GACK!! I'm so sorry for taking so long with this, guys!! ::dodges flying food items:: I just have this problem with starting new stories when I'm in the middle of an old one, and, well…yeah. Ugh. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter! And I offer my most sincere thanks to all who review…I appreciate every single one! ::grins::

Chapter 6: Aftermath

"I have a feeling that this story is going to start getting very depressing soon," Naruto said gloomily. "I hate the kind of stuff that makes my heart feel all squeezed."

Kakashi snorted. "Why don't you try living through it? That's even more fun." He waved his hand. "But I'm not one to feel sorry for myself, so whatever. Don't worry just yet, Naruto. The unpleasant stuff's coming, but not right now." Kakashi held his chin, a reminiscent smile on his chiseled face.

Sakura, ever the impatient soul, raised an eyebrow and gave Kakashi a significant look. "Well? Get on with it, then! You were the one complaining before about me interrupting you, but now you're interrupting yourself!"

"Being as that I'm the one telling the story, I can't possibly interrupt myself," Kakashi retorted.

"Where did you come up with that bit of nonsense? Of course you can!" The pink-haired girl shot back.

"It isn't nonsense, Sakura. It's logic."

"Logic? You are so full of it!"

"Full of what, might I ask?"

Naruto watched his wife and former sensei fling words back and forth at each other, dazed. Their replies became more and more far fetched the longer the discourse went on, and it finally got to the point where he stopped trying to understand what they were saying.

"Oh fine, fine, we aren't getting anywhere with this, so we'll just have to agree to disagree," Sakura conceded after a few minutes of heated discussion. She looked over and noticed that her husband's eyes were glazed, and she laughed. "Poor thing, this was too much for him."

"It was a bit overdone for me, as well," Kakashi said, grinning. "Though I guess I shouldn't have expected anything less from you, my dear. May I continue now?"

One of these days I'm going to kill him. "Do you need my permission?" Sakura asked icily.

"Of course not. I was just appeasing your ego."

"Bad move," Naruto said as Sakura proceeded to wallop Kakashi with a pillow she grabbed off the couch.

"Thanks, I can see that," came Kakashi's muffled voice. "Women."

Kakashi and Asuma sat next to Midori's bed on two plush chairs that were arranged side by side. The surgery had been successful, much to the relief of everyone who knew her, though it was a very close thing. The long, jagged scar that tracked across her chest Midori would have forever, and she would always view it as a constant reminder of her failure in the Exam, despite the protests of her teammates.

"I should've been more alert," she whispered, not able to use her voice to full potential yet. She had awoken out of her anesthesia-induced slumber a few hours before, and the two boys insisted upon seeing her as soon as the doctors would permit them. "All the signs were there…I was just careless. How can I be a proper hunter if I can't sense an enemy that's right next to me?" Her tiny hands clenched and unclenched the bedding. "Ma and Pa are going to be upset…they…put a lot of faith in me…"

"Give it a rest, would ya?" Kakashi said, a wry smile on his face. "Talk like that makes me want to barf."

Two spots of color rose in Midori's cheeks as she stared at him, not quite sure how to respond.

"He's right, you know," Asuma put in. "If it weren't for your quick thinking, we'd all be shishcabobs right now. And I just dare you to tell me I'm wrong, Matsuda."

Midori's mouth opened and closed, and her head bowed.

"Sorry," she mumbled. "I'm being silly, aren't I?"

"I don't see what the problem is," Asuma went on, unrelenting. "You're not dead. That's definitely a good thing in my book."

That earned him a chuckle. "Yeah—"


Aya was a black blur as she flew into the room and skidded to a halt near the bed, her eyes streaming tears. She took the other girl's hands in her own and clutched them.

"Oh, Midori, I was so scared for you! I only heard about what happened a few minutes ago—but you're okay! How do you feel? Does it hurt?"

Exchanging glances, Kakashi and Asuma silently rose from the chairs and backed out of the room, allowing the girls to have their reunion alone. Secretly, Kakashi was happy for a reason to leave, as he still did not know how to handle himself around Aya. He recalled with embarrassment that she had been the one to do all the talking upon their first official meeting, and he did not open his mouth even once to say something witty or intelligent.

Why these things concerned him all of a sudden, he did not understand, and he shook himself when he realized what he was doing.

Geez…she's just a girl. I've never been all weird about girls before, so why start now? I mean...Midori's a girl, and she doesn't bother me, my sister's a girl—but she's my sister, so she doesn't count…

Kakashi was so absorbed in his thoughts that he didn't realize he was walking straight at Gai until they connected with each other.

"Oh, so he thinks he's such a hot-shot now that he's Chuunin that he can just walk into anyone, doesn't he?" Gai said huffily, his eyebrows twitching.

"You know, I was about to say sorry, but I don't think I want to anymore," Kakashi said to Asuma, who smirked.

"Buzz off, snark. You took the same test as us, and you failed all by yourself. Like Aya said, you're too flashy, Harold."

Gai's eyebrows began to twitch more violently as the other two boys got a better look at him. He was covered in bandages from head to foot, and a gauze pad covered a nasty gash above his left eye. All five fingers of his right hand were swollen, and two on the other were in splints. Colorful bruises littered his face and exposed areas of flesh not concealed by bandaging. Morino Seto had called Akagahara 'the Breaker,' and Gai looked broken, to say the least. Of course, he was too proud to submit to the bed rest that the doctors ordered, at least, not while all of his classmates were about, and so he chose to make the rounds instead to prove to everyone that a few (well, more than a few, in his case) injuries would not bring him down.

Woah…I guess Rai-sensei wasn't exaggerating at all when he said Gai got cut up…sheesh.

Though he was not aware of it, Kakashi winced in sympathy. Seeing Gai made him realize how lucky he was to have made it out of the forest without a scratch.

Gai did notice the pity, and he did not appreciate it, not one bit. Taking a deep breath, he puffed out his chest as normal (though his sore ribs protested said motion) and, holding his head high, stalked past Kakashi and Asuma.

"You'd better watch out, because the Green Beast is not so easily defeated. I will crush the both of you one day, I promise you that." He growled as he went by, and continued on down the hall of the hospital wing without another glance in their direction.


An imposing looking nurse grabbed the protesting Gai by his ear and proceeded to drag him back to where Kakashi and Asuma stood gaping and around the corner, scolding him all the while.

"What were you thinking, you foolish boy! If I catch you out here again, I'll pummel you myself! It's straight to bed you go, and that's where you'll stay!"

"But I'm fine! I don't need to stay in bed! Come on…"

The voices faded off, to be replaced by the hysterical laughter of two boys, one dark haired, the other silver. For the moment, Kakashi's girl problems were forgotten, and he spent the rest of the afternoon with Asuma and Obito, who joined up with them after they left the hospital.

Kakashi was relieved to have the whole ordeal of the Chuunin Exam out of the way, even though there were some things about himself that he needed to change. He spent quite a bit of time thinking about those things, and wondering if, had not Midori been injured, events would have played out differently. In his heart, he believed that they would have, that he would be in just as bad a shape as Gai now. It was not a pleasant thought, to be sure, and later on that night, Kakashi stood in his backyard, hurling kunai after kunai at Asia's target tree in order to get rid of his frustration.

Haruko watched her son from the kitchen window, her brow creased. She knew that something was bothering him, and after an hour of hearing the steady thunk of metal striking wood, she'd had enough.

"Having fun?" Haruko inquired as she stepped out on the back porch. She sat down on the first step with her elbows resting on her knees and waited for a response.

"No," Kakashi said, and threw another knife at the tree. "Not--"one more, "At—" and another, "All."

"Come here and talk to me then," Haruko beckoned.

For a minute, Kakashi contemplated telling her that he would rather not, but from past experiences with his mother, he thought the better of it and did as she said.

"Well? Let's hear the tale of woe, then," Haruko said when her son was settled.

"Tale of—what?" I don't like how that sounds…

"Never mind, just explain to me why you felt it was necessary to keep chucking things for the past hour at that tree, please."

"Oh…I don't know. I'm mad at myself, I guess. And I'm mad that I could keep Midori from getting hurt, and I'm mad that I would have gone back to get another clover if she hadn't got hurt, and…" He paused, and looked at his mother, "I'm just mad."

Haruko nodded gravely. "I see," she said, and rested a hand on Kakashi's shoulder. "Don't ponder the 'what ifs,' kiddo. There's so many in a lifetime that you'd always be left with doubt, always looking over your shoulder, always believing that 'if I had done this, then that would have happened,' or should have, or could have…they're all the same, in the end. Who knows why things happen the way they do? I can tell you this, though: Everything has a purpose, even if we cannot see it." She moved her hand from his shoulder and ruffled his hair. "You know what you did wrong, so fix it." Grinning, she got to her feet again. "Throwing kunai at a tree isn't going to make a difference either way."

Kakashi remained on the step long after his mother left, thinking about her words as the playful night breeze kissed his upturned face.

A man with long, dark hair that shrouded his features sat at a makeshift table cluttered with documents, maps, a few books opened to specific sections that had been scribbled with notes, and scattered writing implements. A candle sat near his hand as he poured over a thick packet of reports, the light just enough to allow him to make out the words.

The network of tunnels that was his headquarters served a dual purpose: they provided various entrances and exits to any part of the Village, and he and his subordinates were able to prepare and train without anyone above being aware of it. He would emerge from the tunnels at sporadic intervals so no one would grow suspicious, though the Villagers often stayed away from the man with the pallid skin and sunken eyes who radiated a terrifying power. They feared him as they respected him, and both of those things kept them from delving into his business.

He was alone in this chamber save another man of similar appearance and stature, the author of the reports that the other read, and he leaned up against a wall with his arms crossed, waiting.

When the reader came to a particular section of the report, he looked up at his brother, and his smile was chilling.

"So, they grow complacent, it seems," he noted in his rasping voice. "I cannot say that I am surprised. It is only a matter of time before we make our move, and they will be unprepared."

The younger of the two removed a knife from his side holster and passed his finger over the blade, watching in fascination as the blood pooled from the wound. "The Hokage is too soft, too willing to trust." His yellow eyes met with his brother's identical ones, and he, too, smiled. "I am his favorite."

"You have done well, brother, and I shall remember it. Now go. We do not wish for Sandaime to pine in your absence," he said with venomous amusement.

The other inclined his head, and took his leave.

His brother returned to his reading.

Two weeks after the Chuunin Exams, Kakashi received his vest, and along with the vest came new duties, more training, and an increased number of mock-battles that the Jounins staged to test the new Chuunins, determining what posts would be more appropriate for each individual. Kakashi's strengths were his speed and his ability to advance upon an enemy without being seen until he attacked. As time went by, it became more and more apparent that Kakashi had shown flashes of becoming a skilled assassin, and his missions were often centered on stealth. Once in a while Kakashi would allow himself to imagine that he were a member of the elite team of assassins known as ANBU, though he knew that he had a lot of work to do before he could try for a position. For now, he focused on enjoying his missions and improving his skills.

And then there was his little problem with Aya. He still could not form coherent sentences when he was in her presence, a fact made worse by the teasing he endured from Asuma and Obito, and she did not seem to want to leave him alone. The wily girl continued to pester him about when their match would be, as she was convinced that they would be squaring off against each other some time soon.

"I've been busy…"

"Oh, doing what?"

"Er…" Kakashi dug his foot in the ground. "Stuff…" he mumbled.

Aya rolled her eyes. "Stuff? You don't seem to be doing 'stuff' now!"

That's because you're distracting me!

"Am I not allowed to take a break, oh princess know-it-all?" Kakashi snapped, now getting irritated. Oh wow…I was able to say a full sentence that time!

Aya's dark eyes narrowed. "Don't get snappy with me, you—" she stopped herself as a wonderful idea came to mind. "I'll tell Gai that you called him a pansy to everyone if you don't fight me," she said slyly, and Kakashi's face blanched.

That was a dirty trick.

For the past month, Kakashi had not had to deal with Gai's attention-seeking, as the other boy was still recovering from his injuries, but if Aya were to do something like she was threatening to do, all of that would change much sooner than he hoped. Asuma and Obito, as usual, were observing the entire display from the branches of a nearby tree, and they had to bite their tongues to keep from laughing at Kakashi's current predicament.

"I hate you," Kakashi stated bluntly. "Just so you know."

Aya grinned. "So? When are we fighting?"

"Monday, next week, 8 o'clock."

"Perfect. Weapons or unarmed?"

Kakashi pondered that. It had been awhile since he'd been able to use a katana, and he was itching to. "Swords."

"Even better," Aya replied, her grin growing wider. "And if you stand me up, I promise you'll be sorry," she added.

Kakashi gulped.

I'm going to die next week.

Unable to hold back any longer, Asuma and Obito cackled.

Confused, Aya tilted her head and peered up through the tree. "Oh, how juvenile," she scoffed and winked at Kakashi before walking away. "Don't forget!"

"I won't," he croaked back, a sense of impending doom settling on him like a lead weight.

The tree continued to chortle.

There was only one thing that kept Kakashi's mind off of his upcoming 'death by the bionic super chick,' as Asuma called it, was the visit by Raidon one afternoon while Kakashi was taking a well-deserved nap after a long morning of combat practice.

"I've got something I want to show you," was all the answer that Kakashi received when he inquired about the reason for his former-sensei's presence, and the two now walked towards the very same forest that Rai had taken his new students for their first 'mission.'

When they reached the two large rocks near the entrance, Rai sat on one and he motioned for Kakashi to take the other. He did so with raised brows.

"How are you going to show me anything if we just sit here?"

The blond man grinned. "I want to explain something to you first." His bright blue eyes met with the boy's. "I've been thinking quite a bit about you lately, Kakashi. You're unlike any child that I've ever met, but I think you know that. You have a great capacity to learn, and you have the potential to become legendary. Now, don't go thinking that just because I say you're good that you don't have room to improve, because there's always room," Kakashi nodded in understanding, a tad shell-shocked, "but I want you to understand that what I'm about to teach you is not something that just anyone can do. There are only a select few ninja who posses the skill and power to execute it, but I know that you can."

Kakashi's head swam. He had not been expecting that. "I…thank you," was all he could say for a minute, but then the fact that he would be learning a new justu sunk in, and he could barely contain his excitement.

"What kind of jutsu is it?"

"Kuchiyose no Justu, to be exact."

His eyes went wide. "Summoning?"

"Of course," Raidon replied, and dug around in his pouch for a scroll. "I see you've heard of it, so you know it requires a contract and a blood sacrifice. Now if I could only…find…the…blasted…contract…ah, there it is." He removed the scroll and unrolled it, laying it out on the surface of Kakashi's rock.

"I believe you're interested in joining up with ANBU somewhere down the line, am I right?"

"How did you know that?"

"Lucky guess," Raidon waved his hand, "anyway, I think a tracker will come in handy then, don't you? Plus, I know how much you love those pooches of yours, so a dog will be the perfect match."

For some reason, Kakashi was growing suspicious. "Wait, wait…why are you doing all this? I don't mean any disrespect or anything, but it seems weird—well, weirder than normal, because you've always been weird—for you to decide to teach me, and only me. Where's the catch?"

"Weren't you listening to my little speech before?" Raidon pretended to be affronted. "Well now you've gone and hurt my feelings. Isn't it enough that I think you've got what it takes to be something better? This jutsu was…well, made for someone like you, with your level of control. I think I'd know your skill better than a lot of people, seeing as that I was your sensei for a year," he pointed out. "Besides, I like you." He reached forward and ruffled Kakashi's hair.

After a bit of internal debating, Kakashi decided that that explanation was satisfactory for the time being. He was too eager to begin summoning to worry about ulterior motives now, anyway.

The process of learning the correct seals for the jutsu took a matter of minutes, and Kakashi was more than confident when he used his teeth to break the skin of his thumb and sign his name on the scroll.

"Remember what I told you," Raidon said as he stood off to the side to watch, "focus all of your chakra into that seal, or it won't work, and then you'll have a grumpy elemental on your tail. They hate when they get interrupted by amateurs, so you'd better make sure to let him know that you mean business."

Kakashi nodded absently, only half-hearing Rai's words. Smearing his bleeding thumb on the rock, he performed the hand-seal at lightning speed and smacked his hand down.

"Kuchiyose no Justu!"

He could feel the familiar essence of his chakra jolting down his arm and onto the rock, but it was now mixed with a foreign chakra, one that was more powerful than his own, trying to jerk him aside. Kakashi held on, however, and a few seconds later there was a loud POOF.

At first, Kakashi believed that something went wrong.

Damn it! Now I'm gonna have to do it again! But I know that I had the seal right! What's the deal? Aren't the elementals supposed to be bigger than a house and make the ground shake when they move?

The dog that appeared on the rock was clearly too little.

"What are you staring at, brat?" The dog growled in a deep, dry voice. "I know I'm cute, but honestly."

That only made Kakashi stare more. Cute? Cute?He's all…squashed!

"Good job, Kakashi! You did it! And on your first try, too! I'm impressed!" Raidon congratulated, and stepped forward to peer at the dog.

Kakashi's made a face. He pointed at the dog. "You mean that's it? But he's awful small, isn't he? I mean—AUGH!"

The dog's tiny, pointed teeth were locked on Kakashi's finger.

It hurt.

In an attempt to dislodge the canine from his finger, Kakashi began waving his arm around in the air, but the dog just sailed along with it. Rai attempted to keep a straight face, he truly did, but he found the task too difficult.

"I'm sorry!"

That didn't work. It wasn't sincere enough.

Time for desperate measures.


The dog let go, and Kakashi had to resist the urge to kick it.

"Humph. You're right. I am adorable, aren't I?"

More adorable than belly button lint.

"Yeah! Pugs are the best kinds of dogs, in my opinion."

Raidon put a hand over his mouth.

The dog was unperterbed. "Yes, we are," his droopy eyes went wide all of a sudden in his squashed face, and he beckoned for Kakashi to lean in closer with one tiny paw. "If you're good, I'll let you touch my pad," he whispered, and stuck the paw in Kakashi's face.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "Eh?"

This dog is mental.

"PURI, PURI!!!" The dog bellowed, and Kakashi fell over on his rump, his hair on end.

That's it. I want a refund.

"Oh, and my name is Pakkun, so you'd better use it."

Naruto and Sakura were both laughing by this point, as they recalled with fondness a similar meeting with the pug-dog Pakkun when they were still Genins. Kakashi laughed along with them.

"That dog," he said, shaking his head. "He's an ass, but what can you do? He did grow on me after a while. A very long while, but still."

There will be more from our favorite poochie in the next chapter, I promise! And I'll try my hardest to not take so long with it!