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By Your Side: Tales of the Ninja

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The Hokage, Kazekage, and Mei’s forces were gradually coming together. Tsunade had her hands full with several Shinobi who were going to be learning the healing arts from her. Five of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist were there; as one of their own had been killed in the failed coup, and the other had betrayed Kiri some time ago.

Hiramekarei would be seeking a new wielder, and Zabuza wasn’t sure who among their ranks would be able to wield the infamous Blade. Mei believed a boy named Chōjūrō would be able to wield it; even though he seemed like a nervous mess most of the time, and didn’t really look at people when he spoke to them.

Mei had a good feeling about him – that he had a strong and resilient spirit – something that Hiramekarei would demand.

But Hiramekarei was currently Sealed away, waiting to be reclaimed. They probably wouldn’t get another Kenjutsu user in time to take up the Blade. Besides, as was tradition, the potential wielder had to do something worthy to earn the right to become one of the Seven Swordsmen.

Mei sighed, exhausted. She already had so many briefings today and more were sure to follow.

She glanced over at Rasa and his Suna-Nin, who all looked equally cold and miserable in Kiri’s weather. It was currently winter, so that meant icy sheets of rain with temperatures nearing -0 Fahrenheit on some days. Mei almost felt sorry for the desert-dwellers. Almost. Seeing them suffer was entertaining.

The various leaders of the T&I units were discussing what they should and shouldn’t share when it came to interrogating POWs, and what should be done with them. Ibiki and a couple of the Aburame who worked under him had ways of unnerving people who weren’t interrogators. The head of the T&I department had found people he got along with effortlessly. 

Suna interrogators loved their slow-acting poisons and hallucinogenic herbs that made breaking out of a Genjutsu near impossible.

Kiri interrogators loved their various creative methods of water torture accompanied by inserting needles underneath the fingernails and into people’s gums, along with using acupuncture needles.

They then started discussing where they would set up their base of operations and what information they would be going for and what they should and shouldn’t share if it came to that somehow.

The rest of the Shinobi figured they would just leave the T&I units to their own devices. That seemed best.

0000

The following months were grueling as the Konoha, Suna, and Kiri forces advanced against the Third Mizukage’s forces. Arashi’s armies were skilled – definitely proving that just because someone had a Kekkei Genkai didn’t guarantee a victory.

Haku was currently in the medical tent, helping treat the wounded. Tsunade was doing well enough. She had Haku and a few other Medic-Nin at her side and she could direct them on how to do something if she became overwhelmed.

A man in full-length green spandex walked in, supporting another man with wild silvery-white hair.

Tsunade narrowed her eyes into a glare. Her tone was accusatory. “What did you do this time, Kakashi?”

“Yo, Tsunade-hime…” Kakashi said, giving a lazy wave. He had blood on the left side of his mask, and there were several other wounds as well.

“My youthful rival had an incredible confrontation with some of those ruffians and over exerted himself.” Gai said dramatically. The Medic-Nin and Kakashi all sweat-dropped as the air around Gai seemed to sparkle somehow without the use of Genjutsu; with tears running down his face. “It was truly an impressive, youthful sight to behold!”

“Don’t make it sound weird.” Kakashi griped. He wished he could pull away, but he couldn’t really move on his own at the moment.

Haku came to the rescue as he quickly supported Kakashi’s other side and gently tugged him away from Gai. “We should let Kakashi-san rest… someplace with lots of…um, quiet as we can get…”

He didn’t miss the look of thankful relief Kakashi sent him.

“Take that idiot to one of the far beds,” Tsunade ordered.

Haku quickly guided Kakashi to a bed that offered more privacy than most.

Gai nodded and loudly called out, “Get well soon, my youthful ri…”

Gai trailed off when Tsunade rested her hand on Gai’s shoulder and squeezed ever so slowly. Tsunade somehow simultaneously glared and smiled sweetly as she said, “Gai-san, if you aren’t injured, please leave. I don’t want any unnecessary noise to disturb my patients.”

With the way she spoke, Tsunade could just as easily be talking about her “patience”. Gai quickly understood, and made himself scarce after a quick, “Yes, ma’am!”

“Mah, I don’t think threatening him was necessary, Tsunade-hime…” Kakashi drawled as Tsunade approached.

Tsunade’s glare turned on Kakashi for a moment before she crossed her arms. “Haku, get the curtain.”

Haku wordlessly obeyed and closed the curtains around Kakashi’s bed for privacy.

“Kakashi, meet Haku, my apprentice. Haku, Kakashi.”

While they had vague knowledge of the others’ existence, the two could offer nothing more than a polite nod because Tsunade turned to Haku very seriously. “What you’re about to see here I expect full confidentiality – if something ever happens to Kakashi, I’ll know exactly who I have to crush. Understood?”

Haku stiffened and stood ramrod straight as if he were being addressed by either an angry Zabuza or a far-too-many-teeth-as-she-smiled Mei. “Yes, ma’am!”

Tsunade motioned silently to Kakashi, who slowly reached up and pushed his hitai-ate back; revealing a scarred eye, and… the Uchiha’s Sharingan. There was also a bloody gash across the already existing scar – just a few centimeters higher and Kakashi would have lost his eye a second time.

“Oh…” was all Haku could think to say upon seeing the eye.

“The issue we have here is that since the eye isn’t originally his, it drains his own chakra after a certain amount of use, requiring bed rest and then some…”

Haku focused, and held his hand over both of Kakashi’s eyes, trying to see how the Sharingan eye was connected compared to his own original eye. It had been connected very well; but the problem of the eye was that while it certainly helped – Kakashi was known as the “Copycat Ninja” for a reason – the eye also acted like a parasite in more ways than one.

This meant slower healing, causing Kakashi to be even more lethargic than he usually was if he exerted himself too much simply by using the eye. Haku quickly moved to start healing the wound on Kakashi’s face, since all of his chakra was drained dangerously low. 

Tsunade observed critically. Haku was doing more than a decent enough job.

Since Kakashi had to recover for a week or so anyway, there was something Tsunade wanted to try.  Of course, they had to do their research before messing around and risking permanent damage. So it would have to wait.

“This is more of a theory than anything, but I think we could potentially use your ice-based chakra as a filter of sorts for the eye.”

Haku was focused on healing, but he was obviously paying attention to what Tsunade was saying, and Kakashi was looking at her curiously.

That got Haku to pause momentarily. “Really?”

“You could do that?” Kakashi asked.

Tsunade put her hand to her chin as she thought aloud, “It would likely be with chakra sutures, weaving around the already existing ones in a way that somehow limits the amount of chakra the eye already takes, or cutting off the eye’s chakra without deactivating it…” Tsunade pulled out her notebook and pen and began writing and sketching. “Having a filter that allows the chakra to go one way, but not allowing it to either escape or drain to such dangerous levels…”

Tsunade proceeded to grumble to herself as she wrote down her ideas.

“It sounds promising, Kakashi-san…” Haku said.

“If you say so…” Kakashi replied with obvious doubt in his tone.

There was some shouting at the front of the tent, and Tsunade sighed as she quickly put away her notebook. Injured were coming in.

“Just heal the more serious injuries and put simple bandages on anything that isn’t going to risk him bleeding out.” Tsunade took a deep breath, and then another. It would be fine. “Check for internal injuries, just to be sure…and then help out here.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

After Haku finished with Kakashi, he quickly turned to leave.

“Good luck out there, Haku-san.”

Haku gave a small, tentative smile and nodded his head before leaving.

0000

Tsunade felt sick to her stomach. Was she doing enough? What if that one patient died? She was already on the brink of death as it was. Were they pretty much just trying to save a corpse? Was it worth the resources they were using?

Probably not.

Wait, no. Yes, it was. They needed to at least try.

What about that one Suna-Nin who came in, but they failed to save him? Could she have saved him? What had gone wrong? What could they have done differently? No. What should they have done differently?

That Suna-Nin was far too young. He was bleeding all over, and Dan was looking up at her with an expression she couldn’t read. Haku was covered in blood that wasn’t his and it had come from more than one person. She could see how much it bothered him, not being able to save those around him.

She was a failure in more ways than one.

Tsunade jerked when someone put their hand on her shoulder. She had almost clocked Haku. Naomi, one of the Suna-Nin Healers was looking at her with concern. No wonder… Tsunade realized she had broken her pen in her hand; and the other she had been squeezing into such a tight fist that she had broken skin.

“Are you alright, Tsunade-hime?” Naomi asked.

“I…I’m fine.” Tsunade lied, just a bit.

“Get some rest, please, Tsunade-sama.” Haku asked quietly. “Naomi-san and I can take care of things from here.”

Tsunade didn’t really sleep all that well that night.

00000

One of the things she and Haku discovered – rather, it was more like Haku tried it out of desperation to stop someone from bleeding out – was using his chakra to create a sort of internal tourniquet that stopped the bleeding all together.

Because it had been such a rush-job, it was a temporary fix, but it gave the others enough time to save the man’s life.

Haku was there when the man woke up.

“Hello, sir,” Haku greeted with a smile.

“Hello~ beautiful…” the man slurred as he reached out for Haku. “Did the Shinigami take me? I swear I’m looking at an angel.”

A tick-mark formed on Haku’s forehead and his smile was far too tight. He took the man’s hand and resisted removing it via excessive frostbite.

“You just rest, sir.” Haku put the man’s hand down.

“Call me Genma.”

“I’m Haku, and you need to rest.”

“Night, angel face.”

Haku hoped that was just the drugs talking, but he highly doubted it. He was also annoyed at Naomi, who kept laughing to herself. And the other Medic-Nin were not trying to hide their amusement.

Tsunade smirked as she started calling Haku, “Angel Face” every now and then when she wanted something.

Haku groaned. It made him wonder what he would look like if he cut his hair short and just started wearing wigs if he was required for an infiltration mission. Just trying to imagine himself having short hair made Haku think he’d look far too strange.

00000

A few days later, the exhausted troops and their camp moved further into Kiri. They were in an area surrounded by fog and mountains and was located right by an old temple that had long-fallen into disrepair. But there was a group of rebels who were staying there to take care of numerous children, along with Arashi’s four-year-old son, Yagura.

“The kid’s far too serious,” Kakashi commented offhandedly after meeting the kid, and that earned him more than one arched eyebrow from those who had known him since he was a child.

“That stare is unnervingly familiar…” Jiraiya said to himself when he caught Yagura staring at him. It reminded him a bit of Gaara, except in this case the stare was more suspicious than it was murderous.

Mayuri, a Suna-Nin, was glancing up at the walls of the temple in curiosity. The carvings and painting that adorned the walls had either faded or been defaced, somehow. One of the murals, which was difficult to make out, had what looked to be some sort of large, turtle-like creature that looked like the Sanbi, with several people or something? The people looked a little strange…almost fish-like? They were ridiculously disproportioned. Were they all wearing different masks? Did some of those people have tails instead of legs? With the paint faded due to time and weather damage, it was difficult to make out.

“Is that a puppet?”

Mayuri turned around and glanced down at a kid, who couldn’t have been older than four or five. He had pale brown hair, strange, pink eyes with a fairly recent-looking scar that was so close to his left eye it was very lucky that he wasn’t completely blind in that eye; if he had any vision damage at all. In the sunlight that filtered through the windows, Mayuri could see a few patches of gray-toned scales along the kid’s neck and shoulders, down to his elbows thanks to the tank top he wore.

Mayuri felt slightly irked. How was this kid not cold?! Damn Kiri locals and their miserably cold weather!

The kid’s eyes went to his hitai-ate before glancing back at him. “I’ve heard that Suna uses puppets to fight.”

Mayuri’s puppet was wrapped around him; which he used as both protection and offence.

Smiling as best he could, since Mayuri was never one for interacting with children if he could help it. He removed the snake puppet and uncoiled it while using chakra threads to carefully position it into a sort-of reared back striking position to show it off.

“Yeah, this is my puppet, Atakama.” Mayuri was particularly proud of this model. Metal plating and wood smooth and polished until it shined; stained a beautiful shade of red.

“What all can it do?”

Since this was a kid, and he had more than likely been displaced thanks to this war, Mayuri decided that he wouldn’t try shooing the kid off somehow. Plus, he could brag about his baby to a willing audience.

“Here are poisonous spikes that can fire out here, here and here. I can use this drill in her tail for a number of things, this armor plating offers protection, I have different kinds of poisons that have varying effects, and she can bite an opponent – there are different poisons on her teeth that alone are pretty dangerous, but mixed together have some pretty nasty reactions.”

Mayuri described the weapons he had hidden within each of the snake’s sections, and not once did the kid interrupt him.

The kid was silent for a moment, and didn’t really blink, weirding Mayuri out a little. He was reminded a bit of Gaara. The silence between felt awkward, but only for the man.

The kid finally spoke. “That’s really a lot of work…it’s impressive.”

“Yeah, thanks. I’m Mayuri, by the way. What’s your name, kid?”

“Yagura. My father is Arashi, and people are going to kill him.”

“Your…father…?!” Mayuri had heard that Arashi’s son was a Jinchuuriki, and well, no wonder the kid creeped him out!

“Why are you making that expression, Mayuri-san?” Yagura tilted his head. “It’s the most logical conclusion after…” Yagura glanced to the side, and his hand almost reached up to the scar on his face but stopped, putting in back down to his side. “…After what he’s done.”

Almost instinctively, Mayuri wanted to move his puppet between himself and Yagura, because Jinchuuriki were dangerous, even at the young age of four.

“Yagura-chan, there you are!” someone said as they walked up to them.

“Haku!” Yagura smiled for the first time since Mayuri had been talking to him. The kid hugged Haku, who had knelt down to Yagura’s level. The Jinchuuriki was smiling, acting far too Human and child-like. Mayuri was determined not be fooled.

Haku ran his thumb over the scar on Yagura’s face, with a bit of sad smile. It had healed very well considering their limited and rushed resources at the time.

“What are you doing?” Haku asked.

“Mayuri-san was showing me his snake.”

There were certain implications to that, and Mayuri coughed, ready to defend himself if need be. But Haku only smiled as he looked at the puppet then to Mayuri.

“I’m Kagayaki Haku, nice to meet you.”

“Mayuri…nice to meet you as well…” how Haku wasn’t scared of Yagura he wasn’t sure.

“It’s time for lunch, Yagura-chan, and there are some people I want you to meet.”

“Okay. Bye, Mayuri-san.”

Mayuri was far too relieved when Haku left with Yagura, and led him over to a corner where there were a few other Kiri-Nin eating food. He put his puppet back into place and made his way outside – as far as he could get from the Jinchuuriki

“Mayuri-kun, join us!” Naomi said as she held up some alcohol.

A few of the people whooped, and hours later there was a bit of a celebration going on.

Anko was having a drinking contest with Mayuri, and some cheered and others groaned as Mayuri was forced to give in. He had always been a bit of a lightweight anyway. He was passed out soon after.

“Angel Face!” Genma called when Haku and Zabuza walked by.

Genma didn’t notice the glare, but the others did.

“Haku-san, good to see you.” Kakashi greeted. “Why don’t you and your friend join us?”

Haku smiled his thanks and sat down, along with Zabuza, and they introduced themselves to the group.

“Angel Face, I’m so happy to see you again!” Genma said. He was buzzed but thankfully not drugged up like a fool this time. “You look as radiant as ever.”

Haku’s smile was far too tight to be considered friendly.

“She saved my life,” Genma was saying. “Angel Face is among the best.”

There were some looks of confusion between the Shinobi who were fully aware of Haku’s gender. Should they say something? Was it their place? Did Genma really not know that Haku was male? Did he care?

Zabuza simply took a big drink of alcohol, knowing that Haku had this whole thing handled.

 “Thank you for your praise, Genma-san,” Haku said in a near-singsong voice. “I appreciate it. But I think you should know…” Haku’s expression turned ominous. “I’m a boy.”

Genma’s jaw dropped. “You…you’re a…? With a…? Dressed like that?”

Haku smiled eerily. “I’ve found that dressed like this,” Haku indicated the flowery kimono he was wearing, “that foolish men drop their guard around me and allows me to close in for the kill.”

Anko burst out laughing so hard she fell on the ground and held her stomach. “I like this kid!”

“I’m surprised you didn’t notice after flirting with him over the course of the last few days.” Kakashi casually flipped a page in his book.

“I knew pretty much straight away…” Naomi added.

 “You jerks, you let me go on and on about how beautiful she-he was!” A cloud of depression hung over Genma as he trudged off. “I’m so sorry…I think I’m gonna go reevaluate my life’s choices and die.”

“That was too good!” Anko said once she was able to take a breath.

Asuma gave an impressed whistle. “You even had me believing you were a girl,” he smirked deviously. He was so going to find ways to hang this over Genma’s head with every opportunity.

Kurenai yawned and stretched. “I’m going to turn in for a nap. See you later, everyone.”

Fifteen minutes later, Asuma cleared his throat. “Well, I’m going to my tent. See you in the morning.”

Once Asuma was out of earshot, Shibi spoke up. Since most of the people hadn’t noticed him sitting there, he startled them. “Those two are not as subtle as they like to think they are. Why? Their words and actions are all very weak excuses for what they are actually doing.”

 “They should just be more up front about it, ya know!” Anko complained. She turned her woes on the Kiri-Nin. “I try scoring dates, but it sucks going out with Kurenai because, you know, you’ve seen her!”

It also didn’t help that Kurenai was more of the upstanding, responsible citizen type. Kurenai also had a stern personality in most public situations; and was soft and friendly when she was among the select few whom she considered friends. She made a terrible wing-woman!

 “Asuma-kun should make a meaningful, public declaration of love so Kurenai-san can stop coming up with ridiculous reasons why she’s not dating all the eligible men who’re lining up for her.” Kakashi nodded. “I’ve taken inspiration from her myriad of excuses.”

It was a nice day, just being able to relax with different people, no matter what their background was. The Konoha-Kiri-Suna alliance was running along smoothly.

They would have to move out again in a few days. But for now, they could relax.

0000

The weeks passed and the war progressed. Haku continued learning what he could from Tsunade, along with experimenting on his own. He had a decent grasp of what she wanted from his chakra when it came to healing, so he was staying up with her on sleepless nights to take notes, discuss strategies, or simply talk.

The nights where Tsunade had a difficult time due to some small thing (however ridiculous it was to her personally) triggering a flashback were exhausting. But Haku would make tea for Tsunade, Shizune, and himself.

Even though it was unnecessary, Haku didn’t mind.

It was moments like this that Tsunade started to look forward to their chats. It grounded her in a certain way that alcohol couldn’t. On some days, she could binge much to Shizune’s dismay. But sometimes she didn’t have that luxury. Sometimes it was okay; she could push aside those mental blocks and do what had to be done.

Sometimes, her thoughts would overwhelm her and Tsunade would shut down. It left the others to step up, and thank whatever Fates or gods were out there that they did so without complaint. But thankfully, they never saw her as weak.

The Medic-Nin who worked under her knew the pain of failing to save someone. Haku did what he could after someone had died. He always encouraged their comrades to carry their dreams for them. He spent time with people who were grieving.

Haku was certainly an interesting kid.

Tsunade and Haku practiced their theories on people who had less life-threatening injuries and were willing participants. If they could help save lives in the future, why not?

Haku could use his ice-based chakra as a way of mending; getting it thin enough to suture without permanent damage, and also creating a sort of “layer” as an internal patch for certain injuries.

While Tsunade did attribute quite a bit of their discoveries to the versatility of Haku’s chakra; it was a testament to Haku’s skill – and he was only fourteen.

Once this was over, Tsunade decided that she would return to Konoha – on the conditions that Haku came with her because she could teach him her fighting style. She was also going to scout Konoha, Kiri, and Suna’s academies, and then Shizune and Haku would be helping her train future Healers.

“Tsunade-sama has a scary look on her face…” Shizune muttered warily under her breath.

“Buu…” Tonton agreed.

000

As the months progressed, Haku noticed something about Zabuza. He started acting differently, somehow. Haku wasn’t really sure when it happened; or what exactly those differences were. He just couldn’t really put his finger on what was different.

On a day where he wasn’t assigned to the medical tents, Haku was scouting with Kimimaro and Mangetsu. So he decided that he would ask them.

“Have either of you noticed anything different about Zabuza-sama?” Haku asked.

Kimimaro shook his head. “Not that I’ve noticed.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed something different,” Mangetsu said, chewing on a toothpick.

“Really?” both Haku and Kimimaro asked at the same time. Haku sounded genuinely curious, while Kimimaro sounded slightly skeptical. Mangetsu wasn’t really the type to notice finer details, unless they somehow affected him. Or, that of his younger brother, Suigetsu. So, something affecting his brother effectively affected him.

“He’s wearing different shin and arm guards.” Mangetsu’s tone was completely flat. “The shins are a different material, and the ones on his arms are shinier and sturdier looking.” Mangetsu looked entirely bored and already done with the conversation as he finished with, “I know, because I was there when he received them from Mei-sama.”

 That got Haku to roll his eyes. “I’m being serious, Hōzuki-san!”

“Nobody but you cares, Kagayaki.” Mangetsu rolled his own eyes lazily. “Besides, if it was something really serious and we needed to worry, he’d bother to tell us.”

Kimimaro shrugged. “Maybe you’re just imagining it? We’ve all been working long hours.”

“You two are so helpful.” Haku muttered with a glare.

“Hey, you’re the only one who thinks that Zabuza-san is acting weird.” Mangetsu replied. “Not even the people in our team have mentioned it.”

Maybe he was imagining it. If something was bothering Zabuza, then surely he would tell Haku? They were like family, after all. Mangetsu had a point. Maybe it was all the fighting their fellow countrymen and having to go up against Arashi’s army for almost a year-and-a-half now. They had reached their destination and they were finally going to hopefully bring this war to an end. Everyone was exhausted. So that must have been it.

0000

Haku quickly made his way through camp towards Zabuza’s tent. He had some really good news he wanted to share. Since he and Tsunade had been working on ways to apply ice-based chakra to various types of injuries, things were already looking promising. The case with Kakashi’s eye was starting to look like it would work without issue. Plus, Mei needed to discuss strategy with Zabuza about fighting Arashi, so she had asked Haku to tell Zabuza to come talk to her.

Haku didn’t really bother to announce himself, because he never really had to; and simply entered Zabuza’s tent. It was late afternoon, so Zabuza would most likely be reading or polishing Kubikiribōchō.

“Sorry to bother you, Zabuza-sama, I’ve got something to…”

“Oh!” a woman’s voice – what.

Haku froze. What was happening?

His brain suddenly wasn’t working properly.

 What.

That woman… who…?

“Heya, kid…”

Anko didn’t really duck away in shame. She did cover herself with the bedsheet, but Haku had already seen enough to know she wasn’t wearing anything.

There were clothes all over the floor in Zabuza’s tent.

“Oh. Uh…” Zabuza sat up, and grabbed Anko’s discarded coat to cover himself since Anko was hogging the covers. He scratched the back of his head awkwardly. “Hey, Haku…you uh, you need anything?”

Haku’s face had drained of all color. “I…I um, don’t…remember.”

Haku’s face then started to burn as he finally started to process exactly what he had walked in on Zabuza and Anko doing. Giving a quick and very awkward deep bow, Haku mumbled a barely legible apology and hurried out of the tent.

The voices around him were muffled, and Haku was pretty sure someone was calling him; but he couldn’t get the horrifying image of Zabuza and Anko out of his mind. He had walked in on them, doing that!

Dammit, here he was a teenager and a Medic-Nin in training, he had seen both women and men naked. He knew how sex worked and that it was a natural thing.

But…but Zabuza… Haku slapped his cheeks, trying to banish the image from his mind. Zabuza was an adult, and didn’t have to inform Haku on what he was doing during his personal time.

 Haku eventually collapsed onto a seat by the campfire, and the people around him were all laughing; completely unaware of what was plaguing him.

“Yo, Haku-kun!” one of the Shinobi greeted, but he didn’t get a reply back. Genma frowned at Haku’s strange, vacant stare. Everyone else had a concerned look as well. This was very much unlike Haku.

Kimimaro walked up, saying, “Haku-kun, sorry to bother you about this, and I know you’re busy, but…” he trailed off.

Something wasn’t right. It wasn’t like Haku to ignore people.

“Haku-kun?” Kimimaro hesitantly reached forward to put his hand on Haku’s shoulder. He had to quickly lean back when Haku suddenly jolted to his feet.

“…Kimimaro-kun?” Haku questioned quietly.

“You alright, kid?” Genma asked.

“You look pale,” Mayuri added, “Like, even more so than usual.”

“Are you getting a fever? You feel hot.” Asuma asked as he put a hand to Haku’s forehead just in case. “Should I get Tsunade-sama?”

“Maybe I should get Zabuza?” Genma wondered aloud. Maybe he would know what was wrong with Haku. “This could be--!”

“NO!” Haku loudly objected, waving his arms before stopping to form an ‘X’. His face was now burning with embarrassment. “You don’t want to go anywhere near his tent!”

That response only got everyone to jump up as well, wondering if something had happened to Zabuza; and if they should go see what was wrong.

“No, it’s nothing like that! At all!”

Genma slowly glanced at the others before hesitantly asking, “…Then what’s wrong?”

Haku’s face was even more of a tomato red, and he covered it with his hands. His muffled response wasn’t understandable at first.

“Come again?” Might Gai requested as he leaned in closer with a hand to his ear.

“…Zabuza-sama and Anko-san were…in his tent…I walked in on them…” Haku could feel his face getting redder by the second with every word, if that was even possible. This was horrible. He wanted to disappear into a hole and die. “No clothes…in bed…”

“They what?!” Mangetsu was shocked.

Asuma’s jaw dropped enough that his cigarette fell out of his mouth.

“How long, though?” Kurenai pondered. She was a bit annoyed that Anko hadn’t thought to mention it to her.

Genma started guffawing as he patted Haku’s back.

“Who’da thought?” Mayuri commented.

“What youth!” Gai shouted. “That our wonderful Anko and Zabuza would find love out here on the battlefield!”

“Gai, stop shouting!” Kurenai hissed under her breath, but now people were looking over at them with expressions of confusion and disbelief.

“Seriously, how long have they been doing this?” Asuma seemed to be incensed, since well, he had never figured it out. He was a Sarutobi, dammit!

“For about six-and-half months, now.” Anko’s voice rung out over the small crowd.

Anko, along with Zabuza, walked up to them – fully clothed, thank the Fates. Anko was positively smug; while Zabuza looked as if he had been caught with the proverbial cookie jar, but wasn’t really ashamed of it – a bit proud of it, in fact.

Haku looked even more ashamed as he sunk back down to his seat.

“Hey, sorry you had to see Zabuza like that,” Anko said as she joined Haku and put an arm around him. Haku groaned, causing Anko to laugh heartily. “But really, you should have knocked, kid.”

“It’s a tent!” Haku shot back. “Where exactly is a person supposed to knock on a tent?!”

“Maybe announce yourself before just walking in?” Zabuza suggested as he sat down as well on Anko’s other side.

“Okay, seriously. This isn’t some weird joke, right?” Asuma questioned. “We’re in the middle of a freaking warzone, how the hell did you get away with this? Surrounded by people who are supposed to be able to detect this kind of thing?”

Maybe they needed to step up their training or something.

“Did you use some sort of Genjutsu?” asked Kurenai, because it was a pretty impressive feat to get away with such a thing for so long while surrounded by several hundred Shinobi. Did they threaten or pay people to keep quiet?

“We were clearly a lot more subtle than you,” Anko said with a teasing smirk-and-wink combo, “Asuma-kun, Kurenai-chan.”

“What makes you say that?” Asuma replied, sweating a little.

“You and that Yuhi woman, obviously.” Zabuza said.

“But I’m not…” Asuma tried to object.

“We aren’t…” Kurenai said weakly.

“…I knew within the first few months about Sarutobi and Yuhi,” Mayuri looked proud of himself for knowing this all-too-obvious fact.

“You two aren’t as subtle as you think.” Inoichi said with a knowing smirk of his own. He turned to the others to add, “Asuma’s always coming to my wife’s flower shop and getting flowers – and what he buys isn’t something you’d get for a funeral or in memory of a dead loved one. Besides, my wife’s family take care of the maintenance in the graveyards and they never see Asuma leave behind flowers when he’s there.”

Kakashi finally spoke up, casually glancing up from his favorite book. “Anko-chan, you do realize that this means Ibiki will want to talk to your boy toy if this continues?”

“Oi,” Zabuza glared at Kakashi, who simply smiled.

“Poor guy…” Genma said solemnly as he gave Zabuza a pitying look that made the Kiri-Nin sweat-drop. “Well, Anko does get on Ibiki’s nerves, but he likes her well enough. So you should walk away fairly unscathed.”

“We can only hope.” Kakashi said with a little too much mirth in his tone that made the Kiri-Nin around him a tad concerned.

“I imagine our Kage will be talking to them as well…” Kimimaro added.

Oh, yeah…there was that.

Zabuza groaned.

Mangetsu shook his head. “Politics are a bitch.”

Haku was extremely apologetic, but he hadn’t voiced that yet. He was happy for Zabuza finding someone – and he liked Anko. He could certainly get used to her being there, if she chose to stick around – and if their Kage would allow it.

0000

It was late evening, and Zabuza had just had a strategy meeting with Mei, but now he was informing her of his exploits with Mitarashi. It was more than likely the gossip had already reached her, but Mei hadn’t acted like she knew anything.

“Is she your girlfriend?” Mei asked.

“Uh, no? I don’t know—“

 “You need to ask her properly.” Mei said resolutely. “Besides, since you work under me in an official capacity, this could be very advantageous.”

“We haven’t even discussed if we’re in an actual relationship!” Zabuza defended.

“No, Zabuza-san, you can’t do that!” Mei insisted, slamming her hand on her table. “A woman’s heart isn’t something to be toyed with!”

“Have you met Anko?” Because honestly, it had started as a game to see how long they could go before getting caught.

“But you’re both so cute together.” Mei smiled, and there was a hint of blush on her cheeks.

“You haven’t even seen us together.” Zabuza said flatly. He then suspiciously asked, “Seriously, why are you so insistent that we stay together?”

“…You’ll let me be in the wedding, won’t you?” Mei asked, looking starry-eyed. She loved weddings! Anything to do with romance, really.

Zabuza’s voice was even more flat, if that were possible. “All this over a wedding.”

 “I can’t help myself!” Mei admitted. She fidgeted with the ring that was on her finger. It was a reminder of a life that could and should have been, but had been stolen away before it could properly begin. “You deserve to be happy, Zabuza.”

Zabuza glanced down at the ring, before he muttered, “I’ll be going now, Mei-san. Night.”

Mei nodded and gave an encouraging thumbs-up and mouthed, “ask her!” Zabuza growled out something unintelligible and wished he had a door to slam as he exited Mei’s tent.

Upon leaving, Ibiki and the Aburame who worked under him were waiting, along with Inoichi.

“We need to talk.”

That was all Zabuza got as the Aburame surrounded him. Inoichi walked next to Zabuza and gave him a hesitant smile.

“I’m just here to make sure no-one kills each other, though I can understand how Ibiki feels, I think?” Inoichi scratched his cheek. He glanced at Ibiki, whose back was to them. He leaned over to whisper, “I have a daughter…she’s not even in her teens yet, but she already has an eye out for boys… I prepared a list of who to watch out for.”

Zabuza wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “Huh…”

They led Zabuza about a mile away from camp before stopping. Then Ibiki turned and glowered at the man whom Anko had pretty much staked her claim on. Ibiki most definitely had words for Zabuza that night.

“Here’s how this is going to work,” Ibiki was stern, “If you hurt Anko in any way, shape, or form, I will gladly torture you until you beg for death. I know ways to keep a man alive for as long as humanly possible, and the Aburame can also personally attest to that.”

For the next several hours, Ibiki described in very vivid detail all the forms of torture that he knew of, how to use it, and what it did to the Human body and psyche.

 “If you two break up, Anko’s the one who’s going to do it. Am I clear, Momochi?”

“…Chrystal.”

Zabuza returned several hours later looking exhausted as he entered Anko’s tent. He didn’t really try to hide the fact since it was sort of common knowledge now.

“What took you so long?” Anko asked. “I thought you were just going to meet your Kage?”

“Mei wants us to have a serious relationship, she was very encouraging on that front.” He chose not to mention that Mei wanted them to get married. Zabuza complained as he unwrapped his face mask. “Morino is insane, and that’s saying something coming from me.”

“He actually talked to you?” Anko scoffed. “I told him not to, but Ibiki’s like my weird, overprotective big brother. He’s been like that since I first joined T&I as an apprentice. He’s threatened almost everyone he’s had some sort of suspicion towards, even my casual flings.”

Anko decided not to mention that Zabuza was the only to ever come back to her after being threatened by Ibiki.

“I just want to sleep and not have to think about all the ways he could kill me.”

“Hm, I’ll have to get him back, somehow…” Anko said as she snuggled next to Zabuza. “Help me think of something, Zabuza!”

“You could always draw on his face.” Zabuza suggested after a moment, too tired to really think about it.

“That is dumb and childish. I love it.”