife laid over someone’s bared palm. Black flower petals slid down the blade.
“You sure you want this one?” Ryouma said.
Kakashi pulled the CD free from Ryouma’s loose grip and put it back into the bag. “I want that one,” he said firmly.
Something complex flickered across Ryouma’s face, too fast to catch without Sharingan help, but the corner of his mouth tilted up in a half-smile. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. You need an escort home?”
“I can manage,” Kakashi said with dignity. He collected his purchases and Dog Days, along with the other CDs he’d brought in, and nodded at Oka. “Don’t tell him his nickname. He’ll just preen about it.”
Ryouma perked up like a hound on the scent. “I have a nickname?”
Oka’s deep brown skin didn’t show much of a flush, but the elegant arches of her cheeks still heated a little. She gave Ryouma a glittering smile. “What’ll you pay me to tell you?”
Something warm rippled through Ryouma’s scent, like it always did when there were compliments on offer. He grinned slowly and leaned an elbow on the counter. “You won’t just give your best customer a gift?”
“This look like a charity?” Oka said, but she hadn’t stopped smiling.
Kakashi left them to their flirting-dance and slipped out, unnoticed, with his bag of treasure and a strange, prickling feeling in his chest. He felt vaguely like he should have opinions about Ryouma tom-catting all over his shiny new music-providing friend, but a) Ryouma did that with everyone, it was like his version of good morning, and b) Oka didn’t seem to mind.
Which, okay, he could fault her taste.
He strolled down the main streets, bag swinging from one wrist, feeling too lazy for the effort of rooftop running. Though he was still a little hungry…
A foot scuffed behind him.
“You know you’re going the wrong way home?” Ryouma said in his ear.
Kakashi blinked, and realized he’d meandered towards the park instead of cutting up and through the butchers’ district, to the rise that’d take him around the back route to ANBU HQ.
“I’m taking the scenic way,” he said. “Did you get your nickname?”
Ryouma grinned. “And better. I got yours.”
“As soon puberty kicks in, I’m sure you’ll be a contender. Any year now.”
Somehow, they wound up with their backs on the grass near a lazy bend of Konoha’s river, and watched the stars stitch themselves across a velvet sky. At Kakashi’s imperious command, Ryouma left and returned with pork buns, canned hot tea, and the wry desire to know if his lordship needed anything else...?
“A pillow,” Kakashi said. “Lie down.”
Ryouma stretched himself out, one arm curled beneath his head and one knee braced up, a can of hot tea balanced on his chest. Kakashi laid his head on Ryouma’s stomach, and then complained that Ryouma’s abs made a brick-pillow.
“If you don’t like it, you can move,” Ryouma said easily.
“Just bun me,” Kakashi said, holding up a hand for pork buns, which made Ryouma laugh and reward him with tasty treats.
Kakashi pulled the buns apart into warm, steaming pieces, performing the one-handed trick of no-face-here with minimal, reflexive effort as he ate. He sighed once, softly contented, feeling spoiled and pleased (and possibly a little chemically altered), and couldn’t come up with any reason to feel bad about it.
“Happy?” Ryouma said.
“Shh, you’ll ruin it.” Kakashi jostled his shoulders back against Ryouma’s side, getting more comfortable, and said, “Sing something nice.”
A laugh rumbled through Ryouma, low and lazy. He dropped a hand suddenly onto Kakashi’s head, palm gently curved, fingers combing through Kakashi’s hair. Kakashi went very still. Ryouma’s touch was tentative at first, but more confident when Kakashi didn’t pull away. Quietly, voice light on the evening air, he began to sing, “Be still…”
And Kakashi thought, I know that one.
And go on to bed
Nobody knows what lies ahead
And life is short
To say the least
We’re in the belly of the beast
Wild and young
Long may your innocence reign
Like shells on the shore
And may your limits be unknown
And may your efforts be your own
Ryouma wasn’t a flawless singer, his voice was rough and a little too low, shaky on the key, but he sang like he meant it. Like the music mattered to him and he wasn’t embarrassed to show it. It was a slow song, meant for piano and strings, as close to a lullaby as shinobi-turned-musicians could manage.
Half-lidded and warm, Kakashi relaxed under Ryouma’s hand and listened to him sing the dusk in.
One day you’ll leave
Fearlessness on your sleeve
When you come back, tell me what did you see
What did you see
Was there something out there for me?
Kakashi was a little embarrassed about it the next morning, when the cotton-mouthed hangover wore off, but not enough to actually say anything. Ryouma didn’t, either, despite having prime real estate for mockery right at his feet. He just looked dark-eyed and amused, and hummed while Katsuko beat the tar out of him in their daily round of taijutsu-torture.
That evening, Kakashi started to put on Chalk Outline for a first listen, and paused. He packed the CD up and left.
Ryouma answered the door with quizzical eyebrows. He was clearly fresh out of the shower, brown skin still carrying a sheen of dampness. A white t-shirt stuck to him, slightly too small, showing collarbones and strong, scarred forearms. His hair was tousled and gleaming, standing up like a black dandelion.
He smelled really nice.
Kakashi held up the CD. “Want to listen?”
Ryouma blinked once, and then he smiled, slow and sweet.
“Play it again.”
The note on Kakashi’s door a few days later was cause for some puzzlement. He studied it in the pre-dawn light, trying to draw some deeper meaning out of four words.
Don’t say no.
Maybe the terrible biwa music had finally cracked him.
Kakashi shrugged, crumpled up the note, and put it down to one of the mysteries of the ANBU mind that man was not meant to know.
When he got back from training, there was another note.
“Be more cryptic,” Kakashi said, scowling at the empty hallway, and made the executive decision to test his next mildly lethal booby-trap out on Hakone’s doormat. The man was probably just trying to get an obscure rise out of him. That was what came from being a torturer’s only son, Kakashi supposed. Normal hobbies were boring. Hakone probably didn’t get out of bed for anything less than a little mental anguish.
Kakashi crumpled the note and tossed it down the hallway.
Or meant to, except that Ryouma had snuck up on him like a cat, and Kakashi hit him in the face with a balled up scrap of lime-green heart attack.
Ryouma blinked. “Ow.”
“Oh my god,” Kakashi said involuntarily, which was at least better than yelping.
Ryouma blinked again, and then slow delight suffused his face. “Did I surprise you?”
“No,” said Kakashi, whose heart rate still needed to come down off the ceiling.
Glowing with the light of other people’s personal trauma—this was why Ryouma and Hakone liked each other, Kakashi thought darkly—Ryouma said, “Got a minute?”
Kakashi was tempted to say no, just to knock some of the bounce out of Ryouma’s step, but he remembered the note, and the last few weeks of musical truce-making had put him in a fairer frame of mind with regards to everything Ryouma-related. Plus Ryouma still hadn’t mocked him about the stoned-in-the-park thing. Or the snuggly-in-the-park thing, if it came to that.
“A minute,” Kakashi said, to establish a line was still there, and unlocked his door.
Ryouma followed him inside, looking around with the curiosity Kakashi’s room always seemed to inspire in him, despite the fact that nothing much in it ever changed. Most of the scenery was taken over with books and scrolls Ryouma couldn’t read.
“What’s up?” Kakashi asked.
Ryouma wandered to the windowsill, where he gave Kakashi’s plant an inquisitive poke. Ukki-kun protested the treatment by immediately losing a leaf. “We have some time off next week,” Ryouma said, because vague comments were apparently the order of the day.
Kakashi moved over to rescue his plant from more assault. “So?”
Ryouma picked up the leaf that had fallen on the windowsill, turning it over between long, brown fingers. He looked at it intently, not meeting Kakashi’s eye, and Kakashi blinked. Was he nervous? But Ryouma didn’t do nervous.
That was definitely fidgeting.
Now Kakashi was nervous.
“What?” he demanded.
“Shuriken Force is in Semboku next week,” Ryouma said abruptly. “For a concert. Hakone was supposed to go with me, but, well— I know it’s probably not your thing, but I’ve got an extra ticket.” He glanced at Kakashi sidelong, a quick flicker beneath dark eyebrows. “I thought, maybe, you’d want to hear the real thing.”
Now it was Kakashi’s turn to blink, blind-sided.
His first thought was: Hakone, you snake in the grass.
His second thought was: Crowds, noise, chaos.
His third thought was the tentative, hopeful look in Ryouma’s eyes, and the pressed-flat line of a mouth already expecting rejection.
“If I get stabbed in the back by a rock-crazed civilian, I’m going to blame you so much,” Kakashi said, before he could think better of it. “I’ve heard the rumors. They take drugs.”
There was the fractional pause that always followed whenever Kakashi said something particularly insane and Ryouma wasn’t quite sure whether to translate it as genuine paranoia or underhanded sarcasm, then Ryouma looked at him properly.
Kakashi tried not to fidget.
Slowly, Ryouma smiled, broad and still a little crooked, because even when he meant it he was never quite even. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll protect you.”
Somehow, that managed to be charming, ominous, and annoying all at once.
A fourth thought occured. “What do I wear?”
Jeans and a t-shirt, it turned out. Ryouma still had the old Shutdown Assassin shirt Kakashi remembered, malingering from his darker teenage days. Slightly too small for him now, but it fit Kakashi’s narrower shoulders just fine. The design appealed to Kakashi’s spare aesthetics: just the band’s name scratched out in white, jagged characters against a black background, with an abstract grey kunai drawn underneath. The material was soft and well-worn, clearly loved. So loved the design had cracked in a few places.
When Ryouma first saw Kakashi in it, his expression did something brief and complicated.
Kakashi still hadn’t firmed his opinion on Shutdown Assassin. Every time he listened to their CD it was like having distilled violence injected right into his bones, something ragged and raging, furious at the world and everything in it. He came away wanting to bite. The last time, he’d gone to the Forest of Death and hunted until he’d found something to kill, feeling the old, miserable thrum of the war in his blood.
He wasn’t sure he liked music that could reach inside his skull and twist his emotions until they twanged, but he couldn’t stop going back to listen again.
The jeans, at least, were simple. Kakashi had bought them himself. They were tighter than regular jounin-wear—though not nearly as tight as ANBU’s laminated pants—but the clerk had assured him that was the proper fashion. And there was still room for a few blades tucked into the waistband, which was what he really cared about.
Ryouma also had jeans on, low-hipped and loose (that clerk was a liar), held up by a battered leather belt. Boots, a slim-cut black tanktop, and an unbuttoned overshirt with rolled up sleeves and a rumpled collar completed the effect of someone who’d just rolled out of bed and hadn’t put any effort into his appearance, no really. It made him look entirely civilian, if you ignored the muscles and the sleek, unconsciously graceful way he moved, as if he trusted his own body completely. He’d done that thing with his hair, where it was messy in a deliberate way.
“Nice eyepatch,” he told Kakashi, glancing at the trade Kakashi had made for his usual hitai-ate. “Very pirate. Keeping the mask?”
“What mask?” Kakashi said blandly.
Ryouma gave the judicial nod of My Teammate Is Crazy And I have Accepted This Burden, and said nothing more about it, which Kakashi appreciated.
The run to Semboku was easy enough, even in tight pants. They arrived in the late afternoon, when the light was warm and golden and the shadows were already starting to stretch long. It was a simple matter to find the gig; they just followed the sound of screaming.
Crowds, Kakashi thought, as they drew near.
He’d not been wrong.
Leather and black clothes were a major theme, and multi-colored hair. Metal glinted everywhere: chains, studs, piercings. Apparently people could pierce anything. Kakashi saw a woman with stapled collarbones that made Ryouma’s single nipple ring look fluffy and tame.
The concert hadn’t started yet, but hundreds of people heaved and milled around a circular stage, where a group of technicians were doing complicated things to musical instruments and giant speakers. Setting them up, Kakashi guessed. The air smelled like trampled grass and fried food, sweat and hot leather, the complex infinities of people. But mostly, overwhelmingly of excitement.
Unsure of protocol, Kakashi glued himself to Ryouma’s back and followed his lead.
“We’ll stick to the edge,” Ryouma said, lifting his voice over the noise.
“You don’t want to see the stage?”
Ryouma grinned, a quick flash of white teeth. “Sure, but I’ll trade a good view for not seeing you shiv someone. Crowds can get handsy.”
Well, that was sweet and patronizing.
Kakashi wasn’t sure how often Ryouma got to peel away from ninja duties and actually do something loud and fun, but he suspected it wasn’t as often as Ryouma liked. Or, perhaps, deserved.
And there was a second thought: Hakone wouldn’t need to be babysat at the edge.
Kakashi snorted loudly and grabbed Ryouma’s wrist, cutting a sharp left and dragging Ryouma into the thickest part of the crowd. Ryouma stumbled, correcting instantly, and yelped, “Hey!”
He had to dodge around a burly, heavily muscled man dressed in leather pants, tattoos, and a frankly glorious mustache, which derailed his protest. Kakashi forged ahead between two kilted, laughing women—both covered in shiny piercings—and kept towing.
Ryouma caught up on the next step. “I take it back. Crowd’s got nothing on you,” he said, but he sounded amused.
“I want to see the stage,” Kakashi said. Beneath his fingers, Ryouma’s pulse beat just a tick above normal. Exhilarated, for a ninja.
It was a little like navigating through a battlefield, except less bloody and everyone actually wanted to be here. They made it to the thickest, rowdiest knot just as the warm-up act trooped on-stage, screamed “HELLO, SEMBOKU”, and proceeded to blow the speakers out, whipping the crowd into a new froth of excitement.
Bodies surged around them, pressing close in a wave of heat and sweat and elbows. More then one person had their arms flung in the air, doing the hip-rolling dance of no-actual-space-to-move. Kakashi could feel the beat deep in his chest, music pounding so loudly it reverberated off his skeleton. There was movement, scent and sound on every side, crashing against him like storm waves, and for a harassed moment he thought, Should’ve stayed at the edge.
His hand clenched tight on Ryouma’s wrist.
Ryouma stepped up against his back and put his mouth next to Kakashi’s ear. He had to shout to be heard: “This is Dire Wolf Mafia!”
“Is it?” Kakashi yelled back, inanely.
“They’re new. Getting good,” Ryouma informed him, helpful soul that he was, and then his free hand curled around Kakashi’s left hip. Kakashi tensed, startled, but Ryouma just splayed his fingers and rolled his chakra across Kakashi’s skin, where the gap between jeans and shirt left a strip bare. The energy was warm, balanced on the point between water and firelight, familiar from a dozen missions. Reassuring.
“Now who’s handsy?” Kakashi demanded, and felt Ryouma laugh against his back.
“Dance, Kakashi! You’re the only one standing still.”
Kakashi wouldn’t have called the crowd’s surging craziness dancing, but he was new to the concert idea. At least their standards were low. In front of him, a man with long green hair and a nose-ring swayed to the beat, sweat shining on his skin. Kakashi focused on him, eye narrowed, and mimicked. Tentatively at first, then with gathering confidence.
It wasn’t anything like sparring—too unfocused, no forms, messy. But there was one common principle, Kakashi found: body confidence. He knew how to move himself. Setting it to a rhythm instead of a target was just a different skill.
With Ryouma providing shelter from the worst of the crowd, Kakashi loosened up enough to sink into the music and actually enjoy it, finding the bassline in his hips, his shoulders, thumping down his spine. Ryouma already knew what he was doing—he moved loose and purposeful at Kakashi’s back, keeping pace with ease. When the song changed, Kakashi turned, tipping his head up to look at Ryouma’s face.
Ryouma’s hand stayed on his hip.
There wasn’t exactly space to dance apart, but that was still more familiar than strictly platonic teammates, and there wasn’t a stoned sunset between them as an excuse. Kakashi cleared his throat inaudibly beneath the rising guitars, and realized he didn’t mind it.
He hadn’t minded Ryouma touching him for a long time.
He was pretty sure he liked it.
Ryouma must have seen something in Kakashi’s face change, despite the mask. Dark eyebrows lifted inquiringly, but the middle of a screaming crowd was entirely the wrong place to declare, I think I’m having a radical paradigm shift, and Kakashi wasn’t sure how to say it anyway. Besides, Ryouma flirted like he breathed; it was practically his first language. Maybe this was just what he did at concerts?
No, Kakashi knew that wasn’t true.
They’d stopped dancing. Ryouma glanced down at his hand, as if he was noticing it for the first time. His fingers twitched guiltily, but he didn’t pull away. Instead, he leaned in, raising his voice, “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Kakashi said.
Up close, Ryouma smelled nice. He always smelled nice, when he didn’t smell like death.
He also didn’t look very convinced. Behind him, two women were dancing together, heads tipped intimately close. They moved like they knew each other down to the bone, communication so easy it didn’t need words. One of them had her hands looped up behind her partner’s neck. It made something wistful pull through Kakashi’s chest, because apparently radical paradigm shifts also made you a giant sap.
The beat kicked up and the crowd went with it, flinging their hands up and screaming. Kakashi stopped thinking. He could pull it apart later. They were here for Ryouma, and for Kakashi even, to move and dance and be young, surrounded by other young people, with no murder anywhere.
He caught Ryouma’s hand, which made Ryouma startle, and pulled him deeper into the crowd, where the thrumming energy was almost a living thing. Ryouma let himself be dragged, surprised and laughing, and didn’t take his hand away. This time they danced face to face, pressed close by other people, and Kakashi didn’t know why he’d been bothering to copy anyone else when Ryouma was right here, moving like a blade that knew how to cut through the world.
Dire Wolf Mafia played through their entire set, finishing to bone-shaking cheers, tossed out an appeal for people to buy their CDs, and trooped off the stage. Kakashi caught his breath in the ringing silence, half-deafened and electrified, impatient for the next thing.
The screaming went up a whole new level when Shuriken Force took the stage. Even Ryouma joined in, pitching his voice up to an elated roar. Kakashi’s eye went immediately to Kei, the bassist who’d lost a brother at Iwatobi Bridge. The man who wrote the songs. He was dark and slim, with hair that fell over one eye. He was also missing a leg, Kakashi realized, recognizing the limp.
Perhaps that was why he’d never made it past genin.
The lead singer, Kazuki, was built tall and willowly. He curled his fingers around the mic. “Semboku,” he said, and paused for the crowd. “We have a new one. Would you like to hear it?”
If Kakashi hadn’t been deaf before, he was now. Ryouma’s hands clenched on his shoulders, and excitement tightened in Kakashi’s stomach. Of all the new bands he’d tried, all the music he’d listened to, Shuriken Force was still the first that had reached out and knocked him sideways.
And now they were right there, nearly close enough to touch.
“This is called Shrine of Your Lies.”
To Kazuki’s left, the keyboardist set his hands to the keys and began to play, slow and dark, and Kazuki’s voice scraped low on the first notes.
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
It quieted the crowd.
On the second verse, the bass came in like a throbbing pulse, but it wasn’t soaring yet, wasn’t fire. It was the thoughts you had at three A.M., the darkest hurt in the night, the obsession the village carved out of them in blood and bone and starving loyalty.
Ryouma had gone utterly still.
And then came the drums.
Take me to church,
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life
It soared then, with the second guitarist adding his voice to the chorus, head thrown back while music poured out and Kei played the spine and soul. You almost couldn’t dance to it, and half the crowd weren’t; they stood spellbound. A few swayed in place, hips rolling, hands up. Ryouma was frozen. Kakashi couldn’t do anything but listen, feeling all the raw places inside that sat up and said I know that.
When it ended, he drew a single aching breath.
Ryouma slipped an arm around his shoulders, and Kakashi reached up to catch his hand. It was natural, somehow, to tangle their fingers together while the crowd came alive again around them, baying like hounds. Ryouma didn’t cheer, and Kakashi thought, You know too.
Of course he did.
Kazuki said softly, “That was for Haruto. Now, how about an old favorite?”
He plucked a chord on his guitar, strumming it until the music sang and washed over them.
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean
Amen. Amen. Amen.
They danced again after that, when it went more to rock and less to ruin, joining a thousand other bodies thrilling to an anthem that was just about this moment. Living, right now.
For the songs Kakashi knew — which was more than he expected — there was something extra special in being able to raise his own voice and sing along, joining in. Ryouma sang all of them, and did it well. His whole face glowed when Kakashi did, too, dark eyes dancing.
When it ended finally, after two encores and endless cheering, they were sweat-soaked, elated, and exhausted. Kakashi’s entire body felt like it was buzzing. His voice was hoarse, Ryouma’s was no better, and the world sounded like it was packed in cotton wool.
Ryouma grinned at him, breathless. “Want to get a t-shirt?”
“Yes,” Kakashi rasped.
They had to elbow their way through to one of several overwhelmed stalls, but they were able to find two different designs: Ryouma got an oldschool shirt, citing fondness, and Kakashi went for one of the newer, cleaner versions in a hoodie, liking the stark lines. There were CDs with the new song. Ryouma bought two, and Kakashi handled his like fragile gold.
“What next?” he said, ceding to Ryouma’s greater experience.
“Food,” Ryouma said. “Definitely food.”
There were food-carts ringed around the crowd, offering fried things and candy at prices that made Kakashi’s wallet hurt. Ryouma ignored those and, mercifully, sought a path out of the crowd and into Semboku City proper, taking them along a winding route through a half-dozen back alleys that edged, by Kakashi’s eye, most of the red light district. They landed at a tiny, grimy hole in the wall where Ryouma knew the staff by name, because of course he did.
While he ordered takeout, Kakashi collapsed gratefully on a wooden bench outside.
A moment later, Ryouma shoved an icy bottle of water into his hand and sat down next to him.
“So,” Ryouma said, sounding ever so slightly nervous, “what did you think?”
“I might have permanent hearing loss,” Kakashi said.
“Price you pay,” Ryouma said. “What else?”
Kakashi thought about it, trying to collapse a constellation of emotions into the singularity of a sentence. When that didn’t work, he gave up and said, “It was incredible. I think I’m broken forever. When can we do it again?”
Ryouma flung his hands up in the air, splashing them both with water from his own open bottle, and slumped joyously backwards on the bench. “Whenever you like,” he said. “As soon as I can get tickets.”
“Let’s see Chalk Outline next,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma laughed. “Hime on steroids?”
“In person, on a stage.” Kakashi mimed an explosion with one hand.
“That… is an amazing point.”
Kakashi grinned and settled back, cracking the cap on his water bottle. It was an easy, reflexive trick to drink without showing his face, and Ryouma didn’t try to look. The water was like perfect icemelt sliding down his sore throat, and he sighed relief. “Thank you.”
“Welcome,” Ryouma said, and dropped his arm easily along the back of the bench, behind Kakashi’s shoulders.
Kakashi glanced sidelong at him, but it was still comfortable between them, awkwardness worn away by sweat and movement and shared experience. Ryouma tipped his bottle up to drink and took it a little too fast, parched and eager; water ran out of the corner of his mouth and traced a shining line down his throat.
Distantly, Kakashi wondered what it would be like to put his mouth there.
“That first song,” he said.
Ryouma lowered the bottle and looked at him, sweat-gleaming hair sticking dark to his forehead. “The rip-your-heart-out one?”
That probably answered the question already, but Kakashi couldn’t help asking, “What did you think of it?”
Ryouma was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, resting the plastic bottle against one knee. Then he said, “Those last lines— Only then am I human. Only then am I clean. That was the whole song, for me. Sacrificing everything, and still hoping—praying—there’ll be a moment when you can find yourself human again at the end…”
“It made me think of the village, too,” Kakashi said.
Good god, let me give you my life.
He looked at Ryouma’s profile, cut out sharp and clean in the sodium-yellow glow of streetlights, and wondered, When did you get so articulate? But that was unfair. Ryouma had always been smart. Clever enough to create his own jutsu, quick enough to get into ANBU, strong, fast, and bright enough to keep up with Kakashi—and sometimes even beat him. Kakashi had just never realized he was thoughtful, too.
It made Kakashi wonder, sometimes, what Ryouma would be like if he could read. All the knowledge in the world to grasp, and Ryouma couldn’t even touch it.
Perhaps that was why music resonated so strongly. Kakashi had scrolls, research, biographies, even Icha Icha, and Ryouma had... this. Songs that, half the time, felt like direct access to the jugular of someone's most personal thoughts.
It felt a little like stealing now, to share them. But Ryouma had offered, and Kakashi couldn’t give them up now. He could only be grateful.
“I never said thank you, did I?” he said. “For letting me take Hakone’s ticket.”
“Hakone’d be the one to thank for that,” Ryouma said. “Except he’d tell you that you actually did him a favor.” Fondly, he added, “He has shit taste.”
Kakashi thought of the biwa CD. “True. And I’m not thanking him; he’ll just get smug.”
Ryouma’s arm was still resting on the bench behind Kakashi’s shoulders. He lifted his hand and ruffled Kakashi’s hair, rough and affectionate at first, and then… not quite so much. “Smart.” He paused, then said more aggrieved, “He didn’t even want to come in the first place, but he still made me buy him and his ladyfriend dinner at Haute Crouton for letting him off.”
“Didn’t occur to you to say no?” Kakashi asked, amused.
Ryouma glanced away. “Well… I wanted the ticket.”
The lighting wasn’t good enough to reveal a blush, but Kakashi didn’t miss the extra kick of scent that came from blood rushing to the skin. It made Ryouma’s cologne sharpen, undercut by the sweat of hard dancing. Neither was unpleasant.
Kakashi thought, Maybe it’s not just me.
He was highly aware of his pulse, suddenly, beating in his throat.
“Thank you,” he said, quieter.
“Yeah, well—” Ryouma began, and cut off short when Kakashi killed the space between them and leaned against his side. Ryouma went completely still—the careful, thinking stillness of a startled shinobi with excellent reflexes and no immediate idea about what to do with them—and then his hand settled on Kakashi’s shoulder. He let out a faint, shaky breath. “Thanks for coming.”
“It was fun and I wasn’t even disfigured for life,” Kakashi said. “Imagine my surprise.”
Ryouma laughed, ribs shaking against Kakashi’s side. He seemed taller up close, if that were possible, and solid in a finite, definite way, as if all that muscle and bone and killing power was carved out of the universe, instead of just a man.
Though even Kakashi would’ve been hard-pressed to look at Ryouma and see the killer tonight. Ryouma’s overshirt was rumpled, his tanktop was sweat-soaked, the carefully disordered hair was now a genuine mess. He looked tired and happy and just a little nervous, stretched out in a long, slouching line that made his legs go on for days, and Kakashi remembered he was only just twenty.
Which made him older than Kakashi, and still too young, somehow.
“I was thinking—” Ryouma began.
“Do you like me?” Kakashi said.
He probably could’ve been less abrupt. Ryouma flinched, arm tensing like a re-bar behind Kakashi’s shoulders. “Is that a problem?”
Ryouma wasn’t the jumpy type, but since their last trip down this road had ended with Kakashi attempting to beat Ryouma into the training fields with prejudice, Kakashi could understand the blood pressure spike. He wasn’t sure he could explain the change himself, except… he knew Ryouma better now.
He tipped his chin up.
“No,” he said. “It’s really not.”
Ryouma stared down at him, took a breath—and nearly levitated right off the bench when a grizzled greybeard in an apron leaned out of the tiny restaurant and yelled, “Tousaki, order up!”
“I—sorry,” he said, and went to deal with the food.
“No problem,” Kakashi said softly.
He curled his hands into fists. They were shaking a little, but it was getting cold.
“What is this?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve never had West Grass-style curry before? It’s better than what we get at home — has some actual kick.”
“I’m... noticing that.”
“I think I can see through time.”
The journey home after food started quiet and a little awkwardly. Kakashi shrugged into his new hoodie, which still smelled of plastic and other people, and Ryouma didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. The sky was star-studded now, clear and bright and lit by a fingernail moon. They were out of the city and back into the grassy plains, loping easily through the crisp night air, before the familiarity of running loosened them up enough to try conversation again.
Ryouma started first. “When you—when you said it wasn’t a problem,” he said, looking steadily at the horizon and not at Kakashi. “Is that just ‘cause we’re not gonna let things change?”
Kakashi heard himself say, “I wouldn’t mind change.”
Now Ryoma was looking at him, lit blue by cold moonlight. “I don’t know if you want the kind of change I’m thinking of. It’s okay if you don’t. If you just want to keep it at concerts and curry…”
“Or dating,” Kakashi said, because he was here now, already out on shaky ground, and no one ever won a battle they ran from. Then uncertainty bit him. “If you date. Do you date?”
He’d never seen Ryouma with someone for more than five minutes, now that he thought about it. He didn’t want that.
Ryouma drew a long breath, then let it out. “I was—thinking maybe I could try something new, too.”
That sounded like a yes.
Kakashi blinked at the new, slightly terrifying shape of the world, and made sure. “That’s yes. You said yes, right?”
“That’s a yes. If you want it,” Ryouma said, but he didn’t actually sound happy about it. His voice was a tick too high and rushing when he continued, “If you don’t— If you just want me to be the guy you try new stuff with— I’m okay with that, too.”
Well, at least that was one conversation they didn’t need to have. Ryouma already knew Kakashi had no idea what he was doing.
There was a second conversation they needed to have right now, though.
“If I just wanted a warm body, I could find one anywhere,” Kakashi said, picking through his words. Team Six gave Ryouma a lot of flak about his habit of blowing through pretty faces and never seeing them again, the same way they teased Raidou about his rigidness, Genma about his poker face, Katsuko about her vacuum-style eating habits, and Kakashi about his everything. He’d never realized that, somewhere, it must have gotten under Ryouma’s skin and hurt.
He’d just assumed Ryouma had never wanted to stay. He’d never thought Ryouma might have wanted to, and thought he couldn’t.
“I like your body, don’t get me wrong. It keeps up with mine,” Kakashi said. “And it’s pretty. But… I like everything else, too.” He reached across and touched his fingertips against the back of Ryouma’s hand. “But I also have no idea what the hell I’m doing, so if you want to jump ship right now and just be friends, that’s okay, too.”
Ryouma made the rough little sound in the back of his throat that sometimes held placeholder for a laugh. “Hell, Kakashi, the only time you know what you’re doing is when you’re killing people.”
Before Kakashi could object to that—or agree with it—Ryouma reached back and took his elbow, tugging him down to a walk, and then to a stop. The wind curled around them, and Kakashi was very aware how quiet it was. They hadn’t been running long; they were barely out of breath.
“If you really think I’m a risk worth taking, I want to try it with you,” Ryouma said, looking down at him. “Can we do that, and be friends too?”
It didn't work like that in stories. In Icha Icha it usually took three deaths, a dramatic love confession, and an averted suicide before people could be together, and that was where the book ended.
Kakashi thought he liked this version better.
He smiled. "Yeah," he said. "I'd like that." Then he poked Ryouma. "I can't believe you think you're the risk. At least you know how to talk to people.”
Ryouma rocked back on his heels, making no effort to dodge. He was smiling too—not the bright, flashy smile he handed to everyone, but a softer one. It made his eyes warm. “What d’you mean? You can talk to people. You just asked me out.”
“I’m still drunk on concert fumes,” Kakashi said.
Hoarsely, Ryouma said, “Is it— Would you be okay if I kissed you?”
“Right now?” Kakashi said, panicked.
Ryouma looked slightly taken aback. “Only if you want to,” he said. “When you’re ready.”
Kakashi was getting the distinct impression he was Failing To Romance.
"No, I do," he said. "I mean, I am. It's just—" We're in a giant open field. I don't have a battle plan. You look incredibly handsome and it's going to be very upsetting when you start laughing at me. “I have to take my mask off.
He expected Ryouma to laugh at him just for that, but Ryouma’s pinched frown melted into a broad, fond smile, as if Kakashi had just done something precious. “That’s part of the fun, yeah. Don’t worry, I already know about the teeth.”
And still had the scar on his knuckles from them. But in fairness, he was the one who’d punched. Kakashi had just blocked with an edge.
“It’s not the teeth,” Kakashi said.
He’d tried to explain the mask before, once to his mother and once to Minato. He’d failed both times. It wasn’t a thing that made sense. Maybe it had started in logic, when he’d first put it on: a child’s face couldn’t inspire fear, but a black mask could, especially when its wearer moved fast and struck in the dark. And then it had been a reassurance, knowing he could conceal his expressions when he couldn’t obey Rule 25. When he’d gotten older it had been a way to hide Sakumo’s face, once it started looking back at him from the mirror.
Now he’d worn the mask longer than he hadn’t, more than a decade, and taking it off around people made his stomach hurt.
Jounin were weird, and ANBU were weirder, but even Kakashi could acknowledge that his oddities asked a lot.
But he really wanted to kiss Ryouma.
And Ryouma wanted to kiss him, even only knowing what a quarter of Kakashi’s face looked like. The few times he’d had the chance to look, he’d never taken them. On that second mission, when Kakashi’s mask had been ripped to shreds, he’d even covered Kakashi’s face.
“It’s— There’s— It’s stupid.” Kakashi made a faintly aggravated sound and wished for telepathy. “I have a… thing. About my face.”
Ryouma made a soft noise, not quite a laugh, as if Kakashi had informed him the sky was sometimes blue. “Yeah, I get that. It’s okay. We can work on that, if you want.” His smile lilted sideways, crooked and teasing, and his eyes glittered. “I could start with other areas, and work my way up.”
With the pure reflex that came from years of reading Jiraiya’s best works, Kakashi said, “Or you could just stay down there.”
Ryouma’s laugh was real this time, and loud. It loosened something in Kakashi’s chest. Whatever they were talking about, it was still them.
Still grinning, Ryouma offered his hand. “Come on, then. Let’s get home. And you can decide whether you’re ready to take me up on it.”
Common sense dictated that shinobi keep their hands as free as possible in the field.
Kakashi reached out and took Ryouma’s anyway.
My church offers no absolution
She tells me, 'Worship in the bedroom'
The only heaven I'll be sent to
Is when I'm alone with you
The run home was easy and swift, and landed them back at ANBU’s sleeping quarters in the early hours of the morning. Ryouma walked Kakashi to his front door like the dating couples on TV sometimes did—which might have been more of a romantic gesture if his own front door wasn’t just down the hallway.
There was a green post it-note tacked to the door.
Welcome home, kids! Hope you had fun. This is your midnight sanity reminder to play safe.
(Seriously, Hatake, you don’t know where he’s been.)
There was a small foil packet taped beneath the note.
“Do I even want to know what that says?” Ryouma asked.
“Probably not,” Kakashi said, crumpling the note and stuffing it in his pocket. “You might think about kicking Hakone in the head, though.”
Ryouma peeled the condom off the door and looked at it thoughtfully. “That’s one option.”
Kakashi felt himself get hot behind his mask. Ryouma tipped a sideways glance at him, smiled, and made the condom vanish with quick sleight of hand.
“So,” he said breezily, “did you have fun tonight?”
“I already told you I did,” Kakashi said. “There were details and everything.”
“Hah, no, this is traditional,” Ryouma said, leaning one shoulder against the door. He counted off on his fingers, “I ask if you had a good time. You say, “oh yes”, and maybe lean in a little.”
“And bat my eyelashes?” Kakashi said skeptically.
“Optional choice, go with your gut,” Ryouma said. “But then you say something complimentary, like…” He waved an encouraging hand.
Kakashi’s mouth twitched. “You looked especially handsome dodging the giant man with the lip spike during the third song?”
“Very specific, that’s a nice touch.” Ryouma hooked his fingers through Kakashi’s belt loops, hands bracketing his hips, and tugged him gently forward. “Then I pull you closer, like this, and say I like the way your eye shines when you’re enjoying yourself, and the way your mouth curves under your mask, like you’re just hinting at a smile.” He closed the last gap between them, tilting his head down to look at Kakashi’s face. “I’m still willing to bet you’re pretty handsome yourself.”
Kakashi didn’t have a smart answer for that. He mostly had his heart rate tripping over itself, and concern that his face had just caught fire. He said, eloquently, “Um.” And then, “Did you come up with that just now?”
“I might have practiced,” Ryouma said. “But then you blush—just like that—and since this is a first date, I ask if you want to do this again sometime.”
This close, Kakashi could see all the subtle colors in Ryouma’s eyes: the deep brown that bled out to a darker rim, and the faint inner striations like the heartwood of an oak tree. There was a tiny white scar cut into the edge of one cheekbone, almost invisible.
“I’m thinking about it,” he said, looking at Ryouma’s mouth.
Ryouma’s mouth curved, slow and knowing. “Good,” he said softly. “In that case, I say I’ll call on you. And now I’ll say goodnight.”
“Oh,” Kakashi said, disappointed.
“But this first,” Ryouma said, and raised one hand, sliding it around the back of Kakashi’s neck. For a half-second, Kakashi thought it was to take his mask down, and tensed, but Ryouma just tugged him close and kissed him right over the cloth.
It ended so quickly, Kakashi barely had time to register more than warmth-pressure and I think I like this.
Ryouma pulled back. Kakashi leaned after him, then stopped himself, blinking.
“Okay?” Ryouma said, soft and rough.
“I don’t know,” Kakashi said. He reached out, grabbed Ryouma, and pulled him back. Ryouma came willingly, easy and pliant under Kakashi’s hands, but he didn’t close the last gap; Kakashi had to lean up and take the kiss, pressing his mouth to Ryouma’s. Warmth-pressure again, translated through the guard of thin cotton, but this time there was scent too, curling up like woodsmoke, and the acute awareness of everywhere they were touching.
People never got this close. Kakashi wouldn’t let them.
He was having a hard time, right now, remembering why.
Ryouma’s free arm curled around Kakashi’s back, palm flat over his spine. Kakashi borrowed a gesture and cupped his palm around the back of Ryouma’s head, fingers sliding through dark hair. It was softer than he expected, even gel-tousled. Ryouma angled his head to one side and made a low, laughing sound. “This is harder when I can’t open my mouth,” he murmured, breath warm against Kakashi’s lips. “Kind of restricts the next step.”
They were in the hallway still, in public, but Kakashi’s senses were strung-sharp. There was no one else around.
He pulled back a fraction. “Close your eyes.”
“No,” Kakashi said. He could feel his pulse in his teeth. “But do it anyway.”
Ryouma closed his eyes, lashes making a sooty crescent against his cheekbones. His mouth was just a little red. Kakashi looked at him for a moment, taking the chance to see without being seen back. Even under harsh fluorescent lights, Ryouma was one of the most beautiful men he’d ever looked at, Minato included.
Ryouma whispered, “Nothing’s happening.”
“Wait,” Kakashi said, ruffled. He hooked two fingers over the bridge of his nose, catching the edge of the mask, and—
Pulled it down in one smooth motion, and kissed Ryouma with the next.
He felt Ryouma startle, jolting slightly like a kicked horse, and then press forward, moving with practiced confidence—which was good, because Kakashi had no idea how the next step worked. He’d read the theory, if you could call Icha Icha that, but reading wasn’t doing.
It was different, kissing bare-mouthed. No guard, no distance. Ryouma was right there, lips warm and wind-chapped, chakra simmering just beneath his skin. Kakashi could almost taste the fire-affinity. The cool edge of water was even clearer, resonating against his own.
Ryouma's mouth parted, changing how they fit together, and his tongue flicked over the seam of Kakashi's lips. Kakashi opened up, and Ryouma licked the edges of his teeth.
Heat rolled down Kakashi’s spine. He shivered.
Ryouma hissed very softly against his mouth. "Sharp."
“Observant,” Kakashi rasped, and caught Ryouma’s lower lip between his canines, letting the delicate points prick tender skin.
This time, Ryouma shivered.
That was new, and a little thrilling. Kakashi pulled Ryouma closer, chasing another shiver, or maybe Ryouma moved in by himself, because now the door was at Kakashi’s back, pressing hard against his spine, and Ryouma was a wall of muscle against his front. It should have felt like being boxed in, but Kakashi knew how Ryouma moved, had trained with him and against him, and there was no danger here. Just a new guard, installed between Kakashi and the rest of the world.
Also, something else of note.
Kakashi broke away enough to catch a breath and laugh, hoarse. “Happy to see me?”
“So much,” Ryouma groaned, eyes still closed. He ducked his head down, pressing a kiss to the side of Kakashi’s throat. “Sorry, caught me by surprise.”
He wasn’t the only one. Kakashi’s tight new jeans were a cutting a little close, just now.
“I don’t mind,” he said, and meant it. Ryouma could have anyone he wanted, and often did, but Kakashi bet not many of them made him struggle for control in an open hallway. Or perhaps Kakashi was being naive, but he liked the thought. It made him want to push Ryouma further.
Though that probably wasn’t fair, since he didn’t intend to go any further today, no matter what his hammering pulse wanted.
He tipped his head down, risking a kiss against the blade of Ryouma’s cheek. Ryouma made a soft, surprised sound, and grazed his teeth briefly against Kakashi’s throat, but stopped when Kakashi flattened a hand against his chest.
Ryouma let out a slow breath between his teeth and stepped back, still keeping his eyes closed. “Is it okay if I—?” He raised a hand.
Kakashi held still as Ryouma delicately touched his mouth, fingerpads scarred and calloused against Kakashi’s lower lip. He traced the outline of Kakashi’s mouth, and hesitated on the left corner, where a blade had just missed ending Kakashi’s career.
“Shuriken?” he asked, running his thumb along the old scar. It made Kakashi’s mouth tingle.
“Is that why you wear—?” He stopped. “It’s not.”
“Scar came later,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma’s fingers skimmed up Kakashi’s cheek, following the line of his jaw. “I was right,” he said. “You are handsome.”
“And you’re a crazy man,” Kakashi said, but he smiled all the same.
“Got kissed by one, too,” Ryouma said cheerfully, red-mouthed and pleased with himself. He found the edge of Kakashi’s mask and tugged it back up into place, making sure it lay smoothly over Kakashi’s nose. “Can I look now?"
“I’m tempted to say no, just because,” said Kakashi, feeling warm and light and ridiculous, as if his chest was full of air.
Ryouma cracked one theatrical eye open. “You’re smiling.”
“I do that sometimes,” Kakashi said.
“Not really,” Ryouma said. “Not like you mean it.” That probably should have made Kakashi stop, but then Ryouma leaned down and kissed him on the nose, and added, “I like this one.”
“I—” Kakashi began, and gave up when no actual answer presented itself. It felt a little like being caught, but not in a bad way. “Thank you. I think.”
Ryouma smiled at him, dark eyes glinting. Kakashi had to bite the inside of his inside of his cheek and remind himself, not tonight.
He didn’t want regrets, not with this.
“So,” he said, forcing his heart rate to settle. “What’s next in the script?”
“How about coffee after training?” Ryouma said easily.
Kakashi wrinkled his nose.
Ryouma laughed. “They serve tea, too.”
“Only if you beat me in sparring,” Kakashi decided. “Otherwise we go to the crepe place.”
Ryouma blinked once, then his smile broadened. “Deal.”
Kakashi felt for the door handle behind him, automatically cancelling his apartment’s protective seals with one hand. “Okay, then,” he said. “Um. Goodnight.”
“Night, Kakashi,” Ryouma said, like the sudden awkwardness wasn’t strange, or even really there.
He was halfway down the hallway when Kakashi stuck his head back out of his room and called, “Tousaki!”
Ryouma glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
“In your script, am I the girl?” Kakashi demanded.
Ryouma’s mouth did a strange little twist, as if he’d just bitten down hard on a laugh. “Gender roles are optional, but I did pay for everything.”
Kakashi digested that, glancing down at his new hoodie, with its new CD still resting in the pocket. “I’m buying breakfast tomorrow.”
“In that case, we should do something fancier than crepes.”
“Only if you win,” Kakashi said, and shut the door on Ryouma’s laughter.
He didn’t really remember walking between the door and the CD player—he might have floated—but then there was a discarded cellophane wrapper in the trashcan, and new music winding golden trails through the air, bringing the concert back to life in Kakashi’s apartment.
A neighbour banged on the wall. Kakashi turned the player down a little, to a soft secret.
Pyjamas happened, though he kept the hoodie on over his sleep-shirt. It was a cool night, and he wasn’t quite ready to turn in yet. He did go into the tiny bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face, fingertips lingering briefly against his mouth. His lips still tingled slightly, hot and sensitive.
When he glanced at the mirror, automatically braced, the face looking back wasn’t a thinner, harsher version of Sakumo’s. It was younger. Happier, tonight.
“Idiot,” Kakashi told himself, but there was no sting in it.
He flipped the lights out and sprawled on the narrow bed, one knee braced up, and hummed along to the last fading notes of the song. Wondered if Ryouma had changed yet, if he was showering, what he’d thought about the night…
If his pants were looser now.
Kakashi pulled a pillow down over his face and laughed into it, faintly giddy. It was all going to end in disaster, but for right now, in the dark-endorphin aftermath, with new music in his blood and Ryouma’s scent wrapped around him like fading smoke, Kakashi just felt hopeful.
Well I knew love’s perfect ache
But my peace has always depended
On all the ashes in my way
They had crepes and coffee with fading bruises the next morning, and Ryouma wore his new shirt.
Kakashi laughed twice during training. Katsuko asked if he was high.
The next mission came two days later, and no one died. That seemed hopeful, too.
Katsuko did break three ribs (and several more not her own), and Ryouma lost a back tooth, which left his jaw aching and tender, but Genma and Raidou made it through with nothing but bruises, and Kakashi managed to a) not faint, and b) keep most of his chakra intact, which was practically a rousing victory.
There was a minor political incident which kept the captain and lieutenant locked in with Intel’s debriefers for hours, but Kakashi considered that collateral damage. It wasn’t happening to him.
He found Ryouma laid out on Team Six’s office couch with an ice-pack clamped to his face and a general air of suffering about him.
“I come bearing sodas,” Kakashi said, hefting a plastic bag. “And straws.”
“Ohthankgod,” Ryouma mumbled.
“What happened to Ueno?”
“Crazy basement medic dragged her off,” Ryouma said. “Something about a follow up. He probably just wants to get her back for last month and saw his chance.”
In fairness, Katsuko had slightly stabbed a veteran, but it was the guy’s fault for a) being a dick and deserving it, and b) failing to dodge. And it wasn’t like she’d done permanent damage. Toushiro-sensei wouldn’t have even cared if it hadn’t been 2am.
Kakashi settled himself on the sofa arm and dug out the first of three cokes to assemble and present to Ryouma. “How’s your face?”
“My everything hurts,” Ryouma said sadly. “Move down here so I can put my head in your lap.”
Kakashi hesitated for a moment. “Okay.” He slid down onto the sofa and moved Ryouma’s head onto his thigh, where it settled warm and heavy, then went back to unwrapping a straw.
Ryouma blinked up at him. “I didn’t think that would actually work.”
“I can be nice,” Kakashi said, and handed Ryouma his drink. “Don’t make me regret it.”
“I won’t spill,” Ryouma promised, mumbling a little around the straw. He swallowed, winced, and tipped his head back to look up at Kakashi. “I hope you’re not regretting anything else.”
That wasn’t a loaded question.
Kakashi wished he was better with gestures. This seemed like a moment to do something with his hands, but his formative years had been shy on people being affectionate with other people. Dogs and three-year-olds were better known territory. Though he had seen Kushina reach for Minato, as often to smack him as to caress him—both of which had made Kakashi envy-sick at the time. Now he wished he’d paid closer attention.
“I’m regretting letting you make me a captive audience,” he said, and carefully set his hand down on Ryouma’s forehead. “Nothing else so far.”
Ryouma closed his eyes and sighed, low and soft. “Glad to hear it.”
Kakashi awarded himself a point for successful relationshipping.
Ryouma didn’t seem much inclined to talk after that, probably because his mouth hurt, but he also didn’t move off Kakashi’s leg. When his breathing began to even out, Kakashi rescued the tipping coke can, flipped Icha Icha open, and settled in for a slow, peaceful afternoon.
Jiraiya really needed to keep his books going after the dramatic kiss scene (and subsequent athletic sex).
Maybe the library had something else to offer.
When Katsuko returned, she raised an eyebrow, but glanced at Ryouma’s sleeping face and said nothing. Kakashi turned a page and pretended nothing unusual was happening at all.
She did say something the next week, when Kakashi and Ryouma stayed long after morning training to practice a new taijutsu move Raidou had challenged them with, and sparring turned into grappling, which landed Kakashi on his back and Ryouma leaning over him to steal a masked kiss, because he was a giant opportunist, and Katsuko cleared her throat from a nearby tree.
“You know you guys aren’t subtle, right?” she said, while Kakashi had a cardiac event and Ryouma had to dodge an actual punch. She hopped down and strolled towards them, hands in her pockets. “Don’t stop on my account.”
Ryouma scrambled to his feet. “Your account nearly lost me another tooth,” he said, hauling Kakashi up.
“How did we not—” Kakashi began, and then realized. “You’re getting better at hiding your chakra.”
Katsuko grinned. “Pretty sure the distraction helped.” She tipped a bright glance at Ryouma. “Is kissing Kakashi a thing we do now? Because I can get behind team bonding.”
Kakashi felt himself turn crimson.
Ryouma said easily, "If you need kissing, I'm standing right here."
"Don't think I haven't thought about it," Katsuko said.
"Oh, we know," Kakashi muttered.
Katsuko laughed, bright as a blade. "Just for that, fluffer-nutter, I will take that offer." She stepped close to Ryouma and tipped her chin up, hands still resting in her pockets, and raised her eyebrows.
Ryouma blinked, then grinned in the sweet, surprised way he always did when he mistook someone else’s insanity for a compliment. “You’re a minx,” he said affectionately, and bent down to press a quick, firm kiss against her startled mouth.
Katuko’s cheeks turned faintly pink, but she gave as good as she got without hesitation, then turned on Kakashi. “Well?”
“I’m not kissing you,” he said, scandalized.
“Actually, I was going to ask if you thought it was hot, but I guess we’re still at baby steps.” She smiled the sunny smile of someone back on firmer ground now the world was familiar and challenging again. “Take your time.”
Kakashi made a strangled sound.
Katsuko’s smile faded down into something warmer. “I’d keep it off the training fields if you don’t want the captain to blow a blood vessel, but I’m glad for you guys.” She gave Kakashi a sly glance. “Lookit you, buttercup. Discovering puberty and everything."
“Ueno…” Kakashi began threateningly.
“Hey, it had to happen eventually,” she said, and turned away, glancing back over her shoulder to wink. “If you feel like expanding your boundaries, you know where to find me.”
She vanished in a dust-devil of hot air and chakra before Kakashi could come up with anything to say. He covered his face against the kickback of grass and leaves, and resurfaced to find Ryouma laughing.
“I will hurt you,” Kakashi said.
“Puberty,” Ryouma gasped, and slid away when Kakashi kicked at him.
“I can’t believe you kissed her,” Kakashi said, nettled. “I can’t believe she was watching and I didn’t notice.”
“In fairness, you were distracted,” Ryouma said, sounding entirely pleased to be the cause. “And I was protecting your virtue. It was noble kissing.”
Kakashi put a hand over his face. “D’you think she actually meant that?” he said through his fingers.
Ryouma stepped closer, a spot of warmth in the world. “About expanding your boundaries?”
Ryouma scratched the back of his neck. “I think she’d eat you alive, but you could probably level your way up there.” He grinned. “Baby steps.”
“Does that make you training wheels?” Kakashi said.
“Or the bicycle, depending who you talk to,” Ryouma said, with careless self-deprecation.
Kakashi lowered his hand. “Who says that?”
“Uh, people?” Ryouma said.
“Does it bother you?” Kakashi said. “Because I can kill them and make it look like an accident. I’m good at that."
Ryouma broke into a startled laugh, but his shoulders relaxed a little, too. “Your type of accident always ends up looking like it involved a woodchipper. No. It’s fine.” He paused. “You knew, though, didn’t you? I mean— you know what you signed up for.”
“That you’ve had lots of sex and probably even enjoyed some of it? No, this is a complete surprise,” Kakashi drawled. “I’m shocked down to my boots. Can you wait here while I find a qualified moral guardian to judge you?”
A warm hand wrapped around his wrist before he could move.
“On second thought, I’ll stick with the assassin’s judgement,” Ryouma said, eyes crinkling above a smile. “Taichou told me about your books. You shouldn’t be shocked.”
“If I had pearls, I would clutch them,” Kakashi told him. “That is how shocked I am.”
Ryouma stepped in closer, smile growing. His voice rumbled when he asked, “And since you don’t?”
“Uh,” Kakashi said, suddenly flustered. I could clutch you? was probably not a viable option. He glanced sideways, and tried, “We could go somewhere indoors and I can be outraged at you in private?"
It was not his best flirting attempt. And, depressingly, not even his worst. But it made Ryouma’s eyes turn dark, and the rest of his expression went fond, both of which did funny butterfly things to Kakashi’s stomach. “That works for me,” Ryouma said, low. “I do my best apologies in private, too.”
“Your place?” Kakashi suggested.
“After you,” Ryouma said, and let go of Kakashi’s wrist.
“How much did it kill you not to make a pearl necklace joke just then?”
“I might have hurt myself.”
Shirtlessness happened, though not masklessness, but there were hands on skin, and bodies on beds, and hands down pants, and a long, long time later, Kakashi said, oh.
And the world tipped a little bit, before it resettled.
Though it didn’t change fundamentally.
“I feel lied to,” Kakashi said, when he’d recovered the power of speech.
Ryouma raised his head, ruffled and flushed, and looked worried. “Was it not—” he began.
“No, it was,” Kakashi said quickly. "Lots of was. When I have brain again, I'll tell you all about the was. But I just— expected to feel different after."
“I didn’t,” Ryouma said, and pulled Kakashi closer in, so they were comfortably tangled and Kakashi could rest his head just above the steadying thump of Ryouma’s heartbeat, cheek to cheek with the bright dragon tattoo.
“No?” Kakashi said.
“Mm, not really. A little older, maybe.” Ryouma’s fingers carded gently through Kakashi’s sweat-soaked hair. “Little dirtier, but I didn’t make good choices starting out.”
Or after, Kakashi thought.
He didn’t care that Ryouma had had a lot of sex. There was no reason to care: it wasn’t immoral or moral, it was just another thing that was. But he wished Ryouma had chosen kinder people.
“How d’you feel now?” he asked.
“Exhausted,” Ryouma said, and laughed when Kakashi elbowed him in the ribs. “What? I’m dedicated to my art— Ow, hey, you are so pointy, God. I’m good, I feel great.” His mouth curved, a crooked sickle on the edge of Kakashi’s vision. “Happy.”
“Yeah.” Ryouma sighed, quiet and contented. “You?”
Kakashi mmm’d softly. “Happy.” He was silent for a beat, then added, “Which probably means something terrible is about to happen.”
“Unless Mist-ninja crash through the ceiling and make me get up, I’m willing to sleep through it.” Ryouma yawned, jaw cracking, because apparently fiction had gotten that fact right.
Kakashi was tired in his skin, but not in his head, which was a long-standing problem. He skimmed his fingertips gently over a thin, white scar that crossed Ryouma’s pectoral, tracing old suture marks, and said, “Can we put music on?”
Without looking, Ryouma reached out, plucked an abandoned shuriken off the bedside table, and tossed it accurately at the CD player across the room. He put enough wrist-spin in to make the blade bounce off the right button, rather than impaling it. Light, familiar music spilled into the air as the shuriken dropped onto the carpet.
Our minds are troubled by the emptiness.
Destroy the middle, it's a waste of time.
From the perfect start to the finish line.
“Oh, I like this one,” Kakashi said.
“Mmm, me too,” Ryouma said drowsily, as the singer’s voice curled around them like leaves falling on water.
There were conversations they still needed to have, about this and tomorrow, about everything, but Ryouma was getting warm and heavy, hand still curled around the back of Kakashi’s head, and maybe it could just wait.
If they were lucky, maybe it could wait for a long, long time.
Kakashi pillowed his head more comfortably against Ryouma’s chest, and tried to feel peaceful as Hime sang about lovers won and lost.
And if you're still bleeding, you're the lucky ones.
'Cause most of our feelings, they are dead and they are gone.
We're setting fire to our insides for fun.
Collecting pictures from a flood that wrecked our home,
It was a flood that wrecked this home.
It was drifting dark when Ryouma woke back and mumbled, “You still need to tell me about the was.”
“You were a stallion,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma laughed and stretched, a long, lean arc of sun-browned skin and flexed muscle, unzipped trousers slipping off his hips, and said, “Damn right.”
“‘And you were magnificent, too, Hatake’,” Kakashi prompted.
Ryouma turned and nuzzled into Kakashi’s neck, making Kakashi laugh because unexpectedly ticklish. “You’re cute when you’re fishing for compliments,” Ryouma said.
“You just did that same exact thing.”
“I’m cute, too,” Ryouma said happily.
Kakashi laughed again, and rolled onto his back, pulling Ryouma up and over him. “Yes, you are,” he said, and leaned up to press a masked kiss against Ryouma’s mouth. Ryouma kissed him back, easy and uncaring about cloth in the way, and everything in Kakashi’s chest turned light and warm.
“Better?” Ryouma asked, when they came up for air, like he’d just known.
“Getting there,” Kakashi said, and ran a hand through Ryouma’s dark hair. “Can I try something?”
“Is it a thing I’m going to need a safeword for?” Ryouma said dryly.
Kakashi snorted. “Not yet. Just lay down with me.”
Baffled but obviously willing, Ryouma stretched himself out on his stomach, tossing an arm over Kakashi’s hips and propping his head against Kakashi’s chest, mirror image to how Kakashi had spent the last few hours. His weight was nice. Grounding.
Kakashi reached down the side of the bed, where he thought his belt-pouches had landed, and fished around until he felt the ragged, broken spine of a much-loved book. When he pulled Icha Icha up, Ryouma blinked at the orange cover, and said, “Getting instructions?”
“Sharing,” Kakashi said. “You showed me all your favorites.”
Light dawned behind Ryouma’s dark eyes.
“Bands for books?” he said, and then his mouth tipped down. “But I can't—”
“I’m a good reader,” Kakashi said quickly. “I can do all the voices. If… If you don’t mind listening?"
Ryouma blinked rapidly. "You do voices?"
"I have bedtime story training," Kakashi said, thinking of Naruto and his demands for accurate pirate accents. "Except not with porn, because eargh, but the principle is the same."
Ryouma looked fascinated. “I’ve never had porn as a bedtime story before. You sure this isn’t a prelude to round two?”
“There is plot,” Kakashi said with dignity. “But if you get bored, we can skip ahead to the good bits.” He didn’t think they’d need to, though. Ryouma got attached to movie characters in about ten seconds, and they were never as interesting.
Ryouma’s grin had wolfish edges. “Not boredom I’m thinking about,” he said, but he settled his chin more comfortably on Kakashi’s chest, and snugged his fingers in at the hollow of Kakashi’s hip, just tucked beneath the waistband of slipping pants. “Read to me, sensei."
Kakashi cleared his throat academically and flipped the book open, past Jiraiya’s old hand-scrawled dedication, to the front page. Beneath his fingers, the page edges were feathery with time and use, worn soft. He began, “Yasuda Tsunayoshi was a small boy with big dreams, which was a useful quality in the son of a samurai…”
When he paused, ten minutes later, Ryouma made a faint hissing sound and said, “Don’t stop.”
Kakashi smiled, warm all the way through, and continued.
“What do you mean he dies?”
“Shh, just wait.”
In a wind that chills the skeletons of trees,
And when the moon, it shines, I will leave two lines.
Find my love, then find me.