This is freedom: Tōchan’s hands holding him tethered as they spin. Weightlessness in his belly, his feet so far from the ground.
This is freedom: Kakashi has not learned to fear joy.
His giggles spill out of him, frothing and bubbling, a torrent of spring-melt and glee.
Tōchan giggles with him.
“My boy,” he says. “My amazing flying boy.”
And with those hands that Kakashi loves, Tōchan yanks him up, leaving him suspended for a breath, an eternity, a leaf caught on the wind, caught in an eddy.
Kakashi opens his eyes wide.
There’s no fear in him.
Tōchan will catch him.
And so Tōchan does, catching him close, hands bracing Kakashi’s ribs, to pull him in for a shower of kisses over his cheeks.
This is freedom.
This is joy.
“Should we take him home?”
The question comes from very far away.
Kakashi wrinkles his nose against the intrusion and snuggles deeper into his pillow, frowning slightly when it’s not as soft as he would like.
“No,” says a different voice. “I don’t want to wake him.”
“You’re right, he’s too cute to disturb.”
His pillow rumbles a bit, and Kakashi fists his hands tighter in his blanket.
“Love, do you mind setting up a futon? He shouldn’t wake if we just move him to the guest room.”
Something soft brushes his cheek, and Kakashi’s eyelids flutter for a moment.
All he sees is a sea of red.
Kushina-san presses a kiss to his forehead.
“I’ll only be a moment,” she tells Minato-sensei.
Kakashi lets wakefulness slip right out of his hands, and falls into sleep.
Kakashi stares helplessly at the thing in his hands.
Someone behind him is laughing.
He’s pretty sure it’s Asuma.
Kakashi makes a note to kill everyone in the room.
Later though. He currently has more important things to deal with.
The puppy he’s holding just stares right back.
Kakashi has the sinking sensation that the puppy has a better idea of what to do in this situation than he does.
“You’ll do,” the pug puppy says.
Before he quite knows what’s happened, Kakashi is lost under a pile of gangly limbs and wagging tails and curious tongues and wet noses.
“Ours,” they tell him. “Ours now. Pack.”
The night hovers close around his shoulders, held back only by flickering embers of their fire.
They’re pressed close to the fire pit, to make the most of the scant light; the moon is low in the sky, lost to the trees.
Sakura-chan’s face is twisted up in a serious moue as she considers her cards.
“Do you have any sixes?” she asks.
Kakashi flips through his hand, pretending to look, as if he doesn’t know what he’s holding. “No,” he lies. “Sorry.”
Sakura-chan looks at him for a long moment before reaching out and snatching the six sandwiched between his two and jack.
He’s so proud of her that he doesn’t even make a move to avoid her. “You’re counting cards! That’s cheating, Sakura-chan,” he mock-scolds her.
Sakura-chan rolls her eyes.
She does it so artfully.
He wonders if that’s something they teach all preteen girls so that they can make their elders feel stupid.
If so, it’s extremely effective.
“Is it always going to be like this, Kakashi-sensei?”
Kakashi considers her, this girl in the flickering light from a dying fire.
Sakura fingers her collection of pairs that she’s carefully lined up next to her knee. (She’d caught him trying to filch a few pairs from her. He’s so proud.)
“I hope so,” he tells her, honest with the night close and Naruto’s snuffling snores a reminder that they are safe.
Sakura’s smile spills over her face, without fear, careless and fierce, something he’s brought into being.
“I hope so, too,” she gifts him. “Thank you, sensei.”
Behind his mask, Kakashi smiles back.
“Now,” Sakura continues, “I’d like the eight you’re hiding in your sleeve, please.”
He’s an old man, now
He never thought he’d live long enough for his knees to creak, for his back to ache, for his scars to throb with the promise of storms.
Here he is.
Old enough for his white hair, now.
Across his garden, up against a trellis, his tomatoes are finally ripening.
Behind him, his house is rumbling with conversation and cheer. Behind him, someone is calling his name.
He’s an old man, now.
He never thought he’d live long enough to find this.
“Kakashi, I know that you hate a fuss, but the crowd is going to start rioting if you don’t come in. They want cake and at least they’ve enough manners to not eat it before you’ve blown out your candles. Anyways, if you don’t come quick, we’re going to burn your house down: you’re old, there are a lot of candles.”
Kakashi turns away from the fading day, and walks into the warmth of a home full over with all the people who have made it to be laughing here today, after everything.
Tomatoes are ripening and night is falling.
Kakashi walks in to cheers.
If a tree falls in a forest, but no one is listening, does it make a sound?
Here: two sets of hands on the sweet curve of a stomach.
“Did you feel that?”
(In the end, she’ll be forgotten, her name will pass out of memory. But, for now, here she is. Full up of possibility. She could be anyone, do anything. But, for now, here she is. And oh, does she adore him, this child she will never know, cannot know she will never know, aches for knowing, for the not-yet-arrived memory of not knowing.)
Sakumo can’t speak for crying.
Yes, yes. He felt that.
“I know,” she says.
One day, her son will smile and she will smile through him.
For now, she smiles for the both of them.
Oh, the possibility.
Oh, the knowing.
“I know,” she says.
(He’s warm and cradled, now. Only a possibility. Nameless and unknown.
And, oh, gods. Oh, is he loved.
And, oh, gods. Oh, will he be loved.)