Someone was crying in the distance. The crying became louder and higher pitched the longer he ignored it. He felt a shove from his left side and found himself on the floor.
Kakashi groaned and slowly stood up. The incessant wailing reverberated in his head until he felt his brain about to explode from the noise and the lack of sleep. He had never had a more difficult mission.
He walked over to the next room, the source of the noise. The room was smaller than his, painted light blue and decorated with fluffy white clouds - not his choice of colors. In fact, it seemed he had little control of anything in his life anymore. He sighed and bent over the crib to pick up the small bundle and lifted it into his arms.
"Umm, okay now. You can stop crying," he said to no avail.
The bundle squirmed in his arms as he performed the usual checks: diaper, not wet or stinky; clothes not confining; temperature appeared to be normal; which meant it was probably just hungry again. But how could that be? It had just been…he checked the clock on the dresser… less than an hour. He sighed again. It had been like this for days - incessant crying with no apparent reason. It wasn't a whimpering cry either, but a full blown top of the lungs completely freaked out type of cry. There had to be something wrong with it.
But despite the hardship, this child was his, his legacy, a more important legacy than his chidori.
As if sensing his thoughts, the baby suddenly stopped and opened his eyes.
But the eyes were not like his dark gray eyes, nor his mother's hazel eyes. They were red and black and now they started to spin.
He felt himself freeze. The bundle slipped from his grasp, but he was unable to move to catch it or call to its mother for help.
Kakashi woke from his dream/nightmare to find an empty space next to him. Kaori had already left for work, but she left a note for him by the alarm clock.
"Don't be late this time. Remember to bring something. Be nice and don't do or say anything weird!" the note read.
"Yes ma'am," Kakashi said with a smile. He was going to behave himself this time, really.
It had been four months since they got together. Kaori now felt secure enough to invite Kakashi to the family dinner again. Her parents were not thrilled at the news she was bringing Kakashi again, but someone in their daughter's life was still better than no one at all, no matter how weird.
Kakashi was about to open the refrigerator to rummage for some food (Kaori did not make him breakfast) when he saw another list (itemizing all the chores and errands he had to do) taped to the refrigerator door. He sighed. It was supposed to be his day off and he had planned to do absolutely nothing (except read his Icha Icha books) until dinnertime. But it was a fair trade since he had effectively moved into her apartment.
He had found himself visiting her directly after missions. Sure, there was the bed play, but there was also something else - the company, the feeling of being accountable toward someone, the need to belong to someone. The time spent in his own apartment was now minimal. He had an extra change of clothes and of his shinobi uniform at Kaori's, which she laundered weekly to his delight. This also meant lower utilities for him and higher utility bills for her.
After doing all the chores (fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen, separate the recyclables, clean the bathroom) and running all the errands (pickup some groceries, drop off some mail, checkout what was on sale at various stores) Kaori had left for him, he started to get ready for dinner.
This time Kakashi carefully combed and slicked his hair back, but the forelocks stubbornly insisting on standing up. He applied the super hair gel concentrate Kaori had given him. She swore by it as it was what kept her hair in its perfect bun, without a stray strand, and was what Otoha made Gai use on his hair. It had excellent holding power but kept hair soft and non-sticky. A miracle gel! It even worked on his hair.
He dressed himself in normal civilian type clothes, a white with blue pinstripe shirt and black slacks, all wrinkle free thanks to Kaori's obsessive efforts to make him look more presentable. He decided to leave his sharingan uncovered and just keep the eye closed as much as possible rather than wear the headband which, as Kaori pointed out, did not go with his civilian clothes. He looked at himself in the mirror and decided he looked quite respectable. Lastly, before he made his way over, he donned a black leather jacket and wrapped a white silk scarf around his face.
Yes, this time he was going to be good. Kaori had educated him on why her family liked Gai and encouraged him to be like him. He would charm them with his wit, impress them with stories of his missions; he bought gifts for everyone; he would be just like Gai. For some reason, that thought made him shudder.
Then he thought of the disturbing dream he had last night. Dating seriously, moving in, living together, were normally done with the intention of marriage and family. Was that what he really wanted from life?
Life was always complicated - from the time humans achieve self consciousness, from the time they realize they can, and others can, die at any moment. To compound that complication, relationships between men and women were always difficult and being a shinobi made it doubly difficult.
Shinobi were taught to mask their emotion. To feel no regret when killing, to feel no pain when comrades were killed. To die completing a mission successfully was a glorious death. But holding back feelings became the norm even off duty, which meant communication with a loved one was problematic.
With a civilian, how could a shinobi talk about his work, his missions, his killing methods, his development of more lethal jutsu? How could a civilian understand or care to hear the bloody details?
Then there were the kunoichi, limited in number, with a ratio of 4 men to one kunoichi. Most were bad tempered, jaded, another version of himself, few maintained their naïveté or gentleness.
But Kaori was different for she fell somewhere in between - a shinobi nurse, someone who was used to death, yet never killed, who was able to keep her innocence; someone who would not judge him or flinch away from blood and the necessity of killing.
He felt comfortable with her, a nice comfortable relationship. So why spoil it with talk of undying love, which happened only in books, because love dies when one party dies, and that was the truth.
He shook his head. No it wasn't. Love continued in the surviving loved one. And in their progeny.
Love. Did he really love her? For her he had agreed to dress like this. For her he had remembered to send an expensive floral arrangement and chocolates to her mother (Gai had only sent flowers) despite the ridiculous cost. He had put together a portfolio of profitable companies in Wave Country with investment opportunities for her father. He had even read a number of books on disciplining and dealing with children. (He liked the reverse psychology approach best. It was so…duplicitous.) He did all that because it was important to her that her family liked him. He did it because he probably did love her.
He could smell her mother's cooking as he approached the house. He could hear laughter and raised voices. He could see her family through the window, gathered around in the den. Family. To be part of a real family. Something he had never known. Something he yearned for without knowing. That's what he wanted, his own family.
With that consideration, Kakashi committed himself to Kaori.
He smile genuinely as her family welcomed him.
Author's notes: Sorry for taking so long with the epilogue - been busy with the hoidays, but I'm finally done! This is it, though I won't rule out the remote possibility of a sequel. Thank you all for reading and reviewing!