iii: Intrusions (rain, routine, and the like)
in which Kakashi wonders about the weather, and the concept of 'friends'.

- slight spoilers, so to be safe, I recommend you read up until the Gaiden at least, though I certainly won't deliberately spoil it for you. Naruto and all characters from the Naruverse belong to Kishimoto Masashi, whose crazy mind I wish I owned, effectively making the characters mine. Sadly, nothing here but several pets and my laptop.

- this contains implied yaoi, which means two guys paired up with each other. While there isn't any overt action, the implications are clear, and are intended, to make the story work. Please do us both a favor and NOT read if you're squeamish with this.


.Once in a while
you remember that yesterday,
before anything actually happened,
you still had a place in the world,
- Cathy Candano, "The Most Beautiful Boy I Touched Ran Away from Me"

Kakashi woke up to the smell of rain, and the stickiness in the air that foretold its approach.

Summer rains were generally unpredictable; arriving at the last minute with only a gust of wind as warning, or a very brief interval of heavy humidity. Like a well-trained jounin, it disguised its water-heavy clouds behind brilliant sunlight, and left only the faintest scent of its arrival in the air.

His father had taught him to read weather patterns. The White Fang was the most excellent tracker in the country, possibly in the entire region. The man knew when a drought was coming, as if he could read it in the patterns the loose earth made across the rice fields; he listened for the sound of snowfall, in the early autumnal mornings, and taught his son to do the same.

He taught Kakashi how to read past the stealth of summer rain, as if it were a natural genjutsu that needed to be unraveled. He taught Kakashi how to weigh the air that brushed his face, carrying its most telling sign.

As he rose to regard the deceitfully bright morning, he automatically thought about planning his day, as he always did—meditation, breakfast, training, a bit of community service (the fields were being turned for planting), his daily vigil.

His eyes wandered to the water balloon on the shelf, still in its perch, and automatically he thought of the summer-eyed boy.

In the two times he'd met the boy, the latter had regarded him with a look akin to awe—strangely enough while he had looks like that directed at him by other people (his father's team, chuunin all, three times his age), it left him with a warmth he only got when his father gave him an approving nod, or when the Hokage in the few times he got to meet the older nin, looked at him levelly.

"Nonsense," he muttered to himself hotly, as he stalked towards the meditation room, ready to start the day. "You do not even know who he is, Kakashi. Friends are troublesome."

But I am not troublesome, the boy insisted in his head.

Kakashi chose to ignore it. Such thoughts, he decided, were useless, and did not make a shinobi strong.

You could be point man, the boy had said. The thought of him persisted, walked alongside Kakashi and followed him from the room. You're too cool to be Suna. You're definitely Konoha.

Kakashi stopped at the doorway of the meditation room, and turned to glare at the empty space behind him. From across the narrow corridor of the house, and through the open door of his room, he stared suspiciously at the water balloon as if its very presence foretold something.

What's your name?

His clone waited for him in the meditation room, standing in attention.

He always put a clone on guard around the house and the backyard when he was alone. It was a simple clone, whose main prerogative was to protect the immediate area, to act as its sentry, and to wake its caster should something important happen.

He brushed off the strange feeling of dejavu brought about by the dream of two nights past, and listened to it report about its night shift. It did so in the sharp monotone he could never quite associate with himself.

"Two neighborhood dogs chased each other three hours before dawn. One night sentry passed the area a short while later. Acknowledged her. Returning messenger team stopped three blocks away to fix wounded member's bandages. One of them looked like a Hyuuga, as he saw me right through the fence. Acknowledged him."

He let the clone's spiel run in through his head like he always did, while he performed the various breathing exercises that strengthened sleep-sluggish nerves, invigorated blood and chakra.

"Wind changes direction every hour or so. Predictably a small depression coming from the West."

Nothing out of the ordinary. Friction must be building in the front, what with messenger teams, which rarely saw fighting, getting hurt. The clone ran through its report without pausing once.

It finished at length, and remained silent, as if waiting.

Kakashi opened his eyes and looked at it questioningly, eyebrow raised. The clone usually disappeared after it had delivered its report, feeding back the chakra it left unused.

It stared at him openly now, pale hair wild with morning static, eyes wide with a repressed glee Kakashi could not quite name. A smile, or a ghost of it, wrinkled the cloth of the facemask.

"Yes?" Kakashi ventured, feeling at once ridiculous and amused at questioning a clone, as if it had an opinion.

The ghost-smile widened. "He is not troublesome," it murmured quietly with a knowing look. Before its caster could respond, or banish it in a single irritated move, it inclined its head slightly before stepping back once, and disappeared in a soft clap of smoke.

Kakashi was left alone in the meditation room, the silence of the humidity-choked morning resounding in his ears. The clone did not know what it was talking about, he thought; it was most likely simply an error in casting, a clumsy segregation of chakra.

I am getting complacent. Sakumo-sama will be displeased to know I spent my 'free time' lounging about.

So saying he stepped out into the yard, out into the deceiving brightness of the day, suspiciously scanning the sky for rain. He was to meet with the blonde jounin in the afternoon, but until then, he had time to kill.

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He sparred with his double twice as vigorously as he was used to, mainly to let off his agitation. He had killed his shadow clone twice in the past three hours, both by strangling. It was a disconcerting moment when, just before the second one dissipated in his hands, he thought it flashed him the same frightened look of the unfortunate Suna child.

Vexed by both the very telling clamminess in the air (it had increased as the sun climbed the sky) and by his clones' rather erratic behavior, he decided to forego sparring for the moment and devote the rest of the morning to chakra exercises instead.

Unforgivable, Kakashi, he berated himself in his father's words. Undisciplined chakra allocation…what is the difference between you and the newly-made genin now?

So saying he walked toward the creek that ran through the bamboo grove, gathered a set amount of chakra to his feet, and carefully stepped onto the surface of the water. He felt it lap against the soles of his sandals, and placidly, he moved across the creek, careful not to wet his toes. He made it a personal challenge, as he hated getting his feet damp.

A disturbance further down caused him to turn his head and squint in the general direction.

Sitting forlornly on the bank, knees gathered to him in a gesture of defeat, sat his summer-eyed boy, glaring at nothing and tossing pebbles angrily onto the water.

It was such an unexpected sight, and one that affected him very strongly. He lost his balance for a quick moment, and a foot sank ankle-deep into the cold water. Irritated, he quickly pulled it back up, and prepared to leap away.

It was enough to startle the boy from whatever angry reverie he caught himself in, and he turned sharply in Kakashi's direction, throwing hand armed with a river pebble.

He found himself immobile, stunned, as if caught red-handed by an accidentally-awakened sentry, in the thick of enemy territory.

"What are you staring at?"

The boy glared at him hotly, and when he noticed the forehead protector and the fact that Kakashi was standing on the water, on the murkier part of the creek, his scowl deepened. Grimacing warily, the boy resumed his dejected slump, ignoring him completely.

Kakashi relaxed. He does not remember you, apparently, he thought, and wondered why there was a very, very faint tinge of something akin to disappointment seeping into him.

Irritated, he brushed it off, but despite himself, walked towards the boy's direction. The river water splashed freely into his sandals now, and each step aggravated the disappointment to an unreasonable notch, so that, when he finally stopped in front of the boy, he was fairly simmering in indignation.

But I'll see you around, okay?

"What are you doing here."

It probably came out sharper than he had expected, as all he wanted to do was ask. The boy looked up, brown eyes flashing, lips pursed.

"What do you want, huh? I bet Nara-sensei sent you. I bet you're one of the Genin-Baka who like hanging around the playground. Well you may bully kids like Mizuki and younger kids like Gekkou-kun, but you can't pick on me!"

So saying, the boy stood up, clumsily falling into a basic taijutsu stance. Kakashi followed the amateurish movement with trained eyes, automatically calculating several angles from which to disable the boy.

There was silence, and for Kakashi, a moment of tension so thick that one might have stepped on it.

The boy's face twitched once, twice, before he relaxed. Sticking a tongue out, he sat back down again, and ignored the utterly perplexed chuunin standing on the water's edge.

"I'm just taking a break anyway. I'm not lost. If Nara-sensei sent you tell him I'll be back later, but I'll definitely prove to him that I can do it. I'm going to win our bet, and I'm going to go to the festival." The boy continued tossing pebbles half-heartedly into the water.

Kakashi frowned. The boy was not making any sense at all. At first he had assumed that the boy's class had been out on their first practical tracking exam; it was common for children to be separated from their teams, and the more reckless ones lost in the unfamiliar parts of the bamboo forest. He once had a D-rank mission with two other older Genin to shepherd lost Academy students back on their major exam.

But he was "not lost", so Kakashi assumed the boy was here for some other reason.

"Didn't Nara-sensei send you?" the boy asked in annoyance, just before Kakashi could open his mouth to speak. "He probably didn't. That big grouchy meanie doesn't believe I can do it! That's why!" The boy chewed on his lip in resentment. "'Umino you are troublesome', he would say. Well I am NOT troublesome!"

He is not troublesome echoed in Kakashi's ears and for a strange moment he remembered his clone's small smile.

"'It'—" he began, but was cut off again.

"'It', you know, Henge? Sheesh." The boy suddenly sat up straighter, now that he had an audience. "I didn't know he planned for a pop quiz, I would have studied, honest, but he pulled a fast one on us, and I was caught off-guard."

That's why it's called a 'pop quiz', silly, thought Kakashi, and while a more logical part of his mind insisted on leaving this sorry, mediocre boy to his lot, he found himself stepping out of the water, and sitting a few feet away from the boy.

"Anyway. Yuugao-chan was sooooo good at it. She turned into a raccoon, and she even made raccoon noises, and it really worked. Mizuki wasn't so good, because his weasel had blue fur—he has blue hair, you know, and weasels don't have blue fur."

It was probably the weather, Kakashi thought. It made him lightheaded. The boy's chatter was bright, and each word sounded like sparks going off in their animated inflections. He had the sudden image of water balloons bursting into color and spilling random hiragana against the ground.

And I bet you sucked at your turn, he thought, chuckling lightly. He blinked when the boy beside him glared furiously.

"NO, it was just a SMALL mistake, and Nara-sensei hates me so he noticed it straightaway, but I DO NOT SUCK."

Had he said that aloud? Kakashi bit his lip and considered pulling his facemask up in embarrassed amusement.

The boy was silent again, visibly sulking. He probably spent most of his chakra in numerous failed attempts, and was now resting to replenish it. A quick glance around revealed that the boy had eaten quite a bit too; an empty bento carelessly tied up in cloth was stashed by a cluster of rocks.

How hard was henge anyway? For him, it was almost as easy as doing a headstand, which he doubted the younger boy could do as well. The most basic henge turned one into an immobile, unconscious object; a few levels higher taught one to turn into other people, but it required careful observation on the caster's part. The more difficult henge was one that was cast onto someone else; there would be chakra transfer, and the caster had to hold the image of both the thing he wished to morph, and the thing he wished the other to morph into.

Hatake, hold the illusion until you reach the village. We will follow you shortly, but you must go NOW.

He could not quite find the proper words to say it, because he did not want to sound obliging. Sakumo-sama had taught him to observe things keenly, so much so that he was able to transform into something he had seen only once or twice.

Wordlessly, he stood, and when the boy instinctively turned to his direction, he cast a henge—one that came with an unusual ease and naturalness that surprised him.

The boy shot to his feet in excitement, eyes wide, amazement fairly written all over his face. His mouth hung open and he approached, and quite suddenly, too unexpectedly for Kakashi, the boy's hands were on his face.

"You look just like me!"

Small boy-fingers swiped awkwardly across his nose, patting his cheek heavily, tugged at his hair. Nobody touched him so casually before, not even his own father, and truth to tell, he disliked being touched. Annoyed, he batted them away, but the boy continued to gawk.

"How… how did you turn… wow, that's so COOL!"

All you have to do is concentrate on the thing you're to turn into, Kakashi thought, uneasy with the boy's rapt attention on his new form. No doubt it was an amusing thing, the first time someone else henge'd into one's own features.

He thought of the Suna child, and wondered if that was what made the boy seem so surprised.

But the scarred boy was now grinning his familiar grin, seemingly charging the air around him as well. "You have to teach me how to do it," he pleaded, tugging at Kakashi's arm. "If I can prove to Nara-sensei that I can do a Second Level henge, even without him discussing it, he's gonna let me off remedial classes and he's going to let me join the festival!"

To say "no" was something he was taught to do at an early age, something which made older teammates respect him. Sakumo-sama had taught him conviction, and to this he was firm, refusing to do something that he didn't need to.

I'm just helping him, Kakashi said to himself firmly. It's got nothing to do whether or not I want to help him. I'm just bored. And I'm just killing time before jounin-sensei and I are supposed to meet.

"Thanks!" the scarred boy exclaimed, and Kakashi wondered if he had said it aloud again. "I could turn into you. You turned into me and I never thought I looked so serious." He frowned, mimicking Kakashi's stoic expression, but could not hold it, and burst out laughing instead. "But I think I can turn into you. Teach me?"

It wasn't even a question, Kakashi realized, when he thought it over that night, in the still and uneasy silence of his room. It wasn't even a question because it was something he had decided on the very moment he chose to approach the boy.

They spent the entire muggy afternoon practicing henge, and conversely, Kakashi learned many things. He learned how the boy's teacher, one Nara-sensei, was the strictest teacher in the faculty, given charge over the most rambunctious children accepted into the Academy. He learned how the boy liked wandering off on his own in the forest, especially when his parents (both active nin, he presumed) were out. He learned how the boy loved getting "reward visits" to Lodge Town's hot spring whenever he got a good grade.

"It's different, see. Lodge Spring kinda smells a little salty, and for some reason I like how the water smells like that. Father says in the Mist Country, there are springs far larger than anything at Lodge Town, and that those smell salty too."

He also learned, as the afternoon drew on, that he had not been this relaxed in a long time, and that it was terribly amusing to watch the boy try, so much so that he snickered at one time or another. The prickling sensation he had known yesterday at the playgrounds spread, and he was strangely giddy, and very, very amused.

You are only getting complacent, Kakashi, he scolded himself in his father's words. Compared to what you usually do, you are playing needlessly with this boy.

The boy had a terrible patience, and at first refused to continue after three very poor attempts at transforming into his companion. The boy yelled, sulked, kicked stones into the water—all in all, Kakashi thought, very childish behavior.

He frowned then, when this happened, and prepared to walk away, but the boy always seemed to get back on track. He bit his lip and in furious but determined silence, he copied Kakashi's (albeit slightly advanced) hand seals, transforming into a mirror image a little more accurate than the last.

The boy was a quick learner though. By the time the sun was starting to set Kakashi found himself in a very surreal situation of watching his almost-mirror self (since the other-Kakashi still had the scar across the nose, and eyes of the wrong color) blinking back at him a few feet away.

"Well?" it asked, face twitching to keep from smiling.

"I don't have a scar on my face," he replied, "and one eye is of a strange color." The genjutsu was pretty good, however, and he had to commend the child for noticing the very subtle differences between their heights.

"YESS!" the boy screamed happily, and his hold on the jutsu snapped. "I was working hard on fixing the hair, you know. You have such strange hair. At least it's nice and white now," he tugged at his head, "that's why I forgot to pay attention to the nose and the eyes. But that's fine, the big part is over, and—eh? Where are you going?"

The boy had looked up, and looked around, and wondered why he was all alone by the riverbank. Even as he picked up his bento to return to the Academy, all he could think of was the strange, serious boy who had helped him without a word uttered.

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"Hatake-kun, what pleasant timing you have!"

He was approaching the school grounds, when the pleasant blonde jounin emerged right out of one of the street corners. Kakashi concealed his surprise, but it shocked him slightly, as he didn't even notice the older man's presence.

Focus, Kakashi, FOCUS.

"You scared me, appearing right there and then," the blonde jounin chuckled, ignoring Kakashi's very quick surprised glance. "But I was just thinking about sending a messenger bird to summon you. I assumed you were probably practicing again today."

"Quite alright, jounin-sensei," Kakashi replied formally. "I was just finishing up, in any case."

The blonde jounin nodded. "Still no word from Sakumo-san? It's been unusually long. Please don't misunderstand, Hatake-kun, but I was just wondering out loud, and it's not like Sakumo-san to delay in his missions this long."

So they've noticed too, he thought, but kept the observation to himself. "None yet, sensei, but I'm sure Sakumo-sama and his team have merely run into some…inconvenience."

The jounin nodded thoughtfully as they entered the lobby of the school. "True, true. And I wouldn't be surprised if they got 'caught in the rain', so to speak. The weather is starting to get a little cheeky nowadays, and I hear there's a depression from the northwest."

They stopped outside the Mission Room, and the blonde jounin let him wait by the doorway for a bit. While waiting, Kakashi noticed that everyone in the room stole glances at him, discreet as they would have been.

The blonde jounin returned with several scrolls in hand. Kakashi looked at them and raised an eyebrow quizzically. The jounin grinned, fox-like, and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

"I apologize for this, Hatake-kun, and I'm aware that it is immensely impolite, just as it is rather sudden." His face grew serious then. "These are mission briefs for three simultaneous S-ranked missions to be commenced one right after the other."

"For Sakumo-sama, correct." Kakashi nodded in understanding and took them from the jounin, holding them by the thick scroll rope that tied them together. "I shall be sure to give them to him the moment he arrives."

While it annoyed Kakashi to have the higher-ups decide on his father's succeeding missions even when he had not come back safely from the one he was accomplishing, he knew it was a necessity. One became strong for the village after all, and the stronger one was, the harder and more frequent one's missions got.

You must understand this, Kakashi. It is one way of proving yourself to the eyes of the village. It is one way to be acknowledged.

Perhaps the blonde jounin understood this, because his face softened up into an expression akin to sadness. "Thank you, Hatake-kun," he said.

They walked down the hallway in silence, and just as they were about to walk down the stairs, a loud, familiar voice issuing out of the classroom caught both their attentions.

"Why, it's rather late to have classes now," the blonde jounin wondered aloud. "I wonder who it could possibly—oh good afternoon, Nara-sensei."

It was an empty classroom, and the desks were pushed to one side. A gruff, frowning teacher stood leaning against the blackboard, beady eyes staring hard at a boy standing in the middle of the room.

"You just won't believe me, sensei! I wasn't slacking off all day, I was—"

"Good afternoon to you too, sensei." The man managed a brief, stiff grin and rubbed the tip of his nose. "Please, don't mind us, I'm just reprimanding this troublesome, slacker student of mine. I hope we weren't a bother."

"I'm NOT a troublesome—" the boy yelled and turned around, anger dissipating at the sight of the similarly surprised Kakashi. "—slacker." Quicker than a flash, brown eyes lit up with a friendly cheer. "Hello," he called, waving a hand.

"Be quiet, Umino, you're very disrespectful," Nara-sensei hit the boy over the head with the back of his clipboard and the boy winced. Kakashi wondered where the urge to hit the beady-eyed man with a water balloon came from, and smothered it whole.

"Nothing doing," replied the blonde jounin, chuckling. "Just passing by. We were—"

"See here, Nara-sensei, sempai will agree with me." The boy stood, glaring at his teacher, and casting meaningful looks at Kakashi. "I can prove to you that I don't need remedial classes, and that I can do a proper henge."

Nara-sensei reddened, prepared to knock the boy over the head again. "Umino…"

"Well now, henge!" The blonde jounin looked amused. "It's very important that you learn how to do a henge, young man. I've been to very dangerous missions myself, and a simple henge-no-jutsu, done well, saved my life more than once."

A sly look crossed Nara-sensei's face and he leaned back against a table. "Since you're so keen on embarrassing yourself, Umino, you go on ahead. Sensei here is an important shinobi in our village,so I'll have him choose what form you'll turn into." He smirked at the boy's horrified look. "Go ahead, sensei. Please choose any form for Umino to change into."

"Everyone's an important shinobi, Nara-sensei," the blonde jounin replied, grinning his fox-grin again. "Thank you for the honor. Hmmm—" he pretended to mull over it for a bit.

Kakashi did not want to see how the boy would fail miserably in such an easy exercise, such a basic shinobi drill. He did not like to imagine the triumphant look of the beady-eyed teacher, and quietly tugged on the blonde jounin's vest as a signal to leave.

The latter turned bright blue eyes down in his direction, twinkling in an amused epiphany. He winked knowingly before he turned to the pair inside the classroom.

"Why don't you turn into my student over here?" the blonde jounin asked, casually laying a hand on Kakashi's head.

Nara-sensei gave a short bark of laughter, gleefully acknowledging the challenge. "Let's see if you can redeem yourself, Umino, you slacker. If you fail this one, you're definitely going to stay over for remedial." And so saying he settled himself on a chair eager to mete out punishment.

"Go on, Umino-kun," the blonde jounin prompted the boy gently, and Kakashi had the distinct feeling that the older man knew—perhaps it was the strange way the latter winked briefly as if warning him to keep silent about something.

He found himself being stared at by a pair of very intent brown eyes. There was a clarity there that seemed to spread outward, beyond the small room and further outward still, to the trees and to the village itself. The whole afternoon condensed in that solemn look.

There was a pop, a shrill cry of "Henge!" and Kakashi blinked to see a clone of himself standing not too far away. It grinned.

"I'm not troublesome, sensei."

It was disconcerting to see his mirror-image—hear his mirror image speak in his own voice. He remembered his clone in the early morning report, and a shiver ran down his back.

It was, contrary to the practice sessions earlier that day, a perfect imitation; and he found himself closing the small distance between them, reaching out a gloved hand to run them lightly over equally pale, equally serious looking features.

"Hey, it's like you've never seen a henge before," he heard the boy (in his mirror-image) say amusedly, obviously reiterating what he had said earlier. As if burnt, Kakashi withdrew his hands and quickly stepped backward.

Even Nara-sensei seemed pleased with what the boy had accomplished. His face a mask of astonishment and cynicism, he carefully walked around the boy, intent in his scrutiny.

The blonde jounin clapped his hands lightly, chuckling all the while. "Well-done indeed, Umino-kun!" he said. "Why, I don't suppose I can tell you apart from Hatake-kun so easily."

The mirror-Kakashi turned his head and beamed proudly. "Really?" he asked, eyes widening uncharacteristically.

"There must be a catch to this," his teacher protested, still searching for errors in the jutsu.

"Come now, Nara-sensei," the blonde jounin chided, "perhaps Umino-kun deserves a measure of praise. He must have worked all afternoon to perfect this jutsu. Didn't you, Umino-kun?"

"Un!" the boy nodded his head enthusiastically, and Kakashi had the strange urge to follow suit. The boy then looked up hopefully at his teacher, the eagerness of attending a festival dancing in his eyes.

"Well, alrigh—" Nara-sensei conceded, but was quickly drowned out by an excited yell. The jutsu popped, and the boy once more stood in front of them. "You better be thanking sensei over here."

"Thank you very much, sensei," the boy replied, bowing low towards their direction.

"We'll be off now, Nara-sensei, Umino-kun," the blonde jounin said, giving an acknowledging nod. Kakashi found himself gently wheeled toward the hallway, down the flight of stairs. The scrolls in his hand were a strange, dead weight.

It had rained, finally. Torrents of it poured down like a finely-spun curtain of water. Muffled thunder resounded overhead, and a chill breeze wafted in through the open windows. Two chuunin staff hastily fastened the larger awnings shut, to keep out the rain that slanted in the wind. It flicked off the sill, lightly splattering Kakashi's face. The blonde jounin eyed the sky and clucked his tongue lightly.

"Well, it seems I must get wet," he sighed in mock resignation. Turning to Kakashi, he lay a hand on the boy's shoulder in a gesture of apology. "I'm sorry we had to delay back there. I really do pity the boy, and Nara-sensei can tend to be too strict with his rules sometimes. But wasn't that interesting though?"

Kakashi found some sense to sniff weakly in disdain. "It's just henge," he muttered, hoping the lilt in his voice wasn't apparent.

If the blonde jounin heard it, he certainly did not show it. instead, the older man nodded. "I'm sorry. It's just that I do miss teaching. Perhaps when the time comes Sandaime-sama will allow me to have a team of my own. Well then. I shall be off. Please don't forget to give these to your father, Hatake-kun."

With a slight nod, he was off, dashing through the rain, blonde head visible in the mist. Kakashi was left wondering whether to wait out the rain, or to borrow an umbrella. He was just about ready to make a run for it when a small hand tapped him from behind.

"Thanks for that thing back there," a small voice intruded, and he turned to see the boy again. It was strange how watching the other's face, suffused with laughter rippling under its surface, stirred an unfamiliar warmth in his stomach. He had no words, so he shrugged instead.

"No, really," the boy went on, and the fading light made his features glow strangely. He reached into his pocket and took out a very crumpled stub, and this he handed out to Kakashi with a grin.

"Here," he said. "Because you're my friend and because you're really, really cool, I'm giving you this." At Kakashi's blank look, the boy pouted.

"It's a pass, silly! The festival's later tonight, ne? It's a free pass so we don't have to pay, they're making people who enter pay, which is silly because you're supposed to have fun at a festival, not pay for it and stuff. You don't want it, I can take it back."

Nonetheless the boy pressed the stub into Kakashi's palm. He looked up questioningly. Wasn't he supposed to be home, meditating, preparing the scrolls and sharpening his father's blades in preparation for whatever mission the blonde jounin gave him?

"I'm going?" was all he could ask.

The boy just rolled his eyes as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Yes of course, duh, you're going. You've got a pass, right?"

I beg your pardon but I never asked for it, a voice in his head retorted, miffed.

"Besides," the boy continued, squinting at the rain, "it's gonna be boring and stuff. Yuugao-chan and Mizuki are all going with their clans and I don't have a clan as big as theirs and all. I don't think dad 'n mum'll be back soon, because they said something about 'smoking out raccoons' and I don't think we have smoking raccoons in Konoha, so I figured they'd be off to a far place."

A sad smile creased the boy's face even as Kakashi quizzically tried to make sense out of the boy's rambling.

He thought about his evening, all planned out. He thought about tea, and a light dinner of miso soup and fish with tofu, and he thought about volunteering for guard watch. He thought about laying down the mission scrolls in his father's room, and the weapons casket which he intended to prepare.

He thought about an empty house. Then he thought of the festival, probably ruined by the rain, but filled with people nonetheless, families celebrating parents home from the front, children passing quarterly exams.

"Do you think raccoons smoke?"

Slowly, his hand closed around the stub, and carefully tucked it in his pocket. It would be the second evening he would be overstepping his self-imposed routine, and it did not bother him one bit. Conversely, it bothered him to think that he was not bothered by the fact that he was doing something impulsive.

Outside, the rain had slowed down to a shower, and it settled to a comfortable rhythm that drummed lightly against the silence that now settled between Kakashi and the boy.

In his head, he could see his clone smile knowingly.

"Well, that's ironic," he muttered finally, startling the boy beside him. "Having a summer festival in the rain."

"Huh?" It was the boy's turn to give him a confused look, but at this point, Kakashi was quite decided. He turned his face to feel the air, to sniff the patterns of the weather, and it told him what he wanted to know.

"I'll bet you," he began, and bit his lip to keep from grinning. "We meet an hour after twilight watch at the bridge. If it continues to rain until then, you go alone. There's no sense for me to go to a festival in the rain."

The boy pursed his lips, challenged. "Fine. But if it stops raining, you get to come with me, and you get to uhhhhm, say buy me something. Because you lost. I can't think yet, but you have to buy me something. okay?"

"Okay." And so saying he tucked the scrolls under his shirt, and dashed outside, chakra making his feet barely touch the ground. In the haze of rain and wind, he ducked to hide a smile.

Author's Notes:

It's been an awfully long time, and I do admit I lagged a bit when I was writing this. I suppose it's what they all call "Real Life" and I've finally come to believe that it too, comes for those who refuse to have anything to do with it whatsoever. There's a slight change in tone and progression, and I suppose it's due to the fact that the classroom scene was a bit sticky, but somehow I had to pull them out of it. :sweat: I think I'll swerve away for a teeny tiny while from the image of Ko!Iruka running away from Bloodied!Kakashi, but it's so that I can give the latter some sort of 'growth' (pathetic as that may sound --)

(1) I would imagine Kakashi, cautious child-genius that he is, would rest yet keep a bunshin to patrol the house. Similarly, I would imagine bunshin to be "pre-programmed" for lack of a better term, infused with chakra enough to accomplish the duties it was made for--in which case, Kakashi's would be a simple patrol bunshin, which would alert its caster in the event of an engagement.

(2) Thanks to midnightdiddle (on LJ) for reassuring me re Yondy's lack of a True Name. The way you put it dear, made me want to add one more angle to the story. Also to Clueless, for the lovely art. A major motivation, that.

(3) Nara-sensei! Before he got married. :3 "Kids are troublesome," he would say. Of course Iruka would be the most troublesome of them all.

Inspired by the imagery of Cathy Candano's poem, "The Most Beautiful Boy...", published in the school folio, No.1 vol. 52, pgs 7-8. She's wonderful. Her writing's wonderful. (-weeps-) As per the recommendations of the lovely people at the kakairu LJ community, I just might continue this, for real. Please leave a note if it was fine, or if you feel like it ought to be continued. (-bows-)