Hedgehog's Dilemma

II

"I'm afraid it's a bit messy," the man forwarns the teen, fumbling for his keys and chuckling sheepishly in doing so.

There is a single, yellow glowing wall lamp outside the apartment which illuminates the corridor.
Kakashi notices that, unlike him, the blond is wearing civilian clothes – dark jeans and a bright orange sweater. And although it looks different and unfamiliar, it suits him.

"Come in!"

As soon as the lights are switched on, the boy falters and stares unintentionally.
He hesitates to step inside.

'"A bit messy", huh?'

That has to be the greatest understatement of the century.

Loads of dirty washing and towels cluster in the hallway, ungraded and arbitrary, along with serveral bags of garbage and a whole tower of instant ramen cups.
The floor is grubby and piled with dust bunnies.

Somehow the sight reminds the youth of an abandoned battlefield.

"I'm kind of in arrears with the laundry. Well, and with the rest of the household, too," the Yellow Flash explains somewhat bashfully, "Sorry, 'bout that."

Casually he kicks his shoes off and leans the dripping umbrella against the entrance wall.

Of course Kakashi knows about such problems – every shinobi mingles with them sooner or later; the missions they have to accomplish are time consuming and he's hardly ever at his own apartment to be able to sleep properly at least once in a while.
Not to mention the lousy payment.

In spite of that, his lodging does not deserve to be compared to this horrid chaos.

Really, that man's beyond all hope.

Frowning, he slips off his sandals and follows the older jounin down the hall, stumbling across something indefinable every now and then.

"You should get out of your wet clothes and take a shower.
Go ahead, you can use the bathroom," the Yellow Flash offers.

Simultaneously he gesticulates to the left.

Kakashi remembers being here for the first time, invited for tea together with Rin and Obito; it was one of those clear and hot summer days at the end of July, when the sun sets very late and the cicadas chirp continuously.
Recalling the faint aromatic smell of the forthcoming night, the savor of the biscuits Rin made, the sound of Obito's blabber and his sensei's wide grin, he experiences a sharp pang of nostalgia.

It leaves a cloying, bitter taste on his tongue.

All of it doesn't matter anymore. Nothing seems to matter.
And that makes his heart twinge.

A frosty shiver runs down his back, his eyes are stinging and the teenager eventually decides to enter the bath.

One move, a singe glance and he freezes.
Then, he blushes fiercely.

"Don't mind the mess in there, the clothes are laundered," he hears the Yellow Flash's voice in the background.

In view of that sheer amount of underwear – no, no, he's not staring - hung on an improvisational clothesline across the small room, how is he supposed to get out of his clothes without feeling awkward?

Muttering under his breath, the youth peels off his soaked vest and undergarments.

The odd sensation, a mix of embarrassment and something he cannot specify, floats away at last, due to the warm water's rush prickling on his skin. The obtrusive sound blocks his ears like white noise, and he welcomes that.

Obito's eye, the sharingan, is weeping.

It hurts.

Unable to control this emotion, he feels disgusted and angry with himself at the same time. Thus he tries desperately to blank it out.

'Weak... pathetic... again,' he thinks tartly.

A shinobi must keep emotions on the inside, no matter what... you must possess a heart that never shows tears...

"Oi, Kakashi. Don't drown yourself, you hear me?"

There's a light knock at the bathroom door, going along with the soft question.

"You need some dry clothes, don't you?" the Yellow Flash continues, "I'm leaving them here for you."

-

Kakashi halts.

The old t-shirt and the trousers barely fit his slender build, plus, they smell of the Yellow Flash, what creates a giddy and slightly uncomfortable – confusingly positive - feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Something's definitely wrong with him.

At the moment, the boy is standing in the door frame, halfway in the hall that leads to the living room.
Subconsciously he is fidgeting with his fingers.
Without his mask, he feels exposed and uneasy, and right now he absolutely doesn't want his sorry face to be seen. Therefore he lingers in the shadows, hiding.

He watches the Yellow Flash who sits on the floor near the sofa, with his back to Kakashi, folding up socks. Certainly a very rare and peaceful sight.

A while elapses until the teenager finally decides to break the silence.

"Uhm... shall I... maybe... help you...?" he asks shyly.

He cannot think of anything else to say, and he knows it's clumsy and stupid, however, providing his assistance appears appropriate and right – at least to him.

"Hm?"

Those sharp blue eyes seem to pierce his gaze.
Then he gains a warm, grateful smile.

"Feel free."

It demands a great deal of him to bring himself to leave his secure position and step out of the penumbra. He keeps his head downcast and peers at the floorboards, though.
Lately he plops down behind the Yellow Flash – not brave enough to lean against the man or even brush his shoulder.
Yes, deep within, he seeks contact, warmth and comfort.

Again, they lapse into reticence.

'This mission and Obito's sudden death affect him more than he wants to admit,' the blond muses in his thoughts.

"All along I told myself that if I strictly acted on the rules, I could prevent happenings like these..." the teenager mumbles into the silent darkness.

Reality confronts him with sentiments he utterly doesn't want to deal with – and he is not going to talk about.

It's cruel and unfair, Kakashi is still more a child than anything else, and in addition to that he already has had to face a lot of misery and hardship throughout his young life.

"But I was wrong. He made me realize that I've been wrong, all the time..."

The poor kid's inner conflict is almost visible.
Stubbornly, he tries to cling to his old self, struggling to adhere his facade – in vain, because his attitude crumbles, slowly but surely.

Obito's foul mouth and his frankness yield fruit.

'Subtly, it has changed him without him noticing. Needless to say he has a tough time...'

He cannot help himself, he's distressed and yet, he does not want anybody to get too close.
Simply put, Kakashi is afraid of relationships as well as he is afraid of being lost and lonely.

"Hedgehog's dilemma..."

He gains a puzzled, skeptical side glance of the youth.
Nonetheless, his tone remains serious and stark.

"If a hedgehog wants to give his warmth to other hedgehogs he must get near them, however, the closer he approaches the more they injure each other..."

Kakashi merely folds his arms and raises an eyebrow suspiciously.

'Hedgehogs...?'

"Sorry. I said something weird again, didn't I?" the man apologizes, grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Absently he rubs the back of his head.

No, not really.

The teenager comprehends what his former teacher wants to tell him, but, is he correct?

Probably.
He doesn't know.

-

It's getting late.
The purple watch hands of the kitchen clock display that it's past midnight.

"Still raining... do you want to stay?"

Turning his head away due to a fervid blush, the boy manages a tiny nod.

Are his actions and behaviour so easy to read?

"Fine," the Yellow Flash replies, "I think I can yield the bed to you without remorse. The sofa's mine."
And once again, he's smirking like an idiot.

Then there is a light tug at his sleeve.

"Don't."

-

"It doesn't hurt," the boy slurs lowly.

The blond utters a sleepy, questioning sound as an answer.

"Your warmth..."


Author's Note:

Inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 4 ("Rain After Running Away"), like the title indicates, blue.bimbomushi and her outstanding YonKa fanfics, and Arthur Schopenhauer ("Die Stachelschweine", Parerga).