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Hot Chocolate

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Nohara Family-Style Hot Chocolate

2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

1 1/2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar

1 Tablespoon Cream

1 Cup Milk

1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Small Pinch Salt

Mix in a pot on the stove, serve piping hot. In the event of wartime rationing, keep emergency portions of chocolate, vanilla, and sugar hidden in the back of the pantry and don’t be afraid to flirt with the milkman for an extra bottle.

Tsubaki is whisking her ingredients together when she hears Mom ask, "Dear? What are you doing?"

Tsubaki doesn’t look up as she answers, "Hot chocolate. For Rin."

She doesn’t need to look at her to see Mom taking a tight handful of her apron and nervously wringing it like she’s trying to squeeze it dry; "Tsubaki, this… Hot chocolate might not help something like this."

Tsubaki pours the hot chocolate into two mugs and turns towards the stairs; "Won’t hurt. And if she doesn’t want it, more for me."

She breezes around the corner and down the hall without another word or a second glance for her mother. She trots resolutely up to the door of their still-shared room, marked by a handmade nameplate decorated with snowflakes and camellias, and knocks with her free hand. No answer.

"Rin? It’s Tsubaki. Can I come in?"

No answer.

"I have hot chocolate."

No answer.

"… Okay, I’m coming in."

Tsubaki opens the door to find Rin sitting in the center of the floor. She’s drawn her knees up to her chest, her headband and sandals strewn about like they’d been violently flung off her person, her wide eyes staring blankly at Tsubaki’s shins. Her arms up to her elbows look red and raw, like she’d scrubbed them with steel wool in scalding water for an hour. Tsubaki stares at her for a few moments longer before sighing, closing the distance, and settling down cross-legged in front of her sister.

She sets Rin’s hot chocolate down between them, takes a sip of her own, and asks, "Wanna talk about it?"

The words are familiar, but the hollow, broken tone Rin mumbles them in is absolutely not; "It’s ninja stuff. You wouldn’t understand."

Tsubaki shuts her eyes and breathes out hard through her nose; "Yeah, but I won’t ever understand if you don’t tell me."

Rin’s eyes slowly drift to meet Tsubaki’s, and as Tsubaki takes another swig she says, "I was tortured non-stop for nearly a day. My best friend died alone and in excruciating amounts of pain in a foreign country and while he was dying I had to transplant his eye into the boy I love’s empty eye socket."

The hot chocolate suddenly tastes like she made it with sour milk. Tsubaki almost chokes while Rin carefully picks up her mug and takes a tiny sip.

Words drop from Tsubaki’s lips, unbidden; "Obito… Obito’s dead?"

Hadn’t he just been over here for dinner, the day before they left for the mission? Hadn’t he just been wedged between her and Dad, shoveling fried rice in his mouth and actually keeping up with the usual Nohara banter’s fast pace and high volume? Hadn’t she just been teasing him about his crush on Rin, right in front of her, making him blush from crown to toe and earning himself an affectionate noogie?

And now he’s just gone. Just like that. She’ll never hear him coming up the street and know he’s either bringing Rin home or about to drag her off on an adventure ever again. She’ll never hear him and Rin squabbling about nothing through the ceiling while she sits and sews in the shop ever again. She’ll never find the little bits and bobs he "accidentally" leaves behind as an excuse to come back ever again. She didn’t even realize how Rin’s team is as much a part of their life as they are hers until now, and now it won’t do her much good. At least Kakashi’s alive, but–

Tsubaki shakes her head, running a hand through her hair; "Where was Minato? Why were you on a mission that deadly by yourselves?!"

Rin’s grip tightens nigh-imperceptibly on her mug; "They needed him on the front lines. Kakashi’s a jōnin, so he was in ch–"

"Kakashi is twelve," Tsubaki cuts in, putting her mug down forcefully enough to spill a few drops of hot chocolate, "He really thought Kakashi would know what to do in a crisis?! That’s insane!"

Rin’s mouth turns in a subtle frown; "It’s what we’re trained for."

"Fuck that, you’re still kids," Tsubaki fires back, "There’s no training in the world that can make up for that!"

"It doesn’t matter how old you are, no one makes good calls when things get really bad," Rin whispers, and Tsubaki knows from cadence to word choice that Minato himself must have said that in some misguided, hasty attempt to make her feel better.

"Okay, that isn’t… Like, that’s not wrong. War is Hell. That’s a phrase for a reason. But that’s not– you’re kids," and Tsubaki’s heart aches at the way Rin looks at her, completely uncomprehending as to why that matters, "Like yeah, even an adult can get pushed to their limits and forget their training and orders and shit and make bad calls but– but you’re kids, Rin, you’re not supposed to…" and Tsubaki’s throat aches as she can’t find the words to explain why it absolutely matters.

Rin isn’t meeting her eyes anymore; "How would you know what kids are supposed to be doing? You grew up fast, too."

"I–! That’s different," Tsubaki sputters, "All Mom and Dad wanted from me was that I be able to sew, read well enough and do enough math to help run a business, and look after you! The only life on the line was yours! And there was still room for me to be stupid and bratty, there weren’t any state secrets riding on me being able to behave myself! I got to do dumb shit like put firecrackers in the Uchiha Clan’s mailboxes and you’re not even allowed to cry! That’s not fair!"

Rin doesn’t say anything, just taking another long sip of her hot chocolate. When she brings the mug down, there are tears sitting heavy at the corners of her eyes. Tsubaki purses her lips, considering her next words carefully.

After a moment, she sighs, "Look, I just… I just know that when kids make mistakes, they aren’t supposed to be life and death. You’re supposed to get a scolding from your parents or a hug, cry about it for however long you want, and learn a lesson. When a kid falls, an adult is supposed to be there to catch them. So as far as I’m concerned, if a kid falls and an adult doesn’t catch them, you don’t blame the kid for falling."

Rin is staring hard at her mug. She’s lost the battle against tears, but her lip is quivering like it’s caught in an earthquake. Tsubaki opens her arms. Rin sets her hot chocolate down and furtively inches across the floor until she’s in hugging range. Tsubaki pulls her in tight, pressing her nose into her hair. It still smells like dust and blood.

Rin’s voice comes out in a high rasp; "I… I’m not supposed to be–"

"Whatever you’re about to say, fuck that," Tsubaki cuts in, squeezing her too hard, "You’re a ninja out there, but in here you’re still my stupid crybaby little sister. You can do whatever you want. If you wanna cry, you cry. I won’t tell anyone."

Rin takes a deep breath in, and lets out a long, ragged sob. She still cries like she did when she was tiny, when scraping her knee or the room being too dark was enough to set her off. Between sobs Rin rambles, about how they couldn’t bring Obito’s body home and the Uchiha will have nothing to cremate, about how Kakashi wouldn’t talk to her or Minato and he hasn’t been this bad since his father killed himself, about how she didn’t sleep during the whole journey home because any time she tried she found herself back in that cave, enduring hours of torture in hopes of a rescue she wasn’t sure would come.

Tsubaki finds herself furious all over again. She stays quiet, rubbing circles into Rin’s back and repeating the mantra This is wrong, this isn’t fair, over and over in her mind.

Rin sleeps in the same futon as Tsubaki for the first time in almost five years. In the morning, Minato Namikaze and Hiruzen Sarutobi will wake to the sound of firecrackers going off in their mailboxes.

One of the many reasons Kakashi has found to like Tsubaki is that she never tries sneaking up on him.

To be fair, most of his shinobi colleagues aren’t really doing it on purpose, more on instinct. Intentional or not, successful or not, it still leaves him little time to prepare for their presence and throws him off balance for the entire conversation that follows. But Kakashi knows Tsubaki has joined him at the memorial stone from the moment he hears the chain link gate jingle open. He has until the sound of her shoes crunching through the grass reaches him to take a few deep breaths, force himself to stand up straighter, and pull himself as far out of his own head as he can manage. He finally turns to look at her when she comes to a stop at his side.

Her bangs are tied up and away from her face in a messy bun and she has a blanket thrown over her nightgown to keep out the evening chill. She’s currently in the middle of unscrewing the top of a thermos, pouring the warm, dark, sweet-smelling liquid into the top, and handing the top to him. Kakashi blinks and takes an exploratory sniff. It’s hot chocolate, rich and dark and mouth-watering.

"So," Tsubaki begins, eyes on the stone, "Who are we visiting tonight?"

Kakashi wraps both hands around the thermos lid, letting the warmth seep into his palms; "Minato and Kushina. Naruto should be home in a few days. I thought they’d want to know."

Tsubaki’s eyes light up, a smile brightening her features; "He is? That’s great! Has he been writing, or did Jiraiya send word?"

"Both. Their letters come at the same time, but Jiraiya’s are official reports so they go straight to Tsunade and Naruto’s languish in my mailbox until Sasuke and I actually remember to check it," Kakashi replies, swirling the hot chocolate around for a few moments, "So… Was this for Rin?"

Tsubaki snorts, "Oh no, this is for me. And now you, so drink up, because I only have one mug and I’m not gonna wait on you forever."

Kakashi lets out a quiet laugh through his nose, pulling his mask down and taking a cautious sip. He swishes the drink around his mouth like mouthwash, drawing a raised eyebrow and bewildered chuckle out of Tsubaki, before swallowing.

"That," Kakashi remarks, "was the single best sip of hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life."

Tsubaki laughs again, full-throated this time; "I’d hope so! That’s a Nohara Family recipe, it stood the test of time for a reason!"

That does track, now that he thinks about it. Their first long mission away Rin had a thermos of hot chocolate that she’d offered him a sip of. He’d said no, because of course he had, and had almost said something unkind about it being a childish indulgence before Obito and Minato had offered to take his place. Rin always brought packed bento for the first day on the road along with her rations, and he had looked on enviously at the home cooking before refusing when she offered him any.

Rin had invited him over for dinner, so many times it all blends together. Of course he never accepted. He’s not sure what he was thinking. He’d wanted to be in her home, be around her family, be next to her, so badly it had been painful. But maybe that’s what he’d liked about it. If Rin’s childish indulgences were her treats and homecooked meals, his was wallowing in pain when he didn’t have to– Wait, "was"? No, is. He’s doing it right now, visiting the memorial stone in the dead of night–

And suddenly Tsubaki’s hand is on his cheek; "Kakashi. Get back out here. Look at me."

He blinks, slow and deliberate, and does as he’s told. Tsubaki’s expression is lightly exasperated, but still fond.

"Alright," she sighs, thumb rubbing the arc below his eye, "Walk me through the spiral."

Kakashi’s voice comes out heavy and dull, like a lump of iron ore; "I thought about how Rin had offered me hot chocolate she’d brought on our first mission, then about how she would offer me her home-cooked bento, then how she would invite me over for dinner, then that I never accepted because I was a masochistic little shit who was too busy feeling sorry for himself to do anything for the people he loved, and I probably would’ve gotten to that being the reason why Obito and Rin and Minato are dead and why Sakura’s gone eventually. That’s where I usually end up."

Tsubaki doesn’t say anything at first. Instead, she maneuvers an arm and half the blanket around his shoulders, then moves him to sit down on the grass with her. She takes the hot chocolate from his hands and takes a sip to justify the silence.

Tsubaki hands the hot chocolate back to Kakashi and asks, "Go on a journey with me, Kakashi. Say Team Seven had been in your shoes during the Kannabi Bridge mission. Say you’d had to go to the front and Sasuke was in charge, and when you got back Naruto was dead because of a bad call Sasuke made. Would you blame him?"

"No," Kakashi says without thinking.

"And say Sakura," Tsubaki has to pause, taking a deep breath and pursing her lips, before continuing, "Say Sakura and Sasuke… ended up in the same situation as you and Rin. Exactly the same. Would you still blame Sasuke for that?"

This time, Kakashi does force himself to think, but the answer is still, "No."

"Why? Remember, the situations are exactly the same. Down to the letter. Why is everything your fault when it’s you, but not Sasuke’s when it’s him?"

Kakashi’s mouth twitches at the corner; "I feel like that’s a rhetorical question."

"Then here’s one last rhetorical question to round things out," Tsubaki takes his hand and looks him in the eye, "Say Sakura left the village, and Sasuke and Naruto were given the assignment to go after her. They got overwhelmed by their emotions, broke ranks, and let her get away because they couldn’t coordinate with their team. Do you blame them for that?"

Kakashi stares at their intertwined fingers; "No."

"And why is that?"

"Because… Because bringing her back shouldn’t have been their responsibility in the first place," Kakashi sighs, squeezing Tsubaki’s hand.

"Exactly," Tsubaki replies, leaning her head on his shoulder, "Just like Kannabi Bridge and saving Rin shouldn’t have been yours. You were just as much a child as she was, as your students are. If Minato didn’t blame you for Obito and Rin, if you wouldn’t blame Sasuke and Naruto for Sakura, then you’re not allowed to blame yourself for making bad calls when you were a child. Those are the rules."

Kakashi finds his lips curling at the corner; "You sure? I’m not as good at following rules as I was back then."

He feels her shrug; "Call them guidelines, then."

Kakashi soaks in the quiet of the night for a few moments more before remarking, "It doesn’t feel fair."

"What doesn’t?"

"You help me move a hell of a lot of my baggage, but I don’t feel like I ever help you with yours," Kakashi replies, "It’s your sister that’s dead, your daughter that’s gone."

Tsubaki just smiles at the memorial stone; "They’re not just mine, Kakashi. They’re yours, too. That baggage is ours. It’s not always a zero sum game."

"Hm," Kakashi hums around another sip of hot chocolate, "I don’t know. Still feels like we could balance the scales a bit more. Want me to help you work through your issues with commitment and relationships caused by your divorce?"

Tsubaki throws her head back with a laugh; "Why Kakashi, is that a proposition?"

Kakashi almost snorts the hot chocolate; "It’d be the world’s worst proposition if it was. 'Hey baby, how about I fuck the abandonment issues out of you?'"

"I have gotten that pickup line before," Tsubaki chuckles, tucking her head into the crook of his neck, "Pretty much word for word, too. Still not as bad as how Suisen introduced himself, but…"

Kakashi grins down at her; "I'll settle for being marginally better conversation than your ex."

Tsubaki shuts her eyes and sighs, "Trust me, you're doing just fine."