Whatever you want, he’d said, and meant it. He’d done his thinking, in that white-washed room in Sunagakure, chosen his path, made his peace. He’d thought he was ready for whatever Kakashi might ask of him--ready even if Kakashi asked nothing, which would be infinitely harder.
He hadn’t expected this.
Should have, maybe, after Kakashi’s carefully strained reaction last night, but he’d been distracted, and they’d dropped the subject, and then he’d been...more distracted. It had never been in the script, and he hadn’t had a chance to think, and now, kneeling in front of Kakashi with one ankle still wrapped in bed-sheets and the morning air chill on his naked skin, he had no answers at all.
Whatever you want.
There was one.
He closed his eyes for the barest moment. Opened them again, and met Kakashi’s sword-grey gaze. “What d’you want me to do instead?”
“Anything,” Kakashi said instantly. “Be a jounin. Guard the Hokage. Teach. You’d do it better than I would, anyway.”
“Probably,” Ryouma agreed, trying for a grin. “Though can you see any self-respecting ninja parents trusting me with their kids? Leastways if they had you they could go all bragging about how Sharingan no Kakashi’s teaching their brats. I’m probably better off stickin’ with the street kids...”
Who must believe he was dead, now. Along with Tsume, and Kuromaru, and Ginta and Sumire and Katsuko, and Genma and Raidou and Morimoto and Daisuke and Arata and Hiroyuki and all the other friends he’d left behind. He’d thought about the nature of friendship, too, in Sungakure: the lines he’d always drawn, the people he’d let in despite himself. He’d sworn once that he never wanted anyone to mourn him; part of him still hoped they hadn’t, but he thought maybe the kids, at least, would. They weren’t quite jaded enough yet not to hurt when one more adult abandoned them.
Kakashi’d told Ryouma straight off, that day on the riverbank, that he couldn’t let anyone else close enough to hurt. In his own way he was as badly damaged as those bruised, whip-shy kids--and Ryouma had lowered his head and bulled in anyway, accepting the risks and the regrets in exchange for the chance of a real smile. And then he’d gone ahead and proved Kakashi right, and there was a bottle in the fridge and a black mark on his record and an empty apartment in ANBU HQ to show just how well Kakashi hadn’t coped.