Title: Freedom's edge
Recipient's name: d2ragnarok
Author's notes: this came out rather easily...and offered a somewhat relaxing, somewhat stressful distraction from exams. Yay.
Pairing(s): Zabuza x Haku, Kakashi x Zabuza, teasing Haku + Sasuke.
Warning(s): yaoi. Shounen ai. Semi-modern.
Genre(s): AU. Semi-modern.
Rating: PG-13 for your safety, hints of mature themes, nothing too explicit..
Word Length: 3,828
Summary: Zabuza's feelings towards Haku begin to change when he meets Kakashi.


Freedom's edge
...by Taes

Freedom waited in the mouth of a bird.

Ignorant of its rarity, it swooped and fluttered like a small, winged rat, singing its quiet tune with a snapping beak like a flower's jaw—not big, not rough, only gentle. It was a small and jewel-like thing, soft and useless to hardened knives, but pretty to look upon. Desired by many.

The sun-bronzed, fit young man, however...knew better than most. A warrior, he believed himself far superior to such a tiny, flawed creature. So he watched with listless eyes and waited—not with baited breath, but with a cold, disdainful mask and an arrogant smirk. He made it common knowledge; from childhood, he'd learned to scorn this flighty sparrow.

He never expected to court the bird. Never considered smoothing its rustled feathers, or dreamed of prying curious lips in a soft and gentle kiss.

But these things come easily when the bird's feathers are black as charcoal, and its wings clipped short so as not to fly far. Pale beneath dark plumes, trembling beneath a firm countenance, such a sparrow is most wanted in winter's dark, tumbling pitch.

The young warrior knew the sparrow then, and he tasted liberty from a cold, wet and adventurous tongue. He felt the small thing beneath, and knew himself to be completed.

But what is left, after freedom has been captured?

What more does a young man want, when desire turns to soft embraces and lilting hearts?

So he waited, in the shadow of a great mirror. When he glimpsed his reflection—and that of the bird—he saw only distortion and blackness to challenge the little jewel's wings. Dark enough to rival his heart.

He waited...

...for the mirror to crack, break, and fall into ruin.


He supposed he should count himself lucky. After all, the snows were not as bad as they may have been; travelers came despite the cold, and men yearned for one another's blood. There were days without filled beds, true, but only long enough to ease him out of his coarse mood and into waiting arms.

But his eyes remained black, his expression dour. Neither soft murmurings—gentle kisses on his ears—nor humble words—hidden annoyance—could break him of it. Tsking and quiet gazes of disapproval fell on him as though he was mute and dumb; imploring glances and small touches washed off like so much rain.

He was untouchable as ice, and determined to stay so.

Thus he was out of doors when the storm reared its vast and ugly head. He was bent over a hunk of metal already covered with snow and ice. His mouth was warmed by the concealing black mask, his body shielded by a heavy coat and full pants. The harsh wind brought no curses of frustration—the frozen mound caused enough of those. Numbed fingers slowed with fatigue and his blood grew thick, but he remained as he was. Stubborn. Determined. Unyielding.

The door to the inn creaked open, and the only-other caretaker of the grounds stepped quickly into the cold. Slamming shut with a tight thud, the door shook snow from the roof. The boy responsible cared not to stop in his task, and snow crunched cheerfully beneath booted feet.

A cup of steaming tea was thrust in the man's face, and a cool, small smile in black eyes touched him briefly. He did not notice the smooth, pale features, and only the birds in the trees watched as the wind whipped about long strands of hair.

"Zabuza," the low, rich voice bid.

Once, the timbre had surprised him. Before, he was captivated by the thought that one so small and ethereal should have so lowly and humble a voice...the tone was meant for earth-bound peasants, not the long-fingered artisan before him.

Black eyes did not waver from arduous work. The lithe form huddled under a heavy coat, but no gloves adorned frigid hands.

Soon the snow would obscure everything.

So it was when the two figures appeared. The taller, fuller individual hailed them with a low, lazy voice, "yo."

The smaller dignitary seemed to fold in on himself, and like the shivering boy bearing the tea, he folded his arms around him. Unlike the taller boy, however, he seemed to do so for arrogance, not for the chill.

Zabuza's eyes shifted to view the person who'd spoken. Wordlessly, he took in gray hair, a single black eye, and pale skin. He noted the finely toned muscles, the stance and the faint pull caused by the weight many weapons. His voice was unconcerned when he returned the greeting, "hn."

Unperturbed, the man with gray hair licked his lips. His black eye glanced towards a nearly undecipherable sign, and beneath a heavy scarf he smiled.

Zabuza watched the folds wrinkle as the corners of the muffled mouth turned upwards. No scrap of cloth would fool him. The indolent-seeming, all-seeing eye, however, left much to be questioned.

"I noticed," the tall man continued, "that you appear to be standing in front of an inn."

With a curt nod, Zabuza drew himself up to full height. He barely managed to top the long-limbed, slender man, "and?"

A tiny scoff from the man's companion.

The single eye did not waver. "We are..." the gray haired man paused significantly, "between cars." The smile behind the scarf faded. "And to a stranger from the south," he chuckled a moment as if he intended to continue that train of thought.

However, the man's companion made short work of the courteous conversation; "It's freezing," his words were blunt and to the point, "you work here. So lead us in, and stop with the façade!" the quick words came slow, but ended quick. The irritation—spurned of ice-turned limbs or a short temper, Zabuza neither knew nor cared—was heard in his voice.

Zabuza did not break his gaze with the gray-haired man. "Haku." He nodded at the figure to his side.

Gentle black eyes flickered between the two men, and the boy thrust the mug of green tea towards the man with the scarf. A demure smile, then, and a quick, graceful bow. "Gentlemen," the boy murmured. He turned, and started for the door.

Cold eyes fastened on the long-haired figure. "Haku, was it?" an almost inaudible scoff from the younger child. "White." A pause. "You should prepare more tea—"

Sharp laughter split the air, and a small smile made for a sharp knife. "Sir," he replied, "I plan on it." He turned to the other boy, "after, of course, you wash your hands and face." His tone implied an inherit griminess that would have shocked placid ears.

Zabuza's eyes at last fastened on the teasing boy. His stern glance carried a warning, but it was softened by the presence of the other man.

Haku bowed, quiet, "to wash the dirt and snow from your pure bodies, of course."

Zabuza watched his protégé enter the inn, and the gray man shooed his own companion after.

"Your student is rough...he would shame your humble inn." The flat voice fell beneath the strong wind, meant only for sharp ears and well-tuned senses.

A small smile—hidden in tilted black eyes—haunted Zabuza. "Your student as well, sir," he replied.

The scarf did not shift, despite the gray man's fall of lips. "Ahhh, but mine would fight in the open, whereas yours has fallen to veiled threats and poisoned needles."

Zabuza tensed, and feeling the intention beneath the shallow thrust, he left his menial work. His honor demanded a reply, and his fingers clenched at the insult.

Black eyes met, and a brief battle ensued.

Zabuza's rage was like a dragon's breath—

—met in turn by tempered steel long cooled, but shaped with a master's precision and strength.

The two clasped hands, grips firm despite the cold.

"...needles, perhaps," the gray-haired man allowed, "are well suited for men such as we."

Zabuza's smile was hidden behind his mask, but both knew of it. "Perchance," he allowed.

The man with hair the color of ash returned the look with favor. He paused a moment, out of respect or lack of thinking, it was hard to tell. "I am Hatake, Kakashi."

"Zabuza."

The single eye raised with curiosity, but no words were shared. The two nodded once again, and followed their students indoors.

"...your inn—?"

"—a 'bed and breakfast,'" the taller of the two allowed grudgingly, knowing the homely house to be little more than that.

A smile crept into the black eye. "Honorable." The word held a world of implications, barely comprehensible in its many layers.

Zabuza smirked behind his mask, and replied without pause, "yes." He knew of the weapons in the man's coat, and he, too, knew which part of a man's neck to press—should he become unwelcome, that is.

Kakashi chuckled, low and deep, while he fingered a long handled knife. "In the middle of nowhere," he murmured, but the wind swallowed the rest.

The snow gathered around the two, pushed to and fro by a relentless wind that bit at object and man alike. It threatened to tear the heat from their bodies, to rend them still and lifeless as time would allow. It was, as Kakashi's brat had noted, frigid.

However, the look shared by the two was not cold...and each felt a small, cunning smile steal upon himself.

The door swung open, and the two stepped inside.

Kllllll...ttnn!

It swung shut.

All was still as the wind howled its fury. A single icicle fell, shattered on hard snow, and was gone in moments. Fresh flakes covered its passing, and the world knew no more of it.

In the distance, a group of sparrows flew, one after another...but they were too late to escape the winter storm.

A single bird called...

...its voice was low.

mournful.


morning

came with a quiet sigh and a lazy, slow breeze. While the evening's storm had not yet abated, warm beds were shielded from the icy spectacle. Out of doors, the snow fell ill-contended, intent on burying the subjects of her divine winter-rule. The occupants of the small bed-and-breakfast woke with good cheer, thanks to a humming and energetic young boy with a smile like glass and eyes like deep water.

Such eyes were with them as long as the birds crooned their sorry plight—stranded in an icy village—and yet hidden grins and white teeth hid true depths. Haku was all joy to his employer, and took pains to keep his lips pressed tight.

Too tight, mused Kakashi, but his thoughts were private.

"Breakfast is nearly done," like a swallow's wail, Haku's voice was low, and his eyes were downcast.

Such was proper behavior for a servant, as Kakashi's protégé was likely to note. And so he did, several times, in full view of the adults.

The strange, raven-haired boy's arrogance ran Zabuza's pride thin, and eventually the taller man left his quiet superiority behind. He was left with grave frowns and sharp canines behind ill-concealed smiles.

Kakashi seemed amused, as well.

Haku, pleased or annoyed, none could say, merely smiled. Veiling white teeth and other secrets. "Boy," he would say, "your tongue escapes you."

Finally, the other snapped, "my name is Sasuke, brat!"

Peals of laughter filled the house with empty noise, and the wind picked up its pace.

A light tap on Sasuke's forehead widened the haughty eyes a margin, and the stiff frown was replaced with dazed nothingness.

Haku did not smile. "Do not speak so, boy," he chided, stern, "you should cherish your elders." But the lecture was done in a moment's time, and a teasing smile pulled on pink lips. "Besides, Sasuke," Haku purred, "you're in need of tea, yes? You demanded some," the boy added, "yesterday."

The younger of the two stuttered.

Haku laughed again, and his reflection was caught in one of Sasuke's many knives. The young man reflected in the hard metal was distorted, darkened, and without bright light. "Or does your fancy flee with the passing of days?"

Sasuke's eyes narrowed as Haku darted away to retrieve breakfast. To Kakashi, the young boy said, "I don't like him." He scowled to himself.

The two men exchanged glances. Kakashi's single eye was filled with mock-gravity, and Zabuza's two were veiled with a darker, warmer emotion.

"At all!" Sasuke felt the need to add. His fair skin nearly burned with embarrassment.

Breakfast turned out to be a simple affair, with trouble-free words spoken and pleasantries discussed over coffee—not tea, Kakashi was delighted to find—under the false pretense of good cheer. The reflections caught in the cups of dark liquid showed the lips turned downwards, and spoons of sugar or cream threw the shrunken figures into disarray.

Zabuza felt freedom's gentle rustle of soft fingers on leathery skin, and knew the boy to be hiding his spirit. He looked deep into black eyes, searched there for something unspoken.

In reality's wake, the long-haired boy pulled the plates gently from their customers, and like a bird in flight, he carried the dishes off. Nothing lingered in depthless eyes; no sorrow, no joy...not even the reflection of the white surrounding them.

Zabuza looked closely, and with a flash of teeth behind pink lips, Zabuza thought he saw an expression of compassion. In his mind's eye, he read the words that supple lips would not speak, that a cooling heart would not murmur. Press onward.

Nevertheless, even a sharp mind may be fooled. Zabuza's eyes were seeking only confirmation—and in quiet bemusement he found forgiving playfulness.

He wrapped liberty's words around his heart and steeled himself for a raging, pleasure-filled war. To the victor go the spoils.

Press onward.

His heart quickened, and blood flowed heavy in his veins.

Kakashi's single visible eye was fixed on Sasuke. Before his pupil's sometimes embarrassed, sometimes arrogant eyes, he would lay bare the question.

Should I?

Kakashi's mouth would twitch behind an unwarranted scarf, though his lips would part only for the black and heavily-sugared mug of coffee.

If he cared, he would have noticed Sasuke's incomprehension.

But men have greater things to worry about than their young ones' opinions, and where an unbiased mind may find lack-of-understanding or rejection, hopeful eyes will see only acceptance.

Hell if I care, Kakashi's eye read the words from Sasuke's quiet face.

Reflected in an abandoned spoon, the boy's expression was preoccupied with Haku. His cheeks were flushed, his lips scowling, and his fingers clenched in and out of fists.

When the older boy returned, he lay a piece of ice on the table—thick and unmarred upon the black cloth, it reflected very much like a mirror. The boy's pink lips were like a lady's, but the insides of his cheeks—his mouth—never parted except in passing.

To Sasuke, the bird, lodged within Haku's throat, was helpless. It could not escape, could not fly away or cuddle closer. Though it clawed and chimed a lonely melody, no one but himself paid it any mind. If left alone much longer, he feared its quiet voice would be lost behind pearlen teeth, swallowed behind a cold, pink tongue.

"I should like some tea," he said, gruffly.

Haku's eyes widened with surprise. His gaze shifted from Zabuza to the youth, and puzzlement filled his features.

Kakashi chuckled. "Yes," he noted, calmly, "and I," he looked at Zabuza, "should like to assist our kind benefactors...in any way I can."

Zabuza, seeing his cue and taking it with unaccustomed speed, replied calmly, "I shall be...fixing the car." He eyed his coat by the door, and glanced over booted feet. "You two," he nodded at the beautiful pair of boys, "ought to enjoy the warmth."

Haku's smile was dull. However, it caught the light of the morning sun and held it close. Silent shadows clung beneath his eyes.

Sasuke wondered, to himself, do I bear the marks...? and he shook his head, of my past? Red eyes opened in his memory, and with a glance at his teacher—whose hidden eye gleamed like blood in the dark of his memory—he felt heat rise to his cheeks. That memory was tainted with other, more pleasurable thoughts that weren't fit for the breakfast table.

"Sasuke," Haku held out a hand, "why don't we practice the Tea Ceremony?"

The black-haired Uchiha could only nod, swallowing the arrogance clogging his throat.

Behind the boys, the two men exited the small house as the wind carried the faint sounds of birds close.

The wind wailed.

Within paper walls, Haku pulled Sasuke after him, and in the shadow of sliding doors the taller boy stripped himself of common clothing. He donned a simple kimono, too warm for the heated indoors and too cold for the snow's biting breath, and persuaded Sasuke into a young man's hakuma—loose fitting pants as full as some ladies' skirts.

Soon after the ceremony was fit to begin, Sasuke's impatience grew. He fidgeted quietly out of the stiff, formal seiza—the traditional Japanese style of sitting with ones knees folded beneath one's weight—and into a more relaxed position. His straying gaze bordered frustration and fury, and his impatient fingers would have carved a whole out of the tatami mat if Haku had less wary eyes.

He's going all too slowly... Sasuke found himself complaining in the depths of his mind. He means to draw my patience thin...and then what? a frown stole across fine features. He is too much of a girl, Sasuke thought scornfully, he wouldn't dare to harm me!

...would he? Sasuke tried to see into dark pools meant for eyes, but a wing of hair guarded the other's expression.

Sasuke watched Haku's hands perform the ritual with grace unrivaled. Sasuke's eyes were wide as Haku spoke to him in small glances and faint, nearly unnoticed waves of long, slender fingers.

Haku dipped the bamboo ladle into the heavy pot, withdrew boiling water, and poured it into the bowl.

...ffffhhh...the wind sighed, eager to be a part.

With a careful swish and elegant movements, he poured that, too, into a separate bowl.

They knew nothing of their masters' talk, saw not the hidden meaning beneath light words. Neither would notice the unspoken conversation between the tall men.

Meanwhile, with the small, white rag in his pale hands, Haku cleaned Sasuke's bowl of unseen dirt. The ceremony was nearing its purpose. Haku replaced the rag, and reached once more for the ladle.

Sasuke's hands clenched shut, and his fingers ached for the comforting, cold steel of a kunai. But the young boy merely watched as the other prepared matcha, a bitter form of green tea too strong for most western tastes.


Outside, Kakashi and Zabuza spoke little, and their hands danced the traditional movements of feuding warriors, when their bodies could not.

Zabuza watched his companion when his hands stalled. His breath was warm on chilled fingers and he was all-too aware of Kakashi's presence. He wondered, in the safety of his mind, what brought the man—with strange hair, like a candle's gray smoke—to the snowy country. He thought, then, maybe it doesn't matter.

The day was long, the sunlight scarce, and the wind fierce.

The two men found themselves stealing gazes at each other more than the broken machine, and finally, tired and content with their work, they headed indoors.

They glimpsed Sasuke and Haku sitting close. The boys were near a dwindling fire with a cup of cocoa each, half asleep. In the dark eyes of their teachers, content and happiness reflected back in shards of black and grey.

Smoke curled about them, wrapped their arms in

black

and oh-so

white

mist—the color of my— like the rapture a kiss. Something urged them forward, but it was no soft embrace, no kind words or enthralled eyes.

A red orb shown from behind the clever eye-patch, and thought ceased with the fervent pull on too-heated arms and fierce lips.

When the time came, they retired to a single bed, and let themselves taste the sweet promise of tortured time. Warriors, men of power and strength, they fought even as they made love.

And to each shinobi haunted a pair of black eyes, sweet and soft in veiled, forgotten innocence.

On the inside of a soft, red and bleeding throat, a tiny beak pecked.

To the exhausted, freedom dies on the tongue of a boy. Liberty whispers sweet nothings to an unheeding ear, and all is forgotten.

Unheard and

—thin as ice—

drawn.


dawn

comes without heartbreak.

Passion cools, and memory eases; the two men wake to see hardened eyes and firmly set jaws. No kisses of lingering emotion, no hesitant, arrogant touches of a hand unskilled in lovemaking.

Two eyes meet,

part,

and cool with a happy sense of simplicity. Something gained, something remembered.

The sliding door comes free without a knock, without a call of warning, but Haku's voice is unhindered. "The snow has let up," the boy notes, "the roads are clear."

And with that, he exits.

The two men untangle themselves. Their hands brush together in a moment of sleep-muddled confusion, and each finds himself looking into flat eyes. Kakashi pulls the eye-patch from the floor, refastens it with Zabuza's help, and lets the red orb fade from sight once more.

Zabuza licks his lips, tastes a foreign, strong and salty liquid. Sweat, he thinks.

The door slides open again, this time admitting a scowling, irritable Sasuke. The young boy storms forward—a haunted look pushed aside. He pulls on Kakashi's arm, and whispers something in a harsh, foreign tongue that slides past Zabuza's uncaring ears. The young fool finds himself glaring at the formidable Zabuza a moment too long, and receives a cuff on the chin for his efforts.

Zabuza watches as Kakashi steers the boy out, the heavy smell of sex and sweat still clinging to him like so much mist.

He walks the two warriors—assassins, his mind supplies—to the door, one hand on Haku's shoulder.

There is a moment's pause before the silence is broken.

"If we ever come this way again..." Sasuke murmurs, and a shy, boyish smile overtakes the adult-like calm.

Haku's smile stems from the heart, and some measure of light returns to once-flattened eyes. His voice is light, lilting and songlike. "...you'll come and visit, yes?" a cheerful laugh, and the voice of a bird is heard, "isn't that right, boy?"

A growl, a stretched snarl of irritation. "Sasuke," the boy corrects.

There is a brief moment of silence.

Finally, Kakashi nods to Zabuza and leads his pupil away. They soon disappear into the distance, masked by fog, trees and tricks of the eye.

The wind, a warm gust from the south, stirs long black hair into a pale face.

The bird, Zabuza knows, has died.

Freedom waits...

...behind pearlen teeth...

...on a pink, cold and curious tongue.


Tell me what you think.