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What Binds Us

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Tenzō wanted to be patient. He wanted to believe that Kakashi was perfectly fine and had chosen to leave ANBU for purely valid but non-critical reasons. (The Hokage didn’t provide any answers, other than that Kakashi was ‘needed in the village’.) He wanted to get rid of the dark void in his chest, the nauseous anxiety that started to creep into the corners of his mind. He wanted to stop feeling as though the world was caving in and his only escape route had blithely left him behind. He wanted to not care when he realized that the next time he fought, and the next, and perhaps for the rest of his life—it wouldn’t be Kakashi standing by his side.

Worse were the images of Kakashi as he had been the last time Tenzō saw him: the bitter ache in his expression, the desperate manner in which he fought, the repetition of Tenzō's name, as though he were asking to be stitched back together, the flood of his emotions stemmed with a tourniquet even if it resulted in the loss of limbs.

Like he was breaking.

And Tenzō had failed him.


Tenzō spent the next two days on his property, primarily on the roof of his cabin, carving absently and oscillating between anger, guilt, trepidation, and an inescapable sensation of loss.

He tried to complete the last layer of the finish for Pakkun’s figurine, but he could never quite gather the gumption to do it, faltering each time as his fingers refused to obey. Nothing else that he worked on was even worth keeping, vague shapes or objects without purpose. There was nothing in him to use, no desire to create, no vision he yearned to reproduce in tactile form. So he worked on nothing, keeping his hands busy while his mind spun in circles and ovals, weaving complex patterns that always ended in the same place.

Two days.

Then, Tenzō decided that Kakashi wasn’t the only one allowed to ambush people.


The first place he checked was Kakashi’s apartment in the jounin complex, because although it had been little used during Kakashi’s stay in ANBU, it would obviously be his primary place of residence now that his bunk and locker at the headquarters were emptied. There was evidence that Kakashi had been there. The curtain was drawn and lights turned off, but Tenzō could see the trap seal on the window had been recently reinforced. He felt no chakra from inside.

The memorial stone was his next stop, because anyone who knew Kakashi by more than reputation understood that he spent the majority of his time there, day or night, sleet or hail. Tenzō had never disturbed him there before, and he didn’t have the intention to now, but he wasn’t above melding with a tree and lying in wait on Kakashi’s path back to the village proper.
There were fresh flowers on the memorial, white hyacinth still imbued with life, but no mourners.

In the end, Tenzō finally found Kakashi in the place he had least expected, had only checked on a whim when all other options (including on the Hokage head and in various well-shielded trees in the village) failed: the Hatake estate.

He surveyed it from the highest branches of an old white oak, blending into the wood to obscure his chakra signature. The complex was modest in size. While the Hatakes had been with Konoha since its founding, they had never been a large clan, and it seemed as though Kakashi had sold all of the land other than that directly surrounding the main house. The sliding rice-paper doors, wood flooring, and rock garden spoke to a traditional style. Tenzō could appreciate the simple elegance of the architecture, but his interest lay within. A single light shone inside the house, casting rectangular shadows upon the lawn.

The first sign of movement occurred just after Tenzō parted from the tree, too late to hide himself properly. Pakkun walked across a high stone fence that surrounded the property, blocking it from prying eyes—civilian ones, at least. His head quickly turned to Tenzō, alerted by either sight or sound, wariness projected in his wrinkled face. Tenzō landed lightly upon the stone wall several yards away, crouching to Pakkun’s level and raising his palms in a universal gesture of peace. Out of his ANBU uniform, he had no idea if the dog would recognize him from sight alone, and he had seen first hand the sort of damage Kakashi’s hounds could inflict.

“Pakkun,” he whispered, as quietly as possible. Pakkun’s ears pricked and he cocked his head to the side in a gesture eerily reminiscent of his master. “It’s Tenzō.”

Pakkun peered at him, taking a few steps forward to catch Tenzō's scent. He sniffed noisily, then sat on his haunches. His tail gave a single, satisfied wag. “Hey, kid. You got a message for the Boss?”

“Sort of.” Tenzō hesitated. He hadn’t expected to find Kakashi with his ninken, though now that he thought about it, it made sense that they would live on the Hatake estate when they weren’t summoned. They seemed to wear their vests and hitai-ate full time, meaning they truly considered themselves aligned with the village rather than wild creatures who had formed an unwilling blood pact with one man. Combined with Hatake Sakumo’s reputation as the ‘White Fang’, the dogs were likely a family tradition. Tenzō just hadn’t expected to have to convince an entire pack of canines before even reaching the man himself. “Could I—”

Pakkun blinked big, watery eyes, and raised a paw to interrupt. “As long as you don’t kill or kidnap him, you can do what you want, kid. He probably deserves it. He’s on the grounds to the west.” Pakkun turned and hopped down, pattering back into the house before Tenzō could do more than whisper his thanks. Hopefully, he was heading to inform the rest of the pack not to bite Tenzō's head off.

Taking the same path as Pakkun, as he was certain it was free of chakra traps, Tenzō dropped to the ground and made his way across the lawn. He jumped to grab a hold of the trim and climbed to the roof, peering over the decorative summit to the lawn below.

Kakashi stood on the wooden porch that surrounded the house, facing the rock garden but staring unseeingly into the forest that lay far beyond. He wore the long-sleeved, masked shirt and pants of his jounin uniform, flak jacket gone. The grid of light emanating from behind the paper doors cast shadows upon his frame, a warm tint that breathed life into the static image. He stood with his hands in his pockets, shoulders loose, without a hint of the tension that seemed to follow his every waking moment.

Kakashi was beautiful.

It was the thousandth time Tenzō had thought those exact words, and yet they never lost their meaning.

He looked content, somehow, even turned with his back to Tenzō. He tilted his face to the moon, and Tenzō saw his chest rise in a deep, slow breath, as if he were taking in fresh air for the first time in years. Like he no longer carried the weight of Konoha on his shoulders.

Good. Hopefully that meant Kakashi wouldn’t kill him.

Tenzō flared his chakra just before diving from his perch, giving Kakashi exactly enough time to turn and cross his arms to block Tenzō’s attack. Their forearms clashed, bones jarring with the force of it, and Tenzō could barely make out Kakashi’s widened eye in the dark.

“Tenzō—” Kakashi tried to start, surprise rather than alarm coloring his tone, but Tenzō gave him no chance to continue. He brought up a knee, forcing Kakashi to jump back before it slammed into his gut. Tenzō rushed forward again immediately, grim determination in every move.

“Look—” Kakashi huffed, losing ground as he skidded backwards, attempting to put space between them to allow for words. Tenzō swallowed that space with his body, aiming a punch for Kakashi’s jaw, which was absolutely a stupid move. Aiming for the face was almost always a bad idea since the person, by very nature of the attack, would always see it coming. The lower body and extremities were harder to protect and took longer to react, making them easy targets.

Then again, Tenzō wasn’t looking to win.

Kakashi managed to grasp Tenzō’s fist, tugging his arm at a diagonal, exposing Tenzō’s back so his other hand could land between Tenzō’s shoulder blades. He thrust forward with his palm in the same motion as he twisted Tenzō's arm, forcing Tenzō against a tree, hand pinned at the small of his back and chest pressing painfully against the rough bark. Tenzō scraped his cheek on the wood and paused the struggle for a moment while he caught his breath.

The knowledge that he wouldn’t be the one coming out on top this time, that he was ultimately fighting a losing battle—it did nothing to cease the trickle of adrenaline running down Tenzō's spine, sinking tendrils into his heart and pumping the urge to fight into every atom of his being. It didn’t feel like a spar, didn’t feel like any of the times he and Kakashi had done this very same dance with the lead reversed. Perhaps this was how Kakashi had felt all along, his body screaming at him to win while his mind anticipated, even welcomed, defeat.

But the battle wasn’t over. Not yet.

Tenzō reared backwards, pushing from the trunk and jamming the elbow of his free arm into Kakashi’s abdomen. It had to hurt, but despite a grunt of pain, Kakashi managed to keep hold of Tenzō’s arm. The force of the hit sent them both stumbling, hitting the ground on their sides, Kakashi’s knees on either side of Tenzō’s left leg and Tenzō's back still tucked against his chest. Kakashi tightened his thighs around Tenzō’s leg, meaning that Tenzō's attempt to shove Kakashi off didn’t end as intended. His grip stayed firm and Tenzō was jerked back before he could do more than push up on his elbows. Kakashi’s forearm wrapped around Tenzō’s chest, applying pressure to Tenzō's shoulder while throwing his weight in the same direction, forcing Tenzō to turn until his back was to the ground. Then Kakashi slammed him down, fingers clutching his biceps and knees digging into his thighs as he pinned Tenzō to the ground.

“Are you done yet?” Kakashi inquired, face inches from Tenzō’s. His visible eye was dark, brow furrowed, exasperation in his tone.

Tenzō headbutted Kakashi, which turned out equally painful for both of them when happuri met hitai-ate. The whine of metal scraping interrupted their harsh breathing and Tenzō’s vision blurred from the concussive force. Kakashi winced, flinching back as much as he could without easing his hands or lower body enough for Tenzō to struggle out.

“Damn it, Tenzō.” Kakashi cursed, sucking a breath in through his teeth, fingers tightening minutely around his former subordinate’s wrists. “Do I have to tie you down?”

It was an evident echo of Tenzō's early threat, levity forced and dissonant in his voice through the strain of keeping Tenzō confined.

“Yes.” He answered, blunt and immediate. His pulse beat quickly in his ears, his body overly warm at every place it touched Kakashi’s, but he commanded his face to remain stoic.

This was exactly the moment for which he had been waiting.

“You…” A strange note of disbelief rang in the humid air. He shook his head minutely, exhaling a sharp breath. “Tenzō.” A warning.

Tenzō paid it no heed. He tugged against the firm grasp Kakashi had on his wrists, testing the strength of his grip. Kakashi gave him almost no mobility, and within seconds Tenzō was breathing harshly not from the effort of his attempt to break free—he wasn’t really trying, knew he wouldn’t be able to without causing serious harm to one or both of them—but with the poignancy of being utterly bound, surrounded on all sides by Kakashi’s weight. Yet he never broke eye contact, waiting patiently, determinedly, for Kakashi to come to realize the depth of his request.

The control he freely chose to give.

He wasn’t afraid, but Kakashi might have been. Conflict flickered in his eye, some internal struggle to which Tenzō was not privy.

“Kakashi,” Tenzō murmured, urging Kakashi to take what was offered. An assurance.

He tugged once more, insistently, and finally something broke.

Kakashi pulled away but, before Tenzō could even consider whether to move his arms, chakra wire wrapped around his wrists, just over the cuffs of his sleeves to avoid cutting into fragile skin. Kakashi wrapped the other end of the cord around his own palm, pulling it above Tenzō's head. His hands were forced to follow, arms straightening above his body. Kakashi didn’t stretch so far for it to become uncomfortable, merely enough to ensure that Tenzō had lost all ability to gain purchase. He was truly bound.

There was a long moment of stalemate, in which Kakashi stared at him as though he were trying to read a novel from his gaze. Tenzō stilled, forcing tense muscles to relax into the soft earth beneath him, trying to project the image that he was at ease even as he was placed at Kakashi’s mercy.

Because he was. Emotionally, at least, although he was developing a throbbing pain in his skull and his legs were starting to go numb from Kakashi’s weight.

Whatever Kakashi saw, it was enough. He flicked the wire with the ease of a master, hooking the end he held around something that Tenzō couldn’t see. Likely a tree root, judging from the hard line that dug into his shoulder blade. Then Kakashi sat back on his heels, apparently confident in the wire’s security, and stared down at him, an unreadable expression guarding his thoughts. Not for the first time, Tenzō wished that he wore no masks at all. When Kakashi spoke, it wasn’t what Tenzō had expected to hear, and yet it didn’t surprise him in the least.

“I didn’t leave the ANBU because of you.”

It wasn’t said severely, neither a cut nor a reassurance. Merely a statement of fact.

“I know.”

“And I’m not going to explain the reasons.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

“If you’re looking for an apology—”

“I’m not.”

Tenzō was sure that, if he could see Kakashi’s lips, he would be frowning. “Then why?” The rest of the question went unspoken, but Tenzō heard the possibilities. ‘Why are you here?’ ‘Why are we doing this?’ ‘Why do you trust me?’

There was a simple answer to that, but it had taken nearly two days for Tenzō to convince himself to say it. He had tried to figure out what was going through Kakashi’s mind, why he would leave ANBU. He wouldn’t lie; for a single, short moment, he had considered that he might be at fault. That he might have driven Kakashi away with the night before he left, or perhaps his ill-considered honesty even before that, the obvious intent behind his promise of ‘anything’. But he was certain, if either of those were the case, Kakashi would have ignored him, or firmly rejected him and never mentioned it again. Those were top in his favorite techniques for conflict resolution, and the simplest given their respective stations.

In the end, Tenzō came up with multiple theories, all of which boiled down to a single reason:

Kakashi didn’t trust himself.

That was what had led him to Tenzō. The desire to reveal the chinks in his armor, his weaknesses, and have them recognized and forgiven, even by someone who didn’t know them each by name. The desire to have someone else pick up the pieces, stitch him back together again, somewhat better than before. The desire to have control taken from his hands, if only for a moment, so that it was no longer himself that he had to trust, but Tenzō.

Tenzō didn’t know what he had done to inspire Kakashi’s confidence. He only knew that he wanted to keep it, cherish it, and deserve it. So it didn’t matter the exact reasons, the sequence of events that had led to this, or Kakashi leaving ANBU, or anything else. Not because Tenzō didn’t care, not because he didn’t yearn to understand every motivation inside that beautiful, crazy, genius mind. But because, just as three nights ago, nothing Kakashi could say would affect Tenzō’s decision.

Tenzō trusted him completely and without exception. Enough to put his own heart, his own beliefs, and his own fears, out on display, without even a mask to disguise them.

The only question was whether Kakashi would accept the offering.

“Because I want to be.”

Kakashi’s breath audibly hitched. It was a tiny inhalation that grew until Kakashi’s chest expanded with the shuddering force of it. His thighs trembled and he squeezed his eye shut as if in pain. His fingernails pressed half-moon crescents into Tenzō’s abdomen through the thin material of his shirt.

“You shouldn’t. I’m not your captain anymore, Tenzō. And I’m not the person you admire.” The words were sharp enough to cut, building an unseen wall of shields and spears between them. But all they lacerated were the ropes of uncertainty and doubt that had held Tenzō back for the last five years.

‘You shouldn’t.’


‘I don’t.’

Hope surged in Tenzō’s chest.

Dangerous hope.

He understood now why Kakashi constantly tested his bonds, rolling his wrists against the wood despite having no intention of breaking free. He couldn’t explain it, would have to spend long nights considering it to really understand, but the wire around his wrists no longer felt like a restraint. They felt like comfort. As if they held him together rather than tore him apart.

“Kakashi,” Tenzō said again, a soft sound that rode on his breath and filled the space between them.

Kakashi’s jaw flexed under the dark cloth of his mask and he opened his eye, meeting Tenzō’s gaze with hard steel in his own. His thighs were tense around Tenzō's knees, his shoulders held taut as a wire and every inch of his body prepared for fight or flight. Tenzō hoped it would be neither, but he would take the former if given the choice.

“Kakashi, my earliest memories are of being indoctrinated to serve a delusional tyrant.” They had never discussed Tenzō's past, but Kakashi was likely unsurprised. Root wasn’t general knowledge, but Tenzō had never doubted the Sandaime would have informed Kakashi of the basics before assigning them to the same squad. “Not Konoha or the Will of Fire: him. I was told I was created as an abomination, but I could redeem myself by proving my worth. No matter what it took.”

Tenzō faltered for only a moment, swallowing down the bitter taste with which those memories coated his tongue. Kakashi’s nails still pressed into him, and he focused on the sharp sensation of that, the pressure around his wrists, rather than the strange words that had never before left his tongue of his own accord. The only soul alive to whom Tenzō had confessed anything was the Hokage himself, as a trade for the freedom granted by breaking the curse seal.

“When I left, I didn’t expect to live. And not just because of Danzō. The first mission the Sandaime sent me on, I was certain the rest of my squad were given orders to kill me. I didn’t sleep those entire three days, waiting for the attack to come.” He hadn’t decided, even while he was waiting for what he believed to be his death, whether he would fight to survive or just let them end him. The latter would have been simpler. It would have prevented even more good people from dying by his own hand. “It took years to stop expecting my comrades to stab a tanto through my back.”

Tenzō's voice was rough, but his gaze never swayed, and Kakashi paid him the respect of listening without interruption. That was all Tenzō could ask for. “So, I’m not naive, senpai. I’m not gullible, and I’m not here because of some—childish admiration.” Although that was certainly what Tenzō had felt when they were young, those vague ideas of awe and reverence transformed as he learned the ridiculous, brave bastard behind the masks, the lazy, perverted, deliberate leader who would sacrifice everything for his people. Tezou’s early emotions had been fleeting, bright with only the flame of youth and inexperience. They held not a candle to what he knew now.

Tenzō hadn’t struggled in many minutes, but Kakashi made no move to release him, and Tenzō didn’t ask. He had no idea what was going through Kakashi’s mind. His own heart was beating quickly, but not from anything as simple as infatuation. He was anxious, hopeful, resolute, fearful, and all he wanted was to know that he hadn’t lost Kakashi—his friendship or his trust. That meant far more to him than the vague idea of whether Kakashi could possibly return his romantic affections. Tenzō could live without love, had always expected to; but Kakashi himself, with all of his flaws and imperfections, was irreplaceable.

“So why are you here?” Kakashi repeated quietly, barely audible through his mask. Though his hitai-ate was still in place, Tenzō felt as pierced by his stare as he had the spinning tomoe of the sharingan. Kakashi was waiting for something tangible, concrete proof that his vulnerability had not been misplaced.

Tenzō thought it would be difficult to say the words, but they flowed easily. They were engraved in his heart, in the corner of his mind on every mission. They painted his thoughts as he watched Kakashi move with uncanny grace, no doubt in his soul that the glow of the chidori would shatter their enemy’s ribs instead of his own. They were seared behind his eyelids when he tried to sleep, echoing in his ears as he listened for his name, his true name, spoken by the one who had given it to him. They were carved into his fingertips, guiding his every movement as he created beauty and life rather than taking it away.

“Because I trust you.”

Tenzō’s fingers curled into fists, but black eyes held certain as they met wide gray. He was laid prone, exposing himself as thoroughly as he ever had to another human—yet he felt secure. He believed in the truth of his words, the conviction behind them, despite what may come. “And it’s not blind faith or ignorance. I don’t know your past or what experiences have shaped you. But I know who you are now. I want to stand beside you, whether it’s on the battlefield or not.” Tenzō's cheeks burned, but he refused to look away as he admitted to his one, lingering fear. “If you’ll let me.”

If Kakashi truly wanted nothing more to do with him, truly considered their roles in ANBU as the only ties that bound them, then Tenzō would relent. He would. He respected Kakashi too much not to obey his wishes, and he would live his entire life pretending they were nothing more than passing acquaintances, if that was what Kakashi needed.

It would hurt, more than Tenzō could imagine.

He would do it.

But not if Kakashi’s only objection was rooted in misunderstanding, incomplete knowledge of the depth of Tenzō's beliefs.

Cicadas buzzed, humid air fell stagnant, and Tenzō's heart thumped madly as he waited.

Kakashi loosened the bindings. He bent forward, cold fingers deftly unwinding the chakra cord where they wrapped around Tenzō. It didn’t need to be done—Tenzō knew Kakashi had the control, the practice, to retrieve them without more than a single physical nudge, and he could have removed the wire from it’s anchor first. But Kakashi worked in silence, giving the slack slowly, gradually, the bare skin of his knuckles and fingertips brushing in a soothing rhythm against Tenzō's wrists.

His gaze was inscrutable.

Tenzō's shoulders ached once he was released from the position, muscles recovering from the slight strain. Kakashi retreated, resting cross-legged on the grass while Tenzō sat up. Apprehension welled a knot in his chest, but he refused to break the moment, sitting properly with knees beneath him as he waited for a response.

It took a while to come, but it did. Kakashi shook his head, once. Tenzō's stomach lurched, presuming the worst, before Kakashi spoke. “You’re making a horrible mistake, you know.”

Tenzō could best interpret his tone as weary acquiescence.


The relief was a physical sensation, travelling from the crown of his head through his body until he was nearly vibrating with it. “I know.” He agreed, smile stretching his lips.

Kakashi had been searching Tenzō the entire night, looking for motivations or hidden meanings, his good eye as intent and analytical as the sharingan in battle. Now, his gaze thawed, softly roaming Tenzō's features. He had the unmistakable feeling that Kakashi was no longer withdrawing information, but absorbing the details that formed him. Taking Tenzō in.

Unfortunately, Tenzō was brought back to reality by his own stubborn heart. He sobered, accepting a conclusion he had known was inevitable, but had foolishly hoped to ignore.

While everything Tenzō had said up to that point had been something he had known but left unvoiced for years, a mere verbal reflection of what he felt should have been obvious from the start, he genuinely had no idea of the best words to make this final revelation. Just that it needed to be made. In this moment of honesty, of raw trust evidenced through vulnerability, Tenzō couldn’t justify restraint. If he didn’t say this now, he might never.

So, in his typical straightforward, practical manner, he pushed the words out with as little fanfare as possible. If Tenzō was going to be rejected, he would like it to be clear and blunt, something neither of them had a chance of misinterpreting. “This wasn’t my primary objective, but I’m also interested in you as a sexual and romantic partner. I understand if you can’t reciprocate.”

It was stilted, awkward, overly formal, and his only saving grace was the fact that he was able to say it with a straight expression, despite his throat threatening to close on him at any moment. But Tenzō could truly think of no other way to phrase it. He wanted to be with Kakashi in all aspects of life; partners in the truest sense of the word. Even if they could no longer fight side by side.

There was no reaction for a long second, and then Kakashi’s eye grew wide and Tenzō could have sworn that he stopped breathing entirely.

Tenzō's heart beat so quickly that it was difficult to think, the useless organ supplying insufficient oxygen to properly operate his brain, lungs, and the capillaries in his cheeks. It apparently decided the last was most important, though Tenzō would beg to differ.

Growing with every moment of silence, color bled into Kakashi’s face, performing a hostile takeover of his normal pallor and painting above Kakashi’s mask a vivid flush that rivaled Tenzō's own.

He was about to stand, wondering if it would be out of line to ask the Sandaime for a three-month long trip to the other side of the planet, when Kakashi came back to life, inhaling deeply. “Thank fucking God.” With one swift motion, he tugged down his mask and cupped Tenzō's nape with his palm, drawing him into a firm kiss.

Tenzō didn’t have a plethora of experiences to compare it to, but he was pretty sure the elation singing in his veins and the fluttering in his stomach made up for any technical imperfections that might have been present. Kakashi’s lips were earnest and urgent, pressing against Tenzō with all the relief and desire that had been evident in his words. He led them both with the sort of confidence borne from urgency, and the familiarity bred from daydreams. His lips were warmer than the summer air, slightly chapped, and insistent against Tenzō’s.

Cool leather rested on the nape of his neck, then his waist, and Kakashi scooted forward until his knees bracketed Tenzō's thighs. Tenzō had no idea what to do with his hands, but they naturally landed on Kakashi’s narrow hips and he quickly decided any and all contact was good. So good.

Kakashi wasn’t going for chaste, but deep, burning. His tongue seared like fire as it traced Tenzō's lips, tasting like warm sake and the salt of summer. Stubble scratched Tenzō's chin, and he nearly drew back then because it reminded him that Kakashi’s mask was down, and he needed to know, needed to see what had been hidden from him for so long.

But that could wait, because the movement of Kakashi’s mouth against his, the pressure of his hands against Tenzō's skin, revealed far more than the mask had ever concealed.

And now, Tenzō was certain. They had time.

The only thing that broke them apart was the sharp whine of metal against metal, their headbands scraping together. Tenzō parted from Kakashi until their lips barely brushed, chuckling, the humor of the interruptive sound or perhaps sheer giddy euphoria bubbling on his lips. He couldn’t hear Kakashi’s laugh, but he could feel it pressed as closely as they were, rumbling in Kakashi’s chest and shaking his shoulders. He could feel Kakashi’s quick breaths, puffs against his cheek.

Tenzō opened his eyes to see Kakashi already watching him.

His hand raised of its own accord, resting lightly on Kakashi’s cheek. In part to prove to himself that it wasn’t an illusion, and in part to ensure that Kakashi wouldn’t cover his face again. If Kakashi was going to grant him this secret, he wanted to commit it to memory. His gaze flickered over Kakashi’s face, taking in each feature. Strong, angular chin, short silver stubble that spoke of a few days without a shave; an unexpected beauty mark below the corner of his mouth, and finally, thin pink lips that stretched into a smirk as Tenzō stared.

The sharingan was still covered, but Tenzō was bewitched nonetheless. Kakashi’s face in that moment, pupil dilated, red still high on his cheekbones, painted a picture that Tenzō would give his life to see.

For once, he didn’t have to guess at Kakashi’s expression. Tender affection was written across every feature.

“Maa, I’m not going to give as dramatic a speech as you, but…” Kakashi’s lips quirked into a crooked smile at Tenzō’s glare. He rested his palm over Tenzō's, lacing their fingers and bringing their hands down to rest between their chests. Tenzō could feel Kakashi’s heart beat against the back of his hand, strong and fast. His next words carried the weight of a promise. “There’s no one I would rather have by my side.”

There was no uncertainty, no doubt. For once, Tenzō wasn’t thinking of contingency plans, or backup strategies, or what to do when this all went horribly, violently wrong.

He knew there would be pain. Of course there would. But what mattered wasn’t finding someone who could give him a few hours of empty bliss, or sweet, shallow romance. In Kakashi, he found someone who could share with him not lovely words, but honest actions. Trust. Strength. Pain. Grief. Someone who would stand by his side when the world went to hell, and die fighting beside him even when the only enemies remaining knocked at their hearts rather than their doors.

In Kakashi, Tenzō found his partner.

That was all Tenzō could ever need.