Switching from being a jounin to a jounin-sensei, he'd gone from being assigned S and A class missions to babysitting his genin team on D and occasional C class missions. He hadn't really minded the change.
To be sure, the missions were boring… but all good shinobi know that boredom, like anything else, is just another enemy that must be overcome. So he read Icha Icha Paradise, found new and creative ways to tortu… teach his students, and generally enjoyed himself. After years as an Anbu, he knew that a day when no one tries to kill you is… rather relaxing.
Today he was amusing himself by alternating between reading Origami for Beginners and monitoring his students. If by 'monitor' you meant 'occasionally throw paper shuriken at the back of their heads.' He'd already gotten quite good at folding shuriken, and he'd always believed in multi-tasking.
Naruto had been so excited at the sound of a C class retrieval mission. Would they be retrieving a hostage or a lost scroll or a treas… before he could continue, Sakura had clocked him in the back of the head. Unfortunately for the blonde, the "retrieval" in question was an earring belonging to a noblewoman of the Fire country, half of a favourite pair lost during the transition between her winter and summer homes. It would never have ranked C class, except that she had no idea exactly where on the long route the earring had been lost, and some of the countryside was quite wild.
For instance, that brush that Sasuke was industriously searching through. The seemingly innocuous dark green shrubbery was capable of causing a rather nasty allergic reaction.
Hm. He felt sure he'd mentioned that during the briefing.
And now, peering down from his perch in the trees, he could see Naruto yelling something at Sasuke about finding it first.
Sasuke said something back about Naruto never being first at anything.
Naruto then dashed over to the brush near Sasuke to begin enthusiastically attacking it in his quest for the earring.
And now Sakura, sensing a chance to be near Sasuke, was over in the brush as well…
Oh, right. That had been the part of the briefing they'd all been too busy arguing to pay attention to.
Ah well. Everything is a learning experience. Including not being able to sit for forty-eight hours while you wait for the swelling to die down.
He chucked a few more shuriken their way for good measure.
Hm. If Naruto came back with a rash, Iruka-sensei would be furious with Kakashi for not taking better care of his students. Furious enough, perhaps, to seek him out to yell at him.
Kakashi believed very firmly in the benefits of multi-tasking.
The next day dawned over Konoha bright and shining with irony.
The morning passed uneventfully for Iruka. The children possessed the usual extra energy they always seemed to have on beautiful days, so he decided to spend the morning outside, where they'd practiced basic tai-jutsu techniques and sparred in pairs. He enjoyed the classes outside much more than the ones where he was trapped at a chalkboard, though he never would have admitted something so unprofessional to his students.
Still, he was glad when lunchtime rolled around and he could take a break. He almost sprawled on the grass to watch the clouds when he remembered he'd been planning to look up Asuma-sensei or Kurenai-sensei.
He decided to grab a quick lunch first.
It wasn't that he was a little nervous about talking to another jounin after his experience with Gai. He was just hungry. And he'd forgotten to pack a lunch.
No, wait, he had packed a lunch. He always packed a lunch.
Well… he felt like having sushi and not the curry he'd packed.
Some people can lie and get away with it. Some people lie all the time and get away with it. Some people, like Kakashi, had raised lying to an art form that was less about plausibility and more a sort of performance piece.
Iruka, unfortunately, was one of those people who couldn't even lie convincingly to himself. Lying tended to make him twitch nervously while he waited to be found out by the person in question.
In this case, since he'd lied to himself, the universe had to step in. And so it was that as he arrived at the sushi stand, he was surprised to recognize two of the patrons sitting and enjoying the sunlight.
"Ah, Asuma-sensei, Kurenai-sensei, how… fortunate I should find you both here. Together. At the same time."
Kakashi didn't know what to do.
He missed Iruka.
He could handle missing people. It's just that usually the people he missed had died in traditional ninja fashion: horribly while on a mission. Over the years he'd developed a system for handling those emotions that was one part denial, three parts acceptance, and seven parts Icha Icha Paradise.
Missing someone who was still alive, though, was something he'd had next to no experience with. Because someone who was really dead… you knew they weren't coming back, and that conversations at the memorial stone were going to become increasingly one-sided. Though Yondaime still had an impressive backlog of dirty jokes he must have learned while studying under Jiraiya.
But he missed Iruka. Iruka who was still alive, still there… who if he headed back to the village now, he could see again before nightfall.
Of course, he couldn't just abandon the mission. So he did the sane, logical, obvious thing, and chucked the missing earring in the brush near him.
He'd found the earring yesterday, with the aid of his Sharingan, but felt it was good practice for his team to try to find it themselves.
"Yo. I think it's over here somewhere." He gestured lazily with one hand in the general direction of his toss.
"Kakashi-sensei, we looked there before!" Naruto yelled back. He was tired and for some reason, starting to itch all over. His only comfort was that he'd caught Sasuke scratching at his arms and back as well.
"Yes, but a good ninja always looks underneath the underneath."
"That's not even relevant!" Sakura yelled, her skin now as pink as her hair. "The only way it would be in an area we'd already looked would be if…" She trailed off, thoughtful. "If you'd already found it, and then put it there!" She ran over to the bushes indicated and began frantically ripping through them. The boys joined her a few seconds later.
"Now, now, would I do something like that?" Kakashi said, his hands held up in front of him.
"Yes!" The three students yelled as they continued searching. He could feel their combined murderous intent radiating towards him. It was kind of cute.
"Now, if you find it soon, we can make it back to Konoha by nightfall if we travel quickly. Unfortunately, I've only brought enough calamine lotion for one person…"
Sometimes, he really loved teaching.
Now to get back to Iruka.
Again, thank you to all of my lovely readers for your continuing support. Special thanks go to my reviewers Eudoxus, snow887, momo-chan, Smoking Panda, sidhe-ranma, b-s, Pirate Burn, Tsugath, jemu, Seadragon, ivybluesummers, Ika-chan, meleth78, icefalcon, sna, Suke-san, Raynin, R.A.Ducko, Polka dot, godes of sand, Rui Yazawa, Azamiko, kiwifluff, Beloved Fool, Alicorna, Ryals-Shoal, Aya Weird, eBooeBoo, Jade Tatsu, firedraygon, Riyo-sama, and rasinah. I treasure every review and I reread them when I'm feeling down or lack inspiration.
Other than that… eh, I don't figure you guys care all that much about my private life, so I won't bore you with it, but I did add a set of "promises to my readers" to my author bio page. Hope you enjoy this chapter, and please continue to leave feedback. Thanks!
Next chapter: Kakashi and Iruka actually interact! With each other!