METAPHORS FOR A RAINY DAY
- no spoilers. Uhm, insert anywhere after the Chuunin exam. I don't own Naruto. Or his kinky teachers, for that matter. All I own are a bunch of dogs, a cat, and the typos in this page.
- This contains shounen-ai and implied yaoi, which means guys on guys, which means I've taken two Naruto dude characters and played matchmaker. Please do us both a favor and NOT read if you're squeamish with this.
To be whole, it is enough simply to exist. - Fernando Pessoa, "The Startling Reality of Things".
There are many ways of enjoying a cold, rainy day. Most people like curling up in bed, forsaking a day of work or class, warmed by a cup of tea perhaps, or hot chocolate, engrossed in a book or a movie or simply in one's thoughts. Children, like the sort that were now so laughingly engaged in an improvised water fight, ran out screaming at the first few drops, eager to start frolicking in mud puddles, splashing in the rain-softened ground and reveling in a nameless joy that has been ever-present since the beginning of time.
For his part he liked to simply sit in the nearest high-roofed shelter (perhaps a tree with sufficient canopy, or under an old, overhanging roof sheen) and simply BE.
It seemed ridiculous, when one came to think about it. We ARE every day, every moment of our life. In the memory of others we continue to exist. It wasn't so hard, or so secretive an activity to warrant a private day alone with the elements.
He liked watching over things. He never admitted it but the best times of his being a ninja in the service of the village was when he took guard watch, when the very same village slumbered at his feet like a great, trusting lion. He liked watching people, and how they seemed to conceal things with their actions, and he liked watching people when they least expected to be watched, perhaps because he liked to find the little inconsistencies in their façade, watch these inconsistencies bloom when they assumed nobody was looking.
It was interesting to say the least. Some people were three, four, five people all at once. Ibiki for example, wasn't an entirely gruff and tough person when he sat on the sill of his room on a hot summer day, almost reverently humming old, traditional harvesting songs under his breath.
Sasuke, his charge, probably exhibited a cold, bristly demeanor to the rest of the world, but he was extremely sensitive towards one particular plum sapling that grew under his window. When the silent Uchiha thought nobody was looking, he spoke to the plant like it was a mute companion, coaxing it to grow, to live. Sakura laughed and cried and yelled almost incoherently to herself, in the late hours of the night when she wrote on her journal, recounting and reliving perhaps, the events of the day. Naruto had the saddest eyes he had seen and that he ever cared to remember. They glassed over especially when the blonde boy watched the younger nin play among themselves, play with parents, when he thought he was alone and unwatched in the corner of the schoolyard.
That was probably his secret to wheedling successfully under people's skin, the source of his ability to touch nerves and sensitive areas in a person's psyche as deftly as any Hyuuga. He rather enjoyed it, this little pastime, because it meant he knew some sort of secret that they never even knew they possessed.
He had favorites, of course. One in particular intrigued him like no other, and he could not even bring himself to properly voice out why. He would find himself (often, before he even knew it) climbing the low ledge of the water tank, on days when he had little to do, on days when it rained like this (a soft drizzle, steady but light, misting the village with a low fog, not quite thick enough to obscure vision), almost excitedly anticipating the one he knew would linger in the lunchbreak-empty lounge, fastidiously correcting blue books scribbled all over with children's hand.
It seemed ridiculous, when he thought about it.
But that was when he had time to think, in the small, unavoidable hours before he slept, or after he had awakened, when limbs needed a few seconds to be roused from inactivity. Just why he liked to keep on coming back to this particular subject, he didn't know exactly.
He had a few theories though. One was perhaps because the other never really showed some sort of drastic change when he was alone, the way the others he watched usually did, thus revealing the secrets of a life that he knew, no doubt, contained festering remains of scars both physical and otherwise. Even in the other's most solitary moments (barring of course the fact that he was watching), the schoolteacher still remained as poised, as precise, as careful as if he was in a room full of people.
As if he knew he was being watched.
It translated to some sort of little challenge in his head. To him the other continually engaged him in an elusive game of spying, and he was not about to give in. He liked priding himself on being a good reader of what lay beneath even the first layer of underlying implications (this was the reason why he read the normally perverted books of the Icha Icha series. To the very perceptive ones who read it, the books actually contained serious ninja revelations gleaned from half a century's worth of experience).
Today, the dark-skinned Chuunin teacher was busy trying to keep awake.
It had rained all day yesterday, and the skies had been red that night, and the morning had come with shrouded sun. The humidity wasn't as oppressive, and the occasional chilly breeze accompanied by the steady rhythm of falling water served to lull even the sharpest nin to drowse.
The children under his charge were engaged in a monotonous mission ('chore' would have been more apt, only there was no other way you could make Naruto do it if it didn't sound so official and 'cool'), carrying the large, almost canopy-like red umbrellas for the fire country delegates who had come in for a meeting with the village elders. Even Sasuke was fighting to keep the boredom out of his aloof face, and Sakura was listlessly bickering with a dozing Naruto as they waited in the lobby of the main building.
Head propped up on a hand, ponytail loose on the back of his head, correcting pen poised but immobile over the pages curling with the dampness in the air, his subject nodded off. Even in a state of half-sleep the chuunin retained a teacher-like stiffness, so that it looked to the world like he was merely deep in thought.
"Iruka-sensei, would you like a cup of soup?"
The Chuunin teacher barely started, only jerked very subtly before he opened his eyes to smile thankfully at the crimson-eyed woman before him. "Thanks, but no thank you, Kurenai-san. Just a little drowsy is all. This weather really makes me wish I stayed in bed longer." Iruka replied.
He watched as Kurenai took a sip from her soup mug and nodded. "I agree. I have every intention to dismiss Team 8 early today after they finish sorting the backlog files downstairs. On days like this I love staying home, truth to tell. Not very jounin-sensei like, but hey." She laughed.
He knew that Kurenai liked to stay home in gray weather and that the woman chose days like this in particular to practice misting genjutsu, a specialty of hers that nobody in the village could replicate quite as effectively.
"What do you do on rainy days, sensei?"
Iruka chuckled, and then mused for a while, thoughtful look on his face.
For his part, he wondered what the schoolteacher would say, sure that at this moment, in the little reconnaissance game in his head, Kurenai had been an oblivious ally.
"Surely you don't mean to tell me you continue to check the children's papers and whatnot, do you?" She gave him a look of feigned surprise. "Iruka-sensei you bore!"
Had she not spoken up, he was sure Iruka would have answered for himself; would have perhaps, taken a bit of something hidden and personal from the little trunk of secrets he was sure the Chuunin kept tucked away. Tucked away in the little place people usually liked to air out when they thought nobody was watching
A glimpse, and that would have been enough—had Kurenai not spoken.
Iruka grinned sheepishly. "Well, it's always best to get the problem classes out of the way," he said laughingly. "It's almost amazing how work piles up even while you're slaving to halve the pile. Especially with the mission logs!"
Kurenai had laughed back, patted his shoulder and said, "Haha, you're right, Iruka-sensei. Well. I best be going now, Asuma said he'd be down by the lobby at around this time. Ja!"
He watched as the female teacher left, and heard despite the soft rush of rain, the click of the door as it shut close behind her. He watched the solitary Chuunin teacher carefully, knowing that the other thought nobody was watching.
He remained like that for a full hour, tense, as if ready to spring, alert for the tiniest slip of… something; something he knew would show him how many inner people the normally cheerful Iruka kept sleeping in that sunless, hidden chamber he knew had to exist.
It wasn't everyday your parents perished fighting a destructive legendary demon fox hell-bent on demolishing an entire ninja village.
A tug on his consciousness told him that he was needed somewhere else. The last of the imperial delegation had boarded their improvised rickshaws and were moving down slowly, rather like a procession for the dead, down the long avenue. He could see the bobbing emblem of the fire country from where he perched. The mission for the day was complete.
It was almost with great regret that he slipped quietly away, in his head hearing the soft rip of his gaze as he turned away to meet up with his team several buildings down the block.
In the dim light of the teacher's lounge, Iruka suddenly felt the small, barely perceptible knot at the back of his neck relax. He bit his lip once, in an effort not to smile, flushing very slightly before ducking his head to pore over his work once more.
Had his watcher stayed long enough, and had he seen that small, very brief action, it would have been enough.
He watched the weary figure emerge finally from the interior of the school, glad to have assessed, debriefed, and dismissed his Genin team on time. Naruto in particular was eager for the hot-chocolate-and-ohagi invitation from Sakura, who in turn offered it indirectly to Sasuke, eyes sliding hopefully to regard her teammate. The other had sniffed once, thoughtfully, before moving away—to the direction of his teammates' houses.
The weather was the perfect excuse. The downpour increased if but a little, and the world was draped with curtains of water and a mist that veiled teasingly over one's features.
He had watched the little glow of light in the faculty room until it dimmed only a few minutes hence, the lone occupant now wearily and blearily regarding the late summer shower with a slight scowl, a ream of precious papers tucked under an arm. Mental fatigue was just as draining (even more so, to some extent) than physical fatigue, and the look on the Chuunin teacher's face was the look of someone who had run all day with minimum stamina.
He watched as dark eyes turned his direction, squinting against the darkening twilight and the sheer curtain of fog that he knew masked his features more deftly than his mask, or the angled umbrella he carried for that matter, could.
Recognition came with a familiar welcoming smile when the schoolteacher's gaze parted the natural curtain of water enough to discern who was under the umbrella. He had seen that look more times than he could keep count, watched it carefully for the slightest—imbalance perhaps? A clue to that inner crypt he had for so long wanted to see?
"Good evening Kakashi-sensei."
"Good evening." Of course, he had to seem like he was just passing by, nonchalant in the twilight rain, on his way home perhaps, to enjoy what remained of the day, to end it gratifyingly with a hot bowl of miso. Fancy meeting you here. I was just walking home. It did take you forever to come down.
"Take-home?" he asked, gesturing to the files the Chuunin had under his arm.
Weary eyes curved to a polite smile. "Ah, hehe, yes, nothing particularly pressing, just something I volunteered to do since nobody else seems to have the time to attend to it." Iruka directed a brief glare to the sky.
He watched the resignation in the small downward curve of the other's mouth, the sigh that erupted to a small white puff in the cold air. He had a ridiculous idea right then and there, despite not having the excuse of sleep and its sense-befuddling tendencies. It would strike him as particularly odd (and seemingly ridiculous), later on, when he was alone and when nobody was watching him think, why he had entertained such a thought almost… impulsively.
"Hey, you know, if you're headed toward the Western sector, I'm headed over to Ichiraku."
Brown eyes widened for a brief moment before a flustered head vigorously shook from side to side, as the dark-toned teacher understood the underlying question. "Oh I can't possibly. Please, don't trouble yourself, sensei."
Polite, always infuriatingly polite. He was beginning to wonder if there was anyone other than the Teacher inside Umino Iruka.
"Yes you can too," he rejoined, a little of an edge into his voice, which surprised them both. He nodded at the papers. "I have a feeling this won't abate until tomorrow." You can't possibly wait here until it does. And you can't walk in the rain either, you'll soak your papers. You might as well—
Again, the thoughtful look, which he peered at discreetly but intensely from under the hooded gaze of his visible eye. When he watched people, he reserved the crimson-eyed stare he carefully hid under his forehead protector for those that bugged him most. Perhaps, apart from all the enemies he'd encountered, this seemingly docile schoolteacher received most of his Sharingan scrutiny than anyone he cared to remember.
Finally, a soft "My, it must be quite a depression up the storm front."
There was a short pause. In response, he walked closer to the waiting shed, angling the red umbrella so the canopy could shelter the other man too. The Chuunin carefully stepped away from the cover of the building and under the umbrella. Both walked toward the Western sector, keeping a pace that just fit (and this mildly disturbed him), a casual stride that was neither brisk nor deliberate.
It also gave him a chance, however risky (in the context of being discovered) to play the game a little longer, at such close range, strangely heady with the knowledge that here the twist was that this near, in such close contact, the other didn't know he was being watched even while they walked through a gray, misted-over Konoha.
Apparently his companion felt the need to repay the gesture, as if it were something entirely unselfish. When the Chuunin politely thanked him and invited him in for "a cup of tea perhaps, or some hot chocolate" before he went his way, the ridiculous idea extended to the moment and he found himself stepping into the landing of a cold apartment complex, umbrella dripping at his side.
The hallway was cold but the studio-type space was surprisingly warm. Perhaps it was the light, or the way the place was so polite and inviting (it was Iruka everywhere, he decided), or it was the animated chatter coming from the partly obscured kitchen as he heard cups being prepared and tea (or was it hot chocolate?) being heated in a plug-in thermos.
He marveled at how the other had suddenly recharged so quickly upon entering his own niche here in this rain-drenched part of the village. The fatigue lacing Iruka's tone was gone, transformed into an almost Naruto-like exuberance that made him, despite himself, smile a little under his mask (Ridiculous, his inner person thought).
"Please, please make yourself comfortable. There's the television, and some magazines, oh, I won't take too long, I hope you don't mind, I hope I'm not keeping you from something important—erm, hot chocolate, or tea, Kakashi-sensei? I've got chamomile, woolong, earl grey… oh and the—"
"Woolong is fine," he interrupted, chuckling lightly, wary and a bit confused at the growing sense of homeliness in such an alien territory, the ingrained shinobi instinct of guardedness dissipating like white breath in the air.
Must be the weather.
He took a good look around, but, like its owner, the room politely "kept its distance" so to speak, never revealing an opening to pry at, no hidden personality stashed under shelves half-filled with class portfolios.
Perhaps, he conceded grudgingly, that was why this man was good with children; because he was reliable, he was something little children, in their naiveté and boundless curiosity, found extremely…consistent. Iruka was like the cushion underneath the training bars, there, ready, without an undependable wear or tear in place.
Perhaps, he decided—to take the analogy further—that was why such problem kids as those he had under his mentorship now could cope under situations of extreme mental pressure. Naruto especially, who was a paradoxically fragile little hurricane that could have gone the way of madness easily, had the boy been under a lesser sort of guide. The boy had seemed to rebound off the 'training cushion' that was Iruka, impressively reaching a sort of stability (not necessarily maturity, he thought quickly) that even his two teammates could not possess.
It was a sudden revelation that battered at him softly like the first rains on a dry summer field: gradual, spreading and warming his hardened determination like so much dampened loam.
Iruka was more than one person, and it had been foolish of him to think he could 'capture unaware', so to speak, the teacher who, after all, had taught the only genin team he had passed in a long, long while. It had been doubly foolish of him to miss out on what he had looked out unwaveringly for so long, the sunless private alcove where Iruka's ghosts danced.
Iruka was, in fact, everywhere. He was Sakura when she exploded into emotions she could barely contain, all the while presenting only a 'nice' front especially to her beloved. He was Sasuke when the latter allowed himself moments of tenderness, to the most harmless, most fragile of things. He was Konohamaru, who liked using creativity to playfully usurp the rules of institution, all the while upholding it the best he could.
Iruka was also Naruto, who yelled when he was challenged, who refused to be put down despite his rank, who didn't think twice about giving everything to protect his comrades, blood and pain be damned. Who watched the other children as they filtered out the school, laughingly hurrying back to their families, expression a mix of a loneliness subdued by mute resignation that a face-splitting smile could not quite mask entirely.
Iruka was everywhere, in this room, in the air, in the minutest of sound waves reverberating in the spaces between his ears, in the droplets of water that seeped through his clothes, through his vest to his skin, his hair, his very blood. It was as if the chuunin had dispersed his inner village and had retained only the face everyone knew him for, all of them none the wiser. Iruka was everywhere, and it was short of overwhelming.
He willed the surprise to remain within his head as he turned to see the schoolteacher, tray of steaming cups in hand, leaning against the wall opposite the table. Brown eyes were level with a curiosity that resembled a child's, owlish and steady.
There was a trace of impish glee in the expression (familiar, now that he thought about it) as if the latter knew a secret that nobody in the village, not even the Hokage himself, could possibly find out. Gotcha.
The cunning, cunning bastard. It seemed, the chuunin was playing his own version of the game too.
"Kakashi-sensei, your tea," Iruka said, the faintest of chuckles trailing the words.
He was still reeling with the double realization, even as a third one crept stealthily up to him, waiting to be acknowledged. When he did acknowledge it, he turned his full attention to the other teacher seated on the low, narrow table across him.
"Kurenai was right, you are a bore," he said amusedly, reaching for a cup.
Chocolate eyes twinkled knowingly. "Not entirely, Kakashi-sensei. I enjoy certain things too. There are plenty of games to play on rainy days like this, and I always find myself looking forward to them."
The answer was the aptest he could hope for, and, deciding that what he was about to do was in fact not ridiculous at all, more along the lines of being fair and making sense for a change, he almost casually pulled his facemask down, all the while watching the face that apprehensively watched his.
Aah, but I have one last trick up my sleeve, Iruka-sensei, one that took even me by surprise.
There was a timid awe in the other's eyes that grew with every inch of pale face revealed, and he was quite sure that the other had fallen too, for a trap neither had foreseen when they played their elusive little sport.
When he felt rather than heard the other gasp (his senses heightened by the overwhelming Iruka-ness of the place) from across the table, and when he saw the man before him bite a lip, it was the only answer he needed. Smirk in place, he leaned slowly towards the reddening teacher, deciding to investigate further the one, the everything, that his eyes had all but touched.
It had rained, true enough, well into dawn of the next day, but stopped gradually to allow the first sun the village had seen in seven days to trickle its waking, orange light into every damp cranny in the village.
The streets were echoing with the last of the drops, and the mist struggled vainly to hold its ground against the impending brightness.
Outside the landing of a now-warming apartment, a large red umbrella, propped against the floor outside a door, was drying in the morning sun.
Anou sa. This was supposed to be drabble. This was supposed to be really short. Shorter than what I came up with, in any case. Silly fanfic muse won't let up especially since I have a damned term paper to write! (-gnaws nails-) Wait your turn next time!
(1) Ohagi are sweets. I figure maybe Sakura's family own a sweet shop or something like that, for her to be giving them away so freely to her friends. :3
(2) My first Naruto fic where Hayate does not make a cameo. :D He gets the chills in cold weather, so he's got the day off. I am partial to Kurenai because we share the same birthdate. :D
IRUKA: (-sobbing and clutching blanket to his nekkie self-) He! He's a STALKER! He has been stalking me all this time! (-points to Kakashi-)
KAKASHI: …and what a sight. oo Especially the early morning after-showers… (-happy pervy-scarecrow look-)
IRUKA: (-tear floods, points at author-) And YOU! You made him sound decent when he's not at the very LEAST! And you daresay that—that PERVERTED PAPERBACK of Ero-Sennin's is EDUCATIONAL! INSPIRATIONAL, even!
- But it is, dear. I got myself a copy of Icha Icha Academy, and you should SEE the modes of control used in page 13 of the…
IRUKA: (-curls to a blushing, weeping ball as Kakashi advances happily, licking his chops-)
Leave a note if it was okay. This is for… (-thinks-) Hayate, I suppose. :D And my betas, Goukii and Rach, who I'm sure don't even know this exists yet. This was unbeta-ed so pardon the tiny inconsistencies. Even as we speak Gou-kun is unleashing his evil correcting bugs to fix the typos and stuff. XD