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Kakashi can’t remember ever telling his father that he loved him.

It’s not something he often thinks about. But sometimes, when he’s having trouble sleeping, and the world is still, the thought comes around to haunt him.

It’s a quiet thought. A subtle one. It gnaws like rats at the corners of his mind, and is persistent and unending when it comes.

I never told Dad I love him.

He must’ve heard it from his father at least a thousand times. Sakumo never missed a chance to speak those three words.

At night, before sending him off to bed: “Goodnight son- I love you.”

In the morning, while sending him off to school: “I love you- have a good day!”

After he’d awoken from a nightmare, and couldn’t go back to sleep- “I love you.”

Always, he’d heard those words. And never once did he return them.

Because he was ashamed of his father. Ashamed of who he was, and what he’d done.

He heard the stories- whispered behind his back by angry teachers, scrawled on his belongings by vindictive peers.

Konoha’s beloved White Fang, turning into the village disgrace. The man he’d idolized so much as a small child, turned into a pariah overnight.

Sakumo never really talked about it; now that he’s older, Kakashi understands why. But back then, in the mind of a child, he felt his father was just a coward.

He’d said just as much, right to his face. Probably a hundred times.

(Sakumo always pretended to brush it off, but Kakashi knows those words hurt. He probably always knew.)

So, he’d never told his father ‘I love you.’ and now it’s too late to take that back.

He can never wipe the memory away- his father, laying on the living room, ghostly white and perfectly still. Fingers still curled around the knife embedded in his side, his guts spilled out across the floor.

(For the longest time after that, Kakashi wondered if, maybe, he’d still have a father if he hadn’t been such an awful child.)

Perhaps as one final kick to the proverbial gut, Sakumo’s final note was one last I love you, Kakashi.

He keeps the note tucked away in a drawer, where he can pull it out and look at it whenever he wants. Minato-sensei kept it safe for him for years, knowing Kakashi would need it someday.

(Minato was a far wiser man than Kakashi can ever hope to be.)

Whenever he pulls out that ragged scrap of paper, Kakashi always mumbles the words he should’ve said back then.

“...I love you too, Dad.”