Again, a little on the short side. Midterms are coming up soon, so I most likely won't update within the next month.

I'd also like to thank all my readers, and I wish you all a happy New Year.


Kotetsu yawned. Gate duty sure was boring. Normally, he would have found a way to keep himself entertained, but there hadn't been much activity at the gates today. So far, three teams had been dispatched on missions, while only two had returned. He glanced across at his partner to see that his old friend was also experiencing the tell-tale signs of boredom. Izumo was slouched in his chair, lazily gazing skyward, hands fiddling with a kunai- an old habit that he had never been able to drop.

Kotetsu deliberated over whether to start a conversation. On the one hand, he felt a general lack of motivation to do anything, much less talk. On the other hand, standing here watching the gates was really boring. After a few moments, he reached a decision, and was about to open his mouth when he saw Izumo's posture straighten.

"Sakura-san's heading this way. Thought you might want to know."

Kotetsu blinked. He knew his partner had sensory abilities, but Sakura should have been halfway across the village at this point- far outside Izumo's normal range.

"Say, have you been working on your sensing recently?"

Izumo hummed affirmatively. "Thought it would be more entertaining than just sitting here looking at the gates all day long."

Kotetsu's eyes widened. "So, just now, you were practicing your sensing?"

"Yes," Izumo responded with a grin. "I had you fooled, didn't I?"

"You did. Now I just have to figure out a way to one-up you," Kotetsu thought out loud, tapping a finger on his chin. "Maybe I'll start working on an A-rank water jutsu, what do you think?"
"I think that would be impressive, but you don't need to start training on my account."

Kotetsu scoffed. "As if I would let you improve while I'm sitting on my laurels."
"She's about 30 seconds away."

Kotetsu rolled his eyes. "Show-off." A few seconds later, he added, "Thanks for the update."

True to Izumo's prediction, Haruno Sakura burst onto the scene half a minute later. Her entrance was actually eerily similar to Gai's entrances, Kotetsu mused, minus the blinding smiles, the sunset, and the perpetual talk of youth.

"I've done everything you asked, so you have to teach me the water clone jutsu!" Sakura exclaimed, her voice filled with excitement.

"Now slow down young lady," Kotetsu interjected before she barrelled on, "I'll have to see your accomplishments firsthand before showing you anything."

Sakura pouted. "You don't trust me?"

Kotetsu smiled good-naturedly. "I'm a shinobi, brat. Not exactly the best profession to be blindly giving out trust."

"Yes, but you know me. You know I wouldn't lie," Sakura reasoned while giving him her best puppy-eyes look.

Kotetsu shot her an unimpressed look. "Any particular reason you don't want to show me the techniques?"

"Well, if I perform the techniques, I won't have enough chakra left to attempt the water clone jutsu. I've read enough literature to estimate the chakra expenditure for that jutsu, and I think I only have enough juice to attempt it maybe 4 or 5 times on a full tank. Any chakra-based techniques I use now will cut into the reserves I need for the jutsu."

"Okay, I'll show you the technique."

Sakura blinked owlishly, taken aback by the sudden lack of resistance. "That's it? You're not going to make me demonstrate even one technique?"

"Yeah, I know your personality and you wouldn't show up if you hadn't mastered each and every one."

"But what about your whole spiel about shinobi not trusting people?"

"That was a sentence, not a spiel," Kotetsu retorted.

"Fine, you win," Sakura relented, throwing her hands up in defeat.

"T & I, kid. It's in my job description to play mind games. So do you want to learn or not?"

"Of course I want to learn!" she exclaimed, her excitement now back in full force.

Kotetsu chuckled. "That's the spirit!"

He stood up from his chair, stretching his limbs. "We'll need to stay here, though. My shift isn't over yet, and there's supposed to be two chūnin at the gate at every moment."

The Academy student nodded in understanding.

"First, the hand seals. This will probably be the simplest part."

He brought his hands up into the Tiger seal.

Sakura looked underwhelmed. "That's it? Only one seal?"
"I did tell you it was the easiest part. Hand seals do lengthen the amount of time needed to execute jutsu, but they also guide the flow of your chakra. With so few hand seals, you'll need to manipulate your chakra in exactly the right pattern to successfully perform the jutsu. No relying on hand seals to direct your chakra. Besides, with your proficiency with the regular clone jutsu, you should have a good foundation for making clones in general, so you shouldn't have that much trouble learning this jutsu."

"Thanks for doing all of this."

"No problem, kid." He straightened, his face becoming serious. "The next part is the most crucial one: the chakra pattern. So what you do is…"

-X-

"Thanks a lot for teaching me this technique, Kotetsu," Sakura said with a bow, "I know I've said it before, but I really do appreciate you taking the time to do this."

"No need to be so formal. I said I would teach you if you learned the assigned techniques, so I kept my word."

Sakura was hardly the worst student to be teaching. After half an hour of practicing the chakra pattern, Kotetsu had deemed her ready to attempt the technique. This happily coincided with the end of his shift, so the three of them (Kotetsu, Izumo, and Sakura) had headed to a nearby training ground to obtain a source of water. A small river provided the water for her first attempt, and, to Kotetsu's surprise, the water clone had actually taken on a humanoid shape before it collapsed back into the river. After a few more attempts and a little troubleshooting, the water had taken on the right form, but lacked color, and could only be maintained for a fraction of a second. At this point, the girl was exhausted, and Kotetsu decided they could continue her training once her chakra was replenished.

"Tell you what, I'll bring food next time!" Sakura offered.

Well, never let it be said that Kotetsu turned down free food.

"Bring dango. With syrup. And at least 12 sticks."

His student nodded amiably, knowing that a few sticks of dango was a small gift compared to the skills that she was learning in return. And despite what Kotetsu had said, he really had no obligation to teach her anything. He was a high-ranking ninja, at least when compared to her, so his time could probably be put to better use completing other activities, like missions or training. Not to mention, she wasn't from a shinobi clan, so he couldn't be doing this simply to curry favor with a clan head.

"You got it, Kotetsu," Sakura said with a mock solute. "But maybe I should call you Kotetsu-sensei now?"

"If you wish," he replied. "And as your sensei, your homework is to get some rest so you have chakra to practice at your best tomorrow."

-X-

Kakashi slid calmly onto a stool at the counter of the small booth and placed an order for miso ramen with extra pork slices.

He had been on leave for the past few days after a lengthy mission and a short stay in the hospital. He probably wouldn't get a mission for another few days, since he departed from his hospital room as soon as he woke up. The medics, now used to his escape tactics, had come up with a countermeasure: tell the Hokage not to assign him missions.

So it was that he ended up wandering the streets with his beloved book in hand, unsure of what to do now that his usual cycle of mission, training, sleep was broken. He could be improving his taijutsu right now, but his ribs were still aching faintly, and he knew not to push his body in his current state. He briefly entertained the thought of going back to the hospital to get his ribs checked, but then decided against it. Uh, hospitals.

He could also be eating at home right now. Kakashi didn't want to brag, but he was a superb cook. The Sharingan wasn't just handy for copying jutsu- it also allowed him to memorize enough recipes to fill up an entire cookbook. But today, his apartment had felt just a little too lonely, his footsteps echoing just a little too loudly in the silence, so he had left the comfort of his apartment to try out the restaurant that a chūnin had recommended.

A bowl of steaming hot ramen was placed before him, and Kakashi offered a thanks to the cook. He inhaled deeply. The smell was heavenly. He deftly broke apart his chopsticks and dug in. A small genjutsu would shield his face from the nearby civilians. To them, it would seem like he was eating his ramen through the mask. Knowing that nobody in the restaurant would be able to break the illusion, he savored his food instead of wolfing it down like he usually did.

He placed the bowl down gently, satisfied with his decision to eat out. Cheapskate he might be, but life was short, and he could afford to treat himself once in a while.

Leaving a handful of bills and coins on the counter (enough to cover his ramen, plus a generous tip), he wandered out of the store and in the direction of a particular training ground.

As expected, Gai was there, performing handstand push-ups as a part of an outrageously challenging workout that could only be designed by the Green Beast himself.

"My youthful rival!" Gai shouted upon his entrance. "It is a wondrous day indeed when I am in the presence of your hip, cool attitude!"

"Yes. That's great," Kakashi replied without missing a beat. He had gotten to Gai's antics. "But, I am here for a reason other than to grace you with my hip, cool attitude."

"And what might that reason be!?" Gai exclaimed, his teeth flashing brilliantly.

"It is to inform you that I have lost bet #34. I met someone who did read your book, so I came here to concede my defeat."

Gai's eyes were filled with manly tears, and his body was shaking with a tension just waiting to be unleashed.

Kakashi stated what Gai could not say. "So you are now officially in the lead."

"YES!" Gai jumped up, both hands in the air. "My Eternal Rival! How Very Hip and Cool of you to Honestly Admit Your Defeat!"

"Don't mention it, Gai."