A/N: To celebrate the end of the story, check out my profile for some new fanart by some really talented artists : Slinkymilinky, Leona101, and lovesharingankakashi. I can't think of a better way to end it all, so thanks guys. ;D
House of Crows
Epilogue: Four Years On
We are not our sorrows,
We are not our scars.
We are only human.
This is what we are.
There was little that could beat a brilliantly sunny day in the middle of summer. Except, perhaps, a more moderately sunny day, when the grass wasn't so dried out and prickly against one's back, and ten minutes outdoors didn't leave the skin feeling so prickly and hot.
Kakashi scratched the spreading red blush on his forearm and turned the page of his book. It was a murder mystery, full of eccentric and deeply suspicious characters, and though he was only on the second chapter he already knew who had done it and how. He sighed, his focus momentarily fleeing from him as he stared at the words on the page without taking in their meaning. He missed Icha Icha. But like with the cigarettes and the alcohol, they were no longer part of his life, locked away instead in Sakura's hospital locker (along with his testicles, most of his 'friends' would joke). Of course the only reason he hadn't yet grabbed a trusty crowbar and liberated them yet was because Sakura was probably right. When living in a house with a creature whose reading age was about four times its actual age and whose favourite word was 'Why?' precautions against the persistently curious were needed, especially after the last incident at school when Iruka-sensei had stormed over to the house to ask why a three year old was quoting phrases like 'vertical meat pistol' in the middle of math.
A splash from the river below made him briefly squint towards the water with a frown before returning back to his book, with no knowledge of what had happened for the last three pages. He sighed and flipped backward, determined to force himself into paying attention this time.
"Da~ddy!" sang a small voice from the river.
"Ye~ah?" Kakashi grunted, realising with annoyance that he'd have to flip back to the beginning of the chapter because he had no idea who this Captain Marguerite person was.
"Look at me~e!"
"You're not looking!"
Kakashi glanced up again at the small boy standing in the middle of the river. Or rather, on it. "Very nice," he called, and then dragged his eye back to his book. He might have been more impressed if this hadn't been roughly the fortieth time Enoki had shown off his water-walking abilities. When exactly was the novelty supposed to wear off?
It being an unusually hot weekend, they weren't the only ones out by the river that afternoon. Another family with slightly older children were having a picnic further up the sloping grassy bank, and all along the river's edge there were casual anglers, fishing with rods and bait under the shade of parasols. Kakashi glanced at those men in envy. With no shade along this bank, those parasols were looking awfully clever right now.
Enoki had noticed the men too, and besides bouncing up and down on the rippling surface of the water, he was occasionally pouncing upon any passing fish that swam beneath him. So far he hadn't had much luck, but failure wasn't something to seemed to perturb him. Kakashi guessed the fun was not so much in catching the fish but in getting wet and generally behaving in ways that would get grown-ups committed.
There were also others along this river, but they were barely noticeable unless you were looking for them; like the 'off-duty' ninja lying on the grass a few hundred yards away, apparently snoozing in the sun, or the kunoichi sitting on the bench by the path above him, filling in a crossword on the daily paper… or the man sitting beside her, staring at the back of Kakashi's head. Occasionally the off-duty nin and the kunoichi would glance at him too, but they did so with more subtlety and less interest. The staring guy was new. Given a few weeks, he'd get as bored with this assignment as the other two and lose intensity. Kakashi was getting good at ignoring their presence, and though he could live without three sets of eyes following him around every day whenever he left the house, he knew it was a small price to pay. There were people in his position who weren't so fortunate… who got locked up in prison or confined to their house with no second chances and certainly no concessions.
In fact, if it hadn't been for Enoki, Kakashi was sure the rules of his house arrest would be much more restrictive. At the moment he could go where he pleased, whenever he pleased, and although he had to put up with constant surveillance, his life was almost normal.
Because there was also some suspicion in the back of his mind that the escorts who shadowed his every movement also followed his son to school, as if he was the one who needed watching. There wasn't much he could do about it other than hope his son was too young to notice, or understand, or think to ask 'Why?'
The sound of two children giggling distracted him and he looked down towards the edge of the river to see Enoki standing among the reeds, showing something to another girl about the same age – probably frogspawn – and both were highly delighted by whatever it was. Kakashi smirked. Unlike his father, perhaps Enoki would be quite the ladies' man when he was older. He certainly had a certain guileless charm that attracted other children like flies, and Kakashi suspected he got this off his mother. Despite insisting she'd spent most of her childhood wishing she was as popular as her friend Ino and living in said girl's shadow, Sakura had always had admirers, whether she noticed it or not.
The little girl gasped and turned guiltily at the sound of her name. Kakashi sat up, suddenly alert to the woman hurrying down the bank towards the children, arm outstretched. She grabbed her daughter's arm as if she was grabbing her out of a fire, yanking her away without looking once at Enoki, scolding her dismayed daughter with every step.
"I've told you a hundred times," Kakashi heard her hissing to her child. "You do not play with that boy! He's not right. If I see you going near him again I'll tell your father!"
She suddenly met Kakashi's gaze and paled. She said nothing more as she manhandled her daughter up to the path, but he had no doubt that once they were out of ear-shot the mother would start berating the child again, filling her with fear and, ultimately, prejudice.
Further up the bank, the young family finally seemed to have noticed him and Enoki, and though their picnic wasn't finished and the children were complaining loudly that they hadn't had their desert, the parents were packing up their things and moving away, carefully not looking at him.
Kakashi looked at Enoki, and something squeezed his heart unpleasantly. He'd seen the boy have tantrums before, seen him dissolve into tears because his favourite teddy had lost its ear, and seen him so ill sometimes that it scared him to death. But nothing quite hurt him as the expression on his face did now. Because this wasn't a fleeting tantrum, or tears at bedtime, or a sickness that would be over in a week. This misery was something that would continue for the rest of his life.
Enoki stared after the girl and her mother like an abandoned dog. He was more confused than anything else. Right now he was perhaps too young to realise why the mother had dragged her daughter away so abruptly as if she was in danger, but he was at the age now when he was beginning to understand that this wasn't just how people acted… it was just how they acted around him. He was old enough to wonder if there was something wrong with him.
"Enoki-chan," Kakashi called softly, distracting the boy. He lifted his hand to beckon him over, and Enoki came… although he walked without the energy he usually managed to inject into even the most mundane movement.
Once he was within reach, Kakashi snatched him up, pulling him onto his lap and cradling his back. "Why, Mr. Haruno," he said, affecting an impressed tone. "What do we have here?"
A trout lay gently wiggling in the boy's hands, but Enoki only held it loosely and stared down at it blankly, neither proud nor boasting. Just staring. Kakashi picked it up and pretended to measure it. "That's definitely the biggest fish I've seen come out of that river. Maybe we should consider your vocation as a fisherman?"
"What's a 'vo-cation?" Enoki asked slowly.
"Like a job," said Kakashi.
"Like what Mommy has?"
"Like what Mommy has," Kakashi agreed flatly.
"Do you have a job?" asked Enoki, beginning to forget his sombreness.
Although Kakashi was the one who now felt a little sombre. He supposed the correct answer was 'no, I lost my job when you were born'. But with another year of good behaviour not even the council could come up with any more excuses to stop him returning to work. "My job," Kakashi said lightly, "is to look after you. It's full-time, gets lousy pay, but the perks are endless."
Enoki probably wasn't quite sure what he meant, but he giggled anyway. Kakashi squeezed his arm around him affectionately and turned his attention back to the fish he was holding. "Is this your way of saying you want fish for dinner, huh?"
"But your mom's coming home tonight. I don't think just the one fish is going to feed us all," he told the boy. "Maybe we should catch some more."
The boy was wiggling now with barely suppressed excitement. "Daddy?"
Well, if that wasn't the most mischievous tone of voice he'd ever heard. "Mm?"
"Do that thing."
"THAT thing!" Enoki cheered. "Where you go pshhh and zzzzpppt and then everything."
"Ah," said Kakashi, suddenly understanding. "That thing."
"I probably shouldn't," he sighed, but when Enoki's uplifted face began to wobble, he knew he had little choice. "Alright. Hold my book."
Kakashi stood and conscientiously took off his shoes before heading down to the river's edge, Enoki bobbing along beside him. "Stay back," he warned the boy lightly, as he waded into the reedy shallows and surveyed the green waters. Up and down the bank, fishermen who had seen them playing by this river more than once were looking on reproachfully, some of them reeling back in their lines with angry mutters.
Looking back to make sure Enoki was still standing on the grass, Kakashi gathered a little charka to his bare feet and let it loose through the water with a jolt in its pure element form.
Despite how Enoki described it, there was no sound and there was no visible sign than anything had happened at all… not until dozens of pale bellies began bobbing to the surface like apples and the river turned into a veritable harvest of stunned fish. If any of the fishermen were shouting their objections, Kakashi feigned deafness.
"Hurry up," he told Enoki. "Grab two before they recover. Big ones."
"'Kay!" cried Enoki, toddling off across the water to grab what he could, and when he came back he was holding his shirt like a basket, carrying two flapping trout.
"Alright," Kakashi said, tossing the smaller fish into his son's arms. "Time to head back?"
Enoki met this suggestion with as much enthusiasm as he had for being offered chocolate and a bouncy castle of his choice. It didn't take much to excite this kid – or indeed, overexcite him – and Kakashi couldn't help but smile and follow as Enoki barrelled up the slope and began marching homeward. And in turn the ninja dozing in the sun got up and seemed to decide to head the same way, along with the crossword-solving kunoichi and the staring stalker. Enoki didn't notice any of them, however, busy as he was singing a very out of tune song about fishies on dishies that Sakura had used to sing for him when he couldn't even talk. It didn't seem that long ago. It was astonishing how quickly children could go from crawling to catching fish and slaughtering classic lullabies, and yet Kakashi felt he himself had aged more in the last four years than he had in the last twenty years of his adult life. Not in the sense that he'd grown tired and wrinkly… but having responsibilities and obligations he'd once thought were best avoided by sane adults had changed him. He wasn't quite the same man he'd been a couple of years ago; he was someone different now.
Someone he liked better.
He knew sometime soon he would return to his work and start the uphill battle to reclaim dignity and respect, and that was a day he looked forward to. But it would be a bittersweet day, he thought. Because going back to missions would mean leaving Enoki behind…
Walking along the park's path, it took him a moment to notice that Enoki had stopped singing. He turned around and saw that his son had stopped dead in his tracks and was looking across the grassy field to their right. Kakashi followed his gaze and noted they were passing the playground. Several children were out there playing on the swings and slides and clambering up and down an elaborate climbing frame under the watchful eye of their parents.
Kakashi felt a lump rise in his throat and jerked his gaze back to the path to begin walking again. "Come on, Enoki," he said shortly, trying to sound to a spoil-sport. He hoped his son blamed him for being too strict a parent, and thought that this was the reason he wasn't allowed to join in with the others in the playground… rather than because the moment he did, the other children would leave one-by-one, herded away by parents or because that was just what you did when you saw Haruno Enoki coming your way.
But Enoki was not a stupid child. He knew why he couldn't play and his energy escaped him once more, turning him into a small plodding drone who stared at the ground, no longer interested in singing or trying to avoid stepping on cracks or jumping from one of his father's footsteps to the next.
Kakashi stopped and Enoki bumped into his legs and almost dropped his cargo of fish.
"You alright?" he asked his son.
"Yeh…" Enoki said glumly and pretty unconvincingly.
"Oh, dear." Kakashi stooped down and picked him up, lifting him onto his hip. Almost at once Enoki's head crashed into his shoulder and he began sniffing and making heart-breaking little whimpering sounds. "C'mon. Your mom's coming home tonight. You don't want her to see you all sad, do you?"
But not even the mention of his mother's return – the very reason Kakashi had woken up that morning to his son using his stomach as a trampoline – managed to cheer him up. In fact he only seemed to want to cry all the harder.
"It's not the end of the world," he tried instead.
But since Enoki had never been under the impression it was ending, this didn't seem to help much either. Kakashi patted his back futilely and remembered that murmuring comforting nothings was an art that only Sakura seemed to have mastered. Usually some sort of bribery was required if Kakashi was to get his son to stop crying, but at the moment he didn't have any sweeties on hand. Just fish.
"Why do they hate me?" Enoki cried.
"No one hates you," Kakashi said stolidly.
"They do! They do!" the little boy insisted. "I don't know what I did…"
Kakashi sighed patiently, glancing over his shoulder at his three milling escorts further inside the park. This wasn't exactly the time or place where he'd wanted to have this kind of discussion, but he didn't have the heart to brush off his son's misery till later. After all, this wasn't just a typical childhood tantrum.
"No one hates you," he repeated, stroking his son's short, soft hair, "they're just scared."
"Of what?" sniffled Enoki.
A long time ago, they'd begged Naruto for advice in this very matter, and Kakashi recalled it very well. Don't lie to him. Knowing the reason for his social exclusion didn't make it stop hurting, but being kept in the dark about his own nature had inadvertently been the worst part of the abuse. His father and others had meant well when they'd arranged for Naruto to remain in ignorant bliss for most of his young life, but even if children weren't told explicitly what was wrong with Naruto, they had assumed their parents behaviour around him and copied each other until it made no difference whether they knew about the Kyuubi or not. They acted just as cruel.
Now the same thing was happening to Enoki, and although Kakashi understood the temptation to hide everything from his son and try to preserve some semblance of normality for him, it was hopeless. There had already been times when he noticed his son staring off into space in the middle of a game or during dinner, becoming deaf to his parents' voices as if he was listening to something else. Some other voice.
"You know that…thing inside you?" Kakashi said carefully. "The thing that talks to you sometimes?"
Enoki lifted his head and gave his father a tearful nod of grave understanding. "The Rocky-be?"
"Yes, well… other people don't… they don't have that inside of them."
Enoki blinked as he contemplated this, thinking so hard he forgot to cry. "No one?" he asked meekly. "But… Naruto-sensei-"
"Is the only other person like you," Kakashi said quickly. Trust the little bugger to find the one exception. "You're both very special. And other people… they don't understand what it's like, so they're just a little scared, and maybe even a little jealous that they don't have a son as handsome and clever as you."
Enoki thought very hard about this. "People love Naruto-sensei… but they don't like me."
This was all too true. Kakashi had been hoping that Naruto had set a fine example to Konoha that jinchuuriki were capable of being trustworthy, loyal, and friendly people, but as time had gone on it was clear that Naruto was seen only as an aberration and the old prejudices were still buried deep in the village's consciousness. Naruto had worked hard to earn the trust and confidence of the villagers to reach the point he had, and Enoki wouldn't get an easy ride on his coattails. He would have to work just as hard, face the same obstacles and cruelties, and in the end, he might fail anyway.
"Things will be hard for you, but you're brave, aren't you?"
"Yes!" said Enoki resolutely.
"And you're smart and fast and strong?"
"You'll have to work twice as hard as anyone else to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, but at the end of the day you'll be twice as brilliant as any of those losers. Right?"
"You know your father loves you, don't you? And your mother too? We'll always love you."
Enoki was, delightfully, still too young to be embarrassed about that. "Yes," he chirped happily.
Enoki leaned over and planted a noisy kiss on Kakashi's cheek and giggled when Kakashi did his best to wipe it off on his sleeve. "Not so much spit next time, sweetheart…" he teased. "Now as great as these fish are, I think we better get home and get washed and changed because we don't exactly smell like roses, do they?"
"Don't need a bath."
"Mommy won't hug you if you don't have a bath."
"Mommy says you're not allowed to use 'emotional black mail' on me."
"She didn't say anything about the sharingan though, right?"
As soon as she saw the village gates, Sakura broke into a jog. She would have run all the way home if her team had let her, and her leader even had the nerve to laugh at her obvious impatience as she trotted up to the sign-in booth and scribbled her name and mission designation down on the gate-keeper's logbook.
"In a rush?" chortled her leader as she hopped from foot to foot, signing her details.
"I said I'd be back by six," Sakura said, glancing at her watch. "Dammit… it's already quarter past."
In her rush, she tossed the pen to her team leader and took off at a half-run through the streets, trying hard not to jostle the box in her arms too much. Technically she should be heading over to the administration tower to report to the Hokage, but she figured Naruto would understand if she left her debrief until tomorrow. there was also a little matter that she was supposed to drop some forms off at the hospital too, and though Tsunade was less understanding, Sakura would rather face her wrath than the wrath of a four year old who'd suffered a broken promise.
She dashed past the front of a closing flower shop.
"Sakura!" Ino shouted, in the process of taking in a bunch of orchids indoors. "You're back! How about a drink?"
"Can't!" Sakura said rushing on without pause. "I'm late!"
"What else is new?" Ino called back at her sarcastically.
Recognising her street, Sakura felt a rush of longing. She'd only been gone for a week, and she'd spent long periods of time away from home (four years ago she'd been away for a memorable six months), but she was deeply gratified to see such familiar surroundings again. Before she'd had a child, she'd never thought twice about leaving home to go on missions, as she had little more responsibility than remembering to turn the lights off and switch off the heating. Nowadays it was a disappointment to be dragged away by work.
As she approached her house, she noticed one of her neighbours beginning to step out of his house. She pretended not to notice him, however, as all he ever did was mutter obscenities about her son if he saw the boy. Even now, from the corner of her eye, she saw him pause in closing his door to stare at her as she hurried past, like he was debating going back inside, his intended trip spoiled by the mere sight of her. Well, the feeling was mutual. After enduring such a malevolent stare, some of the cheerfulness was gone from her step, so that by the time she pushed past her garden gate and ran up to the door, she was feeling a little subdued.
"I'm home," she called, pushing open the door to shed her shoes and coat in the entrance hall. No one responded to her, though she could smell the delicious smell of grilling fish coming from the kitchen.
Clutching the box to her chest, she poked her head into the living room and took note of the man sprawled on the sofa – if that was indeed what it was. It was hard to tell exactly what lay underneath that enormous mound of cushions, pillows and toys, although it was safe to assume it was Kakashi, the usual victim of Enoki's buckaroo experiments.
Judging by the soft snores, he was fast asleep.
With a wide grin, she slipped silently across the room and set the box on the floor before leaning over the buried man. When he still didn't react, she climb on top of him, toys and all.
He grunted and tried to shed the new weight. "Ngh… 'nough Enoki," he croaked. "Daddy has to check his eyelids."
Sakura moved aside a stuffed giraffe to touch her nose to his. "Found any holes in them yet?"
"Nm?" Kakashi's eye slid open to regard her coolly. "Oh. It's you."
"So cold," she pouted, faking a shiver.
"Does it matter? You didn't even turn the oven on till five minutes ago, right?"
"I never promised dinner would be on the table the second you got back. But if I had you would have ruined it. Good thing I anticipated that you'd let us down."
"You mean, you fell asleep."
"I'm sorry, I'm late," she told him earnestly. "I had to sort out this gift." She lightly tapped the box on the floor.
"For me?" he asked.
"For Enoki," she corrected.
Now it was his turn to pout. "Then where is my present?"
Her fingers crawled up to grasp the edge of his mask. "I've got your present right here," she said, with a faint leer as she inched the fabric down and leant in to – "Wait, what the hell is that?"
Sakura sat up sharply, dragging him with her by the lapels of his vest. Stuffed animals and plastic blocks rained everywhere. In one hand she grabbed his chin, pushing it to the side to stare hard at his face. "What is this?" she demanded, rubbing her thumb roughly over the unmistakable lipstick kiss on his cheek. "Oh, I get it. When the cat's away, the dog does play – well, that's fine. That's fine! I'll just get a the list of people who've visited for the past week from Naruto and we'll play a little game of match the lipstick, and then I'll kill whoever-"
"Ah - it's really not what you think," Kakashi said, looking a little worried.
"You better pray I've just discovered your cross-dressing hobby," she ground out between her teeth. "Because after I kill her, you'll be next and I'm going to take my time and enjoy-"
"Baby!" Sakura dropped Kakashi in a second, and whirled with a beaming smile to catch the little boy who hurtled into her at top speed. They dropped to the floor, laughing and giggling with Sakura raining dozens of kisses all over her son's face. "I missed you, Enoki," she laughed, squeezing him. "Have you been good?"
"Yes!" he grinned.
That's when Sakura noticed... "What's this?" she asked, staring at his face.
Squinting one eye shut – but not quite managing to keep the other open – he pointed to the line of red lipstick down his left cheek that was almost certainly a crude representation of Kakashi's scar. It would have been quite accurate if not for the fact he'd also painted his lips in the same bright shade. Sakura was impressed. He'd even managed to keep within the lines, so to speak.
She looked at Kakashi who shrugged.
"I told him Crimson Love wasn't his colour," he said, pushing the rest of the toys off him to swing his feet back to the floor.
"Amazing," Sakura said, looking between them with feigned bemusement. "I don't know which is which... and I have a present here for Enoki, but who do I give it to?"
"Me, me!" Enoki looked alarmed and quickly wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "I'm Enoki, mommy!"
"Ah! So you are!" She wrapped him in another hug and a noisy kiss. "Since you've been such a good boy and you took such good care of the fish while I was away last month, I have a little something for you. And it's not just a present, Enoki, it's a huge responsibility. I'm trusting you with this, ok?"
She picked up the brown box she'd set on the floor and passed it onto Enoki's lap. It rustled softly, and when Sakura pulled on the ribbon loose holding the lid together, a small furry head popped out quizzically, much to Enoki's delight. "Kittie!" he cried.
"She' s one of Nya's last litter," she told him, helping the little calico cat out of the box. "She trusts you enough to take care of her kitten, and she'll be yours for life. It'll be your responsibility to train her and teach her to talk. Do you think you can do that?"
Enoki was gazing in open-mouthed awe at the small cat that wiggled around in his lap, head-butting his hand. He'd had a lot of experience with animals, from cats to dogs, and even to toads, but his expression of delight to finally have one of his own was something to behold. "I'll do my best!" he chirped, rosy-cheeked with pleasure. "Can I name her?"
"Anything you like."
"Try something more original, baby."
"Um..." He picked up the little cat and held her up gently, giggling when she mewed at him. He looked at her feet, all four of which were covered in black splotches. "Socks! Her name's Socks!"
She looked up at Kakashi, realising he was frowning rather deeply at her. "Hmm?" She went on smiling blithely.
"A word, if you please," he said curtly, and stood to walk out of the room. His footsteps receded up the stairs.
"It's never just one word," Sakura muttered. She patted Enoki on the head one last time and stood. "Play gently with her, remember."
"Mm-hm!" Enoki had already found a stray thread dangling from his sleeve, and was happily bouncing it up and down for the kitten's amusement.
Sakura left him to it and went to join Kakashi upstairs, silently bracing herself, for if he wanted to speak to her up there it usually meant it was something he didn't want Enoki to hear. She passed her old bedroom, now Enoki's, and straight to the master bedroom she shared with Kakashi. It was abrupt. The moment she stepped through the door, it slammed shut behind her, and then there was Kakashi in front of her, crowding her against it. "What's the matter with you?" she asked calmly, with a hint of defiance.
"What are you doing, giving him a nekonin?" he confronted. "I thought we agreed to get him a ninken? We were supposed to give him a puppy."
"Were we?" She shrugged, remaining aloof. "I thought that was just something you decided on your own."
"Fine. If you want to go and take the kitten off him, be my guest," she said, folding his arms.
Kakashi's scowl deepened. "That's not fair, Sakura. I'm the one feeding him and putting him to bed at night and reading him stories while you're off adventuring in the mountains – you don't get to just sweep in and buy all his affection with presents."
"It's not like I love going away for weeks on end leaving him, but someone has to earn the money around here," she rebuked, "and it sure as hell isn't going to be you. And don't pretend I'm 'buying his affections'. Everyone knows he loves you the most."
"That's not true," he said, relenting. "He idolises you."
"He sees more of you, though. I know how it goes. Don't begrudge me the chance to spoil him to make sure he remembers his poor old mother."
"Don't rub it in."
"If it bothers you so much, get him a puppy as well. There's no rule against two summoning contracts," she said snippily. "And is this what I get? I spend a freezing week in the Iron country, wishing I was here with my family, and when I get here it's even colder?" She pouted and looked up at him through her lashes. "I missed you. I came right home just to see you guys. Don't I even get a little kiss?"
His cheek twitched as if he was struggling to hold onto to his temper, or some other rapidly loosening form of restraint. Sakura slid her gaze down his front and gave a soft sound of appreciation when she saw the front of his pants. "Well, someone missed me at least," she murmured, running a hand gently over his hip.
He pushed her hand away. "Don't look at that. That's not for you."
Sakura smiled widely, reaching for him again. "I beg to differ-"
"You didn't stop in at the administration office on your way here?" he asked, making her pause.
"No," she said. "Why?
"Then you haven't heard..."
"That Sasuke was sighted very close to here about three days ago."
Sakura's hands drew back. She didn't meet his eye, but her hesitation was hard to miss before she began playing with his shirt collar again. "So?"
"So that means nothing to you, does it?" He sounded disbelieving.
She looked at their chest of drawers. "What do you want me to say?" she asked.
"Something..." he sighed and leaned his hands on the door to either side of her head. "It's likely that one day Naruto will succeed in returning him to the village, and when that happens-"
"Oh, you think I'll immediately ditch my family and go running off to him?" she snorted.
"No. I know you'd never do that. But," he said heavily, "is there a chance you might... regret settling for me? If it wasn't for Enoki, would you be even here?"
"What's brought this on?" she asked, scowling at him. "Self-pity doesn't suit you, Kakashi, you know I love you and Enoki and I couldn't regret either of you for a minute-"
"So why won't you marry me?"
She blinked at him. "Marry you? Is that all?" she said. "But I haven't paid you back yet for the-"
"You could do that tomorrow if you wanted. I've seen your bank statements, you've earned more than enough to pay me back for the house," he interrupted shortly. "What's really the problem? Is it the name? I told you, you don't have to change yours. I'll even change mine if you want. Or maybe we can change both of ours to Mr and Mrs Yamada."
She wrinkled her nose ever so slightly. "I don't really care about the name..." she said quietly.
"Is it the sex?" he asked plainly.
Wincing, she cast around for a decent excuse, but there didn't seem to be any left. "Oh, Kakashi, what do you expect! You can't even leave the house without armed escorts. How are we supposed to get married? I want a proper wedding where I can invite all my friends and co-workers and I want to marry a guy who won't be walking down the aisle with everyone staring at the monitoring unit around his ankle."
"No one can see it," he protested self consciously.
"But it's there! It's a ball and chain as far as most people are concerned." She began fiddling with his collar again. "And before you even joke about it – no, the only ball and chain on you that day won't be the one in the wedding dress. I don't want everyone staring at us on the happiest day of our life, pitying us."
"Since when did you care what other people-" He cut himself off. Sakura had always cared what other people thought of her. "If we're inviting friends it shouldn't matter. No real friends would stand there laughing behind their hands at us."
"Ino." Was all she had to say.
"Well, she's not coming," Kakashi said shortly.
"I can't not invite her."
"So you want to wait a year and then get married. Is that it?" He rapped his fingers irritably against the door. "I don't think I can wait that long."
"Oh," she scoffed. "What are you going to do? Fling me over your shoulder and carry me to the nearest registration office. ANBU would be all over you in seconds."
"Not if I take off the monitoring unit, and don't think I can't." Which seemed an awfully serious thing to say.
Sakura narrowed her eyes at him and gave him a long, hard look before saying, "Is it really that important to you?"
He looked away from her, saying nothing.
Relationships were full of concessions, that was the first thing she'd had to learn about living with the father of her child. She loved him. She was happy with the way things were, and marriage wouldn't change much so it wasn't something she longed for, but if she was going to be married, she wanted it to be the way she had always imagined it. But then she looked at Kakashi avoiding her gaze and realised that it was more important to him than it ever would be to her. He had so little control over his life these days. If he went anywhere, even to do something as simple as go to the shops for groceries, it had to be strictly organised and approved a day in advance. If he went to pick up Enoki from the academy, he had to wait until his escorts arrived before stepping out the front door.
"Alright," she said.
"Alright what?" he repeated grumpily.
"I'll marry you. Whenever you want, just name the date."
He was shaken for a moment. Then, as if testing her, he said, "Tomorrow."
"I've got a hair appointment tomorrow."
"How about next month," she suggested quickly. "We'll need time to properly organise. There's clothes to choose, invitations to send out, cakes to buy... and we'll have to hire a caterer. And – oh – I can wear my mother's old wedding dress! I just need to get it refitted because she was about five months pregnant when she got married."
He smiled smugly. "See, you're going to enjoy this," he said. "Tenzou can be best man, Ino can be maid of honour. Enoki can be the flower girl-"
"-the flower boy, and everyone will be so busy smiling at you because of how beautiful you are that no one will be thinking of what's around my ankle."
"Oh," she squeaked in delight, leaning into him deliberately to wind her arms around his neck. "You have a sweet tongue. But you know what will be really amazing?"
"Mm?" He closed his eyes, his lips so close to hers.
"If we make a vow not to do it till the wedding night."
Kakashi's jaw clenched. "No."
Her back met the door with a thump, her body squashed against his chest as his mouth suddenly met hers. Finally. Seven cold days and nights and she'd been dying to reacquaint with the meaning of heat again. She moaned into his mouth and roamed her hands over his broad back. "Missed this," she practically purred.
He uttered a similar sort of sentiment, only far less coherent. He kissed up her throat and lifted her up against him till their bodies were perfectly, deliciously aligned. Sakura sighed, hearing the snap of her leggings being shoved down.
"A month?" he growled. "I can barely hold on a week, I don't think I can do a month."
"Yeah?" she panted, tackling his belt buckle. "But that'll be fun... doing it with Mr Haruno."
"What are you talking about, Mrs Hatake?"
"Just shut up and kiss me." And she pushed away from the door, legs caught with his, and they both went tumbling to the floor in a tangle of clothing and laughter.
The loud thud above made Enoki glance up at the ceiling to watch the light-fitting swing. The kitten looked too.
"They always do that, Socks" he told his new friend. "Whenever Mommy comes home, she and Daddy always go upstairs and jump on the bed."
Enoki paused. "If you're mean, I'll ignore you," he said in a sing-song voice.
They're not jumping on the bed.
"...what are they doing?"
The voice told him, but it didn't make much sense to Enoki. "Sounds stupid," he said, and looked back at the kitten. "Hey, Socks, do you want to see the garden? I'll show you Daddy's strawberries."
Whisking the kitten up, he toddled through the kitchen and out into the garden. Socks seemed to like this. She stomped merrily through the strawberry patch until she came to the little pond beneath the willow. There were fish here, so she stopped at the edge to watch them intently.
Just push the little furball in. I can't stand cats.
"What's wrong with cats?" Enoki asked.
They eat birds.
"I like birds," Enoki said.
"I think Socks likes fish more than birds though," he said, getting to his knees beside the cat to watching the darting goldfish that had once lived in the kitchen. "We're having fishies for dinner. I hope Daddy doesn't let it burn again... look, Socks, that's what they call a fish! A fuh-iih-shuh. Ok?"
Socks mewled enthusiastically, a keen student.
"And this is a ball! You bounce it and stuff. Um... and this is grass. It's to be soft under your feet when you're outside. And that..." he pointed to a green hosepipe that wiggled across the lawn. "...I don't remember what that's called."
Tell her it's a cat-eating snake.
Enoki giggled. "No, it's not. It gives water to plants – oh – water! That's stuff you drink, Socks."
Although it was debatable if Socks understood any of what her human was telling her, she seemed very interested as he showed her round the garden, and Enoki decided his 'vo-cation' was probably to be a teacher like Naruto-sensei. Although he supposed Naruto-sensei's real vo-cation was to be boss of the village. He didn't get much time these days to teach Enoki, and when he did it was all boring stuff like sitting still for ages and trying not to think. Meditating, he called it.
"Sensei says this helps to learn stuff, Socks," Enoki said, sitting down on the grass with the kitten. "Just keep still and empty your head."
"Don't be mean."
Cats can't meditate. Look at her.
Socks had quickly grown bored and was tiptoeing off back to the pond to take another look at the fish. A bang and a clatter in the kitchen let Enoki know that his parents had finished jumping on the – no – what was it called again? Either way, he'd be getting his own fish soon, and maybe he could ask his father to share some with Socks, even though he hated cats as much as Rokubi did.
You shouldn't meditate either. It's bad for you.
"Sensei says it's good for me. I think I believe him."
'Sensei' is an idiot too. You should stay away from him. The fox is the worst of us, you know. I can't have you dying. If you die, I die too.
"Die..." Enoki repeated. "What does that mean?"
He jumped guiltily and turned to crane his neck and look up at his father. He hadn't heard him coming, and from the unpleasant look on his face, he'd heard him talking to it. His father hated when he talked to it even more than he hated cats. And for some reason he'd changed his clothes.
"I called you for dinner, didn't you hear me?" Kakashi asked softly.
"Sorry..." Enoki cringed.
His father watched him blankly for a moment, before sighing and picking him up. "Don't listen to it, Enoki. It's not your friend."
What does he know? And who is he calling an 'it'?
Sorry, thought Enoki, and cleared his mind as his sensei had taught him. Gradually that turbulent, chaotic voice faded into quietness. It was the only way to shut it out, but he was getting better at it, even though sometimes he felt bad; the voice wasn't always mean. The old man who lived four houses down scared him more and said far worse things to him.
"Come on, you two," his mother called from the doorway to the kitchen, flapping a great deal of smoke out with a tea cloth.
"Ok?" his father asked him.
"Yes." Enoki nodded with a smile. "It's gone."
"Time for dinner, then! Come on, Spot... or whatever your name is," Kakashi called to the kitten by the pond.
"Socks," Enoki corrected.
"Whatever." And his father carried him inside to join his mother for dinner.
*tears a little*