“I can count my ribs,” Ryouma offered. “And sing four new Wind Country lullabies. They had a couple of old grandmas looking after me, the last three months. I can tell you all about granddaughter Ritsuko’s drunk husband and nephew Eiji’s baby-mama drama...”
Kakashi looked puzzled, or perhaps insulted--from this tilted, foreshortened view it was hard to tell. His single visible eyebrow came up, at any rate, and his stirring chopsticks stilled. “Baby what?”
“Eiji got some civilian girl pregnant,” Ryouma said, channeling those wrinkled old kunoichi’s contempt. “She’s keepin’ the baby, of course--abortion’s illegal in Sunagakure--but she can’t decide between one week and t’next whether she’s keeping him around. Sounds kinda like my mom.” He shrugged and tucked his chin a little more comfortably into the hollow between Kakashi’s shoulder and clavicle. “I don’t think it was legal in Konoha twenty-four years ago either. Is the food done yet? I’m starving.”
For a moment Kakashi’s hand tightened on the back of Ryouma’s neck, then relaxed again. He riffled his fingers through Ryouma’s hair once more, then drew away. “Yes. Plates are in there.” He pointed with the chopsticks at a cupboard over the sink. “What do you want to drink?”
“Soda?” Ryouma asked hopefully, but without any real expectation of reality; if there was anything that sounded less like Kakashi than caffeinated sugar-water, he hadn’t yet encountered it. He snagged a set of plates and rice bowls from the cupboard, then detoured by the refrigerator for a glance inside. No soda, of course. Ready-made protein shakes, a carton of grapefruit juice and one of milk, and a half-empty bottle of shochu lurking in the back.
It was the cheap stuff, the yellow-label kind. Ryouma’s grandfather had called it rotgut, and kept the empty green bottles in a box by the door, saving them up to trade in again; every twenty bottles returned meant one free. Ryouma could still remember the harsh, sinus-biting smell that lingered in the bottles and in spilled puddles on the floor, the way it sank like cigarette smoke into walls and floorboards. The way it tasted on an old man’s breath...
He grabbed the carton of milk, and shut the door. He had other fears now, and damned if the old bastard’s ghost was going to come between him and Kakashi on his first night back. “Behold!” he announced, juggling his armload enough to pass the plates to Kakashi, and then dropping the bowls beside the rice cooker. “You’re lucky enough to witness a sight few have seen--the Starving Man’s First Meal upon his Return to Civilization. Sandwiches with the Hokage don’t count. Neither do all those first meals after the war. I think I remember how to use chopsticks this time, though.”
Kakashi’s eyebrow arched even higher than before. He began divvying the stir-fry out onto the plates, leaning back from the rising steam; his nostrils flared subtly beneath the mask. “Did you just manage to concuss yourself on thin air?”
Babbling, Ryouma remembered, was something he mostly did when he was on edge, and Kakashi knew him well enough to recognize it.
But he didn’t have anything like the right to criticize the contents of Kakashi’s fridge, or to remind him of a seven-month-old promise that might not have been serious in the first place. Guess I’ll have to give up drinking, Kakashi had said, but even if he’d meant it then he’d had a damned good reason to pick it up again.
I thought you were dead.
“I was just thinking,” he said, and reached for the rice paddle. “What’ve you been doing since you got out? Aside from makin’ kids cry.”