Warnings: Yaoi, KakaSasu, R, light humor, introspective and intricate, and complete lack of Naruto Uzumaki.
Summary: Pretend Sasuke never made it to Orochimaru's, and was instead caught and put in Kakashi's overly-sensible and not very sympathetic charge. Kakashi hadn't been thrilled, but there was very, very little that thrilled Kakashi. It's about how people grow on one another, even when they don't want to. One-shot.

Laundry


The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.
-Dorothy Parker

A boy becomes an adult three years before his parents think he does, and about two years after he thinks he does.
-Lewis B. Hershey, News summaries, 31 December 1951


It was probably unfair to keep him tied up like that, but when dealing with Sasuke it was best to be direct and not particularly trusting. It would take the boy a while to wiggle out of his bonds—not too long, but a good part of the day, and Kakashi was trying to train himself to be home at a somewhat decent time of day now that he had to be.

Sasuke, for his part, was learning new things. He was learning that rope soaked with something sticky was harder to slide off his wrists than rope that was dry, how uncomfortably he could stretch and flex his back in an attempt to get his hands where he could see them, and how hard the floor really was after it hit his face for the fourth time.

He was more frustrated than winded when he did finally scrape the bonds off his ankles, wrists, and waist (the small of his back was where the earlier bonds had been connected), and strode out of room he'd been thrown into.

The first thing he noticed (after he'd open the door and hit the wall to avoid being shot by barbed darts) was that this was not Kakashi's apartment—and it wasn't a cell either. It seemed to be one of finer traditional houses—dark polished wood floors, pale rice paper walls and strong high beams held up a ceiling that was probably tile. Every room was empty of even simple tatami mats or bedrolls—no furniture to speak of, and there was a faint smell of dust and abandonment.

The second thing he noticed was that the entire house was rigged. The floorboards creaked when he breathed on them too hard, the dark corners along the roof could simply be the coloring of the wood, shadows, or lightly triggered poisoned darts. Fine invisible yet incredibly sharp threads webbed over the hallways, cutting into his skin and setting off more traps when he walked into them. The place was silent. He hadn't called out, wouldn't have made a sound if it weren't for the stupid floorboards, but was under the impression he was being watched.

His body felt funny—his heart, his pulse. Around his wrists, ankles, and neck were small black markings, sinister and eldritch yet too fluid to be kanji. They looked like tattoos, and Sasuke was further frustrated to find that not only did his body look tainted with the markings, he was also unable to summon enough chakra necessary to perform a chidori, or any attack of substance that would've blown the roof off the walls without the effort of physically dismantling them.

Sasuke finally got caught after finding the bathroom and opening the door cautiously lying along the wall and pulling the door open with the end of his shoe, watching in mild exasperation as it was nailed to the floor. He pulled the blades out, and replaced his sandal, heading for the small window high in the corner of the shower (pristine, dusty, and devoid of towels or tissue paper), senses spread out for another attack.

He'd been careful with what he touched and how—wrapped his shirt around his fist to prevent anything from coming in contact with his skin, and punched through the glass. He was so busy cleaning the shards out of the rest of the sill (the space was tiny to squeeze through) that it took him a while to realize the small smear of red on his arm. He glowered at it, momentarily worried, and began to work faster. It was tiny, and he'd be out of there long before anything happened.

Hours later, deep into the afternoon and bordering on night, Kakashi picked Sasuke's unconscious body up from the threadbare yard and made a point to tie him, a little more comfortably, to the bed he'd dragged out of storage. He'd have to do laundry at one point—he hated doing laundry.


There hadn't been too many options to shove a highly talented yet extremely immature would-be-traitor into, so the Konoha council had gone with what had seemed best. Absolute isolation would have had catastrophic results—part of the problem with Sasuke's psyche was his inability to deal with people after a given amount of time and stress. Promises meant nothing—the boy too impatient to agree sincerely to a compromise, so a sort of re-training had been devised.

Kakashi hadn't been thrilled, but there was very, very little that thrilled Kakashi—he'd accepted the mission with a small amount of weariness, but since he'd faced Itachi's Sharingan attack and lived and knew Sasuke inside and out, he was the logical best choice. He hadn't wanted to do it much, but he'd agreed.

Being attacked right after he got home, whether from training the remainders of his team or coming straight from an actual mission sore, cranky, and most likely bleeding somewhere, became routine. Having to replace the drugged darts and hidden blades and keep the floorboards good and creaky had become a chore he didn't really look forward to. Constantly being glared at in silence—always in silence, because Sasuke seemed to have it in his head that if Kakashi wouldn't talk, he wouldn't talk—was irritating at first and then merely annoying.

Still, he adjusted. He was good at adjusting, just as Sasuke was good at persevering and trying to escape or beat him up, whichever came first. The worst part, the absolute-absolute worst part of it all, Kakashi would hint at Gai when he was extremely drunk and only vaguely aware of what was going on, was having to shop for two—it was undignified to shop for two. It was…icky. Distasteful. Necessary, but he didn't like it.

Kakashi, in a way, liked people—he did. He just liked them several miles away. Gai was a rare exception, but only because he was more work to fend off than allow in his life.

Most people didn't know what Kakashi's favorite color was. Most people didn't know what he liked to eat or what weather he favored or why he was a ninja or where his family was from and where it was now and what, exactly, did he find so funny about Icha Icha Paradise (the smut? the stupidity? the melodrama?), and most of the people who had known were dead—again, with the rare exception of Gai. He preferred it that way. It made things easier.

But now he was shopping for two. Now he was cooking for two, had to remember to buy enough laundry detergent, shampoo and toothpaste for two. He didn't do Sasuke's laundry—besides cooking and shoving his fist/foot into the boy's abdomen hard enough to stun him or slamming his head into the floor/wall/ceiling just hard enough to concuss him, he left him to his own devices.

Sasuke was frustrated. Sasuke was angry. Sasuke was irrational and not particularly grateful that he was alive and with people who would not dissect him on a whim. Sasuke, Kakashi was grimly reminded, was a spoiled brat, and one who'd have to figure out all the things he'd been doing wrong on his own, because he wasn't going to listen to anyone else.

Naruto was kept away, as was Sakura. It wasn't the time—the last thing Sasuke needed was a prod in any direction; he was going too fast as it was without any prodding at all.

Kakashi, naturally, was mildly annoyed, but not to the point where he did anything drastic about it—Sasuke's attacks and glares and habit of breaking bits of the spacious and empty house and locking Kakashi out were annoying, but not really worrying. Until Sasuke actually sincerely tried to kill him, Kakashi wouldn't worry.

At one point, Sasuke had learned to creep very slowly on the floorboards with something close to resembling silence—the creaks were never too loud or sharp, but consistent enough to be a good warning. Kakashi made no noise over them—he did it instantly, while Sasuke was left trying to acclimate himself.

So even though the hallway floorboards didn't creak, and there wasn't the gentle rattle of his bedroom door sliding open, Kakashi was still awake and alert at night. There wasn't the sound of footsteps towards his bed—there wasn't the sound of clothes ruffling or a heart beating that wasn't his, so logically he had no reason to feel like a viper ready to strike under the sheets. But logic, Kakashi considered, was for people who could afford to make mistakes on a daily basis, and not really for him.

He didn't move—he didn't even change his breathing pattern. He'd gotten in the habit of wearing his mask to sleep because he'd been expecting this; not looking forward to it, but expecting it.

Sasuke left his room with rather more noise than he entered, and with all Kakashi's guts intact.

Kakashi sighed. He'd known he would probably have to do some 'affirmative action' sometime. He had just been hoping it would be Tomorrow for the last three weeks.


They'd both been embarrassed the first time Sasuke actually did beat the crap out of Kakashi.

It was true he'd already been worn through—tired from his latest 'uninteresting' mission, muscles cooking gently in lactic acid and bones quivering with every unsteady step he took. It hadn't been too bad—he'd come home from worse easily, but he'd always gone into worse with more sleep than he was getting lately. He was lucky to get a few hours of deep rest—most of the night he kept himself dozing and light naps. He hadn't thought it was possible, but he was slowly being worn down by a mere boy, instead of the other way around.

He'd been debating going inside or laying on the porch until he felt better, slouching in the salt and pepper courtyard, but never got much further than wondering what he'd do about the night cold when he ducked his head without quite knowing why, but felt the swish of air go over his neck and threw himself to the side. Well, it looked like the kid had figured out how to get outside after all…

Sasuke's feet landed too close to his own, he heard metal clang and relied on his reflexes to fend off the blows—his mind was too busy looking for a way out, and fast.

He took a guess, felt mildly disapproving when Sasuke overshot expectedly and put more energy into a thrust than he should have (when would he learn? Kids were so slow these days…) and connected his fist solidly with the side of Sasuke's head and felt hands grab his wrist—not deflecting or softening the blow, but instead of throwing Sasuke away or at least to the ground, there was a very solid kick into his ribs. His bleeding, wounded ribs.

Kakashi crumbled for a second—just a second or two—and felt an ankle hammer into the side of his own head, the ground hit his chest and force the air out of his lungs and a sharp knee between his shoulder blades and a sharper kitchen knife at his throat.

On the whole, Kakashi approved.

One of the big problems with Sasuke, he'd always thought, was that the boy put too much focus on appearances—he judged too quickly and harshly, which was one of the reasons he disliked Naruto so much; he kept on being surprised. But Kakashi had swept the house of available weapons himself—he only kept a few in his room, well hidden and locked. He'd gradually let the kitchen attain more cutlery as Sasuke's behavior improved, but made a point to keep the knives dull and flimsy and prohibited forks.

So this knife…Sasuke had taken several fairly dull and useless devices and made a better one. Not exactly prize-worthy, but he'd stolen and done it without Kakashi noticing, and that was something.

He didn't struggle from his place on the ground, his body feeling painful and himself grudgingly proud and a little embarrassed—he really should've been able to put up a better fight. He did manage to give Sasuke a severe, 'Not Right Now Honey I'm Tired' look with his one gray eye, soaked with indignance and weariness.

Sasuke was breathing hard—too hard, either from exertion or stress. Despite the fact that he'd won, that he finally had an advantage he could use, something in his eyes looked panicky. Kakashi tried not to do anything unexpected or sudden; the knife was too close for that. Better to let the kid have the next move—he'd earned it in a way, and since it was Sasuke's first time at being in complete control in a long time, he'd make a mistake that Kakashi could exploit.

He really hadn't expected Sasuke to notice the blood soaking through his ribs though—the wetness on Sasuke's own foot where he'd kicked Kakashi hard and came away with more leaky stuff than he should have.

He'd been wounded long before the fight—Sasuke hadn't really won, hadn't really gotten any better, just had terribly, terribly good timing. Sasuke flushed a little.

Sasuke hadn't said anything—probably still on that 'I'm not talking to you until you talk to me first' childish whim he started that had devolved into a silent version of a cold war—a silent war, and like many real soldiers, Sasuke still hadn't identified his allies or enemies.

He half-dragged, half-carried Kakashi inside, growling exasperatedly under his breath when Kakashi stumbled on the porch step and yanked down on Sasuke's neck, doing something painful to his own spine and Kakashi's foot before tearing inside the rest of the way, fueled by slight concern and determination but mostly by humiliation and shoved Kakashi off onto the narrow bed inside his bedroom and stalked out, slamming the door shut.

Kakashi thought it was amazing how Sasuke could make a thin, light-weight door made of paper and wood on delicate sliding metal rails make so much noise without breaking. Any absent-minded admiration was quickly lost when Sasuke came back with hot water, bandages, and iodine. Again, he didn't say a word, just glared at Kakashi who refused to take off his shirt until he left, then returned a few inconvenient minutes later (after he'd stripped of his shirt, but not his mask or pants) to apply the iodine, making a point to stimulate as many hisses and glares of pain as reasonably possible.

Sasuke had been a little gentle with the bandages—not much, but somewhat. More than he'd been with the iodine; he'd been vicious with the iodine—Kakashi wouldn't forgive him that for a while. The dinner brought to him in bed…was all right. Edible. Sasuke couldn't cook especially well and had no impetus to do so: bland food, the rice a little soggy and meat a little undercooked, but acceptable. Kakashi had never been too picky an eater; if it wasn't moving and wouldn't kill him, it couldn't be too bad.

He spent the next day relaxing rather pleasantly: dozing in bed, reading, and found that when he coughed a certain way (not exactly a death-rattling hack, but something not very pleasant to listen to) Sasuke would come with a glass of water or a bowl of instant soup or vitamin/mineral pills or fresh bandages and (as the day progressed) a wet towel that he had slapped Kakashi in the face with before stomping out.

He'd made it to dinner okay, though Sasuke had glared at the sight of him on two legs and apparently not discomfited a bit. And they'd eaten. Together. For the first time in the month and a half that they'd been living there.

It hadn't been entirely awful. Not very pleasant, but not awful.

Kakashi had his own style of eating—he would only do it while no one was watching. Sasuke tried glancing through his heavy bangs to get a glimpse of the face behind the mask, for no other reason than childish pique, and found that when he was watching, Kakashi watched him, and when he didn't watch, Kakashi ate. Or did something—the food vanished somehow. When he tried to get glimpses, Kakashi would always give him a dry annoyed look, or stare at him openly until he stopped.

What puzzled Sasuke the most was the house itself—it couldn't be Kakashi's, it was obviously vacant for sometime, yet had the old grandeur and space of a clan main house. Not one of the huge clans like the Hyuugas with smaller branch houses surrounding it, but definitely a clan of some power and influence, and yet it'd been empty. And they'd been given access to it—unrestricted access, since the acid burns and gouges in the floor and walls were never fixed and Kakashi knew the place (the traps, the hiding spots) like an old shirt.

In a way, it reminded Sasuke of his own home. Not his apartment on the second floor in Yanzi street inside the urban village, but his other one. The big one. The dead one. He didn't know why. He tried not to think of it.


When he felt the blade whisper past his throat, he tried not to worry about it. When he felt warm liquid gush down his neck, he tried not to worry about it. When he saw the flashing red fire of Sasuke's Sharingan, glaring at him and hand still flung out after throwing the knife, he tried not to worry about it.

When he heard the meaty thud and grunt behind him, Kakashi stopped worrying about it, and raced off in hot pursuit of the fifth assailant, moving through the high grass like a breeze and snake, barely dinting a blade and leaving tracks in the mud that could have been made by an exceptionally advanced shinobi moving at a very fast very sophisticated speed, or by the bottom of one of the local fish scraping the silt.

Green of various shades of dull flashed past in vertical stripes, the sky gray and cloudy overhead, threatening rain. Rain in this landscape would mean fast, unpredictable motion of the grasses and even less cover than they had now.

Kakashi sped up, and hoped Sasuke had realized it.

Marsh land was unlike the forests Sasuke had trained in—most gennins didn't get as much varied training as Kakashi would have liked. There were no bushes to hide in—no canopy to take cover in. In the forest attacks could be three-dimensional; from any side, below, above, or at a million and one diagonal angles. In the marshlands, with only the high water grasses at chest-height and shallow water beneath, there was less space to attack and hide in. There was only the endless, empty horizon of darkening gray clouds dappled here and there with dying sunlight above and the dark green fringe below, the physical publicity lethal and mental exposure ominous and frightening to someone used to being hemmed in by trees or walls or rules or people.

Kakashi wasn't sure if Sasuke was frightened—he wasn't sure if the boy realized that this was Freedom—capitalized. This was freedom; unending visibility, unending uncertainty, having the horizon surround you from all sides as the world looked down on you and up at you and around and realizing how very, very small and insignificant you were. There wasn't a single marker to judge where you'd been and where you were going—everything blended together on a universal level, leaving the monotonous sweeping tops of water grass and blue/gray clouds curving in every direction, like an upside-down bowl chasing after the horizon in a hunt that would take eternity to finish.

The world was huge. It was unending, without start or end.

You could do anything you wanted—you had all the space and Freedom you could ever need and want and then some left over when you were tired and sick of it and didn't want it anymore, but you also knew, without a hope of a doubt, that anything and everything you did would be meaningless, because the world was an vast abyss yawning, and you were very, very small.

The world didn't care if what you did was right, or followed through with your promise you made out of desperation and hate. The world didn't care if you got stronger, or if you died on the outside or the inside. The world would go on. It didn't care about you. The ones who cared about you…

Kakashi tried not to hope for too much. It didn't do to be idealistic; Sasuke had a funny way of reacting to idealism, to expectations. He took mild satisfaction in the alarm and awe flickering through Sasuke's eyes like water birds when he glanced around when the landscape first leaped upon them out of the forest, actually turning around on the spot 360 degrees, and felt that was enough. He didn't enjoy scaring the kid (much), but sometimes that was the only way to make him understand.

It'd taken some pulling and pushing to get the council to agree—keeping Sasuke cooped up wasn't helping. It made people feel safe, but it wouldn't fix anything. Now Kakashi took him out on missions where he felt Sasuke could gain from it. Each episode was a prime opportunity for escape, but Sasuke hadn't tried to run away yet. Yet.

It was a two-week long mission. It was slow getting back home—it was cold, rainy, and muddy, Kakashi was sullen and little cranky and Sasuke was pissy, nervy and very cranky. Two days away from Konohakagure, Kakashi wasn't entirely surprised to wake up and find that Sasuke had gone, but rather more depressed than he expected.

Responsibly, he should've gone after him. Responsibly, he should've gotten help or tried to head him off somewhere. Responsibly, as an elite ninja and mature adult, he should've done something besides glaring at the empty bedroll and rolling over and yanking the blanket over his head and going back to sleep while the rain drummed on the thin roof of the inn, destroying any footprints or traceable marks. He should have. He really should have. The point was he didn't. There was more to being a surviving ninja than superior fighting and spells—there was judgment. And Kakashi judged to stay put.

He felt a little bad about it later, but mostly smug when Sasuke stormed into the tiny room that been allotted to them overpriced—dripping, muddy from head to toe (especially under his fingernails), freezing—and sulked in his corner of the room. Kakashi had thrown him a lazy dry look with his one gray eye, entirely in his element and so secure and confident he didn't even need to feel smug—he'd known the entire time.

With the rain as heavy as it was, all bridges were out and most of the roads washed away. Mobilization was not impossible, per se, but it was lethal. If Sasuke didn't drown, get sick, starve, get lost, or have any unforeseen accident that always, always accompanied vital travel, he might've escaped all right. For a while, anyway. Maybe.

At one point, he'd thrown his flimsy excuse of a pillow at Kakashi's back. An arm—dressed entirely in the dark-navy/black material Kakashi always used—reached behind him, grabbed the pillow, and shoved it under his head as he settled himself into a more comfortable position and went back to sleep.

Sasuke swore under his breath.


Sasuke didn't like people—not even at a distance. He could tolerate them at a distance, which was better than what he could do up close, but he really didn't like people. It didn't have too much to do whether or not they were a boy or a girl, or whether or not they were any good at fighting or stealth or intelligence, he just didn't like people. He'd never had a simple spontaneous friend, and the ones he was close to were there because circumstances had forced them there, not out of choice.

If Naruto had never been placed on his team, he never would have spoken to him. If Sakura hadn't been placed on his team, he never would have spoken to her. If Kakashi hadn't been placed on his team, he would have never spoken to him, even if he had found out about the left Sharingan eye, because Kakashi was definitely not part of the Uchiha clan.

Sasuke wouldn't choose to be near people at all, except that he was forced to share space with them. He never really got used to sharing space with Kakashi—he didn't like sharing, period. It had less to do with nature than it did with nurture, but either way it didn't matter, because even though there was no sign of Kakashi going away, he kept out of Sasuke's business and life enough to give him a semblance of independence, of individuality.

Sasuke was only Kakashi's prisoner if he tried to escape—other than that, Kakashi didn't really care what he did—or if he did care, he didn't openly interfere. Sasuke continued to practice, to fight and build himself, and hated that it was so slow. Slow and unresponsive—futile.

Sometimes he would catch Kakashi watching him, not with any real interest because Kakashi never showed what he felt or thought if he could manage it, but sometimes he would flex his fingers and Sasuke would attack and it would be an honest, no-holds-barred all-out brawl. Kakashi got insulted when Sasuke did anything less than try to kill him with everything he had, but got annoyed and irritated when Sasuke let his emotions control his actions instead of his head.

After a while, Kakashi stopped holding back. He rarely went all-out, simply because it taxed his system without profitable reason, but Sasuke had caught him once, off guard and healthy, to know that Kakashi could hit a lot harder, faster, and with greater accuracy than he usually did—it had been accidental, but the incident remained in Sasuke's mind. It had been a while before his spine allowed him sit upright again, or even walk without leaning against the walls every five seconds. Kakashi had been attentive, but not sympathetic—attacking someone without warning was risky business. Still, Sasuke was learning.

He didn't go on every mission Kakashi did, wasn't physically with him all the time and after being stuck in the same sprawling house with more than fifteen empty rooms and nothing better to do than walk on his hands from one length of it to another during the sixteen months since he'd started following Kakashi on missions, Sasuke knew where all the booby traps lay, what set them off and how to disarm them. If he was bored enough, he even cleaned and maintained them. The floors didn't creak when he walked over them now. The outside doors—rigged, spiked, poisoned, and inlaid with a thin malleable metal that was very hard to break, rather like a metal net—no longer kept him from wandering into the sparse and dry courtyard. The walls were high, and rigged themselves, but no real obstacle—he could clear them easily. He traced the murky tattoos on his arms and legs with his fingers, puzzling the meanings. He already knew how often he was watched, who was doing it, and where they liked to hide. He especially remembered how hard they hit.

Escape was possible. It'd be a run, all the way through, and it would have to be planned well, but escape was possible.

Kakashi was trying to twist a crick out of his spine and avoid Gai like hell at the same time as he walked to the monument cliff overlooking the village—meeting Gai would end only in an inescapable inferno, dark green and hygienically white and sparkling, full of comradely tears and righteousness, and undoubtedly another annoying crick in his neck and pain in his ears. He'd gotten good at tuning Gai out through the years, but Gai had gotten good at yanking his attention back too, so it was something of a lost battle between them. Most things were.

He'd glanced over carelessly paused, shown honest puzzlement with a bit of concern, and then had glared. He was definitely annoyed now—Kakashi didn't have a problem being diplomatic or finding a compromise, but he did have a problem with being corrected and listening to musty old men and women harp and rant about his methods and decisions and…argh. It was annoying. It was degrading. And, since he thought that he knew better than other people did, it was ultimately fruitless, since complaints rarely caused him to change.

Sasuke didn't move from his spot on the ground, far enough from the cliff side to be unseen, dressed in earth tones and motionless enough to camouflage, and not running through the forest frantically pursued by the available jounnin and anbu who had been sent to retrieve him. His hands cushioned his head, feet naked in the crisp cool air, toes wiggling absently, and staring at the dark slate-colored sky that hung, somehow, very close to the ground yet very high overhead. It was the kind of sky that made him thirsty for some reason, made him feel relaxed and energized at the same time, something that he wanted to touch but wouldn't reach for. It was there for him to have, but he couldn't have it. It was that kind of sky.

Sasuke took his time acknowledging the looming shadow glowering at him, letting his gaze follow the gloomy wooly-rough cloud formations, black eyes devoid for once of anger or resentment or annoyance, tinged here and there with soft mild curiosity. Then he glanced at Kakashi, eyes hard, and smirked the smirk of those who know they have made someone's day (someone they don't particularly like) a very bad day indeed, and hope that the day can only get worse and worse, a mundane yet lasting version of Unpleasantness caused for someone who verily deserved it.

Kakashi was tempted to kick him in the side.

In the distance, they could hear coded whistles.

Eventually, after great deliberation (mostly spurred on by the need to preserve some illusion of dignity), Kakashi pushed Sasuke into a sitting position and (with some struggle and more glaring) got him to allow him to tie his hands behind his back, and saw that the left seal mark was missing from Sasuke's wrist. Sasuke remained docile while his wrist was examined and manhandled, the damnable smirk never leaving his lips. The smug atmosphere was nearly suffocating.

Kakashi really hadn't known what to do. Sasuke had broken one of the wards. He'd broken one of the chakra restraints…and hadn't run away. Hadn't left for good, and deliberately had his accomplishment discovered. Sasuke was…taunting them…

He managed to not slap Sasuke's head. It was hard, but he managed.

Sometimes, it was hard to remember that Sasuke was still under forty—that he was still under thirty and twenty, in fact, that he was still under fifteen. He learned incredibly fast, could fake what he didn't understand, was dead-serious about everything to the point of suicide and had never been known to crack a joke when he could sneer instead. Maturity and intelligence were not the same thing, and Sasuke could be an annoying reminder of how bratty spoiled brats could really be, when they wanted to pull stupid tricks.

Kakashi sighed, cut the bonds, and stalked off, swearing under his breath. It wasn't worth his time—it really wasn't.

A couple yards along the dark muddy trail that cut along the cliff side, smudged with low dark trees and thick bushes, Sasuke fell into step behind him, still radiating self-satisfaction. They were intercepted halfway home, but Kakashi had simply looked annoyed and Sasuke had merely trotted along briskly, hands casually shoved in pockets. By the time they got to the house there was a rather high-ranking official sitting on the roof chewing on grass lazily, and had traded jerky nods with Kakashi.

The door had been held open, and then slammed shut behind Sasuke. It was long past nightfall and dinnertime when Kakashi returned, looking more weary than aggravated by that time and hadn't bothered to acknowledged Sasuke in the slightest. They ate separately, Kakashi retiring early still looking worn.

After Sasuke finished eating, he stood very quietly outside Kakashi's bedroom door out of sight and silhouette, listening to the sound of someone sitting heavily on a bed, and staring at the wall absently, lost in thought. He'd counted in his head slowly to sixteen, and heard the distinct sound of someone muffling laughter with a pillow. And smiled.


There were small prices to pay for his bit of fun, however, and no one predicted the form they took.

Sasuke still accompanied Kakashi on various missions—but by unspoken agreement Sasuke would work only with him; if others were added, group tensions built up in strange ways that eventually found a way out. For the most part, it just meant that Sasuke was more agitated, less reliable, and more distracted with a third or fourth person attached—directly influenced by how many people there were and personality types.

Despite various deliberate hindrances on his progress, Sasuke had improved to a chuunin level ninja—higher, if he managed to take the other four seals off his body, excluding the curse mark. The problem was, Sasuke didn't have the mind of a journeyman ninja—the skills, yes, the stamina and strategizing abilities, yes, but not the level-minded judgment. It was true that many ninja were not mentally balanced—it was the norm, but Sasuke was one where few allowances were given. He was judged too dangerous for that, and recently Kakashi had seemed…too indulgent and inattentive to be healthy.

So, occasionally, another member would be added onto the strange 'not-cell' that comprised of the two them, and they would both be annoyed because neither of them were too fond with working with new people on account of new people dying frequently and getting in the way—if possible, Kakashi tried to take someone he knew to spy on them, but again, most of the people he trusted were dead. It was a continuous theme. There was Gai, but he had his own life and was…Gai. Excessively so.

Accidents were unaffordable. They cost too much and were never worth the slack—Sasuke always considered Other People a necessary ingredient in accidents, but mostly because he wouldn't admit he was fairly apt at creating accidents all on his own; accidentally, of course. Of course, if he'd been the one to get hurt, he would've had a decent reason to get angry, would've been in a good position that was free from blame, since he'd been the one to get hurt. He hadn't though, but refused the blame anyway.

It didn't make him feel better.

He hated to admit he was distracted—hated to admit that any of it was in any way his fault. If it had just been Kakashi and him, things would have gone better; they didn't need help, and the other guy had been useless for anything aside from…

Of course, Kakashi hadn't wanted to talk about it. Of course, Kakashi didn't blame either of them—outwardly. Outwardly—he was still good at hiding what he felt, what he thought, from Sasuke who watched him like a hawk on steroids every day he could. Pain was something Kakashi was used to, and didn't bother him terribly much; he didn't like it and never would (which was healthy) but he didn't particularly care about the bruised bones or bloody wounds in his back. They just weren't important enough.

Sasuke spent the better part of the days after avoiding him in the not-exactly-dead-anymore house, refusing to go out for meals, remaining shut up in his room wholly convinced Kakashi's injuries had not been his fault and furious at the slight implication that they might have been.

But perhaps, what annoyed him the most, what infuriated and angered him the most, was that Kakashi didn't seem to care. It had happened, it was over, no one was dead, so it wasn't important. He didn't care. He was too busy laying on the porch in the unseasonably warm noon sun shirtless, doing nothing more productive than doze, completely ignoring the resentful glare coming from deep inside the shadows of the house. Kakashi's back looked sun-starved; paleness could be attractive, but on him it simply looked vaguely unhealthy and suspicious.

There were many things about Kakashi that were unbearable. There were many things about Kakashi that Sasuke was just now realizing were far more dangerous, more problematic and lethal, than they had first seemed. Sasuke sulked in the shadows, glowered, then finally—feeling a little apprehensive—stepped into the light and nudged Kakashi's side with his foot. There was a muffled whine—cranky and weak.

Sasuke's fingers tightened. He manhandled Kakashi into a sitting position, making him wake up twice, until he had his legs over the low edge of the porch and his back facing him. Kakashi lounged against his knees, refusing to sit straight—Kakashi was an expert lounger. He could make spikes look comfortable by lounging against them.

They usually didn't talk—Sasuke because he didn't like to and Kakashi always seemed to know what was going through his head anyway, and Kakashi because he didn't see the need; if he wanted to make himself understood, he would. He never told Sasuke to feel guilty about anything; that he had done wrong, that running away would get him no where because Kakashi had known he wouldn't listen.

Sasuke hated how he was manipulated and hated the efficiency even more. It wasn't fair—being read like that. It was unnerving. It was terribly convenient. It was also terribly, terribly horrible for Sasuke to realize that not only was it convenient, but that once his wounded dignity had dragged its feet in the dirt, he didn't mind. That he trusted Kakashi to that extent—he didn't begrudge him being able to read or control him, because he trusted Kakashi to never hurt him intentionally or take advantage of him.

Sasuke had planned to live his life alone—not only literally, but metaphorically as well, inside his head and heart. He never wanted to have a friend—so he made a point to avoid people he'd like—and he never wanted to trust anyone—so he made himself paranoid and suspicious. He made a point of not only locking himself away from other people, but of locking them outside his mind—to never care about them and tried to make sure they didn't care about him. He wanted to be alone—in a very serious sense.

He did this because Sasuke had always known, from a very early age, that betrayal was…not simply painful. Pain was something that came, hurt, and then scabbed over, leaving only faint ugliness. Betrayal was something that did not heal—it was not pain, it was agony. It was degrading, because betrayal was something that was allowed to happen by the victim. There was no defense; there was not even the dignity of a last fight or struggle. Sasuke realized what few children didn't—that realizing dreams and victories was something that happened very, very rarely, and hardly ever about the things that mattered. However, even in defeat, even in death, you could still hold on to dignity, to pride, to even an illusion of pride or dignity and that somehow made things better, because even though they'd beaten you they hadn't defeated you, and you were still better than them. Pride and dignity left the possibility that one day you'd get them back, one day you'd make them pay, and it'd be worth it—it'd be worth it a thousand times over.

Betrayal, however, took even that away.

He didn't doubt Kakashi was aware of all the ways he could hurt Sasuke—didn't doubt Kakashi had realized the power he'd been given. He also didn't doubt Kakashi knew why he was touching his back gingerly, over the spots that had been bruised and cut and healed, trying to alleviate as much pain as possible without seeming to care. Kakashi knew—and he wouldn't take advantage of it.

Kakashi, Sasuke was beginning to appreciate, had something he didn't, something many ninjas didn't—he had personal honor, not just occupational honor. He was ruthless when he had to be, heartless, but he had a beaten up and pragmatically merciless honor, and he probably knew why Sasuke's fingers were shaking, and he wouldn't do anything about it. Not because he was lazy, not because he didn't care, but because it was Sasuke's decision to do something stupid and reckless and not his.

Kakashi was more than a decade his elder—had been his teacher since he was twelve, his guardian/custodian/jailer for the past two and half years, and been the only real father figure Sasuke had ever had, despite having a father he could name and remember. And Kakashi trusted him.

His fingers ran over the old scars, over the muscles weathered by the years into something hard and dense yet still supple. Kakashi's head hung from his shoulders lazily, body relaxed and languid, allowing Sasuke to do whatever he wanted and hitching his shoulders gently forward or backward to indicate which part of his back needed the most attention, eyes closed and fingers lax. His breathing was slow, drowsy in the clear mid-winter break.

Sasuke discreetly checked his pulse from time to time—he wouldn't put it past Kakashi to fall asleep on him. There were evident knots of tension—of pain. His fingers worked at them, rubbing and pressing and kneading, until the knot dissolved peacefully. The faint warmth the sun gave off didn't reach through the layers of Sasuke's clothes—it was unusual weather, and the cold would return soon enough. Kakashi's skin was luke warm under his chilly fingers.

He worked up Kakashi's spine, to the base of his neck and the nape of his hair, carefully redressing the old constant aches that came from day-to-day living and weren't particularly annoying but not pleasant. Kakashi's hair felt clean—he washed it every morning. As long as Sasuke had been living with him, he had never, ever, been able to find out what Kakashi did to it to make it stand up—something had gone seriously wrong with the genes, leaving him with busy gray hair that defied both gravity and fashion. It was one of the things he meant to find out before he died—one of the many. But he definitely meant to.

He wasn't surprised to note that the silence was companionable; at ease and pleasant. It gave him confidence.

Whatever happened…happened. No one would die, so even if things went bad it wouldn't matter, because they'd still be alive and things could get better: that was the gist of what Kakashi taught him. The important thing was to be alive—there were many important things, but once you were dead, they stopped being important. And he had a feeling Kakashi would forgive him, if he screwed up—Kakashi forgave him everything else. He trusted him.

His fingers stopped prodding and simply balanced him as he leaned forward on his knees and pressed his lips, very lightly, against hard muscle of Kakashi's neck. He let the kiss linger.

Lightening didn't strike. The sky didn't fall. The earth didn't split and roar. No one screamed. No blood spilled. Kakashi didn't move. If his muscles had tensed up—just a bit, just from shock—it would've been done, game over, go away. But he'd been expecting this; Kakashi had been expecting it and accepted it. Sasuke comforted himself with the thought that if Kakashi had wanted to stop him, he would have, so since he hadn't, it was all right.

It was all right. He could touch him.

His mouth acted on its own—sucking lightly, the wet insides of his lips catching on the dry skin, the tip of his tongue yanking at the reigns and tasting a bit of sweat and breathing hard, leathery whispers like bat wings flapping.

Kakashi tasted faintly of salt. Mostly he didn't taste of anything too distinct—strongest of salt, a little of soap, a little of water and there was maybe a faint trace of human oil, something distinctly him, but it was hard to be sure. He was very good at making himself anonymous.

His hands wavered erratically from one extreme to the other—being too hard and bruising, then too light and soft, too hesitant and then too brash, and occasionally just right, slow hard caresses over pale skin. He wasn't sure where to put them—his body knew, but what his body wanted and what he and/or Kakashi could accept were two different things. It was pleasant to just touch him—like running his hands over smooth warm stone. Relaxing. Intoxicating.

He pulled away once, not far, but enough to give an opportunity for something to go wrong—not close enough to touch, but close enough to feel heat, to get an impression. His lips pressed against Kakashi's pulse—flowing hard and fast against his mouth, aware and not indifferent. Maybe not interested, maybe nervous, but definitely not indifferent, and that was as good as any place to start.

He wasn't stopped.

His hair brushed his skin, and this time Sasuke hesitated less and tasted more, feeling the insides of his fingers and sensitive pads tingle and heat, let his hands wander farther and let them touch the way they liked, giving less regard to illusions of control and more to immediate physical satisfaction. If his arms felt this way, the muscles under the skin felt this way, had this amount of heat, this amount of strength and made Sasuke twitch and tingle, then his stomach, lower down he must feel like…he couldn't imagine it.

Kakashi stopped him.

His hand had been halfway down his mid-riff, fingertips lightly brushing the stomach ridges sending little shocks up his arm and another hand—larger than his, leaner, harder, and a good deal dryer—grabbed his. The grip had tightened before Sasuke had gotten his head together to get up and get away with as much possible dignity, immovable as iron. Inside his head, Sasuke had cowered. Outside, he had frozen. He should've torn his hand away—wanted to tear his hand away, but couldn't move.

Kakashi hadn't said anything—just held his hand tightly, let his head hang off his shoulders and allowed Sasuke's other hand to fall away without comment. He hadn't looked at him—hadn't done anything, but after a beat or two of not letting Sasuke run and making it clear he had no intention of letting go, leaned back a little (against him) propped up on his arms, one suspiciously close to Sasuke's leg, the fingers of the other very, very lightly trapping Sasuke's fingers down. Not enough to hurt—there wasn't much weight on them, but the arrangement hadn't been accidental—few things were, with Kakashi.

And then he glanced over at him, gave him a level steady look with his one good gray eye.

Sasuke flushed.

After a while Kakashi looked away, tilted his head up towards the sky. Cautiously, Sasuke placed his free hand over Kakashi's—nothing happened. Then, slowly but with a single-minded stubbornness, he kissed his neck again lightly, and trailed his lips against his collar bone, found he didn't have the courage to do anything with his tongue, before relaxing, lungs still laboring a good deal harder than he wanted them to, against Kakashi's shoulder. He found himself wondering how, exactly, did it feel to have someone else's breath break against your skin? It sounded delightful—like a warm breeze in the chill. If Kakashi enjoyed it, he gave no sign. Sasuke pressed his lips against the corner of his jaw, against the warm black fabric.

Sasuke pulled his hands out, and went back inside.

The afternoon took too long—the night took longer. Dinner was awkward. He hadn't been sure what to say or do, so a lot of what Sasuke wound up doing was poking his food and twitching every time the chopsticks hit the bowls too loudly, and kept his eyes on the table. He contemplated touching Kakashi's feet under the table with his own, but that sounded childish—beneath him. He still wanted to do it though; he didn't.

He'd left the table for Kakashi to clear (he'd cooked and hadn't been able to eat) and went to his own room, to pace and sulk and was embarrassed to find himself licking his lips and rubbing his wrists. Embarrassed, but not really afraid. He wasn't sure what happened now—wasn't sure about the appropriate procedure, about who's move it was or what the move would entail or if he should even expect anything or if he was expected to go to bed without a decent answer or indication if anything came next at all. Perhaps it'd been a fluke. Perhaps it'd been only a fluke.

Down the hall—three rooms down—he heard Kakashi's bedroom door slide open, then closed. His fingers tightened on his arms, momentarily. Then he went out, down the hall, and through Kakashi's door in a daze: he was direct, but he didn't like being a fool. He didn't like it at all.

Kakashi was seated when he came in, casually leaning forward on his knees; he'd been expected. Sasuke froze for a second, his hand still on the door. Then he closed it, stepped forward, face as carefully blank as he could make it and trying to keep his steps from trembling or hands from fisting, and taken the long four and half steps to the bed, and nearly choked when Kakashi gave him that steady, burning look. It wasn't hungry—not exactly.

He was nearly fifteen, repressed, isolated, and while Kakashi was nearly thirty, he hadn't lost any of his appeal or memories of what it was like to be fifteen with just two hands and a pornographic novel. And Sasuke had come to him—entirely on his own will. It would cause outrage with most people, because of their age difference and sex similarity, but most of the things Sasuke did caused outrage in people and Kakashi had no intention of anyone knowing—no one knew anything else about his life anyway.

Kakashi offered him his hand.

He took it, of course. He'd come too far not to.

He allowed himself to be pulled on the bed (sitting? lying down? straddling him? his heart was going too fast) and seated over the edge, and was blindfolded deliberately, the knot secure in the back and consciously felt the switch from being dependent on visual stimulus to auditory and tactile stimulus. His nerves were strung to where he was sure they were twanging, muscles feeling like they'd been filled with hot lead—heavy and sluggish. It probably wasn't the effect Kakashi had been planning, but it happened and he was aware of it happening, nonetheless.

Weight shifted on the bed behind him, coming back to the edge (the bed itself was narrow and low and so thin that their combined weights might've broken it and what would happen next?) and hands had guided his face gently (cool, dry, and very, very tender) and he'd felt lips on his mouth. Warm, dry lips brimming over with secret smiles and power. From there, whatever mantle of control he'd been wearing went up in flames.

He kissed a lot more aggressively, clumsily, and hungrily than he ever wanted to seem, and Kakashi hadn't stopped him. His hands were allowed to go where they wanted—fingers digging into Kakashi's arm and the other fisting the back of his shirt, while Sasuke tried not to tremble at the tongue licking his bottom lip with slow, burning skill, and groaned instead. His breath came out in hot waves, shaky but trusting, and his body trembled gently as teeth nipped along his jaw—wet, warm, and dull. His heart was racing, thudding so hard against his ribs he was fairly certain there would be some amount of physical damage later and didn't care.

This was…this was amazing. This is what it felt like? Like his insides were being demolished gently from the inside, with the meticulous gentle care he'd gotten far too used to? He'd thought…he hadn't been sure what he thought. What he expected. This was nothing like what woke him up at odd hours of the night, something excruciatingly pleasing but brief and unsatisfactory. He'd never been this afraid then—this unsure. And this was far from unsatisfactory—far from brief. This was carnal and raw and guided, something he could touch and be touched by, could draw closer and hotter and pull back from when the pressure got too much.

The arms around him were sure—strong, deliberate, and the mouth against his, allowing for all his eagerness and tension, and unfortunately excess spit, was equally confident and skillful. Without really knowing how (except he had known how—he was working on various levels, the topmost overriding one only concerned with being as naked and hot as possible and the others alternately cowering, running, screaming, or taking notes on the perfect way to push someone onto a bed without permission, supporting the body weight while never leaving the mouth alone) he found himself flat on his back with a knee between his while his hands clawed and scratched Kakashi's shirt. He made a point to tangle his fingers in that hair—that strange, funky hair. It felt dry…dry and coarse. Wild.

At one point, a hand had gotten up his shirt, brushing along his breastbone and chest, fingertips trailing through the sweat. He'd arched up into panting, a hip pressing into his groin a little too hard and his neck had vaulted backwards in terribly clear hunger and abandon. A regular throbbing beat in his temples as his heart scuttled and raced. Teeth fell upon his neck, hard and cannibalistic, wet calloused palms stroked his chest and scraped at his nipples and petted his belly, making him jump and writhe. Brilliant white shards fluttered and leaped in his lower abdomen, scratching at the paper-thin skin of his inner thighs, wanting out.

The best part, however, was how safe he felt. He hadn't been sure, he'd been a little terrified, but he'd been right. He felt safe—safe to act on what he felt, safe to react to touches and caresses and not-so-idle strokes that had been waiting for him even before he'd gone down the hall…

The pressure had increased—the pacing. Sasuke had run over a cliff at full speed before, so was familiar with the idea that you could only fall so fast for so long before the ground hit, so was trying savor and remember as much as he could, from the labored breathing wet against his neck to the way it felt to have someone else's hands stroke his hair and then he'd groaned and nearly died of asphyxiation when a hand that was not his, hot, moist with sweat and spit, very wide and strong, found it's way into his pants, grabbing hard decisively and stroking more like a knife than flesh.

Kakashi had always been good at making him move, and he proved just as apt at making him scream. It came out strangled, pained, and a tongue slipped inside his mouth, running him over and attacking when he was weakest, when he was most distracted, before finally breaking off long enough to allow Sasuke to dig his fingers in cringing and grit his teeth when the death-blow came.

It…it hurt. It was hard and rough—alien and too strong and not his and if it had been anyone else touching him, anyone else biting his jaw while fondling the inside of his pants, Sasuke would've torn their arms off and beat them to death with them. As it was, he merely left ugly dark bruises on Kakashi's shoulders and angry wet scratches on his neck.

His feet pressed against the floor, his head into the mattress as his spine arched and stretched, ivory piercing through his skin, and then he was only aware of the dizzying high of finding all his blood was missing from his brain and not caring. He felt his heart stop, and loved it.

He wound down slowly, drunk on sensation and success, and felt his body sink into the depressions in the bed, listened to the heavy but not hasty breathing above him, felt himself visually examined with something he liked to think was desire and not caution.

He lay still a minute or two, breathing hard and lightly dusted in sweat. Kakashi lounged on one elbow, watching as Sasuke slowly came back to himself. He continued to watch with interest (more curiosity than interest) as fingers, rather slowly, touched the hem of his shirt, and gradually began to move down his abdomen in light fits and starts.

In stops and guesses, it had gradually stolen over Sasuke that Kakashi was probably…just as affected and he should…touch him back. It was part of the deal. He just…wasn't sure where to start. What to do—what was the next move? Was he supposed to undress him? That was a bit too intimate—he hadn't bargained on doing something like that. Something fast and hard, something to get the kinks out; he'd planned on that. Not on something else. But he didn't really know…and he hated looking like a fool.

Kakashi's hand caught his again, and this time he didn't mind at all. His shoulders sagged, ever so slightly, ever so invisibly, with relief. He didn't mind demanding sex from his teacher, but he had problems catering to anyone's needs; Kakashi had expected it. The kid was man enough to demand more than toys and sweets, but not grown enough to know how to give without expecting a return—selfish, immature, but expected.

Damp lips touched Sasuke's fingers, licked the webbing between them and the rough knuckles and sucked on the tips, almost tickling, but tickling had never made the sides of his neck heat and tingle, never made him swallow loudly. He could imagine the way Kakashi was looking at him—that steady hard look that saw everything and gave nothing away, the one that could be intimidating and threatening but, lately, had only made him feel a little hot and flustered and irritated. His palm was kissed tenderly, the rough hot back end of a tongue laved the inside of his wrist, which appeared to be a good deal more sensitive than what Sasuke had ever given it credit.

He noted his breathing had heated again, percolating in his chest. He leaned forward, asking instead of demanding, and let himself be kissed, his mouth painstakingly ransacked. Let himself be squished into the thin bed, let hands strip him shirtless and kicked off his own pants, feeling stupid again for being stripped naked but not caring enough to stop.

He…liked this. Rather liked this a lot.

The first had been something hurried and needy and frantic, but now it was just…slow. Gentle. Filled with certainty that nothing would go awfully wrong, that everything would be carried out with efficiency and meticulous attention to detail.

He found he didn't mind being sandwiched between sheets and heavy flesh—only felt slight yet lingering claustrophobia, nothing he couldn't ignore with sufficient diversion. He felt only slightly embarrassed when he was the only one undressed—when his body was the only one explored and exploited, manipulated, fingers and tongue delving into ravines in ways and places he never would have imagined on his own. Only a little embarrassed (pink across his cheeks and neck limp) when a tongue (the same one that barked orders, the same one that evaluated, condemned, and pardoned) dipped in his navel or when hands wet with sweat ran up and down his ribs, the calluses on thumbs scratching against the sensitive sections of his skin. He was only a smidge uncomfortable when someone else's tongue was in his mouth, touching his teeth and tickling his palate, when a hand hardened with age and warfare slipped again between his thighs, this time soaked with his own saliva and touched where he wasn't used to and touched where it made him shiver and tense and, gradually, brought him off, mewing gently. His thighs felt weak and helpless all the way from his navel to his ankles, trembling and so starved that every morsel and caress was torture.

There was no telling what Kakashi felt like below the waist; probably criss-crossed with scars like the rest of him. Sasuke wasn't eager to find out—he wouldn't have known what to do with another naked body anyway; he could've figured it out if he had enough time and really, really felt like it, but why bother? Kakashi was a grown man—despite his eccentricities, he had to have had a hundred people in his bed before. There was no point in showing his ignorance more than he had to, not when Kakashi didn't seem interested in being touched anyway, not when he seemed completely engrossed in making Sasuke twitch and react. He wasn't complaining. It wasn't like he wanted to touch him all anyway. It was more energy efficient like this.

When he was worn—finally worn, finally spent of months of randomized tension—Kakashi shoved him underneath the sheets, pushed back his hair, and left the room quietly, twisting the kinks out his spine. Sasuke grabbed his hand just before he left, squeezed it, and then turned over and pulled the sheets over his shoulder and curled up to sleep.

Kakashi spent longer than he meant to in the shower, reviewing the bruises and inconsequential cuts he'd gotten here and there—nothing serious, just annoying. It was nothing that couldn't be covered up. He spent the last few hours waiting for dawn on the threadbare couch (also dragged from storage) in one of the main sitting rooms, catching up on what sleep he could.

This hadn't been entirely unexpected—he hadn't Sasuke to be as direct as he had been, had been expecting something of a dance mixed with denial and some misgivings, but Sasuke could be surprising like that. He'd have to be careful though—would have to teach Sasuke to be careful too. The boy's own aloofness and indifference would be a good barrier from getting too attached, too fixed on a certain pattern, but it would still be good to reinforce that idea.

Sasuke was at the age where he wasn't completely in control—where his body deviously seemed more intelligent than his brain (which had always been the case, more or less, which was a shame when the potential his mind represented was considered), and hormones had the run of the board. It would be too easy for him to confuse sex with affection, and while his body was ready, his mind wasn't. To some degree, Sasuke was aware of that: was prepared that he might act inexcusably stupid, which was probably why he hadn't bothered too much with preliminaries—he wasn't able to make promises on either a conscious or sub-conscious level and wasn't able to deal with them either.

Sasuke didn't trust his emotions because he couldn't control them, couldn't predict which way they would throw him or what would happen afterwards. He did, however, trust Kakashi to control them and him; to guide him.

It was late in the morning when Sasuke stumbled off to shower. They both ignored everything, until two nights later when Sasuke lounged expectantly against Kakashi's bedroom door after dinner. That time, Kakashi let him without question.


The other part of the price of freedom was the fact that Sasuke could now, with some prodding and concentration, active the curse seal; nothing advanced, but it gave him a serious jolt of power and madness when it did activate, which it never did without reason and necessary stress. And, of course, any time it did activate, it caused a good deal of stress in everyone else.

Regaining consciousness without explanation was something Kakashi had never gotten used to, over the years. Any time he woke up in a hospital bed, drugged, wounded, and bandaged, was a time when he realized he could've—possibly should havewoken up dead or in enemy hands, where the doctors would be more interested in taking things out of him instead of making sure they stayed in and functioning. It was something that happened (fairly frequently, sometimes) but it was something he had never gotten used to—never wanted to get used to. It was a defeat, in its way. A reminder of human weakness, despite everything.

By chance, he had managed to secure a bed by the window—it was mid-afternoon outside. Window beds, window desks—anything near a window always reminded him how easy it was to be assassinated near a window—you wouldn't even have to see your attacker. Nice easy jobs, windows were—and the glass in the hospitals weren't bullet proof. In the distance, he registered shouts and clamor. A fight was happening.

When he woke up again, he first thought it was evening from the faint sunlight, and then realized the direction was off—it wasn't evening, it was morning. Early morning, but still morning. His mind had come to some conclusions—one, that he hated being hit/ stabbed from behind, and two, that Orochimaru was most likely dead, and three, that the power he had felt could not have been Orochimaru, since he was supposed to be dead. This left one possible alternative of someone with traces of Orochimaru's energy signature and sudden fluctuations in temper when attacked without warning in a crowd in the vicinity.

Sasuke was good at fighting isolated—but once he was placed in a crowd, he was distracted too easily. A lot of that was the Sharingan's fault—the skill was designed to take in as much detail as possible, as much information regardless of whether or not the mind behind it would be able to process it all and remain sane, and with Sasuke's paranoid nature everyone in a crowd was a potential enemy. The overload was considerable, if unimaginable.

Still…the crass lack of control. The disrespect for dispassion, for focus, decorum…it was all so predictable. So common. So crude and unsophisticated—far below expectations. One of these days—seriously—Kakashi would have to take some kind of affirmative action. Some kind. Probably tomorrow or the day after, when he felt able to move his neck up from the pillow, but definitely some kind of action.

Kakashi closed his eye. When he opened it again, it was midday, and Sasuke was sitting on the edge of his bed, looking at him a shade resentfully. Kakashi tried to focus on the hunched monochrome figure, blinking awkwardly, before his senses registered footsteps coming down the hall at the same time Sasuke's did, and grabbed him by the wrist. That earned him a sharp, hurt look, but (flushing slightly) Sasuke settled back down, pretending Kakashi wasn't touching him and taking extreme interest in his feet.

The door opened, men came in half way, and milled uncertainly, not quite certain if they should attempt to capture a target who seemed to be, at some extent, already caught. Or no longer fleeing, at any rate. At one point, Kakashi mumbled something about letting the draft in, and feet filed out shutting the door, with a good deal less enthusiasm than they'd entered. Sasuke kicked the edge of the bed, and continued to ignore him. Kakashi closed his eye, and pretended not to notice when, fifteen minutes later, his hand was removed and placed on someone's warm thigh, and covered with another hand.


The one and only time Sasuke came anywhere close to seeing Kakashi's naked face had been on sheer accident. He was—understandably—flustered and edgy and aggravated and embarrassed, and had barged in on the bathroom without knocking or even pausing for a reaction.

He'd started talking, sharp low rapid shards of words, before his eyes shrieked and slapped his mind, noticing a missing patch of black instead of the apparent splash of skin, the shock in one gray eye and one red one and had smacked his head into the door frame as he whirled around, feeling embarrassed and stupid and slammed the door shut two seconds past the appropriate moment. He kept his shoulder blades pressed against the door, face still flushed and feeling guilty and irresponsible.

He mumbled something incoherent about Naruto and the front door and waiting, and remained there until the sounds from the bathroom indicated that Kakashi was about exit before walling himself up in his room and locking the door.

It was late afternoon when Kakashi broke his door down, after trying to get it open every other way (including knocking) and failing, and dragged him out to eat in a shifty small restaurant where everything was served with watery filmy soup that contained an overabundance of chopped green onions. Sasuke picked at the food, and kicked Kakashi hard in the ankle once accidentally-on-purpose for no reason he understood.

They walked home in silence, and Sasuke wasn't surprised to find the silence was more apologetic than anything he could've ever managed to choke or vomit out, and hoped harder than he wanted to that Kakashi understood.

He didn't argue or fight when he was pushed into the bathroom once they got home (the old cold house that was somehow home now, whenever and however that happened) but he did flinch. He kept still when he was blindfolded, apprehensive and a little relieved, and didn't freeze so much as chill over when Kakashi placed Sasuke's hands over his own face, guided his fingers to take the mask off and trace the cheek and jawbones, and never gave a clue or hint to what any of it meant.

Kakashi would've left it at that; he gave enough to comfort, but never placed himself out on a limb for another's consolation. He'd die for Sasuke, but he'd never reveal more of himself than he just had. Except that Sasuke had jerked his hands away awkwardly before he'd finished, preferring to grip his wrists that feel his face, nearly crushing the bones together, shoulders wrenched back like a hawk before diving.

For a second, Kakashi thought Sasuke was going to break his wrists.

Kakashi didn't move—it hurt, but he didn't move. Eventually, breathing a little shaky, Sasuke leaned into his chest, hiding his face. He didn't hug him—physical affection (open affection of any kind) had never been Kakashi's strong point, so he simply held still when his wrists were finally released and arms slipped around his waist and clung to his shirt, Sasuke's neck vulnerable and soft looking, framed by his razor-sharp blades of black hair.

And it became obvious to Kakashi—sharply, worryingly obvious—that events had suddenly become a good deal more intricate and dangerous than he had gambled on.

His pulse picked up; harder than what he was used to. Sometimes, it was hard to remember that not only did Sasuke not have any solid friends he trusted, or healthy romantic/sexual/amicable interest in anyone, but also that he didn't have a very strong impression of parental figures. Except Kakashi.

Too much compression, too much pressure around one point, and that point eventually exploded—it happened all the time in construction and weaponry, during earthquakes and storms and other unprecedented events of chaos. It took time, of course, accruing stress and debris until everything exploded bloody shrapnel flying, but time had a reliable way of continuing, regardless of human intervention.

For some reason, he became acutely aware of his breathing—how air entered through his throat and separated into dual lungs that leeched oxygen out as they inflated before forcing the air out again. This was far, far more than he had bargained. Kakashi had never been emotionally dependent on anyone. Not his father, not his teacher—no one. And no one, ever, had been completely dependent on him. Not outside of battle. Not outside of the field, outside the job.

Eventually, he gingerly put one arm around Sasuke's shoulders, the other hanging at his side, and let the boy decide when enough was enough. Not really a boy anymore, but not yet a man. He wasn't crying—he was just having trouble breathing, trouble inflating his lungs. Sasuke slept in his bed that night too, but fully clothed and back to back.

Sometimes, Kakashi mused, you were attacked from the angle you least expected, and sometimes you realized there was no way to dodge or deflect it, but it when both those circumstances collided in the same sequence then you were caught, no matter what. From there, it was only a matter if whether you'd survive or not.

But, really, the worst attacks were the ones you saw coming, the ones you allowed to hit, because some part of you—something uniquely human and detached from animal biological programming—felt the phantom wound rip that would happen, if you dodged. You could shirk the pain, but someone else would get hurt. It was your choice. It was, always, your choice of who lived and died, who got hurt and who didn't.

Sasuke's spine bumped against his gently as he breathed slowly, deep child-like breaths, two snake skeletons bone to bone in sleep and trust. Eventually, Kakashi closed his eyes.

It was too late now.


Without a word, Kakashi plunked the scroll canister next to Sasuke's plate as he sat down on the opposite side of the table, arranging his chopsticks as he gave the food a cursory uninterested glance. It was meat that could probably be named mixed up with frozen peas, some kind of brown sauce that seemed to be mostly salt, and fairly decent rice. Neither of them had really improved at cooking, over time, but guaranteed that they would never get overly food poisoned.

With Kakashi, Sasuke had to remember, everything was a test. It wasn't always a big one, or important, but Kakashi had been what he was for longer than he could remember, until it was nearly second nature—everything he did always had (almost always) an ulterior motive, a second reason under the first that benefited him in some way, that gave him information or moved his subject towards something.

We of the council wish to inform you that as of the second of next month, you will no longer be the responsible charge for the Gennin…returned to regular duty in accordance with your rank…

If he'd been two years younger—no, actually if he'd been two months younger—he would've torn the paper up, thrown it, slammed his hands on the table, done something destructive and violent. His fingers shook as he stopped half-way through the message and placed it back on the table with a faint rattle, and put his hands under the table to clench his fists until his knuckles and nails hurt, the faint clink of Kakashi's chopsticks just slightly covering his strained breathing. A few seconds later, he was able to eat, more for show than need—his stomach was too much in knots for that.

Kakashi watched later, after Sasuke washed the dishes, as he tore the scroll up strip by narrow strip, burned the bits in a bowl, placed the ashes back inside the scroll, almost shoved the canister down the throat of the luckless messenger who came to the door just as Sasuke was stalking out, and slammed the door in his face. He avoided looking at Kakashi—didn't want to see the unsurprised disappointment in his eye or the amused glint and quirk of his mouth, under the mask.

Later, he realized he had no idea why he was furious at being released. He'd been given his freedom, as if freedom was something that could be given, like a second-hand pair of shorts or extra detergent. Later that night, he figured it was because he was tired of people deciding his life for him, shoving into whatever hole was convenient for them at the time—it wasn't the inconsideration that pissed him off (people were inconsiderate—so what?), it was the fact that they honestly thought he wouldn't fight them. That he would follow. The prominent delusion that he was something that could be controlled by them, like a dog to any master that would feed it.

It was…degrading. It was an insult to his intelligence and their own, and he vowed to never follow morons as stiff-assed haughty as them, who honestly believed he would follow the flick of their fingers simply because of the official robes they wore.

He kicked Kakashi later that night when he heard him chuckle against his throat, struggling enough underneath to show annoyance but not enough to escape, and kissed him hard on the mouth in his own form of revenge. Always his own form of revenge, his own method of victory—he didn't belong to anyone.

Whatever he did, he always tried to do it different, to surprise Kakashi who was never surprised by anything he did, since no one knew him like Kakashi did. He never wanted to be anything less than his own—anything less than original, than unique. He never wanted to follow in anyone's footsteps ever again, regardless if it were for better or worse.

Immaturity—anything less than perfection—was something Sasuke would never admit to, couldn't admit to, but he didn't really mind that Kakashi teased him about it in a roundabout, subtle way, pushing him and testing him and letting him dangle. In a way, Kakashi had earned it. And, in another way, another confused uncomfortably messy way, Sasuke enjoyed it, because no matter how far he jumped or how stupid he got, there was someone who wouldn't kill him too painfully waiting in the shadows, ready to snag him back out of harm if things started to go wrong.

Kakashi was dangerous, and a part of him hated how close he let him get, but didn't try break it off now. It was a part of him now, and it was only a matter of how the road and wash of life would shape them now.


Man is born free but is everywhere in chains
-Rousseau