Author: Asuka Kureru (askerian (at) hotmail (dot) com)
Lead character: Kakashi
Pairing: None (depends how much subtext you like to insert in your reading, I guess. :D)
Genre: fluff with a side of angst
Disclaimer: These characters and the world they evolve in don't belong to me. They belong to Kishimoto Masashi. I only lay claim to the plot and my own interpretation of the characters.
Thanks to Elizabeth Culmer for the beta and to several other people on my friendslist for the mini-betas.
A kotatsu is a kind of coffee table that has a big comforter all around like a skirt, and an electric heater underneath. Japanese houses are typically badly insulated, so this is a cheap way to keep warm during winter.
It's snowing outside, a slow, lazy sprinkle of fat snowflakes that makes him tuck his legs a little farther under his brand-new secondhand kotatsu. It crowds his bachelor pad quite a bit, but he can't manage to regret buying it. If he's going to be forced to take days off, he's going to take them off in style. It's not big enough for him to lay down on his back -- his feet would stick out the comforter -- but at least the electric heater still works nicely.
Pakkun is hanging around for no reason. Sometimes he'll grouch that he wants water, or that Kakashi needs to restock his toilet paper -- ah, the joys of nin-dogs, so much more self-sufficient than children -- but most of the time the little pug curls under the blanket at his side and watches the snow falling. "Ahh, it's nice to be inside on a day like this."
Kakashi agrees with a thoughtful grunt, nods whenever Pakkun makes random observations.
Pakkun doesn't breathe loudly, but enough that Kakashi knows he's there, even when he's not talking. Kakashi listens to it, and watches the snow fall, hypnotizing himself on its slow dance. There's no need to waste a perfectly nice -- though unasked for -- vacation time with real thoughts.
Tsunade said it was well-deserved. Akatsuki, and the freed demons, and then the aftermath. Cleanup crew. Dismantling of the network. Many, many follow-up reports.
Kakashi wonders if perhaps the downtime is so conveniently timed because some people didn't trust Sasuke's agenda now that they weren't working against a common enemy. At least they're done court-martialing and cross-examining him, not that he seems to care much about the politicking all around him. Naruto and Sakura are hailed as heroes, and they're using their clout on him for all they're worth.
Pakkun grumbles something about his bladder and trudges off noisily, and Kakashi realizes he's thinking again, and he didn't want that. He sighs, closes his eye. He could sleep here, maybe...
There's a knock at his door. He doesn't know if he should be grateful or annoyed. He extracts himself from his cocoon with a vaguely put-upon grunt and opens.
His kids are on his doorstep, grinning and red-nosed.
Well, Kakashi knows that even if he pulled Sasuke's scarf away from his face, he wouldn't catch a grin there, of course, but his whole visible face from his forehead to the tip of his ears is pink from the cold; it compensates. There's a large wicker basket on Sakura's arm, and Naruto has three bottles of god knows what tucked under his arm, half-hidden by a massive parka.
"What are you doing here?" Kakashi asks. He knows he forgot to tell them it was an off day, but by now they've learned to check with the mission board anyway. A good habit that will serve them well in life. Why are they here?
"I brought dinner!" Sakura pipes up cheerfully, and waltzes past him, going straight to the kitchen without the decency to show that she knows she's intruding.
"And I brought the drinks!" Naruto echoes just as cheerfully, bumping into Kakashi's other shoulder as he trudges in after Sakura. He kicks off his shoes by the door and wanders to the kitchen to help Sakura with the food.
Kakashi looks over his shoulder in faint bewilderment, and then turns to look at Sasuke, who's still standing on his doorstep, expressionless.
"Oh, and Sasuke brought himself," Naruto throws from the kitchen. "Still not sure that's better than nothing."
There's a nice little thwack from his kitchen, wood against skin, and a yelp. "Naruto, don't be an ass."
Kakashi arches his eyebrow at Sasuke, who shrugs minimally.
"Can I come in?" Sasuke eventually asks from behind his oh-so-stylish scarf. The question is casual, not all that interested.
"Of course," Kakashi says, and means "Anytime, you idiot kid."
In the kitchen, Naruto and Sakura are laughing at god knows what. There are pans being moved around, and cupboards explored. At some point Naruto exclaims, "Ramen!" and Sakura thwacks him with the spatula again.
Kakashi closes the door behind Sasuke, points at some random chair when Sasuke arches an eyebrow -- a clear "Where do your guests put their coats?"; it's so nice to see that at least one of his kids is fluent in strong-and-silent-ese, Kakashi was afraid the secret language would die with him -- and drifts toward the kitchenette, not in that much of a hurry to see what horrors the noisy ones have unleashed on his apartment.
It doesn't smell half-bad, he can tell that. Beyond that, it's impossible to see much. But there are at least three saucepans.
"What's the occasion?" he asks, leaning against the doorjamb.
Sakura hums, a distracted acknowledgement. Naruto grins. "Where are your glasses?"
Brats. "Well, there's the one on the bathroom sink, and the one in the dirty dishes there..." he drawls as revenge.
Naruto doesn't look thwarted all that long. "Oh well, we've been more unhygienic than that before, I'm sure. Did you remember that time Sakura ran out of tampons and she borrowed Sasuke's underwear?"
From just behind Kakashi's shoulder, Sasuke growls. "I don't remember and don't want to. Take off your parka, you're going to knock down the shelves."
Naruto grumbles, but complies, abandoning the bottles on the table. Sake, Kakashi sees. Not excellent, but decent.
Sasuke takes Sakura's coat, abandoned on a kitchen chair, and goes to put away both hers and Naruto's with his own. Such a fastidious child, really. Naruto is flopping front down on the carpet in front of the dog. "Heya, Pakkun. Long time no see! How's the wife and kids?"
Sasuke drifts back in the kitchen to help Sakura. Naruto keeps chattering with the dog, squirming and rolling until his lower body disappears under the kotatsu. Kakashi stands by the kitchen door, somewhat bewildered. His bachelor pad is tiny; with his brats inside as well, there's literally nowhere to turn that isn't occupied.
Kakashi wonders how long they'd tolerate him locked up in the bathroom before breaking in. He needs a comfortable advance if he wants to make a successful escape.
"Naruto, Kakashi-sensei, go wash your hands!" Sakura calls from the kitchen.
Kakashi thinks about protesting being mothered in his own house, and then sighs and decides it isn't worth it. From the bathroom, he can see Sasuke setting the table on the kotatsu's wooden surface. Naruto stretches his legs underneath the thick comforter to try and trip Sasuke. Sasuke steps on him, quite deliberately.
Eventually, they all take place under the warmth of the kotatsu. Kakashi's legs get kicked and brushed against quite a bit as they try to settle, but then, from the way Sakura jumps, he's not the only one. They proceed to have a very nice meal, full of smiles and laughter and pleasantries. (Sakura kicks Naruto into the broom cupboard once when he attempts to see Kakashi's face behind the book he's holding as a screen, and gets sake to slosh on her top in the process. Pakkun has abandoned him for Sasuke's corner, where they both proceed to look aloof and unconcerned as Sasuke's food mysteriously teleports out of his plate to appear under the pug's muzzle.)
It's nice. Comfortable. Naruto's silly jokes and Sakura's giggles and Sasuke's barely-there smirks. No mission, no life or death situation. He knows they've done something to resolve the lingering tension. He's glad for them, glad that they found their balance again, that they managed to fit Sasuke right back in -- not quite as if he'd never left, but still just as solidly.
So why are they celebrating it with him? He had nothing to do with that. Almost nothing. Negligible, really.
He's their teacher, their leader.
He's not their friend.
He opens his mouth to ask, once again, what this whole thing is about -- and Sakura fills his arms with empty dishes. Naruto trudges along grudgingly, wedges himself between the tiny sink and the wall to dry what Kakashi washes, making himself more of a hindrance than a help.
He would gladly step back and stop bumping into Naruto's shoulder so much, but every time he tries, Naruto's eyes gleam and he asks, "You wouldn't be shirking, now would you, Kakashi-sensei?"
"No," Kakashi sighs. "No, I wouldn't be."
When they're done, Sakura and Sasuke have cleaned the kotatsu's surface and are now doing a whole lot of nothing, their legs tucked comfortably under the warm blankets. Pakkun is on Sakura's lap; she's tugging on his ears. If he weren't such a blasé old veteran, his dog butt would be wagging all over the place; as it is, Kakashi can see his tail shivering. Traitor. Sasuke is sitting kitty-corner from her, his back against the wall, his arms crossed. His eyes are closed, and Kakashi pauses to watch him. He knows the little pest has scars, figurative and not; but then he goes and closes his eyes in their presence and Kakashi thinks that for all the stupid stunts he's pulled, Sasuke is still remarkably unscathed.
Or maybe -- he amends as Naruto swaggers his way to the table and slumps against the wall at Sasuke's side, and Sakura looks up from her doggy torture to smile at Sasuke's faint put-upon frown -- maybe Sasuke's just lucky enough to have found people who knew his cracks well enough to mend them, and had perhaps picked up a few missing pieces for safekeeping.
He's never going to fully understand what his kids have. Most team bonds aren't that strong. He's pretty sure his own wouldn't have been, even if they hadn't been so neatly severed. Crazy, obsessive brats. He watches them from the kitchen door, all but snuggled together under the comforter. He never did have that, and he'll kill to make sure his kids don't lose it.
But now he wants to excuse himself out of his own house. Damn brats. He chuckles, shakes his head, thinks of turning away.
"Oi, Kakashi-sensei, are you coming or not?"
"You seem to have taken over my spot," he retorts lightly. And not only his spot. Annoying little pests. He's touched that they want to show their appreciation so much; he didn't ask for that. All he wants is for nothing to break them up ever again -- but even that wish isn't worth much. He wasn't the one who pulled them back together. They did that on their own. Still... He'll do his best to keep them safe.
"Mou, Sensei!" Sakura pouts as she starts extracting herself from the tangle of legs under the kotatsu. "What are you standing there in the draft for?"
"Yeah," Naruto drawls as he moves up on a knee. "We're gonna think you think we have cooties."
"But you do have cooties," Kakashi replies blandly, and wonders if his kids are actually, really herding him.
What reels him in, though, is the way Sasuke looks -- a mix of "you two are silly" and... Something else, he doesn't know. Acceptance, but not the kind that makes you smile.
Acceptance of Kakashi's reluctance to get any closer, maybe.
Because of the three of them, Sasuke would guess why Kakashi wants to keep his distances. He's entangled enough that he knows he couldn't live with himself if he let someone break them. The least he can do is not entangle them right back. He's damaged, been damaged too long; he healed crooked. His kids don't fit his missing pieces. They're never going to.
They're never going to heal him and they're never going to replace his dead. Sakura is not Rin; Naruto is neither Yondaime nor Obito; Sasuke is not quite enough of Obito and far too much of Kakashi.
But when he looks at Sasuke's eyes -- recognition, lack of surprise... regret -- he forgets to evade Naruto's sudden one-armed, manly, possessive hug, and Sakura's octopus hold on his arm, and then there he is, sitting with his legs toasty-warm, with one kid on each side and one in front, and a dog trotting over the table to plop in his lap.
And then Naruto laughs, and entangles their legs under the table, and Sakura's attempts to stop him make things worse, and Sasuke looks at him and doesn't make a move to get free.
It's snowing outside, a slow, lazy sprinkle of fat snowflakes, and his apartment is crowded, and this is a nice vacation day. Yes, a very nice vacation day.