Bone breaking was only a good sound when it happened to other people.
Black and red lights cracked behind Kakashi’s eyes as his ANBU mask shattered. He fell back from a badly dodged hit, clutching his jaw, and ducked low when Katsuko went over his head like the wrath of ages. She came down in a welter of flames and sharp edges, and the noise that followed would have made a thousand woodchippers proud.
When it ended, there wasn’t much left of the Mist-nin.
On the other side of the clearing, Ryouma yanked his kodachi free from between a kunoichi’s neckbones, and let her body drop. He turned, flicking blood from the blade, and blinked when he saw Kakashi on the ground.
And again, when he looked at the blood spatter on the trees.
“Everyone okay?” he asked
“Fine,” Kakashi said thickly, and shoved himself up.
“Are you su—” Ryouma began, but then the slaughtered Mist-nins’ friends burst into the clearing with vengeance in mind, and things got busy again.
Katsuko led the charge, laughing and lethal, but Kakashi wasn’t far behind.
It was later, after the adrenaline had worn off, when it really started to hurt.
Genma checked them all out around the evening campfire, pouring healing green chakra into Katsuko’s wrenched shoulder and closing the ladder-step of blood-crusted slices down Ryouma’s bare arm. He eyed Kakashi sideways as he worked, because healing was always a fight between them.
“Well?” Genma said, when he’d checked Ryouma’s last bruise and declared it survivable.
Kakashi licked blood away from his back teeth. “Still fine,” he said, enunciating carefully.
“Mmm,” Genma said, narrow-eyed.
“He got punched in his face,” Katsuko said helpfully.
It was harder to stab someone with your eyes when you only had one, but Kakashi still gave it a good attempt. “Only once,” he said, glaring at her. “And I rebounded.”
Katsuko grinned. “Off the scenery.”
Ryouma laughed, Genma sighed, and Kakashi didn’t grit his teeth because it made his entire head throb.
Raidou said, “Let the lieutenant check you.”
“That’s an order.”
With bad grace, Kakashi submitted to Genma’s green-glowing hands pressed carefully against his jaw, thankful it was at least something that could be done through the mask. Genma frowned, and Kakashi studied the horizon.
“Well, you haven’t broken your jaw,” Genma said at last. “But your cheek is bruised, and I think you’ve cracked a molar. You’re going to have to see a dentist when we get home.”
“Oh,” Kakashi said distantly. “Good.”
“I could hold your hand,” Katsuko said, on the way home.
“I could bite your throat out,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma patted him on the shoulder. “Not with those teeth.”
ANBU had their own dentist on site, it turned out. A small, thin, grey woman called Suzuki Eriko, who looked like a light breeze might topple her. Kakashi stood outside her office for ten minutes, looking at the plain stamped kanji on her door and the distracted figure behind the glass, before he turned and left.
He had ice packs and aspirin at home anyway.
“Did you go to the dentist?” Genma asked him at the next morning practice.
“Yep,” Kakashi said, with complete honesty.
“All taken care of?” Raidou said.
“Yep,” Kakashi said, with marginally less honesty.
“Great!” Katsuko said, looking up from arm-locking Ryouma repeatedly into the dust. “Spar with me next.”
“Dentist said I had to take it easy for a day,” Kakashi said quickly. “Two days. With no face-hitting.”
Katsuko looked disappointed. “You could dodge?”
From the ground, Ryouma said weakly, “Dodging doesn’t help.”
“Did you get a crown?” Genma asked.
“Maybe I can run laps,” Kakashi said brightly, and slipped away before anyone could ask more questions.
He could feel their eyes on his back until he hit the far side of the training field, and then Katsuko served up enough of a distraction by bodyslamming Ryouma into Raidou, and Genma got sardonic about the collective failure of dodging.
After that, Kakashi stopped paying attention. Every running footfall hurt.
String and a door was traditional.
Kakashi studied a looped coil of shinobi wire and the inner handle of his front door, and considered the worst consequences.
He could break the tooth.
He could break the door.
He could fail to yank the tooth, give himself a massive infection, and die in the most stupid way possible.
That seemed unlikely. But still.
Besides, he liked his teeth. He used them for things. He didn’t want to rip one out.
Maybe it would heal by itself.
He put the wire away.
The next day was Sunday, which meant no team training. Kakashi took that reprieve with both hands and spent his entire morning avoiding a) people and b) anything that made his jaw feel like imploding. Which mostly meant he lay on his back, read Icha Icha, and pressed a successive series of melting ice-packs to his face.
Fictional romantic samurai never seemed to have these problems.
He was going to write Jiraiya a note.
Around lunchtime, he wandered to ANBU’s cafeteria in search of jello and coincidentally and accidentally passed by Suzuki Eriko’s office again. This time there was a body in her chair, and the vicious wzzzzzzzzzz of a high-powered drill. The sharp smell of stress filled the hallway like a cloud.
Kakashi backtracked and took an alternate route.
On Monday, he remembered Katsuko’s sparring invitation, and woke up early to tie a note to a dog and send it to the training field.
I have flu. Don’t visit, I’m contagious.
He figured that bought him about six hours to think of something.
Forty-five minutes later, Katsuko and Ryouma showed up on his doorstep.
“Lieutenant told us to bring flu meds, but we know better. If you were actually sick, you’d’ve shown up just to sneeze on us and insist you’re fine,” Ryouma said, eyeing Kakashi critically through the inch-wide gap Kakashi had opened in the door. “Your jaw’s swollen.”
How could he even tell through the mask?
“It’s healing,” Kakashi said. “From dentist trauma. And I am sick.” He coughed theatrically. “So go away.”
Katsuko jammed her boot in the door before he could close it. “Nope,” she said. “What’s going on, sugar muffin?”
“The violation of my rights and personal space,” Kakashi said, and slammed the door heavily on her foot. The steel toecap prevented any actual damage, but he felt that he made his point.
Or not, because Katsuko didn’t actually remove her foot, and the door was still open.
“Now you’re losing sympathy points,” she said.
Ryouma leaned over her and shoved the door wider, forcing Kakashi to take a step back as Ryouma’s giant shoulders loomed in. “Don’t do that,” Ryouma told him quietly.
Katsuko patted Ryouma on the chest with an open palm, gratitude and reassurance both, and didn’t take her eyes off Kakashi. “What’s going on?” she said again.
I’m fine was not actually an excuse that worked when you were also claiming illness.
His hands opened, flexed, and closed. “Nothing,” he said.
Katsuko nodded once. “Okay,” she said simply, and sat down on the floor like a crazy person, blocking the door.
Kakashi stared at her. Ryouma stared at her, too, and then shrugged with his entire body and sat down behind her, bracing one arm on a bent knee.
“Oh my god,” Kakashi said. “It’s five in the morning. You can’t stage a sit in on my doorstep.”
“And yet,” Katsuko said.
“I’m going to ignore you,” Kakashi said.
“Okay,” Katsuko said.
“Good luck,” Ryouma said, and leaned his head against the doorjamb, quietly humming the opening for what Kakashi knew was the opening for Shuriken Force’s Red Strings, because Kakashi had lost control of his life.
“Fine,” Kakashi said shortly, and left them to be ridiculous while he washed his face and achieved proper clothes in his tiny bathroom, and wondered what the hell to do now.
He lasted an hour, and spent most of it reading scrolls about jutsu he was more and more tempted to try. Then Katsuko started greeting his neighbors in the hallway, and Ryouma upgraded to full blown singing, and Kakashi’s head hurt too much for this.
He bounced a warm ice pack off Ryouma’s temple from the safe distance of the bed. “Shut up and get in here.”
Ryouma made a point of finishing the verse first, then he lounged to his feet and stepped inside. Katsuko bid Ichida Nanoka, the rookie from four doors down, a cheery goodbye and followed, shutting the door behind her.
“Well?” she said.
There was never a deep hole to fall in when you really needed one.
Kakashi picked a spot on the door lintel to look at, and said, “I can’t go to the dentist.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Ryouma asked.
“Does it matter?” Kakashi said. “It’s not happening.”
Ryouma pulled Kakashi’s desk chair over and sat down in it, knees relaxed. “Yeah, it matters. If you have a blood-feud going with Eriko-sensei because you insulted her pliers, we just need to get you a new dentist. If it’s all dentists, then we can get you the good drugs and be there for back up.”
“It’s not that simple,” Kakashi said.
“Is it your face?” Katsuko asked, more quietly.
Kakashi looked down at the ground.
A moment later, boots scuffed against the carpet and Katsuko crouched in front of him, head tipped up. “What if we just cut a section out in the mask where your mouth is? Then you wouldn’t have to take it off.”
Kakashi felt himself redden, caught. “Because it’s stupid,” he mumbled.
“So?” she said. “Be a diva. Stride with pride. We’ll demand fancy soda, too.”
“Sugar-free soda,” Ryouma said. “Just for now.”
“Or I can just punch the tooth out,” Katsuko said, patting Kakashi’s knee.
He sat hastily back on the bed. “I’ll see the dentist.”
Katsuko grinned. “Atta boy.”
Outside the dentist’s office, Kakashi looked through the glass, saw gleaming steel instruments, and wheeled around. “I take it back,” he said. “I’ve changed my mind. It doesn’t hurt that badly.”
Ryouma caught him by the arm, and Katsuko poked him in the jaw with vicious, agonizing fingers. Raw nerve endings howled like she’d sliced an edge over them; Kakashi yelped and shied away.
“Oh yeah, that’s not infected at all,” Katsuko said.
“Don’t do that,” Kakashi said, holding a protective hand over his face.
“Look at it this way,” Ryouma said. “Who would you rather: us, or the captain and lieutenant?” He was thoughtful for a second. “Or Yondaime-sama.”
Minato and Rin had once ordered Kakashi to a dentist, and when that had failed, they’d called his mother. The results had been traumatizing for everyone involved, including the dentist.
There was a reason Kakashi was meticulous about flossing.
“You won’t leave?” he demanded, reaching for a tiny bit of control back.
Ryouma looked startled, but said firmly, “We won’t leave.”
“Or look,” Katsuko said, like that was a perfectly normal thing to ask.
“Okay,” Kakashi said.
He still hesitated in front of the door for a minute, tense on his toes, before Ryouma put a hand between his shoulderblades and Katsuko tugged his sleeve, and the door was opening, and Suzuki Eriko looked up to say, “Hatake Kakashi? Come in, come in. Your lieutenant told me to expect you.”
Of course he had.
“Hi,” Kakashi said faintly.
“Little nervous?” Eriko said, as Ryouma pushed and Kakashi’s heels dug into the carpet. “It’s okay, I promise I don’t bite.”
“He might,” Katsuko said. “Mind if we sit in, sensei?”
Eriko waved them in. “Be my guest.”
Katsuko pulled the blind on the door and then stalked around the room peering at everything closely, exactly the way they checked enemy territory for traps and hazards. Eriko didn’t seem to regard this as unusual. Ryouma, meanwhile, kept a warm hand on Kakashi’s shoulder and steered him slowly towards the dentist’s chair.
There was a brief, confused moment when Kakashi might have blacked out under high tension, and then he was in the chair, which creaked under him, and Katsuko was saying, “—thought you could just cut the mask instead, sensei.”
“Unusual, but doable,” Eriko said. “So long as the damage isn’t too bad, it shouldn’t be a problem. So, Hatake,” she added, startling Kakashi, “I hear you blocked a Mist-ninja with your face?”
Kakashi attempted to say ‘yes’ and made a sound that was more like ‘s’, but she seemed to catch the gist.
“Let’s take a look.” She reached into a drawer and pulled out a long, shiny pair of scissors.
Kakashi’s back rose off the chair. Ryouma pressed him back down by the shoulders, one thumb rubbing soothingly through Kakashi’s shirt, and Katsuko materialized by Kakashi’s right side, opposite the dentist, and said, “So hey, about that local sports team.”
“What local sports team?” Kakashi said tightly.
“Uh. Aburame cricket racing?”
Kakashi stared at her, and Katsuko added, “Go, Crickets!”
“Stay still,” said Eriko, and snipped a neat crescent moon out of Kakashi’s mask, from jaw point to jaw point. She set the mask section and scissors aside, and Ryouma’s eyes immediately found the ceiling, studying it intently.
Katsuko set her gaze on Kakashi’s hand, which was clenched on the chair-arm, and kept it there.
Eriko picked up a thin, pen-sized flashlight and what looked like a circular mirror on a stick, and said, “Open up.”
Kakashi cracked his jaw open a fraction. A piece of paper might have been able to fit between his teeth, if it had dieted and thought thin.
“Sliiiightly more,” Eriko said.
This time, skinned cardboard might have stood a chance.
“Tiny bit more,” Eriko said.
Ryouma leaned down and blew in Kakashi’s ear.
“Hey,” Kakashi said, and then there was a flashlight between his teeth, followed by the stick-mirror, and Eriko leaned in close to peer at the mysteries of broken back teeth while Kakashi tried to keep his pulse out of the red zone.
“Oh, Inuzuka descendant,” Eriko said, navigating past Kakashi’s canines.
Katsuko’s fingers circled lightly around his wrist, reassuring instead of manacling. It offended every single bit of Kakashi’s dignity that it actually helped.
After a moment’s mmm-ing, Eriko withdrew her instruments. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” she said. “Good news: most of your teeth are beautiful, keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Bad news: you’ve cracked the hell out of that one back molar. I can’t tell how far down it goes without an X-ray, but my guess is the root is intact.”
“Root canal,” she said. “Or I can just yank the tooth and fit an implant. We’re doing marvellous things with poison capsules these days, if that appeals.”
“Don’t give him suicide teeth, oh my god,” Katsuko said.
Distantly, Kakashi said, “Which is quicker?”
“Yanking is faster, but an implant adds time. Though I can at least do that in one session — poor civilians have to do it over months.” She shook her head. “Root canal takes longer, but preserves the actual tooth, and you don’t have to deal with the possibility of an implant failure. Or a giant hole, if you elected to do the yanking without the implant.”
“What if I just left it?”
Eriko pursed her lips. “Infection, abscess, risk to your other teeth, risk to your heart, if an infection gets bad enough, or risk to your brain, if it gets into the jaw and spreads. And I have to file a report with the head of ANBU and the hospital. Also, it’ll hurt.”
Kakashi put a hand over his face.
“I’ve had a root canal,” Ryouma said softly. “Two, actually. They’re not that bad.”
It wasn’t the pain. Kakashi had lost an eye and kept fighting; he could handle pain. It was the rest—drugs, helplessness, face.
Mostly it was the face.
Katsuko’s hand left his wrist; she slid her hand beneath his, making him let go of the chair, and then laced their fingers together, hot and steadying against his cold skin. “Hey,” she said gently. “Nobody wants to have surgery. Surgery sucks. Just keep breathing, okay? And think of really creative swear words whenever it hurts. Trust me, it helps.”
Before he could ask how that could possibly help, she tapped ANBU code against the side of his hand: safe.
There was something about Katsuko. Whenever it came to knives and blood and hospitals, she had deeper shadows than the rest of them. And older scars.
“Bastard,” Kakashi said with feeling, and clenched her hand. “I’ll take the root canal.”
An anesthesiologist was acquired, and a dental nurse, and a room set up for bigger procedures. There was a quiet, general understanding that Kakashi was going to lose his mask at some point, but it would be after the drugs, so he was mostly trying not to think about it.
Katsuko and Ryouma stayed close by and told funny stories, and Ryouma showed off his two teeth with nearly invisible porcelain crowns, and flirted reflexively with the anesthesiologist, because that’s what Ryouma did when he was bored/uncomfortable/conscious. Though he stopped when Katsuko threw a waiting room magazine at him.
Then there was another dental chair, and an IV, and blue paper napkin spread over Kakashi’s chest, and a heart monitor that seemed slightly distressed.
“Hey, Kakashi, you remember the chorus to Battle Born?” Ryouma asked.
“No,” Kakashi said, offended.
“How about the tune?”
Ryouma hummed it, prompting Kakashi’s memory, and when Kakashi reluctantly picked it up, Ryouma sang quietly, “When they knock you down/ You’re gonna get back on your feet/ (No you can’t stop now).”
“I can see what you’re doing,” Kakashi said narrowly.
“Yeah, yeah, just sing it with me.”
Kakashi hummed again, and Ryouma sang again, and Katsuko even joined in with a shaky but serviceable harmony. The heart monitor dipped a fraction, and then Eriko said, “Okay, we’re ready to get started.”
Ryouma and Katsuko had to clear the way for the medical professionals, but they stayed within Kakashi’s eyeline. Katsuko even waved cheerfully, and mouthed, Swear!
Ryouma kept his eyes carefully on the medics, like he’d skewer them if they made a wrong move.
The anesthesiologist slipped a mask over Kakashi’s face. “Deep breaths,” he said, and pushed something through the IV that burned faintly. “Here we go.”
In the end, it was anticlimactic.
“Count back from ten for me?”
“Ten,” Kakashi said. “Nine…”
He made it down to six, blinked, and asked vaguely, “When does it kick in?”
Eriko grinned at him, pale blue eyes surrounded by cheerful crinkles. “Two hours ago. Welcome back.”
“Oh,” Kakashi said, and realized half his mouth was solidly numb. “That wasn’t so bad.”
“Speak for yourself,” Katsuko said faintly. She was the color of old milk.
Kakashi picked up his non-IV-tethered hand, and waved at her. “Shit,” he said, though it came out slurring. Shhhit.
“Shit to you, too,” she said. “Can we take him home now?”
Eriko said something else, but Kakashi missed it when he was waving at Ryouma.
He didn’t quite remember the journey home, but it definitely happened. His mouth tasted of blood and cotton wool, and his teeth were oddly dry. The new crown was gritty-feeling against his tongue.
Katsuko forced water on him, which was an exercise in undignified dribbling because his mouth was useless, but at least it cleared some of the copper taste. Ryouma helped him stagger into pyjamas and then into bed, and the world slipped sideways into soft, deep black.
When he woke up, it was light outside and his tongue was lacquered to the roof of his mouth. He was relatively certain he was sober again. He was also, thankfully, wearing an intact mask.
“Oh god,” he said, around the thumping beat of his own pulse in his jawbone. “I regret everything.”
There was a drowsy sound from the floor, and then Katsuko’s ruffled head rose up to about level with his elbow. She yawned. “Want drugs?”
“I want to go back in time and slam my head in the door,” he mumbled. “I think it would hurt less. Actually, no, I want to go back further and kill that shinobi with a blunt stick.”
Every S was coming out slurred. Sshtick.
“Or you could have dodged,” Katsuko said, and rumpled his hair.
“Mnnngh,” Kakashi said vengefully, because he couldn’t argue with that.
Beyond Katsuko, Ryouma sat upright in the rustling of a shinobi bedroll, with his hair spiking up and his eyes dark and sleepy, and said, “Don’t torture the man, Katsuko.”
Katsuko held up two rattling bottles in front of Kakashi’s face. “Look,” she cooed. “Pretty, pretty drugs.”
Kakashi grabbed for them, and Katsuko levered herself upright with an over-the-shoulder comment about getting water.
Kakashi managed to prop himself up on one elbow, surveying the sleepover party his floor had become. There was a TV he didn’t remember owning in the corner of the room, with video tapes scattered around it, and what looked like two discarded bags of popcorn.
“Did you stay all night?” Kakashi asked, baffled.
“No, we left you alone to suffocate in your pillows, and snuck back in here and fell asleep at the exact moment you were waking up,” Ryouma said, rubbing his face. “You snore when you’re drugged, by the way.”
“I do not.”
“Talk a little, too,” Ryouma added, looking up with a lopsided grin.
Kakashi made an outraged sound, but before he could say anything coherent, a coaster spun across the room and clipped Ryouma on the side of the head.
“Now who’s torturing him?” Katsuko said, pulling her arm back and collecting three glasses of water for the return trip. She sat down on the bed and handed them out. “Though you did snore, sweetpea.”
“Well, so would you if you’d just been tortured in the face with dentist implements,” Kakashi said grumpily. He turned away to take a handful of vicodin and a horse-choker antibiotic, following them with a clumsy swallow from the glass. Water went down his chin. None of his face worked right. He turned back, mask up, and complained, “I think they made it worse.”
Katsuko’s eyes were sympathetic, but her mouth found its usual, sweetly drawling curve. “Just wait till you try to brush your teeth.”
The thought made his entire skull hurt.
“The numbness’ll wear off in a couple hours,” Ryouma said. “Last time I had a root canal, Hakone took me out for a milkshake and then laughed his fool head off when I couldn’t manage the straw.” He tipped his dark head towards Kakashi’s mini-fridge. “We got you pudding, instead.”
“I like Hakone,” Katsuko said, probably on principle.
Suspicious, Kakashi asked, “What kind of pudding?”
“Mango, caramel, and banana,” Ryouma listed. “Katsuko ate the chocolate.”
“It was a victim of quality assurance,” Katsuko said, unashamed. “That, and I got hungry.”
Kakashi snorted, but felt his chest warm a little all the same. He’d asked them to stay, but he’d only meant until his time in the chair was done. He hadn’t thought they’d camp out on his floor, or fill his fridge with a weird rainbow of treats, or be ready-armed with stories and distractions and… company.
His room actually looked lived in. It was a little strange.
Not unwelcome, though.
He peeled himself out of bed, flipping the covers over Katsuko’s head just to hear her squawk, and dropped his hand lightly on Ryouma’s head in passing. Ryouma blinked, tilting his chin up in question, but Kakashi carried on to the fridge, where banana pudding posed a question of edibility.
When he returned to the bed, tiny plastic cup and spoon in one hand, icepack in the other, they were both staring at him.
“So,” Kakashi said, looking at the TV. “What’re we watching?”
Katsuko recovered first. She tossed one of the blankets over Ryouma like she was bestowing some sort of bedcover blessing, and used it to rope him over to the bed, where he settled comfortably at their feet and handed up the the TV controller at Katsuko’s command.
“This,” Katsuko said, turning on the TV with relish, “is called Electric Pulse.”
New suspicion occurred. “Is this from Tousaki’s sexy shelf?” Kakashi asked.
“Yes,” Katsuko said delightedly, at the same time Ryouma said, “How do you know about the sexy shelf?”
“I have eyes,” Kakashi said. “Well, eye. And you are not subtle.”
Ryouma waved a dismissive hand and settled his back against the bedframe, bundling the blanket against his chest so he could rest his chin on it. “Subtle is for boring people. Rewind, Katsuko, we’re past half the good bits.”
The video made a screebleweebleweeble noise as Katsuko spun it backwards, images jumping oddly on the screen. Kakashi debated comfortable positions, found none that seemed likely, and sat cross-legged to eat his pudding. He caught Katsuko giving him a sidelong glance, and Ryouma watching him in the reflection of the screen, and made a point of thwarting their ability to see his face. He was pleased to note his reflexes seemed improved.
“Cheat,” Katsuko said, reaching over to poke him.
Kakashi moved the cup, so she poked pudding. “Ninja,” he said.
“Excuses,” Katsuko said, and licked banana custard off her finger.
Kakashi regarded the remaining eighth of pudding left in the cup, now with a divot carved out of it, and surrendered it to Katsuko before she waged war to take the rest. She handed him his glass of water in return.
“Okay, here, here, stop,” Ryouma said, pointing at the TV. Katsuko scrambled to press play, and a dark title card filled the screen. It took Kakashi a second to realize that the reason the kanji looked strange was because they were formed entirely out of legs.
Legs in fishnet tights.
Which moved as sharp, neon lights flooded on, revealing that they were a) thankfully attached to people, and b) someone had put a lot of thought into that choreography.
Kakashi tilted his head to one side.
“Oh,” he said eventually. “It’s a burlesque.”
“Shhh,” Katsuko said, as a young woman bathed in blue-diamond light came on the screen. “This is where we meet Jinjā.”
“She’s trying to make it in the big city,” Ryouma said.
“Does she need a man to help her?” Kakashi asked, already resigned to boredom.
“Nope,” Katsuko said, clutching a pillow gleefully to her chest. “Lesbian biker gang.”
“Angry lesbians, sexy lesbians, or lesbians with more than two actual character traits?” Kakashi asked.
“Lesbians with mafia ties,” Katsuko said.
“Spoilers,” Ryouma hissed.
Kakashi set his glass down and rolled onto his stomach, pulling a pillow over to wrap his arms around and provide a very careful jaw rest. He balanced the icepack on his jaw and said, “Continue.”
It didn’t take long for Katsuko to sprawl sideways and use his flank as a headrest. Kakashi stiffened, waiting for the inevitable discomfort to kick in—because people! in his personal space! touching him!—but it didn't. He relaxed slowly, and grunted when Katsuko dug an elbow into his ribs and demanded he be more cushiony.
Shields didn't work against people already inside them.
He should have known that already, when he asked them to stay.
"I'm not gaining weight just because you're too lazy to get a pillow," he said, but he didn’t make her move.
Katsuko responded by digging her head more firmly into his side, and then reaching out to play with Ryouma’s hair, casually stroking the the dark spikes into even greater disarray. Ryouma tipped his head back, eyes half-lidding. It brought him closer to Kakashi, and made the world smell like sandalwood soap and sword oil — Ryouma must have cleaned his weapons recently, and then dragged a hand through his hair.
“Okay, shh,” he said suddenly. “This is a good bit.”
Kakashi watched with only slightly drugged interest as Jinjā banded together with her fellow dancers, backed by what did actually seem to be a lesbian biker gang, and frog-marched the burlesque club’s sleazy owner out of the club and—
Kakashi blinked. “Was that a butterfly kick?”
“Into the river, yes,” Ryouma said, hugging his blankets. “Goda Fukemi used to be a stunt double before she got this role. She went over to TV after this. Right now she’s a demon-hunter on—wait, shhh, watch this bit.”
“You’re the only one who’s talking,” Kakashi whispered loudly.
Ryouma flapped a hand at him without looking away from the screen. Kakashi snorted and buried the good side of his face more comfortably into his pillow, watching as Jinjā got involved in some kind of yakuza street war and a forbidden romance with a crimelord’s daughter, in between dance numbers.
He had to admire her multitasking.
Katsuko was warm against his ribs, jittering occasionally when she got restless or overcome with giggles. Ryouma had shifted again, or Kakashi had slid without noticing, and now dark hair was faintly tickling Kakashi’s temple. His mouth tasted like blood and bananas, his face still hurt, and his head was starting to get the vicodin drift, but it was a better day than yesterday.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Katsuko said, when the film was almost over. “Eriko-sensei wants to see you for a follow up tomorrow.”
“M’taking a mission tonight,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma laughed softly. “We can hold your hand again, if you like.”
“Or help you disappear,” Katsuko said. “I hear the Forest of Death has choice camping.”
“That one,” Kakashi mumbled. “Let’s run away and live on giant centipedes forever.”
Ryouma stood and stretched with a chorus of cracking joints. “How about we make that option B? Option A can be a new icepack and a nap.”
“I don’t know, I kind of like the sound of giant centipedes forever,” Katsuko said. “You think we could ride them?”
“Option A includes dinner right now and another movie,” Ryouma said, moving into Kakashi’s tiny kitchenette.
“Glass Heart of the Empress or Hunter’s Redemption.”
“Ahhhh, badass samurai.” Katsuko said, sounding like she wanted to draw love hearts around the VCR. She patted Kakashi’s shoulder. “Sorry, we’ll just have to hide you in the village. Maybe you can be a shrub.”
“Betrayed for dinner and a movie,” Kakashi muttered. “It’s like the worst date ever.”
There was a wooden clatter in the kitchen; Ryouma had fumbled a set of chopsticks. He recovered them and said lightly, “If this were a real date, you would both be having much more fun. And less invasive surgery.”
“That’s only slightly reassuring,” Kakashi said.
“If this was a real date, I would have swept you both off your feet already,” Katsuko said.
Kakashi peeled his face out of the pillow, reshuffled himself—Katsuko made a grumpy sound—and lay back down so he could look at her. “Oh?”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I would’ve pulled out all the stops. Courting gifts for three days before the actual date, so you knew to brace yourselves. Fancy dinner on the prettiest rooftop in Konoha. Making out during a nice romantic move in a really dark theater. And then— Hm.” She cleared her throat. “Sorry, I was rambling.”
In the few months he’d known her, he’d never once heard Katsuko apologize for rambling. Rambling was her religion.
Intrigued, Kakashi said, “And then what happens?”
“And what kind of gifts?” Ryouma called. “Be specific.”
"Um," Katsuko said, after a moment of obvious panic. She dropped an arm over her face to cover her oh god expression, and relaunched into a new vein of spectacular bullshit. "For the first day of courting gifts, I'd give you each three dozen roses plucked straight from a virgin's garden. The second day would be chocolates made from cacao trees watered only with mystical fairy tears. The third day would be a puppy."
Kakashi wrinkled his nose. “I already have puppies. Nothing else sounds useful.”
“That’s because your soul fails at romance, Kakashi,” Ryouma said, returning with three bowls of rice, hot from Kakashi’s rice-cooker—when had they turned that on?—and an egg apiece to crack into them. He set them down, left and returned with soy sauce, and replaced Kakashi’s melted icepack with a fresh one. “It’s not supposed to be useful, just nice.”
He sounded a little wistful.
“Don’t see why it can’t be both,” Kakashi muttered, trying to decide if he had the resolve to get up for rice. The ice was nicer. Maybe he’d just lie here forever instead.
“I’ll buy you a katana with poetry etched down the blade,” Katsuko promised.
“Deal,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma sat down, waited while Katsuko tossed her feet across his lap, got comfortable, and asked, “Did you just agree to be dated in exchange for a fancy katana?”
“I agreed to a fancy katana,” Kakashi said, who was starting to wonder that himself. “You’re getting flowers and candy, because you don’t know how to bargain.”
“I like flowers and candy,” Ryouma said mildly. “And there was a puppy in there, too.”
Beneath her folded-down arm, Katsuko had gone a little pink. Kakashi hadn’t known she could do that either.
Ryouma tipped his chin up to look at the ceiling. “Fukiwara Yoshie, Matsuda Iwao, and Uemoto Touko go on a three-way date in Last Leaf of the Birch. Then Fukiwara and Matsuda find out they’re spies on opposite sides and spend half the movie trying to kill each other, but the date looked fun.”
“What did they do?” Kakashi asked.
“Country fair,” Ryouma said. “Uemoto won fish for the guys. And they shared cotton candy.”
Katsuko made a quiet cheering sound.
“I meant at the end,” Kakashi said.
“Oh. Killed the actual bad guy, brokered a peace treaty, had a sad farewell on a bridge — because bridges, I guess — and went home to do their duty. And Uemoto took over as vice chancellor.”
“But no one died?” Kakashi said.
Katsuko lifted her arm.
Ryouma looked at them, and his mouth lilted crookedly. “No one died, ‘cept the bad guy.”
“We could watch that next,” Katsuko said.
“Tousaki already gave the ending away,” Kakashi said.
Ryouma leaned back against the wall, organized the rice bowls on his lap around Katsuko’s legs, and began cracking eggs. “Well,” he said. “Sometimes it’s more about how you get there.”
They watched the film. Katsuko declared Uemoto Touko a national treasure and role model to small children.
That evening, after Kakashi had fallen asleep and woken up twice more, and Katsuko had bullied him into eating a mouth-friendly dinner, Ryouma stood and stretched and made noises about going home. Or at least going to get a shower. Katsuko cracked her neck and sighed, and said she probably should, too.
“You can take care of yourself, right, kitten sprinkles?”
Kakashi threw a pillow at her head, which she caught and returned, laughing. On her way out, she paused and cocked her head at the outside of his door.
“What?” Kakashi said.
“Lieutenant left you a love note.” She pulled a green post-it off the door, made it into a tiny paper airplane, and flew it over to him.
Glad you went to the dentist. You’re on medical for a week: no training, no missions. Take your painkillers and antibiotics. And come in on Thursday to do your paperwork.
— Lt. Shiranui.
P.S. hope you’re recovered from the ‘flu’ now.
“What’d he say?” Ryouma asked.
“That I need to learn how to lie better,” Kakashi said. “And I get a week off. Sort of.”
“Vacation! You should get punched in the face more often,” Ryouma said cheerily, and ducked out before Kakashi could find something else to throw. Katsuko laughed and followed him, shutting the door behind her.
The apartment felt strangely empty without them.
Ryouma hadn’t taken his TV with him. Kakashi got up to reactivate his wards, take the evening dose of meds, and investigate the videos still scattered around the VCR.
Hunter’s Redemption sounded interesting.
He didn’t go to the follow up appointment.
On Wednesday, Eriko showed up on his doorstep with her pen-sized flashlight and said, “Hi. Your lieutenant told me where I could find you.”
Kakashi said, “No.” And closed the door.
From the other side, she said, “Give me thirty seconds and I’ll sign you off for the yearly exam, too.”
Kakashi cracked the door. “Thirty seconds?”
“Thirty seconds.” She dug into her pocket and produced something shiny and purple. “And you get this lollipop.”
“... fine,” Kakashi said, and let her in.
She signed him off. He kept the lollipop for Naruto.
By Thursday, Kakashi was off painkillers and his face mostly felt like it had stopped trying to murder itself. The new crown was still an oddity in his mouth, texturally different from the rest of his teeth, though the grittiness had smoothed away to polished slickness. If he didn’t think too hard, it — and its associated memories — didn’t bother him. Much.
By lunchtime, he was sober and bored enough to trek across to Team Six’s office and do his paperwork. The office was mercifully empty, though his desk had a stack of forms and several helpful post-its, including one reminder to write legibly, for the love of god.
Kakashi applied his best chicken-scratch and assisted ANBU in its goal to continue destroying small forests and torturing their agents with forms in triplicate.
When he left, there was still no sign of anyone. He was starting to wonder if they'd gotten a mission and hadn't told him.
By that evening, he'd arrived at legitimate concern.
He was seriously considering heading out to hunt someone down, when there was a careful knock at the door. Careful enough that Kakashi’s immediate thought went straight to an Intel agent with a death notice, and what had the team done without him?
He bolted up to answer, and blinked when the world suddenly contained a) aftershave, and b) red flowers.
On the other side of a bundle of roses — tied with black and red ribbons, Kakashi couldn’t help noticing — Ryouma grinned, fresh from a shower with his hair still damp and shiny, wearing well-fitted jeans and a shirt with an actual collar. “Look who came through on her promise,” he said.
Beneath the aftershave, there was a faint trace of cool-smelling perfume. Its source was Katsuko, standing hipshot at Ryouma’s side. She was also in civilian jeans, hugged close to her hips, with a white shirt, slim-cut black vest, and dark blazer over top. Her collar was left open, like Ryouma’s.
Both wearing scents, both showing their throats. That said a lot, for shinobi.
While Kakashi stared at them, speechless, Katsuko offered him a slim wooden box with both hands. It was polished to a high gloss, with a lid that slid smoothly free.
Inside was a letter opener shaped like a katana.
It took Kakashi a second, and then he noticed the ornate scrolled lettering down the blade.
Balancing its tomato
On the garden fence
“What?” Kakashi said finally.
“I promised poetry,” Katsuko said. “I didn’t promise good poetry.”
“You got me a tiny sword with a rodent haiku. This is not what we discussed.”
Ryouma said, “I would share my chocolates, except I already ate them. But you should know they were delicious.”
Kakashi opened his mouth, closed it, dredged the ocean depths of confusion until he found a sentence, and said, “What is actually happening right now?”
Katsuko and Ryouma exchanged a glance. Ryouma’s eyes were dark and dancing, and Katsuko’s cheeks were pink across the arches. It made her eyes greener.
“We talked,” she said.
“And we were wondering what you thought about that date?” Ryouma said.
Kakashi managed, just about, not to clutch the door. "Right now?" he said inanely. "But—"
And then he stopped.
There was a world of reasons to say no, starting with there are three of us, and they were all good reasons. Kakashi had spent most of his life saying no.
Katsuko and Ryouma knew that already, along with most of the reasons — and they were still here, hopeful and nervous, on his doorstep with flowers and a knife in a box, because Kakashi had cracked a drugged joke and they’d decided to take him up on it.
“You realize this will probably be a disaster,” he said at last.
“Probably,” Ryouma said. There was a faint shadow behind his eyes; something already readying itself for rejection.
Katsuko said, softer, “But it might not be.”
For the first time, Kakashi thought, Why not?
“Let me get changed,” he said, and held the box up. “Do I need to put this in water, or does it grow in the box?”
“Thank god you’re a shinobi and not a gardener,” Katsuko said, before the rest of current events caught up with her. Her eyes widened, lashes sooty-dark against her skin, and a shy, delighted smile made her whole face glow.
Ryouma looked similarly poleaxed, and then like someone had turned the sun on inside his skin. “Really?”
“I hope you actually have something planned,” Kakashi said. “Wait here, I need better pants.”
He closed the door, crossed the room to set the the haiku sword down on the window-ledge next to his plant, and then went back to the door. “Does it have to be jeans?”
“Do you own jeans?” Ryouma asked.
“No,” Kakashi said.
“Technically, it doesn’t have to be pants—” Katsuko began, before Ryouma muffled her.
Kakashi closed the door on them again. He made do with the quickest face wash in history, brushed his teeth — carefully — and dug up his least ninja-ish clothes: black pants with extremely well hidden kunai slots, and a dark shirt that didn’t entirely scream shinobi. He swapped his hitai-ate for a more neutral black band, slanted down, and gave up on his hair.
No scent, neck covered by the mask.
Well, maybe his presence would say enough.
When he stepped back out, Katsuko whistled softly. “That’s almost as good as no pants.”
Kakashi felt his face heat — not helped by Ryouma gravely picking a rose out of the bouquet and offering it. Kakashi took it and, with nowhere to put it, held it carefully in one hand. “Now what?”
Katsuko offered them an elbow each. “Dinner first.”
“Then movie,” Ryouma said, looping one arm easily through hers. “Road to Sun Valley is out today. It has smugglers.”
“And then whatever you want to do,” Katsuko said, looking up at him. Her arm was still held out, inviting.
Kakashi slipped his arm through hers. The blaze of her chakra brushed against his skin—familiar, even with new context. It helped him settle onto his heels. “The river’s nice at night,” he tried. "We could walk?”
“There’re vendors on the riverbank that sell little paper lanterns you can take with you,” Katsuko said happily.
“Or there’s a west side, if you’d rather steer clear of people,” Ryouma said.
Kakashi smiled, feeling warm. “I don’t know,” he said, looking at them both. “Some people are okay.”
They got lanterns.