Part 2: The Wedding
Kankuro was standing under the Inuzukas' shower, dousing himself liberally with a lemon-scented shower gel he'd bought a few weeks ago, and which Kiba had teased him about. "You might like smelling of dog, but I don't," Kankuro had retorted. He washed behind his ears, in the crook of his neck, under his arms, the creases between his thighs and pelvis, and between his legs. He stepped out of the shower, towelled himself off, brushed his teeth.
Kiba sat on the bed, in his montsuki and striped hakama, tying a red ceremonial collar around Akamaru's neck and watching Kankuro dress. First the hakama. Then the uchikake. Then the purple sash with the small ceremonial sword tucked into it, then the ceremonial collar for humans that Inuzuka wore at their weddings, then the matching haori to top it all off. Kankuro had practiced putting his wedding outfit on several times in preparation for the real thing, and yet, as Kiba tied his purple sash for him, it felt as though he were wearing it for the first time.
Downstairs, Shikoku, Hana, Tsume, Kishu, Shouza, the twins and the dogs were all waiting for them. As soon as Kankuro and Kiba stepped into the kitchen, Kishu and Shouza cheered and clapped. Shikoku was bouncing Akita, the dark-haired 'runt' of the family and the spitting image of baby Kiba, up and down on his knee, while Hana was holding a wriggling Shiba, a 'stroppy little pup' with her father's dirty blonde hair. Tsume was already in her kimono, while Kuromaru sported his own ceremonial collar. Shikoku had put his hakama on, but Hana was still wearing one of her husband's t-shirts.
"Well, well, look who's here," Hana greeted them. "The big day has arrived. What would you boys like for breakfast?"
"Fried steak, please," said Kiba, before Kankuro could offer any opinion. Shikoku dumped Akita on Kiba's lap, saying, "Coming right up." He drizzled oil into a frying pan and dropped in two hefty beef sirloin steaks. The kitchen filled with the smell of frying meat and the teriyaki marinade in which the steaks had been bathing. Kiba was tickling his nephew, saying, "Who's a little runt, then?" Kankuro decided to make himself useful and fed Akamaru his favourite kibble. "Get this down yer, you big bugger," he said in low tones, "it's gonna be a long day."
Two plates of fried steak, one medium (Kankuro) and one rare (Kiba) were plonked down on the table. "There you are, tuck in," said Shikoku. Kiba wolfed his steak down, while Kankuro had to force himself to eat his; not because his soon-to-be brother-in-law could not cook, but because his stomach was tying itself in knots with nerves.
So much shit has happened to me. Please, gods, I know you're out there. Don't fuck this one up for me too, please. Not just for my sake, for his as well.
Having got their own breakfast down them, Kiba and Kankuro offered to wash up, but Hana dismissed them, saying, "Shut up, it's your big day. Anyway, you two need some alone time."
"I'll be down there a bit after you, Hana," Tsume said. "A couple of last minute things I need to sort out." She turned to Kankuro and Kiba, licked Kiba's face – Kankuro was still a little squeamish about the Inuzuka clan's greetings - and said, "See you down the shrine." She and Kuromaru sped off to the Hokage's building.
"Me 'n' the kids'll be along a bit after you," said Shikoku. "Got to get the little ones fed and stuff. Anyway, you've got to do your bath thing, yeah?"
"What barf fing?" Kishu wanted to know.
"Your uncles have to take a nice long bath to purify themselves in the eyes of the kami before the wedding, basically," Hana explained. "No, you can't go with them, it's for people getting married only."
Kiba licked his sister's nose. "See you all down the shrine," Kankuro called, shoving his hands into the pockets of his kimono, and realising there weren't any.
In the tiled bathing room in the small building where married couples-to-be took ritual baths, Kankuro and Kiba showered for the second time that day, and then lowered themselves into the pool, which was filled with the water from a nearby hot spring. They sank under the water, making sure every inch of their bodies was covered. The heat made Kankuro horny, and he noticed Kiba had an erection, but although he wasn't the most religious of men, he did feel uneasy about having sex in a ceremonial place.
Kankuro recited the pre-wedding prayer he'd learned by heart, as Kiba shook his head, spraying droplets everywhere, and towelled himself off. He towel-dried himself, wiped the small mirror in the bathroom clean and applied his make-up. He wasn't going to go overboard; all he needed was a little kohl eyeliner and purple eyeshadow. He decided to give his lips a miss; he and Kiba would look like total arses with purple lippy smeared on their faces after the inevitable kiss. He looked at his newly made-up face in the mirror and gave himself a thumbs-up.
"You're wearing slap?" Kiba's voice bounced off the tiles. "You girl."
"I've got to look my best for our wedding," said Kankuro.
After the two men had towelled themselves off and dressed, they prepared to go to the shrine. Kiba wasn't moving. Kankuro asked him what the hell he was doing and to get a move on, they hadn't got all day.
"You go first," Kiba directed him.
"Isn't it obvious?" laughed Kiba. "You've been around Inuzukas and dogs long enough."
"Stop talking bollocks, Kiba."
Kiba snorted. "Mate, it ain't bollocks. Have you seen dog packs? Or Akamaru when he's around Kuromaru? The strongest dog goes first, right? Kuromaru could have Akamaru, and Akamaru knows this, don't you, boy?" The dog barked in affirmation. "It's how the weaker one in the relationship shows submission to the stronger. You're older and stronger than me, you were a jounin way before I was, you're cleverer than I am. So if we was dogs, I'd be walking behind you."
"But we're not dogs."
"And? My clan are af-fi-li-ated with dogs, Kankuro. You spend enough time around dogs, you act like them. It's why we get on with them so well, we can speak their language. Now lead me in."
Kankuro sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and began to walk to the shrine. Kiba followed him on Akamaru's back, his head bowed. Kankuro had half a mind to remove his sash and tie it to Kiba's collar.
You're older and stronger than me.
You're cleverer than me.
And yet, Kankuro thought, you're kinder than I am. You're more optimistic than I am. You're happier than I am. Which one of us is really the better man?
Down at the shrine, the first five attendants to arrive – Hana, Temari, Shikamaru, Kurenai and Hinata - were waiting in the anteroom. Each woman had her hair piled on top of her head; a small red flower nestled in Kurenai's greying hair, while Hinata's was held up by chopsticks. Although the others did not know it yet, she was pregnant for the third time.
Shikamaru polished his glasses on the edge of his green kimono. He felt somewhat dull compared to the colourful women – Kurenai was in deep purple, Hana in scarlet, Hinata in lilac and Temari in russet. Still, he reminded himself, green was the signature colour of the Nara, and a good solid colour, the colour of camouflage, the colour of trees in spring. A sensible colour for a boring, sensible advisor, Shikamaru thought wryly. He was a skinny, dark-haired crow among parrots.
"How do I look?" Temari asked, absently brushing away a stray strand of hair.
"Lovely, as always," replied Shikamaru. "And you three aren't so bad yourselves." He smiled. "I feel a bit emasculated here."
"We've still got three attendants to go," Hinata reminded him. "Sakura-sama, Tsume-sama, and Chouza-sama. They did get back in time, didn't they? I heard they were on a mission."
Her question was answered when Tsume came stomping in, dressed in a black ceremonial kimono, Kuromaru at her side. She was followed by Sakura Haruno in pink, her hair held up with ornamental chopsticks, a basket of flowers in her arms, and another, much bigger attendant in an indigo kimono bearing the symbol of the Akimichi clan, his thick red hair pulled back into a braid which came down past his shoulderblades. Shikamaru had to force himself not to stare. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Chouza in formal wear, aside from his elder's robes.
"All present and correct," announced Tsume, as Kuromaru scratched his ear with his hind leg.
"At least you're not the token boy anymore," Chouza added. He sniffed the air. "My gods, this place smells beautiful. Like spring."
The bridegrooms entered, and were instantly greeted by the sound of their attendants cheering and Kuromaru and the Haimaru Sankyodai barking. Five women and two men descended upon them in a haze of rich jewel shades and intermingling smells of fried meat, milk, flowers, herbs, smoke, and an undercurrent of that strangely haunting smell the clan heads had which made Kiba uneasy. Chouza's facial 'tiger stripe' markings, Kuromaru's eye patch, Shikamaru's glasses, Hinata's soft, rounded body, the flowers, the robes of the priestess, Kurenai's red eyes, Temari's raucous laughter, Sakura's scarred face, all became a blur. Neither Kankuro nor Kiba could register what any of their attendants were saying. Kurenai and Sakura were doling out bunches of flowers to the other attendants: pink gysophila for Tsume, poinsettia for Hana, bluebells for Hinata, jasmine for Temari, lilacs for Shikamaru, violets for Chouza. Sakura herself was carrying a cherry blossom bouquet, while Kurenai had purple roses. Tsume produced the ceremonial leash and clipped one end to Kiba's collar, and the other to Kankuro's, and the two men climbed up onto Akamaru's back, Kankuro – the alpha male - in front. He overheard Chouza say, "And people think my clan's rituals are unusual," followed by his soon-to-be mother-in-law retorting, "Megumi should put a leash on you, Baconhead."
"Well, then," said the priestess, "shall we begin?"
Temari took charge. "Right, you lot," she called, "you all got your flowers?"
There was a general murmur of assent. The bridal party formed a line, ready to move into the main area of the shrine. The miko, some way in front, was calling, "Please stand for the wedding party."
In the main hall of the shrine, where weddings take place, Konohamaru Sarutobi, Konoha's youngest clan head, is standing in the seating area on the left side of the shrine – opposite the anteroom - with his hands shoved in his pockets and the other two members of the Ino-Shika-Chou trio nearby with their partners and babies. He has never seen so many dogs in one place. They have evidently been ordered to be on their best behaviour, and are either squatting on their haunches, scratching an ear here and licking a hand there, or curled up at their owners' feet. Big dogs, little dogs, puppies, brown, black, grey, blue, white, gold, spotted and patchy dogs, floppy-eared dogs and pointy-eared dogs, dogs with bits missing, fluffy dogs, stocky dogs, rail-thin dogs. Kakashi's pack, now the summons of the Hokage, wander among them, conspicuous by their coats and forehead protectors. Most of the Inuzuka dogs themselves are not wearing any kind of clothing, though the occasional one sports a forehead protector round its neck. Konohamaru is glad he likes dogs. His own summon is the one he'd inherited from his grandfather, the monkey Enma, but he wouldn't mind his own dog pack. Still, he is a Sarutobi, and it is only fitting; after all, Zakuro Akimichi has a giant butterfly, Shikamaru's clan has members who could summon deer. Does Ino's dad have a pig? Oh gods, that big fucker over there is licking his balls. Well, I guess they're dogs, they probably can't get their furry little heads round manners. The smell is beginning to get to him. He hopes the dogs aren't going to shit on the floor, but then ninken are trained, aren't they?
The canine contingent of the room squat on their haunches, their heads and ears erect, as the eight attendants walk into the room behind the priestess and the miko. Tsume and Hana, as Kiba's closest blood relatives, lead the way with their dogs in tow, followed by Kurenai and Hinata, who are there as Kiba's sensei and former team mate. Shino, however, is conspicuous by his absence. What an arsehole Shino is, thinks Konohamaru. He could have at least come to his old team mate's wedding. All the rest of that group did. They are followed by Temari and Shikamaru, and then – to several people's surprise – Chouza, dressed in the traditional robes of his clan, and Sakura, her head held high.
"What are those two doing up there?" whispers Konohamaru to Chouji, whose eyes are filling with proud tears at the sight of his father, whose bunch of violets looks so tiny and fragile in his huge hands, and his best friend. Behind them, Yumi holds a peaceful Chouyomi in her arms. Her grandfather's tiger stripes are now showing on her face. Ino is cuddling Inosuke. Sai looks as passive as usual. Shikane, the third member of the baby Ino-Shika-Chou trio, is being looked after by his grandparents.
"Kiba and Kankuro are repaying Dad 'cause him and Shikamaru helped them with the dual alliance thingy," Chouji whispers back. Rock Lee, who is standing erect behind Chouji, adds, "And Sakura-sama saved Kankuro's life. He is in her debt."
A short distance away, the Sixth Hokage, a guest of honour, overhears Lee's words and his face lights up with pride. He points to Sakura and says to Jiraiya, seated on his shoulders, "Look, there's your mum. Isn't she pretty?"
Finally, Kankuro and Kiba come riding in on Akamaru's back. It's a tight squeeze, and Kankuro isn't getting any thinner, but Kiba has managed to make enough room for both of them to sit on the big dog. Kankuro's imagination goes into overdrive, as the scenario of a play unwinds in his head.
He is a black-clad ronin walking through a forest, along a path lit by lanterns, to the sacred place where his lover, the wolf prince, would become human, and they would be wed. He is bringing up the rear of a procession of animals. First come two dark-furred she-wolves: the Queen of the Wolves, the pack leader, and her daughter, the wolf princess. The falcon princess and the snowy owl fly overhead, followed by the stag – the son of the King of the Deer - with the white weasel clinging to his neck, and the pink cat riding serenely on the shaggy head of the King of the Tigers.
The ronin lays his hand on the wolf's head. They walk into the middle of a circle of animals, who part to let them through. He can see wolves everywhere, the fox - who is also the forest king - the King of the Deer, the King of the Horses, the King of the Falcons, the young King of the Monkeys and the King of the Insects, along with their consorts and children,and his great friends, the black kangaroo, the fossa and the prince of the tigers, with a tiger cub nestling between his paws. A pine marten sits on the horse princess's white head, a white foal between her hooves.
Kiba circles Kankuro seven times. After completing his final circle, he kneels down by Kankuro's side, takes hold of Kankuro's right hand, and licks it. In return, Kankuro scratches his nose.
...the wolf walks around the ronin, its nose to the ground in a position of submission. Now its hot red tongue licks the ronin's hand, and he playfully scratches its nose, a sign of friendship and trust between them. As the ronin has lived in the forest, he has gotten to know all these creatures and heard their secrets. He has learned the way of the wolves.
Kurenai is making a speech. She is telling the shrine about how she has watched Kiba grow, making them laugh with her memories of what a hot-headed little nutter he was, before he came of age. She talks of her pride in his tracking skills, his nose and his kindness to animals, and watching him become a chuunin, then a jounin, and how he will always be a part of Team Eight. Hinata is welling up.
Tsume is next. She introduces the poem she is about to read, saying, "As head of the Inuzuka clan, I know a thing or two about dogs and loyalty. We always pride ourselves on our loyalty to Konoha and to each other, including the ones we love, and I'd like to dedicate this little reading to my son and my new son-in-law, and hope that the bond between them will be as strong as the one between man and dog...well, person and dog, let's not be sexist.
"Great is the loyalty of the dog.
Heaven has seen fit to bless this noble beast
With the swiftest of feet and the greatest of hearts.
When the human returns home, he jumps for joy.
When the human weeps, the dog lays his head on his lap.
When the human is joyful, the dog wags his tail.
When the human is sick, the dog offers succour.
When the human is in danger, the dog protects him.
Great is the loyalty of the dog,
And of the the human who owns him, nay,
Who walks alongside him as friend and brother.
When the human dies, the dog howls at his grave;
He raises not his head, his tail remains still,
For great is the loyalty of the dog.
He repays every kindness, forgives every sin,
He will not judge, nor will he scorn, nor mock.
The bond between dog and human is the testament of centuries.
Great is the loyalty of the dog."
The ceremony takes a solemn turn, for it is time for Kankuro and Kiba to make their vows.
...the ronin has been called to swear an oath of loyalty to the wolf prince...
Repeating after the priestess, Kankuro and Kiba say in turn: "I marry this man, no matter what his health situation is. I will love him, respect him, console him, and help him until death, protecting fidelity. I swear."
"Kankuro," says the priestess, "you have chosen Kiba Inuzuka to marry and become your partner. In peaceful times and in sickness, will you love Kiba, respect him, comfort him, help him, until death? Do you promise to fulfil all of these?"
"Yes," says Kankuro, his head held high, "I promise."
"And you, Kiba Inuzuka," says the priestess. "you have chosen Kankuro Sabukuno to marry and become your partner. In peaceful times and in sickness, will you love Kankuro, respect him, comfort him, help him, until death? Do you promise to fulfil all of these?"
Kiba wants to scream out, yes, yes, yes, I promise, I love him, I fucking love him, I swear I'll do anything! But instead, he says, "Yes, I promise." Hinata bites her lip.
I am so proud of you, my son, thinks Tsume.
The priestess begins to call up the attendants for the seven blessings. "First, the mother of the first bridegroom, Tsume Inuzuka."
The Queen of the Wolves raises her head to the sky and howls...
Tsume says, "Blessed are ye Kami who have created all life upon this earth, and may ye bless my son, Kiba Inuzuka, and my son-in-law, Kankuro Sabakuno, with long life."
"Second, the sister of the first bridegroom, Hana Inuzuka."
...she is accompanied by her daughter, the wolf princess...
Hana says, "Blessed are ye Kami, who have enabled us to survive that we may witness this happy occasion, and may ye bless my brother, Kiba Inuzuka, and my brother-in-law, Kankuro Sabakuno, with strength."
"Third, the sensei of the first bridegroom, Kurenai Sarutobi-Yuuhi."
...the snowy owl circles high above their heads, screeching...
Kurenai says, "Blessed are ye Kami who dwell in the forests and the fields, the rivers and the seas and skies, the plants and the trees and the mountains and the animals. May ye bless my student, Kiba Inuzuka, and Kankuro Sabakuno with good health."
"Fourth, the team mate of the first bridegroom, Hinata Hyuuga."
...after the snowy owl lands on a tree branch, the falcon circles the bridal couple and cries out her blessing...
Biting back tears, Hinata says, "Blessed are ye Kami, who present us throughout our lives with trials and obstacles, yet also with hope and determination, that we may grow stronger, and may ye bless my comrade, Kiba Inuzuka, and Kankuro Sabakuno with courage."
"Fifth, the sister of the second bridegroom, Temari Nara."
...the weasel springs from the stag's back and scampers over the ronin's shoulders, nibbles his ear, and leaps onto the wolf prince's back. She runs down the length of his spine and launches herself back onto the stag...
Temari raises her head proudly and said, "Blessed are ye Kami who created love, beauty and harmony, who unite the hearts and minds of men, and may ye bless my brother-in-law, Kiba Inuzuka, and my brother, Kankuro Sabakuno, with love."
"Sixth, the brother-in-law of the second bridegroom, Shikamaru Nara."
...as the tiger prince, the King of the Deer and the horse princess watch from the shadows, the stag prince raises his horned head and bellows at the moon...
Shikamaru says, "Blessed are ye Kami, who created peace, friendship and companionship, and may ye bless Kiba Inuzuka and my brother-in-law, Kankuro Sabakuno, with peace." He nodded at Ino and Chouji.
"Seventh, a double blessing: Jounin Commander and Elder of Konoha, Chouza Akimichi, and wife of the Hokage, Sakura Haruno."
...the pink cat and the King of the Tigers raise their heads. The cat miaows, and the great tiger roars so loudly as to shake the whole forest...
Chouza and Sakura say in unison: "Blessed are ye Kami, who created joy and happiness, and whose laughter resonates through the forests and the fields, the seas and the skies. May ye bless Kiba Inuzuka and Kankuro Sabakuno with happiness."
After Chouza and Sakura return to their places, the priestess says the concluding words:
"Blessed are ye Kami, who created joy and gladness, love and harmony, peace and companionship. O great and mighty Ones, may there ever be heard in the village of Konoha voices of joy and gladness, voices of the bridegrooms, the jubilant voices of those joined in marriage under the bridal canopy, the voices of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are ye Kami who cause the groom to rejoice with his husband. And henceforth, may Kiba of the Inuzuka clan of Konoha, and Kankuro of the Sabakuno family of Sunagakure, be joined in marriage. You may now kiss the bridegroom."
...The ronin kneels, and kisses the wolf prince. A gash appears along the belly of the animal. He stands upon his hind legs and sheds his skin, like a human shedding clothing, to reveal the shape of a man. A naked, shaggy-haired man with fangs and red triangular markings on his cheeks. And he embraces the ronin, and as the animals and the forest itself sing their songs, they dance in the middle of the circle.
And with that, Kiba makes an offering of meat to Inari, Kankuro and Kiba drink three times from the communal cup of sake and pass it round the attendants, and Temari places a wine glass on the floor at Kankuro's feet, and he grinds it to shards beneath his heel. Then he hears the sound of clapping, and sees that it is coming from Shikaku, who is leaning on Inoichi's shoulder and bellowing, "Congratulations, Kankuro and Kiba!" Lee shouts, "Hurrah!", and he and Chouji and Naruto, with Jiraiya sitting on his shoulders, join in the clapping; then the attendants; then Koutei and Konohamaru; then the rest of the room was cheering and clapping, and even Hiashi joined in, if only because he does not want to draw attention to himself by refusing to applaud the newlyweds, and because his older daughter does look so very beautiful as she wipes away tears and Kurenai – so long ago a surrogate mother for Hinata, and now a mother to her own child- lays a comforting arm around her shoulders. The horde of Inuzuka dogs bark and howl in chorus. So do their owners. Kankuro's face burns. He lets himself be dragged around to pose for pictures; with Kiba, with all eight attendants, with Shikamaru and Temari, with Chouza and Sakura, with Lee, Chouji and Tenten. I'm not used to being the centre of attention, he thinks as Chouji places a brotherly arm around his shoulders and Lee does a cheesy pose, but I could get used to it. Yeah. I could get used to it.
Tsume nods at Chouza, who bends down to allow her to climb onto his back. Sitting on Chouza's shoulders, Tsume shouts at the top of her voice, "Everyone! Party round at ours!"
"Gods, you're heavy," moans the larger Jounin Commander. "I think I'm getting a crick in my neck."
"That's rich coming from you, Baconhead," says the Inuzuka clan head, as she jumps down from Chouza's back. "You coming?"
"Hell yeah," says Chouza, undoing his braid. He shakes his head until his hair comes loose and says, "When have I ever turned down an invitation?"
"Thank the gods," says Inoichi to Shikaku, as the pair of them leave. "We've got our old team mate back."
Ah, thinks Shikaku, but for how long?
And here ends the wedding ceremony of Kankuro Sabakuno and Kiba Inuzuka, and here begins a new life.
Kiba and Kankuro were first to arrive at the Inuzuka compound, and as Kankuro dashed upstairs to quickly change into his irochiakake, Kiba nearly tripped over a basket that had been left outside the door. He glanced down and saw to his delight that it was filled with his favourite beef jerky, and on top of the pile of meat, there was a note.
To Kiba and Kankuro,
I'm sorry I couldn't make the wedding. Here is a present. Hope you like.
"He remembered after all," said Kiba, relieved, as Kankuro came downstairs, clad in red and silver. "He remembered after all, Kankuro."
The sight of Kiba's happy face made Kankuro smile in spite of himself. He drew Kiba to him and murmured, "So. We're finally...official."
"What do you mean, 'finally official'?" Kiba teased him. "I don't need a piece of paper to show I love you."
"There is that," Kankuro conceded.
The two men heard shouts and the patter of paws and feet, and broke away from each other as they turned to see Hinata and Kou coming towards the house, with Hana, Shikoku, and numerous dogs and children behind them. The festivities were about to begin.
"Let's hope we get some privacy," Kiba muttered out the side of his mouth. "We'll need to have our first shag as a married couple at some point."
"It's all sex sex sex with you, isn't it," Kankuro pretended to complain.
"You love it," replied Kiba, and in a louder voice, he called, "Hinata-chan! Everyone! Come on in!"
What happened next was a blur, just like Shikamaru's stag night. Tsume making a speech about diplomatic relations and how proud she was to have a Kage's brother for a son-in-law, and also something about desert dogs, and insisting that Chouza and Shikamaru be applauded for their help. Kiba and Kankuro being hoisted on their friends' shoulders and touching hands as the men carrying them danced around the room. Kohaku manjyu and all kinds of sweets being passed around. Hinata saying something to Sakura and Sakura howling with laughter and slapping her thighs. Jiraiya wolfing down food and playing with Taki Nara. Shikaku talking gardening with Hiashi, as always. Kiba opening his beef jerky and tossing some to a happy Akamaru, and then slapping Chouji round the face with another piece. Yoshino complimenting Ayame on the flowers. Dogs barking, the rich baritones of Shikaku and Chouza in a duet, feet stamping, sake glasses clinking, Hinata laughing through her tears, Lee waxing lyrical, Konohamaru reading extracts from Come Come Paradise in a comedy accent, Shikamaru taking his baby son out to look at the stars. Ninja celebrating life instead of death, for a change.
And at some point, Kankuro and Kiba retired for the promised 'first shag as a married couple', wrapped in each other's bodies until it seemed that there was no distinction where Kankuro ended and Kiba began. Smudged eyeliner and red triangles, fangs scraping tongues, Kiba between Kankuro's big powerful thighs, sweat streaming down their backs, heads thrown back in ecstasy, a two-headed, contorted, hot and hungry beast. Two men in love, the grass around them and the desert – and another wedding party, courtesy of Gaara, the Harumichi and the Puppet Squad - lying in wait.
While the relief patrol squads turned up at their posts to began their night shifts, a four-person cell left the village for a mission, off-duty shinobi mingled with civilians in the bars, and Shibi Aburame and his bugs kept watch at the Hokage's building, the remainder of Konoha slept.
Inside his living quarters, the Hokage lay sprawled on his back, his mouth wide open, while his wife was lost in dreams of cherry blossoms and dancing dogs. A little boy with pinkish-gold hair sucked his thumb and cuddled his toy frog.
At the Nara compound, Shikaku and Yoshino lay spooning. Shikamaru padded into his son's room, then his daughter's room, and kissed them both on their warm little heads. Temari thought of her brothers, and her new brother-in-law, and smiled. They would do each other good, morons though they were.
At the Yamanaka compound, Ino lay moaning with Sai's head between her legs, his tongue flicking onward and upward inside her. Inoichi and Ayame filled each other's heads with erotic dreams.
At the Akimichi compound, while a fat baby slept, two couples were fucking. Chouji and Yumi rolled around on the floor of their bedroom, their hands in each other's hair. Chouza lay with his back arched, his mouth hanging open and his head thrown back, his wife on top of him, nuzzling his neck.
Shino sat at the Aburame kotatsu, waiting for his cup of tea to cool, and hoped that Kiba had enjoyed his present. He would not go upstairs yet. He did not want to disturb his girlfriend.
For the first time in weeks, Hinata slept peacefully. She had gone to bed thinking that Kiba was happy, and therefore, so was she. She would see him again.
In a bed at the Inuzuka compound, an old woman lay with her head buried in the fur on the back of her wolf-dog, his familiar coat tickling her face.
In the kitchen, three grey dogs and a brown dog slept in their baskets, while their owners and four little children snored upstairs.
And in another bed, a large white dog lay curled up at the foot, warming the feet of the two young men who slept in it. Both dark-haired, one wiry, with fangs and red markings on his cheeks, the other heavy-set, with scarring on his legs and a double chin. One born in a leafy village, one born in a desert. Their union was another string that would bind Konoha to Suna.
Kankuro's final thought before he fell asleep was: I am happy now. For the first time in years, I am really happy. My beautiful Kiba. I don't know what I'd have done with my life if I hadn't met you.
Author's note: well, it's finished at last. Thank you to everyone who's read, favourited and commented on this fic so far - it's been great and I really appreciate the feedback I've had.