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want to see your animal side

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“What,” Sarutobi asks flatly, “is this?”

Kakashi doesn’t bother looking up from his book. “It’s a marriage certificate,” he says obligingly, though it says as much in big letters at the top of the scroll. Maybe the Sandaime’s eyesight is going; Kakashi certainly isn't about to judge.

Sarutobi's stare bores into the side of his head, so clearly his vision isn't that bad. “Under special dispensations it says marriage hunt,” he says.

“Well, yes.” Kakashi turns a page, skimming over the familiar words for his favorite passage. And—there it is. Ah, Tsunako is such a vixen in this one—it’s one of Kakashi’s favorites. “There was a thing with a crime lord and a high possibility of betrayal and it was kind of tedious. When he offered a way to resolve things with the old clan ways I thought it was a good idea.”

“Old clan ways,” Sarutobi repeats, maybe a little faintly.

Kakashi glances up, giving him a long, slow blink. “Didn’t your family do marriage hunts?” he asks innocently. “One person makes a challenge in order to add new blood to a clan. There’s a hunt, and whoever is found and pinned first gets added to the winner’s clan. And usually they consummate it by fu—”

Yes, thank you, Kakashi, the Sarutobi did no such thing but I get the idea,” the Sandaime says, very quickly. He kneads at his forehead—migraine, Kakashi thinks, he should probably get that looked at—takes another look at the scroll, and sighs. “And of all the people in the world you could have picked, you chose Momochi Zabuza? The missing-nin?”

Kakashi hums thoughtfully, tips his head to the side as he considers. “Well, he’s the one who proposed the idea. And he’s actually Hatake Zabuza now, since I won. Not a missing-nin, either, going by the old Hatake agreements with the Hokage. Spouses are considered citizens too, not just active shinobi.”

Sarutobi stares at him for a long moment, then buries his face in both hands and groans. That migraine must really be acting up, Kakashi thinks sympathetically.

“At least you won,” Sarutobi says, more to himself than Kakashi. “It could have been far worse.”

Kakashi has to push down an entirely inappropriate reaction, remembering the shock on Zabuza’s face when Kakashi pinned him down and took his mouth the first time. Remembering the strain of thick muscle as they wrestled, and the sweet, slick give of his body when he spread his legs and let Kakashi inside him with a cry.

Zabuza challenged a Hatake to a hunt. There was no way Kakashi was ever going to lose.

He smiles, lets it crinkle his eye as he closes his book. “I think that’s all the correct paperwork, Hokage-sama,” he says. “Did you need anything else?” Tempting to half-ass it, always, but—being hunted down, probably by Iruka, to redo forms is not how Kakashi plans to spend the next few days.

Sarutobi stays where he is, not lifting his head. “No, thank you, Kakashi. I think you’ve done more than enough. Just—remember that the Chuunin Exams are approaching. If you want your team to compete you need to notify me soon.”

Tempting, the thought of being rid of the three genin so quickly. Kakashi wavers, almost says yes then and there, but—if he does that means intensive training. Kakashi will have to watch the matches. He’ll probably have to be emotionally supportive and physically present at all times, and that’s asking a bit too much of him right now.

“No, I don’t think I want to,” he says, because later, after a few weeks, he can give the team a little more attention, but not now. Or maybe he’ll let Haku train them for a bit; Haku seems entirely competent at all the things Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto are so bad at. Like stealth, and cunning, and tact. “Surely it’s not fair to make a man on his honeymoon do such things, Hokage-sama.”

Honeymoon,” Sarutobi mutters, reaches into one of his desk drawers, and pulls out a bottle of sake. “Damn it, I'm too old for this. Go away.”

Kakashi takes the dismissal gracefully, tucking his book away and strolling out the door. As it closes behind him, he glances over at the familiar figure leaning against the wall, and says cheerfully, “I got the sake and the age complaint.”

“Fuck,” Genma says, digs around in his pocket, and flips Kakashi two coins. “I haven’t managed that in months. What did you do?”

“Got married to a missing-nin,” Kakashi tells him, tucking them into his vest. “Old clan laws.”

“A hunt?” Genma raises his brows, then tips his head and frowns thoughtfully. “Now there's a thought. Not a Shiranui thing, but we’ve got a few tricks of our own.”

Kakashi gives him a lazy wave. “Good luck,” he says, because there's no doubt that Genma will find trouble. It’s just a question of when. And who, apparently.

“You too.” Genma offers a cheeky wink, then tips his ANBU mask back down and leaps up onto the ledge above the window, vanishing from sight with the flicker of a chameleon jutsu.

With a chuckle, Kakashi tucks his hands into his pockets and wanders down the stairs. He briefly considers checking the training grounds for Gai, to pass on the news in a casual competition, maybe framed as a challenge, but…

But there's someone waiting at his apartment, and Kakashi doesn’t actually want to linger in the streets instead of going home. It’s a novel feeling, really. His apartment has always been a place to sleep and not much more, but now there’s another occupant. Kakashi should probably feel unsettled, having his space invaded like this, but the emotion isn't coming.

Then again, Kakashi does try to avoid emotion at all costs, so it’s definitely better this way.

He pauses at the base of his building, judges whether he wants to walk in through the front door or not, and then decides on not. A light leap carries him up to a balcony halfway to his apartment, and then from there it’s easy enough to jump up to his windowsill. The window is even cracked open already, and Kakashi eases it the rest of the way up and slides in, landing lightly on the floor.

“Are you wearing an apron yet?” he calls lightly.

There's a snort from the bedroom, and a moment later Zabuza appears, leaning against the doorframe. Sadly, he’s not wearing an apron, though Kakashi is vaguely certain that he doesn’t actually have one for Zabuza to wear. He’s also not wearing a shirt, though, and that’s definitely a plus. Kakashi eyes the bites littering his chest, most of them starting to fade. He traces the path of them down from Zabuza’s throat to his hip where his pants are riding low, lingering on the deep bite decorating the cut of his hipbone, and—

The traditions from the Clan Wars haven’t been maintained; there’s really no need, with villages to provide new blood. Marriage challenges were only ever about alliances and genetic variety, and with the villages that’s unnecessary. But Kakashi had heard the very first opening phrase of the traditional wording and he’d found himself entirely willing. Of course, Zabuza likely imagined a different outcome, but Hatake don’t lose. His great-grandmother beat Senju Butsuma’s brother in a hunt, even, tying their clans together, and Kakashi wasn’t about to be the first to fail.

Was glad he hadn’t, the moment he got his hand on Zabuza’s throat, entirely a threat, and felt the body beneath him go still with a shudder. He’d gone a little overboard with the bites in the aftermath of that adrenaline surge, but Zabuza wasn’t complaining.

“Where’s your tagalong?” he asks, because Haku is suspiciously absent. It takes effort to tear his eyes away from the expanse of Zabuza’s chest, but Kakashi manages, mostly because his gaze is drawn to Zabuza’s throat. He’d missed a spot. There's an untouched patch of skin underneath Zabuza’s jaw, and it looks the perfect size for Kakashi to get his teeth into. He likes the high-up marks, even though there's no real reason to leave those more than the others, given that Zabuza isn't hiding anything.

The sight of him like that, every mark on display, makes something turn over in Kakashi’s head a little. It’s dark and pleased and hungry, and his father used to laugh about Hatake going a little insane during the hunts but Kakashi finally knows precisely why.

“Haku?” Zabuza asks, and pushes upright. “Think your blond thing kidnapped him. Something about living together.”

Well, Naruto is definitely attached to Haku, and Kakashi can't say he objects to an otherwise empty apartment. Besides, Haku will be good for Naruto; that streak of ruthlessness in Haku is something Kakashi really hopes gets passed on through exposure.

“An empty nest already?” he drawls. “How are we going to cope?”

Zabuza makes a rude sound, stalking past Kakashi as he heads for the bathroom. “I'm going to cope with a shower,” he says. “And if my husband objects, fuck him.”

It’s a perfect opening, really. Kakashi lunges, sweeps Zabuza’s feet out from under him and topples him onto the couch, landing on top of him. The growl that bubbles up in his throat as Zabuza curses is more instinctive than anything, and he leans forward, feeling Zabuza abruptly go still beneath him as he closes his teeth over the tendon in Zabuza’s neck. He can feel the pulse there, quicker than normal, taste the salt of Zabuza’s skin as he breathes him in, and Kakashi bites down just hard enough to leave a mark. Zabuza gasps, arching up into him, and Kakashi splays his hands over his ribs, digs his fingers into thick muscle and drags his mouth down.

There's another spot of unmarked skin on his pec, right above his nipple, and Kakashi laves it with his tongue, licks at the hardening nipple with a pleased hum and then sinks his teeth into Zabuza’s skin, rides the desperate jerk of his body.

“Ah—asshole,” Zabuza gets out, but his fingers slide into Kakashi’s hair, twist into the strands and hold his head in place as he sucks hard. A shudder runs through Zabuza’s frame, grip tightening, and a moan catches is his throat. “Fuck. Some warning?”

Kakashi hums, and smiles at the desperate, ragged sound that tears from Zabuza. “It’s our honeymoon,” he says, then scrapes his teeth hard over Zabuza’s nipple and gets a loud, full-throated cry as the swordsman jerks. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that we fuck on every surface in the house.”

Zabuza doesn’t answer, just wrenches Kakashi’s mouth up and drags it over to his other nipple, and Kakashi chuckles, but gladly gives it his attention. With each stroke of his tongue and nip of his teeth, Zabuza twitches, groans, swallows back cries, and Kakashi is fascinated. He plays with him, teasing strokes and light sucks, careful bites, and it’s as if he’s playing with Zabuza’s cock instead of his chest.

“How,” he gets out, and bites at the skin just below the areola, gets a hoarse cry in answer. “How are you this sensitive when you walk around without a shirt all the time?”

“Fuck y—ah!” Zabuza throws his head back against the arm of the couch, and Kakashi casts a hungry glance up at the purpling bruise rising on his throat, the line of neck bare. He can see the shaky inhale, the ragged exhale before Zabuza says, “It’s not like people usually fuck with them, asshole.”

Kakashi makes an interested noise, pinching them hard. Zabuza snarls, and it’s a perfect sound, the kind of thing Kakashi definitely wants to hear again. He wonders what Zabuza’s opinions are on nipple piercings—rings, maybe, connected by a chain. The idea of fucking him from behind, tugging on the chain each time he drives himself home and feeling Zabuza’s reaction intimately, is all too tempting.

He files that away for later consideration, pushing up to sit. Zabuza is broad-chested and heavily muscled, and when Kakashi slides up to sit on his stomach it’s not an inconsiderable stretch in his thighs. With a pleased hum, he braces a hand on the arm of the couch, leans forward and nips hard right under Zabuza’s jaw. Zabuza jerks, sucks in a breath, and a moment later his hands clench around Kakashi’s thighs, fingertips digging in hard. Kakashi can't help but push into him, tugging on the skin, finding a new patch and scraping his canines over hard enough to leave another mark.

Pressing his thumbs over Zabuza’s nipples again, he rides the full-body twitch, leans down to bite a line of marks over the curve of his shoulder. He can feel each of Zabuza’s reactions, every hitch of breath and jerk of his body, and it’s immensely satisfying, slides heat into Kakashi’s veins as he takes his time. They couldn’t before, not the way he wanted to—the first time was in the forest, both of them tired from the chase and the fight several days beforehand. The second time was at Tazuna’s house, in Kakashi’s borrowed room after the mission was finished, quick and quiet and over too soon. This is the first time Kakashi’s gotten the chance to admire up close, and there's quite a lot to see.

Fuck,” Zabuza hisses, just as a particularly hard bite to his clavicle has the taste of blood sparking on Kakashi’s tongue. The hands on his thighs tighten, twitching, and Kakashi wonders how Zabuza would look if Kakashi rode him, maybe tied him down like he did in the forest, or even just told him not to touch—he wasn’t quite perfectly obedient, but he was a lot better than Kakashi had expected. He liked being teased, too; humiliation isn't something that will ever get Kakashi off, but giving praise? He can manage that. Calling Zabuza pretty certainly seems like a worthwhile endeavor, even if it takes a while to break him down to the point where he’ll accept it.

The work is half the fun, at least in this case, Kakashi thinks, and presses his teeth into the curve of muscle above Zabuza’s sternum. Slower this time, deliberate and careful, and Zabuza makes one of those sharp-edged, breathless sounds Kakashi likes so much. Almost surprise, and he did the same thing when Kakashi bit him the first time.

There's a curl of something in Kakashi’s chest as he glances up again, takes in the expression on Zabuza’s face, all sharp angles and pleasure. Between Kakashi’s legs, his chest is heaving, and there's an edge of bliss to his features that makes the darkness settle in a loose, content knot behind Kakashi’s sternum. It’s nothing so coherent as words, just—mine. Mine, and Kakashi hasn’t had anyone to say that about since Minato. This is different, a harsher, darker kind of possession, but—

Marriage hunts would make their clan members go a little crazy, his father used to tell him, making it a joke about those silly antiquated ways, like it hadn’t happened just two generations before. Kakashi doesn’t feel crazy, though. Just—satisfied. He won the hunt, he was stronger and faster and he beat Zabuza, and now the Hatake Clan has another member. A member who belongs to Kakashi.

He growls, low and heavy in his chest, and pushes up, catching Zabuza’s mouth in a deep, slow kiss, stroking into his mouth and tangling their tongues and tasting Zabuza’s heat. He tips his head, and Zabuza groans, the clenched fingers releasing. His hands stroke down Kakashi’s thighs instead, curl and then brush back up, and Kakashi hums, nipping lightly at Zabuza’s lower lip. Nowhere near hard enough to draw blood, but it makes Zabuza’s breath hitch and that’s more than enough.

Carefully, slowly, Kakashi eases the kiss back, steadies it until it’s glancing, almost closed-mouth brushes across swollen lips, and then he pulls away completely, sitting back and casting a satisfied eye over the new marks that litter Zabuza’s neck and chest. One is traced with blood, might scar if Zabuza doesn’t have Haku heal it, and Kakashi thinks of the print of his teeth set into Zabuza’s collarbone forever with prickles of want down his spine.

“Fucker,” Zabuza says, tongue flicking out as he licks his lips, but it’s too lazy, too heated to be anything like a complaint.

Kakashi gives him a cheerful, beaming smile and tugs his mask back up. “I think that makes you Mrs. Fucker, then,” he points out.

Zabuza rolls his eyes, very obviously, and swipes the pad of his thumb over the fresh mark on his neck. He checks for blood, huffs when he doesn’t find any, and then asks lazily, “You like to bite, don’t you?”

Some bit of Kakashi that remembers how normal people act bristles in alarm, and he hesitates, not quite sure what to say. It’s a clan thing, maybe, but—is it? Kakashi isn't sure. His father died when he was eight; there was never a chance to discuss things like that with him, and the Hatake as a whole don’t keep many records, especially of things that are supposed to be common knowledge. All Kakashi is working on here is half-remembered stories and pure instinct, and he can't even begin to tell what’s specifically Hatake instinct and what’s coming from his own tangled brain to be passed off as an actual clan thing.

“Yes,” he finally says, because at the very least it’s true. He likes to bite, and finding someone who indulges that to the extent that Zabuza does is vanishingly rare. Genma let him, once, but he was sore enough after no matter how he tried to hide it that Kakashi never tried again. Aoba let him, but very clearly got nothing out of it, and Kakashi hadn’t let himself push. Tenzō doesn’t like pain, so their times together Kakashi never even brought it up.

He looks at Zabuza again, covered in marks and as content as a cat in the sun, and has to swallow hard. Want, or maybe relief, or maybe neither of those at all—Kakashi can't quite tell.

All Zabuza does is grunt, though. He grins up at Kakashi, languid and full of banked heat, and his fingers drift up to caress Kakashi’s cock through his uniform pants. He’s hard, Kakashi realizes, and it’s not quite a surprise, but he hadn’t been thinking about it before this. It hadn’t been the goal, their moment hadn’t needed to end in mutual orgasms, and that’s—

Strange. A little unsettling, almost.

“Nice,” is Zabuza’s verdict, and there's no trace of a lie in his expression. His smile shows a flash of teeth, and he lets his hand slide away from Kakashi’s cock, nudging his hip instead. “Was this a protest of me using your hot water? Because I still want a damn shower.”

Unable to help himself, Kakashi ducks down, pulls his mask away and kisses him again, hard and deep and quick with just the barest graze of sharp teeth on both sides. Then he slides off of Zabuza, tugging the cloth back into place, and says mildly, “Use all the hot water you want.”

“Thanks, dear,” Zabuza says, making the endearment an insult with cutting edges, but it would probably work better if Kakashi was actually paying attention, not looking him over. He’s hard, too, an obvious bulge in his pants, but he doesn’t seem bothered by it.

“Want a hand?” Kakashi asks, even though he doesn’t particularly want to fuck at this moment. He’s satisfied with his marks, but he’ll have sex if Zabuza wants it.

Zabuza waves him away with a grunt, though. “Save it for later,” he says, getting to his feet. He unbuckles and unzips his pants, stepping out of them, and then heads for the bathroom again. Kakashi stares after him, eyes locked on the bite-shaped bruise crowning the curve of his ass, and then closes his eyes and tells himself he doesn’t need to follow just to finish painting the bare skin with his own color. There will be time for that. Just—now is for the anticipation, the low-level burn of want that sits in his stomach and grows and grows.

He takes a breath, forces his eyes up again. His eyes linger on the cut of Zabuza’s hipbones, the lines of his ribs, and he thinks of the feel of them between his thighs as Zabuza strained up into him. Thin, despite his muscle, and life on the run from a place like Kiri, renowned for its hunter-nin, can't be easy. Haku looks perfectly well-fed, but Zabuza doesn’t.

Kakashi stirs restlessly, glancing at the window. He could still go find Gai, maybe Tenzō or Asuma—they're the main ones he would care to pass the news on to. He could even go check on his team, make sure they're settling in to the village after their mission, after their fight with Gato’s men on the bridge and the killing that went with it. But he doesn’t want to leave the apartment, doesn’t want to wander the village even though he normally enjoys it. He doesn’t even want to go out to get dinner the way he was sort of planning; surely there's still something in his fridge that will make a meal. Better to stay in. The mission only just ended, after all. He’s a little tired.

He listens to the water turn on in the shower, the hiss as Zabuza gets in without waiting for it to warm up. Thinks, just for a moment, about going in after him and pressing him up against the wall, making sure that every inch of him is marked. Not that he thinks Zabuza is going to hide any of his bites, just—to make sure.

Better to wait, he decides, shaking himself. Zabuza needs food. The apartment is quiet, secluded. They don’t need to go out for a while.

It’s a clan thing, Kakashi thinks, turning the phrase over in his head. Tastes the accuracy of it, but still can't decide.

His father always told him there were spirits that married into the Hatake line once, very, very long ago. Wolf spirits, winter storm spirits, full of violence and rage and majesty, wandering in and out of mortal lives like the seasons. The stories never interested Kakashi all that much, because he was a stupid, arrogant child, but now—

He looks at Zabuza and thinks mine like it’s the only feeling in his head, and it makes him wonder. Not object, but just…think.

Zabuza is carrying his marks. They're set into his skin, and he gave himself up to Kakashi in the middle of a forest in Wave. Kakashi hunted him down and wrestled him to the ground, took his body and his mouth and made Zabuza part of his clan.

Mine, he thinks and closes his eye, swallowing the growl that bubbles up in his throat.

No one has belonged to Kakashi since Minato, and that was entirely different, Kakashi on the edges of Minato's family instead of someone firmly in Kakashi’s. but Zabuza—Zabuza is all his. He took Kakashi’s name. He followed Kakashi back to his village, brought his apprentice with him. There's every sign he’s going to stay.

Kakashi steps close enough to the bathroom door to drag his fingers across the wood, listening to the sound of the water running. Breathes out, long and slow, and turns away to find them food.

Chapter Text

Zabuza stares at the hitai-ate sitting on the bathroom counter, hand frozen on the towel he was just using to scrub his hair dry. Not something he’d consciously registered, when he took it off—it’s been there since he was nine years old, the one constant in his life. Even after he and Haku left Kiri, he’d never slashed the plate the way most missing-nin did. Why bother, he’d thought, when he was planning to go back?

It’s bitter on his tongue, the knowledge that that dream is dead. He’s not a member of Kiri anymore; when he lost the hunt he surrendered all former ties, gave up his allegiances to everyone but his new husband. Better than dying at the hands of the army Gato had amassed, with the betrayal Haku learned about, maybe, and Zabuza was entirely out of followers and funds both by that point, but—

He hopes, with a sharpness that tastes of desperation, that Terumī managed to keep her head down even after their coup failed. There wasn’t any way to get word whether she’d been caught, even as he was sending money back, but she’s a clever, ruthless bitch; Zabuza has no doubt she managed to slip into the cracks when everything fell apart. They hadn’t ever discussed failure, because it felt too much like tempting fate, but she knew all the important names, all the members of the rebellion and the secret caches of weapons and money. She’ll be fine, and in the prime position to try again. Zabuza refuses to believe anything else.

But—

Breathing out through his nose, Zabuza drops the towel on top of his hitai-ate, covering it completely. Not his anymore, technically. He’s going to have to get a new one if he wants to do shinobi work. A Konoha hitai-ate, to go along with his twink of a husband.

Fuck, Kisame's going to die laughing when he hears. Either that or hunt Zabuza down and kill him.

Rubbing a hand through his hair, Zabuza blows out a heavy breath, then opens the bathroom door. The apartment is still quiet, even though Zabuza’s been halfway expecting Haku to flee the blond brat in terror for his eardrums and sanity. No sign of him yet, though, just the smell of grilled fish on the air and a table set for two in the kitchen. The weedy little scarecrow who gave Zabuza the best fucking of his life just a few days ago is stretched out on the sofa, reading his porn, and Zabuza feels a flicker of amusement despite himself. He expected a lot of things when he realized it was Copy-Nin Kakashi guarding their target, but he can safely say that none of it was even close to reality.

“Done already?” Kakashi asks, not bothering to look up from his book. “Are you sure you don’t want to keep going for another hour or two? I think old man Hagane on the bottom floor still has some hot water you could steal.”

Zabuza scoffs, stalking over to the couch. He swings his leg over Kakashi’s hips and drops down to sit on top of him, leaning forward and bracing his hand on the arm. Before he was content to wait, but—

But he gave up everything to get out from under Gato’s thumb. All he has left of who he used to be is Kubikiribōchō, his hitai-ate, and Haku, and there's some knot of fury or pain tangled up in his chest. All he wants is to forget about it for a little while, and Kakashi’s cock managed that just fine before.

“Get your dick out,” he tells Kakashi.

There's a pause, and then the book dips. Kakashi casts him a look over the top of it, his one visible eye faintly narrowed in assessment, and then hums. “The food will get cold,” he says.

The smell of it is heavy on the air, rich and tempting, and Zabuza is hungry, but he couldn’t eat right now if he tried. His thoughts are all knotted up in jagged-edged snarls, too tight, too tense. Either Kakashi fucks him into incoherence again or he’s going to walk right out of the apartment and pick a fight with the first shinobi he sees, and it’s not going to end well. He wants blood, wants to tear, eat someone alive and move on to another victim, fight and fight and kill until his head is empty again.

“Fuck me,” he snarls, makes it a dare, because Kakashi seems to like those. “Fuck me or I'm going to slaughter my way through your damned village—”

Kakashi’s book clatters to the floor as he twists, toppling Zabuza over and back. Zabuza hits the far end of the couch hard enough to knock the breath right out of him, tries to grab for a weapon but Kakashi is already on top of him. There's a mouth at his throat, sharp teeth right over his jugular, and hands on his thighs, shoving them up and open. With a snarl Zabuza pushes up, tries to break Kakashi’s grip, and he isn't sure if he wants to fight or fuck or both at once but there's nothing in him that can give up, bare its throat just like that. He did once and got dragged back to this shitty village with nothing to his name, not even his name. He’s stuck here, Kiri further away than it ever was when he was a missing-nin. If Kakashi wants anything from him, he’s going to have to give Zabuza a damned good reason to give it.

Then there are fingers on his cock, rough calluses skimming down the shaft, and Kakashi growls right against his throat, the sound vibrating through him like thunder. Zabuza freezes without meaning to, instinct more than conscious thought, and Kakashi wraps his hand around him, strokes him once and then lets go. That teasing touch drifts down, slow and light even as Zabuza sinks his nails into Kakashi’s shoulders, and it doesn’t waver. Kakashi cups his balls, tugging at each one in turn and humming when Zabuza gasps, then slides his hand down Zabuza’s perineum. He presses hard just once, right against Zabuza’s prostate, and Zabuza chokes on a curse as heat shatters through him like lightning. Impossible to move, pinned by Kakashi’s weight and with teeth buried in his throat, but he closes his eyes, trying to catch his breath as those long fingers rub against his hole.

“Come on, asshole,” he gets out, too breathy, too desperate. Hates himself for needing it, but it’s the first time in years that he’s had the option to do something besides fight until his head emptied.

Kakashi’s teeth release their hold, and with a low huff Kakashi licks the marks, long drags of his tongue across pain-hot skin, and it’s just about enough to short out Zabuza’s brain. He groans, dragging his fingernails down Kakashi’s clothed back, and sucks in a sharp breath as a finger presses into him.

“If you really wanted to fuck right now,” Kakashi says, low and hungry and sharp like pinpricks across Zabuza’s skin, “you should have opened yourself up in the shower.”

Zabuza shudders, tries to hide it as he gets out, “What, and make your life easier?”

Kakashi slides another finger into him, too gentle, too slow, eases him open like he’s made of spun glass. “If you were going to make my life easier,” he says, “you could just stay in bed all day. I have a plug that would fit you. Keep you wet for me.”

Fuck. Zabuza strangles a moan, and he’s done it before, lazed around all day in Kisame's house on a day off, ready and waiting every time Kisame slipped home between shifts. Hadn’t ever thought to have it again, though—hadn’t thought to have this.

It takes a hell of a lot for Zabuza to spread his legs for someone. Kisame valued his word above anything, so Zabuza could trust him, and Zabuza and Mei shared a secret that could have gotten them both executed in a heartbeat. It was easy to trust that she wouldn’t betray him when he held something like that over her head, and she had the same on him.

Kakashi, though—Zabuza’s made the decision to trust him, made it when he started the hunt. This is what comes of it, and he’s fine with that. It’s just going to take some time to get used to.

Another careful lick to his throat and then Kakashi is pulling back, slipping his fingers out of Zabuza’s hole. Zabuza growls, but Kakashi growls back, louder and fiercer, and kisses him hard, tongue pushing into his mouth as he shoves a knee between Zabuza’s thigh. It’s pressure and touch, the uniform pants rough against his cock, the feel of the bandages holding Kakashi’s weapon pouch on enough to make Zabuza’s voice stutter and catch in his throat. Kakashi doesn’t let up the kiss, though, doesn’t even pause as he shoves up and in, and he’s half of Zabuza’s width but he’s strong, far stronger than he looks. Zabuza strains against him, gets a short, sharp, almost chiding sound, and Kakashi shoves his leg up, pulls back. His one visible eye is blown dark, the grey a thin ring around the pupil, and there's a gratifying unsteadiness to his breath.

“The food’s getting cold,” he says again, and then fucking gets up, stepping away from the couch like they weren’t doing anything more serious than necking. Like Zabuza isn't hard and breathless and aching with want right in front of him.

“What the fucking shit?” Zabuza demands, and the heat of arousal is already sliding into the burn of rage. He gets an arm underneath himself, shoves up—

Kakashi catches his mouth as he rises, pulls him up, tips his head back to keep them connected as Zabuza comes to his full height. For an instant Zabuza is entirely distracted by the traces of sharp teeth across his lip, by the tongue that slides back into his mouth to tangle with his own. He groans before he can help it, and a moment later there are hands on his hips, pulling him close.

Easy to feel that Kakashi is rock-hard and throbbing when he’s this close. Easy to feel the desperation in his grip, and the way his muscles strain. Zabuza isn't the only one wanting right now.

“Later,” Kakashi says, on a rasp of air. He steps completely away, sweeping a look up and down Zabuza’s body, and then offers up a guileless smile that doesn’t hide the intensity of his stare. “I want our first time at home to be on the bed.”

My bed, he doesn’t say, but Zabuza can all but feel the possessive slant to the words—a possessiveness that includes Zabuza too, judging by the way Kakashi curls a hand around his elbow. There's still frustrated arousal singing through Zabuza’s skin, but he lets the touch ground him, fights down the edges of anger in favor of rationality. The possessive urge isn't something he objects to, exactly, but it’s…surprising.

“What the fuck kind of blood does your family even have,” Zabuza demands, but he lets Kakashi steer him towards the table. “And fuck you, I'm not eating until I get pants.”

“Then get them,” Kakashi answers without missing a beat. He steps away from Zabuza, heading for the bathroom, and the door closes softly behind him.

Irritation prickles down Zabuza’s spine, and he bares his teeth at the door. “You’d better not fucking be jerking off in there,” he warns, and it’s a dark sharpness in his chest, like blades at night. Anger, but—something else, too.

Kakashi isn't the only one who isn't entirely certain about this, he thinks, and growls at himself. In the bathroom, the water pointedly turns on, runs for a moment, and then turns off, and Zabuza rolls his eyes and leans down to scoop up his old pants. Pulls them on, not bothering to button them up because if the world has any mercy at all they’ll be coming off again quickly enough, and then stalks over to the table and drops into one of the chairs.

The curl of hunger twisting through his stomach is almost a surprise, really.

“You don’t just have to stare at it,” Kakashi says from right behind his shoulder, but Zabuza marked him, doesn’t flinch.

“At least you can cook,” he says grudgingly, and only just waits for Kakashi to settle into the other chair before he picks up his rice.

Kakashi hums, but he’s watching Zabuza eat, paying careful attention even as he starts in on his own food. “Raijū,” he says, and when Zabuza glances up at him in confusion, he clarifies, “The Hatake. We have Raijū blood.”

Well, Zabuza probably could have guessed that if he put any thought into it at all. He grunts, accepting the statement, and pulls his fish closer. “Fuckin’ obvious,” he says, stuffing another bite in his mouth, and Kakashi’s eye crinkles.

“None of the old clans are subtle,” he says, and then, “The Momochi?”

“Fucking guess,” Zabuza says around a mouthful of fish.

“Oni,” Kakashi offers without hesitation, and smiles when Zabuza rolls his eyes but nods in confirmation. “And you’re raising a yuki-onna. Curious.”

Zabuza doesn’t deign to respond to that. Haku is about as close to pure-blooded as he’s ever seen, and Zabuza was never going to let someone that valuable slip through his fingers. Haku's mother must have been a yuki-onna, or his grandmother at least, and him dying in a ditch would have been a damned waste. “What about you,” he says, makes it a challenge. “An Uzumaki and an Uchiha on one team? Some people’d call that stacking the deck.”

Something wry and sad flickers across Kakashi’s face for half a heartbeat before it’s completely shut away. “I doubt they know,” he says mildly, pushing a bite of pickle around the bottom of his bowl. “Naruto is an orphan, and the Uchiha were civilized about such things.”

Zabuza’s lip curls in disgust. Barely four generations born in the villages and they’re already forgetting where they came from. It’s fucking stupid, and he’s never had patience for that kind of deliberate ignorance. “Did them a whole fucking lot of good, didn’t it,” he scoffs.

With a light hum, Kakashi looks away. “There are some clans that remember.”

“Not enough,” is Zabuza’s verdict, but then, he’s always felt that way. People in Kiri were forgetting, too, letting the knowledge die away. Safe, Ameyuri had told Zabuza once, when he commented. She’d shrugged, uncaring, and ignored his disbelief. After all, there weren’t many spirits left in the world. Ancient bloodlines mattered less than chakra and the skills that came with it. Less than the villages and what they offered.

Zabuza has never had much patience for that kind of thinking, either.

“Least you're not a complete idiot,” he mutters, and sets his dishes aside, still hungry but not willing to eat more. It’s rich food, and better than what he and Haku could normally afford. Too much and he’ll make himself sick.

Kakashi is still watching him, covert but all too clear with the way it makes Zabuza’s skin prickle. “I wouldn’t have agreed to a hunt if the Hatake didn’t remember,” he points out.

Just for a moment, Zabuza wonders just what would have happened if Haku hadn’t overheard Gato’s plans against them. Wonders how everything would have played out if he hadn’t challenged Kakashi on the bridge, halfway to beaten and with only a desperate hope of winning the fight left. He and Haku are good, some of the best, but—even they couldn’t face down an S-rank nin and his team and then an army before someone got in a lucky hit. It was a selfish decision, especially when he was supposed to be focusing on Kiri, on unseating Yagura, but…

He hadn’t wanted to die betrayed and forgotten, so far from Kiri, with nothing to show for it. Hadn’t wanted to run, not with the threat of Kiri on one side and Konoha on the other, no money and none of his pride left, followers dead, rebellion a failure. A marriage hunt, the possibility of tying himself, even incidentally, to Konoha, had been a far better option. Zabuza had expected to win, to fuck Kakashi on the ground and then use Konoha's outrage to gather more support, but it hadn’t worked like that. He still can't decide if he regrets it or not.

“Someday,” Kakashi says, but it’s mostly to himself, and when Zabuza glances up he’s looking away, eyes on the window across the room. “Someday all of the spirits are going to wake up again.”

Something shivers down Zabuza’s spine, like foreboding, like anticipation. He carefully puts his chopsticks down, takes a breath. Wonders what the hell could possess Kakashi to say that, and then wonders why he would even think about objecting. The old ways coming back—it would be chaos, and terror, and something inside of Zabuza stirs eagerly, all too ready to see it.

“It’s about time,” he says gruffly, and when Kakashi jerks around to blink at him, he smirks, leaning back in his chair. “What? You're the one with the team full of monsters. That little girl—she doesn’t know what she is, either, does she?”

Wry amusement touches Kakashi’s mouth. “I don’t know what she is,” he says. “The Haruno are down to one family, and have been for a while.”

It figures. Zabuza tilts his head, considering, but—she was weak. A little girl, in a way most shinobi aren’t by the time they make genin, and he can't say what bloodlines she’s got in her from one encounter. It doesn’t matter, though; things like that always show themselves eventually. He grunts, not overly interested, and then pushes to his feet and collects his empty dishes. “If things ever do start picking up, you're going to have your hands full,” he says.

The face Kakashi pulls is easy to catch out of the corner of his eye as Zabuza settles things into the sink. “Maybe I should have shoved them through the Exams,” he says.

“Yeah,” Zabuza says dryly, remembering the hot mess that was the three of Kakashi’s genin facing even Haku. “You get that Haku's chuunin-level, right? They meet one team stronger than them right now and they’ll crash and burn.”

With a dissatisfied huff, Kakashi rises, and a moment later his weight is falling against Zabuza’s back. There's a slow, careful lick to the bite on the nape of his neck, deliberate and teasing, and Zabuza catches his breath as hands settle on his hips, pulling him back against the cradle of Kakashi’s hips. Kakashi’s not hard, not yet, but Zabuza can change that.

“Do you really want to talk about my genin right now?” Kakashi asks, and his fingertips slide under the loose waistband of Zabuza’s pants, dragging over his hipbones.

“Yeah,” Zabuza says, sarcasm thick enough to choke on. “All I want right now is an in-depth conversation about your training methods and what you think of their potential. Let’s make some flowcharts. Or maybe a long-term plan.”

“Flowcharts sound good,” Kakashi says, because Zabuza married an asshole, but he doesn’t lift his mouth from the knobs of Zabuza’s spine. “I think I have some colored highlighters around here somewhere.”

“Fuck,” Zabuza mutters, though he can't tell whether it’s reproach directed at his life choices for picking Kakashi of all people or praise for the way Kakashi’s teeth close on his skin, tongue working the patch until it’s hot and sensitive, tingling with each pull of Kakashi’s mouth. That’s going to be a big fucking bruise, and maybe from any other partner Zabuza would object, would push them away and tell them to knock it off, but—

He thinks of the way Kakashi fucked him before, even that quick and dirty rut against each other in the Bridge-Builder’s house when everything was over, and his breath shudders out of him. His fingers curl against the edge of the sink, digging into the tile, and he closes his eyes. Kakashi’s fucking possessive, and Zabuza hadn’t seen it in him until they were in the dirt with his cock halfway into Zabuza’s ass but like this it’s all too clear. Ridiculous, maybe, because Zabuza was the one to tie them together, to make the first move, but whether it’s a clan thing or just Kakashi himself, Zabuza doesn’t object. Doesn’t object on a level that’s surprising even to himself, but then, he’s always tried to stay away from any form of attachment for just that reason.

Mei and Kisame and the handful of others he’s tumbled over the years—none of them wanted more than a few minutes of physical release, and Zabuza didn’t want any more from them either. But the promise of getting more, of having it available, even expected

It’s like the trust thing. Zabuza wasn’t looking for it, but now that he’s found it he might as well enjoy it. Being wanted like that, by someone just as strong as he is, who beat Zabuza at a hunt—that’s a pretty heady thing.

“You going to stop in the middle of things again?” he asks, and if it’s sharp around the edges he’s entirely justified. Getting left high and dry is no fucking fun unless they both agree to it.

Kakashi hums right against his skin, lets his hands slide down Zabuza’s thighs, pushing his pants along with them. “Not unless you want me to,” he says, a mild as a spring day, but Zabuza isn't about to be fooled.

“I wanted your dick in me an hour ago,” he snaps, but the words break into a gasp as Kakashi’s hand curls around his half-hard cock. Those fingers tighten, stroke up just a little too lightly, a little too slowly. Zabuza groans in frustration, trying to shove into his grip, but Kakashi’s free hand wraps around his waist, hauls him back, and he’s getting hard now, obvious in the loose uniform pants. There's just enough of a difference between their heights that Zabuza can the press of the shaft between his legs, and he drags in a ragged breath, grinding down against it.

“My dick wanted to be in you an hour ago,” Kakashi tells him, but before Zabuza can do more than scoff angrily he tightens his grip, twists his fist as he pulls up, and Zabuza’s knees practically buckle. Kakashi chuckles, fingers rubbing light circles across Zabuza’s stomach, and then says, “Now we don’t have to stop for dinner later. We have the whole night.”

Zabuza can't quite get enough breath to answer; Kakashi’s hand is warm and tight and just rough enough, and each stroke feels like building heat, an edge of sharpness that sinks into his gut and lodges there. He groans, entirely unwilling to admit that Kakashi has a point, and rocks down against Kakashi’s cock as Kakashi’s thumb presses right under the head of his own cock without mercy.

“Bed,” Kakashi says in his ear, and sharp teeth skim the lobe. His grip disappears, and Zabuza rounds on him with a snarl as he steps back, but Kakashi’s mouth is right there, sly and smirking. Zabuza catches him in a hard kiss, feels skin split under his teeth and the taste of blood fill his mouth. Kakashi growls right back, grips his hips and shoves him towards the bedroom, and Zabuza goes with the motion easily, letting Kakashi steer them without bothering to break the kiss. There's no hesitation in Kakashi’s answer, no faltering; he meets every ounce of force Zabuza puts into it with the exact same pressure, overwhelms and takes and shoves Zabuza back, and it’s almost a surprise when Zabuza’s knees hit the edge of the mattress and he goes spilling onto the surface with a breathless curse.

“Well?” he drawls, licking his lower lip as he looks up at Kakashi. The expression on his face is familiar, the same one he wore the first time, when he sank his teeth into Zabuza’s throat and won the hunt. Predator, Zabuza thinks, and it makes something equally hungry and dark rise in his chest. “Got a preference, scarecrow?”

Kakashi’s eye tracks the motion of his tongue, and he takes a strained breath. Reaches up, and with deliberate care pulls his hitai-ate all the way off. Mismatched eyes slide open, and Kakashi sets the band aside, then strips out of his shirt and lets it fall to the floor. His pants follow a moment later, and he steps out of them completely bare, cock hard and curving up towards his belly. He’s pale and lean, sleekly muscled, and Zabuza’s always preferred his men to look like Kisame, huge and hulking and capable of throwing Zabuza around, but…well. Kakashi’s already shown he has a penchant for manhandling that Zabuza definitely enjoys, and he might be skinny but he at least knows how to use what he’s got. Zabuza probably could have done worse.

“Spread your legs,” he says, and leans over to pull a jar off the bedside table. “Hands on the headboard, and keep them there.”

Fuck. Zabuza could have done a hell of a lot worse, he thinks, trying to contain a shiver as he obeys.

Chapter Text

“You take my fingers so well,” Kakashi murmurs, pressing a lazy kiss to the jut of Zabuza’s hipbone, though he doesn’t let his gaze waver from his face, the twist of pleasure there. Slides three fingers just a little deeper, curls them up to press hard against his prostate, and smiles when Zabuza’s whole body twitches.

There's a low groan, tangled around the edges of a curse. “Fucker,” Zabuza breathes, eyes shut tight as he pants for breath, but his hands are still white-knuckled around the slats of the headboard, muscles straining as he tries not to move.

So pretty, Kakashi thinks, but doesn’t say. Not yet. He’s never really been fussed about roles in the bedroom, never had a preference about being on top or on bottom, but he could watch Zabuza take his fingers for the rest of their lives and never get tired of the sight. He presses a fourth in, spreads them, and Zabuza chokes, spine curving as he arches, muscles coming into clear definition, head falling back. Chuckling, Kakashi kisses the thigh that’s thrown over his shoulder, lets the edge of his teeth touch the unmarked skin. Something to look forward to, putting his bite right there, but for now it’s more temptation than anything, and Kakashi drags his mouth across the pale skin, feels the jump and twitch of tight muscles as Zabuza hisses.

With a light hum, Kakashi slides his fingers out, amused by the short, aborted cry that escapes Zabuza as he does. “Patience,” he says, smearing more lube across his hand, but it’s entirely a front; all he wants right now is to sink into Zabuza, feel that big body straining underneath him, shaking apart one stroke at a time.

It’s fun to tease him, though. Kakashi is definitely enjoying having a partner who’s willing to be pushed right to the edge.

“Fucking hate you,” Zabuza grinds out, jaw clenched, face screwed up like he’s in pain. “Just fucking fuck me already.”

“Hmm.” Kakashi strokes the pad of his thumb across Zabuza’s hole, teases the edge just for the desperate sound it gets him. “I don’t know, I don’t want to hurt you,” he says breezily, and when Zabuza snarls he ignores him completely. “My pretty little wife shouldn’t have to suffer when we have sex.”

“In about five seconds I'm going to show you suffer—ah!” Zabuza jolts, losing his words on a cry as Kakashi pushes all four fingers back into him at once. His cock twitches against his stomach, and he must be painfully hard, Kakashi thinks, eyeing it. He’s not going to touch, though; Zabuza came untouched before, in the forest, came from nothing but Kakashi’s cock in him, and even if he was already oversensitive and straining that time, Kakashi wants to see if he can do it again. Another bit of teasing, maybe, but he’s so cute in that moment when anger and bravado turn into desperation.

“Show me what?” Kakashi asks guilelessly, and dips down, stroking his tongue around the root of Zabuza’s cock. Zabuza chokes on a groan, leg falling open wider as he pushes up, but Kakashi ignores the hint and pulls away. Shoves his fingers all the way into his body instead, spreads them wide and curls them, and Zabuza moans, shuddering.

He’s so soft inside, Kakashi thinks, and scrapes his teeth lightly across his stomach, hitching Zabuza’s leg up over his shoulder a little more. Soft and hot and impossibly slick with all the lube Kakashi has pressed into him, and that dark thing is back in Kakashi’s head, ready to fight and tear so that no one gets to see this but him. Zabuza is a Hatake, is his, and it shouldn’t make something in Kakashi’s brain turn over but it does. He presses his nose against the base of Zabuza’s cock, breathes in the scent of wiry dark hair and hot skin with blood close to the surface, arousal and need and the thing underneath that’s Zabuza himself. Commits it to memory, careful and precise, and rubs short, hard strokes into sensitive nerves just to feel the desperate flutter of muscle, to hear the ragged, breathless cry it gets him.

Kakashi had considered, on the road home, just what kind of bloodlines could have combined to make a man like Zabuza. Thought of it in the dark, when Zabuza slept beside him seemingly without concern, and in the daylight, when Zabuza walked next to him with his eyes fixed ahead, Kubikiribōchō on his back and Haku one step behind, all of who he was clear for Kakashi to see. Oni, he had finally decided, and even beyond the seething fury of Zabuza’s chakra, it had made sense. Oni are monsters, villains, but they’re also soldiers, following orders when they're given. Zabuza likes to pretend he doesn’t, that he’s some wildcard with no care for rules, but—

His hands are still on the headboard, and he’s never even tried to let go.

It’s pleasing, that knowledge, curling tight in Kakashi’s chest. Not something he’d thought to want, but it tastes like mine on his tongue, heavy and heady. He hums, feels Zabuza twitch and gasp, and smiles to himself. Wonders, light and amused, just how much teasing it would take to make Zabuza really beg. He probably would if Kakashi rode him, slow and careful, maybe put a cock ring on him and worked him over a few times first. It’s a tempting thought, but…for another day. Right now Zabuza is slick and open and gasping, taking four of Kakashi’s fingers so perfectly, and Kakashi isn't about to waste that.

He draws back deliberately, tracing his fingers across Zabuza’s passage as he goes, swallowing at the low, guttural sound it gets him as Zabuza arches into him, pushes down to get more.

Hatake—” Zabuza spits, harsh voice, body straining, but he still hasn’t let go.

(Trust me, something in Kakashi whispers. Trust me, let me, give me.)

Kakashi slides up his body, groaning at the feel of his aching cock sliding across scarred flesh and hard muscle, but he doesn’t pause, hooks his hands under Zabuza’s knees and spreads them wide. Zabuza groans, pressing up like he wants to reach for Kakashi, and Kakashi rewards him with a kiss, sliding his tongue into Zabuza’s mouth to taste him. Eagerly, Zabuza meets him, tongue tangling Kakashi’s, and it’s a messy, heated kiss, barely enough to deserve the name, but it curls down Kakashi’s spine like a wash of fire and makes him moan.

Carefully, Kakashi releases one of Zabuza’s thighs, reaches down to press the head of his cock to that slick hole. Feels it give immediately, and gasps as he slides in, instantly swallowed by the velvety clutch of slicked muscle and burning heat. He falls forward, catching himself with a hand on the bed, and all he can see is Zabuza’s face, expression going slack, eyes fluttering closed as he moans. The tilt of his head leaves his marked throat bare, and the bites Kakashi just laid there are stark and red and perfect.

Shit,” Zabuza breathes, shudders, hands clenching tight around the slats. He breathes out hard through his nose, throat working, and there's nothing in Kakashi that can resist. Leaning forward, he presses his mouth over Zabuza’s jugular, flattens his tongue over the rapid flutter of the pulse beating right beneath his skin. There's already a mark there, and it feels like satisfaction, like pride, like mine. Zabuza’s body is tight around him, clamping down around the invasion, and it’s stripping away at Kakashi’s control. He wants to take, to fuck, but he gives Zabuza the moment, the next, lets him adjust until his breath evens out just a little.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it,” he says, right against Zabuza’s skin. Noses up under his jaw to kiss the soft skin there, and smiles at the shudder it earns him. “Since someone fucked you.”

Nh.” Zabuza swallows, twitches as Kakashi rolls his hips without pulling out. “Fucking shit. Yeah. Not since—not since Kiri.”

A few years at least, Kakashi judges, though he can't quite remember when he first saw Zabuza listed as a missing-nin. And it makes sense, really, that Zabuza wouldn’t leave himself open to other people while he was on the run, but—

But it makes Kakashi want to growl, want to cover Zabuza and keep him in bed and not let him up. He presses his mouth to Zabuza’s, quick and messy and sharp with teeth, and says, “You can't use my family name like that. It’s yours too.”

Zabuza groans, and dark eyes flutter open, dazed and desperate. “Are you fucking nitpicking,” he hisses, and Kakashi laughs, catches his mouth in a deeper kiss, scraping teeth across his lips to reopen the older cuts.

“I think you should be using your husband’s name, that’s all,” he says, sliding his hand down Zabuza’s tight stomach, over his ribs and the line of his hips. Thin, he thinks again, and Zabuza has a solid three inches on him and quite a lot of muscle mass, but Kakashi’s willing to bet they’re just about the same weight. Something to fix, definitely.

With a muttered curse, Zabuza rocks down into him, filed teeth sinking into his own lip. “Fuck,” he groans, “fuck,” and then, “Kakashi.”

Good behavior deserves a reward. With a wicked smile, Kakashi catches a nipple between his teeth, pushes Zabuza’s thighs up to his chest and thrusts into him. Zabuza shouts, guttural and almost startled, and Kakashi hums, sucking hard, teasing the bud with his teeth as he pulls back, slides in again. The angle makes Zabuza buck, jerk, and there's nothing but pleasure on his face as he strains. Kakashi shoves his legs higher, drags his teeth across thick thighs and then bites as he bottoms out, grinding with a slow roll of his hips.

Zabuza cries out, the sound breaking halfway as he struggles to stay where he is, fingernails scraping across the wood. Strains up, clenching hard around Kakashi’s cock, but can't move when his knees are by his shoulders. Kakashi puts his weight on him, pins him there as he drives into him with hard thrusts that make him shout. It’s heat and desperation and Kakashi just wants, wants to keep Zabuza right here forever, wants to never have to let him get up and leave. The clutch of his body is perfect, slick friction and the way Zabuza gasps when Kakashi shoves in to the hilt, the cry when Kakashi’s angle slides right over delicate nerves and Kakashi can see the feeling fracture through him.

Kakashi fucks him hard, doesn’t let up even as the coiling heat builds and builds. Drags his mouth over sweat-slick skin, over the marks of his teeth, over the heaving chest that’s his doing, and this isn't a rut in a forest, isn't a quick hand job in a borrowed bedroom. This is Zabuza in his bed, as his husband, beautiful as the pleasure takes him to pieces. Kakashi growls before he can help it, can't even think to contain himself, and he curls forward, shoves Zabuza’s legs up and apart to give himself another inch of depth and kisses the cry out of Zabuza's mouth. There's a jerk, a low, breathless sound, but it’s not enough and Kakashi won't let himself come until Zabuza does.

“Again,” he says, barely registers that it’s his own voice.

Thankfully Zabuza understands. He snarls, winded and frantic, and gets out, “Kakashi,” on half a breath. Gasps, loses the breath on a hiss as Kakashi shoves all the way in and rolls his hips, and manages, “Kakashi, fuck, give me—”

Kakashi kisses him again, growls, “Let go,” and Zabuza’s hands are instantly in his hair, urging his mouth on, kiss sloppy and desperate and wild. One more thrust makes him cry out, and then he’s jerking, muscles locking. Kakashi kisses him through it, rides the fluttering clutch of Zabuza’s body around his cock, and lets go. Thrusts in hard, bottoming out with a groan, and comes, gasping and almost shaking with the force of it. Zabuza shivers under him, breath escaping on a whine, and Kakashi lets go of his legs, gentling the kiss but not letting up. There’s no objection from Zabuza, either; he groans, but those long, muscular legs slide down to loop around Kakashi’s waist, holding him where he is.

Since he doesn’t have any plans of pulling out soon, this suits Kakashi just fine. He hums as Zabuza’s hand curls around the nape of his neck, the other stroking down his back, and loops an arm around Zabuza’s side, rolling them carefully. Zabuza groans, shuddering a little as they settle mostly on their sides, but he keeps Kakashi between his legs and doesn’t try to move away. In thanks, Kakashi strokes his hip, watching his face as they both catch their breath. Handsome, and Kakashi’s not shallow but Zabuza is certainly nice to look at. Especially like this, flushed and breathless, hair damp with sweat, body lax.

“Gods,” Zabuza finally mutters, but there's a curve to one corner of his mouth that’s pure amusement. “Why does a shrimp like you have to be so good in the sack?”

Mine, Kakashi thinks with a hungry edge of avarice. He threads his fingers into short black hair, just to feel the texture of it, and hums lightly. “I'm going to ignore the way you're besmirching my towering stature,” he says loftily, and Zabuza snorts. It makes Kakashi roll his hips again, just a little, and the drag of his cock makes Zabuza gasp, lashes fluttering shut for a moment. Satisfied, Kakashi presses all the way in again, enjoying the prickles of oversensitivity, and stays there, watching Zabuza swallow.

“Bastard,” Zabuza tells him, but his brown eyes are lazy with heat and pleasure when they slide open again. “Are you going to just fucking fall asleep like this?”

“Do you object?” Kakashi counters, and tugs on Zabuza’s hip, settling the other man a little more firmly against him.

Zabuza huffs, but drops his head onto the pillow. “If I objected I’d have already moved,” he points out, and the words settle warm and smug in Kakashi’s chest. He drags his fingers over Zabuza’s scalp, watches him close his eyes again as he relaxes fully into the mattress, and marks the way his breathing starts to even out. Security, Kakashi assumes—he’s not used to sleeping places where he doesn’t have to keep one eye on his surroundings at all times, and here, pressed up against Kakashi’s body, he finally feels secure enough that he doesn’t have to worry.

Hatake Zabuza, Kakashi thinks, keeping up the gentle motion of his fingers. It’s a good sound. A good thing to contemplate. Kakashi’s going to wake up next to him, not feeling any urge to sneak out the way he normally does after a night of sex. Zabuza isn't going to have slipped away, either, might even have Kakashi still buried inside of him.

The idea sends a flicker of electricity down Kakashi’s spine, and he catches his breath. Shifts forward, curling his arms around Zabuza, and presses his nose into Zabuza’s throat, close enough to taste his slowing pulse.

There's a huff, a touch as a hand presses flat against his spine. Zabuza shifts, tugging him closer, and mutters, “You're not Raijū blood, you're a fucking octopus.”

“The bed’s not big enough for you and my body pillows,” Kakashi tells him innocently. “Would you leave your husband bereft all night?”

“Oh, fuck off and go to sleep,” Zabuza sighs, but Kakashi can hear the amusement in it. His grip on Kakashi isn't shifting, either.

With a chuckle, Kakashi presses a kiss to one of the bites on Zabuza’s neck, then lets himself settle, eyes half-closed in the low light as he watches Zabuza drift to sleep.

This won't last, something in him whispers, trained by the years of loss as nearly everyone he’s ever called his has died and left him alone, behind, abandoned.

I’ll make sure it does, something else answers, and this tastes of lightning and storm-clouds and midnight forests, heavy with the promise of a winter gale. Kakashi tightens his grip on the man in his arms, his in a way no one has been before, and wonders if he dares believe it.

 

 

“Was that you making those funny noises?” Naruto demands the moment Kakashi steps out of his bedroom the next morning, still tying on his hitai-ate.

“No,” Kakashi answers blandly, raising one brow at the sight of his student planted firmly at his kitchen table. “What are you doing here, Naruto?”

“Haku wanted to come see you!” Naruto explains cheerfully, pointing at the older boy. Slowly, Kakashi lifts his gaze to find brown eyes fixed on him, as cold as an arctic wind, though Haku's smile is perfectly polite.

“I'm sorry for the intrusion,” Haku offers, though his stare doesn’t waver. “I just wanted to make sure Zabuza didn’t need me. Naruto decided to come along.”

“Hmm.” Kakashi lets his gaze slide from Haku to Naruto and then back again, then catches the sound of the bedroom door opening and turns. Zabuza pushes out, pants unfortunately on, shirt even more unfortunately sliding over his head, but fortunately he’s not wearing the mask of bandages, too. Kakashi can still see at least some of his marks on that pale skin.

He can also see the faintly ginger way Zabuza is moving, though it’s mostly covered up. Good, something in Kakashi rumbles, and he has to take a breath and pull his gaze away before he does something that will likely earn him an icicle to the scrotum. Naruto might try and defend his honor, but then again, he might not. Kakashi’s been late to an awful lot of their meetings.

“Hey, Haku,” Zabuza says with a lazy flicker of his hand, like he can't see the way his apprentice is glaring at Kakashi—or, far more likely, as if he doesn’t give a damn.

It’s not quite relief that crosses Haku's face, but it’s close. “Zabuza,” he says, like he expected Kakashi to slit his master’s throat the second they were alone together. “Did you want me today?”

Zabuza pauses, casts a glance at Kakashi and raises a brow. “Think I need a spouse’s signature to get on the Konoha roster,” he says. “Being a foreign agent and all.”

Paperwork, Kakashi thinks unhappily, but—it’s also another tie to Konoha. It’s Zabuza signing himself to the village, and he’s already bound to it by their marriage, but this is more. It will make it harder for Zabuza to leave, at the very least. “Sure,” he says mildly. “Whatever you need. I know the desk chuunin working today, so we can even get it rushed through.”

There's a faint hesitation before Zabuza nods, but Kakashi can see the flicker in his expression, something like regret. It’s pushed down quickly, though, covered by a smirk, and Zabuza nods. “Good,” he grunts. “Beyond that you’re good, Haku.”

“You could come to training with my team,” Kakashi offers lazily, like it doesn’t matter, like he isn't aiming to dump Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura on Haku the moment they're all in the same area.

“Yeah!” Naruto says enthusiastically. He bounces right out of his seat, grabbing Haku's arm. “You should come, Haku! We’re gonna be learning all kinds of cool stuff and you can get stronger!”

Haku smiles at Naruto, and it’s an odd thing to consider, but—Haku is only a few years older, but Kakashi would consider him a real threat in a fight. Naruto—well. Even with his shadow clones, even with the malevolent chakra trapped inside him, Kakashi would be hard-pressed to strain himself at all, facing him. It makes something curl in his stomach, imagining Minato's face if he could hear that thought, but Kakashi shoves it down, buries it under a dry retort and opens his mouth—

“Yeah,” Zabuza says easily, and wanders past Kakashi to get to the coffee maker. “We’ll train with your brats today.”

“Of course, Zabuza,” Haku agrees instantly, and laughs when Naruto punches the air and crows in victory. “Should I make breakfast?” he volunteers.

Kakashi regretfully says farewell to his plan of sucking Zabuza off against the kitchen counter. Not that it’s out of the question, but he’s seen the way Haku tenses when Kakashi so much as leans in for a kiss. If Kakashi tries to shoo him out now he’ll probably realize what Kakashi has in mind, and refuse to leave. Also a plan for another time, he decides, and slides around Zabuza to steal a mug for himself. There's not nearly as much bare skin available as Kakashi would like, but he presses his fingertips to Zabuza’s thigh, lays them right over the bruises he left there, and smiles at the catch in Zabuza’s breath.

“Asshole,” Zabuza tells him, and Kakashi hums, isn't able to resist raising a hand and sweeping his thumb over the dark bruise on his throat.

“You know I like it when you use my name,” he says cheerfully, and all he can think about is the way Zabuza rocked against him this morning, slow and lazy, sprawled out on top of Kakashi and still sleepy as they ground together. The list of Kakashi’s wants has now expanded to include Zabuza riding him, balanced astride his hips and fucking himself on Kakashi’s cock, Kakashi's name on his lips in just that low, warm tone.

Zabuza lifts a brow at him “Aren’t I?” he asks dryly.

With a chuckle, Kakashi leans up and in before he can think about it, only belatedly remembers that they have an audience and Zabuza might not want to—

But Zabuza catches his mouth, kisses him with just the barest edge of teeth behind it, and then pulls away to fill his mug. “I’ll cook,” he tells Haku. “You leave everything cold. Not all of us like our food that way.”

Haku looks like he wants to protest, but with a glance at Kakashi he subsides, nodding. “I'm sorry, Zabuza,” he says.

Zabuza just huffs. “Fine for road food. How about you set the table instead,” he says, and glances at Kakashi, raising a brow.

“I suppose I can help cook,” Kakashi concedes with a put-upon sigh.

“It’s your kitchen, bastard,” Zabuza says, rolling his eyes.

Kakashi hums, disagreeing, and checks that Haku is looking the other way and distracting Naruto before he steps close, pressing up against Zabuza’s back to steal the coffee pot with one hand as he lets the other drift down to cup Zabuza’s ass. “Our kitchen under law,” he reminds Zabuza cheerfully, gets a sharply indrawn breath, and steps away again.

“We’re going to spar, and I'm going to wipe the fucking floor with you,” Zabuza threatens, and Kakashi beams at him.

“That will be a fun experiment,” he agrees, and steals another kiss just because he can.

Chapter Text

“Hey there,” a lazy voice says, and Zabuza only just contains a twitch. He’s not used to being snuck up on, but between his new husband and the ANBU he’s seen bouncing around Konoha, he’s probably going get a lot of practice in the next few weeks.

Turning, he forces his hand to drop, even though there's no way to make his grab for Kubikiribōchō look like anything but what it was, and tips his chin up, meeting the innocent smile of the stranger behind him with a raised brow. “Yeah?” he asks shortly.

With a laugh, the man raises his hands and shakes his head, brown hair swinging loose almost to his shoulders. “Sorry to interrupt your brooding,” he says lightly. “You’d be Momochi Zabuza, right?”

“Hatake Zabuza,” Zabuza corrects, because even if it still sits uneasily in his mouth, he lost the hunt. A contract Zabuza might break, but the old clan ways? Not in this lifetime. “I wasn’t brooding.”

The man looks him over, eyes sharp, and then smiles easily. “Lost, right?” he asks, and the way he’s dressed says civilian but that look, the senbon in his mouth—definitely a shinobi. “This part of the village will get you turned around even if you grow up here.” Catching the narrowing of Zabuza’s eyes, he shrugs. “The growth is thicker here. Makes everything look the same unless you're used to using trees and bushes as landmarks.”

Zabuza definitely isn't. Kiri had a fair amount of greenery in the village, but none of it covered and concealed the way Konoha's does—that was what the mist was for. For a moment, he eyes the other shinobi, who meets his stare levelly, and then decides that he may as well just say fuck it. “The quartermaster?” he asks, because he’s been wandering around these overgrow streets for half of a damned hour already, and he’d really rather not take any more time, even if he has to trust a Konoha shinobi.

“Back this way,” the man says, and turns, leaving Zabuza with no choice but to follow him. He casts a glance back over his shoulder, though, and offers, “Shiranui Genma. That asshole you married keeps one-upping me.”

We’re friends, that tone means, and it’s a little strange how it eases some of the tension from Zabuza’s spine. He snorts, looking Genma over again, and asks, “In a fight? Because he’s a tricky shit.”

“Nah.” Genma offers him a wink, rolling his senbon between his teeth. “In driving the Hokage to drink. Now I'm going to have to marry an even more infamous missing-nin to keep the game going.”

Konoha nin, Zabuza decides, are all insane. It’s not exactly a bad look for them, though. He chuckles, tucking his hands into his pockets, and offers, “I hear you’ve got a couple big ones from here.”

Genma pulls a face. “I'm not going after Orochimaru, and I'm definitely not going after Itachi,” he says. “I like my crazy a little more contained. And more…” He waves a hand through the air, apparently unable to find the words.

“More muscles. Less like a scarecrow,” Zabuza supplies dryly.

It startles a laugh out of Genma. “Yeah,” he agrees, grinning, “but if you tell Kakashi I said that I’ll deny it.”

There's a layer to those words that might as well be an outright confession, coming from a shinobi. Zabuza takes another wary glance at Genma, and can't help wondering how long ago they were together, if it was ever a long-term thing or just sex. “Kakashi knows exactly what I think of him,” is all he says, though, because it would honestly be more worrying if Kakashi didn’t have exes in his own village.

Genma makes a noise of mild acknowledgement, turning around a corner. “Marriage hunt, huh?” he asks. “That’s fun.”

This conversation is definitely leading somewhere, just as surely as Zabuza is being physically led. “Yeah,” he says, gives it a slightly sharp undercurrent that dares Genma to make something of it. Some people have decided it’s a good idea to look down on the old traditions, or anyone who clings to the clan bloodlines—it’s one of the things that started shit in Kiri, and Zabuza is fucking tired of it.

But Genma just raises his hands, smile unwavering. “Easy,” he says lightly. “The Shiranui are an old clan too. We just do things a little more circumspectly than an outright hunt.”

Zabuza grunts, but he allows himself to ease back a little. “Old clan?” he repeats. “From what blood?”

Genma winks at him, and that smirk is so perfectly sly and inviting that Zabuza can't help but see exactly why Kakashi would have tumbled this man into bed. “That would be telling,” he says, turns down a side ally completely concealed by a fall of climbing roses tumbling from the branches of a loquat tree, and waves at an unmarked door. “There you go, the quartermaster. She should be in the back.”

Fucking Konoha, Zabuza thinks, eyeing the door with no little irritation. He never would have found this place on his own. A good defense, he supposes, since the quartermaster supplies the village’s weapons and gear, but annoying all the same.

“Thanks,” he says, unimpressed. “Next time put up street signs.”

Genma laughs, pulling the senbon from his mouth and flipping it through his fingers, the absent tic of a shinobi who’s utterly comfortable with his weapon of choice. Zabuza’s got a healthy respect for senbon; he eyes the needle warily, shifting his weight back a little. It gets him a flash of humor, though Genma doesn’t comment, just says, “I’m always glad to help a fellow Konoha nin.”

That was certainly pointed, Zabuza thinks, raising a brow. “Yeah?” he asks sharply.

This time, Genma's smile has teeth. Zabuza can definitely see Kakashi fucking him, when he’s wearing that expression. “Yeah,” he agrees. “Care to answer a question while we’re here?”

Which is the whole point of this, Zabuza assumes. He folds his arms over his chest, waiting, and doesn’t let his gaze waver from sharp hazel eyes.

Genma hums, pleased, and asks idly, “So why would Kiri wait until the very last minute to register for the Chuunin Exams? Deadline is today, and we only got the message this morning. Courier said she’d been running flat-out since she left Water Country.”

Zabuza freezes, entirely taken aback. Kiri hasn’t entered any teams in the Exams since his failed coup; sending his loyal jounin away from the village was a risk for Yagura, so he refused to do it, and simply promoted genin himself. The fact that that policy has changed means something in Kiri has changed, and Zabuza has no idea what. He thinks of Mei, wonders again if she’s managed to keep her head down, to stay under Yagura’s notice, but—

If Yagura executed the leader of the rebellion, that might make him feel secure enough to send their teams out.

“Change in politics,” he gets out, and it feels a little like betrayal, but—but there's a new hitai-ate waiting for him, right behind the quartermaster’s door, and it’s doubtless the same conclusion Konoha will come to on its own. “Something shifted in the power structure.”

“Yeah, that’s about what I thought,” Genma agrees easily, as if it wasn’t the test that Zabuza knows it was. “Well, I guess we’ll see what kind in a few weeks. See you around, Hatake.”

Zabuza doesn’t glare at the back of his head as he retreats, even though he wants to. His stomach is a tight knot, and there's a thrum of unsettled tension winding his muscles tight again. He breathes in, breathes out, forces himself to keep his hand away from Kubikiribōchō. The urge to fight and tear and rip is rising again, and he closes his eyes, thinks of Kakashi waiting at the training grounds. They’re going to spar, they're going to fight, and Zabuza needs it right now, wants blood and movement and for his pulse to drown out the ringing in his ears.

What if Mei is dead? What then? Zabuza’s tied himself to Konoha, bound his own hands and hobbled himself. No way out except to go against the old clan laws, and if he does that he might as well just slit his own belly open. No one cares anymore, but Zabuza does. If he still had a family, they’d cast him out for that. He gave up his allegiance to Kiri, turned it towards Kakashi instead, and changing that isn't something he can just choose to do. But if Mei is dead, if Yagura executed her, there are likely only a few scraps of the rebellion left in Kiri.

Zabuza has fucking bled for Kiri. He’s betrayed it in the name of saving it, cut down his comrades and fought and nearly died for it. Through wars, through the Academy graduation massacre, through the bloodline purges, through all the bullshit and Yagura being controlled by something, Zabuza’s lasted. He’s stayed loyal. He’s planned and plotted and worked for years to give Kiri a chance to be something more than just the Bloody Mist, even if he has to die in the process like the tool he’s always been. If this change in power is Yagura secure in his position again, if this is Terumī Mei dead and the coup a failure—

Zabuza grits his teeth, carefully doesn’t reach for his sword. Steps forward instead, pushing the quartermaster’s door open, and stalks inside.

I’m always glad to help a fellow Konoha nin.

It’s fine. It is. He’ll get his fight, goad Kakashi into drawing blood, making it brutal and quick and dangerous. That will be enough for now. And if Yagura is going to be here, overseeing the Chuunin Exams and the teams he’s entered—

Zabuza doesn’t know what he’ll do. He hasn’t got a single fucking idea. Right now, all he can do is keep moving.

 

 

“Well,” Kakashi says, a peculiar look on his face as he stares.

Zabuza bares his teeth at him, and it’s not a smile. A dare, maybe, to say something about the way the Konoha uniform fits, the weight of the hitai-ate he’s not quite comfortable enough with to wear like his Kiri one. It’s hanging from his belt instead, though he’d considered stuffing it in the pocket of the flak jacket. Better to have it out in the open, though; not everyone will know about his change of allegiance, even though the papers went out publicly and the inter-village spy network is always robust. An enterprising bounty hunter might make a grab for him or Haku, and while Zabuza’s more than happy to cut someone down right now, it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth if it’s a Konoha nin.

“Zabuza,” Haku says, leaping down from the branches of a tree to land lightly in front of Zabuza, attentive, eyes faintly wide. Sensitive to Zabuza’s moods, Zabuza knows, but right now it’s the sort of thing that’s going to piss him off, not help him.

“Here,” he says shortly, and tosses the second hitai-ate he picked up to his student. “Figured you’d want to make your own uniform.”

“Yes, thank you.” Haku smiles at him, because he’s never had any connection to Kiri, not really. A place of pain for him, a place Zabuza is attached to, but—trading in his hitai-ate doesn’t mean much of anything to Haku.

Zabuza grits his teeth, nods shortly, and turns, already pulling Kubikiribōchō off his back. “Let’s hope you're feeling as squirrely as you were on the bridge,” he tells Kakashi, brings the blade down in a wide sweep. In the branches above them, the genin girl gasps, like she’s forgotten just who and what Zabuza is. “It’s the only thing that’s going to save you.”

“Is it now.” Kakashi lowers his book, but doesn’t put it away. “I'm not sure I should let you interrupt this important formative moment with my team,” he says virtuously, though Zabuza can see the bullshit in the smile that his crinkled eye gives away. “We’re training.”

“They only know water-walking,” Haku says, and it has the sound of something he’s been repeating with growing disbelief since he first heard it.

“We’d know more if Kakashi-sensei ever showed up on time!” the blond brat chimes in loudly, sliding down from his tree and landing with a stumble. Pathetic, Zabuza thinks, in the part of his brain that isn't drowning in the need for blood. So pathetic, especially for an Uzumaki.

“I don’t give a fuck,” he says shortly, brings Kubikiribōchō up in both hands and gives Kakashi a look that dares him to just stand there. Becoming a widower would solve a good portion of Zabuza’s problems right now. “Weapons up, Hatake.”

Kakashi stares at him for a long moment, gaze sharp, and then very deliberately closes his book and slides it away. “I already said you can't use my family name like that,” he says, perfectly mild, “seeing as it’s yours too.”

The reminder bites, sharp teeth and bitter venom. With a growl, Zabuza steps forward, then tells Haku, “Take over for Kakashi-sensei over here, since he’s so worried.”

Haku eyes him for a moment, then Kakashi, and smiles, perfectly demure and agreeable like Zabuza can't see the sharp satisfaction underneath the placid façade. He doesn’t like Kakashi, doesn’t like that Zabuza lost, or something—Zabuza hasn’t cared enough to doublecheck, or maybe just hasn’t wanted to confirm. “Yes, Zabuza,” he murmurs, stepping back, and Zabuza lunges past him without pause, sword swinging.

Kakashi leaps back and up, the edge of the blade just missing him, and vanishes up into the branches above. It’s enough to make Zabuza growl, and he gives chase without pause, feet on the ground, shadowing the faint trace of Kakashi’s chakra as he retreats deeper into the forest. Maddening, because if he didn’t know Kakashi’s chakra intimately by now he’d probably miss the trace of it entirely, and Kakashi has a reputation that’s hard to remember when he’s busy reading porn or avoiding his team. A killer fit for Kiri, and—

The thought scrapes across Zabuza’s nerves like sandpaper, because he lost, he gave up the hunt, he lost and surrendered every last tie to Kiri. If he hadn’t, if he’d been better, been faster, hadn’t been so tired from the fight on the bridge and the match by the river, he could have won. Won, taken Kakashi instead of being taken, and they’d be on the run still but at least there’d be some hope.

Zabuza’s lost all of his, and he hates it.

With a snarl he launches himself up, flips off a branch and comes down with Kubikiribōchō leading. The blade slams down into a bough just as Kakashi shimmers into view, but Zabuza is just a second too slow; Kakashi gets a foot on the sword, leaps up and over Zabuza’s shoulder as a kunai appears in his hand, and Zabuza wrenches around, knocks Kakashi’s strike at his back wide with a blow only to belatedly realize the kunai’s now in the other hand. He ducks as it flashes over his head, grabs his sword and wrenches it free of the wood, then drops to the ground and—

The bastard’s gone.

Zabuza curses, shifts his weight onto the balls of his feet as he listens, trying to pick out any tell. Can't find one, and it’s not a surprise, not with a shinobi of Kakashi’s level, but it’s frustrating. Zabuza wants the kind of spar Kisame or Mangetsu would give him, blades clashing, blood on the ground. He doesn’t want this, sneaking and hiding and avoiding every blow. Hiding in mist is for assassinations, not for fights.

“Fuck you, Hatake,” he snarls, entirely frustrated.

The barest shift of air behind him has Zabuza jerking forward, swinging around, and a kunai just misses taking out his vertebrae. Kakashi hums, light and almost teasing, but his one visible eye is intent, sharp as he retreats a step, flipping his blade up and catching it lightly.

“I'm not exactly opposed,” he says lazily, “but I thought you liked it the other way around.”

Zabuza growls, swings. Kakashi flips up and over the blade, gets a foot on it like it’s a damn stepstool and jumps again. A foot touches Zabuza’s shoulder even as he pulls up, and then there’s a sharp burst of pain, an impact that makes his ears ring. Zabuza staggers, feeling blood on his face, then drops and rolls to get distance and comes up laughing.

“Fucking finally,” he says, and the wet trickle down the side of his head is a relief. The copper tang of it in the air, the ache, the focus that bit of pain brings—it’s exactly what he needs.

Kakashi hums, kunai up and braced, eye on him. “Oh?” he asks. “Was that good for you?”

Zabuza scoffs, wiping the blood away before it can get in his eyes. A knee to the brow, he thinks; Kakashi kicked him as he was leaping away. A deliberate blow, but a clever one, especially for a shinobi with a focus on acrobatics. “Bitch,” he says, and lunges. This time, Kakashi meets it, kunai just enough to redirect Kubikiribōchō as he slides beneath it. Zabuza sidesteps the kick at his kneecap, stomps down hard at the hand that bursts up from the ground to grab his ankle, and dodges the slash of a blade at his ribs. Kakashi whirls, steps—

Zabuza drives his sword through his stomach, then keeps going through the smoke as the clone pops.

“So cruel to your husband,” Kakashi laments, dropping from the branches. He twists around the sword, kicks Zabuza hard between the shoulder blades and sends him tumbling forward. Zabuza doesn’t try to catch himself, rolls to get distance and comes back to his feet in time to slash as Kakashi again, faster than before. He feels it just barely slice cloth and the flesh beneath, sees Kakashi’s eye widen, and presses his advantage, flipping the blade to his other hand and striking again. This time Kakashi rolls under it, leaps up into the branches and down again behind him, and Zabuza twists, doesn’t even try to turn as he avoids the assassin’s strike that would put a kunai in the spine of anyone slower. A foot on a tree gives him leverage, and he leaps up, over, lands hard with Kubikiribōchō already swinging.

Sparks fly as Kakashi blocks it, kunai scraping across the blade, and he twists in close, plants a knee in Zabuza’s stomach and throws him back.

Zabuza hits a tree, every last bit of breath knocked out of him, and in an instant there's a kunai pressed up against his throat, a body against his. Kakashi’s other hand catches his wrist, keeping Kubikiribōchō out to the side, and the blade at his throat is pressing just hard enough to draw blood. Zabuza stops, swallowing as he tries to get his breath back, and glares at the skinny little bastard who’s managed to pin him again.

“Bad morning, sweetheart?” Kakashi drawls, but there's a look on his face that Zabuza can't quite read.

“Shut the hell up,” Zabuza snarls, but he doesn’t try to move. In a fight to the death he would, but—this is sparring.

Kakashi hums lightly, squeezes Zabuza’s wrist. When Zabuza grunts disgustedly and lets his sword fall, Kakashi smiles, then reaches up to wipe away the line of blood staining his shirt, right between the edges of his flak jacket. The cloth is gaping, showing a shallow scratch underneath, and Zabuza eyes it as he forces his lungs to work.

Then, in a blur, there’s suddenly a foot hooked around his ankle, a sharp shift. Zabuza crashes to the ground on his back, Kakashi on top of him, and Kakashi pins his wrist in the dirt, shoves forward. Teeth sink into Zabuza’s throat, just hard enough to draw blood, and it’s that first moment of defeat all over again, but—

Instead of edging his fury higher, it makes Zabuza freeze. Kakashi growls against his skin, low and rumbling, and it shudders through Zabuza, makes him groan and tip his head back before he goes still. The smell of blood is in the air, his own and Kakashi’s, and he closes his eyes, takes in the tang of it.

“Someday we’re going to have a fight that lasts more than ten minutes,” he huffs, but it’s like Kakashi is pulling every last bit of tension from his muscles, like the grip of his mouth is reminding Zabuza that he gained something during the hunt as well.

Carefully, slowly, Kakashi eases his teeth free, the white-bright sparks of pain making Zabuza hiss. His tongue presses over the mark carefully, laving it, and Zabuza has to swallow a groan. “Where’s the fun in that,” he says, but it’s distracted as he drops the kunai, gets his hand on Zabuza’s waist, clever fingers sliding his uniform shirt up to splay across the skin.

“The fun is I get to kick your ass,” Zabuza retorts, but when a knee presses between his he readily spreads his legs.

Kakashi chuckles. “Previous evidence says it won't happen quite like that,” he points out, and licks the mark again, like he’s reminding Zabuza of both previous times they’ve been in this position.

“Bastard.” Zabuza swallows, shudders a little when Kakashi’s full weight settles on top of him.

“Just pointing out the precedent.” Kakashi smiles against his throat, and then asks, “Did someone in the village say something mean to you, my cute little wife?”

Fuck you,” Zabuza snarls, lurching up with one hand grabbing for Kubikiribōchō, but Kakashi still has hold of his wrist and he rolls them, twisting around hard. Zabuza finds himself shoved up against a tree before he can do more than grab a kunai, arm twisted up behind him and Kakashi sprawled across his back.

“Well?” Kakashi asks mildly, and Zabuza closes his eyes, breathes out. It’s harder to think than it should be with Kakashi on top of him, and all he can remember is the woods in Wave, just like this. Zabuza in the dirt, Kakashi’s bite stinging at his throat, and it wasn’t a sense of loss that filled him. Anticipation, almost, touched with surprise, and he’d spread his legs willingly, bared his neck and given in.

“Kiri's going to enter the Chuunin Exams,” he says, and the admission hardly makes him feel better but it’s still something of a relief to say it. “First time in years. I don’t know what’s changed in the village to make ‘em do it.”

There's a moment of silence, Kakashi perfectly still. Then the hand holding his wrist eases, lets go, and Kakashi wraps an arm around his waist instead. He slides back, pulling Zabuza with him until they’re both sitting on the ground, and Kakashi kisses the skin of his throat right above his flak jacket’s collar. Doesn’t say anything, and Zabuza is painfully grateful for it. Turns, because he can't think of anything else, and Kakashi catches the curve of his cheek in one hand as he leans in, takes the kiss without hesitation. Deep, messy, and Zabuza leans into it, puts his weight on Kakashi until he spreads his legs, and hums his thanks as their tongues tangle.

There are fingers in his hair, curling against his scalp, but Zabuza still pulls away, slides down even when Kakashi makes a sound of protest. It turns into a gasp when Zabuza kisses the cut he left, and those fingers go tight. Zabuza huffs in amusement, licking away the blood that’s already starting to dry on his skin. It’s copper on his tongue, sharp and intriguing, and he licks his lips as he pulls away.

With a ragged, guttural sound, Kakashi fists a hand in his hair, drags his head back up to kiss him again, twice as much force, an edge of sharp teeth behind the crash of lips colliding. His knees lock around Zabuza’s ribs, holding him in place, and Zabuza doesn’t hesitate to kiss back with desperation as he unzips Kakashi’s flak jacket, gets his hands on his shirt and shoves it up. As his hands find skin, Kakashi moans, catches Zabuza’s lower lip between his sharp teeth. One hand shoves his hitai-ate straight, and Zabuza’s breath catches, both at the drag as Kakashi pulls at his lip and at the look in mismatched eyes, intent and unwavering.

The Sharingan records images, he thinks. Stores them forever. Whatever Kakashi sees with that eye, he’s not going to forget. Zabuza’s been a shinobi long enough to recognize the downsides of that, but—

This time he’ll give Kakashi something good to remember, he thinks, and deliberately, carefully unbuttons Kakashi’s pants.

Chapter Text

Kakashi is already hardening, cock rising, and Zabuza chuckles, slides down his body and presses his mouth to the curve of it through his underwear. Watches his teeth, but lets the very edge skim sensitive skin, and Kakashi gasps, head falling back. Pretty, especially with his mask hanging loose around his neck, and pretty has never even come close to Zabuza’s type before but right now he thinks he can see the appeal.

Fingers close hard in his hair, tugging enough to make his scalp prickle, and Zabuza casts a glance up again as he slides Kakashi’s underwear down. Those eyes are still fixed on him, even as Kakashi’s breath hitches, and Zabuza grins, makes sure to show his own sharp teeth as he does.

“Want to fuck my mouth?” he asks, and doesn’t wait for an answer as he curls his tongue around Kakashi’s shaft, dragging his mouth up. Kakashi cries out, low and hoarse, and his hips twitch like he wants to thrust up. He doesn’t, though, and Zabuza lets a hum vibrate through his throat in reward, feels the choked cry Kakashi gives more than he hears it.

It’s tempting to tease him, to draw this out, but Zabuza wants Kakashi’s cock in his mouth right this fucking instant, so he takes it. Seals his mouth over the head, makes sure his lips are over his teeth, and sucks hard. It’s been too long since he felt this, the tightly-wound tension as Kakashi tries not to buck into his mouth, the hardness of a cock on his tongue, the pulse and taste of it. Zabuza takes him as deep as he can, wraps his hand around the rest and strokes, and Kakashi cries out, pulling hard on Zabuza’s hair. It sends heat ricocheting across Zabuza’s nerves, and he can't resist a groan, sucking hard.

Fuck,” Kakashi breathes, and it feels like a victory to break his composure that much. Zabuza curls his tongue around the shaft, dragging his mouth up and skimming thick veins, sealing his lips around the flared head and sucking at the taste of precum. There's a sharp curse, a wrench at Zabuza’s hair, and Kakashi’s hips jerk up. Zabuza takes the motion, letting his cock slide back into his mouth, almost far enough to make Zabuza gag. He swallows determinedly, fighting the impulse, pushes a little further. He used to be able to open his throat for Kisame, but it’s been years and he’s out of practice. Wants it, even so, wants to take Kakashi’s whole cock and let him come down his throat. He groans, rides another jerk of Kakashi’s body, and feels the way Kakashi trembles, on the very edge of coming.

It’s been a while for Kakashi, too, Zabuza assumes, even as he twists his hand, slides his fingers down to press against Kakashi’s balls. Gets a cry, louder than before, and Kakashi curls over him, gasping out a warning. Zabuza doesn’t let up, doesn’t pull back; pushes down until he’s as far as he can go, and feels the twitch, the way Kakashi’s whole body presses up into the heat of his mouth. Hot-bitter release floods Zabuza’s tongue, and he swallows it, keeps sucking. Kakashi’s gasps are gratifying, and the grip of his hands desperate. He keeps thrusting in little aborted motions, like he can't bear not to move, and Zabuza rides each one with careful pulls of his mouth until the shaft starts to soften. Then he pulls off, and the hands in his hair instantly drag him up.

Kakashi kisses him, deep and hot and a little wild, chases the taste of himself back into Zabuza’s mouth like he’s going to lick it out, and Zabuza moans. Hands hitch him up, pull him forward, and he settles across Kakashi’s thighs, leans down to keep the kiss going. He’s hard and wanting, can only think of Kakashi’s mouth on him, those long fingers inside of him, a hand wrapped around him. Locks his knees around Kakashi’s hips, and—

“Kakashi-sensei!” the girl calls, sounding worried. “Kakashi-sensei? Are you there?”

Kakashi groans, breaking the kiss to drop his head to Zabuza’s collarbone as Zabuza curses. His fingers tighten on Zabuza’s waist, and he takes a heavy breath, then says, “Maybe if I pretend I'm dead they’ll go away.”

As if to prove him wrong, another voice rises, louder and more obnoxious. “Kakashi-sensei! Come on, you can't be late after you’ve already shown up!”

“Hn,” is Sasuke's contribution, but it’s loud and derisive enough to carry.

“Do you think they ate Haku already,” Zabuza mutters, trying to breathe through the burn of arousal he can already tell isn't going to be satisfied.

“Those three? Chances are good.” Kakashi groans again, then reaches up, catches Zabuza’s face and kisses him again, this one regretful and faintly apologetic. “I can—”

“Make it up to me later,” Zabuza tells him, and slides off his lap, rising to his feet and offering Kakashi a hand. He takes it, and Zabuza pulls him up, then steps closer to kiss him again, smoothing his hands over Kakashi’s thighs as that clever tongue curls around his own. Carefully, Zabuza tucks his wet cock back into his underwear, swallowing the hiss it gets him, and pulls his pants back up to button them. Kakashi hums his thanks, fingers sliding under the hem of Zabuza’s sleeveless shirt to stroke his sides.

“I like your mouth,” he says between kisses, and it’s warm and a little amused, a little possessive. Zabuza laughs, lets Kakashi steal the sound from his mouth and kisses back—

“Why are you kissing?!” the blond brat wails, as if it’s a personal afront to him, and almost falls out of the tree he’s in as he points at them accusingly. “I thought you were fighting!”

Kakashi pulls away just enough to lay a light, teasing kiss on the corner of Zabuza’s mouth, then tugs his mask back up and says, “Those two things aren’t always entirely different, Naruto.”

The Uchiha, perched in the next tree over, looks equally put out. “Aren’t you enemies?” he demands.

Kakashi blinks, and when Zabuza raises a startled brow at him he doesn’t look anything but blank. “Enemies?” he says slowly. “Sasuke, we’re married.”

What?” Sakura squeaks.

Naruto falls out of the tree.

Zabuza stares at the three of them, then turns a judgmental look on Kakashi, though to Kakashi’s credit he looks just as confused as Zabuza feels. “Do none of you know about the origins of the clans?” he demands.

There's a moment of silence. Naruto squints at them from his slump on the ground, while Sasuke stares, uncomprehending, and Sakura twists her fingers together nervously.

“Do—do you mean the Clan Wars?” she asks tentatively. “Like…how the villages started?”

“Older than that,” Kakashi says, and he pulls away from Zabuza. “On the bridge, the hunt? None of you know about that?”

“Was it a challenge?” Sasuke asks suspiciously.

Kakashi hesitates, something about that wording making amusement flicker across his face, but Zabuza doesn’t know what. Since Kakashi’s distracted by that, though, he says, “Yeah. A challenge to see who got to bring the other person into their clan. Momochi and Hatake both use hunts to add fresh blood to the family. Loser marries into the winner’s clan and gives up all their other ties.”

“Why?” Naruto asks, face scrunching up.

“Yokai,” Haku says quietly, half-hidden in the shadows behind the three genin. When Naruto sits up and turns to look at him, he smiles, sliding his hands into his sleeves to hide them. “Clans carry yokai blood. It’s what gives them kekkei genkai, and their ability to control chakra. Some civilians have an ancestor far back who was a spirit, which is why they can become shinobi, but the established ninja clans—their families interbred with a certain type of yokai for generations, and it gives them…skills and habits.”

Naruto pales a little, rocking back. “Demons?” he squeaks.

“No,” Zabuza says before Haku can answer, because he can see how his apprentice flinches faintly at the word, even if everyone else probably missed it. “Not demons. Spirits, things that don’t want to eat humans quite as much, or are curious enough to put it off for a bit. All the old clans have yokai blood.”

“Only the old ones?” Sakura asks, and—it’s a good question. Surprisingly good, coming from the girl who played pretty much no part in any of their fights. Zabuza looks at her narrowly, taking in the consideration on her face, the teeth set into her lip—she’s thinking, and…that’s pretty valuable in a shinobi. Especially one with a weapon in their hand.

“Yeah. Yokai have been fading, the last few centuries,” he says, and meets her eyes, watching the information be processed, filed away.

“That’s why things like Mokuton don’t exist anymore?” she asks.

Zabuza just shrugs. “Maybe,” he says, because Mokuton is a Konoha thing and he knows very little about it. “I’d say so.”

“Do you know what yokai married into the clans?” Sasuke asks abruptly. He drops from the tree, taking a step forward like he’s going to fight Zabuza for the information, and Zabuza kind of wants to snicker. Kind of wants to put a sword in his hand and show him how to use it, too. Haku's more of a distance fighter; he doesn’t like to get up close unless he’s killing someone or taking them by surprise, and it’s something Zabuza was more than happy to teach him, but it means he’s also never gotten to pass on any kenjutsu.

“Yeah, he drawls, folding his arms across his chest and giving the kid a grin that’s full of teeth. “Uchiha and Uzumaki, at least. The girl’s gonna have to figure it out the hard way if her parents don’t know.”

Sakura's eyes widen, and she takes a step back. “Me?” she asks, bewildered.

Kakashi chuckles. “All shinobi have yokai ancestry,” he says. “Without exception.”

“Oh,” Sakura says, voice small, and she looks like she doesn’t quite know what to do with that information.

“What,” Sasuke says, less question and more demand, “were the Uchiha?”

“The Uzumaki were a clan?” Naruto asks, and he looks like Zabuza just gutted him without warning.

Zabuza looks at him for a long moment, then turns to stare accusingly at Kakashi. “What,” he says flatly.

Kakashi stares back, then carefully, deliberately tips his hitai-ate back down. “Oh my,” he says, perfectly inflectionless. “I forgot you weren’t here for the Hokage's gag order twelve years ago, and have entirely failed to pass that information on. What a horrible mistake on my part.”

Twelve years. Zabuza spends about seven seconds trying to figure out what he’s talking about before the pieces connect. Between that ridiculous surge of chakra on the bridge, something big that happened twelve years ago, and the kid’s name—

“You're fucking kidding me,” he says flatly. “What the fuck.”

Kakashi hums. “I'm sure you're no stranger to a Kage’s orders,” he counters, but there's a weight to the words that’s enough to crush a person.

The sheer stupidity of keeping a jinchuuriki’s lineage and family history hidden, especially an Uzumaki jinchuuriki’s family history, kind of makes Zabuza rethink every positive thing he’s ever heard about Sarutobi Hiruzen. He growls, wholly disgusted, and then turns to face Naruto.

“Yeah,” he says. “The Uzumaki are a clan. They had their own village. You were right next door, even—Wave’s a short boat ride over to Whirlpool Country.”

“Whirlpool Country,” Naruto repeats, sounding dazed. “They have a village?”

“Had,” Kakashi correctly quietly. “It was destroyed by Kiri and Kumo when your mother was a child. The other villages were scared of them, because they were so talented at sealing and had such close ties to Konoha.” When Zabuza gives him a dirty look at that, he raises his hands, eye crinkling. “Information about one of Konoha's long-term allies, not on anything in particular relating to Naruto himself,” he defends.

Squirrely bastard, Zabuza thinks, rolling his eyes and leaning down to scoop up his sword. “Fine,” he says. “Keep your history lesson going and tell him something useful. Haku, you’ve got the broody one. Girl, with me.”

“What?” Sakura sounds dismayed, even as she takes a step to follow him. “But—Sasuke and I can—”

“Move it,” Zabuza interrupts, unyielding, because she was just about useless in Wave and that’s irritating, especially with thoughts of Mei so close. Thoughts of Ameyuri, even—she was devastating, and without any sort of kekkei genkai that Zabuza ever saw. If Sakura's going to insist she’s a kunoichi, Zabuza is going to make sure that she actually is.

“Hey!” Naruto protests loudly. “Sakura doesn’t have to go with you, shark-face!”

If he thinks Zabuza looks like a shark, he should really fucking meet Kisame, Zabuza thinks, and snorts. “Pipe down, pipsqueak,” he says, unimpressed, and then narrows his eyes at Kakashi. “You're going to teach him something,” he orders. “At least find him a damn book on his clan and make sure he reads it, if you can't fucking talk about it.”

“Yes, dear,” Kakashi drawls, and Zabuza rolls his eyes, leans in. Fits his mouth over Kakashi’s through the barrier of the mask, and feels the way Kakashi’s breath hitches. Gloved hands curl into Zabuza’s hair, holding him in place as Kakashi kisses him back, chaste only because of the barrier between them.

“I will make it up to you later,” Kakashi murmurs against his mouth, gaze dark and amused as he strokes his fingers down to press against the fresh bite.

“You’d fucking better,” Zabuza retorts, but he can't stop his shiver, the flare of pleasure-bright pain that sparks through him from the raw skin to curl in his gut.

With a chuckle, Kakashi lets go, catches his hand instead. Brings it up to his mouth and presses his lips to Zabuza’s callused knuckles, just the barest edge of teeth behind the gesture. “My cute little wife can count on me,” he says, eye crinkling, and Zabuza huffs and punches him hard enough in the shoulder to make him wince.

“Fuck off,” he says, then turns away. “Come on. Sooner we start the sooner you can act like a kunoichi.”

“I am a kunoichi,” Sakura protests, which is honestly a good sign. Zabuza doesn’t want to waste his time on someone without any backbone to speak of.

“Not yet you're not,” Zabuza tells her bluntly. “You didn’t fight on the bridge. You cheered on the sidelines. That’s what a civilian does, not a shinobi.”

She flushes, looking down, but there's an unhappy slant to her mouth that hopefully means she won't crumble when Zabuza starts putting her through her paces. “Where are we going?” she asks, even as she follows.

“Quartermaster’s,” Zabuza says, and is pretty sure he made note of all the correct turns well enough to find it again. “You need a weapon.”

“I have kunai,” Sakura tells him, and Zabuza snorts loudly.

“Not that kind of weapon,” he retorts, and waves a hand at Haku, who looks less than thrilled but is going to have to adjust. “Got ideas?” he asks.

Haku flicks a glance at Sasuke, who looks the furthest thing from amused, and then smiles sweetly. “The Sharingan tracks movement, doesn’t it?” he asks. “But only if your reflexes can keep up.”

(Kakashi, Zabuza notices, casts Haku a very wary look and says nothing.)

“What?” Sasuke asks, looking far more attentive all of a sudden.

“I won't kill you,” Haku reassures him, still smiling. “Again. It’s just training.”

Well, clearly that session’s going to be an interesting one, Zabuza reflects, but when Sakura blanches and tries to turn back he grabs her by the shoulder and very firmly steers her towards the edge of the training ground. “Keep walking, he’ll be alive when he gets back. Haku doesn’t kill unless he has to.” Not unless Zabuza tells him to, which would make him less useful to Kiri was a whole, honestly. But he’s Zabuza’s tool, so it’s not like it matters. And it’s a good trait for a village like Konoha, soft at the edges as it is. Maybe Naruto will pick up on some of that—he’s seems the type who could fit himself into Haku's mindset well.

Sakura looks less than pleased with this idea, but she doesn’t resist, keeps walking as they pass the meeting spot and keep heading for the road back into the village proper. She keeps casting glances at Zabuza, clearly wanting to ask a question. Zabuza lets her stew until she’s all but twitching with the need, then glances back at her and raises a brow.

“Are you and Kakashi-sensei really married?” she bursts out, like she can't possibly contain the question for one more second. Then she flushes, ducking her head again, and tugs on a piece of her hair. “I mean. You. You fight all the time, and you were enemies. If you love someone—”

“Love isn't important,” Zabuza interrupts, and scoffs when her expression shifts to indignation. “We’re shinobi. It was a way to get out of fighting to the death for something neither of us cared enough about to die for. Marriage hunts aren’t about love, they’re strategy and improving your clan.”

“But—but what if one of you falls in love with someone else?” Sakura protests. “If I had to get married to someone else, and Sasuke—”

“Sasuke doesn’t love you,” Zabuza says, fully irritated by this now. “And you don’t fucking love him. Did you become a shinobi just because of a damn boy? Because that’s the stupidest fucking shit I've ever heard.”

“I'm in love with him,” Sakura insists. “He’s—he’s amazing and he’s so strong and perfect and—”

“You don’t know a damn thing about love if you think this is it,” Zabuza says, and picks up his pace, lengthening his strides.

“You don’t, either!” Sakura accuses. “You just said it’s not important!”

Zabuza curls his hand into a fist, keeps his eyes fixed ahead. “It’s not,” he says, and just for a moment he thinks of Kisame, of a big hand on his back, stroking down his spine. But Kisame left, turned missing-nin, and Zabuza stayed to do his duty to Kiri. “People talk about it like it’s the only emotion worth anything. But fuck that. Learn how to be your own fucking person before you think about love and you’ll be better off. Love’s just one more motivation, and honestly? I've had a lot more fucking luck with loyalty and resolve. If you want to survive, try those. Otherwise you're going to die for a brat who can't even be bothered to look at you straight-on.”

Sakura flinches, but Zabuza honestly can't be bothered to care. He pushes her on, nudging her down a thankfully familiar street, and doesn’t allow himself to dwell on anything about Kiri. Especially not on Kisame, the line of his shoulder in the moonlight, the sharp edges of his grin or the way he laughed. What he told Sakura is entirely true; love doesn’t matter in the long run. If a person doesn’t have anything outside of it, there’s no helping them.

When he pushes open the nondescript door behind the loquat tree, the quartermaster is in the front room, arranging stacks of Bingo Books. She glances up, lifting a brow when she sees Zabuza, and then rises to her feet, dusting off her pants.

“Back again, Hatake?” she asks, an amused slant to her mouth. “Did your apprentice want a uniform after all?”

“Hyuuga. If he did, he could get it himself,” Zabuza answers. “It’s not for me this time.”

The Hyuuga woman tips her head, looking past him curiously, and then smiles at Sakura. “Oh?” she asks. “What can I do for you, then?”

Sakura hesitates, and it makes Zabuza rolls his eyes in irritation. “Can we see your weapons?” he asks, because if there’s one person to stay on the good side of, it’s the village’s quartermaster. Anyone who pisses them off tends to have to buy even their basic weapons from a weapon shop, and that’s fucking expensive. “Need something to give her a bit of reach.”

“Of course.” The quartermaster looks Sakura over for a moment, then heads for a door to her left. Her body blocks whatever hand sign or seal she uses to open it, but there's a flare of chakra and then the door swings in, and she steps back with a nod. “They’re all the basic versions,” she says. “If you want something altered or added to, I can give you a cost list or recommend a smith. The cost will be deducted from your future missions if you don’t wish to pay it upfront.”

“Thank you,” Sakura says nervously, but she edges into the room ahead of Zabuza, and her mouth drops open a little at the sight of the hundreds of weapons lining the walls. “Oh,” she whispers, and it’s entirely overwhelmed.

Zabuza steps in after her, nodding his thanks to the Hyuuga. “I can teach you about half of these well enough to get by,” he says, casting a critical eye over them. “Swords I can teach you everything. Axes I can teach you almost everything.”

Sakura swallows, tugging on a lock of her hair again. “You're one of the Seven Swordsmen, aren’t you?” she asks. “Why—I'm sure everyone wants to learn from you, so why me?”

Zabuza scoffs. “Because you need it,” he says bluntly. “You're not a shinobi yet. Not really. And that fucking annoys me. I knew two people I’d call the scariest in the world, and one of them was a kunoichi. She wanted to get married more than anything else in the world, but she was still strong. She still fucking stood up for herself, and fought for something besides a puppy crush.” When Sakura opens her mouth to protest, he completely ignores her. Kiri is coming to the Chuunin Exams, and Mei is—

Fuck. Mei probably died a traitor’s death at the hands of Yagura, and there's nothing Zabuza can do. All he has is a little girl, staring up at him with wide eyes, not a kunoichi yet. But she will be someday. Zabuza will make sure of it.

“A crush,” Zabuza repeats harshly, and it’s a surprise the words don’t catch in his throat. “I saw you with Sasuke on the trip here. If you’ve never had a fucking conversation with him, it’s a crush. So turn around, pick out a weapon, and focus on that for a few weeks. Then you can think about it again and see if you're still in love.”

He thinks, for a moment, that Sakura is going to flinch again. But instead, she stares at him for long moment, visibly wavering, before the line of her mouth firms and she takes a breath. “Of course I’ll still be in love,” she says determinedly, but before Zabuza can make a rude sound she steps forward, staring up at the swords on the wall. Pauses there for a long moment, and then asks, “What are the different types?”

Well. Not quite the response Zabuza was expecting, but fair enough. He’s pretty certain that a few weeks of hardcore weapons training will be enough to expand Sakura's worldview and force her to move past her crush. At the very least, exhaustion will make her crabby enough that she won't fawn over the Uchiha brat quite so much, which will be good for Zabuza’s sanity.

“You don’t have to pick a sword,” he says, seeing the way her eyes stray towards the other wall. “I just told you, I can teach you about half of everything in here. Choose what fits you best, not what you think I want you to get.”

Sakura glances at him, then back at the weapons. Zabuza watches her gaze slide across the rows of sheathed swords, the naginatas, the spears. For a moment her eyes linger on the unstrung bows, but Zabuza can tell there's no attachment there, only a flicker of I should that needs to be trained out of her.

And really, Zabuza feels his first spark of hope when her gaze settles on the battle-axes propped against the wall. Not just the throwing axes or the light and dainty ones, but on the most massive of the bunch, the head three times the size of hers, the shaft crimson and the etching gold. It looks like it’s been sitting there for a while, even with the quartermaster’s care, but Zabuza isn't surprised; it’s going to take a hell of a lot of upper body strength to use that thing, and Sakura has to see that, but she’s still looking at it with an expression that’s the next best thing to wonder.

“That one,” she says determinedly. “Can you teach me that one?”

“Yeah,” Zabuza says, and he’s grinning, all teeth. “I sure fucking can.”

Chapter Text

“You didn’t answer my question,” Sasuke says, and it’s on the edge of dangerous, his scowl massively unhappy as he folds his arms across his chest and glares at Kakashi.

With great reluctance, Kakashi pulls his gaze away from Zabuza’s retreating form, even more attractive in Konoha's greens and blues than in the pinstripes and camouflage patches of Kiri's traditional clothes. It’s very, very difficult not to think about Zabuza’s mouth on him, the look in his eyes as he watched Kakashi fall apart—not that it’s something Kakashi is ever going to forget, now. Normally he’d never use his Sharingan like that, wouldn’t dare—when people leave or die or drift away, those memories become even more painful than blood and murder—but…

But there's something in Kakashi’s head that tastes of lightning in the forest, storm clouds in the mountains, and it looks at the bleeding bite on Zabuza’s neck, remembers the lazy heat of kisses given freely, and it whispers mine forever.

Kakashi’s never listened to it before. There was a moment with Genma, a minute with Aoba, hands on his skin and laughter in bed and a warmth that made Kakashi want to stay, but sense had won out. Aoba and Genma weren’t what he needed, and he wasn’t what they needed, and everyone was better off keeping things to sex and friendship and nothing more. This time, though—

This time Zabuza is already Kakashi’s, already carrying his name, and he can listen.

Swallowing down the flicker of something like panic that comes hand in hand with the glee, Kakashi turns and offers Sasuke a bland smile. “Well,” he says. “I suppose we didn’t.”

Something calculating and touched with sly humor flickers across Haku's face, and before Sasuke can even open his mouth to snarl at Kakashi, he cuts in with a smile. “Well, it’s fortunate that I know, then,” he says. “If you can land a hit on me, I might even be inclined to tell you.”

Sasuke grits his teeth, but his eyes are already shifting to red and black as he takes a step forward. “Are you sure you want to make it that easy for me?” he asks, and a flicker of smugness rises. “After last time—”

“After last time, I know what to expect,” Haku says, perfectly even, and vanishes in a swirl of cold wind.

With a low growl, Sasuke leaps after him, landing on one of the branches and launching himself forward. Kakashi watches him disappear into the trees, and wonders if he should tell him that Haku actually went the other direction. Then again, Haku should reveal himself soon enough, so there’s no need. It will be good for Sasuke's ego, too. And even if he doesn’t win, Kakashi will sit him and Naruto both down later and tell them about their clans, because it’s not the sort of thing that should be forgotten.

Or, more likely, he’ll manipulate Zabuza into doing it. Sharing spousal duties, and all that. Yes, Kakashi much prefers this plan.

Of course, this leaves him with Naruto right now, and Kakashi casts a wary glance at the boy where he’s still sitting on the ground, rubbing his head and frowning down at his feet.

Oh, Kushina, Kakashi thinks, tired and a little sad, and touches the slanted hitai-ate that covers his eye. He looked at her with the Sharingan once, and that means he can recall her perfectly, every last detail right down to how the light caught in her hair and turned it to fire, and—it hurts. Hurts to think about Naruto not knowing anything about her, and Kakashi being unable to tell him anything. So many times over the years, so many times in the last few weeks since he got his team, Kakashi’s wanted to say something, pass on even the smallest bit of knowledge, but—

He hasn’t. It was an order, and Kakashi always follows orders.

Sorry, Obito. I guess I'm still worse than trash after all, he thinks wryly, and drops his hand. “Come on, Naruto,” he says instead of lingering any further on those thoughts, because Zabuza’s idea was a good one. While they were on Naruto's guard together, Genma had once proposed leaving books on the Uzumaki out for Naruto to find, but given Naruto's lack of interest in anything written, they’d given up on the plan. Like this, though, with Kakashi as his teacher and boasting the authority to force Naruto to read them, it should work out just fine.

“Huh?” Naruto scrambles to his feet, face breaking into a bright grin “Are you gonna teach me awesome clan stuff? Can I turn into a yōkai? Do I have magic?”

“Yes, no, and none besides chakra. At least that I'm aware of,” Kakashi answers, and…it’s true. More or less. He can't remember Kushina using any talents that weren’t hers as a jinchuuriki or an Uzumaki, even if she had some of the strongest instincts of any shinobi he’s ever met. She laughed it off as an Uzumaki thing, and Kakashi doesn’t know enough about her clan to say whether that was truth or misdirection.

“Cool!” Naruto says, beaming, because of course he’d focus on the first part. “Where are we going, Kakashi-sensei?”

“The library,” Kakashi answers blandly, and catches the back of Naruto's jacket to pull him along when he stops dead in dismay.

What?” Naruto demands. “Why the library? I wanna learn cool stuff!”

Kakashi steers him towards the village, ignoring the crash and surge of smoke from behind them. There's nothing to worry about; Haku seems more than capable of putting out a few fires. “You're going to,” he promises. “But you remember how the Hokage told you there are things that no one is allowed to tell you? This is part of that.”

There's a long moment of silence as Naruto chews on that, wrinkling his nose unhappily. “You know about that?” he asks.

Kakashi hums lightly. “I can't answer that. A book can give you all the answers I can't, though.” And Kakashi will make sure Naruto gets those answers, even if he has to sit next to him and pinch him awake whenever he drifts off. A shadow clone can do that, too, really. Easy enough.

“You can't tell me even if I ask?” Naruto huffs. “That’s stupid.”

“Isn't it,” Kakashi agrees, perfectly bland.

Naruto glowers at it like it’s his fault, which—fair enough, Kakashi supposes. But then he looks away, crossing his arms behind his head, and asks, “What kind of de—yōkai are you?”

With a hum, Kakashi pulls out his book, even though he keeps his other hand twisted in orange fabric. He hasn’t entirely ruled out having to frog-march Naruto into the library once he really realizes that he’s going to have to spend the next few hours studying. “Raijū,” he says. Naruto's expression screws up in confusion, and Kakashi sighs quietly, making a mental note to find a book on yōkai as well. That part he could probably explain, but there's no way he could cover everything necessary before Naruto fell asleep out of boredom. Kakashi would also like to get back to what’s technically his honeymoon at some point; his husband isn't going to fuck himself.

…Well. He might. But if he does Kakashi most definitely wants to be there to see it.

Carefully setting that thought aside for future consideration—the list seems to be growing rapidly, and Kakashi hasn’t even turned to Icha Icha for inspiration yet—Kakashi glances up to reorient himself, sidestepping a decently-sized sapling that’s breaking through the sidewalk and trying to pick out the fastest way to the library. The market is going to be too crowded to make it through easily this time of day, and there are always a lot of civilians there. Not the best place to be with Naruto tow. The back roads are slower, though, and there are a few inconvenient wards on the rooftops around the library, so that shinobi can't approach from above.

East, he finally decides. That section of the village is mostly shinobi-owned, and the shinobi at least tend to be more understanding of Naruto's status. Wary, but less overtly so, and right now Kakashi will take that.

“Kakashi-sensei, what are raijū?” Naruto demands, though he doesn’t resist when Kakashi drags him into one of the side streets.

“Spirits that fall to earth in lightning bolts,” Kakashi says. “Like wolves, but they come from storms.”

There's a pause, and then Naruto tips his head. “Is that why you hunted Zabuza to marry him?” he asks.

Kakashi hums in confirmation, and for just a moment it feels like he’s back in the woods in Wave, following Zabuza’s scent through the mist. Creeping up on him, silent and watchful, as he slipped between the trees, and knowing that he was going to win. Bearing him to the ground, hard and fast, with a hand at his throat and then his teeth buried in the skin, and Zabuza had cried out under him, startled and hoarse, and then gone lax with a sound that’s haunted Kakashi’s every waking moment since.

I surrender, it meant. I'm yours. And Kakashi had stripped him of his clothes and taken what he’d won with a fervor.

Hunts always made the Hatake go a little insane, his father laughs in his memory, a big hand ruffling Kakashi’s hair. That’s why we don’t do them anymore. We’re better than that.

It’s not a matter of being better, as far ask Kakashi can tell. It’s not as if he’s suddenly worse because he left his marks dug into Zabuza’s skin. It’s just—possession, and wanting, and actually having.

For the first time, he wonders if his father felt this thing of storms and forests, whispering in the back of his head. Wonders if his mother ever inspired it, and if she didn’t, how his father lived with that. Already Kakashi’s flings with Aoba and Genma feel like something halfhearted, like something less than what he has now. Like they got pieces of him, but Zabuza got all of him the minute he proposed the hunt. And maybe that’s not fair, but—

Yōkai, Kakashi thinks. They have yōkai blood, and for the first time he thinks he understands what it means when people say that some old clans have more yōkai blood than most.

“Yes,” he says, because Naruto is still staring at him. “Raijū and oni both like to challenge potential spouses, to see how strong they are. The hunts are the way they came up with to let their descendants do the same.”

“Oh.” Naruto looks away, frowning a little, but it flickers into a smile. “And Zabuza was strong enough?”

Kakashi thinks of thick muscle between his legs as he curled himself over Zabuza, the width of Zabuza’s shoulders, the corded muscles of his arms. Beautiful, in a raw, sharp-edged way that promises violence. It’s Kakashi’s favorite kind of beauty, honestly. Makes his mouth dry, and his heart quicken, and his blood heat. Makes him want, every single time he looks at Zabuza.

“Of course,” he says, and it’s a victory when it comes out light and languid, almost a joke. “I married him, didn’t I?”

That makes Naruto grin, bright and enthusiastic. “And now he an’ Haku get to live in Konoha!” he says cheerfully. “I'm glad you got to keep them, sensei.”

Keep. Something in Kakashi’s chest turns over at the word, darkly satisfied, and he smiles back before he can think about it. Of course an Uzumaki would understand. “You like having Haku in your apartment?” he asks, though just about the last thing he wants to hear is a no. That might require Haku moving back in with them, and while Kakashi would hardly protest that, he currently has plans for his apartment. Specifically, plans for sex in every square inch of it. He’s pretty sure Zabuza will approve.

“Yeah!” Naruto cheers, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “He’s even prettier than Sakura and he likes ramen too and we’re gonna grow an herb garden on the roof so he doesn’t have to go into the woods to pick herbs.”

Prettier than Sakura? That’s certainly an interesting development, Kakashi thinks, eyeing his student, who seems entirely oblivious to the implications.

“Hmm,” he offers, and turns a page of his book. “Naruto, I'm going to tell you something about a country near Wave. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, all right?”

Naruto blinks, nose wrinkling. “If it doesn’t have anything to do with me—” he starts.

“A country,” Kakashi repeats. “It’s a short boat ride from Wave Country.” And—gods. Between Minato's denseness and Kushina’s obliviousness, Naruto never had a chance, did he?

“From—” Naruto starts, and then his eyes widen. “Oh! Kakashi-sensei, you mean—”

Kakashi is going to be eighty years old by the time this day ends. Zabuza is going to have to put him to bed and feed him soup through a straw and take care of his own sexual needs. It’s going to be a tragedy. “Yes,” he interrupts. “That one. It’s surrounded by whirlpools, and the sea is so treacherous that only those who live there know how to get through to the island. People have lived there since long before Konoha was founded, and there are dragons in the ocean there.”

Dragons?” Naruto suddenly looks far more interested, craning his head to look up at Kakashi.

“Dragons,” Kakashi confirms. He doesn’t know the stories as well as he could, but—he knows more than Naruto, and that’s what matters right now. That’s what he’s trying to fix. “They're the spirits of the whirlpools, and sometimes they used to take human form and walk among the people on the island.”

“Why would they want to be human when they could be dragons?” Naruto demands, and it takes effort for Kakashi not to groan. Sakura, despite her other flaws, would already have picked up what Kakashi was trying to say.

“Naruto,” he says, not quite sharp, but—pointed. There are no other shinobi close or he might actually have to worry about saying even this much. Naruto isn't supposed to know about the Uzumaki, and he probably isn't supposed to know about the origins of his clan, either. “Yōkai married into human families to create shinobi bloodlines. The island had dragons that could look human to visit the people there.”

He can see the exact moment Naruto gets it. there's a flicker of confusion, a dart of frustration, and then a shock of realization. Naruto's eyes go wide, and he opens his mouth, then closes it again.

“Dragons?” he asks in a small voice.

Thank everything. Kakashi lets go of Naruto's collar, pulls his book back out. “It’s a nice story, isn't it?” he asks mildly, and glances up. The doors of the library are ahead of them, and there's a flicker of a familiar presence above them. “Go in and wait for me,” he tells Naruto. “Find the section on sealing in the shinobi area.”

Dragons,” Naruto says to himself again, and there's glee rising, practically vibrating through the word. “Sure, Kakashi-sensei!” he cries, and bolts for the building.

Well. Either he’ll get kicked out within ten seconds or the librarian will scare him quiet, Kakashi thinks wryly, scrubbing a hand through his hair as he pauses on the street.

A sandal taps the road behind him, a warning even though he doesn’t strictly need one, and a moment later Genma steps up next to him, expression amused as he ties his hitai-ate on. In uniform, and a glance shows that he’s heavily armed. A mission, then, Kakashi assumes, and not just going on duty.

“You like to live dangerously, don’t you?” Genma asks dryly.

“I was telling my student a folk tale,” Kakashi says loftily, just daring Genma to call him on his bullshit. “He should know the rich and varied folklore of Fire Country.”

Genma laughs, low and throaty, and tucks a senbon into his mouth. “That’s a good story to start with,” he agrees. Casts a glance over the village, towards the faces carved into the mountain and the image of the man he once swore his life to guard, and then smiles, bittersweet. “Hokage's got a pretty terrible sense of humor, sticking you with that team.”

Kakashi can't even begin to imagine what Sarutobi was thinking when he made the choice. When he decided to stick with tradition and keep Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke on the same team, when a single report from Iruka would have proved what a bad idea it was. He’s not about to say that, though, so he hums lightly and asks, “Mission?”

“Seduction.” Genma flashes him a smile that’s swift and sly and dangerous. He’s never told Kakashi what blood his clan carries, but Kakashi is absolutely sure it’s not something even vaguely benevolent. Something Genma has always politely contained, for the sake of the village, but—well. There was more than one reason Kakashi never thought for more than a moment about staying with Genma long-term. Genma had clearly enjoyed himself while they were together, but there had been something darker in his eyes that never came out.

“Have fun,” Kakashi tells him. “Don’t propose to every bandit and missing-nin you find.”

Genma laughs, ghosts a touch over his cheek before he steps away. The faint graze of his skin against Kakashi’s tingles for a moment, bright and hot, before the feeling fades to buzzing numbness, and Kakashi wonders what poisons Genma's been playing with this time.

“I always have fun,” he says, grinning lazily. “And it has to be an S-rank missing-nin more infamous than yours, right? Otherwise the Hokage won't be sufficiently impressed.”

“I think you mean sufficiently homicidal,” Kakashi says dryly. “Good luck.”

Genma tosses him a wink. “Same to you with your pet project,” he says, a tip of his head indicating the library, and then he’s gone in a swirl of bright summer leaves.

Kakashi catches one of the air as the whirlwind dies away, turns it over in his fingers with absent interest. Camellia leaves, he thinks they are, though botany’s never been his first interest. A sign of strangeness, Kushina told him once. Something else, too, but he can't quite recall what it was. He hadn’t been interested, then. Stupid, not realizing how little time he had left with her and Minato.

Sighing, Kakashi lets the leaf drop through his fingers and heads up the steps into the library, passing the front desk. The librarian gives him a narrow look, unimpressed, and Kakashi beams back, but quickens his pace just a little. She’s scary enough that he’d really prefer not to get on her bad side.

Thankfully for Kakashi’s continued use of the library, Naruto isn't making quite the racket Kakashi expects him to be. He’s in the middle of the sealing section, squinting up at—of course—the advanced manuals instead of the beginner ones. In this case, though, Kakashi thinks it can be excused, because on of Gai's genin is next to him, chattering excitedly as she unrolls one of her weapon scrolls.

“—and you can put anything you want in them but the don’t feel heavy. This one has two thousand kunai and a thousand shuriken—oh! Hello, Kakashi!”

“Tenten,” Kakashi greets, and glances up, looking for the rest of her team. “Are you here with Gai?”

“Gai-sensei and Lee are running laps,” Tenten says cheerfully. “And Neji is meditating. I wanted to see if I could find a few more variations of my seals, since we’re going to be competing in the Exams.”

Kakashi was honestly surprised that Gai didn’t enter his team last year, so it’s no shock to hear they’re in it this time. “Any luck?” he asks, and Tenten's warm smile sparks a thought.

“Yeah!” Tenten points at a teetering pile of scrolls stacked on one of the tables. “I'm going to look through them tonight and start drawing them out tomorrow.”

“You know her, Kakashi-sensei?” Naruto asks, looking between them suspiciously. “Was she your student before?”

Tenten laughs. “I'm on Maito Gai's team,” she says. “Team 9. Gai-sensei is best friends with Kakashi.”

“Eternal rivals,” Kakashi corrects blandly, and then says, “I'm going to teach Naruto sealing. Are there books you would recommend, Tenten?”

Tenten's eyes light up. “Sealing? You’re learning sealing, too? Oh, I can help!”

Victory. Kakashi blesses the helpful, enthusiastic spirit Gai has cultivated in his team. Well. In most of his team. “There you go, Naruto,” he says. “Tenten's one of the best at sealing in the village. She can help a lot.”

Tenten flushes right up to her buns, but beams like Kakashi just handed her a new weapon. “I like seals,” she tells Naruto, dropping down to sit cross-legged on the floor. She pats the space next to her invitingly, then asks, “Your name is Naruto? I’m Tenten! It’s nice to meet you!”

As always, a friendly face is all the lure Naruto needs. He throws himself down beside her and demands, “What else can seals do? Is it like the hand seals?”

With a thoughtful hum, Tenten tips her head and considers the question. “Kind of,” she says. “Seals direct chakra in certain patterns that have power and can change the world around them, and hand seals direct the chakra inside of you into the right patterns to create a jutsu. That’s a good question!”

Naruto beams right back, practically bouncing in place, and Kakashi carefully slips backwards on silent feet, leaving them to it. He’s not personally much of a teacher—some things make sense to him when they don’t to other people, and he can't figure out how to explain them well enough for other people to understand. Tenten, though, has the benefit of learning from Gai, who is a good teacher. Combined with a subject she’s passionate about, that should be enough for her to connect with Naruto. Especially given her experience dealing with Lee.

Pleased with his own cunning, Kakashi turns and heads for the history section. At least if learning seals isn't too painful, Naruto will have plenty of attention left over for a history lesson on the Uzumaki Clan and Uzushio as a whole.

He just hopes Zabuza and Haku are having this much luck with their own students.

As he steps into one of the smaller rooms with sparse clan histories, something like a shiver races down his spine, and Kakashi pauses. Tips his head, waiting, but there's no attack, no sense of impending threat. Just a dusty old room, windows sealed tightly, and when he glances over his shoulder there’s no one else nearby.

“Well,” Kakashi says out loud, and his voice echoes just a little. “That’s different.”

It doesn’t feel different, though. It feels like a warning, like instinct. Like there’s something whispering cautions in his ear, and Kakashi shifts, suddenly restless. He can still hear the faint echo of Naruto and Tenten's voices, and that’s good, but Haku and Sasuke, Zabuza and Sakura are all out of sight. Not good, something whispers, and Kakashi takes a breath, fighting it down. They're in the middle of a shinobi village, so the risk is low.

It doesn’t stop the vague, nervous twist in his stomach, though. It’s the same thing he felt last night, eating dinner with Zabuza. That hint of something, just touching the edge of his senses. Before, it was an impression, with thoughts of the clans’ yōkai blood so close. Someday all of the spirits are going to wake up again, and it had seemed so self-evident, so clear at that moment.

Someday all of the spirits are going to wake up again, he thinks, and rests a hand on the frame of the door. Closes his fingers around the wood, breathes out.

Breathes in, and tastes lightning in the air, like a summer storm descending.

Chapter Text

Zabuza comes back from getting them water to find his new student flat on her back on the ground, either unconscious or dead.

It’s less of a surprise than it probably should be. Zabuza snorts, but leans down to check that Sakura's chest is still rising. When he’s sure she’s breathing, he drops the extra bottle of water on the ground beside her, drags her axe up and out of the stump it’s wedged in, and gently sets it aside. Sakura herself is more of a problem; Zabuza’s not enough of an asshole to wake her up, isn't even sure he could, because she’s been pushing herself since the morning and the sun is just now starting to set. She’s got determination in spades, at least once she’s away from the Uchiha brat.

“I don’t suppose you're going to make this easy on me,” Zabuza huffs, but she doesn’t even stir. With a sigh, because he’s not about to leave her here alone, Zabuza nudges her, gets no response at all, and then picks her up, holding her limp weight with one arm. That at least makes her move a little, gets a quiet breath against his neck, but she drops back to sleep a moment later without fully waking.

“Hard way it is,” Zabuza says, and picks up the axe with his free hand. The weight of it is nothing compared to Kubikiribōchō, but for a twelve-year-old with no muscle to speak of? It’s plenty heavy. Especially because Zabuza suspects that Sakura hasn’t been eating all the full meals she should. She’s too thin, tires too quickly even when she forges past that point with sheer stubbornness. His first thought is parental neglect—Kakashi mentioned she has parents, after all, so it’s not that she’s an orphan. But Konoha isn't Kiri, and he’s willing to reserve judgement until he sees how things stand.

That spark of hope he felt for her future as a kunoichi at least hasn’t waned. May have grown stronger, if anything; Sakura might not look like much yet, but once she gets her teeth into something she doesn’t waver, and she’s got the chakra control to keep pushing herself even when most people would have dropped. A few months of steady practice will hopefully be enough to build up some more stamina, because that’s most of what she needs right now. She’s got a good memory when it comes to techniques, and picks things up quickly. Book-smart, but able to use it once she remembers to try.

Trying is the big part. Zabuza went a bit hard on her, at first, let a little of his chakra slip to scare her into fighting back. It worked, though. She forgot about Sasuke and her crush real quick when Zabuza gave her something else to focus on.

Pleased with how the day went, Zabuza boosts Sakura up a little higher on his shoulder, shifts the axe so it won't bang into Kubikiribōchō, and heads for the road that edges the training ground. It’s quiet, mostly deserted, but Zabuza’s pretty sure that he can find someone who knows the girl’s parents, even in a village the size of Konoha. As long as they can point him to her house, he won't have to wake her up and deal with the inevitable whining about sore muscles and exhaustion. The first few days of training are the worst; even Haku was less than agreeable during them.

Still. It didn’t go too badly. Sakura can listen to directions, and Zabuza still remembers what to do with an axe beyond just swinging it. It’s going to be a while before Sakura's anything beyond a beginner, but—she’s a genin. She doesn’t need to be more just yet.

“What a youthful burden you have there, my friend, and what youthful determination to go along with it!”

Despite the fact that there's no one in front of him, it takes Zabuza a moment to realize he’s the one being addressed. It’s only after the lack of people registers that he blinks, then turns to look behind himself in the direction of the gates.

There's a man in the middle of the road, balanced on his hands. Wearing a bright green jumpsuit with a jounin’s flak jacket on top, and vivid orange leg warmers. He’s beaming and Zabuza, wide grin full of white teeth.

Huh, Zabuza thinks, raising an eyebrow.

“Thanks,” he says, because that seems like the safest bet, and the grin widens.

With a heave, the man flips up onto his feet, then falls back into an enthusiastic pose, flashing Zabuza two thumbs up. “Yosh! I am glad to see such a youthful spirit in a fellow jounin! I am Maito Gai, Konoha's Sublime Green Beast of Prey! And who might you be, my friend?”

“I'm not your friend, for starters,” Zabuza says dryly. “Hatake Zabuza.” The name is coming more easily now, doesn’t feel quite so awkward on his tongue, and he’s grateful. Practice, maybe, or the memory of Kakashi’s fingers in his hair, last night and this morning, the rasp of Kakashi’s breath as he dragged Zabuza up to kiss him.

And then, without warning, Gai is right up in his face, barely three inches from his nose and squinting at him. “Hatake?” he repeats. “I wasn’t aware my eternal rival had a brother! Keeping secrets is not youthful!”

“What,” Zabuza says flatly.

“Kakashi, my eternal rival!” Gai says cheerfully, as if that’s the part that needs explaining. “We are engaged in an ongoing series of challenges, and though Kakashi currently has the lead, I will not be defeated for long!”

Zabuza doesn’t think he’s ever encountered this many exclamation points in his life, let alone in one conversation. He gives the man another look, and—that’s definitely a hitai-ate at his waist. Definitely a shinobi, because no civilian would be quite so eccentric. “I'm not his brother,” he says, and tries his best to keep the bite out of it. “I'm his husband.” He’s seen Kakashi interact with people, after all; eternal rival is likely about as close as he gets to best friend, so Zabuza should probably be at least a little careful not to immediately alienate the man.

There's a second of perfect, frozen silence. Wide black eyes stare at Zabuza for an endless moment, and then—

Gai bursts into tears.

“My eternal rival has found happiness in matrimony!” he wails, and Zabuza takes an expedient step to the side as Gai lunges to hug him. It doesn’t seem to deter the man; he wraps his arms around himself and declares, “This is a joyous and most youthful day! I am overwhelmed with happiness for my rival, and for you!”

“I can tell,” Zabuza says, edging backwards.

It’s not enough to save him; in a blur, Gai grabs for him again, and this time he’s too fast for Zabuza to evade. Zabuza finds himself wrenched into a full-body hug, actually lifted off the ground as he, the unconscious Sakura, Kubikiribōchō, and Sakura's axe are all whirled around in a tight spin.

“My rival has married!” Gai cries. “He’s found someone to share the springtime of his youth with! My heart burns for your love, my friend!”

Zabuza tries to get an arm free, but even though he can find a bit of leverage Gai has a grip that’s up there with Kisame's. He wheezes instead, feels Sakura's axe slip a little, and then is suddenly back on his feet and staggering as Gai laughs loudly.

“Any family member of my eternal rival is a friend of mine,” he declares, slapping Zabuza on the back. “Should there be anything you require, rival’s husband, I will provide it! do not hesitate to tell me!”

A portion of Zabuza is pretty sure it would be a much better idea to get out of the area while he still can. The rest is looking at Gai, registering his words about Kakashi, considering the strength of his grip. Shinobi are weird, to the last. Kisame looked like he was half shark. Yagura looked like an Academy student. Hell, Zabuza’s seen Killer B from a distance, and that man makes this one look average.

“I could use some directions right now, actually,” he says, deciding to go with it. At least Gai isn't fond of games the way Ameyuri used to be. “Got any idea where Kakashi’s students live?”

Dark eyes flicker from Zabuza to Sakura, still asleep, and then soften. Gai's next smile is warmer and less showy, more real. “Haruno Sakura, was it? I have patrolled the borders with her father several times! I can show you where she lives.” Stepping closer, he peers at her face for a moment, then chuckles. “Her youthful spirit still burns strong, but the body is unable to match it yet! You have taken her under your wing, my friend?”

Zabuza thinks about protesting that he isn't Gai's friend again, but—Konoha shinobi. They all get up on that bullshit friendship trip and it’s impossible to get them off of it. Better to just…let it be. “Yeah,” he huffs. “Kakashi’s got his hands full with the other two.” And Zabuza’s going to keep his opinions on that to himself, but those opinions certainly exist. Kakashi’s already had this team for a while if he was willing to take them on a C-rank outside of the village, and they should know more than clones and tree-walking at this point. To say nothing of the yōkai shit, given who’s teaching them, but—

But Kakashi’s got this weird sort of distance from his team, something that makes him stay a step back. Zabuza hasn’t asked, but if there’s one thing that he’s proud of, it’s shaping a student into a tool that can survive their world. The way Kakashi’s going, that’s going to be hard for his team. Or, at least, it was. Zabuza isn't exactly straining himself with missions and duties right now, and being a foreign nin recently added to the roster, he likely won't get any interesting assignments for a while. He’s got time to kill and a genin team ripe for training. It’s a distraction as good as any.

Gai's smile spreads, softens. He reaches out, tugging a lock of pink hair out from under Sakura's nose and draping it over her shoulder instead. “I'm glad,” he says. “My eternal rival is impossibly hip and cool, but he can need assistance just as much as those who are less so. I believe that having a genin team will be good for him.” Glancing up, he flashes Zabuza a bright grin. “And a husband will be equally beneficial!”

“That your way of saying he needs to get laid?” Zabuza asks dryly.

Gai laughs, plucking the axe from Zabuza’s hand and shouldering it cheerfully. “I'm sure it can't hurt!” he declares. “This way! We shall relieve you of your burden before the day ends!”

Since the sun’s still plenty high on the horizon, Zabuza definitely hopes so. He boosts Sakura a little higher on his shoulder, following Gai around the edge of the village and then down a series of quiet side streets lined with houses. Overgrown, most of them, or built around the vast trees that are scattered through the village, but Zabuza is getting used to the look of Konoha, and he can't entirely say he hates it. It’s an interesting place.

“You are from another village, then?” Gai asks, leading him up a street lined with flowering trees. Odd, since the rest of the village seems firmly into summer, but Zabuza’s not about to say anything, not when he’s heard all the stories of Hashirama’s Mokuton.

Zabuza grunts, good mood souring faintly at the reminder. “Kiri,” he says shortly. “Formerly. I was a missing-nin.”

And gods, that grates, because Zabuza never betrayed his village, only the Mizukage who let shinobi with bloodlines be slaughtered in the street. Only the Mizukage who came to power after the Graduation Exams were ended and then changed nothing. Controlled, probably, because everyone who knew Yagura swore he was never anything like that, was an idealist to rival Mei at her worst, but—

No proof. No way to break the control, the blackmail, whatever the hell it was. So Zabuza had volunteered to be the one to kill him. He’d already killed his entire graduating class, after all. What was one more death at his hands? Yagura was a jinchuuriki, but Zabuza was one of the Seven Swordsmen. Maybe some people forgot, but they were always supposed to be Kiri's greatest, their strongest, their most loyal.

Looking at where they are now, though, makes Zabuza want to laugh bitterly. Loyalty to the end, and what did it amount to? Just a bunch of betrayals and losses. He was a missing-nin, he was a traitor, even if all he ever wanted was for the Bloody Mist to fucking stop.

There's a pause, and when Zabuza glances over at Gai, the man is looking away, towards a different point in the village. “One of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, yes?” he asks, and then that smile is back, pride banishing the sadness. “My father was the one to defeat the former generation of the Swordsmen! He was a great man, full of the passions of youth and the Will of Fire!”

Zabuza blinks, looks Gai over again. “Maito Dai,” he says, and—yeah, okay, that was an obvious connection he probably shouldn’t have missed. “Fuck, he’s a legend in Kiri.”

If anything, Gai's smile gets brighter. “Truly? I had thought you would resent him for the deaths, but to hear that he is admired fills my heart with joy!”

“Strength is kind of Kiri's thing,” Zabuza says. “He got the drop on nearly all the Swordsmen at the same time. That means he was pretty fucking strong. Our kind of shinobi.”

Gai laughs, reaching out to clap Zabuza on the back. “You have brightened my day, rival’s husband! Knowing that my father’s victory, even in death, is held up as legendary in Kiri makes my heart light! Thank you!”

“No problem.” Zabuza does his best not to stagger under the force of that pat, but it’s startlingly hard. Gai must be all muscle, to use that much strength so casually. Maybe there’s hope for some of the Konoha shinobi after all.

“This is the Haruno residence!” Gai tells him cheerfully, pointing to a neat house near the corner. “Are you in need of any more assistance, rival’s husband? I should check on my own team before they return home!”

Zabuza takes the axe from him, resting it over his free shoulder. “No, I just need to have a word with her parents. Thanks.”

“It was my pleasure!” Gai flashes him a grin and a thumb’s up, then bounces back two steps and flips onto his hands in a twist of sleek muscle that’s visible even through the jumpsuit. “Yosh! It is a happy ending to this day, having met you, Hatake Zabuza! May this be the start of a strong and unwavering friendship, filled with the fires of youth!”

“…Right,” Zabuza says, but Gai is already heading back down the street at whatever the equivalent to running while doing a handstand is. Apparently all that muscle is earned, just…not the same way Kisame's was.

Shaking his head, because Konoha shinobi are definitely unique, Zabuza turns up the stairs, looking for any plates or names. There aren’t any, but the covered stairs end at the first landing, and there's only one door visible. Zabuza sets the axe against the wall so he can knock, and the moment his knuckles strike wood there's a bright, cheerful, “One moment, please!” from inside.

The woman who opens the door looks very little like her daughter, with dark blonde hair and a lightly lined face. She’s smiling, though it wavers when she catches sight of Zabuza with Sakura in his arms, turns to dismay and worry in a moment. “Sakura?” she demands. “Oh, what happened to her?”

“Just training,” Zabuza says, and retrieves the axe. “Started with a new weapon and she went all-out. I figured since you're shinobi you’ll have something for her muscles tomorrow when she wakes up.”

The woman’s gaze flickers from Zabuza to Sakura and then down to the weapon, and she presses a hand over her mouth. “Please, come in. She picked a weapon? I—she didn’t seem to have any interest in specializing.”

“Except in the Uchiha boy?” Zabuza asks dryly. “I'm working on it.”

She pauses, hesitates. “Forgive me,” she says evenly, “but I was under the impression that Hatake Kakashi was Sakura's jounin instructor. Has something changed?”

“He’s my husband,” Zabuza tells her, and—that’s coming easier too now. A tie, but one that’s a little easier to bear when he has the memory of Kakashi’s breath against his throat, the way he kissed him in the training ground. Not enough to make up for everything he lost, maybe, but­—

It could sure as hell be a lot worse.

“I'm helping with the training,” he adds, when the woman doesn’t look entirely at ease. “Been training with bladed weapons since I got out of the Academy.” And unless she asks, he’s not about to say which Academy; telling her he’s a former Kiri nin isn't going to help here.

Thankfully, her expression eases. “I'm glad you're available to help, then,” she says. “I'm Haruno Mebuki. Forgive me, I wasn’t aware Kakashi was married. Oh, you can put her on the couch there, I’ll wake her for dinner.”

Carefully, Zabuza eases Sakura down, lets her flop onto the deep cushions where she immediately curls in on herself. The axe he puts next to her, within reach because that’s Zabuza’s habit. A weapon’s no use if you can't get to it, after all. Then he straightens, turns to face Mebuki, and tells her flatly, “She’s not eating enough.” No use in coming at it sideways, after all. Zabuza can't stand that kind of shit.

For a moment, Mebuki looks entirely taken aback. “I—she eats well enough,” she says, though it’s a little weak. “The diet she’s on—”

Fuck. This is what comes of letting shinobi children spend too much time with civilians. “Stop her,” Zabuza snaps. “She’s a genin, she’s going to need every bit of food she can get to keep her chakra reserves up.” It was the main reason Zabuza made sure that Haku's meals were always full, even when he had to pare down his own portions where the kid wouldn’t see. Shinobi need large amounts of food, and children more than most. “She can't build muscle if her body’s in starvation mode. Fucking feed her, and make sure she eats. I don’t want her dropping dead on my watch.”

“I won't have you implying—” Mebuki starts, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, but Zabuza gives her a withering look and turns, stalking back out the door. An insult, to turn his back, but he’s not going to stand around arguing with idiots all evening when he’s got other places he could be.

To his surprise, there's a familiar figure in the street when he leaves the Haruno house, watching the road with a peaceful expression and his hands clasped in front of him. Zabuza lifts a brow, but keeps walking.

“Hey, Haku,” he says. “Lose something?”

“Only what I meant to lose,” Haku says, smile perfectly innocent.

With a snort, Zabuza turns towards the center of Konoha, mostly sure he’s going the right way. The market is somewhere in that direction, he remembers. “Yeah? How’s that going?”

Haku tips his head thoughtfully, keeping pace. “Well enough,” he offers after a moment. “He’s fast, but he’s not used to training with other people. I think he’s mostly done it on his own before.”

Given the Uchiha kid’s attitude, Zabuza would believe that. Not that he entirely blames him; he probably doesn’t want to subject himself to Sakura's fawning more than he has to. “Reflexes?”

“Improving.” Haku's smile turns just a little cheeky. “Weren’t you just telling me I have all the finesse of a butcher? I'm putting it to good use.”

Yeah, Zabuza is willing to bet a few senbon to the ass are more than enough to get Sasuke motivated where dodging is concerned, especially after his encounter with Haku on the bridge. He chuckles, and Haku beams, then turns to glance through the window of a flower shop as they pass.

“Getting along with the Uzumaki brat?” Zabuza asks, a little curious. Haku told him, on the trip back, abut meeting the kid in the forest in Wave, and his voice was noticeably soft, fond. Some kind of connection there, and in the face of that it wasn’t much of a surprise when Haku volunteered to stay with Naruto instead of in Kakashi’s apartment.

This time Haku's smile is very small and very warm. “I like him,” he says, glancing up the street. “He believes in having someone precious to fight for, too. And he likes gardening.”

Well. That’s a good start, Zabuza thinks, raising an eyebrow even though Haku can't see it. And­—of all the things that coming to Konoha have included, Zabuza thinks he likes this best. Haku was never really Kiri stock, for all that he was born in the village. Naruto is more like him, more readily able to relate to him. It’s a good connection to have.

He’d seen it in Haku's eyes, that moment on the bridge. He was pinned down, and Haku was defeated, and when Kakashi looked like he was about to go for the final blow—

Haku was going to jump in front of Zabuza, die for him. It’s the kind of thing expected of a tool, but in that moment Zabuza didn’t want him to. Hated the thought, hated it so fiercely he’d opened his mouth and proposed a hunt.

It’s easy to remember Haku as a child, splashing in the water of a lake and laughing. Easy to remember training him, watching him grow and get stronger and master his own power, one step behind Zabuza no matter where he was headed. Turning their steps towards Konoha was a loss, a surrender, but Zabuza is glad that something good could come of it.

“Good,” he says gruffly, then catches a flash of dark blue on the rooftop above them and grins. “Incoming, Haku.”

Haku spins on the ball of one foot, perfectly graceful, and vanishes with a shimmer of snow and cold air. Three shuriken hit the street where he just was, and with a curse Sasuke throws himself over to the next street and drops out of sight. With a laugh, Haku reappears on the edge of the house Sasuke abandoned, waves to Zabuza, and heads in the other direction.

Yeah, Zabuza’s willing to say without hesitation that he did well with Haku.

Shaking his head, because if Sasuke didn’t already want to kill Haku for the way their fight turned out he’s definitely going to after today, Zabuza rounds the corner, then follows the sound of a lot of voices in a tight area to find the market three streets over.

The sight of so many people crowded together is a clear reminder that Konoha is the largest of the Hidden Villages, both in area and population. There are more people here than Zabuza can ever remember seeing in Kiri all at once, but while it’s busy it manages not to be crushing. Zabuza can find a clear path through, and maybe part of that is his height and his sword, but people don’t look all that intimidated. They don’t go out of their way to avoid him, there's just room, and it’s a lot more pleasant than navigating the run-down market on the outskirts of Kiri. Zabuza has a bit of money with him, some of the advance pay from Gato that he was never able to send back to Kiri, and he may as well use it since Mei isn't going to have any use for it now.

The thought makes him swallow, look away. There will always be another rebellion, always another push for change, but—that one was Zabuza’s. That was the one he wanted to succeed, the one he put his hopes on. Mei was the one he put his hopes on. She would have made a fantastic Kage, the first female Kage, and gods but Zabuza was ready for Kiri to be the first where something positive was concerned.

Breathing out through his nose, he banishes the thought, sets it aside. Kakashi already had to drag him down from the edges of a rage this morning, and if Zabuza lets himself fall like that too often—

He doesn’t remember his parents, not really. A few glimpses, a couple of moments, a faint thought that his mother’s hair was the color of midnight water and her eyes were a green so dark they looked black. But he remembers the stories about the Momochi as a clan, defeated by Kiri soon after the village’s founding. Lesser because they were once enemies, but strong in their own right.

My great-grandfather was an oni, his mother told him once, whispered, like it was a secret. He came up from Hell as a soldier, but he fell in love with a human woman and stayed here. Can you feel the rage inside you, Zabuza? That’s his blood speaking. Be careful.

Be careful. Always, always be careful, because the Momochi might not have had a kekkei genkai but sometimes strong yōkai blood was just as dangerous. The spirits started fading, and then there was just—a collective sort of amnesia, except more purposeful than that. More driven. And suddenly the blood-rage of some of the old families, Zabuza’s among them, was less an asset on the battlefield and more a thing to whisper about in the streets, low and sharp as knives.

Too much anger gets you caught, gets you pushed out of the village at best or killed at worst. Zabuza had that drilled into him from a young age, remembers that lesson better than his parents’ faces. He’s not about to forget, even in the face of this.

He shakes himself, keeps moving. Kakashi’s probably going to be home soon, and there's something Zabuza wants to pick up before he heads back himself. A reward, more or less.

Kakashi did promise to make things up to him, after all.

Chapter Text

Exploding tags,” Naruto says gleefully, practically shoving a scroll up Kakashi’s nose. “Kakashi-sensei, I can make exploding tags!”

Behind him, Tenten beams like a proud parent, which makes Kakashi both happy and faintly nervous. Kushina used to smile like that, back when her genin team did something particularly destructive. “He’s good at seals so far!” she says cheerfully. “I have some free time tomorrow, so is it okay if we meet here again? We only got to cover basic exploding tags, but I can show him the variations, too.”

“As long as Gai doesn’t object, I’d be grateful if you would,” Kakashi says, as if this wasn’t what he was aiming for all along. “Thanks, Tenten.”

She smiles at him, bright and happy. “It’s great that other people want to learn about seals,” she says, and she’s too cheerful for it to be wistful, but…Kakashi thinks there might be a thread of it, buried under her smile. “I know a lot of people prefer to buy them from the weapons shop.”

“Making them is lots of fun!” Naruto declares. He’s clutching two scrolls to his chest like he’ll fight anyone who tries to take them away, which is a good sign.

“Here,” Kakashi tells him breezily, and shoves three books into his grasp as well. When Naruto squawks, trying not to drop them, Kakashi steps back and tells him firmly, “Read those. It’s training.”

“But Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto whines, even as he settles them. “I'm learning the seals too! Sakura and Sasuke don’t have to read!”

“I'm sure they're doing it anyway,” Kakashi says dryly, because Sakura at least carries books around with her regularly, and Sasuke probably reads training manuals. “Naruto. It’s important.” The history of Uzushio is in those three books, along with plenty of myths about the Uzumaki Clan and the dragons they're descended from. There's even a brief section in one about Uzumaki Mito and her sealing of the Kyuubi, and Kakashi marked it with a shuriken just to be sure Naruto wouldn’t miss it.

Naruto pulls a face, but before he can protest again there's a thump, light and steady, and Haku says, “It’s all right, Naruto. We can read them together. I'm sure that will make it go faster.” He offers Tenten a smile as he approaches, and she smiles back, but when Naruto huffs Haku's attention is pulled back to him almost instantly. “If we get ramen to go and read on the roof, it will be like a picnic.”

That’s enough to make Naruto brighten. “Yeah!” he says, with a marked increase in enthusiasm. “Let’s do that, Haku!”

Another thump, this one far less steady, and Kakashi glances back to see Sasuke staggering upright, red in the face and entirely winded. He lifts a brow, faintly surprised, because Sasuke's stamina is very good, especially for not having a cheat like a bijuu, but Sasuke isn't looking at him. He’s glaring at Haku, and he snarls, “We’re not done.”

“Training is over for the day,” Kakashi tells him blandly, because he can see this getting out of hand.

Sasuke gives him a mulish look, opens his mouth, and—

“Naruto and I were going to get ramen and have a picnic,” Haku says, smiling, and Kakashi is about thirty percent certain he’s not imagining the mocking edge to it. It’s hard to tell with Haku, though. “Would you like to join us, Sasuke?”

Sasuke's eyes narrow. He looks from Haku to Naruto, who’s pulling a face, and then says, “You’re not going to tell me about my clan.”

“I can,” Haku says, glancing at Kakashi, who waves a hand in lazy permission. Whatever Haku tells him, Kakashi can fill in the gaps tomorrow. Or get Zabuza to do it, which sounds like the much better option, honestly.

“Invite Sakura next time,” is all he says, because he remembers how he felt when Obito and Rin disappeared after training together. They were friends, and Kakashi wanted, but—

It was too hard to say anything, and he was too tightly contained within himself after his father’s death. And then Rin and Obito were both dead, so it didn’t matter anyway. But—gods he hopes this version of Team 7 can do better, even if he has to force them to.

Haku hesitates, frowning faintly. “We could invite her this time,” he says, “but Zabuza had to carry her home. I don’t think she’s awake.”

Kakashi pretends not to see the relief that flickers over Sasuke's face, even though he recognizes it well. The boy just grunts, even as Naruto pouts and says, “We should go ask anyway!”

“Do something with her tomorrow instead,” Kakashi tells them. He smiles when Sasuke glares and Naruto cheers, and asks Haku, “You saw Zabuza?”

“He went to the market, and then I think he was going back to your apartment,” Haku says, and if his smile is a little sharper and colder it’s easy enough to overlook.

Kakashi hums his thanks, raises a hand, and asks Tenten, “You need help finding Gai?”

Tenten laughs, waves a goodbye to Naruto as Haku steers him and Naruto away, and says, “No, I’ll just—”

“MY ETERNAL RIVAL!”

“Never mind, found him!” Tenten says, and ducks.

Kakashi, unfortunately, has no such alternative. He’s caught up in a bear hug before he can even blink, lifted right off his feet as Gai sobs into his flak jacket. “My eternal rival, my heart is filled with joy for you! Your husband is a kind, strong, youthful man, and that you have found each other makes my soul weep for the passions of your youth!”

“Hi, Gai,” Kakashi says fondly, and pats the top of his head. “You met Zabuza?”

Gai sniffles. “I have indeed! You are truly hip and cool to have found such an admirable man, rival! He shared stories of my father’s legend in Kiri and cared so gently for your sweet genin! Truly a youthful man firmly in the springtime of his life!”

Kakashi hadn’t even considered Dai’s reputation in Kiri, but—he knows Gai has spent a lot of time growing stronger just so that sort of thing never happens to him again. Hearing that Dai is recognized even by his enemies as someone legendary might not have eased the loss, but it probably didn’t hurt.

Carefully, Gai sets him down, and Kakashi pats his shoulder then steps back. “Tenten helped Naruto a lot today,” he says, glancing back at the girl. “She’s a good teacher.”

Tenten flushes. “It’s easier to learn when something is interesting,” she says. “And seals are more interesting than anything but weapons! Naruto liked them too, so it was fun.”

“Good job, Tenten!” Gai cheers, flashing her a thumb’s up. “You are spreading the gift of knowledge like the beacon of youthfulness that you are! I have faith in your bright spirit to shine on other generations!”

“Thanks, Gai-sensei,” Tenten sighs, cheeks still red. Very firmly, she tugs on his sleeve, and says, “We should find Neji and Lee, they’re probably still training.”

“They do indeed have a fire in their souls to become stronger!” Gai says cheerfully. He claps Kakashi on the back and offers, “I would like to meet your husband again, rival! He is a fine figure of a man!”

“He is,” Kakashi agrees, smiling. “Later, Gai.”

“Next time I will have a challenge for you, rival!” Gai declares, then waves and follows Tenten as she drags him towards the main road.

Kakashi watches them go, tucking his hands in his pockets. Gai and Zabuza, he thinks, turning the image over in his head. He wonders how that meeting went. Probably well, if Gai was so enthusiastic about it, with minimal tears. By now Kakashi’s learned how to tell when his enthusiasm is…not forced, but maybe slightly less abundant than it might be otherwise. This was wholly Gai, though, and apparently Zabuza made a good impression. It’s—nice.

Turning his feet towards home, Kakashi lets his mind wander a little, wondering just what Zabuza was having Sakura do that he had to carry her home; her stamina isn't great, but she’s stubborn enough when she gets her teeth in something that it doesn’t always matter. Zabuza had seemed deeply offended by her attitude around Sasuke, too; at least a few times on their trip home Kakashi caught a definite eye twitch from his new husband when Sakura's fawning was particularly obvious.

Probably swords, he decides after a moment, catching sight of his apartment building several streets over and taking to the roofs with an easy leap. Zabuza is one of the Seven Swordsmen, after all, and Kakashi might not know everything about Kiri, but that title is more than infamous enough. The seven best in Kiri, carefully selected for their power, death the only way into or out of the group. Kiri takes pride in the best of its non-bloodline shinobi, and the Seven are that without a doubt. Zabuza is that, and with Haku having a bloodline that’s so strong, he likely focused on training himself in that. Would have to, if he wanted enough control to keep it hidden, with yōkai blood so close. But for Zabuza, not passing on the kenjutsu skills that earned him his place must be a disappointment at the very least.

Sakura with a sword will be interesting, Kakashi thinks, not quite sure how to feel about it. More drive can only help her, but she doesn’t seem the type for a sword, really. Though he supposes if any can fix that it’s Zabuza.

From the next building over, it’s an easy jump to his windowsill, and Kakashi slides it open, then drops in, and immediately registers the smell of curry. Breathes in it, close to stunned by this sign of someone else’s presence, and turns.

There is indeed a pot simmering on the stove, dishes drying by the sink. Kubikiribōchō is propped by the door, Zabuza’s new flak jacket hanging on the hook beside it, and—

On the couch. Zabuza, paging through Kakashi’s copy of the Bingo Book without even glancing up, and Kakashi swallows hard, his mouth suddenly painfully dry as his gaze skims across pale bare skin, slides up Zabuza’s long legs and right to the edge of cloth that barely covers his cock.

An apron, Kakashi thinks, though he feels a little like he’s been hit over the head with a hammer. Nothing cute, or frilly. Just plain black cloth, tied around Zabuza’s narrow waist and knotted in the front, barely wide enough at the top to cover his nipples. If he stands up, if he turns around, there's not going to be any cloth covering his ass at all.

The breath shudders out of Kakashi’s lungs all at once, and he has to curl his fingers in the frame of the window to keep himself in place. Swallows, trying to think, and says just a little roughly, “Shouldn’t you be waiting for me on your knees like a good wife?”

“Fuck off with that bullshit,” Zabuza huffs without looking up. Just turns another page, as if he doesn’t know what the sight of him lying there, like that, is doing to Kakashi. “Besides, you were late and I got bored.”

Which implies that he did wait for Kakashi. Maybe not on his knees in front of the door, as pretty a picture as that is. Maybe sitting on the couch instead, legs spread, one hand on his cock under the cover of the apron as he stroked himself. Kakashi wonders if he came, though if he did Kakashi can't smell it in the air.

“Have I been neglecting my cute little bride?” Kakashi asks, but he can hardly focus on the teasing words. Tries to breathe, but all he can smell is Zabuza, dark and warm and edged with something sharp enough to make Kakashi’s mouth water. Heady want pools low in his gut, slides through his veins like a tide, slow and steady and inexorable, and he can't tear his eyes away from Zabuza’s body, lean and muscled and bare in the evening light.

“Someday I'm gonna fucking murder you for calling me that,” Zabuza says lazily, but there's a smirk curving his mouth, smug and satisfied and arrogant except he has every right to it, looking like he does. He sets the Bingo Book aside, swings a leg down off the couch and sits up, leaning forward with his hands braced on the edge of the cushions. The hem of the apron rides up across his thighs, and Kakashi’s breath catches in his throat, tangles around the pure want that makes his cock ache. Clear muscles, thick and obvious even at rest, and Kakashi wants them wrapped around his face about three minutes ago.

“You’d kill your husband who works so hard to support you?” Kakashi drawls, and finally peels his hands off the window frame, steps away. Zabuza watches him approach with dark eyes, lashes heavy over them, the slant of his smile full of anticipation. “How cruel of you.”

“I'm pretty sure even your Hokage wouldn’t blame me,” Zabuza says, tips his head back to look up at Kakashi as Kakashi steps between his knees. Unable to resist even a moment longer, Kakashi reaches out, slides his fingers under the thin straps of the apron and then down, skimming over hard nipples. Zabuza makes a soft sound, more a hitch of breath than anything, and Kakashi slides forward, drops into his lap, drags his mask off, and kisses him. Not hard, even with the desire pounding like a heartbeat. Soft, deep, careful and deliberate as he maps every inch of Zabuza’s mouth, strokes beside his tongue and hums at the taste of him, spicy and a little sweet.

Zabuza’s hands find his waist as he kisses back, languid and lazy, strokes Kakashi’s hips with deliberate drags of his thumbs. One hand drifts up, curves over Kakashi’s covered cock, and Kakashi groans, breaks the kiss to tip his head back as he rolls his hips into the touch. With a chuckle, Zabuza leans in, kisses his throat, his shoulder, drops his mouth to the cut he left this morning and gives it a long, slow lick through the tear in Kakashi’s shirt.

“Think you said something earlier about making it up to me,” he says, kisses the red line and then moans as Kakashi pinches his nipples lightly.

“Mm.” Kakashi watches his face, feels the shudders as he strokes and pinches at the hard buds. Zabuza buries his face in Kakashi’s shirt, trying to swallow the short, breathy sounds as Kakashi twists and rubs, and Kakashi smiles, rocks forward against the hardening cock he’s practically sitting on. “I did, didn’t I? It was such a nice blowjob, too.” Such pretty memories, entirely unfaded, and Kakashi is going to remember the way Zabuza swallowed his cock for the rest of his life in perfect detail.

As if he can hear the thought, Zabuza takes a breath, glances up. Reaches for Kakashi’s hitai-ate, slowly enough that Kakashi has warning, but Kakashi doesn’t stop him as he tugs it up and off. Just opens his eye, and the details of Zabuza’s face instantly come into crystalline detail, from the dilated pupils blown wide to the touch of sweat forming, the minute shifts of muscle as he drops the band to the side. Genuine want, and Kakashi is usually too well-known to do seduction missions himself, but he’s seen plenty, watched Genma fake desire in such a convincing way that only the Sharingan can pick up the tells. This isn't, though; this is real, equal to Kakashi’s own want and shown without hesitation, and Kakashi kisses Zabuza deeply, presses him into the couch with a groan as he rubs their cocks together.

“Like this?” he asks hoarsely, right against Zabuza’s mouth. Doesn’t want to pull away enough for more, for louder. Rolls Zabuza’s nipples between his fingers, and rides the choked cry, the jerk of Zabuza’s whole body as he shudders.

“Fuck,” Zabuza says, and drags Kakashi’s lips up an inch, takes his mouth with something close to desperation. “I put on a fucking apron for you and you want to waste it sitting in my lap?”

That’s a fair point, as much as Kakashi likes his current perch, with Zabuza’s strong body under him and that cock hot and hard through the thin fabric of his apron. He hesitates, and Zabuza groans and shoves at his hips. “You haven’t even seen it from the back yet,” he says, and Kakashi abandons his seat with haste. Zabuza isn't moving, just watches with a tilt to his head and a smirk on his lips, and when Kakashi raises a brow at him he spins a finger through the air. “Gonna make me be the only one feeling the draft? Strip.”

Kakashi chuckles, but he lets his flak jacket drop, strips his shirt off. “I don’t know,” he says. “There are perks to only one of us being naked.”

“Later,” Zabuza says, a promise in his smirk, and Kakashi has to swallow at the image that rises, Zabuza completely bare as he rides Kakashi’s cock, Kakashi still completely clothed, pants open just enough to get his cock out. Hotter than it should be, and Kakashi leans forward, grabs Zabuza’s hands and pulls him to his feet as he laughs. Kisses the sound from his mouth, sweet on this tongue, and feels hands at his belt, opening his pants. Kakashi steps out of his sandals, lets the pants and underwear fall away, and presents himself to Zabuza with a smile and a tip of his head, hands splayed.

“Do I meet my cute wife’s expectations?” he asks, and Zabuza snorts even as his eyes sweep down Kakashi’s body, linger on the curve of his hard cock.

“You know,” Zabuza challenges, “I was going for something besides cute here, asshole.”

Kakashi hums lightly, steps close. He can still see Zabuza’s nipples through the thin cloth, and he reaches up, rubs at them lightly. It drags a sharp sound from Zabuza’s throat, makes him lean forward, and Kakashi takes the kiss but keeps it light, chaste.

“You're very cute,” he says, and when Zabuza growls he cups a hand under his cock, testing the weight of it. Zabuza groans, rocking into the touch, and Kakashi chuckles against his mouth. He drags his hands up Zabuza’s sides, skimming sharp ribs and thick muscle, teasing the very edges of the apron, and then steps back. “Was there something my pretty bride wanted to show me.”

Zabuza rolls his eyes at him, despite the way his face is starting to flush a little. “Sure,” he drawls, and turns. Kakashi has half an instant to take in black cloth perfectly framing Zabuza’s truly exquisite ass before Zabuza braces his hands on the arm of the couch and leans forward, casually spreading his legs. Then every last thought in Kakashi’s head is gone, washed away by the sight. Zabuza’s cock is thick and hard between his legs, the straps of the apron crisscrossing his back and drawing Kakashi’s eyes right to his ass and the purpled bite Kakashi left there. Something in Kakashi’s chest turns over, dark and satisfied, and he growls, steps close. Falls to his knees, curling his hands around Zabuza’s thighs, and presses his teeth to firm flesh. Zabuza gasps, shudders, leans back into his mouth, and Kakashi bites down, pulls skin between his teeth and sucks hard at it.

His marks, he thinks, digging his fingers into muscle as Zabuza moans. His marks in places where no one can mistake their meaning, if they happen to see them, and Zabuza’s skin smells smooth and clean and freshly washed, like Kakashi’s soap. His, and Kakashi drags his hands up to spread Zabuza’s cheeks, rubbing the pad of his thumb over his tight hole. Clean smells here, too, and with a hum Kakashi leans in, kisses the skin beside his hole and says, “I think I want to make you come on that apron, dear.”

Zabuza groans, fingers going white-knuckled on the couch. “Fuck,” he gets out, rough and winded. “Fucking do it, then. Won't take much, I promise.”

Kakashi chuckles. “Good to know,” he murmurs, and drags the flat of his tongue over Zabuza’s hole, feels the cry that vibrates through Zabuza’s body. This skin tastes clean as well, with a faint hint of soap, and he imagines Zabuza cleaning himself, fingers buried inside himself, head thrown back. Beautiful, he thinks, presses his finger in and then his tongue beside it, and feels Zabuza tremble. Spears his tongue in deep, laps at the tight furl, makes it wet and messy and hums against the skin. Zabuza’s cry is choked, desperate, and he claws at the cushions as Kakashi opens him up, licks into him with his nose full of Zabuza’s smell and those sweet sounds loud in his ears. He’s straining, jerking, and Kakashi skims a finger down his cock, teases it between his balls for the ragged shout it earns him, then pulls away with a groan.

Zabuza doesn’t even have words left; he grabs for Kakashi, catches his arm and drags him up, and Kakashi can't find the breath for a comment. He sprawls over Zabuza’s broad back, kissing the curve of the muscle there, and his shaft slides between Zabuza’s cheeks, head catching on the rim of his hole. Too tight still, and Kakashi isn't going to take him dry, but he growls, catches Zabuza’s hips in his hands as he rocks back into Kakashi’s weight. Pushes forward, and when his cock slips between Zabuza’s thighs they both groan.

“Good?” Kakashi asks, and Zabuza’s too tall for Kakashi to see the head of his cock pushing between his legs, but he can imagine it, can feel the heat of Zabuza’s cock against his own and the softness of the skin between his legs. Zabuza’s are braced, holding them both up, and his head is bowed, breathing unsteady. The apron’s ties rub against Kakashi’s stomach as he thrusts once, slow and teasing, and he gets his hands under it, skims them up Zabuza’s chest.

With a groan, Zabuza tightens his legs, closes his thighs around Kakashi’s cock. Keeps them tight, and says, breathless but taunting, “Weren’t you going to make it up to me?”

Kakashi wants to retort, but Zabuza’s thighs are just slick enough with saliva and Kakashi’s own precome to ease the thrust a little, and the head bumps up under Zabuza’s cock, slides over his balls and makes him hiss. He’s bent forward, at just the right angle for Kakashi to rake his fingers down his chest, and he goes back to his nipples, pinches hard and thrusts up as Zabuza shouts. The friction is enough to short out Kakashi’s brain, drives him on, and he thrusts again, puts a rhythm behind it as he teases Zabuza’s nipples. Little tugs, twists, rubbing his thumbs around the areoles with just enough force, and Zabuza cries out, the sound fracturing into Kakashi’s name as he hunches forward.

Beautiful, Kakashi doesn’t have the breath to say, but he lets one hand slide down, outside the cover of the apron, to grip Zabuza’s cock through the fabric. Zabuza’s thighs are trembling, all too obvious with Kakashi’s cock between them, and the first touch makes him twitch, hiss. Kakashi presses a kiss to his shoulder, shivers and moans at the slide of his own cock up between damp legs and over soft skin, just enough pressure and friction. Then again at his own touch, the drag of cloth that’s just a little too rough as Kakashi cups the base of Zabuza’s cock with one hand, covers the head of his own and strokes up with the other hand.

One more hard thrust, right up underneath Zabuza’s balls, and then there's a cry, choked and ragged. Wetness stains the apron, and Zabuza’s legs clamp around Kakashi’s cock, make him groan, and that and the smell of him in the air, musky and sharp and hot, is enough. Kakashi shoves in, comes across Zabuza’s cock and balls, and growls at their scents mixing so thoroughly. Marked, not just visibly, and that dark, happy thing in Kakashi’s chest is bigger, fiercer. He has to swallow it down, forces himself to push away from Zabuza’s back, sweaty and sticky and so very, very satisfied.

With a groan, Zabuza unlocks his arms, staggers a step to the side, and collapses onto the couch. Kakashi wastes no time following him down, sinks to his knees on the cushions and leans over, kissing him clumsily. There's a pleased sigh against his lips, and Zabuza loops an arm around his waist to pull him close. It makes Kakashi chuckle, still breathless, but he curls his fingers in soft hair and murmurs, “Shower?”

“Bath,” Zabuza counters, smirking against Kakashi’s lips. “Fuck if my legs will hold me for more than that.”

“I could pick you up,” Kakashi proposes, and…he’s fairly certain he can. Mostly. Probably better in a few minutes, but the point stands.

Zabuza’s breath catches, comes out on a groan. “Bastard,” he says with no heat behind it. “Give me at least twenty minutes before you go there.”

It’s probably a bad sign that Kakashi is already plotting the sturdiest wall in the apartment. He chuckles and asks, “The food?”

Zabuza groans. “After. I’ll turn it off, we can reheat it later.”

Later sounds good, especially when now includes sliding into a bath with Zabuza. The tub is small enough that it will be hard to fit, but Kakashi has faith in their ingenuity. “I’ll do it,” he volunteers, pushing to his feet and stealing one more brief kiss before he moves away.

“And I’ll start the water.” Zabuza rises carefully, and he must be ignoring Kakashi’s stare as he undoes the tie on the apron, letting the stained cloth slip to the floor. “Fuck, I forgot how much I like getting bent over shit.”

Conflicting emotions rise, because on one hand Zabuza remembering that he likes it means it’s probably going to happen more. But it also means that someone else has pushed Zabuza down, bent him over furniture and then fucked him, and while Kakashi is very aware that Zabuza wasn’t a virgin in any way before Wave, it still makes something unhappy and possessive curl in his stomach. He takes a breath, switching off the burner on the stove, and turns to find Zabuza waiting for him, leaning against the edge of the couch.

“What happened to starting the water?” he asks, raising a brow.

Zabuza snorts. “Some bastard fucked me hard enough to make my legs feel like jelly,” he retorts. “Give me a minute.”

“I’d rather give you a hand.” Kakashi isn't feeling perfectly steady on his feet, either, but he crosses to Zabuza’s side, slips an arm around his waist and makes sure to squeeze a handful of that nice ass as he does it, so that Zabuza doesn’t mistake it for anything like an altruistic gesture. “And that bastard sounds useful. You should marry him.”

Zabuza laughs, but he leans on Kakashi’s shoulder a little. “He’s not the worst thing that could happen to me,” he says, and Kakashi smiles to himself, smooths his thumb over the bite on Zabuza’s ass and then dumps him in the bathtub and turns on the water. Of course, Zabuza drags him down as well a moment later, but Kakashi would say it’s worth it.

Chapter Text

Waiting for darkness to fall is the hardest thing Orochimaru has ever done.

He hadn’t expected his play as the Yondaime Kazekage to go so smoothly, or with so little suspicion, but Rasa was a man prone to moods and Orochimaru has taken full advantage of that. At this point he’s old enough to be confident in his henge, in others’ expectations making them see what they want to, but Rasa had children and there was always a chance.

One that didn’t play out, thankfully. The three children make no attempt to speak to their father, and Orochimaru hasn’t had to play Rasa to those who know him intimately. At this point, Orochimaru rather doubts that even his children did.

A benefit, tonight.

Orochimaru stands at the window of his room in the inn, henge dropped and the room tightly sealed. There's no way for anyone to come in, no reason for any to disturb him until morning, and he digs his fingers into the wood, watching the moon crest the treetops in the distance.

Almost full, he thinks. The anticipation that curls through him is the same that he once felt before a battle, back when such things meant more than just blood on the ground. He’s almost shaking, the pulse of that moon close to the surface of his skin, and when he breathes out it seems to shimmer for an instant.

Baki had protested stopping so close to Konoha, insisted politely that if they pushed on they could make it to the village by full dark. Orochimaru hadn’t stayed to argue, just retreated into his room as if in a huff, locking the door behind him. He isn't irritated, though, wouldn’t be even if everything fell through at this exact moment and left him without a plan or a course. Not at this instant, at least.

The moon is rising, and this long, narrow valley edges a place where everything is thin. Too close to Konoha for Orochimaru to risk most days, but now, like this? No one will know, and if they do find him it will very shortly cease to matter.

Turning from the window, he crosses to the bed, settles himself on top of the blankets. Lays Kusanagi against the pillows, within easy reach, then curls up beside it and closes his eyes, breathing out. Hard to find sleep when the moon is full, but Orochimaru has a shinobi’s talent, a soldier’s talent for dropping off the moment he lies down. Too many wars and too many battles, and sleep is more valuable than chakra at times.

The buzz of the moon under his skin is getting strong, but Orochimaru breathes, fixes his mind on nothing. Relaxes each muscle, lets himself settle into the pillows, his heartbeat the only sound in the room, and—

Steps.

It’s like pushing through thick cobwebs, pressing his hands through rice paper. Like a veil that resists as he scrapes at it, even here, but Orochimaru hisses, furious and determined, rips and tears and claws his way through. Scaled fingers drag the way open, and the moonlight floods his eyes as he falls forward through the narrow gap. His hands hit soft leaves worn by time, the debris of a hundred autumns, and he staggers back to his feet. The trees here are even thicker than the darkest forests around Konoha, trunks packed tightly and huge branches leaning down to scrape the earth.

It’s summer in Fire Country, and the air here has the same humid heaviness, but there's very little otherwise to show that they're the same place. The forest feels wild, untouched by human hands, and the moon above is vast enough to overwhelm the whole sky. Whispers run through the trees, and overhead clouds roll against the push of the wind. The same mountains rise in the distance, but it’s as if the worlds are the work of two different artists given only the same brief description of a place. The human world is the work of someone good-natured, with a fondness for pastoral scenes, and this world—

Well. This is the work of an artist steeped in despair, with a penchant for the macabre.

Smiling faintly, Orochimaru tips his head, taking in the faint whispers that run through the forest, then brushes his hair back behind one ear. Longer, here, but the weight of it is inconsequential, easily dismissed, like the horns and the scales. He breathes in, and it feels like the last fifty years have been spent half-suffocated, like this is the first full breath he’s been able to take in his life. It fills his lungs, spreads a silvery tingle through all of his limbs, and he closes his eyes and glories in it.

It’s more tempting than it should be to raise his voice, to call out, but Orochimaru banishes that bit of madness on a huff of self-directed irritation. Too many things prowl here for him to risk a cry, even if it wasn’t as undignified as a child screeching for a parent. Besides, he’s always been found before, no matter where he travels, and surely this time it will be no different.

Orochimaru ignores the whisper that tells him this is the time he could have been abandoned, that this is the moment when everything will fall to pieces yet again, like broken glass slipping through his fingers and drawing blood. Turns, instead, looking for where the moonlight is heaviest. A stand of camellia trees rustles at him as he passes, but the spirits don’t emerge, don’t wail, and Orochimaru gives them a polite berth. There are other flickers of shadows where no shadows should be, bright laughter in the distance, but Orochimaru has learned to keep to himself here. Learned the hard way, and his survival then was due only to his guide. That knowledge irks, but…perhaps not as much as it could.

The path of the moon cuts through the edges of the forest, slides away like a river of light that leads across a wide field, and Orochimaru pauses at the edge of the swaying grass, wary of surprises. The forests are more dangerous, but for all of that they feel more familiar, more like a place where he can be in control. It’s hubris, he knows, but also habit. He’s a Konoha shinobi, even twelve years after being driven out.

In the distance, thunder cracks, and a moment later lightning splits the sky. Orochimaru spins to track its path, the bright afterimage searing into his eyes, but the bolt strikes a gnarled oak halfway through the field, barely a hundred yards from him. Feet frozen to the ground, Orochimaru watches the fire burn, the smoke whirl. A breeze sweeps both away, and a moment later there's another rumble of thunder. The moonlight shivers, or maybe that’s just Orochimaru, anticipation and caution twisting through him like an incoming tide.

The curling smoke is already shredding, and within it Orochimaru can see a figure. Can see a creature, twice the size of any wolf in the human world. Not a wolf at all, but like the dream of one, too perfect, too precise, while still a little hazy around the edges. White like a snowstorm, as strong as an old oak, with eyes that burn grey like demon-fire as lightning flickers across his coat. He steps forward, out of the embers and the smoke, and his gaze locks on Orochimaru without wavering.

This, too, feels like breathing in after too long without. Like relief, sharp-hot in the back of Orochimaru’s throat, and he moves to meet the creature, impossibly aware of each step. It’s an eternal distance but also no distance at all, and in an instant Orochimaru is reaching out, the creature is turning, and Orochimaru’s fingers slide into soft fur as the spirit curls around him. He’s knocked forward, right into the creature’s bulk, borne to the ground as the spirit wraps him up in his long, lean form, and he has to keep from laughing.

“Forgive me for taking so long,” he says, catching the spirit’s face between his hands. “I couldn’t find a doorway that wasn’t sealed shut.”

The spirit huffs, presses his nose into Orochimaru’s lap and settles there. “Too few paths are left,” he says, and it’s close to grim. “And more are closing every day. I'm surprised that you were able to find one so near the village.”

Orochimaru doesn’t tell him that it took him weeks of searching, sleepless and driven close to madness. But—this world is the only one he wants. It’s worth tracing the edge of madness if he can find his way back, even on the very edges. “I’ll fix it,” he murmurs, and the spirit’s presence is closing around him like a cloak, warm and close and heavy, like a blanket in the middle of a winter storm. He strokes his fingers over the huge head, grimacing when he sees that his hands are translucent, insubstantial. Sometimes he has longer, but this doorway was very close to sealed. It took too much of him to tear it open.

One grey eye looks up at him, sharp and assessing, and then there's a surge of muscle and fur and lightning. In an instant Orochimaru is on he back in the grass, pinned with one huge paw on his chest, heavy claws digging into his chest. He hisses, struggles, but there’s no give in the spirit’s grip, no budging him. He leans down, nosing into Orochimaru’s hair, breathing in the scent, and then rumbles, “Mind your plans, little dragon.”

Orochimaru snarls at him, furious and vaguely betrayed. “I know,” he hisses. “When have I forgotten? I stopped my experiments for you! I let Danzō drive me out of Konoha as a traitor! I built a village, I waited, I've spent every moment searching for a way back here! What more are you going to demand of me?”

There's a pause, and then the spirit blows out a long, heavy breath that smells of ozone and deep forests. Folds down, careful despite his bulk, to lie alongside Orochimaru, one paw draped over his chest instead of holding him down. “No more,” he says gently, an apology even if he won't voice it. He presses his nose into Orochimaru’s hair as Orochimaru sits up, and sighs again. “The moon is full, and I want to hunt with you,” he says, and it’s something like an explanation. “Your form—”

Orochimaru closes his eyes, frustrated anger bubbling up. “Still human,” he says. “Still mortal,” and it’s a terrible thing, burns at him each time he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Too much yōkai blood for the human world, too much human blood for the yōkai world, and he’s trapped between them, caught halfway. The sage transformation should have given him enough power, should have let him reach another form, but—

He needs more. Needs something else. Needs a doorway that will let more than his spirit through while his body sleeps.

There's only one left, and Orochimaru is willing to do anything to reach it.

“Shh.” The spirit curls back around him, rests his head on Orochimaru’s lap. Orochimaru digs his fingers into thick fur that sparks like static electricity, runs his fingertips over the thin silver chain the creature wears. There's a single magatama charm hanging from the cord, blue stone to match Orochimaru’s earrings, and he grips it tightly enough that it would cut into his flesh if he had any in this world. Wishes, bitterly, that he could wake up with the mark of it dug into his palm, but he won't.

“Someday,” the spirit promises, staring up at him with demon-fire eyes. “Someday you’ll be a spirit. Someday you’ll be mine.”

Orochimaru hisses, but quietly, at himself instead of the idea of belonging to someone. His own failure keeps him in the human world. His own failure keeps him stranded, the only possible sign of this strange connection a charm around the throat of a spirit. All spirits can take human form, but like this Orochimaru can't see it, can't feel it. He’s already fading as the moon passes through the sky, pulled back to the human world, and once he wakes up all of this will shatter like so much glass.

“Yes,” he says, and it’s sharp and shattered and angry at a world that would deny him any sort of place. He drags his fingers through pale fur, leans sideways to rest his head against one vast shoulder. Closes his eyes, and wishes. “Someday.”

Soon, he promises himself. Tomorrow they’ll be in Konoha. Sarutobi is easily fooled in his old age, more interested in Jiraiya’s novels and his stash of sake than diplomacy and the everyday workings of the village. Easy enough to slip away, to drop his disguise as Rasa and start his search for the first gate. And then—

Somewhere in the distance, there's a long, low howl, and a moment later it’s echoed by another, then a third, a fourth, a fifth. The spirit lifts his head, ears pricked, and then growls, low and unhappy. “The hainu are hunting,” he says. “Others will join them soon.”

Orochimaru has been present for the great hunts that send the world into a frenzy; it was during the first one that his spirit rescued him, dragged him to safety from an itsumade that had decided a lone spirit was precisely the meal it required. He scowls, digs his fingers into his spirit’s fur as if that will keep him from having to leave, but—

The spirit nudges him, rises carefully. “We should find your doorway again,” he says, gentle humor in his voice. “Half-bloods shouldn’t get caught up in a hunt.”

With a grimace, Orochimaru pushes to his feet. Not even a full night here, and he hates the interruption, but he also sees the point. In the human world Orochimaru is one of the most feared shinobi, but here he’s just barely present enough to count as a spirit, and even then his blood is so mixed, so strange, that there's no way to learn, no one to teach him. Maybe once he finds a full form, exorcises the last of his human blood, it will be easier, but for now, he’s prey.

Orochimaru has never done well with being prey, and even if it means cutting the night short he’d rather avoid it at all costs.

“Don’t get yourself hunted,” he says, acidic around the edges with the frustration he’s trying to keep contained. “All this trouble to open a door and I should have some reward at the end of it.”

The spirit huffs, low and amused, and nudges him forward. “I look forward to you stepping through all the way,” he says gently. “You only see half of this world right now. I’d like to show you the rest.”

Orochimaru swallows. Half a world on one side, half a world on the other, and he has no choice but to struggle and fight and tear himself a way into one just to live. Just to be content.

(He wonders, sometimes, if his mother and father dying was a blessing to them. If they felt the same as he does, lost in a world that will never fit them.)

The doorway is undisturbed, when they reach it, though a handful of blue-white lights are bobbing closer, trailing down from the treetops. Orochimaru’s spirit growls once, long and low like the rumble of the thunder overhead, and they scatter instantly, disappearing with quick flickers. Orochimaru tracks their paths as they form again, deeper in the trees, and smirks a little.

“How ferocious,” he says. “You are the bane of tsurubebi, mutt.”

The spirit huffs out a laugh, resting his head on Orochimaru’s shoulder for just a moment. Orochimaru isn't so insubstantial yet that he can't feel it, but he’s already close. It might be better for the night to end now, while he can still touch, instead of being reduced to an angry ghost with no substance, but Orochimaru still hates that a handful of spirits at hunt have driven him out. Someday—

But that’s been his anchor for years now, that one word. Someday, and it’s started to taste like ashes on his tongue.

“I’ll be waiting,” his spirit says, and Orochimaru closes his eyes, bitter and angry and sad, and inclines his head.

I’ll fix it, he thinks, and forces himself to turn. Avarice makes him want to linger, but he won't. There are things to be done in the human world still, and soon enough Orochimaru can abandon it entirely. The power of a yōkai will be fully his, and he’ll never let it go.

The raijū watches him step into the tear, demon-fire eyes bright in the dimness, Orochimaru’s charm hanging around his neck. I want to hunt with you, and it’s not the first time he’s said it, but Orochimaru thinks it’s more beguiling an offer than it’s ever been before.

He doesn’t say anything more, just pushes forward, feels the veil of power give beneath his hands. Feels it close again behind him as he falls, and—

Darkness. A soft bed beneath him, and Kusanagi close at hand.

Orochimaru opens his eyes, the buzz of the moon’s power close underneath his skin, and breathes out, unsteady and soft. Sits up in the darkness, brushing his hair back behind his ears, and tracks the moon’s path in the sky.

Past midnight already. The witching hour, deepest night, with dawn still a distant dream.

From this point, it's only a handful of days before he needs to open the doorway or he’ll have to wait another month. Only a handful of days to find a secret that Konoha doesn’t even know exists.

More paths are closing every day, the spirit said. Orochimaru closes his hand around Kusanagi’s hilt, draws the blade halfway from its sheath to watch the play of light across the metal.

More are closing every day, he thinks, as cold as a winter’s frost. That would imply that something is closing them. Something that will likely take offense to Orochimaru’s plan to open them again.

Well. It’s been a very long while since Orochimaru faced a decent fight. He’s almost looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

Zabuza wakes with Kakashi a heavy weight across his back, breaths stirring the hair at his nape. Practically cuddling together, though that implies a little less octopus than is actually happening here. No hard cock against his ass, Zabuza notes with some disappointment; the other morning when they woke up like this, Zabuza was on top, his cock hard against Kakashi’s own morning erection, and they took every advantage of it to get each other off, slow and lazy. It was satisfying in a way Zabuza had forgotten existed, the easiness of being even passingly acquainted with each other’s bodies in a way one-off bouts of sex can't begin to match.

Still, one morning without sex isn't a tragedy, and besides, Zabuza has somewhere to be. He squints at the clock, making sure that it isn't later than he thought, and then grunts in satisfaction to find it’s actually earlier. Fine by him—an early start never killed anyone, though by the time he’s done with her his student will probably wish it had.

Without bothering to be too careful about it, he eases out from under Kakashi, pulling one hand off his hip and the other out of his hair, untangling their legs as best he can with the edge of the mattress so close. So clingy, and Zabuza is vastly amused by it given the way Kakashi tends to show less skin than a prim court lady on the average day. Making up for not touching anyone now that he has someone he’s supposed to touch, Zabuza supposes. Not that he cares that Kakashi’s probably denied himself any human contact and starved himself for the feel of skin most of the time.

Zabuza at least had Haku, a handful of nights with strangers even if he kept them utilitarian and brief. He wonders who Kakashi has had, over the years, beyond Gai and Genma.

With a low sound, Kakashi turns his head, his normal eye slitting open. “Morning is an illusion,” he tells Zabuza. “Come back to bed.”

With a snort, Zabuza fishes a new set of uniform pants out of the closet and pulls them on. Strange, to be wearing a uniform again instead of carefully patched clothes Haku tried his hardest to maintain. “It wouldn’t be nearly as much of an illusion if you hadn’t stayed up until two finishing your book,” he says. “It’s not like you haven’t read it before, either.”

Kakashi’s sound of protest would be more convincing if he bothered to lift his head at all. “I couldn’t stop when I was almost done.”

“You still had more than half the book left at ten,” Zabuza retorts.

“Almost done,” Kakashi repeats airily, and drags the blankets up around his ears like caterpillar sinking into a cocoon.

Zabuza scoffs, even as he wavers over a shirt. Decides to wear one, because he’s going to have to collect Sakura from her parents’ house and he’d rather make it as easy as possible. Konoha's also cooler than Wave and Water Country with their muggy air, especially in the morning. Almost mountains, he thinks, tugging it over his head and then picking up Kubikiribōchō’s harness. It’s really fucking different from Kiri.

“Why are you going out,” Kakashi says, a complaint except for the lazy tone, and when Zabuza glances back at the bed Kakashi is still watching him, on his back with the blankets tangled around him and silver hair spread out around his head. His eyes are sleepy, half-lidded as they follow Zabuza’s movements, and—

Pretty’s never been Zabuza’s type, but there's still a curl of something in his chest, a flicker of a thought. He pauses, hitai-ate in hand, and watches Kakashi in return. His husband, and maybe this was never the outcome Zabuza intended, but it sure as hell beats a cold death in Wave. Zabuza can't entirely bring himself to protest the circumstances.

Leaning over the edge of the bed, he catches Kakashi’s chin in one hand, tips his head up just enough to catch his mouth. Warm and lazy, Kakashi kisses back, a low sound of pleasure vibrating through his chest. It’s enough to pull Zabuza in, and he braces a hand on the mattress as he deepens the kiss, feels a hand around his waist that tugs pointedly. Moves with it, swinging a leg over Kakashi’s hips and settling on top of him without breaking the connection of their mouths, and Kakashi chuckles against his lips.

Now I can say good morning and mean it,” he murmurs, and Zabuza scoffs, gets a hand under the mass of blankets to find bare skin. Kakashi’s chest is lean, hard with muscle and traced with scars, and Zabuza wants to get his mouth there, taste all that pretty pale flesh with its marks that prove just how dangerous Kakashi is.

The blankets are going to be a problem, though. Zabuza growls in frustration, shoving at them, and says, “It’s almost July, why do you need this much shit on the bed?”

Kakashi beams at him, that bullshit curve of his mouth that has no right to be as attractive as it is. “Because you look so cute when you’re getting hot and bothered,” he says cheerfully, and slides his hands down to cup Zabuza’s ass. The sudden tightening of his grip makes Zabuza moan, and Kakashi’s next breath comes out ragged.

Very cute,” he gets out, and then Zabuza catches his mouth again, kisses him hard and bites his lip, steals the sound of his gasp right off his tongue. Kakashi arches up into him, digs his fingers into Zabuza’s ass and then lets go, and a moment later his hands are getting the pants open, tugging them down around his thighs.

“Be a little fucking easier to do this if you weren’t a damned caterpillar,” Zabuza complains, but he finally finds the edge of the blankets, strips them away as best he can. Kakashi’s still halfway wrapped in the sheet, but the dark fabric is stark against pale skin, more intriguing than a simple twist of cloth should be. Zabuza can't help a low, hungry sound as he gets a knee between Kakashi’s thighs, a hand around his cock.

Kakashi’s laugh catches around the edges of a gasp, but he slides his hands back to Zabuza’s ass, pushes a finger in between his cheeks to tease his hole. “Oh no, I'm at your mercy,” he says, and this time his smile is a dare, full of heat as his gaze slides down Zabuza’s body. With an appreciative sound, he presses his finger in, and Zabuza groans at the dry drag that twists through his nerves. He catches Kakashi’s mouth again, a deep, messy, sloppy kiss, and slides his legs apart until he can get his hand around both of their cocks at the same time.

“Making me do all the work?” Zabuza asks, like the feel of impossibly soft skin over hard heat isn't almost enough to steal every word from his tongue. He strokes up, loose and dry, and Kakashi moans, eyes flickering down to watch the heads of their cocks rub together. Zabuza makes a show if it as best he can, short, hard strokes right under the heads, thumb brushing over knots of nerves that feel like silver heat shattering through his system. Then a long, dragging stroke, all the way down to the root and back up, slow and careful of dry skin.

“A change of pace is always nice,” Kakashi gasps, but he’s grabbing for something with the hand that isn't teasing Zabuza’s ass. Zabuza growls, kisses that irritating mouth hard, and Kakashi laughs into it like the scrape of Zabuza’s teeth is nothing but amusing foreplay. A moment later his hand tangles with Zabuza’s, slick with lube, and the slide is smoother, easier, better. With a hiss, Zabuza tightens his grip—

And Kakashi catches his hand, laces their fingers together. “Please don’t pull that off or you won't get to enjoy it anymore,” he says, though it would be more impressive if he weren’t breathing hard, winded and flushed.

Zabuza scoffs, but he lets Kakashi ease the pace, turns the stroke into a slow, tight slide of their hands, and it makes his stomach turn over, has him hunching into Kakashi with a moan. Kakashi’s breaths are loud against his ear as he presses his cheek to Zabuza’s, the grip of his hand perfect torture. Another pull, fingertips teasing against prominent veins, and it’s heat that burns every thought from Zabuza’s head except for the feel, their cocks pressed alongside each other, slick and on the edge of oversensitive. The finger inside of Zabuza presses deeper, curves, and Zabuza gasps, can't manage to keep his eyes open as Kakashi rubs over sparking nerves.

“Fuck,” he breathes, and Kakashi kisses him, slow and deep, tightens his hand and makes a sharp, low sound when Zabuza rubs his thumb over the heads. Unable to resist, Zabuza turns his head, finds Kakashi’s mouth again, and it’s off-center and sloppy but too good to care. He rocks into each stroke, back onto the finger against his prostate, makes each pull just a little harder as Kakashi’s breaths start to fracture against his skin. Opens his eyes, because Kakashi’s hips are hitching into their fists, and—

Pretty, Zabuza thinks dazedly, drops his head to Kakashi’s shoulder. There are lips against his temple, a moan loud in his ear, and Zabuza can't resist all the pale skin in front of him, the muscular curve of Kakashi’s chest. He sets his teeth against Kakashi’s collarbone, not a bite so much as simple pressure, and Kakashi jerks underneath him, a nearly wounded sound escaping him. Startled, Zabuza starts to pick his head up, but Kakashi presses up into his mouth like he’s desperate for it.

“Do it,” he gasps as a leg hooks around Zabuza’s thighs, drags him in, and Kakashi twists a hand as he drags a stroke up their cocks. With a groan, Zabuza presses his mouth there again, nips a patch of skin and sucks hard, worrying at it with his tongue. Instantly, Kakashi whines, jerks, and Zabuza feels him fall apart, the shudder as it washes through him, the heat and wet as his come fills their tangled hands. Watches that twist of pleasure, almost gutting, fill Kakashi’s face, and then Kakashi’s finger presses hard into him, his fingers close tight on Zabuza’s cock, and Zabuza lets go of Kakashi’s collarbone with a cry, gasping for breath against his shoulder as his own orgasm shakes through him.

Lips press against the crown of his head, messy and lazy, and Zabuza hums, takes another moment to catch his breath. “Now it’s a very good morning,” he says roughly, and Kakashi chuckles against his hair.

“There have been worse,” he agrees airily, and carefully loosens his leg, sliding his finger out and kissing Zabuza when he groans. “See?” he murmurs right against Zabuza’s mouth, and Zabuza can feel the slant of his smile. “You get nice things when you don’t just bolt out of bed.”

Zabuza rolls his eyes, but he kisses him back before he pulls away. “I'm teaching your student,” he retorts, though it doesn’t have nearly the bite it could. Impossible to resist another kiss even after those words, though, and Kakashi hums into it, amused, and then sprawls back against the bed. He watches with half-lidded eyes as Zabuza carefully wipes himself clean before pulling his pants back up, and this time doesn’t protest when Zabuza fishes his hitai-ate out of the mess of blankets and ties it on.

“No Sakura at team training today, then?” he asks lightly, though there's a faintly odd tone to it. “Sasuke will be relieved.”

“She’ll be there,” Zabuza says, raising a brow at him. “Just a bit later. Want to run her through a warm-up she can do on her own.”

Kakashi makes a quietly skeptical sound. “Will she?” he asks idly. “It’s a lot of work for a twelve-year-old girl.”

Pausing as he straps his weapons pouch on, Zabuza looks at Kakashi for a long moment, not quite able to fight a frown. “It’s your team, you ass,” he says. “You should have some faith in them.”

Kakashi’s smile has only a trace of humor in it. “Because they were assigned to me?” he asks. “I never intended them to pass the test and make it to genin.”

What? Zabuza turns that phrasing over in his head, trying to work it out, and then says slowly, “You didn’t intend to pass them. The last Uchiha, the top kunoichi, and a jinchuuriki.”

“The Hokage's given me at least one team every year for the past five,” Kakashi says, and he’s already burrowing back into the blankets. “None of them passed the test I gave them. I didn’t think this one would, either.”

That’s—Zabuza doesn’t even know what to do with that. Kiri had the most fucked-up graduation ritual possible, but at least after they graduated they had every chance of becoming shinobi. Jounin sensei volunteered, for the most part, and the jinchuuriki in particular was given special instruction, extra training, assigned a special master just to give them a little more advantage. Zabuza’s teacher was a councilwoman from a high caste who only taught because she wanted to, because she was a fierce old thing made of nails and determination and bitterly stubborn belief in the next generation, and—

Kakashi doesn’t want to teach this team, Zabuza thinks, and it’s a little like puzzle pieces falling into place. Should have been obvious, probably, but Zabuza had seen him as their teacher and assumed he volunteered for the task. After all, training a jinchuuriki, training an Uzumaki and an Uchiha—there would have been fistfights in the Mizukage's office for that kind of honor. Zabuza’s pretty sure there were when it came to picking Utakata’s teacher. Old man Harusame had certainly looked smug as shit for days afterwards.

Then again, Zabuza’s been noticing that Konoha is fucking stupid when it comes to their jinchuuriki.

“What time’d you tell them to meet?” he asks.

Kakashi waves an airy hand. “Oh, you know,” he says. “Late.”

Zabuza’s bullshit meter spikes hard, and he narrows his eyes at Kakashi, the easy pleasure of their morning sex sliding away in favor of something that’s definitely closer to irritation. He strangles it, reminds himself that Kakashi said the Hokage’s given me a team in a way that probably means Kakashi himself has very little to do with the decision process, and says, “Might wander that way eventually, then, once she’s got it down.” A sudden thought sparks, and he asks, “Know where Gai trains?”

There's a pause, and Kakashi squints at him suspiciously through the narrowing gap between pillow and comforter. “His team is usually at Training Ground 9. They run D-ranks in the morning, though.”

Not what Zabuza was hoping to hear, but he’ll make do. With a grunt, he leans over the mattress, gets a hand on Kakashi’s head, and shoves him down under the blankets. “Later,” he says, over the sound of Kakashi’s offended protests. “Don’t go back to sleep, asshole.”

“No goodbye kiss?” Kakashi huffs, fighting his way to the surface to give Zabuza a pout. “My cute wife is a cruel, cold man.”

Zabuza flips him off, already halfway out the door and not about to stop. He’d noticed Kakashi’s distance from his team, the way he didn’t want all that much to do with them on the trip back, but—it’s a little irritating, that’s all. Sasuke and Naruto together managed to beat Haku, or almost managed it, but Naruto is the Kyuubi’s container. It shouldn’t have even been close to a fair fight, regardless of how much faith Zabuza has in Haku's skills. Jinchuuriki aren’t the kind of thing normal shinobi can stop. There's no chance, or there shouldn’t be.

But Naruto shocked himself as much as anyone else with his transformation. And Sasuke's an Uchiha who is still working on reflexes, only just got his eyes. Good with shuriken, Zabuza remembers, and both of them were extremely clever. A good foundation, the same way Sakura's got enough drive to go places if she’s given a push.

He sighs at his own thoughts, vaguely frustrated, and scrubs a hand over his hair. He’d thought, before, that it would be easy enough to just…step in every now and then with the team, since he’s not likely to get many missions until he proves he’s at least nominally loyal. But this is something different. If Kakashi really doesn’t want to be a teacher, if he never wanted to, odds are he’s not going to be a good one. It’s just logic. He took Naruto to the library yesterday, got him books on his history, but—he could have done that any time beforehand. Could have even just come out and told Naruto about his family. It’s not like Sarutobi, no matter how foolish, would dump his top jounin in jail. At best Kakashi would have gotten a slap on the wrist.

It’s so fucking stupid Zabuza can't even begin to comprehend it. Grits his teeth, slinging Kubikiribōchō over his back, and heads out the door at a quick pace. Outrunning his thoughts will take a hell of a lot more, but at least he can give himself something else to focus on. Finding Sakura's house again might take some doing, after all.

Zabuza kind of hopes it does. He could use a decent distraction right about now.

 

 

He gets turned around twice on his way to the Haruno house, but once is because he got caught up in trying to figure out what the hell the Hokage was thinking and missed a turn, so Zabuza is willing to count it as a win. There's a long pause between his knock and an answer, but when the door finally creaks open it’s Sakura standing there, looking just as exhausted as yesterday. She’s already wearing her hitai-ate, though, and blinks in surprise when she sees Zabuza.

“Sensei?” she asks in surprise, and it takes Zabuza a long second to realize she’s talking to him. Fucking wild, honestly. Haku never called him that, but then, Haku also grew up with him from the time he was five.

“Morning training,” he says. “I’ll run you through some warm-ups and basic patterns until you can do ‘em on your own.”

Something like relief flickers over Sakura's face, and she smiles. “Thank you!” she says. “I’m almost ready, I’ll just be a second.”

Heading out to train on her own, Zabuza assumes, even if she didn’t expect Zabuza to show up. It says good things about her motivation, since she’s probably one big ache today. Her surprise says less good things, though that just might be Zabuza feeling twitchy about the subject. She didn’t expect help, didn’t expect Zabuza to come back, and that’s…well. Not how Zabuza’s jounin instructor did things, though he supposes he should adjust his expectations a bit. Konoha isn't Kiri, after all.

The quick thump pf returning steps makes him glance up, and Sakura gives him a faintly sheepish smile as she staggers around the edge of the door, axe slung over her shoulder. “Mom said I should have invited you in,” she says apologetically. “Sorry, I forgot.”

Honestly Zabuza would rather stick his hand in a campfire than have to make polite small talk with someone who probably dislikes him but won't show it for the sake of politeness. “Don’t worry about it,” he tells her, and then starts down the steps, listening to the sound of her following. She’s getting her balance while carrying the axe, which is good; still needs some work, though, especially in regard to speed. It’s a big weapon, and while she’s going to grow into it some, she also might want to upgrade before she does. Better for her to get used to the size it is now, instead of planning for a potential future.

“What time are you supposed to meet the rest of the team?” he asks as they step out onto the street. Busier than yesterday, but it’s early enough that a lot of people are heading out. They give both Zabuza and Sakura a wide berth, though, probably because of the weapons they're carrying.

Sakura wrinkles her nose a little. “Kakashi-sensei told us nine,” she says, a little doubtfully. Catching Zabuza’s pointedly raised brow, she flushes and says quickly, “I just—he gets…distracted.”

That would be a hell of a lot more convincing if it sounded like she believed it. Zabuza snorts and asks, “So what time does it actually mean?”

“Eleven,” Sakura admits. “Usually. Kakashi-sensei always has excuses, but…he says stuff like a black cat crossed his path so he had to take the long way around.”

Naruto said something like that, Zabuza thinks. When his fight with Kakashi in the training ground the other day ended in blowjobs and the team came to find them, he’d mentioned something about Kakashi being late. Zabuza had been distracted at the moment, hadn’t registered it, but he wonders if Team 7 in particular is the reason or if it’s one of Kakashi’s habits.

It’s a little sobering, realizing that he’s only really known Kakashi for a handful of days. Less than a week, all together, even if Zabuza’s willing to include their fights before the hunt. Two days while the bridge-builder finished, most of Zabuza’s time then spent in the man’s house, out of the way and recovering. Two days back from Wave, traveling with four children and no privacy. Not even two full days in Konoha yet, and Zabuza has practically no idea what Kakashi is like. Knows how he fucks, and that he likes to bite, what his yōkai blood is from and how he fights, but—

Not habits. Not anything that even his team knows, or anyone who’s been around him casually for more than a week would know. It’s…unsettling, almost. Zabuza has to look away from the street ahead of them, breathe in through his nose.

His father told him about the hunts once, warned him not to get caught, not to give in. Told him to be strong and fast and win their family glory, and then laughed as he ruffled Zabuza’s hair. That fragment of memory lodges in Zabuza’s chest like broken glass, and he closes his eyes, reaches back to touch Kubikiribōchō’s blade with light fingers.

“Zabuza-sensei?” Sakura asks, a little tentatively. It takes Zabuza a second to drag his attention off his thoughts, but when he looks back at her she’s tugging at a lock of hair, looking uncertain. “I—are you sure I have yōkai blood like Naruto and Sasuke?”

What? Zabuza blinks, entirely taken aback by the question, and says, “You can manipulate chakra, can't you? Means you’ve got blood.”

“But—I can't do it like Sasuke and Naruto can,” Sakura says quietly “They have so much more chakra than me, and when I asked Mom she said that it was all fairy stories and tall tales.”

Zabuza hates people who blindly insist that, and he has to grit his teeth to keep from growling. “She’s wrong,” he says shortly. “There are still people around who’re half yōkai or more. Their parents were full-blooded. Real people, not tales. I've got a great-great-grandfather and a grandmother who were both oni. You’ve got something back in your family that was yōkai, too, even if your mom thinks otherwise.”

A little of the tension eases from Sakura's shoulders, and she smiles. “Will I be able to find out what it was?” she asks, but her tone is already brighter than before, more hopeful.

Zabuza grunts. “Sure, eventually. Habits and shit usually come out in puberty. You might have a year or two until then, but you’ll notice when it happens. Lots of instincts, lots of thoughts that don’t quite feel like yours even though they are.”

“Is that what it was like for you?” Sakura asks, glancing at him curiously.

For a moment, Zabuza wavers, but—she asked. “My parents got killed when I was seven,” he says. “Ended up on the street, and it brought everything out faster. As soon as I got into my first real fight, I lost it. Killed the asshole. Wasn’t me, but it was. Scared the shit out of myself, even knowing what blood my family had. But once you figure out what’s happening, you can control it like any other reaction.”

Determinedly, Sakura nods. “I can do that,” she says. “Zabuza-sensei, if your parents died, how do you know so much about yōkai?”

“I listened,” Zabuza says bluntly. “I paid attention. It’s the kind of shit that keeps you alive when you're a shinobi. Not everyone’s forgotten about the yōkai. Always better to pay attention to the people who haven’t.”

“Like Kakashi-sensei?”

Zabuza opens his mouth to answer, pauses. Thinks of his first glimpse of Kakashi on the road, lazy and slouched and watching him with a stare like a thunderhead on the horizon. Something had shivered through him, some sort of recognition, anticipation. Bloodlust, or something like it. And then in the forest later, in the aftermath, Kakashi had pressed a thumb to the biggest bite on Zabuza’s throat, leaned over him with a smile and a familiar darkness in his eyes to kiss him deep and slow, and—

Losing the hunt hadn’t felt so bad. No honor for his clan, but then, Zabuza’s clan is nineteen years dead, and with the way Kiri is, he’s never had a thought to spare for bringing them back. Haku's his legacy, Kubikiribōchō is his mark of pride, and like fuck that’s ever going to change.

Maybe Sakura can be something like a legacy. Team 7, too. Zabuza’s in Konoha now, here to stay, and at some point he’s going to get to know his husband well enough to settle the uncertainty in his chest. Maybe they both got dumped into this without warning, without any time to adjust, but it’s survivable.

Might even be more than just survivable. Kakashi’s got strong blood; he understands.

Somehow, Zabuza knew he would the moment they locked eyes that first time. As enemies then, as something more now, but—

“Yeah,” he says, and reaches out, ruffling Sakura's hair. “Like Kakashi. And like you now, too.”

Sakura offers him a smile, the edge of uncertainty falling away, and asks, “Can you teach me some new katas? For the axe?”

“Sure,” Zabuza agrees. “Then we’ll head over and see if Sasuke and Naruto have strangled each other yet.”

Sakura giggles, trips, and almost overbalances as the axe pulls her backwards. Zabuza only just manages to catch her by the collar of her dress in time.

“First,” Zabuza says with a huff. “I'm teaching you how to move with that thing. Come on, feet on the ground. None of that light-footed shit you Konoha shinobi like. Plant yourself. That weapon weighs as much as you do at least. You’ve got to be standing steady or you’ll be fucking useless.”

“Yes, Zabuza-sensei,” Sakura says obediently, shifting her stance as Zabuza lets her go, and it’s a bit of an improvement, but this is definitely a work in progress.

Well. Zabuza’s got nothing better to do right now. Might as well apply himself to this.

Chapter Text

“Is that…billboard brow?”

Sakura doesn’t hear, intent on her sequence, but Zabuza glances up, one brow rising. There's another genin team at the edge of the training ground, a man Zabuza’s seen in the Bingo Book for years and three genin Sakura's age. Two boys and a girl, and the girl is the one staring at Sakura with wide eyes and a startled expression.

“Ino,” Sarutobi Asuma says, almost a sigh, and nods to Zabuza as his team comes to a stop. “Sorry to interrupt. This training ground is usually empty.”

“We’ll be done as soon as she gets this one down,” Zabuza says, tipping his head in return. “If you guys use this one every morning we can find another place to warm up.”

Asuma hums, but his eyes are on Sakura, sharp and assessing. “’S fine, we’re not normally this early.”

“Though we should be,” Ino says pointedly, staring daggers at her closest teammate. The boy groans and mutters something under his breath, raising his eyes to the sky, and the other boy pats him on the shoulder sympathetically. Ino rolls her eyes at both of them, then turns a bright smile on Zabuza. “Hi! I'm Yamanaka Ino! Are you Sakura's jounin instructor?”

No shyness in this one, Zabuza thinks, amused. Yamanaka—he’s pretty sure that’s Konoha's main T & I force, particularly good at the interrogations part. “Hatake Zabuza,” he returns, grinning at her. She doesn’t flinch from his teeth, which is a good sign. “Kakashi’s still her teacher, I'm just helping out.”

Dark eyes flicker to him, and Asuma stubs out his cigarette with a thoughtful hum. “So you're the reason my father tried to drink himself to death last night,” he says, though it’s not accusing at all. Amused, more like, and it’s not at all the reaction Zabuza was expecting from the Hokage's son.

“I think Kakashi’s the reason,” he retorts, and Asuma snorts, tucking the butt away in his weapons pouch.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he agrees. “Sarutobi Asuma. It’s nice to meet one of the shinobi involved in giving my father a migraine.”

Not a lot of love lost there, Zabuza thinks, or at least very little agreement. He grins back, offers, “Lots of missing-nin out there, you know.”

Asuma raises a brow, then chuckles. “Noted,” he agrees, before his gaze flickers back to Sakura. “That’s a big axe,” he says, faintly admiring. “You actually got Mitsuyo to give up one of the battleaxes? I thought she was going to hoard them forever.”

The quartermaster, Zabuza thinks, though he missed her given name. He shrugs, says, “She didn’t seem to mind when Sakura picked that one.”

“I guess she wouldn’t,” Asuma murmurs, watching Sakura put all her strength into swinging the axe across, then bringing it up. It almost overbalances her again, and Zabuza frowns, turning back to his student.

Use the force of it,” he says sharply. “It’s heavier than you are, so it’s going to go where it wants unless you're using your whole body. Best you can do is move with it.”

Breathless, panting, Sakura nods but doesn’t stop, takes another swing. This time she doesn’t try to pull the blade up, shifts instead, and—

Leaps. The blade flips, and Zabuza blinks as she tucks herself into the movement, uses her full weight to pull it back into an arc instead of a spin. With a heavy thud, the axe buries itself in a stump, and Sakura lands lightly on the handle, wavering for just an instant before she steadies.

Not bad, Zabuza thinks, a little impressed despite himself. He’s definitely going to have to get her to practice that move; it’s a good one, especially for a shinobi who thinks in aerial tactics the way Konoha shinobi do.

“Good,” he says, and Sakura looks up with a bright smile, practically beaming. She drops from the shaft, then grabs it and pulls hard, and the blade comes free.

“I think I got it, Zabuza-sensei!” she says excitedly.

“Yeah, I think you’re getting there,” Zabuza agrees, dangling a water bottle in her face until she takes it. “Stretch to cool down, then take ten minutes.”

Sakura hesitates, glances at the axe over her shoulder. “But—”

“We’ll do another round tonight,” Zabuza tells her before she can finish protesting. “Let your muscles get used to the motions by giving them time. Big blades can be hell if you don’t take your training gradually.”

She sneaks a glance at Kubikiribōchō, like she’s assessing whether that qualifies Zabuza to know what he’s talking about, and then nods. Sits down determinedly, leaning forward to stretch out her back, and Zabuza watches for a moment to make sure she’s not going to hurt herself and then steps back.

Asuma hums, thoughtful, and then tells his team, “Why don’t you go join her. Warmups, and Shikamaru, if you fall asleep Ino has my permission to kick you awake.”

Ino laughs as Shikamaru groans, and she flashes her teammate a victory sign and then bounces over to throw herself down next to Sakura with a bright, “Billboard brow! Where’d you get an axe? I thought you were mediocre at the alternate weapons section in class.”

“Shut up, Ino-pig,” Sakura retorts, and it’s more spirit than Zabuza’s seen her show against anyone so far. “If you're jealous, find your own weapon and get a teacher.”

“That might end badly,” Asuma mutters over the sound of Ino's loud denial. He sighs, scratching his beard, and watches the two boys find a spot on the grass as well. “I think Ino's motto in life is challenge accepted.”

Zabuza snickers, grabbing his own water and then joining Asuma in the shade. It can't be much past nine, but the sun’s already getting hot, and Zabuza is a lot more accustomed to cloud cover than clear skies. “Badly?” he retorts. “More bukijutsu specialists is always good.”

With a snort, Asuma pulls out another cigarette, but he spins it in his fingers rather than lighting it. “She’s already been eyeing my Chakra Blades. The Yamanaka Clan Head might mind-swap me with a squirrel if I give his heir another reason to focus on something besides the clan techniques.”

The Yamanaka heir? Zabuza gives Ino another look, remembers what he’s heard about the clan, and then takes another moment to study the other two. The Ino-Shika-Cho trio is infamous outside of Konoha, and Zabuza’s heard the stories.

“Huh,” he says, and mentally compares the three to the pictures of the older In-Shika-Cho team featured in the Bingo Book. Definitely related, going by looks. “Didn’t realize the heirs were all Sakura's age.”

“Post-war babies,” Asuma says, tipping one shoulder in a shrug. He glances at Sakura again, then asks, “She going to be good enough with that thing by the time the first round of the Chuunin Exams happens?”

“Yeah,” Zabuza says dryly, “because the team’s not taking them until next year. She’s got plenty of time.”

The look Asuma gives him is close to startled. “I thought Kakashi wanted to shove them through to chuunin as soon as possible,” he says, gaze sharp. “He changed his mind?”

Irritation curls around Zabuza’s throat like a chokehold, directed at Kakashi rather than the man standing next to him. He’s not the best teacher, and he knows that—too hard, too sharp, too eager to push—but fuck it, at least he’s not willing to get three genin killed just to get rid of them faster. His husband is an asshole.

“He’d better have,” Zabuza says shortly. “They're not fucking ready. Maybe by next year, but definitely not this time around.”

“Yeah,” Asuma says quietly, and his gaze drifts back to his team just as Ino kicks Shikamaru hard in the ribs and makes him yelp, his eyes snapping open. He chuckles. “I think at least one of mine would make it. Shikamaru’s clever enough, and Ino's got the drive. Chōji’s loyal enough to carry them through, too. Might be best to wait, though, until I'm sure they can all make chuunin.”

He pauses, considering his words for a moment, and then says, “You're probably right about Kakashi’s team. My father’s got ideas about things, and once they're in his head he’s as stubborn as a goat. Kakashi passing on his skills is one of those things, and I get it. Kakashi’s been in a downward spiral since he was fourteen, and the Hokage is just preparing for the day he stops trying to hold himself together. Stupid as hell to give him genin, though.”

Zabuza wonders if he should ask. Wants to, because like hell Kakashi will ever willingly tell him, but it still feels a little like going behind his back, and one of the things Kakashi won in the hunt was Zabuza’s loyalty. Blowing out a disgusted breath, Zabuza sets the question aside, then says, “I'm starting to sense a theme with this Hokage.”

Asuma laughs, loud and startled. “Yeah,” he agrees, smirking, and then tips his head, casting a glance at the sky. “Well, if I'm not booting these three through the Exam I've got some free time on my hands. You hunted bounties, right?” When Zabuza makes a sound of curious agreement, he raises a brow, then says, “The Sarutobi Clan comes from sarugami blood.”

That’s honestly just about the last thing Zabuza would have expected. He raises a brow, faintly incredulous, and says dryly, “How civilized.”

With a chuckle, Asuma looks away. “Chōji, I know you can touch your toes,” he calls, and the Akimichi boy grumbles and stretches a little more deeply. Shaking his head, Asuma says, “My father hates it when people remind him of that. Not nearly stately or revered enough for him.”

Zabuza gets the feeling that Asuma brings it up at every possible opportunity because of that. He’s sensing a bit of tension between father and son, not that he can blame Asuma if some of the choices he’s seen from the Sandaime so far are standard. “What’s that got to do with bounties?” he asks, folding his arms over his chest with his water bottle dangling between his fingers.

Asuma hums, light and innocent. “You and Kakashi went for a marriage hunt, didn’t you?” he asks. “Sarugami have their own rituals. I figure my father could use something to worry over besides you two.”

“So you're going to give him something?” Zabuza snickers, entirely amused by the thought.

“I'm thinking I can provide an alternate situation he can invest his attention in,” Asuma says, which Zabuza assumes is bullshit-speak for yes. “Can you think of a missing-nin with a high bounty that you would have avoided because they’d be a headache?”

Is that how they're playing it? Zabuza considers Asuma, weighs Asuma's own bounty against the skill listed in the Bingo Book, and hopes he knows what he’s getting himself into.  He probably does; it won't do much to spite the Hokage if he gets killed in the process, and Asuma seems the type of man who’d want to see the aftermath of the problems he caused. “What’s your opinion on mass murderers?” he asks, testing.

“Long as they haven’t killed Konoha shinobi, I don’t mind,” Asuma drawls, and the tilt of his brow is a challenge aimed at Zabuza in particular. “One village’s murderer is another village’s hero.”

Spoken like a shinobi, Zabuza thinks wryly, and tries not to remember the hush in the arena so long ago, the horrified silence broken only by his too-loud breaths as the blood and dust settled. Curls his fingers around his elbow for just a moment, and says, “There's one in particular. Some asshole objected to Yugakure turning into a pacifist tourist state. Killed a bunch of his fellow shinobi and defected. Yu doesn’t field hunters anymore, but they’ve still got a bounty on his head. Made him S-rank, too.”

“I’ll look him up.” Asuma gives him a smirk, a tip of his head, and then steps forward. “Ino, focus on your own stretches, not Sakura's. Shikamaru, bend.”

As he approaches, Sakura hisses something at Ino, then scrambles to her feet, grabs her axe, and trots over to Zabuza. “I stretched,” she tells him.

No mention of the ten-minute break Zabuza told her to take, but given the tension she has with Ino, Zabuza’s willing to roll with it. He snorts, glances across the training ground to make sure they’re not missing anything, and then heads for the road, listening to the even beat of Sakura's steps as she keeps pace. Steadier, now, than they were even two hours ago, and it’s satisfying in a way Zabuza had forgotten about. Students improving is a good feeling, even for someone like him.

“Good progress,” he tells her. “You don’t look so much like you're going to chop your own head off anymore.”

Sakura pauses, wavers like she can't decide whether or not to take that as a compliment, and then clearly decides she’s going to. With a bright smile, she trots two steps to catch up with Zabuza’s pace, and says, “I don’t feel like it, either! Did you ever use an axe, Zabuza-sensei?”

When Zabuza was aiming for a spot in the Seven Swordsmen, he was desperate enough that he trained with every weapon that even remotely resembled one of the Seven Swords. Akebino Jinin’s Kabutowari had never been a good fit for him—Zabuza likes some ability to defend himself, after all, and the Helmet Splitter’s pretty much useless for that—but he’d mastered an axe anyway, just in case it was his only shot at a place in the group. He’s glad Kubikiribōchō came up instead, desperately glad, but it gave him experience. Gave him practice, an outlet, and before Haku, before the Kaguya, before meeting Mangetsu and his little brother and learning that he wasn’t the only low-caste brat with aspirations too big for him, Zabuza had needed to work himself into exhaustion every day to keep his rage under control.

Stay hidden, his mother told him, and Zabuza never quite managed it, but he survived anyway. That has to count for something.

“Yeah,” he says, because Sakura is still waiting for an answer. “For a year or so, before I got Kubikiribōchō. I like a little more defense, personally, but it was good.”

Sakura's too caught up in the wonder of the shiny new axe over her shoulder to notice the pause. “I have blisters,” she says, lifting one hand to study them, but she doesn’t sound displeased.

“Sign of hard work,” Zabuza grunts, and steers her around a big black dog with one ear. The dog glances at him, unnervingly intelligent in the way of a trained nin-dog, and tips his head. Zabuza nods back, because inugami are a threat to be respected, even when the bloodline’s been watered down. And behind it—

Hainu, Zabuza thinks as the woman meets his stare. Fuck.

Her eyes slide away from him, though, drop to Sakura a moment later, and she grins, all sharp white teeth. “Hey!” she says cheerfully. “Nice axe, sweetheart!”

Sakura flushes, but she smiles back. “Thank you,” she says a little shyly.

The Inuzuka woman laughs and claps Sakura on the shoulder as she strolls past. “Good for you, picking a weapon like that.” She turns her stare on Zabuza for one more moment, narrowed and considering, and then smirks.

Zabuza saw that same type of smirk on Ameyuri more than once. He doesn’t exactly give her a wide berth, but he definitely doesn’t loiter within range, either. Hainu blood that feels like that can't be all that diluted, and they tend to hunt in packs.

It makes the woman laugh at him, bright and loud, and she steps right into his space. Short—almost a foot shorter than Zabuza—but she makes up for it with the teeth in her grin as she looks him over. “Hatake,” she says, like it’s a challenge.

“Yeah?” Zabuza drawls, unimpressed. “Can I help you, Inuzuka?”

Behind her, the nin-dog huffs out a laugh, and the Inuzuka snorts. She taps a fist against his shoulder, not hard enough to do anything but feel the muscle, and then tips her head. “Nice to know a couple of families remember what to do with their instincts. I was getting bored when it was just my clan and the Aburame. Shibi doesn’t let loose with the fun instincts very often.”

Zabuza lets a bit of extra bleed into his smile, watches her expression abruptly go sharp with focus. “People are idiots,” he says.

She snickers, then steps back. “You’ve got that right,” she answers, and winks at Sakura. “Some of them seem to be shaping up fine, though. And I get the feeling things are going to change pretty soon here.”

The words give Zabuza that same strange flicker of unease that Kakashi’s words the other night did, send a prickle down his spine that makes his breath catch. Before he can ask, though, the Inuzuka is already gone, trotting down the road with her ninken at her side.

“Do you know Tsume?” Sakura asks after a long moment.

Inuzuka Tsume, the current clan head. No wonder she felt so strong. Zabuza takes another look after her, weighing what he’s heard about her against the reality of meeting her. She’s definitely not the six foot brawler her Bingo Book entry makes her out to be, but Zabuza can see where the mistake comes from. She’s got more than enough presence to make up the difference.

“Never met her before in my life,” he says with a snort. “Inuzuka are pretty infamous outside Fire Country, though. In Kiri we used to say that having a pack of them on your heels was worse than having the entire hunter-nin division after you.”

“Really?” Sakura blinks, turning to look after Tsume with surprise. “But…Kiba was always skipping class and being an idiot. I didn’t think he was very good.”

Zabuza’s willing to bet she never saw him use any clan techniques, then. “I told you clans keep marrying into the same yōkai bloodline to get certain abilities?” he asks, and when Sakura nods quickly, he jerks his head after Tsume and says, “Inuzuka did that, but a hell of a lot more often than most clans. And they have a line of inugami that tied themselves to the family, too. Those ninken are about as close as you can get to full yōkai right now.”

“Oh,” Sakura says, a little dazed. She chews on her lip, mulling it over, and Zabuza lets her, turns to keep walking as she sorts out her thoughts. There's several minutes of silence as she works her way towards a question, before she finally asks, “Is that—it’s only one shinobi family on my dad’s side. Only the immediate family. And my mom is the first shinobi from her family in a hundred years. Is that why they don’t think yōkai ever existed?”

“Easy enough to write off something that doesn’t affect you,” Zabuza says, even if he personally thinks it’s fucking stupid to do. Grunts, looking over at Sakura, and says, “Means you're more likely to get a stronger dose of blood, if they both have it. If one of ‘em had married a civilian you’d probably be out of luck, but combining bloodlines makes for stronger kids.”

Sakura hesitates, them makes a face. “You talk about it like—like breeding oxen,” she says.

“That’s how the clans survived the Wars,” Zabuza tells her bluntly. “Arranged marriages, taking spouses, marriage hunts, having kids because they’d be strong and not because the parents liked each other—the yōkai started to vanish and people got worried, tried to get as much yōkai blood into their families as possible. My parents weren’t married, but they wanted to have a kid with more oni blood than either of them had. Though it’d help their standing in Kiri.” Not that it did. If anything it put them further down the caste, relegated them to the very worst missions and the most dangerous, desperate parts of the village. They didn’t survive it, the same way a lot of families didn’t. Kiri's always been methodical when it comes to wiping out problems.

Sakura is quiet for another minute longer, expression conflicted. “Does it…have to be like that?” she asks tentatively. “Always—always for a reason like that? And not just—because you love someone and want to stay with them?”

“People are still people,” Zabuza says, a little amused. “Yōkai blood doesn’t change that. Some people marry because they want to, and some people marry because they think it’s an advantage. It’s not like yōkai blood changes any part of that except for giving them another factor.”

“Oh.” Sakura smiles, small and relieved, and glances up. Her expression brightens, and she calls, “Sasuke! Haku! Naruto!”

The three boys waiting on the bridge ahead of them turn, and Naruto waves enthusiastically. Haku's greeting is more subdued, but he at least acknowledges Sakura's call. Sasuke doesn’t even bother with that much, but Zabuza can see the way his shoulders get a little tighter, a little higher, and wants to sigh. Fuck team dynamics. They're a fucking pain, and they're going to keep being a pain until someone sits Sakura down and talks to her. Sasuke and Naruto, too. Damn it.

“Hello, Zabuza,” Haku says with a smile, sliding off the railing of the bridge and approaching with quick steps.

Zabuza offers him a smirk in return. “Haku. Fun night?” Because Sasuke is still wearing the same clothes as yesterday, and there's a fading bruise around Naruto's eye like he got punched. Not new, but definitely from within the last day.

Haku hides a laugh behind one hand. “Kakashi gave me permission to tell them about their clans’ yōkai blood,” he says. “But they got into a fight and distracted each other.”

Zabuza’s not overly surprised. He rests a hand on Haku's shoulder for a moment, then steps past him to study the three genin. Sasuke's still ignoring Sakura and Naruto, as prickly as a cat, and it makes Zabuza think a little of Suigetsu, nose in the air, pointedly looking the opposite direction as Mangetsu talked with one of the other Swordsmen. He didn’t come out of his shell until someone actually shoved a training blade into his hand and showed him how to use it, and—

Zabuza hesitates for a moment. Teaching someone kenjutsu is a vastly different thing than showing Sakura some axe-work, at least for him. He’s one of the Seven Swordsmen, and it’s all he’s ever wanted to be in his life. Kubikiribōchō means everything to him, and a student with an interest in a sword—

Pushing that kind of thing on someone ends with shitty swordsmen and not enough care. But Sasuke needs something to focus on, some kind of outlet. Every member of Team 7 does, because a jounin instructor’s supposed to bring out their student’s interest, their talent, make a tool that the village won't casually break. All shinobi are tools, but only some survive it. A teacher’s supposed to make sure their genin do. It’s a competition, a fight. That’s why people sign up for it.

“Do me a favor, Haku?” he says, glancing back, and Haku nods without hesitation. “Find the quartermaster and get me a sword for a beginner.”

Never slow, Haku flicks a glace back over to the genin, and he smiles. “You can only torture so many of them at once,” he says lightly, but his eyes are warm and amused in a way Zabuza doesn’t appreciate.

“That’s what I have you for, isn't it?” he retorts. “Get going.”

Haku hides another laugh, but vanishes in a swirl of icy wind, and Zabuza can feel his chakra reappear close to the village, then flicker out again. With a sound of satisfaction, Zabuza heads for the bridge, grabs Naruto by the back of his jacket as he lunges at Sasuke, and shakes him lightly.

“Ease up,” he orders.

“Yeah, Naruto, be nice to—” Sakura starts hotly.

Zabuza has precisely no patience for that. “Stop,” he tells her. “We’re not waiting around for Kakashi today, so come on.”

“What?” Naruto protests, even as he’s dragged along. “Where are we going? Kakashi-sensei said to meet him here!”

“Training,” Zabuza says shortly, and Sasuke suddenly looks a lot more interested, quickening his pace to walk on Zabuza’s other side. “And Kakashi can find us later. He’s a tracker, he’ll be fine.”

“A tracker?” Sakura asks, surprised.

At some point Zabuza is going to stop being surprised by all the shit Kakashi hasn’t told his team. He sets his teeth for a moment, resists the urge to grind them, and answers, “Yeah. Supposed to be even better than the Inuzuka. He’s famous for it.”

Probably a raijū thing, Zabuza thinks, or at least partly a raijū thing. They're supposed to be ferocious creatures that never lose a scent once they’ve gotten it in their nose, and from what Zabuza’s heard about Kakashi, that’s a pretty good description of him. One of the best shinobi in their world, and—

In light of that, it’s probably obvious why the Hokage wants Kakashi to have a team. Logical, reasonable, but—the man had to know that forcing Kakashi into that kind of situation wouldn’t do any good. Had to know that even the best, most cohesive team wouldn’t make up for a teacher who didn’t want to be one. So why the hell expect three children to adjust Kakashi’s views on the matter? It’s stupid.

“Where are we going?” Naruto demands again, dragging his feet through the dirt with a mulish expression. “An’ why do you have to be the one to teach us?”

Because I'm the one who’s here, Zabuza doesn’t say, though he thinks about it. “Training Ground 9.”

“Why?” Naruto’s face scrunches up in confusion. “We always use that training ground.”

Zabuza ignores him, because there's a flash of bright, unmistakable green up ahead. He quickens his pace, calling, “Gai!”

An instant later Gai bursts out of the trees that edge the road, landing in the middle of the dirt with a pose that makes Zabuza want to roll his eyes. “Dynamic entry!” he cries, then spins to beam at Zabuza. “Rival’s husband! Did you have need of me on this fine and youthful day?”

“Gai-sensei,” a girl sighs, and a moment later she pushes through the trees as well, though with a lot more restraint. There's a sour-looking boy behind her, pulling twigs from his long black hair, and then a second boy, almost perfectly identical to Gai right down to the jumpsuit.

“Morning,” Zabuza says, amused by the sheer bewilderment on Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke's faces. “You done with your D-ranks yet?”

“We are!” Gai laughs, and hooks his arms around his genin’s shoulders, dragging all three of them into a crushing hug despite the protests from two of them. “My students are full of youthful enthusiasm and a desire to succeed! We have accomplished five D-ranks already this morning.”

“Gai-sensei!” the clone cries exuberantly. “We are on the way to becoming true men under your guidance!”

The girl with her hair in buns sighs, then wiggles free, pressing a hand to her forehead. “You woke us up at four, Gai-sensei,” she says. “That’s why we got so many done.”

“Nonsense, Tenten!” Gai says cheerfully, letting go to give her a thumbs up. “If you were not filled with the fire of youth, you could not have done as much as you have! It is truly a mark of your enthusiasm and drive!”

“Tch,” the long-haired boy mutters, dropping a handful of leaves on the ground. “Can we get back to doing actual training now? The Exams are in a week.”

Zabuza gives a glance, carefully assessing. Hyuuga, with those eyes, which is a bonus. “Actually,” he says, offering the boy a grin full of sharp teeth. “I wanted to see if you’d be up for some sparring.”

Gai's attention snaps to Zabuza, and there's a sharpness in his gaze that wasn’t there a moment ago. “Oh?” he asks, grinning. “Shall we show out teams a true match between men? I am game if you are, my friend!”

Zabuza was hoping he’d say that. He taps Kubikiribōchō’s blade, grins back. “Fuck yeah, I’ll fight you,” he answers. “I thought the genin could get in on the action, though.”

“A splendid idea, my friend!” Gai laughs, and bounds close enough to clap him on the back. “A match between two teams, full of youth, with the glory of victory as our prize! Let us fight!”

There's absolutely no way a man like Gai hasn’t trained his team extensively on how to work together. Zabuza’s counting on it, and on Team 7 getting their asses kicked for the first few minutes. The best way to learn anything is under fire, after all, and Zabuza’s going to get them working together before he does anything else.

“Great,” he says, grinning, and meets Gai's amused and anticipatory gaze as he reaches for Kubikiribōchō. “Let’s get this started. I've been fucking dying for a good fight.”

Chapter Text

The petals of the lilies are starkly white against the dark stone, and Kakashi stares at them for a long moment, debating the way he always does whether he should bring a different color next time. He’s never done it, though; white funerary flowers seem like the only acceptable choice, even though Kakashi knows Kushina hated white flowers, and Minato didn’t care for them either. He’s not sure about Obito, because he never got the opportunity to ask, but—Obito was so loud and bright. He’d have liked orange flowers, probably, or sunflowers.

(Kakashi brought sunflowers, once, a few weeks after he met Tenzō for the first time. He couldn’t stand the look of them lying at the base of the Memorial Stone, though, sad and slumped and dying there.)

Slowly, with effort, he drags his gaze up from the bouquet to study the names carved into the stone. He knows where they are by now, could find them asleep or half-dead, but he always scans through the list until he reaches Minato and Kushina's names, one above the other, and then keeps going until he finds Rin's, and then Obito's, several columns over. With the other war casualties, Kakashi knows, but it offends something in him that his precious, lost people can't have their names grouped together on the stone, one after the other.

His father isn't even listed here, but—Kakashi’s come to terms with that. Mostly.

“Good morning, Minato-sensei, Kushina,” he says. “Rin, Obito.” Lets his eyes linger on that last name, rather than looking at Minato or Kushina's, because he doesn’t want to think about what either of them would say to him right now.

I never intended to train your son, he thinks, and—it was a relatively safe bet. Sarutobi would never let the village’s jinchuuriki go untrained, and the same is true for the last Uchiha. They would have become shinobi eventually, just…preferably not shinobi that Kakashi had to teach. And Sakura—well. She was collateral, but the Hokage should have realized that Kakashi didn’t intend to take any of them, just like he tried to refuse every other team he’s been assigned.

Them passing the bell test was a fluke Kakashi could never have seen coming.

Zabuza’s face this morning was disbelieving, sharp with something that wasn’t quite anger. A lack of understanding, Kakashi thinks, which is fine. Kakashi doesn’t really understand the reasoning, either, he just knows that he absolute last thing he wants is three genin learning from him. Maybe part of it is knowing just how little they should try to follow in his footsteps. Or maybe it’s that Kakashi has never wanted anything less than to be responsible for other people’s lives, especially the lives of three children, two of whom are related to people he cared about. Getting attached never ends well for Kakashi, and he’s learned that the hard way.

The smell of Zabuza is still in his nose, and the mark of Zabuza’s mouth is on his skin. Kakashi breathes it in, closes his eyes. That dark thing in his chest is quiet, but—

He wants to keep Zabuza. Want has never seemed to matter much before, but Kakashi still feels the urge to dig his fingers into Zabuza’s skin, pin him under Kakashi’s body and keep him there as he growls at the rest of the world to drive it away. Zabuza would probably object unless Kakashi distracted him, but Kakashi is more than willing to try and do so; it promises to be distracting for Kakashi as well, after all.

He should probably feel the same way about his team, but—Zabuza is recognizably, quantifiably his. He carries Kakashi’s marks on his throat, with more scattered across his skin. He carries Kakashi’s name, too, law in every part of the world, and he gave himself up to Kakashi in Wave, surrendered himself more completely than any piece of official paperwork could ever say. Zabuza is his, and at this point Naruto and Sasuke and Team 7 as a whole is nothing but a reminder of loss.

Minato was Kakashi’s, once. Not the same way, not—not touched with want, but he was close to being…family. Kakashi would have given the world to keep him safe, but he wasn’t allowed to. They kept Kakashi and all the other young jounin back, wouldn’t let them out to fight the Kyuubi or help Minato. Kakashi had tried to slip away, because Genma at the very least was out there, but Kurenai’s father had caught him and dragged him back, and by the time Kakashi could try again everything was over. They were pulling Kushina and Minato's bodies out of the forest, and Naruto was the only survivor of that fight.

“I got married,” he tells whatever ghosts might be lingering, because that’s a mildly happier thought. He tries to tell them only happy things, scrapes up the bare bits of brightness in his life to hoard for the friends he lost. “I think you’d like him, Kushina, as long as you didn’t mind him being from Kiri.” She probably wouldn’t; after all, Kushina was always fiery, but she was kind, too. And besides, Zabuza was a missing-nin, tried to overthrow the Mizukage. Kushina would have appreciated that.

There's no answer, because there never is, but Kakashi breathes out, wonders if what he saw in Zabuza’s face earlier was something…bad. Possibly, knowing Kakashi’s luck, but Zabuza can't leave. He swore himself, when he lost, and that’s what matters. That’s the thing about yōkai blood and marriage hunts; there's not much leeway. Kakashi would never have thought to be glad for that, but—

It means Zabuza won't take himself away, at the very least. Someone else might try to take him, but it won't be Zabuza. Kakashi can stop other people; that’s easy enough.

“I’ll tell you more soon,” Kakashi says, because he’s too unsettled to be here, can't focus on the people he should be focusing on. “Obito, I could use some of your…everything right now.” Because, gods, at least Obito could show how he felt. Kakashi can't even do that. Can't put it into words, and has never been able to, but Obito could spout off those ridiculous speeches so easily. Kakashi never appreciated them until it was too late.

He steps away from the Stone, turns. The sun is getting high, and he eyes it as he heads towards the training ground. Zabuza took Sakura for morning training quite a while ago, so they should be done by now. With any luck, Zabuza’s also dealt with filling in whatever gaps there might be in Haku's revelation of Sasuke's yōkai blood, and maybe fielded some questions from Naruto about the Uzumaki as well. Kakashi doesn’t want to talk about the former, and he’s not allowed to talk about the latter; leaving Zabuza to do it is the perfect solution all around.

Humming lightly, Kakashi pulls his book out, lets it fall open to a random page. It’s one of the newer volumes, not yet creased in a dozen places, and therefore less likely to immediately open to Kakashi’s favorite scenes, but he still gets lucky. It’s Tsuko and Jirai playing in the forest, and Kakashi can't help a giggle as he scans the first scene. Fun to try with Zabuza, maybe; Kakashi more than remembers his reaction to the idea that Kakashi could pick him up.

He’s so caught up in that scene—and then the next, because Tsuko is very energetic and Kakashi’s very fond of both her and her voracious appetites—that it takes a solid three minutes to register that he’s wandered all the way through Team 7’s normal training ground and out the other side, into the edges of Training Ground 9, without hearing any sweet little genin shrieking about lateness or porn or pranks, and he blinks, tearing his gaze away from his book to glance up. Empty forest, no sign of his team anywhere, and that’s…probably not a good sign.

Maybe they just got tired of waiting and left, Kakashi thinks, though it’s mildly dubious. If they didn’t leave after that one day where he tried to make them by showing up five hours late, they probably didn’t decamp after three. Frowning faintly, Kakashi scans the forest, then lifts his head, tugs his mask down just below his nose, and breathes in. This close to the village, the smells are painfully strong, and he fights the urge to sneeze. Sakura's not wearing perfume today, but Kakashi can still pick out the fading traces of it on her skin, and it seems like it’s coming from closer to the road, near where Gai usually trains his team.

Belatedly, Kakashi remembers Zabuza’s question about Gai's schedule this morning, and blinks. He can smell Zabuza there too, sharp with sweat and exertion, and he has to wonder if that’s the reason. Maybe Zabuza wanted to spar with Gai, and Team 7 came along to watch.

The thought makes something turn in Kakashi’s chest, just a little. Uncertainty, maybe, or an unsettled sense of unhappiness. Gai is his best friend, but Zabuza didn’t ask if Kakashi wanted to spar. Didn’t even hint at it this morning. Kakashi thinks he has the right to feel miffed, in the face of that.

Slipping his book away, he leaps up into the trees, jumping lightly between the branches. As he gets closer, the sound of weapons meeting gets clearer, grunts and shouts and voices calling, and Kakashi lightens his steps, makes them silent as he slips around the bole of large beech tree. Its leaves are cover enough to hide him without obscuring the ground below, and—

Tenten goes flying past with a war cry, flipping a scroll up and open as she twists. She slams her hand on a seal and chakra blazes, cracks. A ji bursts into existence, and she grabs it out of the air, whirls it around, and drives it downward with a cry, right at Naruto as he leaps for her. Kakashi’s eyes widen, but even as he goes to move the clone pops under the blow, and Tenten plants the weapon’s butt in the ground and spins around the shaft, slamming a kick into another Naruto as he approaches. This one yelps without bursting, goes flying back just as there's an explosion of light and wind. Neji's Gentle Fist technique catches Naruto and sends him flying again, right into Sasuke as he lunges for Lee.

Kakashi winces, already absolutely certain what’s going to happen next.

With a bright, probably youthful laugh, Lee slams a flying kick into the tangled, screaming knot of limbs that Sasuke and Naruto have become, boots them right across the clearing and into a tree. “Yosh!” he cries, flashing a victory sign worthy of Gai. “Nice one, my rival!”

Neji huffs, but there's a pleased slant to his smirk as he turns, dips low. Another whirl of chakra and spinning air catches the axe that drops towards his head, and Kakashi blinks, turns, searching—

But it’s Sakura with the axe, a massive battle-axe as big as she is, that rebounds off Neji's Eight Trigrams Revolving Heaven technique and sends her sailing back through the air, trying to get control of her weapon. Kakashi braces himself for screaming, for her to hit a tree headfirst, but with a cry she flips hard, gets a foot on the handle and lets the blade hit first, then drops and uses her bodyweight to drag the blade free. She hits the ground off-balance, trying to bring the axe up, and Lee darts in to meet her with a laugh, twisting through the gaps in Sakura's defenses as she tries to move the heavy weapon on the ground.

Sasuke and Naruto are having even less luck. Tenten's halberd is fast enough to catch any shuriken Sasuke throws, and Neji has the range of vision not to be caught by Naruto's clones. Sasuke charges right at Tenten, and Kakashi can't tell if it’s overconfidence or just frustration, but Tenten is one of Gai's students, better at taijutsu than any other genin kunoichi, and she slips around the attack, swings her blade at his head without hesitation, and Sasuke only just manages not to lose the ends of his hair as he ducks. But even as he comes up with a handful of ninja wire, Tenten is gone, launching herself over his head and right at Naruto as he bursts into three more clones. A kunai with a modified exploding tag flips up into the air, and Tenten kicks it squarely at Naruto's face as Neji leaps Sasuke's kunai, avoiding the wire. The explosion shakes the clearing, and Sasuke jerks, looks towards Naruto—

Neji's hand slams into his chest, and in a blur Sasuke is knocked right off his feet, chakra signature flickering like a candleflame. He hits the ground in a heap and doesn’t move for a moment, and Kakashi winces in sympathy. He’s fought a few Hyuuga before, and getting one’s tenketsu points blocked is never fun.

“Sasuke!” Sakura shouts, but even as she does Lee twists around to her back, lashes out, and hits her hard between the shoulder blades. She yelps, and the axe is too slow, too cumbersome without a lot of muscle to back it up. Lee knocks her arm wide, kicks it right out of her hand, and then pins her to the ground with a hard thump.

Light as a butterfly, Tenten lands, sweeps the halberd behind herself, and squints through the smoke. “That should do it,” she says cheerfully.

Neji doesn’t even bother glancing her direction. “Left,” he says, and she spins without hesitating, brings the flat side of her weapon around hard and catches Naruto in the ribs as he comes flying out of the cloud, jumpsuit half-scorched, hair all standing on end. He yelps, tries to course-correct, but Neji meets him before he can even get his feet under him, twists around him with as much fluidity as Kakashi has seen in Gentle Fist masters three times his age, and stabs out with fingertips. Naruto reels, calls up two clones, but Neji whirls right through them, bends, comes up hard. His blow catches Naruto square in the chest, and Tenten is there the second he hits the ground, the blade of her halberd resting right against Naruto’s throat.

Now we’re done,” Neji says, eyeing Sasuke as he tries to pull himself off the ground. There's a flicker of satisfaction in his face, and he nods, then steps back.

“That was fun!” Tenten says, and shoulders her weapon, trotting over to offer Sakura a hand. “Lee, get off of her already. Your axe is so pretty, Sakura! Where did you get it?”

Looking a little dazed, Sakura takes Tenten's hand and lets the other girl pull her to her feet. “I—Zabuza-sensei helped me pick it out. The quartermaster had some.”

“Oh! Isn't she part of the Branch House?” Tenten asks, and rounds on Neji. “Neji, introduce me! I didn’t think she had weapons that nice!”

Neji snorts, one corner of his mouth tipping up. “She probably hides them from you,” he says, “because she knows you’ll steal them all otherwise.”

Rehome,” Tenten insists cheerfully, and links arms with Sakura. “I don’t steal weapons, I rehome them to somewhere they’ll be put to good use and appreciated.”

“A most youthful fight!” Lee cries, bouncing over to throw an arm around Neji. “My rival, that was excellent use of your technique! We will definitely succeed in the Chuunin Exams if we work together and channel the might of our combined youthfulness!”

“Of course we’re going to win,” Neji says flatly. “It’s fate.” He peels Lee's arm off his neck, then steps away, and asks, “Where is—?”

There's a crash, an explosion of dust, and Kubikiribōchō embeds itself in the trunk of a tree. Half a second later Zabuza lands on the blade in a crouch, then leaps off, and Gai rebounds off the trunk where he just was and follows him down to the ground. They're both sweaty and out of breath, which is an accomplishment for Zabuza; Kakashi knows just how good Gai's endurance in a fight is. Zabuza’s managed to mostly lose his shirt, too, and Kakashi has to swallow at the sight of muscle bunching and twisting as he meets Gai blow for blow, taijutsu quick and brutal.

This is clearly just a spar for Gai, since he’s barely going half the speed Kakashi knows he can go, but he’s also laughing, and there's a fierce grin on Zabuza’s face, all teeth and intensity. He doesn’t try for a jutsu, just lunges at Gai with a knife-hand blow aimed for his ribs, and Gai takes it without flinching, grabs Zabuza’s arm, and throws him over his hip without letting go. He follows Zabuza down, landing astride his back and pulling his arms up behind him, and cries cheerfully, “Surrender, my friend! You and your team have been beaten!”

There's a pause as Zabuza struggles, testing Gai's hold, but after a second he subsides, turns his head and laughs. “Yeah,” he agrees, “I think you got us.”

(Gai is Kakashi’s best friend, and has been since they were Academy students. He would trust Gai with his life, his soul, his everything, but—

Something small and dark and quiet in Kakashi’s head, something that doesn’t think in terms of reason and logic, sees Gai sitting on top of Zabuza, pinning him like Kakashi did in Wave, and doesn’t like it at all.)

“A fine match!” Gai says exuberantly, and hops off of Zabuza’s back, heaves Zabuza to his feet without pause and then claps him on the back. “You are a fierce opponent, my friend! Whenever you would like to spar, my team and I will happily do so!”

Zabuza casts an eye over Naruto as he sits up, scorched and smoking faintly, looks at where Sasuke is trying desperately to pull himself to his feet, and then glances over at Sakura, who very obviously had her face smeared into the dirt. “Great,” he says, grinning, and it’s all teeth. “How about tomorrow?”

Naruto groans and flops back to the ground, and Sasuke blanches. Kakashi thinks he hears Sakura whimper.

“The same time tomorrow, then!” Gai agrees, and there's humor in his face that says he sees their reactions just as clearly as Zabuza does. “We shall fight in your regular training ground this time, to give you the advantage of terrain!”

“Thanks.” Zabuza claps him on the shoulder once, then stalks over to heave Kubikiribōchō out of the tree trunk. He slings it over his back, bends down, and picks Sasuke up by the back of his shirt like a cat picking up a kitten. “Come on, he didn’t hit you that hard. Your chakra’ll go back to normal in a minute.”

Sasuke gives Zabuza the most poisonous look Kakashi has ever seen outside of a scorpion, but he gets his feet under himself, gets a hand on the tree trunk, and manages to heave himself upright. Zabuza lets him go, then turns to raise a brow at Naruto, who groans but staggers to his feet as well.

“Any of you realize yet why they beat you?” he asks, smirking.

Sakura clears her throat, looking somewhere between abashed and stubborn. “Because they kept trading partners,” she offers. “And it was hard for us to adjust.”

“It’s called teamwork,” Zabuza says dryly. “It’s what let you fight me even though you're only genin. Try it tomorrow and see if it helps any.”

Oh, Kakashi thinks, and it feels…heavy. Heavy and sharp at the same time. That’s what this is about. It’s a good idea, if not one Kakashi would have considered. Naruto and Sasuke are already pretty decent at teamwork when it’s important, after all. He’d thought that was good enough. Sakura was always focused on Sasuke, good at remembering facts but not overly enthusiastic about the actual shinobi part of things, so he’d just…let her stay on the sidelines. Adding her in throws off the balance that Sasuke and Naruto have, but—

More work this way, including her in everything. Not what Kakashi would have done, but Zabuza clearly doesn’t mind.

He leaps down from his perch, landing lightly on the grass, and says with all the cheer he can muster, “I think that’s enough practice for one morning. On to D-ranks now, my cute little genin!”

There's a collective groan of despair that warms the cockles of Kakashi’s heart, and Naruto protests, “Kakashi-sensei, we’re tired.”

Kakashi hums, considering this for a moment. “Lunch,” he concludes. “Go eat, and then do D-ranks. You can pick whichever mission you want as long as it’s in-village.”

That doesn’t seem to cheer them up much, but they do turn and stagger towards the road with grumbles that Kakashi can't quite hear, so he’s willing to count it as a win.

“I hope you know that they're going to put hair remover in your shampoo at some point,” Zabuza warns, but there's humor in his eyes, and when Kakashi slides wanders close enough to slide a hand around his waist he leans into the touch.

Something that’s been knotted in Kakashi’s chest since Zabuza left this morning eases just a little, and he hums, hooking a finger into the waistband of Zabuza’s pants. “If they can manage that, they deserve the win,” he says mildly. “But please remember that it’s your shampoo as well at this point.”

Zabuza concedes that with a roll of his eyes, then glances at Kakashi with a raised brow. “We getting lunch with them?” he asks.

“Hmm. I was thinking we could go home to eat.” Kakashi rubs a finger over the jut of Zabuza’s hipbone, too prominent for a man of his build. He’s close enough to hear the faint catch of Zabuza’s breath, and it’s far too satisfying.

“Sounds good to me,” Zabuza says roughly, and—

“MY ETERNAL RIVAL!” Gai wails, and there's no time to dodge before he scoops both Kakashi and Zabuza right off their feet and spins them around. “YOU LOOK SO HAPPY IN YOUR STATE OF WEDDED BLISS, MY HEART OVERFOWS FOR YOU!”

Kakashi wheezes in answer, not quite able to get enough breath for words. Gai is very happy for him, it seems—Kakashi hasn’t heard this particular volume since he first met his genin team. Thankfully, they're both deposited on their feet a moment later, and Gai throws himself at Lee with a cry.

“Lee! Have you seen such happiness in two people before? The youthful joy overflows from them! I'm overcome!”

“Gai-sensei! It’s so beautiful! Truly the fires of passionate youth burn between your eternal rival and his husband!”

“Bye, Gai,” Kakashi says blandly, and uses his grip on Zabuza to propel him towards the road. He’s fond of Gai, but when the tears come out Kakashi usually remembers other places he has to be. It’s safer that way.

Tenten waves as they make their escape, she and Neji both settling down to stretch out their muscles. Zabuza raise a hand in return, then tells Kakashi, “Your friend is fucking weird. Fucking amazing in a fight, though.”

Kakashi can't help but chuckle, because a lot of people get stuck on the first part and forget the second. He’s glad Zabuza isn't that way. “Gai is unique,” he says, pauses to consider, and then amends, “For now. Lee seems to be putting in an effort.”

“Noticed that,” Zabuza says in amusement. He turns when Kakashi does, then asks, “We going to meet the team on their D-ranks?”

Kakashi honestly hasn’t decided. He thinks of Zabuza on the ground with Gai on top of him, and he knows that loyalty is one of things the hunt calls for, knows that Gai would never, ever hurt him in such a way, but—

It’s a thought, that’s all. Kakashi breathes out, trying to think how he can say it that won't sound accusatory, won't make Zabuza bristle. Finally, he settles on, “I think I missed a spot the other night.”

Zabuza glances at him, and his eyes narrow a little. He just snorts, though, and looks away again, expression easy. “Yeah?” he drawls. “Might have to fix that.”

Another breath shudders out of Kakashi’s lungs, something like relief. There's a tree ahead of them, a willow with branches trailing over the street, and Kakashi can't wait. He grips Zabuza’s arm, drags him two steps sideways and then under the tree, and pushes him up against the craggy trunk. Instantly, he jerks his mask down, buries his nose in the curve of Zabuza’s throat, and breathes in the smell of him, warm and dark and musky with sweat.

There's a pause, long and deliberate, and then Zabuza loops an arm around his shoulder, pulls him close enough that their bodies are flush and Kakashi is pressed right up against him. Lips touch Kakashi’s temple, a brief, glancing kiss, and then Zabuza asks quietly, “Hokage's the only reason you have that team?”

Kakashi doesn’t want to talk about this. He noses into the curve where Zabuza’s shoulder meets his throat, drags his teeth over the firm skin. “Didn’t I say that already?” he asks mildly. “I could swear we had this conversation earlier.”

“Just confirming,” Zabuza says, and tips his head back to give Kakashi more access. Moans, soft and breathy, when Kakashi bites lightly at his pulse. The shiver that runs through him is a lovely thing, and Kakashi wants more. “Fuck, Kakashi.”

“Mm?” Kakashi presses in more, grips Zabuza’s hips and tries to remind himself that fucking him in public would be frowned upon. Then again, if they do, he might actually get the Hokage to throw something at him, and then Genma will owe him a hundred ryō.

Fingers slide into his hair, and Zabuza holds him close, keeps him right up against his throat. “If you could have me however you wanted,” he says, “what would you want? Anything goes.”

Kakashi’s breath catches, and he goes still. Closes his eyes, dizzy with the possibilities, and presses his fingertips into Zabuza’s skin.

“You shouldn’t say that,” he tells him, just a little hoarse.

Zabuza snorts, breath ruffling Kakashi’s hair as he dips his head again, drags his lips down to the shell of Kakashi’s ear and catches it between sharp teeth. “Why?” he asks, blunt enough that it feels like an impact in Kakashi’s chest. “We’ve both got the same amount of blood. Neither of us has a clan left. We listen to what’s in our heads when a lot of assholes don’t. If you can't tell me, who can you tell?”

No one, Kakashi wants to say, because that’s how it’s always been. He told Minato once, vaguely, what it felt like to be part raijū, but Minato's yōkai ancestor was even more distant, his family previously civilian more than shinobi. He didn’t quite get it. But oni are dangerous, just like raijū. Zabuza’s never seen Kakashi on the edge of losing control, but—he’s been there himself, hasn’t he? Kakashi’s pulled him back, turned the rage into something more productive. He must know exactly what it's like.

Kakashi closes his eyes, thinking of it. Thinking of giving in and doing just—anything. Whatever he wants. His next breath is ragged in his chest, almost painful, and he rests his forehead on Zabuza’s shoulder. Wants to say after this morning I thought you hated me, or maybe you should leave while you're still alive and can leave, but he’s too selfish. The words won't come out.

“Not here,” he says, rough with the effort it takes to say it. “Home.”

But he doesn’t move for a long minute, and Zabuza doesn’t try to either. Stands there, Kakashi drawn up against him, fingers in Kakashi’s hair and his scent warm and strong in Kakashi’s nose, and Kakashi just breathes him in.

Chapter Text

“I’ll be up in a minute,” Zabuza tells Kakashi when they reach the apartment building, because Haku is waiting in a slim chestnut tree at the corner of the building, and he looks up as soon as Zabuza comes into view.

Kakashi pauses, glancing from Zabuza to Haku and then back again, and nods. It’s easy to see the tension bleeding back into his shoulders, though, the way his muscles wind tight, and Zabuza snorts and grabs him by the face, dragging him up and into a kiss. Instantly, Kakashi answers it, nipping at Zabuza’s lips, tangling their tongues and digging his fingertips into Zabuza’s side.

“Don’t be too long,” he says as they part, right against Zabuza’s mouth, and there's something strange in his eyes. It puts Zabuza in mind of the look on his face when he first said the spirits would wake up eventually, something not quite right for the moment. One step sideways, and something like anticipation claws its way down Zabuza’s spine.

“What if I want to make you come and find me?” he asks, keeps it lazy as he leans in again.

There's a startled pause, and then a low growl. Kakashi’s fingers twist in his hair, dragging his head down, and this time when Kakashi kisses him it’s all teeth, the taste of blood and something sharp like ozone on the back of Zabuza’s tongue. “That’s for later,” Kakashi says, low and steady, and then with more self-control than Zabuza would be able to muster he pulls away, turning and leaping up the outside of the building to vanish through the apartment window.

“Zabuza?” Haku asks quietly, and Zabuza closes his eyes, trying to catch his breath as Haku approaches. A hesitation, and Haku asks, “Was that…?”

Zabuza lets out a breath that’s almost a sigh, rakes a hand through his hair and almost knocks his hitai-ate off. Weighs his response for a second, because it’s a hard thing to actually fit into words, and then says, “I get angry sometimes, you know?”

Haku watches him for a moment, clearly trying to parse that response. “I remember,” he says. “In fights, too.”

He gets it. Zabuza nods, and says, “Sometimes less yōkai blood means it’s harder to deal with what you do have. Instincts are fucking messy.”

Haku's eyes flicker from Zabuza to the window Kakashi just vanished through. “The hunt brought them out,” he says, surprised. “But Hatake isn't used to them.”

“Yeah.” Zabuza’s instincts came out when he lived on the streets, and he’s had years learning to deal with them, to control the instinctive desire to reach for what he wants, the bloodlust, the rage that colored everything red those first years. Kakashi acts like he’s never had to before, or like he’s always been so tightly controlled that things slipping through has never happened. And now, when the fact that they used a hunt to resolve things has brought all that old, instinct-heavy blood crashing straight to the surface, Kakashi’s in over his head.

He probably has been for years anyway, Zabuza thinks, a little grimly. Shifty, when Zabuza brings up his connection to the team, and—it’s like he wants to care but won't let himself. Fighting his raijū side, probably. Zabuza doesn’t know a hell of a lot about raijū, but they're like wolves. The wilder cousins of thunderstorms, hunters who once filled the forests. His jounin sensei was a hardass, but she liked those stories, liked to tell them about when raijū ran from Lightning Country with the passing storms, fell to earth in thunderbolts and raced across the world, taking whatever prey they wanted, hunting down wrongdoers or simply anyone they felt would be a challenge. Zabuza enjoyed the stories, too, but—he always listened more closely to the ones about oni. Now he’s wishing he’d paid attention to all of them.

“You shouldn’t have to be the one to get him through them,” Haku says, and it’s quiet but it’s also fierce. He meets Zabuza’s gaze with a set expression, contained violence just beneath the surface, and Mei used to laugh at how sweet and cute he was but—this is the Haku that Zabuza saw the day he found him. A fighter right up to the end, and past it. “Zabuza, you shouldn’t—”

“I married him, Haku,” Zabuza says, not quite gently, but…not as sharply as he could. The memory of Haku's expression on the bridge is too close, that moment when Zabuza knew he was about to die for Zabuza’s sake. “There's not a lot of promises I’d keep without hesitation, but hunts mean something. Yōkai blood means something.” If it doesn’t, Zabuza’s just a brute with a sword, the blood of a hundred children on his hands, no purpose left to him. With yōkai blood, with honor in his family line, with devotion to the village, there's more to him than that. Zabuza’s always believed as much, and he’s not about to let himself waver now.

For a long moment, Haku stares at him. Then, carefully, he takes a breath and nods once. “If he ever touches you and you don’t want it,” he says, perfectly even, “I’ll cut his hands off.”

Of course. Haku probably doesn’t have the best memories of someone unwillingly trapped in a marriage, given his mother, and he’s part yuki-onna, not something more aggressive that used the hunts in the old days. Hard to look at the marriage hunt as anything else, given that framework.

With a snort, Zabuza reaches out, hooks a hand around the back of Haku's neck and pulls him in. Hugs aren’t a thing, with them, but—this is all right. Zabuza tucks Haku against his side, feels Haku curl his arms around him in return, and strokes a hand over long dark hair. Haku's the only thing besides his sword that Zabuza has left, and between that and almost losing him, Zabuza’s willing to make a gesture of this.

“I'm fine,” he says, keeps it simple and honest. “Some of it fucking sucks, but not all of it. Not Kakashi, most of the time.”

Still pressed up against him, Haku nods. “You can't break the contract, I know that,” he says, and it’s on the edge of fierce still. “But I can kidnap you, and we can leave. If you ever need it.”

Zabuza laughs, picturing it, Haku knocking him over the head and dragging him out of Konoha. And—Zabuza wouldn’t ever ask for that, because the hunt was an oath like the one he once gave Kiri, but if it makes Haku feel better to believe it’s an option, that’s fine with him. “I’ll let you know if it gets that bad,” he says. “Still good with the Uzumaki brat? You might not want to sleep on Kakashi’s couch, but the floor’s not too bad.”

Haku's wrinkled nose says he knows precisely what Zabuza’s implying. “I like Naruto,” he says simply. “He’s sweet.”

That’s enough for Zabuza, then. “Good. Want to supervise their D-ranks while I take some time with Kakashi? And did you get that sword?”

Haku actually rolls his eyes at that. “You didn’t tell me finding the quartermaster would be an A-rank mission,” he accuses. “I asked two different people for directions, and neither of them could tell me how to get there.”

“Look for the flowering loquat tree,” Zabuza says, and grins at Haku's look. “It’s covered in roses.”

“I’ll be sure to pick you some,” Haku tells him sweetly, then pauses. “Should I give it to him today?”

Zabuza considers for a moment, then shakes his head. “I’ll do it. Want to see if he wants to be a swordsman or just wants to cut shit. You could show them some cool-down routines, though—Sakura's going to need them.”

“All right.” Haku pulls back, letting go of Zabuza, and takes a step away. He casts one more long glance over Zabuza, then takes a breath and smiles up at him. “Be careful, Zabuza.”

“I've never been careful in my life,” Zabuza reminds him.

Haku laughs, sweet and warm. “I know,” he agrees. “But I keep hoping.”

“Maybe if you start being careful I’ll pick it up from you.” Zabuza grips his shoulder for a moment, then tips his head. “Go find the team and eat something. Then finish that A-rank you failed.”

Making a face, Haku huffs. “Yes, Zabuza,” he agrees, then leaps lightly up the building and away over the rooftops. Zabuza watches him until he drops down on the far side, then sighs. Rubs a hand over his hair again, then licks his lips, feeling the small cuts from his teeth and Kakashi’s in equal measure. He wonders, very belatedly, if this was really the best way to get off the bridge alive, but—

It’s done, and it doesn’t matter anymore. Zabuza’s a Konoha nin now, by marriage and by oath, and he’s got a husband who doesn’t seem to know what to do with the yōkai in his head. When Zabuza offered him complete freedom to do whatever he wanted, he’d looked…bewildered. Caught off guard. Zabuza gets the impression that no one’s ever offered that to him before, and that’s just shitty. Not of Kakashi’s partners, and not of Kakashi himself, but—a shitty situation. Kisame was strong enough that Zabuza could give in completely without danger, let Kisame wind him up and then take him back down, slow and meticulous and deliberate. Mei, too, had enough power to take anything Zabuza tried, and she enjoyed the fight, enjoyed getting Zabuza on his back and taking control.

Kakashi needs that. He needs someone who can meet him, and challenge him, and then give him the win he wants. The hunt was a good start, but it wasn’t enough compared to a lifetime without. Most people are probably fine, lacking that, but they also likely don’t use their instincts nearly as much as someone like Kakashi, a tracker and former ANBU and known for high-ranking, high-risk missions. In light of that—

Zabuza taps his fingers against Kubikiribōchō’s blade, then heads around the side of the building and starts up the stairs. The place is quiet, since it’s midday, but there's an itch under Zabuza’s skin that increases as he climbs, something with the same touch of other that Kakashi’s expression held. He worries at the feeling like a sore tooth, but there's no reason for it that he can tell, no pressing prickle of danger. Just anticipation, a touch of lust; Kakashi’s waiting for him, and regardless of what else this marriage has brought, the sex isn't one of the bad things. Kakashi isn't one of the bad things, even if he’s frustrating.

But there's that sense, unrelenting, of something curled just out of sight. A monster, Zabuza would think, if he weren’t the biggest one in any given room. Pressure like chakra pressing against his skin, and he can't see the source of it.

Before he can dwell on the feeling, though, the door ahead of him breaks open, and Kakashi leans out, raising a brow. “Oh?” he asks lazily. “So you are coming?”

“Not yet,” Zabuza retorts, and grins as Kakashi laughs. As soon as he reaches to door, there's a hand on his elbow, dragging him in and unbuckling Kubikiribōchō’s harness, and then a mouth on his. Zabuza groans, back hitting the door as it slams shut, Kakashi pressed up against his front, and the taste of him is a heady thing, hot and sharp and traced with teeth. With a huff, Kakashi presses in, gets a knee between Zabuza’s thighs, and Zabuza slides down the wood a little, rubs against his leg and lets his head fall back at the prickles of heat that wash through him.

A chuckle against his lips, and then teeth skim his jaw. “It’s cute that you think I'm going to let you come,” Kakashi says lowly, and heat jars through Zabuza, wrenches a sound from his throat. Kakashi bites at his jawbone, careful with his teeth, and slides a hand down the front of Zabuza’s pants. “Oh, do you like that? My cute little wife has a thing for being told what to do, hmm?”

“Asshole,” Zabuza gets out, but Kakashi’s fingers brush his cock, make him moan. Then they pull away, and Kakashi’s thigh is gone too. He pulls back, and Zabuza curses, goes to reach for him.

“No,” Kakashi says, sharply enough that it’s an order, rough enough to make Zabuza glance up at him. He’s staring, hitai-ate pulled up to reveal his Sharingan, and he sweeps a look over Zabuza. That mismatched gaze slides down Zabuza’s face, lingering on the red mark from Kakashi’s teeth, down his throat with its livid bites, across his bare chest and stomach and down to where his pants are gaping open, showing the hard line of his cock. Then he glances up, catching Zabuza’s eyes, and smiles cheekily. “So pretty,” he says cheerfully. “I definitely got the cutest wife.”

Zabuza swallows to hide the flush of heat those words bring, growls and shoves away from the door. “Don’t be a dick,” he says, stalking towards Kakashi.

Kakashi beams at him, and then in a blur he steps right into Zabuza’s space, grabs his arm, gets a foot behind his knee. There's a wrench, and Zabuza curses as his back hits the floor, but Kakashi has a hold of his hands, has a knee braced on his stomach and his mouth right above Zabuza’s, curled into a wicked smile. “I'm being nice,” he protests mildly, like Zabuza can't see the crinkles at the corners of his eyes. “You’re so pretty, and you're so sweet when I get my fingers in you. You like getting fucked, don’t you, Zabuza?”

Zabuza hisses, tries to headbutt him, but Kakashi is quick. He rolls them over, pinning Zabuza to the floor and covering his back, and when Zabuza twists and curses he presses his knee up between his legs, mouths at the nape of his neck with an edge of teeth behind the heat of his lips. It’s enough to make Zabuza shudder, going still, and Kakashi hums.

“Anything I want?” he asks lowly, and drops a kiss beneath Zabuza’s ear.

There's a hard cock pressed against his ass, and Zabuza closes his eyes, tries to breathe through the spiraling heat that’s curling up through him. “Fuck, yeah,” he manages, and turns his hand. Kakashi lets go of his wrist, but before he can pull away Zabuza catches his fingers, grips them. “I’ll tell you to stop if I need it, but you can use me however the fuck you want. I'm not going to break. Oni, remember?”

There's a long pause, complete silence. Zabuza can't even tell if Kakashi is breathing. Then, on a low, ragged laugh, Kakashi drops his forehead between Zabuza’s shoulder blades, breath a shivery gust across hit skin. “You shouldn’t say that,” he whispers, and just like before it tastes of something he’s told himself again and again over the years. Zabuza hates it, because people forgetting their yōkai blood is a stupid, awful thing, but someone who recognizes that blood not being able to show it? Not wanting to? Fuck, that’s almost worse.

“Why not?” Zabuza demands, and when Kakashi’s hand twitches like he’s going to pull away, Zabuza tugs hard, keeping him where he is.

“Because this isn't just for me,” Kakashi says, but it’s halfhearted, torn. He wants this, Zabuza knows.

It makes him laugh, too, because Kakashi’s been inside him twice now and still doesn’t seem to get just how much Zabuza likes a cock up his ass and someone else in control. “If you think I'm just going to be gritting my teeth and bearing it,” he says, “or fucking lying back and thinking of Kiri, you’re fucked in the head. Best night of my life was when someone used me like a sex toy and didn’t let me up until he’d wrecked me.”

The inhale against his throat is ragged, and Kakashi’s weight goes from lax to pinning Zabuza again in an instant. He growls, and sharp teeth catch the skin of Zabuza’s throat, bite down hard enough to make Zabuza cry out. He jerks, and Kakashi pulls his hand free, catches Zabuza by the hips and grinds his cock into him.

“He’s not here,” Kakashi says, like a warning except it’s too breathless for that. “He’s not the one who won the hunt.”

“No,” Zabuza says, as lazily as he can manage with arousal beating a tattoo in his blood. “But you are, and you like me on my back for you, don’t you, Kakashi?” Swallows, turns his head to meet Kakashi’s dark eyes, and fuck, he’s so goddamn pretty Zabuza can't quite believe it. His hair is falling in his face, his breath coming hard, and the look he’s wearing—it’s like he’s thinking of all the best ways to eat Zabuza alive.

Kakashi catches Zabuza’s chin, drags his thumb over his lips and then presses it into his mouth, and Zabuza groans and takes it, makes a show of curling his tongue around in, sucking lightly on it. He can feel the hitch of Kakashi’s chest, see the way his gaze sharpens, fixes on Zabuza’s mouth. “Anything I want?” he asks again, like he can't believe it’s on offer. Zabuza doesn’t bother answering, just hums, holding his gaze, and pulls Kakashi’s thumb deeper into his mouth.

It gets him a low groan, and Kakashi grips his chin, presses the flat of his thumb against Zabuza’s tongue to still it and traces his index finger across his lower lip. “You like getting wrecked?” he asks, and it should be mild, but he doesn’t quite manage, makes the words rough instead. “I think that’s not all you like. Should I tell you just how pretty you are with my cock in you, Zabuza? How sweet you were after I fucked you in the woods? So obedient and eager to please.”

Zabuza shudders, can't help the noise that’s torn from his throat. He tries to pull away, hide his face and his reaction, but Kakashi’s grip on him doesn’t waver, keeps him in place, and he doesn’t so much as blink, either. Smiles, teasing and cheerful, and leans in, rubbing his cock along the crack of Zabuza’s ass as he kisses the edge of his full mouth, slow and messy, tongue teasing Zabuza’s lightly.

“Maybe I should use a shadow clone,” Kakashi muses idly, though he’s still watching Zabuza intently. “Or two, even. Maybe you get sweeter with every cock you get in you. Wouldn’t that be a fun theory to test?”

Fuck. It’s possible that the sound torn from Zabuza’s chest is too close to a whimper for his comfort, but—fuck. He squeezes his eyes shut, but the only image behind his eyes is that, Kakashi using his body and mouth at the same time, overwhelming him completely. He swallows hard, and Kakashi laughs in his ear.

“A good idea,” he decides. “But for later. I don’t want anyone else taking you today, even a clone. Instead…” He trails off, and the heaviness of the pause vibrates down Zabuza’s spine, threads through his nerves and makes him shiver. He sucks at Kakashi’s thumb, rocks back into his cock, and Kakashi groans, tugs his head around and pulls his finger out of his mouth, then kisses him, swift and messy. “On the bed,” he says, and rises to his feet.

Zabuza groans in disgust, but he takes the hand Kakashi offers him, lets Kakashi haul him up to his feet. Staggers, once he gets there, because he’s so hard he hurts with it, head spinning with arousal or maybe something else. When he reaches for Kakashi, Kakashi comes without hesitation, grabs him and pulls him in, and Zabuza falls into the kiss, takes his mouth and is taken just as fiercely. There are hands at his pants, undoing them the rest of the way, and Zabuza steps out of them as they fall, unzips Kakashi’s flak jacket and then tugs his shirt up and off as well. A hand on his shoulder has him dropping to his knees without hesitation, and he leans forward, presses his mouth to the covered curve of Kakashi’s cock. Mouths at it, humming, and Kakashi groans as he slides a hand into his hair.

“You’re easily distracted,” he says, breathless and amused, and Zabuza laughs, tugging the button open.

“Can you blame me?” he asks, shoves the uniform pants and underwear down around Kakashi’s ankles. At the sight of that hard cock coming free he groans and buries his face between Kakashi’s legs, dragging his cheek over the shaft and sucking gently at his balls. Kakashi cries out, ragged and breathless, and grinds against Zabuza’s mouth, then tugs him back by his grip on his hair.

“Up,” he says, and Zabuza rises, steps into him only to have Kakashi catch his hand and pull him back towards the bedroom. He loses his hitai-ate on the way, then the remains of his shirt, and drags Kakashi down onto the mattress with him as his knees hit the edge of the bed. Kakashi laughs as they land, kisses him again, off-center and lazy, and it’s only when his hands settle on Zabuza’s ribs that Zabuza realizes he’s still wearing his gloves. His breath catches, slides out on a moan, and Kakashi flicks a glance at his face, on brow rising.

“Really?” he asks, lazy, but his eyes are hot as he skims his hands up Zabuza’s chest, presses his palms over Zabuza’s nipples. Zabuza gasps at the scrape of worn leather, twitches up into it, and Kakashi chuckles, rubbing in teasing circles. “I can keep them on if you want. It might be fun opening you up with them on.”

Zabuza chokes on a groan at the thought, the rough scrape of the gloves over sensitive flesh. He grips Kakashi’s shoulders, tries to gather enough words to make a sentence, but the only sound that escapes him is a cry as Kakashi catches his nipples between two knuckles and pinches hard. It’s pain, but the shock of it through his skin is heat like pleasure, and Zabuza shoves into it, tries to get more.

Kakashi kisses him, digs through the scattered covers with one hand even as he pinches and tugs and twists with the other, rides the tremble and arch of Zabuza’s body with a chuckle. Swallows down the sound of Zabuza’s rough cry as a slicked hand covers his cock, and murmurs against his mouth, “How do you feel about nipple rings? I think they’d look beautiful on you.”

Zabuza can't even summon up a sound in response, gasps into Kakashi’s mouth, but fuck, if he felt more it might wreck him permanently. He grits his teeth, head falling back, and shivers when Kakashi’s legs press his thighs open wide. Nipple rings, fuck, and now that Kakashi’s given him the thought he can't resist it, wants to sit on Kakashi’s cock and let him play with them, see if he can come just from that.

There's a laugh against his cheek, warm and low. “You're a kinky bastard,” Kakashi murmurs, but there's amusement dancing in his eyes.

It takes Zabuza a moment to scrape enough brain cells together to manage a response, but he snorts, strokes his palms down Kakashi’s muscled shoulders and across his back, then digs his fingers in to urge him on. “Like you're one to talk,” he retorts, and tugs lightly. “Come on, move it along. I'm getting old down here.”

“I thought this was all about what I wanted,” Kakashi says, but mildly, and he fishes the lube out of the blankets, holding Zabuza’s gaze as he opens it.

Zabuza shivers, and there's a taste like the air before a thunderstorm on his tongue, heady like anticipation. He watches Kakashi strip his gloves off, then slick his fingers, trying to keep his breathing even, and says, “Yeah. However you want me.”

Kakashi’s eyes fall shut for a moment, then slide open again, and he smiles, crooked and quick, drops the tube aside as he skims his clean hand up the inside of Zabuza’s thigh. “Like this,” he says, and a finger slides into Zabuza, makes him gasp only for Kakashi to steal the sound from his lips. Kakashi hums soothingly against his mouth, deepens the kiss even as he presses his finger in further and smears the lube into Zabuza.

“Thought you’d go for something more creative,” Zabuza huffs, but there's another finger at his entrance, and the stretch makes him pause, tipping his head back as he’s opened up with gentle strokes. It’s a deep, twisting sort of pleasure, edged with something raw, and Zabuza breathes through it, wondering vaguely why this is so different, why it feels sharper, brighter when Kakashi catches his mouth again. Slow, lazy, their lips slanting together, tongues tangling, and Zabuza moans, digs his fingers into Kakashi’s back and gets a soft breath in response.

“This is how I want you right now,” Kakashi clarifies, eyes crinkled, and he catches Zabuza’s lip between his teeth, bites lightly. Zabuza hisses at the sting, and with a chuckle Kakashi kisses the sound out of his mouth as he presses his fingers all the way in, curls and spreads them. Hums, draws back, and then presses more lube into Zabuza, those dark eyes fixed on Zabuza’s face.

“Yeah?” Zabuza asks, pulling him an inch closer, hitching his hips up to try and get some friction against his cock. “Planning to tell me what else you’re thinking?”

Kakashi beams at him. “My secret,” he says. Pauses, looking Zabuza over again, and says more quietly, “Tell me to stop and I will. At any moment.”

Zabuza rolls his eyes, pries a hand off Kakashi’s back to thump him lightly in the side of the head. “I already said I would, didn’t it? Get your head out of your ass and fucking use me, asshole. I'm fine. Have some fun.”

Three fingers press deep, sharp and sudden enough to make Zabuza shout, and Kakashi buries his face in his throat, scrapes his teeth across Zabuza’s jugular. “I am,” he says, low like a promise, and there's a touch of sharpness to it that was buried a moment ago. “I wouldn’t want to hurt you when I fuck you, my cute little bride. We’ve still got a whole honeymoon to get through.”

Zabuza laughs, rough and winded, feels Kakashi grip his thigh and press it higher. There’s a blaze in his chest, in his blood, red like rage but somehow hotter, darker. “Come on, then,” he says, makes it a challenge. Catches Kakashi’s face between his hands, fingertips tangled in white hair, and Kakashi kisses him again, deep and slow and deliberately careful. Growls, short and sharp, and draws his fingers out.

“I'm not going to tell you not to come,” he says, watching Zabuza with intent, with his Sharingan lazily spinning red and black. “But if you come before I do I'm going to get you hard as many times as I need to get what I want.”

“Fuck,” Zabuza breathes, a shiver tracing down his spine. He loosens his grip, and Kakashi catches first one hand, then the other, lays a gentle kiss on each of his wrists. Slides his hands up, slow and deliberate, to lace their fingers, and then presses Zabuza’s hands down on either side of his head. A prickle like electricity runs through Zabuza’s chest, is lost in Kakashi’s kiss a moment later, and he moans when Kakashi’s cock slides against his own. Opens his eyes, taking in Kakashi’s expression, and summons up a smirk with teeth and challenge behind it. “Come on, Kakashi. Show me that raijū side of you.” He grips Kakashi’s fingers, wraps his legs around Kakashi’s waist to pull him an inch closer. “I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere tonight.”

The taste of ozone is on the back of Zabuza’s tongue, tangled in the kiss Kakashi slants over his mouth, deep and devouring. A sound rumbles up through Kakashi’s chest, and he pulls back just enough to stare at him, breathing hard.

“Not just tonight,” he says quietly, and the Sharingan is a bloody mark in his face, like a wound. Before Zabuza can drag his gaze away from it, though, before he can summon any words, Kakashi seals their mouths together and kisses Zabuza like he’s never going to come up for air. Zabuza loses every thought beyond him, beyond the weight of his body and the heat of his mouth and the shiver like static across his skin. Breathes in heat and desire and the scent of Kakashi’s skin, and can't find any reason at all to argue.

Chapter Text

The knock at the door comes when Kakashi is three fingers deep in Zabuza, chest heaving, eyes wild, the ozone taste of lighting thick and sharp on Zabuza’s tongue.

Well. It’s less of a knock, and more of a pounding, and not the kind Zabuza was hoping for. Tightening his grip on Kakashi’s shoulders, he hauls him in tighter, stubbornly kisses him harder, and Kakashi groans into his mouth, breath hitching. For a moment Zabuza thinks he’s won, that it’s going to be enough, but then Kakashi is easing back with a soft, pained sound, tearing their mouths apart and lifting his head. “That’s—” he starts.

Zabuza snarls, because Kakashi is pulling his fingers out, he’s sitting back, he’s leaving, and the red-hot blaze in Zabuza’s chest is twisting, darkening. He tries to tighten his leg around Kakashi’s back and pin him in place, but Kakashi huffs, leans in and kisses him hard, briefly, before sitting up again.

“Hang on,” he says, and it’s gratifyingly ragged even as he slides off the bed. “No one would—it’s important—”

Fuck,” Zabuza snaps, because he aches. “Fuckhead, get the hell back here and fuck me—”

“Maa, be patient,” Kakashi tells him, though he at least has the decency to look a little wild around the eyes. Casting a look at Zabuza on the bed, he closes his eyes, grits his teeth, and shakes himself like a dog emerging from water, then opens his eye. Just the one eye, Zabuza notes, and wants to growl. Wants to grab him and drag him back onto the bed, roll them over and rut, but he grinds a palm over his eyes, listens to the rustle of clothing being pulled on and the unsteady retreat of steps, and tries not to think about how close he was to getting Kakashi’s cock in him. A few more seconds—

Distantly, through the burn of unfulfilled want and pure frustration, he can hear the locks on the door clicking open, a creak. “What,” Kakashi says tersely, and then, a beat later, “Oh,” in an entirely different tone.

“Senpai?” a voice asks, startled. Male, probably about their age, Zabuza thinks, and growls, pushing himself up on his elbow. He’s aching, stretched open, wet and ready with the tingle of Kakashi’s lightning still on his skin, and if Kakashi thinks he’s just going to sit here waiting

“Tenzō,” Kakashi says, and Zabuza can hear him shift, just a little. “You're back.”

There's a long, careful pause. “I heard something happened on your team’s mission,” Tenzō says, cautious. “Senpai, are you all right? You feel like…”

Even from the bedroom, the sound of Kakashi’s indrawn breath is obvious.

Zabuza scowls, in no mood to have to pick his way through yet another emotional minefield just to get the dick he was about to get anyway thirty seconds ago. If this asshole thinks he can undo everything Zabuza’s been trying, all the work to get Kakashi to pay attention to his raijū half, Zabuza’s going to pound his face in and have fun doing it.

“Do I,” Kakashi starts, hoarse, and then stops. Takes another breath, and asks, “Is there something else?”

Another pause, and then Tenzō offers, “Danzō.”

This time, the stretch of silence in the other room vibrates like lightning under glass.

“Moving?” Kakashi asks.

“Doing something,” Tenzō clarifies, a little frustrated. “I thought you would want to know.”

“Always,” Kakashi says, grim, touched with tired humor. “Is it urgent?”

“He’s on his way out of the village,” Tenzō says. “I can follow him alone, but—”

Zabuza closes his eyes, breathes out through his nose. He already knows Kakashi’s decision, even before he hears him say, “I’ll meet you out front. Five minutes.”

There's a murmur of agreement, and the door closes. Zabuza pushes to his feet, all too aware of the slick, stretched-out feeling inside of him, the ache of his hard cock between his legs, the prickly oversensitivity of his skin as he folds his arms across his chest and faces the doorway, listening to Kakashi’s steps return.

To his credit, Kakashi meets his eyes without hesitation, expression rueful. “It’s important,” he says, even as his gaze flickers down over Zabuza’s body, Sharingan and grey eye both open.

“Important,” Zabuza repeats, and snorts. “I should cut your fucking dick off.”

Kakashi chuckles, though he doesn’t step close. Heads for the closet instead, and a moment later comes up with a uniform that’s mostly black and dark greys, heavily reinforced. “Then you’d never get to use it,” he points out, and starts pulling the uniform on.

Zabuza can't fucking believe him. “What the hell happened to doing whatever you wanted?” he snaps.

There isn't so much as a pause. “You're a shinobi,” Kakashi says evenly. “It’s a duty.”

Closing his eyes, Zabuza grits his teeth. The strange weight in the air is gone, and he feels cold, the only warmth in his body a knife-sharp heat carving through his veins. “Duty,” he says flatly. “That sounded more personal to me.”

Kakashi hums, and reaches into the depths of the closet. He comes up with a blank white mask, unpainted, and sets it aside, then pulls a bandana over his hair and ties it. A simple disguise, but Zabuza’s willing to admit it’s effective; he looks entirely different, even though the hair color is the same. “It’s duty,” he repeats, flat enough that it’s a deterrent from further argument rather than a reassurance, and turns. His mouth curves in a wry smile as he meets Zabuza’s gaze, and he offers, “I’ll be back soon.”

“Yeah?” Zabuza asks, unimpressed. “And next time you’re going to let that other side of yourself out, right? Show me a good time?”

Kakashi’s hesitation says more than words ever could. “Of course,” he adds, but that smile is all bullshit when it comes again.

Zabuza growls, low in his throat. There's dark rage bubbling up, thwarted desire but also something harsher, and he glares at Kakashi, pulls himself up to his full height. “Yeah?” he drawls, full of jagged edges. “So what’s this mission? Who’s the little kohai?”

“Tenzō.” That smile is pure deflection, and Kakashi is already turning his back. “I’ll bring him by for dinner if you promise not to scare him away.”

Not even an attempt to explain where he’s going, and Zabuza sets his jaw, watching Kakashi fit his mask over his face. No explanation, just—leaving.

To think, Kakashi was worried about him going somewhere.

“Kakashi,” he starts, tries to keep it from being flat-out furious because one of them has to be reasonable.

“Sorry,” Kakashi says, mask featureless, bland. “I’ll be back. We can talk then.”

He leaves through the bedroom window before Zabuza can even curse him out.

Zabuza stands there in the deepening silence, breath rasping in his throat, and grits his teeth. It’s not like he doesn’t understand being called on a mission in the middle of things. It’s not like he’s not used to shinobi work taking up every spare minute and some that aren’t spare at all. He was a jounin in Kiri for a decade, and then dependent on what jobs he could scrape together—the worst jobs, the worst clients, no ability to talk back for fear of getting booted without a village to back him up. He gets it.

But explaining why he was leaving would have taken Kakashi three sentences and maybe a minute while he dressed. And instead Zabuza got deflection and bullshit, which seem to be Kakashi’s favorite responses.

A snarl tears out of Zabuza’s throat. He spins on the ball of his foot, hand clenching, and lashes out. The door of the closet splinters under his fist, sparking pain up Zabuza’s arm for an instant before he controls it, and he breathes out, a rough, furious rasp that’s half thwarted arousal and half actual anger at Kakashi just—leaving. Before that, he’d thought—

But apparently not.

“Fuck,” Zabuza says to the empty room, and then louder, harsher, “Fuck.”

There's no answer from the room. And fuck it, but the worst part is feeling blindsided. After their moment in the street, after the shit in the other room, Kakashi’s willingness to explore his raijū half and his reaction to Zabuza telling he could have whatever he wanted, Zabuza had thought they were fine.

One knock on the door and Kakashi fucking bolted, though. Zabuza wonders why he’s surprised, really; nothing about Kakashi has said he’d deal well with any sort of openness, and apparently letting some yōkai instincts out for a few hours of mind-bending sex is close enough to count for him. That’s not a surprise, either. He was shifty about them before, about his team, about everything.

Standing here, fist stinging, blood hot and something red and roaring in his head, Zabuza’s all too aware that he’s known Kakashi for less then two weeks. Some bits of him Zabuza can read, but all the rest is a fucking mystery. And Zabuza married that mystery, knowing full well that it was for life.

Damn it. Damn it.

He shakes the splinters out of his hand, feeling the rage that’s building like a foreign thing, detached from himself. It will hit him soon, he knows, if he doesn’t do something to push it down. Haku's usually good for that; Zabuza’s not going to kill someone who’s his, not when his blood’s up. Haku is a tool, and Zabuza is a tool, and in battle—

But Zabuza already picked his course in battle. Haku was going to die for him, and instead of letting him, Zabuza chose to marry himself to a Konoha asshole with his head so far up his ass he can't tell his yōkai instincts from indigestion.

Zabuza can't say he wouldn’t make the same choice again, though. He’s alive, and Haku is alive, and even if everything’s gone to shit in Kiri, even if everything Zabuza worked towards for so long has gone up in smoke—

Zabuza’s laugh is rough, ragged, and he shoves a hand through his hair, turns away from the closet to grab a fresh set of clothes. Even if. He hates those two words. It’s like they're saying things could be worse, and yeah, they could, but they're pretty shitty anyway.

This shit would be a hell of a lot easier to deal with if Zabuza had gotten a few orgasms first.

Stalking into the bathroom, he grabs a towel, wets it, wipes himself down, and at least he’s not hard anymore. Getting himself off alone would feel even worse than being dumped without explanation so Kakashi could go follow someone, and while a spiteful part of Zabuza is tempted to try, to come on his own and leave Kakashi hanging, he remembers Kisame leaving. He’d tried that the first few times, and it had never helped.

Work had, though. Killing people had, too, but Zabuza’s still not trusted with missions outside of the village, so he’ll have to settle for the first. Which is fine, because if he doesn’t focus on something else he’s going to start cutting down anyone who looks at him funny, and the team Kakashi’s ignoring just as thoroughly as he’s ignoring Zabuza is a decent distraction. And a spiteful one, admittedly, but Zabuza doesn’t give a damn there.

Some of it fucking sucks, but not all of it. Not Kakashi, most of the time, he’d told Haku. Apparently he spoke too soon.

Kubikiribōchō is still lying on the floor in the main room, attached to the harness where they dropped it. More carefully than he handles most things in his life, Zabuza picks it up, scowling at the traces of wear in the leather. Not Kakashi’s doing, but a sign that Zabuza’s going to need to replace the whole thing soon. Kubikiribōchō’s heavy enough that he has to keep an eye on the harness at all times, or risk having it snap at an inopportune moment. It’s happened before, when Zabuza couldn't afford to keep it up, and it’s a pain in the ass.

Still, it will survive for now, and Zabuza can take a few missions in the village, a C-rank or even a few courier missions, and get enough funds to commission a new one. It’s not like he has anywhere better to send the money right now, with Mei probably dead.

He hasn’t let himself think about it. Not fully. Not beyond the scope of the rebellion as a whole. But he does now, can't help it; thinks of Mei on her knees, in a dark, damp prison cell with barriers to keep her from melting it to slag. Thinks of the red waterfall of her hair, the way her eyes lit up when she laughed, the way she kept her nails so perfect and her calluses so tough. Thinks of her in front of Yagura, the bastard passing his sentence, and a sword falling—

His breath rattles in his lungs, and he drags his hitai-ate on, ties it more tightly than normal. It’s been years since he saw Mei, and she was never a friend. Kiri wasn’t a good place for friendships in general, and two jounin getting too close was automatically seen as suspicious, a possible rebellion in the making. Zabuza was fine on his own, too, especially once he had Haku to train and his duties as one of the Seven Swordsmen.

But there was a time, in the Academy, when a high-caste girl with hair like a lava flow parked herself next to Zabuza, smiling like a challenge even as she pulled her bento open. If you faint in the middle of sparring, I won't be able to beat you fairly, she’d told him, poison-sweet, and shoved half of her lunch into his hands. Never mind that she was two years younger, that they weren’t set to spar and even if they were Zabuza would be expected to throw the match in her favor. Never mind that he was from the lowest caste and she the highest. Never mind that Zabuza snarled at her for it, and she laughed like that was her goal all along.

The food had been some of the best Zabuza had ever tasted, then or now. He still remembers that.

It wasn’t simple. Mei had two bloodlines, and the purges were barely behind them. Zabuza was blatant about his yōkai blood, didn’t care to follow the rules about who won what and who scored the highest. They bulldozed through the Academy together, breaking standards, and when Zabuza stepped into the arena, when the graduation ritual started—

Mei being there wouldn’t have stopped him from killing everyone else in his class. But afterwards, in the silence, breathing in the smell of blood, maybe Zabuza was a little glad that she was two years behind him and hadn’t graduated early.

Not that it matters now, apparently. Mei's dead, and Yagura's flaunting it by entering teams in the Chuunin Exams, leaving Kiri to its own devices for two months while he attends. He wouldn’t risk it if there was any trace of unrest left, which means he’s confident he crushed all of it.

If Mei was alive, he wouldn’t be. He always suspected she had a part in things, but Zabuza didn’t let anything slip when he confronted the Mizukage, took all the credit for the coup. Fled without implicating her, funneled money back through every untraceable means he found, and—

All for nothing. She may as well have been in the arena eighteen years ago, for all the good it did. Maybe she and Zabuza could have taken each other out at the same time, and saved a hell of a lot of trouble.

Breathing out, sharp and rough, Zabuza slings Kubikiribōchō over his back, tightening the straps of the harness and heading out. Haku is probably still at lunch, but Zabuza can beat him to the quartermaster and pick up a sword for Sasuke before he finishes, then find the team. A few hours of torturing them in the name of training will do him some good.

 

 

The fact that there's a shinobi waiting for him when he gets out of the quartermaster’s place is less of a surprise than it could be.

“Here to check that I'm not stockpiling weapons?” Zabuza demands acerbically, giving her a narrow look. Small, but muscular, and there's a slant to her grin that makes him think of Ameyuri.

The woman laughs, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I don’t think you’d do much damage with that,” she says, pointing to the genin-sized sword Zabuza is carrying. “Unless you're making an army of brats or something, and if you were, I think I could take them.”

“Not after I got done with them,” Zabuza retorts, but though he gives her a sideways look as she falls into step with him, he doesn’t protest. It’s probably a good idea to know some of the other active shinobi he’ll be working with, even if Konoha's so large he can't know them all. This one—she’s got a feel to her, like dry scales, but there's something a little off about it. Not entirely her, he thinks, or something like that.

The woman giggles, crossing her arms behind her head. “That’s what you think,” she retorts, and tips her head, giving him a grin that’s closer to a leer. “You’re the guy Hatake bagged, right?”

Something turns over in Zabuza’s chest, all dark edges and burning core, and he sets his jaw.

“Oh,” the woman says before Zabuza can answer, and looks away. “Well, I'm Mitarashi Anko! It’s nice to meet you!”

“Hatake Zabuza,” Zabuza returns, a little startled by her reaction. That was—kind. Not what he expected from someone who looks like Ameyuri with a potential game in front of her.

“From Kiri, right?” Anko looks back at him, and this time her expression is halfway to a challenge. “You seen an old snake bastard around there? About as pale as a corpse, creepy as hell, tongue longer than he is tall?”

There's only one person she could mean, and Zabuza’s paged through the Bingo Book enough times to know. “Orochimaru of the Sannin?” he asks, brow rising. “That fucker?”

“That’s the one!” Anko sounds bloodily cheerful. “I'm looking for him. To say hi, you know? Preferably with the sharp end of a kunai.”

Zabuza snorts, but he can feel a little of the tension easing out of his shoulders. Talk of murder is easy enough to deal with. “Yeah? He was somewhere around Kiri a few years back, I think, but disappeared again, and we couldn’t find him. I haven’t been around for a bit, though. He might have turned up there again.”

“Like a cockroach when you turn out the light,” Anko agrees brightly, and that grin is all teeth. If they were sharpened, she’d fit right in with the Swordsmen. “Or a grub when you flip over a log.”

Orochimaru is supposed to be everything civilians fear in a shinobi, ruthless and amoral and half-mad, powerful enough to conquer a small country single-handedly. Zabuza eyes Anko for a moment, wondering if he should ask how she expects to beat someone like that alone, but—well. Zabuza’s hardly one to talk someone out of a fight that promises to be a hell of a lot of fun.

“Heard a mention of him being in Taki, about a year ago,” he offers, because the rumor wasn’t exactly proven, but it was enough to dissuade Zabuza from taking a job in Waterfall Country. Orochimaru’s got a reputation for being fond of unique bloodlines, and Zabuza wasn’t about to put Haku in the way of a shinobi like that. He knows his own abilities, and kicking Orochimaru’s ass isn't among them.

“Looking for recruits, probably,” Anko says viciously, though she’s still smiling. “I wanna pound his face in so bad, but Ibiki's not gonna let me out of Konoha until the Chuunin Exams are over. It’s not fair!”

Zabuza grunts in agreement, pausing at the corner of the street. He can't see Haku or the others, but there's a trace of familiar chakra in the air, just a touch. Like a cold wind off the ice caps, and Zabuza turns towards it without having to think.

“Who’s the sword for?” Anko asks curiously, and she catches his wrist, dragging it towards her so she can study the blade. “This is a nice one! Sōji has some good blades, even if she charges too much for her kunai.”

Smiths who overcharge on the basics are crap, and Zabuza huffs, disgusted. “Why not just say lower ranks not welcome on the door?” he mutters. Most of the smiths in Kiri did that; lower caste shinobi paid three or four times what the higher castes did. After his third month straight of having to pick between food and weapons as a chuunin, Zabuza had ended up giving his money to Mei and letting her buy the damned things for him, but the bitterness has lingered ever since.

“It’s stupid!” Anko agrees, letting go of him to punch her palm. She whirls around, and her scowl falls away into a bloodthirsty grin. “Hey, we should go talk to her about it!”

Zabuza doesn’t hesitate to grin right back. “You trying to get me kicked out of Konoha, bitch? I haven’t even been here a week yet.”

Anko laughs, no offense in her face, and grabs his arm again, though this time she twists her own around it and hangs on. “Hatake would kick my ass,” she says cheerfully. “He hasn’t gotten laid regularly since he and Genma split years ago. I'm sure it helps that stick up his ass.”

With a snort, Zabuza turns onto another street, catches a flash of orange up ahead, and says, “You might want to bail if you’re looking to get out of this in one piece.”

Anko blinks, then follows his gaze to the squabbling team up ahead. Sasuke and Naruto are yelling at each other, and Sakura looks like she’s about to start pulling her hair out. Haku, of course, is smiling and enjoying the show; he’s a little sadist on the inside, but Zabuza already knew that.

Anko must be more than a little sadistic, too, because she giggles, grin widening. “You're training his brats?” she asks gleefully. “Hatake’s in for it, isn't he?”

Zabuza’s certainly not about to ensure they take it easy on him. “Fuck yeah. They’ve figured out a couple things, but they sure as shit need some more training pounded into their skulls.”

Anko coos, and it’s one of the more terrifying sounds Zabuza’s heard in his life, barring Mei's laugh. “Can I help?” she asks, bouncing again. Those boobs can't be getting enough support in their fishnet to make that comfortable. “Please? I won't cut them up too bad, promise!”

Zabuza eyes her, turns and casts another look at the team. Sakura could probably do with meeting another kunoichi who can turn an opponent inside out, and Zabuza gets the feeling that’s not something Anko has a problem with. “Sure,” he agrees, grinning lazily at her. “They're supposed to be doing D-ranks, but there's no reason we can't mix shit up a bit after that.”

“You're my favorite Hatake,” Anko declares brightly, and wraps her arms around his elbow. That deadly grin hasn’t faded at all. “Ooh, I call dibs on the one in orange! He’s like a moving target!”

That’s one way to teach Naruto a bit of extra stealth, Zabuza thinks, amused. “Sure. Just no maiming. Kakashi’d kick me onto the couch if I damaged one of ‘em permanently.”

It might even be true, though Zabuza hasn’t seen any proof of that so far.

Anko gives him a cheeky salute, then detangles herself from him and bounds ahead. “Hey, brats!” she cries. “Got a D-rank yet?”

“Who are you?” Naruto demands loudly, puffing up like a rooster. “And what does it matter to you?”

“Relax,” Zabuza says dryly, and catches Haku's eye, lifting the sword slightly. Haku pouts, the expression that means he’s deeply offended by Zabuza’s lack of faith in his abilities and probably going to break out the senbon to teach Zabuza a lesson sooner rather than later, but Zabuza just raises a brow at him and lets it go. “Anko's going to help me beat you three to a pulp once you’re done with your D-rank.”

Anko beams and flashes a victory sign. “You bet I am!”

What?” Naruto wails in dismay. “But—but she looks funny!”

Mouth dropping open in offense, Anko makes a sound of deep indignation and lunges, a kunai suddenly in hand. “Why, you!” she screeches, even as Naruto shrieks in terror and dives behind Haku.

They're going to get along brilliantly, Zabuza can already tell. He reaches out, grabbing the collar of Anko's coat as she tries to plow through Haku to grab Naruto, and says, “That one’s off-limits. He’s going to helping with the torturing.”

“Aw,” Anko says with a pout, but she lets Zabuza drag her back without protest. Then she brightens. “Oh, hey, if you don’t have your D-rank yet, that means you're going to talk to Iruka, right? He’s so cute when he blushes!”

If anything, Naruto looks even more horrified as he wriggles out from behind Haku. “You're mean to Iruka-sensei?” he demands with horror.

Anko laughs. “I'm the nicest to Iruka,” she retorts, and that’s a leer, too. Zabuza snorts, amused, even as Naruto frowns. The kid is clearly baffled.

“It’s all right, Naruto,” Haku says, sidestepping so he can give Naruto a reassuring smile. “I think they're friends.”

Naruto looks doubtful, and he squints suspiciously at Anko, but after a moment he subsides with a huff. “You can't tease Iruka-sensei,” he says threateningly.

“But teasing him is the best part,” Anko says breezily, and grabs Zabuza’s wrist, tugging him forward. “Come on, if we go now we can catch him before he takes his lunch!”

Zabuza rolls his eyes, but lets himself be dragged, Kakashi’s team bringing up the rear.

Chapter Text

“I interrupted something,” Tenzō says, and it’s not a question.

Kakashi hums noncommittally, but he doesn’t glance back, whether towards the village or Tenzō. “It probably would have turned into a fight sooner or later,” he says lightly, and slows a little when he picks up a trace of a familiar scent. Danzō smells like disinfectant and old blood, and while that’s hardly unusual in a shinobi, it makes Kakashi wrinkle his nose faintly.

There's a moment of silence, and then a faint thump as Tenzō drops next to him. “Oh,” he says, in a completely different tone. Judgmental, which Kakashi side-eyes him for. “Is this like when you tell people that everyone you care about is dead?”

Kakashi winces. He’s only said that once. Maybe twice. “I don’t mean you,” he says, which is…probably not the best defense, actually.

Tenzō’s hum is unimpressed. “I think Gai was going to cry when I told him about that,” he says. “And not from the joy of Youth.”

You didn’t have to tell him, Kakashi almost says, but that’s a surefire way to dig himself deeper into this hole with Tenzō, so he keeps him mouth shut. Danzō’s trail runs west, well beyond the confines of the village, and Kakashi leaps the wall with a touch of chakra and picks it up again immediately. There’s another person with him, smelling like ink and blood that’s far fresher than Danzō’s scent, but it’s at least a slightly more familiar thing. Minato and Kushina used to smell like that when they were working on seals, and Jiraiya does sometimes, too.

There's a sigh, light and aggrieved, and Tenzō asks pointedly, “What did I interrupt, Kakashi?”

“Well,” Kakashi says airily, “if you really want me to give you that talk, Tenzō, I'm happy to. There was a section in my book covering that exact thing—”

“No one wants to know about your terrible book,” Tenzō says tartly, though he’s faintly red in the face, and he’s very definitely not looking at Kakashi. “I just want to know who you were sleeping with. I thought you hadn’t dated since Genma.”

“I haven’t,” Kakashi says, though he has very little hope of that actually ending the conversation. Debates his next words, and then casts Tenzō a bright, cheerful smile and says, “That was my husband.”

It’s beyond satisfying when Tenzō trips and almost falls of the branch with a squawk.

Chuckling, Kakashi comes to a stop, letting him get his balance back. “If you're not careful, Danzō is going to realize he’s being followed,” he reminds him.

Tenzō pulls a face at him. “Danzō always assumes he’s being followed,” he dismisses, and then gives Kakashi a look that’s on the edge of ghoulish. “You got married? And you didn’t tell me?”

Kakashi raises his hands to ward off his former teammate. “It was a yōkai thing. There wasn’t exactly a lot of warning.”

For a moment, Tenzō stares at him, wide dark eyes and careful assessment, and then takes a breath. “Oh,” he says, and looks away. “For both of you?”

Kakashi thinks of Zabuza’s mouth, of his voice and his words and his challenge, and nods once. “Both of us,” he confirms.

There's a second of silence as Tenzō stares at him, and then he stiffens. “Kakashi!” he hisses, and when Kakashi blinks, caught off guard, Tenzō punches him in the shoulder. Hard. “You mean I interrupted you and your husband? Why didn’t you tell me to find someone else?”

Eying him a little warily, Kakashi rubs his shoulder, trying to work out why this is a thing. “He’s not going to run away just because I left,” he defends. “And where would you find another tracker before Danzō got too far away?”

Tenzō glares at him. “Hana is at the vet clinic,” he says pointedly, but turns and starts moving again. “And I can't believe you left in the middle of sex. Senpai, if you get divorced—”

“Yōkai marriages don’t work like that,” Kakashi says patiently, because it’s true. Zabuza can't leave. And, more importantly, he won't. “Zabuza is a shinobi. He understands missions coming first. It’s fine.”

“It’s not,” Tenzō says mulishly. “You’d better buy him flowers or—or something to make up for it, senpai.”

“Don’t call me senpai,” Kakashi retorts, distracted as the scent takes a sharp turn north, around a stand of huge oaks. Each one is as wide as three men are tall, and they soar upwards, tall even in Konoha's vast forests. The one at the center is the largest yet, bark a deep, weathered brown, leaves so dark they're almost black. “Besides, Zabuza wouldn’t want flowers.”

“Then give him kunai,” Tenzō says, unbudgingly, and then goes quiet, leaping straight up along the trunk of the huge oak. Kakashi follows him, pulling his mask down over his face, and the edge of old blood on the wind is still now, stationary. He breathes it in, slides along the first wide branch that arches out, and flashes a hand signal to Tenzō. Nodding, Tenzō tugs his own cat-mask down and brings his hands together. Kakashi can hardly feel the trickle of chakra, but it’s enough to make the oak’s leaves thicken, spread. They arch out across Kakashi’s field of view, shielding what’s below from his sight, and he slides forward to put himself in the midst of the cover, practically holding his breath.

There are voices below, and as soon as he’s still it’s simple enough to hear them. One is Danzō, low and grim, and the second is a man with an even deeper voice. Risking a glance out of the branches as Tenzō joins him, Kakashi sweeps a look over the area, then down, and finally spots them at the base of a tree several yards away. Danzō and his guard are there, half-hidden by shadows, and with them—

He’s no one Kakashi knows, and someone he would definitely remember. Half of his body is black, and the other half greenish-white, with what’s very definitely a plant sprouting from his shoulders to frame his head like the jaws of a Venus flytrap. Raising a brow, Kakashi glances over at Tenzō in question, but Tenzō promptly shakes his head. No one he’s encountered, either.

The stranger smells like stagnant water and decomposing flesh, and it makes Kakashi wrinkle his nose to keep from sneezing. If he’d thought Danzō was bad, this is almost enough to change his mind.

“—missed two check-ins, and I can’t turn the Hokage’s attention away without suspicion,” Danzō is saying, when Kakashi finally manages to catch the words. “I hope you’ve made preparations.”

The stranger laughs, a hissing, unpleasant thing. “Of course,” he says, grinning, and Kakashi has an unpleasant flashback to some of Orochimaru’s more unnerving expressions. I could eat you if I wanted to, that smile says. Let me unhinge my jaw and show you. He swallows, tries not to grimace, and almost misses it when the stranger asks, “Which one did you send?”

“The Shiranui boy.” Danzō’s voice is flat, dry, but Kakashi goes very, very still. There’s only one Shiranui in the village right now, and only one boy at all as far as he’s aware. They’re talking about Genma. “A poison expert, and fond of senbon.”

Another laugh, light and eerie, and this time when the stranger speaks it’s a different voice, lighter, more amused. “We picked the perfect one, then,” he says cheerfully. “Kisame’s never met a poison that could slow him down.”

A grunt, from the stranger as well, and the deeper voice adds, “The keys will be in our possession soon. Thank you for your assistance.”

Danzō snorts, shifting his weight on his cane. “Our goals align here,” he says coolly. “Don’t expect such help in the future.”

The deeper voice’s chuckle is low, but curls down Kakashi’s spine and raises unpleasant goosebumps, makes his instincts twinge like he just stepped on a cobra. “Of course,” he says, amused. “The preservation of the barrier is paramount. We thank you for the sacrifice of your shinobi in the name of maintaining it.”

Danzō’s frown is thin, close to displeased. “You will notify me of any remaining threats,” he says, with no room given for arguments. “Sarutobi is a blind old fool, but if I keep moving openly he will doubtless start having me watched again. Advance warning of what is to come is the only way I can meet threats in time.”

“You’ll have it,” the stranger promises, grinning.

That’s a hell of a lot of teeth, Kakashi thinks, and curls his fingers against the bark. That’s a hell of a lot of threat. How can Danzō not see it?

“Good.” Danzō inclines his head. “Our business is concluded, then.”

“For now,” the stranger agrees with ghoulish cheer, and with a ripple of earth and chakra, he sinks down into the ground and vanishes.

For a long moment, there’s nothing but silence. Then, deliberately, Danzō takes a step back and turns. “Sai,” he says, and the whip-crack of his voice makes Tenzō flinch, just faintly. Movement in front of a shinobi like Danzō is always a risk, but Kakashi reaches out anyway, curls a gloved hand around Tenzō’s bare wrist and squeezes gently, and Tenzō ducks his head and closes his eyes.

“Yes, sir?” The boy with Danzō can’t be more than thirteen, but his voice is the perfectly bland, flat tone that Kakashi expects from one of the Foundation’s members. Or would expect, since the Foundation was supposed to have been disbanded right after Danzō tried to have the Hokage assassinated.

“Retrieve Torune and Fuu,” Danzō orders. “Send them to me. I have a mission for them. Tell them to prepare for several days’ travel. Go.”

Without another word, Sai calls up his chakra and vanishes in a swirl of ink, leaving the patch of forest empty except for Danzō. For a long, long moment, the man stands there, gaze fixed on a distant point, and then he turns and steps away, moving without so much as a limp as he heads back towards Konoha.

Kakashi waits for all trace of his scent to fade, even with the wind towards them, before he slides out of his hiding place, dropping to the forest floor with a touch of chakra to cushion his fall. There’s a humming, buzzing sort of tension under his skin, stringing tight his shoulders and the line of his spine, and he has to breathe through it, force himself to focus. He’s been a shinobi long enough that it’s simple to set aside the edge of horror, the they’re after Genma they’re going to sacrifice him for some unknown aim Genma is in danger that’s surging in the back of his head. To focus, instead, on the knowledge that Danzō is plotting something with a foreign nin, trying to keep something out of other hands. The keys, he said, and Kakashi has never heard a reference to them before, but if Danzō wants them out of play, he’s willing to bet they’re dangerous.

The barrier, he thinks, and feels that same shiver down his spine, unpleasant and almost unnerving. Do they mean a seal? A chakra barrier? Something else? His first thought is of the Hokage Guard Platoon and the barriers they throw up around the Hokage at the first sign of a threat, and—Genma would fit with that. Expect he doesn’t, because Danzō was warning the stranger about Genma’s ability as a poison expert, not a guard. And it sounded like they had plans already in motion—we picked the perfect one, then, like it was already done. And they said Genma has missed two check-ins already, so maybe it’s too late. There’s every chance he’s already dead.

Breath shuddering out on a long exhale, Kakashi wrenches his mask up, lifts a hand to rub the cheek that Genma grazed before he left. The tingling numbness has faded, had faded within a few hours, but he sees it again, Genma’s smile, Genma’s touch. Genma’s in danger, in danger from his own village, and Kakashi thought he was done with this kind of backstabbing and maneuvering.

He probably should have known better, when Sarutobi left Danzō alive and unpunished.

A hand settles on his shoulder, and Kakashi glances up at Tenzō, smiles even though he can’t even begin to mean it. “We should head back,” he says.

Tenzō’s mask is tilted back, leaving the worry on his face clear. “Are we going to tell the Hokage?” he asks quietly, and Kakashi draws in a breath, holds it for a moment. That’s the question, isn’t it? Will Sarutobi actually do something this time, or is he going to let Danzō slip past his gaze again, keep on working in the shadows? Kakashi of all people understands the need for someone to stand in the darkness, to do the things that the Hokage won’t acknowledge, but at the same time, that only works is the Hokage himself knows what’s being done. If he doesn’t, it’s not a division of power; it’s just willful blindness.

“If Genma missed a check-in, sending someone to check on him is standard procedure,” Kakashi says, and it’s not a real answer, but it’s the only one he has. “The Sandaime might have already done it.”

“Maybe.” Tenzō’s gaze is steady, but there’s something dark behind it. “He doesn’t know about Danzō, though.”

“No,” Kakashi agrees tiredly. “He doesn’t.” And it’s a problem Kakashi really doesn’t want to have to address, but he needs to. Even if it probably won’t go over well.

There’s another long moment of silence, and then a low, soft sound that’s so mixed up Kakashi can’t even tell what emotion is behind it. Tenzō ducks his head, long hair swinging down to hide his face, and says, “Danzō didn’t disband Root. I thought he hadn’t, but…”

But. Nothing like learning that one of the two men featured in your nightmares is inflicting those same nightmares on a new generation of children, Kakashi thinks wryly. Still, he reaches out, and touching other people has never been a comfortable thing, but he hooks a hand around the nape of Tenzō’s neck and squeezes gently.

“He was careless tonight,” he says, and it’s true. The Danzō from five years ago would have expected that he would be followed, would have brought more guards than one preteen boy. Would have been more circumspect instead of meeting an enemy just beyond the edge of Konoha. Today Danzō acted like a man who has nothing to fear, and no consequences looming.

Kakashi supposes that’s what happens when someone tries to assassinate their own Hokage and escapes with just a reproving word or two.

Tenzō’s expression twists. “That’s never mattered before,” he says, but pushes to his feet, brushing his hair back. In an instant, all the emotion on his face is buried behind a slanted, tired smile, and he says, “Thank you, Kakashi.”

Kakashi hums, noncommittal, but rises as well, thoughts already on what needs to happen next. Send someone to check on Genma, someone strong enough to protect him if necessary, find a way to bring up Root to the Hokage, make sure Danzō doesn’t find out. Kakashi of all people knows just how ruthless Danzō can be. If he catches wind that they know for certain about Root, that they’re planning to go to the Hokage, he’ll try to stop them, and something in Kakashi curls dark and angry at the knowledge that Danzō won’t target only them to make his point. He’ll go after the people they’re close to, with threats and sideways insinuations and little dangers, missions gone wrong and backup that’s just a minute too slow. Kakashi’s seen it before, and the thought of that happening to Gai, to Zabuza

He clamps down on the fury, fights through the urge to follow Danzō and dig the problem out at the root. This is why letting go, even with Zabuza, is an unhappy thing; if he lets go once, the next time is easier. And eventually, he’ll just stop trying to hold back. When that happens, he might as well just bury himself in ANBU again. There won’t be anything else left for him.

Even now, even like this, the thing inside him that he’s never given name to likes the fact of the marriage hunt, likes that Zabuza is here and his. And Kakashi can live with that; it’s the rest of the nebulous, instinctive bits of himself that he’s all okay with. It’s one thing for Zabuza to indulge his instincts, because he’s both oni and former missing-nin, rebelled against his Kage for undefined reasons. He’s embraced what he is, uses it, but Kakashi isn’t convinced that he wants the same for himself.

“We should get to the Hokage before he leaves for lunch,” he says instead of anything he’s thinking about. “The sooner he can send someone after Genma, the better.”

Tenzō nods, but even as he follows Kakashi back into the trees, there’s a worried frown pulling at his mouth. “You’re a higher rank than I am,” he says, “as far as seniority goes. Can you send someone and notify the Hokage later?”

Maybe someone else could, but Kakashi has spent the last ten years avoiding as much responsibility as possible, and shying away from any leadership positions outside of ANBU, where nothing is expected of him beyond being a mindless soldier. “Could you?” he counters, because as an ANBU captain Tenzō has at least as much authority as Kakashi, whose influence mostly boils down to has been a shinobi for a while with maybe a dash of potentially possibly a viable successor for the Hokage if he can’t manage to wriggle out of it.

Tenzō’s grimace speaks volumes. “Not without direct authorization,” he says, and a shunshin sweeps him forward in a blur. Kakashi follows, alighting on the village’s wall a moment later and offering a wave to Kotetsu as he hurries along below. Kotetsu waves back, cheerful and touched with mischief, and Kakashi spares half a moment to hope that mischief isn’t directed at him before he uses another shunshin, trailing Tenzō to the Administration Building. Kotetsu can be surprisingly creative when he feels like it—Kakashi usually puts it down to the fact that, going by Konoha’s rumor mill, his grandfather was Senju Tobirama.

At the very least Kotetsu isn’t raising zombies every few weeks, so Kakashi is willing to say the village got off easy with a few pranks. Thank everything that the Hagane focus on weapons and genjutsu more than on jutsu creation and anything larger.

Tenzō is waiting when Kakashi lands in front of the main doors, shifting on his feet and looking unsettled. When Kakashi settles next to him, pulling his bandana off, Tenzō casts him a strained smile and says, “Do you even remember how to use the stairs, senpai?”

Kakashi sniffs pointedly. “Shinobi skills decay when not exercised frequently,” he says in his own defense, as if he doesn’t use the window mostly to make the Hokage roll his eyes at him.

Tenzō huffs, unconvinced, but pushes inside. He makes for the main stairs, but before he can start up them Kakashi touches his elbow, redirects him towards the mission assignment room—Sarutobi likes to hand them out himself whenever he can, like stress relief, and with the Exams coming up Kakashi is willing to bet he’s snuck in and kicked out the chuunin who’s supposed to be on duty.

With a blink, Tenzō allows the course correction, trailing Kakashi into the other room. As expected, the Hokage is behind the desk, frowning down at several stacks of papers. At the sound of their footsteps, he glances up and smiles, strained and quick.

He hasn’t been alone for long, Kakashi realizes, taking a breath. There’s a smell in the air, one he’s intimately familiar with, with four other scents he knows well all scattered around. Zabuza was here, alongside Kakashi’s team. Finding a mission, maybe, but—

The scent of him settles what’s in Kakashi’s head, even if by all rights it should do the exact opposite.

“Tenzō, Kakashi,” Sarutobi acknowledges, and inclines his head. “Good afternoon. Kakashi, if you’re looking for your…husband…” He grimaces like the word pains him.

Kakashi waves off the rest of his sentence. “No, no,” he says breezily. “We were hoping for a word with you, Hokage-sama.”

Sarutobi eyes them both for a moment, then nods and flicks a hand. A figure slips out of the shadows, dropping in front of the door, and Kakashi inclines his head to Iwashi. Iwashi nods back, snake mask catching the light, then deliberately leans back against the doors to block them.

“Yes?” Sarutobi asks.

When Tenzō makes no move to open his mouth, Kakashi sighs, casting him a sideways glance that gets him a face in return, and says, “Hokage-sama, we have reason to believe that Genma is in danger.”

Iwashi lifts his head, but doesn’t otherwise react. Strange, Kakashi marks. Iwashi is one of Genma’s closest friends, and fiercely protective. It’s almost like he already—

“Yes,” Sarutobi says, faintly grave. “I am aware of the threat. Iruka is on his way to Genma’s last known location as we speak, to assess the situation and call for backup if it’s needed.”

Kakashi blinks once, long and slow. That’s…proactive. It’s also faintly worrying. Iruka is a decent shinobi, but he’s also a chuunin schoolteacher who’s never done a lot of active missions. He’s good at barriers, though, good at passing unnoticed, and the fact that the Hokage picked him first for this sort of thing is mildly worrisome.

Still, it’s help, with the potential of more to come. Kakashi lets out a breath, then nods. “Thank you,” he says.

Sarutobi arches a brow at him, and those dark eyes are sharp, assessing. “It’s hardly been an hour since I received word Genma missed his check-in,” he says, pointed. “Would you care to tell me how you knew, Kakashi?”

Kakashi doesn’t let himself waver. Ratting Danzō out to the Hokage has never done much before, and it’s always a risk, but it’s one Kakashi is willing to take.

“Danzō,” he says, and when Sarutobi goes still, he smiles without humor. “He was meeting a stranger in the forest, to discuss Genma’s mission. And sabotaging it. Sacrificing him, was how Danzō put it.” Which is a slight exaggeration, since the stranger was the one who said that, but Kakashi doesn’t mind a little creative reinterpretation of the conversation, given its subject matter.

This time, Iwashi draws in a sharp breath, twitching like he’s going to pull away from the door. Sarutobi’s eyes flicker to him, then back to Kakashi, and there’s something dark and resigned in them. “You’re sure?” he asks.

“Yes, sir,” Tenzō says, tilting his chin up like he’s daring the Hokage to doubt them. Takes one step to the side, then one forward to put him shoulder to shoulder with Kakashi. “We overheard his conversation.”

The Hokage nods, rising to his feet. “One of you will need to give me a description of the stranger he was with,” he says. “Tenzō, if you would? Iwashi, gather a squad and follow Iruka. Use haste. Kakashi, pick a team to watch Danzō and assign a team leader. I want reports on his movement at least twice a day. Make sure he doesn’t know he’s being observed.”

He believes them. Half of Kakashi’s tension slides out on an exhale, and he bows to the Hokage, then steps back as the man sweeps out of the room, Tenzō on his heels. Picking a leader means he’s not going to be involved in the actual observation, but Kakashi can deal with that as long as the observation is happening. At the very least, Iwashi will make sure to get Genma the help he needs.

There’s a low huff from beside him, and Iwashi pulls off his mask, clipping it to his belt. “Busy day?” he asks wryly, even as he turns and heads out the door.

Kakashi falls into step with him, pulling his book out and flipping it open, though he doesn’t actually look at the words. “Well, I certainly wasn’t bored,” he says dryly, and Iwashi snorts. Pauses, then looks away.

“Was there a reason I had to find out about you being married from the guy you married walking into the Missions Office?” he asks, deceptively easy. Kakashi knows him well enough to be wary of that tone, though, and glances at him sidelong, wondering if this is the point where he should dive for cover.

“It’s not something either of us expected,” he says after a moment. “And it’s only been a few days.” Bewilderingly few days, honestly; it feels like it should have taken a hell of a lot more time for Kakashi’s life to get so turned around.

Iwashi rolls his eyes, but thankfully doesn’t make any move to prove his displeasure. “Yōkai blood should be lucky it’s so useful,” he says, and the curve of his mouth is wry. “Otherwise it would just be one massive headache.”

Kakashi’s never heard what Iwashi’s blood comes from, and since the man’s never volunteered it, he doesn’t try to ask. Says, instead, “Genma's too stubborn to get into trouble he can't get himself out of.” He knows deflection when he sees it, after all.

Closing his eyes, Iwashi rubs the heel of his hand against his temple. “If that was the case, he wouldn’t have missed his check-in,” he counters, and Kakashi tries to remember how long Iwashi has been on the Hokage Guard Platoon, how long he and Genma have served so closely together. A while, if his memory is correct; Genma joined at fourteen, and Iwashi at thirteen four years later. Kakashi seems to recall a lot of bonding over being the youngest.

“Maybe he got distracted by a pretty face,” he proposes, and Iwashi cracks a brief laugh as Kakashi smiles wryly. They both know Genma wouldn’t skip a meeting for anything, given the choice. His sense of duty has never been an issue.

“We’ll find him,” Iwashi says, determined and grim, and meets Kakashi’s gaze. “And we’ll bring him home so everyone can yell at him for making them worry.”

“Sounds good,” Kakashi says. “I’ll make sure to write my speech down, so I'm all prepared.”

“He’ll just laugh at you,” Iwashi points out. “And call you a hypocrite.”

Kakashi hums, accepting the point. It’s true enough, after all. “Still,” he says, and Iwashi breathes out a rough laugh.

“Still,” he agrees, and tips his head. “Good luck getting your team together. I'm going on ahead.”

Kakashi can't blame him for the rush. He raises a hand, and with a swirl of leaves Iwashi vanishes. For a long moment, Kakashi stands where he is, then slowly lowers his hand. Watching Danzō is going to require a carefully selected team, and even if the Hokage all but ordered him not to include himself, there’s only so much room Kakashi is willing to give Danzō.

It dovetails nicely with avoiding some more stressful conversations, which Kakashi is fully in favor of.

Making his choice, he turns, burying his nose in his book and heading for the Inuzuka compound. Tenzō said Hana was at the clinic, after all, and she’s Kakashi’s first pick for second.

Chapter Text

“This is a serious mission?” Zabuza asks, bewildered, and takes another look at the mission scroll just to make sure he’s not missing anything.

Seated on the fence beside him, apparently unbothered that she didn’t get to torture her chuunin, Anko giggles. She leans forward, peering down the road to where the three genin are rooting through the bushes, and says cheerfully, “Sure! It’s an important one, too. The Daimyo’s wife contracts us a lot, and she pays well. The Daimyo gets a say in the next Hokage, so the Sandaime tries to keep on his good side as much as possible.”

Zabuza can’t help a sound of disbelief, lowering the scroll to stare at her narrowly. “You let a Daimyo help pick your Kage? That’s fucking ridiculous.”

Anko just shrugs, kicking her heels against the boards in a quick-step rhythm. “It’s politics, so it’s all fucking ridiculous,” she says cheerfully, and points down the road. “Oh, hey, I think they caught something!”

Zabuza glances up, and is just in time to hear three shrieks of absolute terror as a snarling, wailing ball of claws and teeth explodes out of the bushes. It goes right over Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura as they fall back, screeching, and hits the ground and bolts.

Anko wheezes with laughter, hanging onto Zabuza’s shoulder to stay upright, and Zabuza rolls his eyes heavenward, entirely unsurprised.

“That about how it normally goes?” he asks.

Still wheezing, Anko nods. “Their faces,” she manages, and Zabuza snorts, reluctantly in agreement.

He folds his arms over his chest, watching the three pick themselves up, and calls down the road, “I thought you were fucking shinobi, so what the hell was that?”

Naruto, who has scratch marks right across his face like an alternate road, huffs and crosses his arms over his chest. “I hate Tora!” he whines. “Zabuza-sensei, can’t we do a different mission?”

With a snort, Zabuza leans back against the fence, raising a brow. “I don’t see why you should get a different mission just because you can’t do this one,” he says. “That’s not how being a shinobi tends to work.”

“We can do it,” Sasuke growls, almost a challenge, and turns on his heel, clearly about to stalk away.

“Hold it,” Zabuza says, and Sasuke freezes, shoulders coming up. Amused, Zabuza lets his gaze slide to Sakura, who’s biting her lip and clearly trying not to say anything. “Sakura?” he asks. “Got an idea?”

Sakura flushes, but nods quickly. “It’s—it’s a shinobi mission, right?” she says. “So we should be using shinobi tactics. I mean—Tora can’t know them, right? And if we work like a team instead of just trying to grab him…”

Sasuke’s shoulders get tighter, and Sakura trails off, looking upset.

“We don’t need to do that!” Naruto protests loudly. “I can catch that dumb cat by myself, Sakura-chan! Just watch! I’ll show the bastard how it’s done!”

“Really?” Sasuke snaps. “Because one of us just got clawed in the face, dead last, and it wasn’t me.”

Anko laughs, wrapping an arm around Zabuza’s. “Are you going to drown them in the Nakano?” she asks brightly. “Can I help?”

“Don’t tempt me,” Zabuza mutters. There’s a reason he only ever had Haku as his student; for all the back-talk, at least Haku isn’t loud about it. He glances over, to where Haku is seated primly on the branch of a tree, and raises a questioning brow, flicking a glance at Haku’s sleeve. Haku blinks, then smiles, and pulls three long, sharp senbon out of the holster around his forearm.

It’s enough of an agreement to make Zabuza grin, and he straightens. “It is a shinobi mission,” he agrees, jerking a thumb at Sakura. “She’s got the right idea. But the last time you managed to pull together and work like a team, Haku an’ I were almost up your asses with weapons drawn. So let’s see if we can’t recreate the experience, brats.”

Naruto is staring at him, confused, but Sasuke’s eyes narrow as Sakura’s widen. She looks from Zabuza to Haku, and then to Anko, and steps back. Towards her axe, left to the side when they started rooting through the undergrowth, and Zabuza approves of the instinct even if she’s not quite quick enough.

“Your response to the mission being hard is to make it harder?” Sasuke asks, unimpressed.

Zabuza gives him a grin, all teeth. “Welcome to life as a shinobi. Things start out shitty and just gets worse.”

Anko laughs, loud and bright, and that beaming grin is a threat just as much as a kunai to the throat would be. “You’re definitely my favorite Hatake,” she cheers, and slides down to land in the dust with a light thump. “All right, brats, you run and try to catch Tora, and we’ll try to catch you! With pointy things!”

To illustrate the point, she draws a kunai, flips it around, and drags her tongue slowly and deliberately up the blade.

Now that, Zabuza thinks with amusement, is a gesture that’s lost on a couple of pre-teens. If he wasn’t married, though—

But he is, and Anko’s cute and deadly and sexy, but she’s a fellow shinobi first and foremost. “No loss of limbs,” he reminds her, quietly enough that the team won’t catch it, and she salutes him cheekily and leaps for the trees above Sasuke.

“Ready, set—” she starts.

A spray of senbon slam into the ground at Naruto’s feet, and he yelps and goes reeling back. Dives sideways, even as Sakura lunges for her axe and Sasuke grabs a kunai, and Zabuza laughs.

“Mission’s over when you deliver the cat,” he calls, and ignores the loud shout of dismay that gets him from Naruto. Sasuke lunges, knocking Naruto out of the way half a second before Anko lands on him, and then darts sideways. The swing of Sakura’s axe blocks the next handful of senbon, and she hauls it up over her shoulder, grabs Naruto’s other arm, and hauls him forward into the trees where Tora disappeared, Sasuke matching her speed. Above them, Anko blurs to the left and disappears, and Haku gives Zabuza a bright smile and then vanishes in a whirl of icy wind.

With a quiet snort, Zabuza pushes upright, checking his sword’s harness absently. That should more than keep them occupied for a while, and it’ll keep Haku and Anko entertained, he’s sure. Practice for when an easy mission goes south, though Zabuza supposes that given the way they met, that’s already pretty familiar.

In the name of authenticity, Zabuza decides he’ll wander around to the mission assignment desk, plant himself outside the building as one last obstacle to get through. He can almost imagine their faces, and it makes him snicker, but—it will probably be a while, so he’s in no rush.

Conceivably, he could go back to the apartment on his way to the Administration Building, check if Kakashi’s gotten back from his self-assigned mission yet, but—something dark and angry still turns over in his chest at the thought, and Zabuza deliberately aims his steps away, takes the longer route towards the village’s walls instead. He’s seen less of this part of the village, anyway, and while getting familiar with a place the size of Konoha is going to take work, knowing the perimeters and main streets is simple enough. This one is fairly busy, too; Zabuza spots at least four more Inuzuka, a Nara, and a group of Hyuuga moving in a tight knot. Between them are other squads, shinobi on their own, civilians moving slowly. Konoha is heavily populated enough to make Zabuza’s skin itch with the feeling of too many eyes on him, but he supposes he’ll get used to it eventually.

There’s a sudden clatter of quick-moving sandals on stone, a blur. Zabuza jerks to the side, kunai out before he has to think about it, and spins, coming face to face with—

Hair. Spikey black hair, and when Zabuza drops his gaze down further he finds a Konoha hitai-ate, dark eyes, and a grin that’s full of mischief.

“Hey!” the chuunin says cheerfully. “You’re the one Kakashi caught, right?”

Zabuza doesn’t fight a frown, even as he takes a deliberate step back. “Who the hell are you?” he bites out.

The man laughs, a little sheepish, and takes a step back, raising his hands. “Sorry, didn’t mean to jump at you,” he says, like he didn’t just drop from the top of the wall without warning. “I’m Hagane Kotetsu, in T & I. Ibiki overheard the Hokage saying something, and he’s been grumbling about foreign nin invading and stupid marriage hunts all day.”

Zabuza snorts, because he can just imagine what Ao would have said about the situation, were it reversed. “Not a fan?” he asks dryly.

Kotetsu snickers, entirely the sound of a subordinate taking glee in his commander’s new white hairs. “He heard you have an apprentice and just about set himself on fire,” he says blithely. “I think he’s worried Kakashi is going to start a trend.”

He probably doesn’t have to, if the way Kakashi is acting is anything to go by, Zabuza thinks a little sourly. Still, he doesn’t say as much, just turns and keeps walking, and is unsurprised when Kotetsu falls into step. Konoha nin are all so damned friendly, it’s almost unnerving.

“You didn’t hear it from me,” he says dryly, “but I think the Hokage’s son was eyeing the Bingo Book for candidates.”

“Asuma?” Kotetsu looks delighted, then devious. “Oh wow, Ibiki’s not going to like that. I need to get my camera before I tell him. The expression he’s going to make needs to be preserved. For posterity.”

Zabuza can’t help but chuckle. Kotetsu reminds him a little of Suigetsu, forever ruthlessly amused at the world, forever trailing after his brother and complaining about not being old enough to become a Swordsman. Kotetsu has fewer sharp edges, maybe, but—that’s probably down to the difference between Kiri and Konoha.

He wonders, just a little, what’s happened to Suigetsu in the years since he left. Whether the kid finally made it to the Swordsmen or not. Zabuza joined when he was twelve, after all, and Suigetsu had just as much to prove as he did.

“Not going to try for a foreign nin yourself?” he asks, and Kotetsu heaves a dramatic sigh, tilting his head back.

“Izumo would kill me,” he says wistfully. “Well, probably. Depending on the nin. But anyway, Hagane don’t usually work like that.” He tips one shoulder in a shrug, catches Zabuza’s sideways glance, and laughs. “Bakeneko,” he says, waving a hand at himself. “My clan’s more into the find a nice guy, get pregnant, wander back home thing. Or the find a cute kid, adopt them, wander back home thing, for people who don’t like or can’t do the pregnancy bit.”

Zabuza grunts; he’s known quite a few clans with similar strategies. Sometimes one of their members gets hunted, taken into another clan, but for the most part they grow their families more slowly than the way other clans do, pulling in full shinobi as spouses. It’s raised more than a few accusations of bloodline theft, led to more than a few conflicts, but Zabuza tends to fall on the side of it being nature more than malice most of the time.

“Don’t you have places to be?” he asks instead of commenting, but Kotetsu just laughs and hops up on the narrow wall bordering a garden, balancing without chakra as he paces Zabuza.

“I’m technically on my lunch break,” he says. “But you looked interesting, and I thought I could spare the time. It’s nice not to be running everywhere for the minute, too—until the Chuunin Exams start, all the chuunin are Ibiki’s glorified minions. I’ve been running errands all day.”

Chatty, Zabuza thinks, and doesn’t know whether to be amused or irritated by it. Anko’s chatty, too, after all, just more bloodthirsty. Easier to relate to, in a way; she’s definitely not trying to hide any of the killer in her nature.

“At least you don’t have to run all the way across the countries,” he says. “Kiri never hosted, so whatever chuunin and jounin couldn’t move fast enough to avoid messenger duty had to run all the way to the host nation.”

Kotetsu pulls a face, dropping off the fence as it comes to a corner and landing lightly. “Hopefully I won’t—we got a report of some supposedly half-dead shinobi on the side of the road near Tanzaku-Gai, and as soon as I eat I have to go check if he’s a threat.”

Supposedly half-dead is a good opening for a trap, Zabuza acknowledges. And Tanzaku-Gai is along the route at least two of the countries will take with their genin teams. Shinobi tend to be a hell of a lot more accepting of the risks regarding the Exams than most civilians, but they still won’t take it well if Konoha ignores a threat on the road in. “Any word who it is?” he asks, and it makes his fingers itch for his copy of the Bingo Book. Knowing who an enemy is tends to be half the battle, and it’s always an advantage.

With a huff, Kotetsu shakes his hair out of his face. “No hitai-ate that anyone saw,” he says, though he doesn’t sound happy about it. “Black hair, pretty face, a bubble pipe or something—”

Zabuza has only met two shinobi crazy enough to step into a fight armed almost entirely with bubbles, and he comes to a sharp halt, staring at Kotetsu. When Kotetsu turns, expression curious, Zabuza says, “Young? Likes wearing a yukata but doesn’t know what the hell an obi is for?”

Kotetsu blinks, catlike, and tips his head. “More or less,” he says. “You know him?”

For a moment, Zabuza pauses. Can’t decide what to say, or whether he should say it at all. But—he’s a Konoha nin now, technically, and Konoha has his loyalty, in theory.

“Utakata,” he finally says, and meets Kotetsu’s steady gaze. “He’s a Kiri nin, or was. Utakata, jinchuuriki of the Rokubi.”

Kotetsu’s eyes go wide, and then he frowns,  rubbing the bandage that passes over the bridge of his nose. “A jinchuuriki. You’re sure?”

Zabuza snorts, looking away. There’s a gate ahead of them, tall and wide and manned by a pair of tokujo, just in the process of pulling it open as a call rises from the outside. “Only two shinobi that I’ve heard of use bubbles like that,” he says. “And old man Harusame bit it years ago. Utakata was the one who killed him, and he bolted right after.”

It was right after the Kaguya, Zabuza thinks, and—he hasn’t thought about them in a long time. Hasn’t thought about the boy he and Haku passed, quiet and sad. Not their business, and especially not when taking him back to Kiri would have been a death sentence. The Kaguya had killed themselves to the last, but Kiri was never kind about that sort of thing; they’d have wanted a scapegoat, and one lone boy with Kaguya looks would have been the perfect target. Zabuza had been distracted, too, too caught up in the mission to care about Haku’s long, careful look back.

He wonders now what happened to the kid. Wonders where he wandered off to, or if he died in a ditch somewhere. Water Country isn’t exactly inhospitable, but it’s not easy, either. Hurricane season alone would be hard to survive.

Kotetsu makes a thoughtful sound, straightening up. “I wonder if it’s actually him,” he says. “The report could have mixed up details, but—it should be easy enough to tell once I get there.”

That’s a lot of confidence, but it’s not the showy type that Zabuza would take as bragging. He casts a look at Kotetsu, trying to pick out—

With a loud, groaning creak, the gates swing open, and Kotetsu makes a sound of excitement. “Oh, hey, it’s some of the genin teams!” he says, leans forward, all but bouncing on his toes. “From…Kumo?”

Zabuza’s eyes lock on the figure in blue, and his breath tangles in his throat. “Kiri,” he croaks.

The Mizukage is veiled and cloaked, as per tradition, and Zabuza can’t make out a face. Some sort of stand-in, though—that figure is too tall for Yagura. And, predictably, Yagura is about four paces back, scowling, carrying his staff. Sneaking into Konoha as just another jounin to avoid the attention, Zabuza assumes—it isn’t the first time he’s done something like that. Something like hatred curls in his chest, and he has to consciously control the surge of his chakra, dark and demonic enough to draw the delegation’s attention. Can’t risk it, not now, not when—

Ameyuri is there, upright, moving easily. Not dead from her disease yet, then, or maybe in recovery. She’s laughing at Ao, the bastard looking entirely offended as he herds his genin through, and there’s only the one team, but that’s already more than Kiri has fielded in a long time. And, with Yagura here, that means it’s all show. It’s a production.

The rebellion was crushed, and Yagura is showing it by swanning off to another country, leaving Kiri without its Mizukage for months. He wouldn’t do that if he wasn’t certain there was no threat left.

Zabuza closes his eyes, contains his temper, tries to breathe through the burn of it. Fury, black-edged and dangerous, and Yagura is right there, the closest Zabuza has been to him since his failed assassination. If he just moved now, if he came out of nowhere and beheaded the bastard—

A hand touches his arm, hauls him back into a narrow gap between two buildings, and Kotetsu says urgently, “Hey, hey, are you all right? Should I get Kakashi?”

A breath in, finally. Get Kakashi. Because Zabuza is a Konoha nin now. If he beheads the Mizukage during the relative peace of the Chuunin Exams, all the blame will fall on Konoha. It would be a giftwrapped invitation for any countries with a grudge to band together and crush Konoha between them, and Zabuza can’t give that to them. He understands the politics, as much as he hates them.

Carefully, he opens his eyes, finds dark stone in front of his eyes instead of the mocking image of Yagura so close. Breathes in, breathes out, and crushes his raging chakra down until no hint of it escapes his skin.

“I’m fine,” he says roughly.

“And I’m a hainu,” Kotetsu retorts, but he’s watching Zabuza, and when Zabuza scowls at him he steps back. “I can still go get Kakashi,” he offers.

Zabuza swallows. Won’t admit it, but—he wouldn’t entirely object to seeing Kakashi right now, a solid reminder of his ties to this village, and the consequences of abandoning those ties. He looks away, focusing beyond the gates as they slowly, ponderously swing shut, and asks, “Seen him?”

“He was headed towards the Inuzuka compound,” Kotetsu says. “Just about ten minutes ago.”

“Then I’ll head back to the apartment and wait for him,” Zabuza says, and steps away. “Thanks. And watch yourself. If it’s Utakata, he’s got strong yokai blood. It’s not just the bijuu you need to worry about.”

Kotetsu laughs, and there are teeth in it that are just a little sharper than normal. “Thanks for the warning,” he says, and steps back. Leaps up, almost vertical, kicks off a wall, and flips to land on the roof above. “Should I tell him you said hi?”

Zabuza snorts. “Only if you want him to melt you into jelly without so much as a hello,” he says dryly, and his heartbeat is almost under control. He’s almost steady again. Steady enough, at least. “Break a leg.”

Kotetsu offers him a grinning salute, then vanishes in a whirl of leaves, and Zabuza closes his eyes against the dispersing wind. Realizes, belatedly, that he should warn Haku about who’s in town, and then realizes that Yagura is probably headed right for the Administration Building. He can’t risk being seen there.

There’s no precise reason Zabuza needs to hide his presence, but—

He thinks of it again, of Mei on her knees in some far-away cell, Yagura passing a final judgement. Yagura’s throat beneath his blade, Kubikiribōchō living up to its title once again.

Thinks, just a little, of a victory, no matter how hollow, and has to grit his teeth to hold himself back until he turns away to find Haku.

 

 

“What,” Haku says, precise, when Zabuza pulls him away from freezing Sakura's feet to the forest floor as she tries desperately to hang on to Tora. As soon as Zabuza says Yagura, though, all of his attention is off the game, focused on Zabuza as his amusement shifts into a tense, vibrating fury.

“Yeah,” Zabuza says, and that rage is still there, buried right beneath the surface, with a whispering voice he hasn’t had to concentrate so hard to shut out in decades. It’s telling him that he’s already faithless, already a traitor, already abandoned Kiri—abandoned Mei—once before, so doing it against shouldn’t be a problem. Abandoning the husband he never planned to have and didn’t particularly want should be a relief, even.

It wouldn’t be, though. Zabuza refuses to look too closely at why that is.

Carefully, Haku tucks his hands into his sleeves, every motion deliberate. “Yagura is here,” he repeats, and Haku's the furthest thing from dumb; Zabuza knows he gets the implications, probably caught them faster than Zabuza himself did.

Zabuza snorts, drags a hand over his hair with a grimace. “That’s what it seems like,” he says, watching Sasuke and Naruto go bolting for cover as Anko flings senbon just close enough to part their hair. “Look, he’s got Ameyuri with him, and Ao. Ameyuri at least knows what you can do, so stay the hell out of sight, you got me?”

Haku doesn’t bother looking mulish; he flicks Zabuza a worried glance, fingers tightening in their knot, and inclines his head. “If you’ll do the same, Zabuza,” he bargains.

Zabuza flicks him lightly in the side of the head. “That’s not how this works,” he says. “Even Yagura isn't going to challenge a marriage hunt, so I'm fine. But you’ve got a shiny bloodline and no direct ties to Konoha. If Yagura wants to drag you screaming back to Kiri, he could.”

“He could try,” Haku corrects, icy, and gives Zabuza a look. “We’re already considered missing-nin. He can't do anything to me.”

“Legally,” Zabuza retorts. “Since when has fucking Yagura cared to keep things legal?”

Though he looks displeased, Haku concedes that with a nod. “I’ll be careful,” he says, and casts a glance up at Zabuza through his lashes. “But that means you have to be as well, Zabuza. If Yagura wouldn’t care about legalities, so you're not safe, either.”

Zabuza pauses, caught, and scowls. Directs a dark look at his apprentice, who gives him a bright smile in return, and then sighs. “Fine. I was headed back to the apartment anyway. You got a place to go?”

Haku tips his head, casting a look back at Team 7 as they scramble away from a nest of white snakes. “I’ll stay here,” he decides, and when Zabuza opens his mouth to protest, he just smiles. “I don’t want to worry Naruto. But…I’ll go home right after.”

It’s a decent compromise, but Zabuza is mostly distracted by how quickly Haku has started to consider Naruto's little apartment home. He used that term about Zabuza’s shitty little shack back in Kiri. But—Zabuza hasn’t heard him use it since, regardless of how long-term their missions as missing-nin have been.

“Keep your damn head down,” he says, more sharply than he means to, but—the worry stands. “You know what Yagura's like, and Ao fucking licks his boots. Ameyuri’s no walk in the park, either.”

“I remember,” Haku says patiently. He smiles up at Zabuza, bright and warm, and—

Zabuza can still remember the first time Haku turned that expression on him, after Zabuza found him. One ratty, worn blanket dumped on his head, and he’d clutched it like it was precious, stared up at Zabuza with wide, dark eyes, a tiny brat who couldn’t have been more than six, and Zabuza had just—stopped.

A weapon, he’d thought, and it’s only in the aftermath of Wave that Zabuza can admit to himself that it was desperate then. This kid will be my weapon.

They’ve come a hell of a long way from there.

“We’re going to stay?” Haku asks suddenly, and there’s no demand in his voice, no indication that he feels one way or another about the answer, but Zabuza can see the way his eyes flicker over to Naruto, the slant of his mouth that’s so self-sacrificing it gives Zabuza hives. Haku doesn’t want to leave Konoha, and—

Zabuza doesn’t blame him, honestly.

“Yeah,” he says, and it’s tired, resigned more than anything. He thinks of Kakashi, leaving, and closes his eyes, rubbing a hand over his face. “Like fuck I'm going to let Yagura drive us out of another home.”

Haku smiles at him, reaches out to touch his arm with one cool hand, and then is gone, vanishing back into the trees to resume his game. For a long, long minute, Zabuza stares after him, and can't bring himself to move.

The promise weighs like lead, and he can't tell if he regrets it or not.

Chapter Text

“What?” Kakashi says, startled.

Izumo waves a hand. “Kotetsu mentioned it,” he says. “Kiri only brought one team this year, but they're here already. Not even Tani has showed up yet, so that’s impressive.”

It feels like a thread of ice twisting down Kakashi’s spine, a sudden, unpleasant wrench as solid ground vanishes from beneath his feet. Zabuza was a missing-nin, he thinks. Kiri's Hunter-nin had to have been after him at some point, because attempting to kill a Kage isn't usually just glossed over, Sarutobi’s reaction to Danzō aside.

“How many?” he asks evenly, already rising from his seat on the wall. They're still establishing a perimeter, acting like a group of friends gossiping on a street corner as Hana and her ninken meander their way around Danzō’s small estate, laying sensing seals. But—

Threat, something in him whispers, and it puts his hackles up, makes him want to hunt down the Kiri delegation in the dark, rip out their throats before they can even start to see him coming. Not a sane reaction, but…

Kakashi thinks he’s starting to understand what his father meant, when he said that hunts make Hatake go a little bit crazy. It’s hard to mind, though, and maybe that’s the most unnerving part of all.

Izumo slants a look at him, but tips his head. “I didn’t see them myself,” he says, “but the Mizukage, two guards, and the jounin sensei and his team. That’s who Kotetsu mentioned.”

Guards. Probably at least one of the Swordsmen, then, because they're Kiri's elite. When they're not missing-nin, at least. Kakashi breathes in, like he’s trying to catch their scent on the breeze, and then crushes that reaction down and looks away. What are the odds that Zabuza’s former comrades are still loyal to him? what are the odds that at least one of those present isn't a Hunter-nin here with orders to take in a traitor?

The thoughts prickle needle-sharp across Kakashi’s skin, dragging up a cold, unsettled fury from the depths of his chest. He left, he left Zabuza alone in the apartment, and Hunter-nin are supposed to be some of the best trackers in the shinobi world, second only to the Hatake and Inuzuka. If they find him—

“I need to go,” he says, and swallows, casting a quick glance at Danzō’s gate. Hesitates, because this is a mission, and he can't abandon it, but Kiri is in the village. Kiri is in the village and Zabuza is out somewhere, unaware, a potential target. Kakashi has a duty to his village, but—surely he has one to his husband as well.

Yūgao, sitting cross-legged in the persimmon tree that leans across the road, snorts quietly. “You're not even supposed to be here, Kakashi,” she points out, and when Kakashi flicks her a veiled look, she smiles. “I'm right, aren’t I? The Hokage didn’t assign you to this squad, he just told you to pick it.”

“I,” Kakashi says airily, “have no idea what you're talking about—”

Next to her, sprawled out in a way that practically screams laziness but is a decent cover for his view right into one of the house’s windows, Aoba snorts loudly. “You’re right,” he tells Yūgao, and when Kakashi frowns at him, he raises his hands. “I heard it from Iwashi. And you brought this on yourself, Kakashi. If you’d bothered to tell any of your friends that you got married, I might be more inclined to let you get away with your filthy, filthy lies.”

Kakashi winces. “Gai knows,” he defends.

Aoba just hums, judgmental. “Because you told him?”

There's no good way to answer that, so Kakashi ignores it. “I'm going,” he says primly, “to find my husband and enjoy our honeymoon. Enjoy your surveillance mission.”

Yūgao muffles her laughter behind one hand, reaching out to pluck a crow feather out of Aoba's hair. “If you're on your honeymoon, you should stay inside and enjoy yourself,” she says. “Not wander around Konoha looking mopey.”

“You used to respect me,” Kakashi laments. “What happened?”

“I saw you fall asleep mid-meal after a mission where you didn’t sleep at all and had to save you from drowning in your miso,” Yūgao retorts. “Twice.”

Izumo is laughing too now. “Good luck, Kakashi,” he says. “I think you’ll need it.”

“Only until I'm away from you,” Kakashi says, but slants a look at Aoba. “You're ranking shinobi.”

Aoba waves him away, sitting up to shake a few more black feathers out of his hair. He’s been playing with his summons, clearly. Yūgao, looking delighted, catches each one before it can fall. “We’ll be fine,” he says. “Hana's on her way back, and I've got my birds. Kakashi, you’re already so antsy it’s making me itch just looking at you. Please go away.”

Kakashi thinks about staying just to spite him, but Izumo is nodding, Yūgao is smiling, and the chuunin ganging up on him is one step too far. With a sniff, Kakashi steps back, pulling his book out to cover his face, and turns his nose up at the three of them. “Shift change in six hours,” he tells them, though they likely don’t need the reminder.

Mockingly, Aoba waves at him. “Go hunt down your husband,” he says. “Again. Just don’t screw him in the middle of the market. No one needs to see your mating rituals.”

Kakashi raises a brow at him. “I hope someone hunts you someday,” he says mildly, because he refuses to rise to the bait. “And you end up scandalizing some soul with delicate sensibilities. Just for that.”

“I,” Aoba says archly, “have a bloodline that doesn’t care about silly little rituals like marriage hunts—”

Yūgao pushes him off the branch, and he squawks and flails and only just manages to land on the wall on his feet. “That doesn’t mean someone can't hunt you,” she reminds him, smirking as he glares at her.

“It means I don’t have to agree,” Aoba retorts. “I can make them use my family’s rituals instead, you know.”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

“Does Hayate know you’re planning to hunt him down and ravish him, you monster?”

Yūgao throws a feather like a senbon. “At least I've had a date in the past year, Yamashiro.”

Kakashi snorts and leaves them to it, leaping up onto the top of the nearest building and then across the next street. He pauses there, studying the maze of green-covered streets, and breathes in to scent the air. Too many people, and he’s too far from where Zabuza might have gone; there’s no chance he’ll be able to—

But.

Just a trace of familiar scent, regardless of the improbability. Kakashi feels it curl through him, settle there like a thread pulled taut, and he closes his eyes, takes it in. Zabuza, dark and warm and traced with Kakashi’s own scent, touched with a thin-sharp anxiety and rose-dark rage beneath it all. Kakashi lingers over it, judging how old the trail is, and—not very, he thinks, lifting his gaze across the rooftops. Zabuza is headed back towards their apartment, and that alone is enough to settle something in Kakashi’s chest. Not enough to ease his tension completely, because Hunter-nin could still find him there, but he breathes out, lets himself flicker forward in a shunshin that carries him to a tall oak at the edge of the neighborhood.

He remembers, for a moment, Zabuza in their first fight, Haku's sudden appearance. The way Zabuza fell like he was dead, a senbon in his neck, and the look of his body there on the ground. Just for an instant, something in Kakashi’s chest turns over, twists tight like it’s on the verge of breaking, and pulling in his next breath is hard.

If Haku had really been a Hunter-nin, that could have been real. That could have been a true death instead of a death-like coma, and—

Kakashi flashes through three more shunshins, then drops from the top of a streetlamp and lands in the dust, right next to Zabuza.

There’s a twitch, a jerk. Zabuza spins, curved blade of his kunai flashing up in a line for Kakashi’s jugular, but Kakashi knocks his hand wide, steps in, and it’s an unthinking thing to reach out, to get his hands on the warm skin beneath Zabuza’s shirt. He shoves him back, right up against the wall of the nearest store, and the line of his throat is there, bare and tempting, so Kakashi buries his face in it. The feeling of Zabuza’s pulse, elevated and quick, against his cheek is a relief he can't put into words, can't even put into thoughts, and he lets out a breath that shakes just a little more than he would prefer.

There's a moment of startled silence, then a rough sound. One thick arm comes up, looping around Kakashi’s shoulders, but rather than trying to shove him away Zabuza drags him closer, lets Kakashi settle into the curve of his body. Kakashi presses his fingers into Zabuza’s skin, wondering if Zabuza will let him leave bruises there, more marks, and—

Just a few hours ago, he had the chance to leave more, but didn’t. Walked away, and it was important, but now all he can think about is what if. What if a Hunter-nin had gotten into the village ahead of the Kiri delegation, gotten to Zabuza while he was out in the village. Zabuza is one of the Swordsmen, dangerous, deadly, but even he can be taken by surprise.

Genma is in danger, and now Zabuza is too. Something dark is crackling like lightning in the back of Kakashi’s head, and he wants to grab them both, wrap them up and lock them away where they can't be found, where Kakashi can't have regrets that drown him the moment they inevitably slip through his fingers.

If someone had taken Zabuza, or killed him, Kakashi would be left with nothing but the memory of walking away, leaving for a mission, and—

That’s happened too many times already, in his life.

Sorry, Obito, he thinks, closing his eyes, and it’s a wry, tired thing. I guess I'm still learning what you tried to teach me.

“Shithead,” Zabuza says, but his fingers slide through Kakashi’s hair, ghost over the fabric of his hitai-ate to curl around the back of his neck. “One of these days you're going to give me fucking whiplash.”

Me too, Kakashi almost says.  Don’t know what I want, he almost says. I want to run away and never move from this spot again, he wants to say. Doesn’t, because the words won't come, but he inhales the smell of Zabuza’s skin and keeps his nose pressed there, close to the beat of his pulse.

“I have to keep you on interested,” he says instead, makes it light even though all he’s thinking is I don’t want you to leave and that’s almost more unnerving than the knowledge that there are Kiri nin in the village, poised to take Zabuza away with the permanence of a sword to the throat.

“Idiot.” Zabuza’s hand tightens, almost hard enough to bruise, and he shakes Kakashi lightly by the nape. It’s not anywhere close to hard enough to hurt, but it still makes Kakashi’s breath catch, his mind blank. Like a challenge, like a challenge he needs to answer, and he curls his fingers tighter around Zabuza’s sharp ribs and growls.

The sudden, sharp hitch of Zabuza’s breath is entirely gratifying, and it makes Kakashi press in harder, shove him up against the wall a little more firmly. The short, guttural sound that’s dragged from Zabuza’s throat is everything Kakashi wants, and he turns his head, noses his mask down, and sets his teeth against the pretty-bruised curve of Zabuza’s throat.

“No shaking, then?” Zabuza asks breathlessly, even as he drags Kakashi’s face in tighter, strains up against him like he can't get close enough.

Carefully, gently, Kakashi withdraws his teeth, drags his tongue over the faint imprint left in Zabuza’s throat. “Not unless you're looking to get written up for public indecency,” he says, not nearly as steady as it should be. “I can't be held responsible for my actions if you try that again.”

Zabuza hums in a way that says he’s considering it regardless, and Kakashi chuckles against his throat, leaning up to catch his mouth. The kiss is slower than he expects, deeper, and Zabuza’s fingers hook into the back of his shirt, clench there even as he tangles his tongue with Kakashi’s, pulls back, kisses Kakashi again with just an edge of sharp teeth behind it.

“I'm fucking angry at you,” he rasps, but the heat of it is undercut by the way he fits his mouth to Kakashi’s again, hooks a foot around Kakashi’s ankle like he wants to keep him in place.

“How about I make it up to you?” Kakashi asks hoarsely, and manages to pry a hand off Zabuza’s hip, slide it around to press over the line of Zabuza’s cock, still soft in his pants. It makes Zabuza shudder, and Kakashi hums, interested. “I could get you hard with my mouth,” he suggests innocently, and smiles when Zabuza’s head falls back against the wall, lashes fluttering as he strangles a short sound. “Oh? You like that?”

“Fucker,” Zabuza manages, and wraps an arm around Kakashi, shoves away from the wall. Kakashi has half a moment to brace himself before a shunshin takes them, and in a blur of movement they land on the windowsill of Kakashi’s apartment. Entirely willing to go along with the change in scenery, Kakashi shoves the window open and slides in, turns to catch Zabuza and pull him upright as he does the same. He doesn’t waste time, just pushes him back up against the wall and tugs his mask all the way down to kiss him again, wringing a moan from Zabuza’s throat as he settles between his legs.

Alive, he thinks, and it’s something like a blessing, that he wasn’t too late this time. Breaks away, pulling back enough to reach up and twist his fingers into Zabuza’s short hair. The tug makes Zabuza groan, lashes fluttering and throat working as he gives to the pressure, and Kakashi feels like there's a great weight on his lungs, a vise around his heart. I left, he thinks, and—

It shouldn’t be a regret. He should have learned better.

The reminder is enough to cut through the heat, and Kakashi breathes out, loosens his grip. The way Zabuza’s eyes snap open and immediately narrow makes something in his chest twinge, but he shoves it down and says quietly, “Kiri arrived. For the Exams.”

Zabuza’s expressive face twists, and he laughs, short and angry. “I know,” he says. “Fuck, I know. Haku's going to keep his head down, and I was going to kick around here for a bit. Fucking Yagura.

Something like relief shudders through Kakashi, makes his fingers want to tremble. Zabuza knows, and he’s taking precautions. That’s more than Kakashi ever expected, and he leans forward, kisses Zabuza with what might be thankfulness. Grazes teeth across his lip, tightens his hand in Zabuza’s hair, and swallows the moan it gets him, feeling it vibrate through Zabuza’s chest. Wants, so very badly, and—

“Can I tie your hands?” he rasps, and just the thought is almost too much. He has to swallow hard, especially when Zabuza shivers against him.

“To what?” Zabuza asks, even as he eases his grip on Kakashi’s shoulders, brings his hands up with his wrists together.

So obedient, Kakashi almost says, but the relief is too sharp to twist into teasing. Instead, he curls his fingers around Zabuza’s wrists, squeezing gently, and pulls him back into the room. On the adjoining wall there’s a hook Kakashi uses for his flak jacket, and he pulls a short length of cord from his weapons pouch, loops it twice around Zabuza’s wrists, and drags him down to his knees on the floor. Pushes his arms up, sliding the edge of the loop over the hook, and it’s just a little too high, just enough of a stretch that Zabuza won't be able to forget it.

With a low sound, Zabuza gives it a tug, then leans back against the wall beneath it, spreading his bent knees. He’s getting hard, and Kakashi drags his fingers over the bulge, enjoying the way Zabuza’s hips hitch. Leans him, shoving his shirt up, and presses an open-mouthed kiss to his stomach even as he undoes the button on Zabuza’s pants. No underwear, and Kakashi’s breath hitches, fingers curling into thick thighs. Even if it means Zabuza was in too much of a rush to leave, too irritated at Kakashi to bother, still. Still.

He buries his face in warm, musky skin, inhaling deeply, and smiles a little at the way Zabuza trembles in his grip. “I want to make it up to you,” he says, and casts a glance up at Zabuza’s face.

For a long moment, Zabuza’s throat works. He swallows, laughs roughly, and lets his head fall back again. “Shit,” he says. His hands fist in their bonds, and the cord is plain black, but Kakashi thinks about finding grey ropes, a nice Hatake Clan grey. Wrapping Zabuza up in them, maybe finding a toy to slide up inside him, and watching him lie there and take it, straining but still, breathless with want but helpless to do anything but let Kakashi take care of him. he shudders, breath hitching, and fits his mouth to the curve of Zabuza’s cock like a kiss.

“Please?” he asks, low, and the sound Zabuza makes is wrenched up from deep in his chest, shaken and wanting.

“Fuck you,” he says raggedly, and his thighs are hard, almost trembling beneath Kakashi’s hands. “Fuck you, yes. Fucking blow me, and if you leave in the middle of it I get to kill you this time.”

Kakashi laughs, right up against Zabuza’s cock, and lifts his hips up before he can buck. “Anyone who comes to the door right now gets to watch,” he says, and slides Zabuza’s pants down to tangle around his knees like another set of bonds. “I'm not stopping.”

“Get off on being watched?” Zabuza asks, all rough amusement as he watches Kakashi, dark eyes blown even darker. “Used to do that in Kiri sometimes. Guy I knew would screw me while a friend of ours watched, told us what to do.”

The lack of names makes it easy for Kakashi to ignore the thought of other people fucking Zabuza, their hands on him, their marks on his body. Instead, he thinks of how it must have looked, Zabuza twisted up with pleasure, yielding, or maybe fighting. A figure behind him, taking him apart, and someone’s eyes on them, intent, observing. Wonders, briefly, if there’s anyone in Konoha who Zabuza would let do the same thing, anyone he would let do the same thing, and—

Well. Another thought to file away for later.

“I think you get off on being watched,” he says, stroking his fingers lightly up the line of Zabuza’s cock and feeling it twitch. Zabuza sucks in a breath, hips twitching, but Kakashi pins them down, takes a long, slow lick up the shaft, and smiles when Zabuza moans.

“I get off on most things,” Zabuza says, and that laugh is shameless, husky. “Fuck, come on, just suck me—”

“Patience,” Kakashi tells him, perfectly mild, and Zabuza’s groan is one of despair and amusement in equal measure.

“Come on,” he bitches. “You're the one who came looking for me—”

Kakashi hums, mouth still pressed to his cock, and it turns Zabuza’s words into a cry. “I had to make sure someone hadn’t snatched up my sweet little wife,” he says, and it should be teasing, should be light, but—it’s not. He scrapes just the barest edge of teeth over Zabuza’s cock, rides the back of his hips, then gets his lips over the head and slides his mouth down as far as he can. Stays there, eyes on the shifting pleasure on Zabuza’s face, and then retreats, dragging his tongue up over sensitive skin, tortuously slow, until Zabuza is swearing at him. his whole body strains up, and Kakashi loves the look of him, lines of obvious, honed muscle, broad shoulders, narrow waist, thick thighs. His arms, hooked above his head in an illusion of helplessness, and it’s like the forest again, Zabuza ceding control the moment Kakashi had his teeth in his throat.

He wants that moment forever, wants to never have to move from this place, this second. Zabuza, safe and here, and Kakashi with no plans to budge until he’s taken Zabuza apart again and again.

Kakashi,” Zabuza hisses, halfway to a plea, and his arms flex like he wants to drop them, grab Kakashi’s hair and force him down. Kakashi swats his thigh for it, making Zabuza jerk even though the hit is barely hard enough to feel. He groans, twisting, but stops, and as a reward Kakashi swallows him down again, slow and steady and teasing. Sliding a hand down to cup Zabuza’s balls, drawn high and tight, gets him a whimper, and Zabuza goes still, practically quaking over him.

With a pleased hum, Kakashi teases his tongue across taut skin, blood-hot and perfectly hard, and rolls Zabuza’s sack between his fingers, testing what Zabuza likes. A hard tug makes him pull away, but firm pressure wrings low, breathless noises from him, sharp twitches, helpless whines. Zabuza shakes over him, and when Kakashi casts a glance up his face is screwed up, twisted somewhere between pleasure and pain, and he’s gasping, open-mouthed and desperate as he stares down at Kakashi, dazed and shaking.

Kakashi would smile if his mouth wasn’t occupied. Sucks long and hard, instead, and watches Zabuza’s whole body react as her jerks, shouts. His head drops back, his arms pull, and he shoves up like he’s going to fuck Kakashi’s mouth.

Mercilessly, Kakashi pins his hips down, opens his throat, and swallows Zabuza all the way down to the root, squeezing his balls as he does. Zabuza shouts, hoarse and startled, and curls forward with a groan, body tensing. With a hum, just to tease him a little more, Kakashi swallows, sucks, tugs at the sac in his fingers, and Zabuza twitches hard, whimpers, and comes without another sound, too winded to even make noise.

Carefully, gently, Kakashi eases off, letting Zabuza’s wet cock slip from his mouth and licking his lips with a hum. Sitting up, he ignores his own hard cock, throbbing in his pants, and reaches up to unhook Zabuza’s hands, lowering them slowly. Rubs a hand up the muscle, then down, and Zabuza curls into him, dropping his head on Kakashi’s shoulder.

“You,” he rasps, and loses the words. Instead, he reaches out, and clumsy, bound fingers pull at the front of Kakashi’s pants.

Just that touch makes Kakashi groan, but he curls his fingers into Zabuza’s hair. “I was paying you back,” he rasps. “I'm fine—”

“Shut the hell up,” Zabuza growls, and it vibrates through Kakashi like a strong chord. Zabuza surges up, kissing him hard but clumsy, and then pulls away, shifting around and leaning forward to brace his forearms against the wall. “Come on,” he says, tipping his head to give Kakashi a look over his shoulder. “I want you to get off on me.”

Kakashi’s breath jars out of his lungs, and he has to close his eyes, press a hand hard against his cock to keep himself in control. Swallowing hard, he casts a look over the breadth of Zabuza’s muscled back, the curve of his ass, the tempting column of his throat. There are bites on his broad shoulders, one high up on the curve where neck and shoulder meet that’s darker than the others, scarring. The first bite, and Kakashi groans, drapes himself over Zabuza’s back, fits his mouth so perfectly over that claiming mark.

“Remember?” he murmurs against Zabuza’s skin, feels the shiver it gets him.

“Do you?” Zabuza retorts, and shifts under him, letting Kakashi’s cock slide between his thighs. Tightens them, and Kakashi huffs, pressing his forehead to the back of Zabuza’s neck.

“I remember my cock in you,” Kakashi says dryly, even as he wraps an arm around Zabuza’s chest under his rucked-up shirt, finding a hard nipple and tugging at it. “If we’re recreating that, I need to go get the lube.”

It makes Zabuza twitch, full-bodied and oversensitive, and he laughs breathlessly. “Shit, you need a woman with tits for you and your nipple obsession.”

Carefully, Kakashi bites down on the mark, sliding his cock lazily between the warmth of Zabuza’s thighs. The head bumps Zabuza’s softened shaft, catches on his balls, and Zabuza’s quiet, gasping moan makes Kakashi’s head spin with heat. He growls, biting down harder, and does it again, fucking up against Zabuza’s cock, sliding back between his legs, thrusting forward.

“I could get you hard again like this,” he says, realizing it, and Zabuza shivers helplessly, tips his head to give Kakashi more room, and Kakashi takes it. Bites down, higher than the first mark, and ruts between his legs. Zabuza’s thighs tighten around him, and Kakashi breathes him in, groans around the skin in his mouth, and drives all the way in, tugging hard at a nipple. Zabuza cries out as Kakashi comes, but Kakashi can't do much more than hang on to him, riding out the ripples of hot pleasure as he empties himself.

For a long, long moment, neither of them move. Kakashi lets the pace of his heart slow, still sprawled over Zabuza’s back, and then groans. Presses his forehead between Zabuza’s shoulder blades, stroking a hand over his chest and down his stomach, and breathes out. breathes in, and while he’s still riding the high of his orgasm, finally manages to say, “I'm sorry.”

There's a pause, deliberate, and then Zabuza’s hand catches his, threading their fingers together. “You’d better be, asshole,” he says, and shifts. Kakashi lets him up, waits for him to turn over and shift off his knees with a groan as he kicks his pants off, and then he settles in Zabuza’s lap, taking advantage of the difference between their heights to drop his head on the curve of Zabuza’s shoulder.

“I am,” he says blithely, even though he means it. Casts a glance up at Zabuza, innocent, and asks, “Does it make that worth less if I say I enjoyed making it up to you?”

Zabuza snorts, dropping his bound arms around Kakashi, almost like a hug. “I enjoyed it, too, in case you didn’t realize,” he says dryly.

Kakashi hums, satisfied with that, and drops a hand to Zabuza’s hip, rubbing lightly with his thumb. Pauses, considering a sudden thought, and asks, “Do you always bottom?”

Zabuza raises a brow, resting his head back against the wall. “I like both,” he says with a shrug. “But mostly? Yeah. First couple of guys I was with wanted me ‘cause I was bigger, and I thought that was just how it’d be. But then this cute little asshole who was training with Kubikiribōchō decided he wanted to be the first to get a cock in me, and I liked it. I liked it a whole hell of a lot.”

Kakashi sweeps his thumb up and down the line of an old scar, tracing it and committing it to memory. “I think,” he says dryly, “that you have a thing for twinks making you take it.”

Zabuza’s laugh is rough, unoffended. “Shit, Kakashi, haven’t you been paying attention? I've got a thing for anyone making me take it, but guys who are stronger than they look and know how to use it?” He grins, a lazy dare. “You could invite all of Konoha in here to watch you fuck me and I’d be down.”

Kakashi can't help but chuckle, turning his head to bury his nose in Zabuza’s shirt. It feels like he dropped an exploding tag on his foot, only to have it not go off. One more obstacle dodged, one more crack that didn’t break them apart, though Kakashi has no idea how. He’s grateful, though.

There's a pause, then a breath. Zabuza’s hands curl over Kakashi’s back, and he says, “You know just because I like cock doesn’t mean I hate topping, right? I'm fine if you ever want to switch.”

Kakashi casts him a look, sideways, sly, and makes a thoughtful sound. Slides a hand down, fingers cupping Zabuza’s spent cock like he’s testing the weight of it, and smiles at the hitching gasp it gets him. “Big,” he says mildly. “I like big.”

Zabuza shudders, groans, and Kakashi chuckles, kissing the line of his jaw, his slack, gasping mouth. Strokes, slow and gentle, and watches Zabuza squirm under his weight. Thinks of it, of being under Zabuza’s big body, of letting him take the lead, and smiles. Leaning in, he puts his mouth against Zabuza’s ear, and murmurs, “How fast do you think you can get hard again, my sweet little wife?”

Zabuza swears at him, breathless, voice cracking, and drags him into another kiss.

Chapter Text

Zabuza is still only half-hard when another knock sounds through the room.

Against him, Kakashi freezes, eyes wide. Zabuza stares at him, and Kakashi stares back, and over the sound of their ragged breaths another loud, banging knock makes the door shudder.

“Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto yells, and bangs again. “Zabuza-sensei! Are you in there? Sensei!”

Kakashi groans, listing forward to drop his head on the wall over Zabuza’s shoulder. His hand doesn’t move from Zabuza’s cock, and Zabuza wonders vaguely what he’ll have to do to get him to keep touching. But—

Swearing they’ll keep going despite Hokage summons and ANBU invasions is one thing. Managing to keep fucking while Kakashi’s genin team is at the door is another entirely. Mostly because he’s fully aware that Naruto won't run, just shriek at them.

“I'm going to drown him,” he growls against Kakashi’s ear, and is only mildly gratified when Kakashi groans in pure despair.

“If you do, the Hokage will yell at me,” he says, lament more than anything, and pushes up as another series of too-hard knocks echo through the room. “Ma, ma, Naruto, we’re coming,” he calls.

“No,” Zabuza bites out. “We’re fucking not.”

Kakashi’s smile is rueful, but he pauses as he reaches for his mask, looks Zabuza over where he’s still sprawled against the wall. He’s not hard yet, either, but Zabuza eyes the gape of his open pants and wants to growl. So fucking close to another round of mind-blowing sex, and now this.

“We could…” Kakashi starts, and then trails off, looking torn.

Something like amusement, but softer, flickers in Zabuza’s chest, and he grunts. Reaches up, and Kakashi takes his hand, pulling him to his feet in one smooth motion. All Zabuza has to do to kiss him is duck down a little, and he does, but he keeps it light for all that it lingers.

“They’ll break down the damn door if we don’t answer,” he says, and doesn’t bother putting emphasis on the plural. This is a choice by both of them to put this on hold, rather than Kakashi running out halfway through.

Kakashi catches the meaning anyway, and smiles faintly, eyes crinkling. He tugs up his mask, then wraps an arm around Zabuza’s back, tugging him into another kiss. His fingers slide through the come drying tacky on Zabuza’s skin, and he makes a low, soft sound but pulls back.

“You should get cleaned up,” he says, only a little wicked as his thumb teases the base of Zabuza’s cock. “I’ll use the kitchen sink and then see what Naruto wants.”

Zabuza restrains the shiver that wants to slide down his spine, steps away in order to keep from just dragging Kakashi into the other room and throwing him down on the bed. “Sure,” he says, and snags his pants off the floor as he heads for the bathroom, shutting and locking the door behind himself. A shower would take too long, but he wets a towel in the sink, wipes himself down as the sound of voices rises in the other room. Naruto, high-pitched and talking fast, with Sakura talking over him and Kakashi’s lower tones beneath. Something important, probably, or at least something that was enough to alarm the genin, Zabuza would be more worried, but—Anko was with them, and she’s a tokujō. It was probably Anko doing the alarming, honestly.  

He pulls his pants back on, buttoning them carefully, and tosses the towel aside. There's no hiding the marks scattered across his neck and shoulders, but he doesn’t want to anyway, so he pushes the door open and steps out into the main room.

Instantly, a blond blur slams into him, almost knocking him off his feet. “Zabuza-sensei!”

Zabuza staggers, just manages to find his feet again before he trips and lands on his ass. “Watch it, brat,” he growls, getting a handful of Naruto's orange jumpsuit and peeling the kid off of him. “What?”

Sakura's hand is on his elbow before Naruto can even get his mouth open, and she tugs, eyes wide and almost frightened. “Zabuza-sensei,” she says, “something’s wrong! Anko disappeared!”

Zabuza freezes, trying to make sense of the words. Stares, and in his grip Naruto is nodding emphatically, kicking his legs like he’s trying to run in midair. “She said she smelled something!” he says loudly. “So she took off into the training ground, but she didn’t come back, an’ then Haku went after her but he didn’t come back either—”

“What?” Zabuza says, and alarm spikes though him, silver and sharp like a knife. He drops Naruto onto his feet, pulling back, and lifts his head to meet Kakashi’s gaze over the kid’s shoulder.

Kakashi looks grim, and he holds Zabuza’s eyes but doesn’t say anything.

“Sasuke stayed to wait for them,” Sakura tells him. “But I—we thought we should get help but we didn’t know who except for you and Kakashi-sensei, so we came right away—”

Zabuza drops a hand on her head, then pushes past, heading for where he abandoned Kubikiribōchō by the window when they came in. “You made the right choice,” he says shortly, and shoulders the sword, strapping on the harness. Silently, Kakashi tucks his hands in his pockets, but his attention is a heavy thing, and when Zabuza moves Kakashi falls into step without hesitation.

“Of course we did!” Naruto says proudly, even as he scrambles to keep up. “Sasuke wanted to go after them—”

“Naruto!” Sakura snaps, and punches him in the shoulder. “That was you!”

“Sakura-chan,” Naruto complains, rubbing his arm, but he doesn’t let it stop him for long. “Do you think Haku's okay? There wasn’t anybody screaming, and I couldn’t smell any blood, and Sakura said their chakra was gone too.”

Zabuza looks at Sakura, who bites her lip but nods. “I tried to check the way they taught us in the Academy,” she says. “But Ino was always better at it. Sasuke couldn’t sense anything, either, though.”

A genin’s chakra sense isn't exactly the most reliable, and while Zabuza’s decent at locating people, he’s not the best at a distance. Gritting his teeth, he takes the stairs two at a time, then hooks an arm around Sakura to haul her off her feet and leaps, letting a shunshin take him in midair. The spinning mist clears a moment later, and Zabuza lands, uses another. In his grasp Sakura squeaks, clutches at him hard, but Zabuza takes one more flicker-flash of a step and lands in the street.

Sasuke, seated on the branch of a leaning maple, blinks at them, and then drops down to meet them.

“Oh,” Sakura says dazedly, desperately trying to flatten her wind-swept hair back into order. “That was a shunshin, right? The Kiri version?”

“Yeah,” Zabuza says shortly, and doesn’t watch her stagger over to collect her axe from where it’s leaning at the base of the tree. Looks to Sasuke instead, then tips his head at the woods on the other side of the road and asks, “They went in there?”

In a whirl of leaves, Kakashi touches down behind him, Naruto tossed over his shoulder like a sack of rice. Deftly, he drops the boy onto his feet to the sound of a loud, offended protest, and then says, “Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, you need to report to the Hokage. Tell him that Mitarashi Anko disappeared while assisting you with a mission, and you don’t know the cause.”

“What?” Naruto protests. “But we can help! Haku's in there! I want to help find him!”

“Kid,” Zabuza says, and it’s sharper than he means it to be, but there’s something tangled up in his throat that’s hard to ignore. “Shut up and get moving. I know.”

For a long, startled moment, Naruto stares at him wide-eyed. Then, much more quietly, he says, “All right, Zabuza-sensei. You’ll find Haku?”

Zabuza can't answer, but a hand settles on his hip, and Kakashi answers with calm certainty, “We will, Naruto. Report to the Hokage. Make sure he knows Zabuza and I are in pursuit.”

Sasuke grunts in confirmation, stepping past Naruto and bumping him lightly with his shoulder. “Let’s go, dead last,” he says shortly, and leaps for the branch of another tree, scaling it and jumping from there to a rooftop garden. With a sound of offense, Naruto scrambles after him with slightly less grace, but Sakura hesitates.

She looks from Zabuza to Kakashi and then at the woods, and says carefully, “Is it an attack?”

“Probably not,” Kakashi says mildly, and gives her a smile. “Go on, Sakura. Catch up with Naruto and Sasuke.”

“All right,” Sakura says, a little uncertainly, and goes with a whisper of chakra and a light thump of sandals, vanishing in the tangle of green on the opposite roof.

The silence stretches for a moment, and then Kakashi takes a breath. His smile slips into something wry, and he offers, “Shall we?”

“You're the tracker,” Zabuza retorts, though he hardly needs to be a tracker to follow the feel of Haku's chakra. There's a clear trail, lingering like dropped breadcrumbs, and there's no way that wasn’t deliberate; Haku trained with the Hunter-nin, and he knows how to hide himself.

Kakashi makes a sound of agreement, starting forward, and he’s soundless when he slips into the trees. “We’re close to the base of the Hokage Mountain,” he says, and tips his head to the west. “The forests here are unoccupied except for a few emergency weapons caches.”

A good place to hide, that means. If Zabuza was trying to infiltrate a village, he’d camp out in a deserted area where no one would readily notice suspicious activity. The idea is something close to laughable, though; who the hell would be trying to infiltrate Konoha, especially with the Chuunin Exams about to start? It’s already a strong village, and right now, with all the increased security, practically every shinobi is present, pulled back from missions due to the presence of other villages’ delegations. It’s precisely the worst moment to try something, and Zabuza can't think of many people who would be stupid enough to make a move right now.

“Anything?” he asks Kakashi quietly, straining his own senses to catch any hint of sound or any trace of chakra that’s out of place.

Carefully, Kakashi tugs his mask down, breathing in and closing his eyes. There's a long moment of silence, and then he opens his eyes again. “All I smell is snake,” he says. “Anko must have called her summons.”

The white snakes, Zabuza thinks. “She was using them on the genin,” he offers, and it doesn’t mean something happened, but—it’s a possibility. He can't imagine a shinobi like Anko not raising a fuss if she was attacked, though, especially so close to her village; if anything, she’d probably flare her chakra everywhere, yell, use her biggest, flashiest jutsus. Haku definitely knows to do that when he’s in danger.

Unless, of course, something took Anko by surprise, and then managed to do the same to Haku despite him being wary. Zabuza really, really doesn’t like that thought.

“This way,” Kakashi murmurs, slipping around a stand of moss-covered boulders, and Zabuza follows, looking for the trail he’s following. Can't spot it, but while he’s an assassin, he’s not a tracker, and Kakashi’s one of the best. He trusts that Kakashi isn't going to lead them wrong.

“Anyone threatened invasion recently?” he asks dryly, and Kakashi chuckles.

“Only the usual,” he says. “I'm sure A would jump at the chance to try, though. And he did decline the invitation to the Exams.”

This doesn’t feel like Kumo's style, though. A’s not above most things, but Zabuza’s dealt with Kumo several times as a missing-nin, and A’s shinobi have always at least been straightforward, poor at subtlety. This seems like a little much if they're launching an attack.

Besides, Haku would get the hell out of there if he even thought a Kumo nin was involved. Kumo's notorious for collecting valuable kekkei genkai, and Haku's got one that’s all but died out. There's no way he wouldn’t be a prime target, and react accordingly.

“Still just snakes?” he asks, because there’s no trace of Haku's chakra in the air.

Kakashi nods, eyes sweeping the forest. Then, deliberately, he tilts his hitai-ate up, baring his Sharingan eye. “If someone else was here, I can't tell. The only traces I smell are Anko and Haku.”

Zabuza’s skin prickles, like there's electricity in the air, a thunderstorm brewing. He frowns, reaching up to draw Kubikiribōchō, and shoulders it instead of leaving it in its harness. The weight of the blade, the chill of the metal against his skin is a comfort as familiar as anything else in his life, and Zabuza breathes out, lets his eyes slide half-shut. Raises two fingers in front of himself, chakra trickling out into the air, and concentrates. The Hiding-in-Mist technique is so familiar it doesn’t even require hand seals anymore, and he stretches it out, calls up thin tendrils of mist that pool on the forest floor, stretch and spread out.

“Zabuza?” Kakashi asks warily, and when Zabuza glances over Kakashi is watching him intently.

“I’ll feel it if someone is coming,” Zabuza say in explanation. “Or if there are people close. They break up the mist.”

Kakashi nods, settling. “Keep it low,” he says, but his fingers skim the inside of Zabuza’s arm, a glancing touch that still manages to make Zabuza’s breath catch.

“Of course,” he says roughly, and Kakashi slants him a smile that’s half challenge.

“Can you keep up?” he asks, and darts ahead, leaping up into the branches. Graceful, steady in a way even Kiri nin aren’t in trees, and it’s all Zabuza can do to pace him from the ground, careful across the unfamiliar terrain. Kakashi is a blur in the deepening shadows, and just for a moment Zabuza thinks of the old stories of raijū, hunters in darkened woods under the cover of storm-clouds. This—Kakashi—is probably the closest a human can come.

And then, like a stray bit of breeze, a thread of arctic chill curls around Zabuza’s chakra, drifts. Snow, he thinks, and doesn’t need anything else to know who it is. He quickens his pace, sliding down a steep incline and ducking through a particularly close copse of trees. On the other side, a flicker of something bright catches his eye, and he drops, snatching up the senbon planted in the earth.

Haku's. Zabuza remembers buying this particular set, and the metal is cold to the touch, even in the humid air.

Soundlessly, Kakashi drops down beside him, and Zabuza flips him the senbon. He catches it, lifting it to his nose, and takes a long, long moment before he shakes his head.

“If he was aiming at something, he missed,” he says.

“Haku doesn’t miss,” Zabuza retorts, taking it back, and glances around them. “Anything else here? He wouldn’t have been jumping at shadows, either.”

“Just the snakes,” Kakashi says, and then pauses. His eyes flicker up, mismatched and unnervingly sharp, and he takes a breath. “Water,” he says. “But we’re not close to any river.”

Just for a moment, Zabuza feels like he can't even breathe. Water, and almost every village has at least a few Suiton users, but—

Kiri has the most, and Kiri also has a hell of a lot of shinobi capable of hiding themselves away completely. Hell, Ao is in the village right now—he’d be more than capable of tracking someone, luring them into a secluded area, and then knocking them out.

“Water clones wouldn’t leave a scent,” he says, familiar with the Hunter-nin trick. Tries to ignore the bubbling, building rage, the wash of sudden, burning certainty that someone from Kiri snatched Haku right out of the forest, and feels it tremble through him like the shock of an earthquake.

“Water clones,” Kakashi says, eyes narrowing, and breathes in. Does it again, and then a third time, and pauses, then shakes his head, frustrated. “If they did use them, I can't tell.”

“That’s the point,” Zabuza says shortly, and slides Haku's senbon up his sleeve. Concentrates, but he can't feel anything in the rising mist. “Shit. Where the hell would they have taken them?”

The weight of eyes on him is tangible, but Zabuza doesn’t look back. Doesn’t want Kakashi to see what’s on his face, even if there’s a chance he couldn’t read it. All he can think of is Haku, dragged back to Water Country, taken back to the village that killed his mother, that didn’t bother to stop the bloodline purges. Dragged back as a prisoner, a prisoner like he was in his family’s home, and Zabuza’s hands shake with the desire to drive his fist through the face of whoever decided it was a good idea to grab his apprentice.

They’ll figure out just how big a mistake they made. Zabuza will take very great care to drive that lesson home.

His breath shakes out of his chest, and he swallows down the rage, the red edging his vision, the thrumming, roaring blood that’s more oni right now than it’s ever been before, ready to rip and tear and devour.

This is going to be the last time Yagura fucks with something that’s Zabuza’s.

 

 

Zabuza bides his time. He’s good at that. Patience is the most important trait for an assassin, after all. He puts some effort in, too, searching the forest, joining up with a team of chuunin and tokujō when the Hokage sends them over. They comb the forest looking for clues, but—

There aren’t any beyond the strong smell of snake. Zabuza isn't surprised; Hunter-nin know how to cover their tracks. Even Kakashi can't pick anything up, and he gets tenser and tenser as the evening stretches into true night, as one team is replaced by another and they still can't find anything. Anko is a friend, and clearly losing her means a hell of a lot. It matters to Zabuza, too, but.

Not as much as Haku, and Zabuza knows where Haku is. Anko was likely just bait, an extra. A bonus.

He holds off on suggesting they break off until Sasuke and Naruto are dragging, and Sakura is swaying where she stands. Reaches out, then, and finally catches Kakashi’s elbow.

“Hey,” he says, and tips his head at the huddle of their genin team. “I think we should leave it to the other teams.”

For a long moment, Kakashi blinks dumbly at him. Looks at him, then over at the three kids, and finally lets his gaze slip back to the trio of Inuzuka with their ninken who are spreading out across the space. They’ve cleared most of the rest of this section of forest, and haven’t even managed to find another senbon.

Just as Zabuza is bracing himself for an argument—maybe for picking Kakashi up bodily and throwing him over his shoulder—Kakashi’s shoulders slump faintly, and he raises a hand to rub at his face with a sigh. “Right,” he says, and shakes himself. Raises his voice slightly, and says, “Gaku, can you take the lead?”

An older man with a massive, grizzled dog at his side raises a hand without turning to look, and Kakashi sighs. Turns, claps his hands, and says with false cheer, “All right, my cute little genin, off you go. We’ll come back once it’s light out.”

“But—” Naruto starts.

“Shut up, dobe,” Sasuke says, and even he sounds exhausted. “We can get ramen on the way back instead of cooking.” Pauses, shoulders tensing faintly, and says without looking at Sakura, “we can all sleep in Naruto's apartment. It’s closest.”

“Oh,” Naruto says, and he’d puffed up like he was about to yell but now he deflates, looking surprised. “Fine. I want tonkotsu.”

Something in Sakura's face brightens at being included, and she smiles. “Okay,” she agrees, and slides up on Naruto's other side, giving Sasuke his space. Or maybe she’s just too tired for a crush right now. “Good night, Zabuza-sensei, Kakashi-sensei.”

“Night,” Zabuza says, and watches until the three small shapes have disappeared out of the trees. Turns and looks at Kakashi, only to find a flicker of shunshin just fading from sight, and follows with a sound of irritation.

By the time he makes it back to the apartment, Kakashi is already inside, sandals kicked off, flak jacket discarded on the hook he tied Zabuza to just a few hours earlier. Zabuza spares it a glace, along with the black cord that’s lying on the floor beside it, but can't consider that encounter now. Doesn’t want to, really; if he does, it might give him something to doubt, and Haku is worth more than that.

“Food or bed?” he asks, watching Kakashi’s gaze rest on the couch for a long, dazed moment.

Kakashi hesitates, then smiles wryly. “Bed,” he says. “If you want to eat—”

“Bed sounds good,” Zabuza says gruffly, and leans Kubikiribōchō against the wall. Tugs his shirt off, heading for the bedroom, and after a second Kakashi’s footsteps follow him.

“Willing to hold off on fucking me?” Kakashi asks, and that tone is light but there’s an edge of exhaustion under it. “I can't—”

“Whatever you're feeling right now, Kakashi,” Zabuza bites out, “it’s even worse for me. lie down and go to sleep.”

A pause, startled, and then a ragged breath. A hand settles on Zabuza’s bare back, slides down. Kakashi doesn’t say anything, but he leans into Zabuza’s back, slides his arms around him to undo his pants. Zabuza holds still and lets him, not entirely sure why he does, but—he doesn’t want to push Kakashi away. Doesn’t want to feel soft, but takes the comfort of Kakashi’s presence, because after tonight it’s not going to matter.

Kakashi kisses one of the knobs of his spine, breath hot on his skin, and pushes Zabuza’s pants down. Helps him step out of them, then sheds the rest of his own uniform and folds himself down onto the bed, holding his hands up. Still frozen in that strange half-willing state, Zabuza takes them, allows himself to be pulled down as well. When Kakashi topples him onto the mattress, rolls over him and kisses him slow and deep and hard, Zabuza takes it with a moan, sliding a hand up to grip Kakashi’s hair in his fist.

“We’ll find them,” Kakashi says against his lips, and his mismatched eyes are steady.

“Yeah,” Zabuza says, and closes his eyes.

There's a pause, then a breath. Kakashi settles at his side, then curls close, and Zabuza shifts to let him until Kakashi is plastered up against his back, forehead resting against his shoulder blade. He doesn’t say anything more, but one of his arms drapes over Zabuza’s side, hand splaying across his chest. Stays there, breathing slowly deepening, and Zabuza stares straight ahead, watching the shadows on the bedroom floor shift as the moon rises.

That electric, half-uncomfortable feeling is still heavy in the air when Zabuza finally slides out of Kakashi’s hold, rising to his feet and picking out a spare uniform from the closet. Carefully, he dresses, but leaves his new hitai-ate on the table where he put it. Some flicker of spite keeps him from reaching for the old Kiri hitai-ate, too, and he leaves it shut away in its drawer as he slips across the room to the door.

He glances back once, gaze lingering on Kakashi curled on his side, one hand resting on Zabuza’s abandoned pillow, expression twisted like he’s dreaming.

Just for a moment, Zabuza’s fingers tighten on the doorframe, clench hard on the wood, and he has to force himself to breathe. If this was for anything else—

But it’s not. It’s for Haku.

He leaves through the window, landing lightly in the empty street. There are people out, mostly shinobi, but none of them give him more than a glance in passing, and Zabuza turns towards the Administration Building and the inn that’s one street over. One of the kunoichi in the search party was complaining about having to take guard duty there after she finished her shift in the forest, and Zabuza had marked the words carefully.

He has a plan, at least as much of one as he can. Kubikiribōchō is on his back, and there's a mist rising through the village, thick and choking. It muffles sound, hides scent, and Zabuza moves through it like a ghost. Slips into the inn through an open window in the back, then climbs the stairs with soundless steps. The second floor is where the most familiar chakra is coming from, and Zabuza passes Ao’s room without a glance, ignores Ameyuri’s. There's a light from underneath the third door on the left, and Zabuza pulls Kubikiribōchō from its harness, weighs the blade. Wonders, for just a moment, if he’s really going to go through with it, but immediately knows that he is.

Opening the door is the hardest part, but he’s practiced it a thousand times over. Knows exactly how to ease it open so the change of the light is gradual, how to slip in and leave it open so it doesn’t raise the risk of being heard. Inside, the room is small, neat, and it’s clear that the occupant only just returned. A glass sits half-full on the desk, at Yagura's elbow, and the Mizukage is bent over the desk, still in formal robes. Several scrolls with the Hokage's seal are stacked beside the glass, and as Zabuza lifts his sword, an absent touch pushes the veiled hat back.

Zabuza lets his sword drop, and the tap of the blade coming to rest against Yagura's throat makes him freeze, perfectly still. Zabuza can't even tell if he’s breathing.

“You stopped me once,” Zabuza says, and the words vibrate with fury. “Want to bet on your odds of doing it again?”

Chapter Text

The sole light in the room isn’t enough for illumination. The pool of brilliance fades out before it reaches the desk by the window, turning blue robes to dull grey past the hem. Whatever light might come from the nearly-full moon is choked out by the mist Zabuza called, muted into a watery, distant glow. It means there’s no way for Zabuza to see the reflection of Yagura’s face in the glass, no way for him to see more than the barest outline of Yagura’s body language as he sits there, Zabuza’s sword against his throat.

“You know,” Zabuza says into the silence, tight, cold, enraged. “I believed Mei about you, once. Thought you must have been controlled. But every thought I might have had about leaving your head on your fucking shoulders died with her. Just so you know why this is happening.”

It will feel good, really. Years in exile from Kiri, and even if it was a shithole it was Zabuza’s home. He was chased out, rebellion put down, allies uprooted. He lost everything, first there and then again on the bridge in Wave, and then a third time when he heard that Kiri was coming to Konoha and realized what must have happened. There has to be a limit to how many times everything can be taken away.

Zabuza won’t let Haku be just one more loss.

“Well?” he snaps, sharp, angry, and Kubikiribōchō doesn’t tremble, but the blade presses in just slightly. “Nothing to say for yourself?”

There’s a long, long pause, and then the veiled head tilts. “I didn’t know that I was allowed to speak.”

Zabuza freezes. His breath knots in his lungs, his muscles lock, his blood goes cold. That

That wasn’t Yagura.

In an instant, in a rush, one slim hand comes up. It grips Kubikiribōchō, shoves the blade away, and the sword falls from Zabuza’s suddenly nerveless fingers to go crashing to the floor. He staggers back a step, but the figure in blue is already rising, turning, and a flick of one hand sends the hat tumbling to the side. In a flutter of veils, it drops, and Zabuza stares into green eyes framed by a fall of red hair, a fierce, beautiful face he’d thought he would never see again on this side of a grave.

“Mei,” he says, and the word trembles between them in the air.

Mei, Mei, beautiful in the Mizukage’s blue, finally smiles at him. It’s a swift, bright thing, full of the same relief that’s beating a tattoo in Zabuza’s veins. “Zabuza,” she returns, and Zabuza’s knees fold of their own volition. He drops, reaches forward, and Mei meets him. With a sound that’s all the grief and anger and loss he’s felt in the last week, Zabuza wraps his arms around her waist, drags her close and buries his face in her stomach, and it takes everything in him not to cry like a little pre-genin brat, not to sob on her robes like some kind of child.

Mei’s laugh is choked, ragged as she wraps her arms around his shoulders, buries her fingers in his hair and clutches him close. “I always knew I’d get you on your knees for me, Momochi,” she says, and it cracks in her throat but she cups the back of his head, fingers tight like she’s never going to let go.

Zabuza can’t even laugh, can’t even breathe. Leans into her, feeling the heat of her body, and calluses on her fingers, the strength of her hands. “Mei,” he repeats, and he was so certain she was dead in some jail cell, the victim of another failed coup, of a traitor, that her presence here feels like some sort of dream. He grits his teeth, shakes his head, and his fingers slip on the silk of her robes, tangle against her back. “Mei.”

“It’s fine,” Mei says, “We’re fine,” and it takes Zabuza a moment to realize she isn’t talking to him. There’s a presence behind them, but he doesn’t turn to look at whatever weapons are leveled at his back, because Mei is shifting, sinking down, and she falls to her knees in front of him in a pool of blue. Zabuza stares at her, and she reaches out, cups his face in her hands with a sound like she’s been feeling grief of her own these past weeks.

You’re fine,” she says softly, and her thumbs skim his cheekbones, frame his eyes. Zabuza closes them, leans into her touch, and with a shaky breath Mei lurches forward, wraps her arms around his neck and hugs him tightly.

“That should be my line,” Zabuza rasps, and one hand finds the nape of her neck, the tight knot she’s somehow managed to wind her masses of hair into. He should have seen, should have noticed, but—he hadn’t been able to think, with the source of so many of his losses right in front of him.

But this—this is a loss that didn’t happen. This is gaining something, instead of having it taken away, and Zabuza buries his face in her shoulder, just trying to breathe through the burning, overwhelming realization that Mei is alive.

Mei laughs a little, that husky, sweet laugh that used to drive Zabuza insane as it turned everything into a flirtatious joke. She presses a kiss behind his ear, tangles her fingers in his short hair. “Our spies found the record,” she says. “The record of the hunt. I came as fast as I could. Zabuza…” She pulls back, grip in his hair still firm, and meets his eyes, and her own are burning the way they used to when she and Zabuza were planning their coup together, tucked away in secret places. She looks fierce, too, mouth set, expression intent. “Zabuza,” she says again, and frames his face. “I’ll start a war with Konoha if I have to. If he took you and you didn’t want it—”

She breaks off, mouth tightening, but she means it. Zabuza can read that much in her face, easily.

It jars something in him, cracks something. The ice that’s been creeping up his spine since he heard that Kiri was in the Exams starts to fracture, and he laughs. Raw, ragged, but he laughs, leans in to rest their foreheads together. “Shit, Mei,” he says. “You fucking bitch, I thought you were dead.”

There’s an aborted sound to deep offense from behind them, a step, but Mei waves Ao back with an absent gesture. “The genjutsu broke,” she says, and it’s a sharp, vicious victory in her face. “The one on Yagura.”

Zabuza snorts, doesn’t lighten up on the desperate grip he has on her ribs. “While you were beating him into the ground, or after?” he asks.

Mei laughs, squeezes the back of his neck. “During,” she admits, lazy as a well-fed tigress, and that smile is all smug self-assurance. “Better than you ever did against him. I think that puts me at least three points above you now.”

The old count of their spars. Zabuza’s laughter cracks in his throat, and he drops his head on her shoulder, feels her arms come back around him without hesitation. Warm fingertips press against the claiming mark on his throat, and he can feel the inhale that she takes, the tension that bleeds into her as she stills.

“Zabuza,” she says, “are you okay?”

The pressure of her fingertips leaves no room to doubt what she means.

“Yeah,” Zabuza says roughly, and lifts his head enough to meet her eyes. Takes a breath, and means it when he says, “He’s not too bad. Kicked my ass in Wave.”

Mei’s mouth curls, relief and amusement, and she snorts. “That’s not difficult, Momochi.”

“The Bingo Book says otherwise,” Zabuza retorts, and pushes to his feet when she nudges him. Mei takes his hands when he offers them, lets him pull her up with him, and for a moment Zabuza stands there and just…looks at her. Blue robes, auburn hair, green eyes, that smug, know-it-all smile he’d thought he would never see again. Breathes out, and—

“Mizukage,” he says quietly, and Mei laughs like it’s the first time anyone has congratulated her.

“I beat you there, too,” she says, a taunt, but her fingers are tight on his and she isn’t letting go.

Zabuza rolls his eyes. “We knew that when the first coup failed,” he says, and that choked, shocked sound is definitely Ao.

“Lady Mei?” the man gets out.

Mei smiles, secret, sly. “Oh?” she purrs. “Didn’t I mention it? All those extra funds were Zabuza’s doing. He was making himself useful as a missing-nin. Right up until he fell on his ass.”

“More like got knocked on it,” Zabuza says dryly, over the sound of Ao’s spluttering, and when Mei’s expression flickers, he shakes his head. “Mei, I was the one who instigated it.”

“But you wouldn’t have,” she counters, sharp. “Not if you had a choice.”

Zabuza just shrugs. “If all of us had all the choices we wanted, the world would be a hell of a lot different,” he says. “It’s fine. He’s fine.”

She sweeps a look over all the visible marks on him, one delicate brow arching, and snorts softly. “More than fine, if you let him leave all of those,” she says, and it’s her version of giving in. Zabuza takes it for what it is, letting go of her at last and stepping back one pace. Smiles, crooked, and shakes his head.

“Finally a decent Mizukage, and I can’t even come back and take advantage of it,” he says. “You’d better fuck things up in my name, or I’ll desert Konoha just to kick your ass.”

Mei’s mouth twists, something like grief in her face, but she lifts her chin regardless. “It’s a travesty that I won’t finally get to see you kneel for me,” she drawls, “but I suppose I’ll survive.” She pauses, watching him, and then says very quietly, “I started dismantling the caste system. It was the first thing I did.”

Zabuza isn’t surprised; Mei’s always known what she wants, and gone for it with both hands and a will of steel. He snorts, imagining the faces of the elders when she told them—ordered them, unwilling to accept even a moment of argument, knowing her—and answers, “About damn time, Terumī.”

Mei leans forward and kisses him, light, on the forehead, then pulls back. When she does, her composure is sliding back, a curtain pulled around her, and she reaches down to retrieve her hat, settling it on the back of the chair. Looks past Zabuza, and he glances over as well, to find Ameyuri watching him with her head cocked, Ao looking constipated as they hover in the open doorway.

“No shrimp?” he asks, morbidly curious.

Mei shakes her head. “Yagura consented to being drugged when he’s alone,” she says grimly. “And to a constant guard when he’s awake. It’s why we brought him—if whoever dropped the genjutsu on him decides to restore it, I want to be close enough to break him out of it.” She pauses, a flicker of realization crossing her face, and says, “You thought I was a decoy?”

“Last time I heard from you, Yagura had all of Kiri locked down tighter than Ame’s borders,” Zabuza retorts. “And you shoved Kiri into the Exams for the first time in decades. What the hell was I supposed to think?”

Mei’s smile is rueful acknowledgement. “We’re steadier now,” she says, and Zabuza huffs but accepts that as a decent apology. He breathes out, in again, and—the bright, shocky relief of Mei's survival is fading, and in its place is rising a twist of cold dread.

He sets his jaw, swallows, and says, “I guess this means you weren’t the one who snatched Haku, huh?”

Mei's eyes widen, then dart past him, like she’s just realizing that the boy who shadowed him all through Kiri is missing. Stops, raises a hand to her mouth for a moment, then drops it and says, “Zabuza, I would never. And no one under my command—”

“I know,” Zabuza says shortly. Mei has morals, a code of honor. Zabuza’s always been aware of that. “I thought—with Yagura…” But if Mei says he’s being watched, there’s no chance he slipped past her, and this is Mei. She wouldn’t have brought someone with her who would act alone, undermine her, even go against her. She’s a hell of a lot more careful than that, and she always has been.

There's a reason she was the leader they held in reserve, why Zabuza was the one to make the first sally against Yagura. If anything went wrong, Mei was careful, thorough, cunning enough to pull the rebellion back together, and she did.

“Konoha?” Mei asks cautiously, eyeing him. She folds her arms across her chest, like she’s braced to argue, but Zabuza frowns, considers the idea. Konoha is a shinobi village like any other, and there’s no doubt that Haku's bloodline is just as valuable here as anywhere else. But—

“Whoever took him nabbed a Konoha kunoichi too,” he says, tipping one shoulder in a shrug. “If it’s an inside job, my husband couldn’t pick up any trace of another Konoha shinobi in the forest. Neither did I.”

Mei's mouth tips down, but she accepts his word at face value. “Whatever I can do to help, just tell me,” she says, and smiles faintly at the look Zabuza gives her. “I'm the Mizukage, but you're an old friend.”

“An old punching bag,” Zabuza retorts, but something twists in his chest. He doesn’t even step out of the way when Mei thumps him lightly in the shoulder; it stings, but—maybe even that is a little nostalgic, something he’s missed over the years.

“I’ll let you know,” he says, instead of harassing her about it. Glances out the window behind her, into the misty darkness, and realizes belatedly that he probably doesn’t need the cover anymore. A quick hand seal lets it start to shred, dissipating like natural mist, and Zabuza sighs, rubbing a hand over his face.

“How long have you been awake?” Mei asks, and there’s a thread of slyness to her voice that’s a cover she’s been using as long as Zabuza has known her. Kiri has a tendency to chew up anyone without a good mask and spit them out, thoroughly broken. “Is that husband of yours so useless?”

“You're lucky I'm not walking funny right now, is how useless he’s not,” Zabuza retorts. “And you're one to talk, harpy. You're still in your fancy sackcloth.”

If they were still nine and ten respectively, Mei would probably stick her tongue out at him. As it is, she laughs, bringing a hand up to the collar of her robes. “Looking to get me out of my clothes? I don’t go for married men, Zabuza.”

“No, just the ones you think you can con into marriage,” Zabuza says dryly, and ducks the punch she throws at his face. Catches the second, sidesteps the kick, grabs her elbow just before it breaks his nose, and they’re both laughing when he hauls her in, wraps her up in another tight hug and stays there for a long, long moment, savoring the weight of her in his arms. Mei winds her arms around his waist in return, tipping her head to rest their temples together, and breathes out a quiet sigh.

“I'm glad you're here,” she says, soft, like it’s a secret.

“Thinking Yagura had you executed made me want to turn Kiri inside out,” Zabuza admits, rough, and Mei laughs a little, tightening her grip before she lets go all the way.

“You’ll find him, Zabuza,” she says, as much fierce certainty as she ever used about their rebellion, and Zabuza closes his eyes but nods once, sharp. He will.

“Thanks for not melting me into slag when I tried to cut your head off,” he says, and scoops Kubikiribōchō off the floor, sliding it back into its harness. “Maybe next time wear your hair down.”

“Maybe next time you could use your eyes,” Mei retorts, all killing sweetness. “Go back to that poor man you got to catch you. You're stinking up my rooms.”

“You're just jealous someone wanted to hunt me,” Zabuza tells her, and knocks another punch to the side. “Sloppy, Terumī—ow.”

“Slow, Momochi.” Mei blows him a kiss, thankfully not filled with acid, and orders, “Ameyuri, throw him out. I'm going to sleep.”

Ameyuri laughs, all knife edges and bloody humor. “Sure, Mizukage-sama,” she says lazily, and rests her hands on Kiba's hilts. “Well, Zabuza?”

“I'm leaving because my husband’s better company,” Zabuza tells Mei, waving Ameyuri off. Pauses, and says, “If I can't find Haku—”

“Come to me,” Mei says, a little softer. “I’ll help however I can.”

There might not be anything she can do, but…maybe there is. Zabuza’s willing to take the offer either way. He nods, stepping away, and gives Ameyuri a once-over as she shifts out of the doorway.

“Still alive, then?” he asks.

She laughs, baring sharpened teeth in a man-eating grin. “And kicking.”

Zabuza snorts, but lingers for another second. So many questions, and he hasn’t really thought about Kiri and all the people there in a while, not as anything but an abstract. Still, he finds that here and now, faced with at least two of the people he used to know well, he wants the information with a greedy sort of desperation. “Mangetsu? Suigetsu?”

Ameyuri pulls a face, shaking her head. “Mangetsu’s gone,” she says. “Over a year now. Hiramekarei was in the barracks, but we couldn’t find him anywhere. Suigetsu disappeared a few months ago and no one’s heard from him since.”

“Looking for Mangetsu?” Suigetsu was always a brat to everyone, his older brother included, but he loved Mangetsu fiercely enough that it made him dangerous. If Mangetsu disappeared, Zabuza can't imagine Suigetsu took it well.

With a shrug, Ameyuri huffs out a sound of irritation. “Maybe. He definitely hasn’t been back in the village, and none of our spies have seen him.”

Kiri's spies are good, but Zabuza still frowns, considers the network he built up as a missing-nin. He’ll have to put word out, see if he can't track Suigetsu down somewhere. Mangetsu was a friend, a lover, and Zabuza was one of the few people Suigetsu ever really listened to.

“I’ll see if I can track him down,” he says gruffly, and gives Ao a polite, wary nod. Ao is old guard—he served the Sandaime, served Yagura as Jounin Commander, commanded the loyalty of a good chunk of Kiri's jounin in a way that was half fear and half awe. Zabuza’s always rather suspected that he was one of the reasons Zabuza’s attempt at a coup failed; if Mei got him on her side for her try, that’s probably at least part of the reason she won.

To his surprise, Ao nods back, one sharp tip of his head as he steps aside. “The Mizukage will be safe with us,” he says, like he has anything to prove to a shinobi like Zabuza.

(Zabuza killed one of his cousins in the arena the day of the graduation exam. He remembers that clearly. If Ao’s ever held it against him, though, he hasn’t been able to tell. It’s mildly confusing, in a place like Kiri where every grudge plays out in daily life.)

“Just watch out for those bridal magazines,” he says dryly. “She’s insane about them. Hides them like most people hide their porn.”

“Zabuza!” Mei hisses, and there's a sizzle of chakra that feels like acid. With a snort, Zabuza waves a hand over his shoulder, then plays it safe and ducks out of the line of fire, letting the door fall shut behind him.

He makes it down the stairs, out of the inn, and into the street beyond before the fine tremor of relief finally catches up to him, the gutting twist of an unwelcome emotional release all mixed up with disappointment. Zabuza hisses out a breath, but puts his back to the wall of the inn and just—takes a minute.

Mei is alive. Mei is the Mizukage.

Haku is still missing, and Zabuza has no idea who took him.

It’s not a trade, but it feels like one. Zabuza can't even tell if he’s bitter about it, though, because the thought of losing Mei was a terrible one, made the world feel that much emptier. At least right now Zabuza can assume Haku is alive wherever he is; he’s too valuable to kill, and anyone wanting to would have simply done it in the forest.

As long as he’s alive, Zabuza will get to him eventually, no matter what it takes.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Zabuza shakes himself, pushes upright again. The streets are dark and still all but empty, the mist he drew up shredding to let the moonlight drip through. The dome of the Administration Building rises to his left, and the forest starts just a few yards away. Beneath the trees, the dark is depthless, untouched by the lights of the village, and Zabuza eyes it, still not even close to used to the thickness of Konoha's trees, the press of them around the village. Kiri has woods, but—not like this. Neater, politer, brighter, and they’re a lot easier to dismiss.

Sleep, Zabuza thinks with a grimace, dragging a hand through his hair. Tomorrow he’ll have to tell Kakashi about what he tried, what he was going to do. There’s every chance that he won't take it well, and Zabuza almost wants to hide it, but—

Secrets like that have an inconvenient way of coming out at the worst possible moment. Especially when one of those involved is a sadistic harpy who gleefully holds everything over Zabuza’s head and never lets him forget even one misstep.

But. At least she’s alive to torture him, so Zabuza can't complain too much. Not that he’ll say that, or stop needling her, ever.

Zabuza raises his face to the nearly-full moon as it sails above the tattered mist, and just for a moment he would swear he can feel that same electric hum to the air that he felt with Kakashi, that he felt as he left the apartment. It tingles across his skin, slides across his nerve endings, and it’s not unpleasant, but it’s unsettling. Strange, with an aftertaste like catching sight of eyeshine in the dark; Zabuza frowns, trying to tell whether it’s something of yōkai or something of chakra, but he can't. It hums just out of range, close enough to prickle over his skin but not near enough to sense, and he likes that even less.

It’s stronger than it was, too. Stronger than yesterday, and even stronger than an hour ago. Zabuza sets his teeth, fingers flexing, and forces himself to keep walking in the face of it, past the dark trees and through a stretch of deep shadow.

He never sees the blow that catches him in the back of the head, and he’s unconscious before he even hits the ground.

Chapter Text

Kakashi comes awake slowly, dazedly. It feels like whatever he was dreaming still has its claws sunk into him, like the edges of unconsciousness are clinging cobwebs holding him down. He draws in a rasping breath, curls his fingers into the mattress, and forces his eyes open with an effort to find a summer thunderstorm looming. The whole sky is dark, heavy and low, and the air is so thick it feels hard to breathe beneath its weight.

The other side of the bed is empty, and Kakashi knows even half-asleep that it isn’t supposed to be.

For an endless moment, Kakashi lies there, gaze fixed out the window. He feels—eyes. Attention. Like that morning in the library, utterly certain he was being watched. The feeling is sharped now, prickling across his skin like ambient electricity, and it’s not quite hostile but certainly not friendly, either. Someone is watching, something is watching, and for the life of him Kakashi can’t tell if it’s a friend or foe.

Slowly, arduously, Kakashi pushes up to sit, rubbing a hand over his face. It doesn’t do anything to banish the feeling that he’s in some sort of dream state still, caught between consciousness and sleep, and—

Something’s coming, he thinks. It’s a patient thing, easy, slow. Accepting, instead of tense. Some part of Kakashi’s brain registers that as wrong, but he can hardly pay attention to it. All of his thoughts are on that certainty, on the pressure in the air, on the rising certainty that something, somewhere, has changed irrevocably.

They were never going to stay locked away forever, he thinks, and doesn’t even quite know why.

Unsettled, unsteady, he slides out of bed, dresses quickly even as his fingers fumble. There’s no sound in the apartment, no trace of Zabuza’s presence, and it puts Kakashi on edge. Kubikiribōchō is gone too, but Zabuza’s hitai-ate is lying beside Kakashi’s on the dresser, untouched.

Carefully, Kakashi ties his on, then picks up Zabuza’s, cradling it in his hand. Something rumbles through him, like the thunder outside but deeper beneath the skin, and he catches his breath, lifts the metal plate and takes a deep inhale of the scent surrounding it. Warm, dark, with an edge of sweat, and Kakashi curls his fingers over it, fits his thumb against the engraved leaf.

Zabuza isn’t here, and something has happened.

He isn’t sure how he knows, doesn’t know why he’s so convinced. But—there are eyes on him, attention, and that storm is a weight against his skin. No rain yet, nothing but the threat of it low in the sky, and Kakashi breathes in lightning. When he exhales, that feels the same. Electricity, caught and strung into shape, and beyond it—

A forest, and a full moon.

Kakashi lifts his head, startled. Daylight outside, what the storm lets through, but there’s an itching awareness in him of the fact that when the moon rises tonight, it’s going to be full.

A Thunder Moon, his father used to call the first full moon of July. When the Hatake were a larger clan, when the world was younger, the Thunder Moon was when the spirits came back to dance in the forest. To hunt, and to fight, and to devour.

Kakashi feels that knowledge vibrate along his bones, sink deep into his chest, and wants to growl.

He doesn’t waste the breath. Instead, he heads for the main room, vaults out the window without pause, and calls up a shunshin in midair, vanishing in a ripple of speed to land on a distant street corner. Zabuza lingered here, just a few hours ago—his scent is heavier, and Kakashi breathes it in, looks up. The trail keeps going, through the streets in a straight line. Logical; Zabuza hasn’t learned most of thee shortcuts and back alleys and rooftop routes that Konoha shinobi grow up knowing. It makes following him easier, and Kakashi ignores the handful of people out on the street, only marking the fact that there aren’t many of them. Only a scattered few shinobi, which is odd but not something Kakashi is willing to dwell on.

Zabuza’s scent heads straight for the Administration Building, then turns towards the inn where the Kiri delegation is staying, and Kakashi comes to a sharp halt at the edge of the street, staring up at the building with every hackle up.

This isn't Kiri taking Zabuza. This is worse. This is Zabuza walking straight towards them of his own free will, on his own volition. Kakashi stares at the door, unable to pull his eyes away, and—the unformed lightning in the air buzzes across his bones, and his Sharingan eye burns in a way it hasn’t since he first got it. The feeling makes him grit his teeth, press his palm against the slant of his hitai-ate, and—

Darkness. Golden seals, thick moss, a tangle of vines fit to choke, and nothing but blackness beyond the tiny pool of light.

The vision fades, sliding back into the more regular darkness of his closed eye, and Kakashi shakes himself. grits his teeth, entirely unsettled and aggravated by it, and takes a step.

Before he can get any closer, though, the door of the inn opens. A small, red-haired woman saunters out, grinning, and just as much as the sharpened teeth, the Kiri hitai-ate and twin swords at her waist mark her as one of the Seven Swordsman. The flick of her gaze is assessing, quick—a guard’s check for danger, something Kakashi recognizes from seeing Iwashi and Raidō do it a thousand times. She doesn’t say anything, but a moment later the door opens again, and a much taller woman steps out. Her hair is a darker shade of red, almost auburn, and she’s beautiful, graceful, clad in the blue robes of the Mizukage.

Not the Yondaime Mizukage. Kakashi never met him, but he’s absolutely certain there hasn’t been a female Kage before, and that the first one is from Kiri is mildly surprising—Kakashi hadn’t thought the village was progressive about much beyond murder. He wonders if Zabuza knows, and what he thinks; she looks about the same age, or possibly a little younger, and Kiri isn't so large that Zabuza would have never met her.

Then he takes a breath, and all he can smell is Zabuza. Zabuza, salt like tears, an edge of something sharp like grief or maybe joy, and—

There's something cold in Kakashi’s head. Something vicious, able to perfectly calculate the approach he needs to take her by surprise, to get a kunai against her throat before she can stop him. Kakashi is an assassin, one of the best; if he tries to kill her, he’ll succeed.

One step, not even sure if he’s going to do it, and the tension in the air is suddenly crystalline. It hums, tingling like acid against Kakashi’s skin, and the Mizukage lifts her head. Her eyes lock onto Kakashi without so much as a second of hesitation, and in an instant the humor bleeds out of her face. It turns it to something harsh, still beautiful but full of dagger edges, and she stalks forward, veils and robes billowing, hair a crimson cloud around her.

“Hatake,” she says, a whip-crack of a word. “You're Hatake Kakashi.”

Kakashi considers answering, considers lunging. Zabuza’s scent is all over her, thick on her robes and her skin. It smells like she was rolling around with him, and it takes everything Kakashi has not to growl. Instead, he sets his jaw, tips his head, and breathes out. Cold, steady, and he says with all the mildness he doesn’t feel, “I could be, I suppose.”

The Mizukage frowns, a sharp tip of her darkly painted mouth. “I saw the marks,” she says, and it’s lazy, something close to a dare. “He’s not your property.

Kakashi smiles back, cheerful and easy and entirely a lie. “Ma, ma, Zabuza’s never complained.”

“He wouldn’t.” Precisely, she steps past him, one shinobi’s insult to another. Kakashi eyes her open back, but—she wouldn’t do that if she wasn’t sure she could survive, and she knows who Kakashi is. Kakashi doesn’t like that much. “Where is he? Chained in your bedroom?”

Kakashi freezes. Something icy and dark slides though his veins, and he takes a breath. But—Zabuza’s scent only goes to the inn; he can't catch any hint of Zabuza leaving it.

“I thought,” he says carefully, “that Zabuza was with you.”

The Mizukage stops short, and he can see the way her shoulders tense, her fingers clench. Behind her, the guard takes a breath, startled, and says, “Mei—”

“Ameyuri, check on Yagura,” Mei says, sharp. “And alert Ao.”

In an instant, Ameyuri is gone, vanished back into the inn, and Mei turns to face Kakashi in a whirl of silk and bloody red. There’s something close to alarm on her face, and contradictorily, it makes the chill in Kakashi’s blood ease slightly; he’s not the only one who’s worried, at least.

“Zabuza didn’t come home?” Mei asks. “Is there any place he would go? Could he have gone looking for Haku?”

Kakashi takes a breath, turns his face away. Pulls his mask down just enough that he can breathe in the smell of the street unimpeded, but all he gets is storm and ozone, sharp in his nose.

“He didn’t leave the inn,” he says, and tugs the mask back up, turning to meet Mei’s eyes. “Not that I can tell.”

Mei doesn’t ask if he’s sure; then again, if she knows his reputation, she probably wouldn’t. “He didn’t stay long,” she says. “After he realized who I was. Just long enough to say hello.” The pull of her smile is wry, and she tips the Mizukage’s hat back, lifts her chin. “I know what you’re likely assuming, but it wasn’t like that. Zabuza wouldn’t go back on his word. Especially on something like a marriage hunt.”

Kakashi takes a breath, and he knows that. Zabuza could have refused to follow through when Kakashi caught him in Wave. He could have slipped away on the trip home. He could have abandoned Konoha any time in between then and now, but he hasn’t. Instead, he’s started training Kakashi’s team, gotten the Konoha uniform, wandered around Kakashi’s apartment like it’s home. Treated Kakashi like he’s actually his husband in every way that matters, and—

That’s what Kakashi forces himself to think of, here and now.

“You smell like him,” he tells Mei, more honest than he means to be. “My brain doesn’t care a lot about truth or logic right now.”

Mei grimaces, but it’s something close to sympathetic. “Finding Zabuza will help,” she says.

Kakashi opens his mouth to agree, but a sharp pain lances through his left eye, and with a hiss he snaps a hand up, pressing against the hitai-ate. It burns, like he’s overused the Sharingan to the point he’s about to collapse, and Kakashi can’t fathom why.

Then, slow, like the ripple of a veil shifting in the wind to reveal what’s behind it, he catches another glimpse of somewhere else. Somewhere still dark, still lit by golden seals, but there’s a half-second image of a woman, blue-haired and grim-faced, with hawklike golden eyes. A hand, pale in the darkness, and another reaching out to catch it, heavily scarred.

Like before, the vision fades in an instant, and Kakashi has to lock his knees to keep from staggering.

“Hatake?” Mei says sharply, in a tone that means it isn’t the first time. When Kakashi blinks and raises his head, she’s right beside him, gaze sharp with what might be alarm, and it’s enough to make Kakashi shake himself.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says, and it doesn’t. Whatever Obito’s eye wants to show him, he’ll concentrate on it later. When he’s found Zabuza and no sooner. “Zabuza—”

The smell of snake is abruptly overwhelming.

Kakashi all but gags on it, dry scales and leaf-litter and bone, old blood and chemicals. It’s ten times stronger than it was in the forest, but it’s the same scent, the same burn in his nose. Before, it was subtle, touched with Anko’s warmer, richer scent of sugar and maple wood, and that was normal, the mix of smells, the way Anko’s use of her summons all but blotted out her presence, but—

For the first time, Kakashi thinks that what he smelled there was something else entirely.

Jerking around, he stiffens. There’s a group of shinobi approaching, Suna shinobi with wary eyes, and at the front—

A man, but not. Rasa in the Kazekage’s green, face bare, but he doesn’t have the same sandy-earth dry-sun scent that the rest of the Suna nin do. He’s the source of the snake smell, as thick around him as a miasma.

Kakashi knows this smell. Knows it as more than just an echo in Anko’s scent. Encountered it once, years ago, and together with that terrible killing intent it had frozen him in place, unable to even move as Konoha’s greatest traitor slipped right past him and vanished into the trees.

A hand touches his arm, one glancing moment of contact. “Hatake?” Mei murmurs, but her eyes are on the Kazekage as well, narrow and wary. “What is it?”

“That’s not Rasa,” Kakashi says, and takes a step forward as the Suna delegation vanishes into the Administration Building. “He smells like what took Haku and Anko.”

Mei’s mouth thins, her nostrils flaring. Deftly, she tips her hat down, then starts forward, practically a saunter. Dangerous, Kakashi thinks as he eyes her, but he falls into step at her heels and says, “Picking a fight with someone who looks like the Kazekage isn’t going to win you any favors.”

“It’s adorable that you think I would do something so uncouth,” Mei retorts, and breezes into the building, making for the stairs without pause.

“You know Zabuza,” Kakashi says dryly, and can’t quite stop the way his fingers curl, wanting to reach out for someone who isn’t here.

His eye stings, a ripple of dark air in front of it that’s breaking into sunlight, but it fades again a moment later.

“We were coconspirators,” Mei tells him, amused, and when Kakashi eyes her, she smiles like a tigress. “We both attacked the Yondaime. I was just better at it.”

Kakashi snorts, but lets her precede him into the waiting room at the top of the stairs. No Iruka tending to the Hokage’s files, but Izumo is there instead, just closing the main office door behind the last of the Suna nin. He glances up when he hears their footsteps, and his eyes widen, flickering from Mei to Kakashi with alarm.

“I’m sorry,” he says quickly, and in a move that’s braver than Kakashi would have expected of anyone, he steps into Mei’s path, blocking her way to the door. “The Hokage is currently in a meeting, but—”

Mei laughs, and it’s a dangerous thing, puts the hackles on the back of Kakashi’s neck up on instinct. “Oh, you’re a cute one,” she purrs, and stops, leaning into Izumo’s space with a smirk. “Want a kiss? I promise it will make you melt.”

Somehow, Kakashi gets the feeling that she doesn’t mean that metaphorically.

Izumo swallows, but stays where he is. “Mizukage-sama, I can’t let you in,” he says doggedly, and flicks a glance at Kakashi that’s almost pleading. “The Sandaime is in a meeting.”

“There’s a threat,” Kakashi says mildly, and when Izumo glances at him again he smiles, bright bullshit that’s only vaguely intended to reassure. “It’s all right, Izumo.”

Izumo looks deeply skeptical, but he steps aside. “I’m taking that as an order,” he tells Kakashi, a warning, but Kakashi just nods. He wouldn’t have expected anything else; Izumo’s only a chuunin, after all.

“Thanks,” Mei says with a wink, and pushes right past him, throwing the door open and breezing in without pause. There’s an instant halt to the voices, Sarutobi’s greeting cut off halfway by a sound of alarm, and in an instant a masked ANBU is dropping from the ceiling, one of the Suna jounin planting himself in front of the Kazekage. Mei stops, managing to make it look like something she planned instead of a response to a threat, and smiles lazily.

“Sarutobi,” she says. “What’s this I hear about one of my shinobi going missing?”

Sarutobi is already on his feet, poised to greet the Suna nin. He pauses there, looking at Kakashi, who shrugs and tucks his hands into his pockets in a show of unconcern. It makes exasperation flicker across Sarutobi’s face, and he says severely, “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Terumi. The only Kiri nin in the village are the ones in your party.”

Mei’s smile sharpens like a weapon. “Oh, but they aren’t. Just because Momochi Zabuza tied himself to one of your shinobi doesn’t mean I’ve renounced his ties to me. He was one of the commanders in my revolution, Sarutobi, and I want him back.”

The Kazekage hasn’t moved, hasn’t twitched beyond a turn of his head to look at Mei. Kakashi watches him surreptitiously, fingering the kunai in his pocket, and wonders how no one else can smell the reek of snake so close.

Then again, Kakashi supposes he’s been paying more attention to his instincts than normal, lately, no matter how much he’s tried not to.

Sarutobi pauses, frowning, and lifts his head. “Kakashi?” he asks.

Kakashi hums, but nods in confirmation. “Zabuza never made it home last night. He vanished after leaving the Mizukage’s rooms, and I can’t find any trace of him.”

Sarutobi doesn’t ask why Zabuza was in Mei’s rooms, just accepts that with a tip of his chin. “Kakashi, consult your team,” he says, and when Kakashi blinks, Sarutobi raises a brow at him. “Izumo is going on shift in a few minutes. I’m sure he’ll be happy to leave early.”

Not the genin team, then. Kakashi very carefully doesn’t look over at the missing-nin wearing the Kazekage’s face. Instead, he meets the eyes of the masked ANBU still crouched in front of Mei, and lets his eyes slide towards the Suna party without ever actually landing on them.

Behind the ox mask, he can see Raidō’s eyes narrow. Message received, then.

“Mizukage-sama?” he asks mildly, taking a step back, but Mei waves a lazy hand, and that smirk is full of edges.

“Go ahead, Hatake,” she retorts. “I haven’t spoken to Rasa in a while. It will be nice to catch up.”

The Kazekage frowns, eyes narrowing, but he doesn’t say anything beyond inclining his head. But, behind him, Kakashi can see one of the jounin give him a look that’s somewhere between sharp and confused. He doesn’t say anything, but it’s enough. Kakashi bows, takes three precise steps back through the open doors, and lets them swing closed with something like relief.

“Kakashi?” Izumo asks worriedly.

Kakashi takes a breath, trying to think. Mei is with the Hokage, and that will be protection enough. But—Orochimaru’s presence in Konoha changes everything he’d thought about Haku and Anko disappearing. Maybe Orochimaru was only after Anko, and took Haku as collateral. And then…

And then someone took Zabuza, too. Maybe Orochimaru, maybe Danzō. Kakashi isn't sure, and he doesn’t care beyond what will help him find Zabuza before anything can happen to him.

“Is Kotetsu in the village?” he asks, because Kotetsu and Izumo work best as a pair, and Kakashi tries to keep them together whenever possible.

Izumo hesitates, then shakes his head. “Ibiki sent him out to Tanzaku-Gai,” he says. “Following up on a report.”

Unfortunate, but Kakashi can manage. He nods, heading for the window, and pushes it open. “Get the team,” he says, and leaps out. Izumo makes a sound of agreement, then follows, vanishing in midair with a whirl of leaves. Kakashi lands lightly, then pauses there, breathing in. Zabuza’s scent is still strongest around the inn, on the street leading up to it; there’s no trace of him leaving, but—

But. At the edge of the trees, close to where the streets merge, there's a patch of disturbed gravel. Not much of anything, but Kakashi makes for it, crouches down to drag his fingers through the pebbles and then raises his hand to his nose. A breath, and—that’s Zabuza’s scent. Light, like he didn’t rest here for more than an instant, but the patch of gravel is larger than a footprint. The mark of a body hitting the ground, maybe, though it’s been disturbed by feet since, almost covered over with the day-smells of the village and the people passing.

Zabuza’s body. Zabuza collapsed here, in all likelihood, and it makes Kakashi’s breath rasp in his throat, drag up from his lungs with an effort. He sets his teeth, then rocks back on his heels, raises his thumb to his mouth, and bites. Smears the blood across the ground, and channels a touch of will. He doesn’t need much; this is probably the one jutsu he’s used most frequently over the years, the only one of his thousands that he had right from the first.

With a plume of smoke, nine bodies burst into being, and Pakkun huffs, shakes himself hard. “Boss,” he says gruffly, then looks at Kakashi and stops. Sits up straighter, and under him Bull makes a low, whining sound.

“Pakkun,” Kakashi says, and reaches out. His oldest summons leaps, perfectly trusting, and Kakashi catches him in his cupped palms, holding him for a moment.

Pakkun eyes him, eternally unimpressed but careful, and says, “You smell like you’ve been rolling around with someone, Boss.”

“Surprise,” Kakashi says blandly, and has to swallow. Pakkun was his father’s, once. He was the last thing his father gave him before his death. “I—he’s mine,” he says, and means it. The words are raw, honest in a way he doesn’t intend, and Pakkun’s attention settles on him, weighty. “But someone took him. Him and his apprentice both.”

“Want us to find him?” Pakkun asks, cocking his head.

“As quick as you can,” Kakashi agrees.

Pakkun drops from his hands into the dirt, puts his nose to the ground, and bars out, “Well, what are you waiting for?”

There's a scramble to move, and almost instantly Bisuke and Urushi split off, galloping back towards the apartment. The other dogs separate, alone or in pairs, and spread out across the road, into the trees, behind the building. Kakashi watches them go, then looks down at Pakkun, who’s looking back.

“We’ll find him, Boss,” the pug says gruffly. “And then you can introduce us properly.”

Kakashi pats him on the head, and doesn’t mean a word of it when he says, “I didn’t want you to scare him off before I had him settled.”

Pakkun sighs like he’s a trial, then picks up a scent and turns off the road, into the shadowed forest.

Kakashi follows, and the ache of lightning in his bones is almost impossible to ignore.

His vision flickers, the covered Sharingan burning low and steady, and all he can see behind it are clouds from above, distant trees, and black crow-feathers sheened with blood.

 

 

Zabuza’s been knocked out enough in his life to recognize the sticky, aching feeling of a head wound seeping blood, the dizzy lurch of a concussion as he opens his eyes. The world swims, almost enough to turn his stomach, but he swallows down the urge to gag and forces himself to focus.

Forest. Deep, dark forest, with barely any light able to crawl down through the thick canopy, and massive trees that loom like giants. Zabuza is on the ground, hands and legs bound, and there's stone beneath him, moss-covered and worn. Old stone, and there’s something carved into it, half-covered by the moss.

“Awake?” a low voice asks, and Zabuza takes a breath, turns his head.

Not someone he knows. An old man, leaning on a cane and staring down at him with one good eye, expression set into lines that are colder than anything Zabuza has seen in a long time.

“Unfortunately,” Zabuza says, and tests his bonds as subtly as he can. Ninja wire, and expertly wrapped; there's not much of a chance that he can break them without cutting his own hands off, and Zabuza isn't quite that desperate yet. “Who the hell are you supposed to be? Ninja boogeyman?”

The man’s expression doesn’t even flicker. “It’s a shame,” he says. “One of the Seven Swordsmen defecting to Konoha would be a great victory under other circumstances. But as it stands, your presence is a danger to the power structure. It can't be allowed to continue, but at least this way you can serve a greater purpose.”

Zabuza stares at him for a long moment, trying to control his reaction. An old warhawk, he thinks, and there’s some flicker of aged, long-buried anger that last truly surfaced in the arena, when the graduation exam started. Old assholes, so smug, so fucking superior, and Zabuza’s willing to bet that breed isn't confined to Kiri alone.

“Purpose,” he repeats flatly. “What fucking purpose?”

But the man is already turning away, the tap of his stick on the stone marking his path as he passes Zabuza. “Sai,” he says, and out of the corner of his eye Zabuza can see a shadow detach from the surrounding darkness, stepping forward and dropping to one knee.

“Yes, Danzō-sama?”

“I have no doubt that Kakashi will be on his way,” Danzō says coolly. “Take a piece of clothing and lay a false trail. Halt them by any means necessary. I expect you to give your life if it is required.”

“Yes, sir.” The boy inclines his head, then pushes back to his feet and approaches Zabuza. He crouches down beside him, face perfectly blank, eyes dark, and he stares at Zabuza for one second longer than he should before he smiles. It’s even faker than anything Zabuza has seen on Kakashi’s face, and that’s saying something. “Excuse me,” he offers, and draws a kunai.

Zabuza ignores the slice of the blade through his shirt, all too aware of the fact that Danzō is right behind him. If he tries anything, he’s pretty sure he won't remain conscious for long.

“Haven’t seen you around Konoha,” he says, and doesn’t flinch when the kunai catches on Kubikiribōchō’s harness and jars, slicing his shoulder. Drops of blood smear across paper-pale skin, and Sai smiles, flat around the edges and perfectly meaningless.

“I am Root,” he says, like that should explain everything, and rises, pulling Zabuza’s tattered shirt with him. Looks up, bows, and then flickers into the trees like a ghost.

A step, retreat rather than approach, and Danzō makes a sound of derisive amusement. “If you were hoping to sway him, you're better off saving your breath,” he says, and Zabuza listens to him walk away, breathing, trying to contain the prickles of deep rage that are building. “Testing your ties will earn you nothing, either. Please recall that as long as you still have enough blood left for the ritual, I have no reason to fix anything you do to yourself.”

That definitely means Zabuza isn't getting out of this alive, as long as Danzō has his way. He huffs, disgusted, and rolls carefully onto his bound arms to watch what the asshole is doing.

The sight of the small shrine should be innocuous, unremarkable, but it still makes something in Zabuza’s chest go very, very still and cold.

“You know,” he says darkly, “There were plenty of shitheads like you in Kiri. Addicted to power, completely blind to what pieces of filth they were just because people kept bowing to ‘em.”

The look Danzō shoots him is perfectly derisive. “Kiri is a weak state,” he says. “None of your leaders can maintain their power for more than a few years. Civil wars kindle even more frequently. All you have to your name is strong bloodlines from the sea creatures that once haunted your shores, and even that is finally fading.”

Finally, like the way yōkai blood is thinning is a good thing. Zabuza grits his teeth, but lets a trickle of chakra slide down around his wrists, trying to strain the wires without cutting into his skin. “I hate to break it to you, asshole, but yōkai blood’s what keeps shinobi strong.”

“Yes,” Danzō agrees, and he must catch Zabuza’s flicker of surprise, because he smiles thinly. “Yōkai blood is a dangerous thing. But when it can be controlled, when the introduction of it into a bloodline can be managed—then it is a powerful weapon, rather than a liability. I refuse to allow all the work I have put into managing Konoha's bloodlines to go to waste, just because a handful of missing-nin can't catch a single thief.”