Author's note: Yeah, I know it's been most of a year. No, I don't respond well AT ALL to "update now" demands. I've been working a more than full time job plus two half time jobs in a failed attempt to be able to catch up with the speed with which housing prices have gone up in my area; so I'm still renting, still bitter, and exhausted from chasing what looks uncatchable. And I could've had this posted in February, BEFORE my hard drive melted down and ate 30 pages of this, except for how cheesed off I was by someone making death threats and swearing at me. So I decided to not post it then, and then my hard drive died before I backed it up, and it's taken me until now to get enough time and enough sanity to rewrite it. So that's the obligatory rant out of the road.

On the brighter side, go read SelfReliance (which was probably originally Self-Reliance but this site eats punctuation like there's no tomorrow) by Imbrium Iridium (here) aka TheNinjaKitty (DA/LJ). I am now dead of the ubercute! (And therefore logically must be writing this as an undead sparkles-addicted zombie! Go CFUD!ZombieHaku! er, anyway.) I swear she stuck a Secret Ninja Wiretap into my brain, read out an idea I was vaguely toying with for the sequel to this, and then she went and wrote it much better and much funnier than I could! (...whisper: thus relieving me of the need to write it myself! I love it when that happens... hee hee hee... my version was going to be much more warped and angsty and Sasuke-tormented, and Imbrium's is just plain adorable. Go read. Really! I think she's beaten me for reviews already with half as many chapters, which says something!)

And it really shouldn't be eleven months until the next chapter of this, if I have any luck at all. This is 25 pages because I've got four more scenes to write that were theoretically going to go into this chapter and so far each of them has turned out in the order of 15-20 pages and I don't know what the maximum cap on chapter length is here, but I figured I'd pick a scene break and call it a chapter break just to keep from having a possibly 60 to 80 page chapter going on... so there should be more soon. But I've learned better than to make any promises about when! (sweatdrop) I'd been meaning to post this yesterday, because it was my birthday and I wanted to give the people who'd stuck with it this long a kind of birthday present in reverse, but it got to be past midnight and I missed the date stamp anyway and I figured "close enough."

I'm going to try to repost everything on LJ just so that there can be SOMEWHERE that has the unexpurgated karaoke scene (one of the real demoralizers of my entire spring was having to hack all the karaoke out of chapter 21, and I'm still in mourning for it, so I'm going to do my best to get it posted somewhere that it won't need to be hacked to bits.) And LJ's also going to be my grudge-insurance, because earlier this spring someone tried to get me banned from this site by reporting a slew of my stories, and I'd really like to have backups in case the next person who tries it manages to succeed. I don't want to get banned; I'm trying my best to follow all the new rules as they come down the pike; but other people have reported that their stories were turned in for "violations" that weren't even true and they got banned and their stories deleted, and so I don't know if following the rules is enough anymore. I hope it is, I don't want to leave this place entirely, but... enlightened paranoia and all.

End of rant, on with story...


Side Effects
Chapter 23

A few hours after Kakashi had left for his shopping spree, Iruka woke to the sounds of someone being violently ill, and the sounds of someone else moaning. With a yawn and a small tired sigh, he untangled his feet from the blankets and walked quietly toward the bathroom.

Sakura was the one emptying her stomach into the toilet; remembering entirely too clearly what it had felt like a few months earlier, Iruka got a washcloth and wet it, and crouched by her side to wait for the latest round of spasms to ease before he touched her cheek with the cool damp fabric. The girl made a pathetic little whimper, eyes screwed tightly shut and one hand clutching her head.

"Iruka-sensei, I'm going to die..."

He washed her face for her with a careful hand, and said ruefully, "Believe it or not, a hangover really isn't life-threatening, however much it might feel like it at the moment."

"You don't understand," she moaned. "I want to die... have you got a kunai? Will you just cut my head off for me so it stops hurting?"

Deciding it was best not to answer that one at the moment, Iruka quietly guided her towards leaning her forehead against the cool, slightly damp water tank, and got a glass of water for her. "Rinse your mouth," he said, "and then sip at it, a little at a time. I'll be back in a minute..."

Sakura clutched at Iruka's sleeve. "Don't leave!"

"You've gotten dehydrated, so I need to get a little sugar and salt into your water," he said. "And I need to check on Naruto too. I'll be right back, I promise."

With a groan, Sakura started beating her forehead against the toilet's water tank. It only lasted about two thunks before she gave up, whimpering again; with another sigh, Iruka headed downstairs.

Naruto was curled up on the couch with his face buried in the crevice between the pillows, emitting a series of strange half-muffled moans.

"Naruto? Naruto, don't do that, you don't want to suffocate yourself--"

"Turn off the sun!" he groaned.

Iruka bit his lip to keep from laughing at that request, because the poor boy wouldn't have taken it well. He couldn't turn off the sun, of course, but hanging a heavy blanket over the window blinds seemed to serve almost the same purpose. It was only a few minutes' mixing to fill two glasses with water and stir a pinch of salt and sugar and a few drops of lemon juice into them, to make it easier for dehydrated bodies to accept the liquid; it took a little coaxing to extract Naruto's head from the sofa, but when he was huddled around the cup instead of away from it, Iruka headed back upstairs to check on Sakura.

She'd crawled back into her bedding, the wrong direction, so that her head was at the dark spot at the bottom of the blankets and her feet were sprawled across the pillow.

"Sakura-kun?"

"Nnngh."

"Sakura-kun, you really should drink this..."

"...go 'way..."

Iruka considered for a moment, then untucked the blanket at the bottom of the futon and tugged so that he could find enough of her head to be able to locate her mouth. "I promise this will make you feel better soon," he said, offering the cup. "Do you want help drinking it?"

"Go away and let me die in peace..."

"You're not going to die," Iruka said, rather tartly. "Now, I can either help you drink this or I can make you drink this; which would you prefer?"

One of Sakura's hands wormed its way out of the blankets and took the glass.

After he'd gotten a reasonable amount of fluid into the hangover-stricken children, Iruka went looking for Sasuke, who was no longer curled up under the kitchen table. He wasn't anywhere in the house either; after a moment's thought, he went outside and looked up. Sure enough, the boy was sitting on the roof, wearing an expression that said an interruption wouldn't be welcome. Iruka sighed again, rubbing the hollow of his back almost reflexively against the ongoing ache there, and headed back inside to find a corner and a book to read while he waited for Kakashi to come back with the groceries and Sasuke to come back from whatever brooding he'd found necessary.

It really shouldn't have taken hours for Kakashi to come up with breakfast food, Iruka thought, opening a cookbook to look for recipes that were easy to digest for hangover victims. But since it was Kakashi, he wasn't really all that surprised, either.

Iruka only realized he'd dozed off when he woke again -- only his cookbook was gone, and had been replaced by a fluffy warm blanket and pillow. He blinked around drowsily, digging a hand out of the blanket to rub at sleep-fogged eyes, trying to focus on a pink and blue blur...

...a pink, blue, and silver blur...

"Good morning!" Kakashi said brightly, bending over with a breakfast tray in his hands. "Feeling any more rested now, love? Here, let me help you sit up--"

With a flurry of blankets, Iruka found that he'd scrambled away and was shivering with his back pressed into a corner before he was even consciously aware of moving.

"...Where is Kakashi and what did you do with him?"

Kakashi didn't even blink. "I'm being good for two weeks, remember?"

"But... but you... but...!" Iruka gestured helplessly, overwhelmed.

"Hmm...?" Kakashi glanced down at the tray in his hands, the rose in the vase, and the frilly pink apron adorned with hearts and teddy bears. "...Oh, this? I just thought it would help me remember to be good if I make sure to dress the part. And what's more wholesome than being a good homemaker?"

Despite Kakashi's best intentions, a twitch of a grin was starting to show through; he was clearly too used to relying on the mask as he said, a little too wide-eyed and earnest, "Isn't the apron just adorable? I found it at the kitchen shop, along with the little angel cookie cutters; take a look at the toast..."

"Eeeeyyyyyaaaagggggghhhhh--!"

Sitting at the breakfast table after Kakashi had patiently coaxed him down from his terrorized clinging to the top of the nearest bookshelf, Iruka stared down in horror at the little angel toasts and tried not to whimper.

They even had little raisin eyes. It was terrifying.

I should have known better. I should have thought. Leave it to Hatake Kakashi to turn 'being good' into an act of psychological warfare. Nobody else could manage to be so aggressively good at people...

Kakashi had insisted that a happy family ate meals together, and had rounded up all three of the children and coerced them into chairs at the kitchen table.

Naruto was still too busy clutching his head and whimpering about the sun to notice anything unusual about his plate.

Sasuke was staring down at the toast with Sharingan-wheels spinning in his eyes and a spasmodic twitch at the temple.

Sakura, hand over her eyes to block out the light, was fumbling around her plate with one hand trying to find something edible. Her fingers landed in the jelly; despite herself she looked through her fingers at that, then realized she was sticking her fingers through angel-shaped toast.

Then she looked over at Kakashi to protest, and focused on the apron.

"Eeeeeyyyyyaaaagggggghhhhh--!"

Naruto looked up at the scream. "Huh? Oh... good morning, Sakura-chan!"

"What the bloody hell's so good about it?"

"Well, the breakfast is good," Kakashi said perkily. "Made with all my love and devotion--" There were even sparkles dancing in the air around him. Iruka didn't want to think about how he'd come up with the jutsu to manage that.

Somehow, Sakura seemed to be impervious to the sparkles. "And YOU! ANGEL TOAST? What the HELL--"

This was shaping up to be quite a morning-after, Iruka thought, rubbing his temples against the wash of deja vu as he watched Kakashi holding up a plate of cute bunny-shaped orange slices to try to coax Sakura down from her trembling perch on the top of the refrigerator.

The sound of someone pounding on the front door was simply icing on the cake.

Trying to ignore the sound of Sakura's high-pitched, almost hyperventilating whimpers and the sway-and-glitter of Kakashi's sparkles-no-jutsu dancing over the walls like the world's most horrible, seasickness-inducing wallpaper, Iruka made sure to pull the kitchen door firmly closed before hurrying towards the front of the schoolhouse.

"Yes, just a minute, I'm coming--"

Iruka opened the door to find several of his students' parents standing on the doorstep, apparently in the midst of a loud argument with each other. Keeping a polite smile fixed on his face, Iruka hastily scanned the mental list of potential disasters that could be in the making.

I don't know what trouble the three of them got into beyond the drinking once Sasuke and I left -- I don't know who owned the clown game Naruto beheaded, might be him -- I don't know who owned the bar -- I don't know who might have reported them to the authorities for being underage -- I don't know what happened AT the bar – yes, this is going to be far, FAR too long a day on four hours of sleep...

Trying to keep the nervousness out of his voice, Iruka started on a polite introduction, but only made it through "May I hel-" before the man who'd been pounding on the door had stormed indoors and was shouting in his face.

"How long did you plan on teaching our children like this, eh? Teaching them your disgusting 'lifestyle choices' -- how you ever got hired in the first place is beyond me, you--"

Iruka felt his knees giving way, but couldn't seem to summon the control to do anything about it. He felt as though he'd just been punched, as though his throat had knotted shut and the air had turned to acid in his lungs.

What -- how -- who noticed? --How COULD anyone notice? There are no Hyuuga or Uchiha here, not beyond Sasuke; how did anyone else see through the jutsu to see that I'm a man in disguise? Why would they look? Who suspected we were ninja? Who discovered it-- how long ago-- who told them...?

Someone was helping Iruka into a chair, making little fussing sounds with a furrowed, unhappy brow, and the words being shouted at each other around his head didn't even make sense. The first thing to do was to relearn to breathe.

None of these people are ninja -- or if they are, what would they gain by revealing that my body is a disguise? How could they reveal me without revealing themselves-- there's no proof they can point to in public, no one's tried to dispel the jutsu, I'm sealed now anyway -- but -- we were never given the details, maybe one of them has another bloodline like the Hyuuga or the Uchiha, maybe that's why we're -- but -- but in that case we've been here eight months, I've been pregnant for half a year, why NOW-- what changed? Why--?

"What's going on here?"

Iruka clutched at the sound of that voice like a lifeline. Kakashi was still wearing the apron and smiling like their own portable indoor sunbeam, but the tinge of warning in his voice was still audible.

"You!" the door-pounder spat at Kakashi. "You lazy good-for-nothing, couldn't find a woman of your own race who'd have you--"

"--What?" Iruka wheezed, now completely poleaxed.

"You bigoted idiot," someone else shouted from the midst of the pack, "her race is the least of our questions--"

"Iruka-sensei," said a gentle voice right beside his ear, "ignore them, ignore them all, most of us think that there's nothing wrong with your relationship with Hatake-san--"

"--most of who? I most certainly do have a problem with a woman pregnant out of wedlock teaching my children about--"

"They've told us that they're married--"

"--neither of them wears rings, she hasn't taken his name--"

"--that lazy-assed slum-picker couldn't get a woman of his own race so he went and picked up some stray wog bitch from the dog pound and they're--"

None of them saw anyone move, but suddenly the last speaker's head rocked back and he hit the floor like a sack of grain. The thud of the body hitting the floor seemed to silence all the hysterical accusations with startling efficiency.

Kakashi's smile was on the verge of manic; on the tray he was still holding as though it were about to be used as evidence in a trial, the jelly on the angel toasts was swaying very slightly, and the tea in the cups was a bit rippled, though not a drop had spilled.

"Excuse me; I'm not quite sure I heard him correctly before whatever drugs he's clearly been overindulging in caught up with him," Kakashi said, terrifyingly mild-voiced. "Would someone care to explain what precisely you people are doing here?"

There was a long, long moment of silence.

"He said it badly, Hatake-san," one of the parents said, looking at the body on floor. "Very, very badly."

"Yes," Kakashi agreed, showing far too many teeth. "He did. Care to clarify?"

There were a couple of desperate-sounding thumps coming from the other side of the kitchen door, as though the three inside were trying and (mercifully) failing to break it down; Iruka silently thanked the gods that Kakashi had had the wit to keep the children out of this.

He was slowly starting to catch up with the frenetic pace of events, and he put both hands over his mouth to keep from bursting into somewhat hysterical laughter that would have been wildly inappropriate.

Is that all they have to hold against me? I could understand being horrified by learning their town harbors a trained team of assassins, living undercover as their children's teacher and her family... or by the knowledge of a male assassin posing as a schoolteacher and mother... but...

...'stray wog bitch' -- is that truly what they think when they look at me...?

...is that ALL they have against me, against us...? Nothing about assassins in their midst, nothing about a man living as a woman, just the shade of my skin, and my name, and rings...?

The meek-voiced apologist pushed a pair of wire-framed spectacles up his nose, and coughed a little apologetically, and said to the tops of his shoes, "Our children have told us for months about Umino-sensei and her baby, of course. It's just that until last night, not all of us had seen you both together, you see..."

"And there we were, dancing in public -- ah, the scandal of it, I see now," Kakashi said, far too helpfully. "Of course you're worried about the scandal of your schoolteacher's erotic dancing with me in the village square. Even six months baby-round and covered from shoulders to knees, obviously a mere glimpse of her luscious golden body is going to tempt any red-blooded man into a frenzy..."

"Kakashi!" Iruka yelped, feeling his face burn.

"It's not that the two of you were dancing with the group in the square, Hatake-san," the apologist murmured, adjusting his glasses again. "Of course you can dance like the rest of us--"

"It's nice to hear that I qualify as 'like the rest of you' despite the fact that I'm so pigmentationally challenged when compared to my gorgeous golden dancing-seductress here."

"Hatake-san--" The apologist took off his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Hatake-san, Sanada-san is... well, a 'traditionalist' is putting it more kindly than it deserves. He doesn't speak for all of us. The rest of us -- we don't mind her race. We wouldn't have hired her if we did."

"Really?" Kakashi asked, wide-eyed. "I'd thought that perhaps your superintendent was blind, and that was how she'd slipped past your screening thus far."

The apologist flushed a deep red, and said, "We have no quarrels with Umino-sensei herself, by herself. The question that has been raised is more to do with, er, Umino-sensei as a plural--"

Kakashi blinked innocent eyes toward Iruka's stomach, and said, "Good heavens, when did that happen? Yes, she does seem to be more plural than usual at the moment; I wonder how long that's been that way? You say none of you noticed until last night?"

"Hatake-san," another of the men said stiffly. "The issue here is that... your name is Hatake, and hers is Umino. And you don't wear rings. And many of us are concerned about what Umino-sensei might be teaching our children about the importance of marriage to the father of a woman's child--"

"Especially when the father is a lazy albino good-for-nothing and the mother isn't?" Kakashi asked, still holding the tray full of angel toasts and speaking as cheerfully as though he were commenting on the weather.

"Hatake-san -- Sanada spoke very badly."

"I'm just making sure we all know what we're talking about. So the full list of your issues are that we don't wear rings, we don't share a name, and I sunburn too easily for her? And that she dances so beautifully, of course--"

"Hatake-san..."

Still wearing the terrifying chirpy-homemaker face over the pink apron, Kakashi said far too brightly, "I'm sorry I was so thoughtless! Trust me, I fully appreciate how beautiful and desirable she is. Of course I should have brought blindfolds to distribute, and hankies for the nosebleeds! Silly, silly me; I'm so thoughtless some days. Do any of you need blood transfusions? I'm sure I can round up some volunteers--"

Iruka's mouth was opening and closing silently, trying to come up with some non-cover-blowing way to remind Kakashi that 'blood transfusion volunteers' were not rounded up by nailing his students' parents to the wall with senbon and collecting what helpfully spilled out.

"Look, are you married or aren't you?" one of the others demanded, impatient with the apologist's faltering of the interrogation. "And if you aren't, what are you going to do about it? She's our children's schoolteacher, for God's sake--"

Kakashi turned toward the new speaker, beaming. "Ah -- the condensed version! Thank you, sir. Much appreciated!" He set the tray down and walked over and shook the man's hand, despite his victim's startled and uncomfortable attempts to pull away.

...But there weren't any screams of pain, Iruka realized, with a sort of giddy relief; perhaps the vow to be good was holding anyway, despite the extreme and undue provocation.

Kakashi walked over and set a hand on Iruka's shoulder, and a thumb was tracing scout-kanji into the back of his shoulderblade: don't blink.

"All of you are parents, of course, so surely you understand what it means that she's in her final trimester now," he said to the crowd, practically sparkling with indulgent pride. "I keep telling her she's not overweight, and of course she's not; she's simply gaining what the baby needs. So her rings have gotten too tight to be comfortable. There wasn't a point in resizing them for a couple of months, and then resizing them again."

The woman who'd come to Iruka's rescue with the chair swatted her husband across the head and said, "I told you that she wasn't wearing her rings because of her pregnancy! But would any of you listen?"

"That doesn't explain why he isn't wearing them--"

As the crowd degenerated into arguments and accusations again, Kakashi squeezed Iruka's shoulder in gratitude that he hadn't twitched too visibly at the excuse, smiling fondly down... and Iruka had to resist the urge to try to tug the collar of his shirt up to his chin, because he knew Kakashi had chosen to stand right behind his shoulder for the view of the 'landscape.'

Finally one of them clapped his hands sharply together, and took the interrogation by force. "So you're saying you are married?"

"Yes, of course we are. We took our vows in a private ceremony last year, witnessed by four of the lords of Fire Country," Kakashi said, with such vast and sober piety that Iruka choked, wheezed, and desperately clamped a hand over his mouth to keep from bursting into laughter.

He had a sinking suspicion he knew exactly which day Kakashi meant -- it had involved an extremely drunk jounin proclaiming his love from the top of the Hokage mountain, pouring a libation over their stone skulls as a 'wedding toast,' and collapsing in a snoring heap before Iruka could even summon the coordination to say yes, no, or beat him over the head. Which made it at best a half-complete mock-wedding -- but at least it gave him a grasp of a date to use as an anniversary; and he'd thought Kakashi was too drunk to remember the event at all--

"And you still haven't gotten around to legally changing her name?" the impatient one demanded.

"We haven't because we don't intend to," Kakashi said, all earnest sincerity. "Both of us are orphans. We'd like for both of our family names to continue. So some of our children will have her name, and some will have mine." He bent forward and cupped a hand against the curve of Iruka's belly, and said, "Of course this one will have your name, love. You're the one doing all the hard work carrying him; it's only fair that it's your turn first!"

Iruka was still trapped making voiceless goldfish-faced gasping expressions, torn between what do you mean, 'some of our children?' I don't remember agreeing to do this again, let alone several times! or what do you mean, my name? Your family already has two legends to continue; I'm just a schoolteacher! or the general all-purpose howl of frustration which was sounding better and better all the time.

"That's awfully convenient, " the impatient one growled, with half-lidded eyes. "So where are the wedding pictures? Any kind of visible proof?"

"Do you take all of your wedding pictures with you on vacation?" Iruka demanded, his voice cracking a little high in panic. "Albums are heavy to pack--"

And meanwhile his mind was spinning through they'd be within their rights to demand a certified marriage certificate, we'd have to contact the Hokage for that, which would mean admitting a tie to Konoha-- damn it, why didn't Naruto's graffiti talents ever extend to forgery? We should have expected they'd demand proof sooner or later, rather than simply taking our word for it -- I wonder if Sakura-kun's seen enough paperwork in the Hokage's office to fake a marriage certificate--

The indignant woman hit her husband over the head again, and said, "Iruka-sensei, never mind him, he's going to get an earful when we get home! Just show him your wedding rings and hopefully we'll be able to shut him up and get the lot of them out of your hair."

"I, er, I think they're upstairs," Iruka said hastily, his mind scrambling for anything small and circular that would hold enough of a transformation to support a tactile inspection. Kunai-hilts? Or -- milk jug rings or-- I'll find something--

--except that Kakashi had already tossed a little velvet box to the skeptic.

"Do you want it signed, sealed, and notarized too?" he asked, with an edge under the too-angelic tone that would have had any sensible person running to hide.

"That's three rings," the skeptic said, blinking into the box.

Kakashi held up an empty hand, and said, "When she couldn't wear her rings any longer, I put mine with hers, to keep them company. It would have been cruel to flaunt that I could still wear my rings when she's so uncomfortable about her changing appearance."

"And would you swear to that in a court?"

"In a heartbeat," Kakashi replied, without blinking. "I'll swear it to you right here. If you want the two of us to have our rings on hand for inspection at will, I'm sure I can find a jeweler to sell us a couple of necklaces we can put them on; but my ring won't touch my finger until hers can as well. It's a sensitive topic for her, the way that she looks lately. Ask Satori-san about the difficulties they had convincing my wife that she could be fit to be seen splashing in the pond with the children, or the trauma of shopping for a dress and tidying her hair and make-up for the festival, since you won't take my own word for it."

The skeptic looked around for some more support; but the apologist was trying not to stare at the one on the floor who'd started twitching and frothing at the mouth, and the skeptic's wife had balled up a fist that looked to have a near magnetic attraction to his skull, and the others were industriously looking anywhere else.

"Really," Kakashi said, far too ingenuous for anyone's good. "It's a long trip back to Fire Country, and I don't want to leave her alone for very long now, but if you're that concerned about the legal status of our private and intimate behavior, well -- some of our former students came to visit during the festival. We can ask one of them to run back to our home village and request that the lord make a signed and sealed copy of our birth certificates, our marriage certificates -- while we're at it, why don't we get a copy of Iruka's teaching certificate and diploma? After all, you only have our word for it that she's certified to teach as well."

"Hatake-san--"

"Oh-- and immunization records too! Wouldn't want her to be able to transmit chicken pox or measles or such to the class. Will that be good enough? Although I suppose full hospital records would really be better, to demonstrate that we're not harboring any infectious diseases -- of course, we should get those signed and notarized too, as proof that they haven't been tampered with in transit..."

A couple of them had slipped out the door while Kakashi was so helpfully itemizing his list of things that their word wasn't good enough for. A third wasn't as lucky, and tripped over a pair of sandals when trying to make his quiet escape.

"Really, we can have it all certified if you'd like," Kakashi said, looking far too saintly in the pink fluffy teddy bear apron, and there was a suspicious overabundance of sparkles in the sunbeam that shone through the front window and warmed the chair Iruka was sitting in. "It's good training for the children to run for days on end. Physical exercise, you know. It may take a month or two to get everything signed and sealed; the lord is a very busy person. But I'm sure that if we explained the circumstances, and your concerns about Iruka's fitness to share a room and instructional lectures with your children, surely they'd make an exception and hasten the bureaucratic paperwork--"

"That's... it's all right, Hatake-san; we'll accept your word for it," the apologist said. "The most important thing here is that you teach our children to value marriage, of course, and it seems that you do value it yourselves, so it seems that our issues -- our reasonable issues, that is," he amended, looking at Sanada's twitching body on the floor-- "have been addressed."

He took the box from the skeptic and handed it back to Iruka with a slight, apologetic bow; then he turned for the door, and started herding the lingerers out.

"Ah, leaving so soon?" Kakashi said, cheerfully waving fingertips after them. "Would you mind taking the rabid one with you? Or at least drag him out into the schoolyard if you don't want him either -- it's just that he's frothing on our floor, you see. Given the delicacy of Iruka's condition, we wouldn't want her to come into contact with whatever it is he's contracted... thank you, very kind of you..."

Kakashi closed the door much too gently, and stood leaning against it for a long, silent moment. Once the room was empty, the pure, ragged, barely-suppressed power crackling out of him made Iruka's throat seize up, and made it hard to breathe around the tension in the air.

"Kakashi," Iruka said, and couldn't keep the terror out of his voice despite his best efforts. "Whatever you did to that man -- he isn't going to die, is he?"

"What would I have done to him?" Kakashi asked, not turning around; the sheer rage pouring off him was enough to make Iruka's blood run cold. "Clearly frothing mad, lying there on the floor foaming and twitching, someone should take him to a hospital--"

"Kakashi." Iruka's voice broke despite his best intentions; he swallowed hard and tried again. "Tell me what you did to him isn't going to be fatal. Please."

"Drunken jounin party pranks," Kakashi said. "He'll be fine. ...In a few weeks."

Iruka let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and let his head fall back against the wall. "Thank you."

"...Not going to scold me for the 'in a few weeks' part?"

Kakashi's attempt at the harmless-sheepish-diversion voice was far less convincing when that earth-shattering rage was still seething through the room, making the air itself all but crackle.

"I thought you'd killed him," Iruka breathed. "Thank you for his life."

Kakashi lifted one shoulder in a stiff half-shrug, digging one hand through his hair. "If monumental stupidity around ninja was that fatal a mistake to make, the world's population would be much, much lower than it is." He hesitated for a moment, then asked, "Are you all right?"

Iruka considered for a moment, realizing that his hands were trembling around the little velvet box. "I'm not sure," he said, quietly. "I've... um... never seen you this angry before."

"I know," he murmured into the doorframe. "I'm sorry. This is why I don't let myself lose my temper in combat. --But this wasn't even combat; the bastard had no excuse to--" He stopped himself short, and placed one flat palm very carefully against the wooden doorframe, because the alternative would have had his fist going straight through it.

Then Kakashi drew a tense, shaking breath, and turned, and smiled that terrifying homemaker-smile with too many teeth, and tried again. "I should get a couple of necklaces, don't you think?"

Iruka looked down at the box in his hands to avoid having to see the futile, trapped rage still simmering behind Kakashi's eyes, boiling over without any acceptable outlet. It was a well-worn box, and Iruka fumbled the lid open, hearing himself chatter through sheer nerves.

"These are good -- down to the worn patches in the velvet even. I can't even tell they're an illusion; what were they to begin with? How'd you fix them so solidly in this shape without any time to prepare?" He folded his hands together in a couple of quick seals and murmured, "Kai."

Nothing happened.

Iruka blinked, and then blinked again, and said, "They're real?"

"Yeah."

A moment later, he realized why. "Oh," he breathed. "They belonged to your parents, didn't they. That makes sense -- they're more durable to carry with you than a photograph, and you're hardly easy on your uniforms... I hadn't thought that you would bring something so important to you on a deep cover mission like this, or that you'd carry it on you constantly like that, but... you're more sentimental than I realized, aren't you?" With a rueful smile, he added, "Underneath all the underneaths, finding something like this... I'll have to tease you, won't I."

Kakashi didn't respond; the air was still thick with power spinning without an outlet, and so Iruka took the man's ring from the box and looked at it more closely. "They're pretty," he said. "I don't remember what my parents' rings looked like. I don't think they ever found enough of them to find rings... I should ask the jewelers in Konoha, don't you think? Someone might remember." He turned the ring in his fingers, and said, "Did your father wear his on a chain? It barely looks worn. No scratches or anything, it's remarkable..."

Kakashi made a noncommital sound.

"Do you want to go outside and destroy something?" Iruka asked. "That treestump left over from the sudden-kitchen-remodeling could stand to be knocked down; I'm always worried when the schoolkids start climbing on it, some of the corners are jagged and -- er-- should I shut up and just let you go hit some things already?"

"My timing," Kakashi said fiercely, "is horrible. All my life. Too young to save my father, too slow to save Obito, too late to stop the Hokage, too late even to put out the burning eggs or shut up that idiot's bigoted mouth; too late and too slow for every damn thing that's ever mattered--"

"Kakashi...?"

The kids had stopped banging on the kitchen door. Iruka hoped this was a good sign, or at least not a horrifically bad one, but he didn't have the spare concentration to deal with it just then.

Kakashi dug both hands through his thick silver thatch of hair, and then dropped his head back against the wall with a solid thunk, and said, conversationally, half to the ceiling, "There's something I was meaning to ask you last night. Actually I've been meaning to ask since we got here, but it was never quite the right time -- anyway, I thought the festival would be nice, you know? Nice quiet evening, we got to dance, I got to watch you eating ice cream--"

"Don't remind me about how you watch people eat ice cream," Iruka begged. "The parents would fire me on the spot."

Kakashi chuckled, and padded softly across the room, and sat on his heels by Iruka's chair. "Yeah. Well. There was a question I was going to ask you, by the lake. Except then there was Naruto, and one thing turned into another, and then the beanbags thing, and then it all went to hell, and... I can't actually think how I could have come up with worse timing, now that I think about it. But it doesn't get any better, does it? It might have if I'd just had a little more nerve last night, if I'd just been a little faster, if Naruto had just waited a couple more minutes, but... there's always something, isn't there? I was going to ask sooner, but first we found out the hands-on way that it was even possible for people living in sexy-no-jutsu to get pregnant, which I probably wouldn't have believed unless I'd seen it, which we are seeing of course, but it was still a hell of an adjustment for both of us, and -- and then there was the exploding kitchen, and then you were mad at me for something or other, and then..." He stopped, and sighed, and bent his head to rest on to Iruka's shoulder. "And then there was last night, and then there was this morning, and damn but I want to strangle that bigoted ass, I want to strangle all of them really--"

"Kakashi," Iruka said, cautious, "what are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about how I'm a coward with terrible timing," he said. "Horrible timing. The worst. Always, always too late..."

"And your lateness is new somehow?" Iruka asked lightly. Kakashi snorted.

"No! No, it's not new! That's the problem! ...That's always been the problem."

"I'm not sure how even perfect timing could have done anything about the parents this morning," Iruka said. "And really, I... I don't mind... what that one said. I'd rather have heard it, to know that there are people who think that of me, than not to know at all; this way I can expect it, I can try to prepare, try to think of ways to deal with it-- I wouldn't be surprised if no one's taught these children about different races, really; they're all fair-skinned, even our three genin are, and my family and the Second Hokage certainly aren't typical of Konoha either. I suppose Asuma-san gets his coloring through the Second's family... I really don't know why it had never occurred to me that someone might object to us for that reason. Of all the reasons that people might object to us, that one never even occurred to me. But now that we have been warned, we can try to counteract that prejudice for the children; so I'm oddly glad that he said as much as he did, I really am--"

Kakashi finally put his fingertips to Iruka's lips. "That's not what I'm talking about," he said, a bit huskily.

"...It's not?"

"No."

The air pressure was still oppressive, charged with swirling currents of energy that all but crackled through the room. Kakashi seemed to be having difficulty breathing too; he took another deep shaky breath and blew it all out, then tried again.

The kitchen had been almost too blessedly silent, for too long; there was something squeaking in there. "Kakashi," Iruka said gently, "the kids-- don't you think it's time we let the kids back out?"

"It can wait two more minutes," Kakashi replied, distracted. "Can't it? Just two minutes, please--"

...That wasn't squeaking.

Suddenly, it all made a horrible, horrible amount of sense. The charge in the air, the spinning to the power, now being met with crackling -- chirping--

Their eyes widened at the same moment.

"Oh, hell, no," Kakashi breathed, and launched himself at Iruka.

Naruto's Rasengan tore a hole in the kitchen door, then sheared off when the Chidori deflected it into plowing a long crevasse through the wall, and the snarl of spitting crackling power exploded halfway across the schoolroom.

"...Asshole! I woulda taken out the door just fine if you hadn't--"

"--You didn't need to take out the door, you imbecile!"

"--people were screaming at them, bastard, Kakashi-sensei was gonna do something major, I could feel it he was so pissed, even when they stopped screaming it was all -- all -- dammit, somebody had to go help even if you're too frigid to give a shit what happens to Iruka-sensei--"

"--that doesn't mean you tear down half the building, moron!"

"--it woulda been just fine until you went and screwed up my aim and--"

"--You're BOTH idiots! Shut the hell up and just let me go back to bed! My head's killing me, I want to throw up,I'm sick of you both -- I don't care anymore--" Sakura stormed up what was left of the stairs and slammed the door to her bedroom.

A dangling piece of floorboard hanging through the ceiling wobbled and dropped to the charred floor.

This, Iruka thought with his last remaining hold on rationality, is why pregnant women get accused of hysterics. Because they deserve to have hysterics at moments like this. Anybody deserves to have hysterics at moments like this.

The sound that was coming out of his throat wasn't human, but he couldn't seem to stop it -- a hoarse, choking, keening noise that hitched with his gasps for breath, halfway between hysterical laughter and a scream.

Sasuke and Naruto paused in their arguing to look at their teachers. And then they both went pale. With that last, madly dangling little scrap of coherence, Iruka thought that it shouldn't have been possible for someone with Sasuke's skin tone to turn any paler without actually being possessed by Orochimaru and turning bone-white as a consequence.

"I'm sorry," Naruto whispered. "That was stupid, wasn't it? I'm sorry, Iruka-sensei--"

"That," Kakashi agreed, terribly softly, "was so far beyond stupid I have no words. Both of you. Sit down, shut up, and don't touch a single goddamn thing until I get back."

He turned and stalked up the fractured stairs two or three at a time, and they could hear Sakura's half of the argument if not Kakashi's; and from her screeching replies, it sounded like he wasn't about to accept the excuse that it hadn't been her idea and that she wanted to sit in the dark in peace because it wasn't her problem.

"Iruka-sensei?" Sasuke asked, low-pitched.

He couldn't breathe around the half-laughter half-sobs that were trying to tear his throat raw; somehow he managed to wheeze, "Six months... at least... Kakashi took six months to tear a wall out... you two -- not even twenty-four hours? We haven't finished paying for the kitchen... Oh, god, what am I going to do...? --why didn't I listen, Sasuke-kun?"

"What?" the boy asked warily, as though afraid Iruka were going to snap at any moment.

Iruka scrubbed both hands across his cheeks; wheezing on a mad, sharp giggle, he choked, "You told me -- you had tents-- should've listened -- I wouldn't have known when you came back, wouldn't have cared, wouldn't have spent half the night fighting with him and crying and -- God -- if you'd just torn out the tent wall, who'd have cared? Why didn't I listen? I shouldn't have let you in the house, you could've destroyed the forest with your stupid little rivalry if you wanted to, nobody would have noticed, it all would've been so much easier, oh God, what am I going to do--?"

"Nothing," Kakashi said from the top of the stairs, with a sullen Sakura in one hand and a bag in another; the pink apron was soot-stained and dusty from the explosion, and it was one more thing too much for Iruka to take. Kakashi took the steps three at a time on the way back down, and pushed Sakura at the boys, and crouched on the floor beside Iruka.

"You're not going to do anything," he said firmly. "I'll take care of it. You're going to go stay at an onsen with Sakura for the day, and probably the weekend, and you're going to soak in the hot springs and you're going to relax and when you get back these two idiots and I are going to have dealt with it all and you won't have to do anything about it."

"But-- you-- they-- the wall, the schoolroom, there's got to have been structural supports in there and-- and--"

"I'm being good for two weeks, remember?" he said, with a fingertip to Iruka's lips. "That means nothing is allowed to upset you on my watch. That means it's my responsibility. And I'm hoping someday you can forgive me for being two minutes too damn late again. But for right now? You're going. Sakura, you're carrying the bag. Satori's uncle runs the onsen on the south side of the mountain. See if he'll give you the family-friends rate. Tell Satori what happened, and don't let Iruka go mad fretting over this, and you're not to let either of you set foot off the grounds until I come fetch you both."

"Kakashi--"

"The sooner you get Iruka there, Sakura, the sooner you can shove your head under a pillow and go back to sleep," he added, clearly aiming for bribery under the alleged cover of helpfulness.

The words "go back to sleep" penetrated the girl's sullen hung-over haze. "Right," she said, and grabbed the bag with one hand and Iruka's elbow with the other.

"Kakashi, wait--!"

"I told you how much my timing sucks," Kakashi said dryly, "but I'm trying to work around it, I really am. Do you happen to grade on partial credit?"

"Partial credit? As in, they only half destroyed the schoolhouse?"

"Okay, never mind the partial credit," Kakashi replied, waving goodbye far too perkily with a tattered and soot-stained pink apron dangling by the one remaining strap. "Go on. Have a vacation. You like onsen, remember? Go relax! You deserve it; you need it by now. --And don't worry! Remember, I'm being good! For two whole weeks! It'll all be fine!"

"Kakashi--"

Sakura dragged him off the porch before Iruka could explain that from what he'd seen that morning, Kakashi's definition of 'being good' worried him even more than Tsunade's idea of a sure bet. He tried appealing to her good nature.

"Sakura-kun? Sakura-kun, really, I don't think we should just leave them there -- the boys need you around to keep from ripping each other's heads off, Kakashi needs me around to keep from taking dangerous and stupid and illegal shortcuts when it comes to funding repairs-- trust me, we found that out last time-- really, we should go back and help--"

"Like bloody hell we are," Sakura growled, making Iruka blink at her tone of voice; he'd never heard that particular sound come out of the ordinarily ladylike girl. "I'm getting the hell away from all three of those idiots, I'm getting a quiet dark room where nobody can piss me off and I can shove my head under a pillow and die without anybody tearing apart the building around me, and if the only way I can do it is to drag you along with me-- and Kakashi-sensei gets really pissy when we shirk on missions-- then dragging you along is exactly what I intend to do! Now shut up and start enjoying yourself whether you like it or not!"

As they marched up the hill toward the traditional old inn where the onsen guests stayed, Iruka silently composed a prayer he directed toward the little moss-covered shrine Sakura hauled them straight past.

Little god, whoever you are, please don't let any of them get to be dead, maimed beyond recognition, or shooting their mouths off to my students' families while I'm not there to take care of things. And please let there be a schoolhouse there to go back to. I'm not even picky about how well it's standing, just let there be something there, please? I'll come back with sweet rice and spring water for you later, I promise, but I'm kind of getting myself a little kidnapped at the moment, so please make a few allowances.

He clapped his palms together three times as they hurried past, and managed a bobbled half-bow in the shrine's direction, and followed Sakura up the hill.


"It's not my fault!" Naruto said desperately. "I was so worried about Iruka-sensei -- I could hear all of 'em yelling -- and you wouldn't let me out -- and the door wouldn't come open -- and Sasuke-bastard was blowing it all off and I wasn't going to leave Iruka-sensei to get yelled at so I had to go beat down the door and it was all Sasuke-bastard's fault I missed because his stupid chirpy thing went and knocked my aim off and--"

"--did you seriously expect me to stand there and watch you put that ball of chakra straight through my skull, moron? Of course I was trying to block; I don't happen to feel like dying out here!"

"But you could've just dodged and let me take out the door! If you hadn't gone and screwed it all up I would've just busted down the door and then I could've gone and rescued Iruka-sensei and kicked those bastards' asses and it all would've been fine but nooOOOOOooo mister human icicle had to be all 'hmph, moron' at me and go and knock my aim off and it's his fault, it's all his fault, it would've gone fine if he hadn't--"

Kakashi's fist went straight through what remained of the wall. He wasn't wearing his metal gloves.

"Naruto," he said through gritted teeth, breathing, very, very carefully. "Just shut up."

Naruto made a little squeak like the helium escaping out of a suddenly-deflating balloon, and landed on his butt on the floor with a thump.

Even Sasuke had more respect for his own skin than to add a 'hmph' to the conversation just then.

Kakashi leaned his forehead against the crumbling plaster, eyes closed tightly, and silently cursed life, fate, and half the universe.

It was silent enough that he could hear the splintered boards crackling as the house's weight shifted and stressed them further out of true. That meant there really was a load-bearing something involved there somehow; that meant he really ought to stop staring at the insides of his eyelids cursing the PTA party and Naruto's blind impulsive stupidity and his own taste for pranks and the owner of the bar who hadn't thrown them out and the damn flaming eggs and every single other contrivance that had managed to insinuate itself between what he'd been trying to say for months and what kept him from saying it.

Because in the end he was a coward. A coward who hadn't slept for going on thirty-six hours, who was running on the ragged ends of adrenaline and snapping at everything, who'd spent eight months carrying around a set of rings trying to find the right moment, just to have a chunk of the building get blown away, or an assault from a band of bigots and gossips, or even just his own nerve failing -- because he didn't know what he would do if Iruka misinterpreted it.

Because now, now that they'd had their 'marital status' flung in their face by the PTA from Hell, now Iruka might think he was only saying it for propriety, or because Iruka was pregnant, or from guilt, or for their cover, or any of a thousand other things that would add up in Iruka's mind to not because he loves me but because he's obligated.

Iruka still wasn't truly giving him credit for even the simplest things, like being responsible enough to cook or having good judgement around children or being able to hold down a consistent job -- not that his job had ever been consistent to begin with, but unfortunately that was more a point for Iruka's side than his own. And the events of the past twenty-four hours had certainly given Iruka plenty of reasons to be skeptical and no reasons at all to trust him, no reasons at all to even want to say yes if Kakashi ever managed to find both the occasion and the nerve to ask, and somehow, every day that passed seemed to give Iruka more reasons to say no... the kids at the karaoke bar, the idiots on their bigoted rampage, the repeatedly exploding schoolhouse that seemed almost to be perversely rigged to prevent him from ever, ever having anything resembling a chance to ask... he wasn't quite paranoid enough to call it a conspiracy just yet, but the explosion-timing was positively uncanny.

Kakashi had thought he'd managed to both make and patch over as big of a mess as he could possibly make with the events surrounding the karaoke bar the previous night. But he hadn't been factoring in Naruto's unholy powers of mayhem-making. Or Naruto's equally unholy powers of collateral damage. It was an oversight he was cursing himself for. Because it was bad enough trying to dig his way out of a hole he'd made himself; now he was sitting at the bottom of a canyon that wasn't even his own fault and...

"Do you think he fell asleep?" Naruto whispered, a little too loud.

"Structural analysis," Kakashi said succinctly.

"Huh?"

"He means figuring out what's broken, moron," Sasuke supplied.

"By standing there thumping his head on the wall?"

I never mentioned which structure I was analyzing, now did I? And yes, from the reverberation I think my skull must be filled with rocks. Right. ...Time to Be Good at them again.

Kakashi looked up from the wall with his brightest, sunniest, wildest smile plastered onto his face. Both of the boys blanched and flinched away. Kakashi wondered approximately how undead and/or insane he looked with his hair and face covered with plaster dust, and mentally filed the tactic under psychological warfare to test on enemy combatants even as he took a deep breath and turned around, and inwardly smirked as they flinched again.

"Right, then!" he announced, with all the terrorizing force of mad-eyed perkiness that he could bring to bear.

They were actually huddled against each other now, both of them with eyes the size of teacups, shivering together in the conviction that they were about to die, slowly, painfully, and with a great deal of screaming.

...Not bad. Good, in fact. Very good. Mute obedient terror I can work with. Let's see how long it lasts.

"All right, team," he said, bending over their cowering little huddle with a particularly bright, glazed, horrifying smile. "New private lessons this weekend, just for the two of you -- don't you feel special!"

Naruto was whimpering. Sasuke wasn't. This was going to have to be corrected. Sasuke was clearly a tougher nut to crack.

"Our mission for the weekend is stealth carpentry!" Kakashi announced, picking up a cracked board and thumping it against his palm. "And yes, Sasuke, this means stealth from both of you. So if you don't know how to keep the rest of the world from noticing that your painfully orange teammate is hitting something with a hammer loudly, then it counts against both of you."

The whites were showing all around Sasuke's eyes. Better.

"K-kakashi-sensei--" good, the terrorized stammer's good too-- "what do you mean, stealth carpentry? I mean... hammers are loud..."

"That's your problem!" Kakashi informed them, with a good dose of happy-go-lucky vindictiveness. "Because nobody in this town is going to know that the schoolhouse has had another major reconstruction happening. Nobody. Because you don't want poor Iruka to be blamed for that too, do you? When Iruka didn't do anything at all wrong? Especially since Iruka is the schoolteacher whom they're going to shout at if the repairs cost anything, interfere with classes, or even get noticed... so!" He clapped his hands together with a small cloud of plaster dust, and rubbed them briskly. "No hammer noises, no clouds of dust, no swearing, no landing each other in the hospital, no paint spills, no nothing. Nothing at all out of the ordinary is going on in this building. Got it?"

"But -- but -- hammers -- saws -- how--?"

"Great! It's settled then," Kakashi said, dusting his hands off. "I'm going to start ripping away the wallboard to figure out how many studs we're going to have to replace. I'd suggest the two of you head for the forest. Be sure to take plenty of bug repellant, now; we wouldn't want you getting stung..."

"...Huh?"

...And that little pathetic baffled whimper was Sasuke.

Kakashi was vindictively proud of himself. Apparently, when applied with an eye to maximum pain, guilt, and suffering, strategic tactical assaults of nice (applied with sadistic levels of perkiness) truly could be quite valuable in demoralizing and confusing the enemy. He'd have to thank Iruka later. This was the most useful 'punishment' he'd ever received, and he planned to milk it for all it was worth.

"You two! Out in the forest! The big tree-filled forest where nobody is standing around listening for stealth carpentry!" Kakashi said, in a voice he personally classified as 'perky with extreme prejudice.' "Big dry things you can cut into boards with that supply of monofilament wire in your ninpack. For starters. And we're going to have to think up a way to mix some non-explosive version of mortar that we can color match to the rest of the plaster. Speaking of which -- the first stop this afternoon has to be to get you two library cards!"

Naruto's eyes had glazed over. Sasuke simply blinked. Yes, Sasuke was definitely the tougher nut to crack, but Kakashi wasn't about to give up yet.

"Just think of it. Libraries. Full of books, study materials, respectable people who shush you, and not a single bladed weapon in sight-- not even scissors! And you can't hit each other or you'll be thrown out! Both of you, no matter who starts it!"

Sasuke had started twitching, spasmodically, like a rabbit's nose. Feeling the warm happy glow of merciless triumph, Kakashi drove the point home.

"Ah, libraries," Kakashi gushed, palms folded over his heart. "Wonderful things -- definitely good practice for stealth work! We'll have to drag you two over to the library. In dress clothes, so that you're respectable-looking. Without weapons, because they're picky about sharp metal things near the books. And make sure you wash behind your ears too. Go on, go make yourselves presentable."

Naruto had turned positively green. It probably wasn't kind to mention cooping the two of them up in a building full respectable shushing people compounded by a complete lack of Sasuke-hitting facilities while the boy was still hung over.

On the other hand, Iruka had never made Kakashi promise to be kind... just good.

And Kakashi was planning to be good with a vengeance. The brats deserved whatever they got, really.