The sun had set by the time Naruto finally found Sasuke and Sakura. Ironically, they were at Ichiraku's. All through the snow-caked streets of Konoha, lanterns turned the world a gentle, sparkling gold. Naruto appreciated the beautiful view only distantly, the events of the day cycling through his brain at high-speed. With each individual memory, it's very own emotion came with. Excitement for Iruka and Kakashi and their newfound understanding. Exhaustion and a certain amount of dread for his mission.
He'd already spent most of the afternoon hunting down, and then talking to Maito Gai, and that in itself had been a day's worth of energy, even for Konoha's Number One Hyperactive Ninja. Personally, Naruto didn't have that much of a problem with the overly-enthusiastic be-spandexed hurricane of a man. Furthermore, Naruto rather liked Super Brows Jr., Lee, quite a bit. He almost looked foreword to the six months that would follow. Except for Neiji. And Sasuke's moping, which was bound to only increase steadily the more the gloomy heir was around so much happy enthusiasm. Naruto heaved a sigh, thinking over this, as he finally found his teammates.
Stepping into the relative warmth of the little ramen stand, tugging at his snow-soaked cuffs as he did, Naruto dropped onto a stool beside Sakura.
"Maa," He began, wondering exactly how he was going to break the bad news to them.
"Don't do that, you sound like Kakashi," Sasuke said, effectively cutting Naruto off. He sounded tired. Naruto hoped he'd been thinking of overly-elaborate and effective ways to hide from Kakashi all day, just because that would prove to have been a waste of Sasuke's ever precious training time and energy.
"That's the thing," Naruto tried again. "He's mad as hell." That wasn't entirely true, not anymore. Even Naruto wasn't so dense as to notice the instant-calming effect Iruka had had on the other man. But Naruto was a little hurt that his teammates had deserted him so readily earlier, and decided to keep that key detail to himself.
"You didn't notice that sooner?" Sakura asked. She was stirring at her ramen, but not eating. Although she hadn't received the full force of Kakashi's anger, she'd seen enough in the mere seconds she'd been around her sensei. She was shaken, and had already discussed the situation slightly with Sasuke. They had definitely screwed up this time, and she wasn't surprised to hear the news of how obviously angry Kakashi was.
"Oh, I noticed. Thanks for ditching, by the way." Naruto drawled, smiling tiredly as Ayame automatically set down a bowl of ramen for him. "Anyway, he hates us all now and is taking a six month vacation." Naruto was able to keep his voice casual in breaking the bad news, just because he knew that the others would be even more dismayed than he was.
"The hell?!" Sasuke asked. "He can't do that! Who's going to train us?" If Sasuke had known that he'd end up getting dumped off by Kakashi anyway, he would have done things differently. Irritated, he glared at Naruto. As long as it was the just Naruto, Sasuke never minded shooting the messenger.
"That's what I've been trying to tell you idiot!" Naruto countered, irked at how the bastard kept cutting him off. Behind the counter, the shop owner and Ayame turned to look at the blond curiously. "As I was saying- We're officially part of Team Gai for the next six months, according to Kakashi. He says it's our punishment for messing with his and Iruka-Sensei's personal lives."
"No way!" Sakura cried. "Gai has a team, he wouldn't go for that, would he?"
"I've already had to talk to him about it," Naruto said, "He was…thrilled."
The strangled sound of dismay that Sasuke let out was blessedly drowned out by Sakura's outraged scream.
Sasuke didn't like the feeling of desperation, but it was one that he'd grown quite accustomed to in the last fifteen weeks or so.
The first two weeks with Gai had been horrible, the weeks after that, not quite as bad because Team Seven had grown accustomed to the exuberant sensei's antics. Sometime after this, and the team knew because Naruto had heard the words from the horse's mouth itself, so to speak, Kakashi had approached Gai and told him that his students needed to 'get more in touch with their springtime of youth'.
The problem with this was deeper than it first appeared. Team Seven was well aware of the rivalry between Kakashi and Gai--it was impossible to spend more than two seconds with Gai and not know-- but what they hadn't known about was the deep level of friendship and camaraderie buried beneath the rivalry.
Gai had been thrilled to find out that Kakashi was attempting to establish a romantic interest, and had sworn on his own strikingly handsome face that he would do for Kakashi whatever was needed to help.
Kakashi, of course, had gladly taken up this offer, and arranged for six months of maximum psychological and physical torture. Afterwards, he had gloated to Naruto during one of the blonde's frequent visits to Iruka. Likewise, Naruto had brought the news to his teammates, still taking way too much pleasure in the weird shades of green that Sasuke tended to turn at the mention of Gai. Shortly after that particular incident, Sasuke had started redirecting his 'vengeance sights' to a new target: Kakashi. This too was smoothly blocked by the devious Jounin when Gai came to training the very next day with a whole book's worth of advice on how to move on from grudges and become a better, more accepting person.
Now, closing in on five months of training with Gai, Lee, Tenten and Neji, Sasuke had decided that he could not take another month of it. Actually, he had decided several weeks ago that he could not take another month and a half of the Green Torture, and had since been plotting his escape. In the meantime, Sakura had developed her skills frighteningly well with weapons, and Lee had given Naruto a bright orange set of spandex, which the blond wore occasionally, but only so after death threats from everyone except Lee and Gai. Sasuke was the only person who'd failed to adapt, at least a little, and therefore suffered the most…
"Guys…" He gasped. He had just run a marathon around Konoha…backwards. He was now slumped against a tree in exhaustion, gasping for breath. His calves burned and he winced, even as Naruto and then Sakura finally caught up. Much to his vexation, Naruto, while winded, seemed mostly nonplussed. "I…I think I got something…"
"If you're referring to your asshole disease, Sasu-baka, we already know about that one." Naruto commented, stretching out where he stood. Sasuke frowned darkly at the new 'nickname' which Neiji had recently adopted as well. Itachi had referred to him by that same nickname, back in the day, and it burned a little too close to home. So of course, he refused to let it show, and suffered the memories in silence.
"NARUTO!" Naruto almost dodged the blow over the head from Sakura, but the kunoichi still managed to strike him across the shoulder, flooring him. "Don't talk like that to Sasuke-kun!" Naruto whimpered, climbing slowly back to his feet, whining in pain.
"I mean…" Sasuke gasped, ignoring the insults and Sakura's shouting, even though he couldn't help but admit to himself that the antics of his teammates were refreshing compared to the constant self-challenges and the springtime of youth blathering from Gai and Lee. "I mean… I have an idea…t-to escape…"
Sasuke was confused when Naruto and Sakura, standing near him now, both grimaced when he said this. He thought they had been as miserable as he had been (which was also a refreshing concept). His confusion was erased seconds later by a boldly outspoken,
"WHY, MY DEAR DARK AND DREARY TEMPORARY STUDENT, WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO ESCAPE!?"
Gai had gone on to explain rather theatrically how Sasuke didn't understand the springtime of youth because he hadn't gotten enough love as a child and swore to start making up for that loss immediately.
Sasuke had taken most of this as well as could be expected, stony and silent and only twitching a little, until Gai had decided that the best way to fulfill his oath would be to smother Sasuke in spine-snapping hugs.
Kakashi had heard the rattling scream of "Naruto, help me!" echo from across Konoha as he was preparing lunch for Iruka, and gave a laugh.
"Hey 'Dachi, remind me to buy Gai a new set of spandex and a round of drinks later." He had, after all, discussed the possibility of his student's growing desperation, and had scripted that very theatric explanation about Sasuke's nature, for Gai to use as he pleased. The two sensei had taken to getting together every other Friday for sake, and a brainstorming session over ways to terrorize Kakashi's students. It was the most fun Kakashi had had in years.
At his heels, Tomodachi made the canine equivalent of a snorting laughed.
"I'm sure you'll remember fine on your own, Kakashi." Kakashi shrugged, flipping a grilled sandwich. That was probably true.
Iruka straightened up, smiling fondly as a flurry of uncontrolled chakara raised the arm of a child sitting vaguely in front of him.
"Yes, Makoto-Chan?" He had finally been able to start teaching again at the Academy at start of the spring term. Every day he walked those halls, his heart swelled with joy, relief, and pride.
Very few ninja in history had overcome what he had, especially in such a short span of time.
Adjustments had to be made. Every morning, Iruka had to get a helper to help him charge any objects such as inks, and the chalk he wrote with on the huge blackboard at his side, with chakara, so that he could follow his own writing. The children were very accommodating, however. They were aware of how special their Sensei was, and were glad to be helpful. And well behaved. Iruka had been told repeatedly by his fellow teachers that they had heard 'uncanny rumors' of a whole classroom full of well behaved children.
'It's because they can't hide anything from me.' Iruka had said in response. This, too, was very true. Even as he smiled at the girl who'd raised her hand, he pointed silently to a boy in the back who was attempting to aim a spit-wad gun made of rolled-up paper at a classmate. The boy dropped the makeshift weapon instantly, giving a small, guilty laugh.
"Is that your boyfriend?" Little Makoto-Chan asked, ever-so-sweetly.
Behind the hitai-ate sitting over his eyes, Iruka blinked several times in rapid succession, startled by the question. He had no idea where the kids had gotten the idea that Iruka had a boyfriend into their heads. He did note that Makoto had not bothered pointing or indicating a direction. He smiled.
"Time for a little training, kids." Iruka said, effectively dodging the girl's question. "Nobody give anything away. Let's just let Makoto answer my questions. Okay?"
Everyone gave a small murmur of assent.
"Okay. Makoto-Chan. Whoever you see, are you within eyeshot?"
"No, Iruka-Sensei. I'm too far back, I think." The girl supplied. "But he's watching you. I think he can see you, you're right in front of the window."
"Good," Iruka smiled. He took a long step back until his back bumped against the chalkboard softly. "How about now? Why don't you tell me, Hanabi-Chan?"
"He's pouting." The young Hyuuga drawled. Iruka's smile grew brightly.
"Good! So kids, someone out of eyeshot so he doesn't read lips, tell me where he is." The boy who'd had the spit-wad gun raised his hand quickly.
"Yes?" Iruka said, nodding in his direction.
"He's out in the swing-tree, on the lower, right-side branch." Iruka nodded, and stretched out, ever-so slightly. He could barely make out the slightly stronger glow of chakara among the life of the tree. He didn't dare touch more than feather-light, if it was actually Kakashi like he suspected.
"One more question. What does this person look like?"
"SLOPPY!" Several kids said at once. Iruka laughed.
"And one droopy eye!"
"And fluffy hair!"
"And he's got this orange book in his hand."
…Iruka's lip twitched, irritation mounting.
That was Kakashi alright.
Will he ever quit?! Iruka smiled brightly.
"Okay kids, we're gunna play a game. The man you're describing is a very high-ranking Jounin. But lets see if we can get the drop on him." Iruka went on, making sure he was still out of eyeshot of the tree outside. "So here's what we'll do. We're going to go back to lessons, and in a bit, we'll see if I can get him, how's that?"
"Yeah!" The chorus of excited cheers fueled a devious side of Iruka that usually stayed squashed away. Oh, he hoped he could pull this off.
"Good. Would you all look to your left then, no, your other left Kei, and examine the diagram of standard chakara flow through the human body. I'm going to quiz you guys on the main meridians next week so pay attention." He walked as he spoke, stepping blithely back into Kakashi's view, appearing for all the world, utterly oblivious. "Have any of you figured out how to sense things through chakara like I showed you last week?" He made a few seals, channeling his chakara strongly enough that it's circulation would be visible to the naked eye. "Can you all see the strong points around my body? You start your chakara circulation by focusing on those parts. You'll feel it, it's warm and tingly." He smiled a little at how dumb, but true, the description was. "In fact, it's quite warm. Hanabi-Chan, would you go and open a window for me please?" He smiled as he watched the Hyuuga girl go and open the window that gave the cleanest shot out towards Kakashi. She was a bright girl, regardless of her clan's reputation. "Thank you. Now pull out your own diagrams and start labeling those points, using the big one on the wall as a guide." He stepped back to the chalk board and started listing the meridian points. As he passed his desk, heading back towards the window, he picked up a pencil, sliding it behind his ear deftly. "Okay kids, now watch how fast good chakara control can make a startled Jounin move!" The second he was within the opening, Iruka let his Second Sight Jutsu branch out in a rapid burst, even as he pulled the pencil out from behind his ear, and flung it fiercely out the window.
There was a low tack as the pencil struck wood, lead-end first, and a startled yelp, the rustling of May-green leaves, and a dull thump. The pencil had imbedded itself into an inch of branch, a hairs breadth away from Kakashi's face. Kakashi, who'd leapt backwards in his shock, dropped to the ground almost gracelessly, and now stood looking stunned at Iruka through the open schoolhouse window. He stuffed his book away in a pouch at his hip, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment, clearly caught.
"If you're that interested in my class, Kakashi-San, why don't you come in?" Iruka shouted over the peals of laughter roaring out from his entire class. He stepped back as Kakashi approached the window, and eventually climbed into the classroom. He straightened up, clearing smiling through his mask at Iruka. Iruka sighed as the expectant silence stretched. "Is there something you need, Kakashi-San?" The hair was standing up on the back of Iruka's neck, and he suddenly he wished he hadn't asked.
"Why yes, in fact there is!" Kakashi chirped. Iruka had been hearing that mischievous pitch to the other man's voice a lot lately, and it always made him worry. He frowned.
"Hey Mister! Are you Iruka-Sensei's boyfriend?!" Someone yelled. Iruka twitched, irritation growing. He turned towards his class.
"Now just where did you children get that type of idea?!" A few giggled at his reaction, and Iruka sighed heavily.
"Maa…If I'm lucky," Kakashi began, "He'll agree to go on a date with me tonight, and he will be!" Iruka spun back around to face Kakashi. He'd almost dropped his jutsu in his shock.
"WHAAT?!" In retrospect, Iruka realized, he probably should have seen this coming. It was just like Kakashi to corner him in front of a bunch of children who didn't think much about what might be bent or straight, only saw a funny man asking their beloved sensei out for a date. He made a silent oath to get Kakashi back someday, momentarily forgetting the prank he'd just pulled on the Jounin.
"Would you go out to dinner with me?" Kakashi asked, ignoring Iruka's outburst, but also sobering his tone.
"What?" Iruka's heart staggered, and behind him, his entire class had virtually disappeared, utterly silent.
"You know…go out…somewhere nice…?" Kakashi said, lower still. "Just…us…"
"Kakashi, you live with me. Aren't you sick of me yet?" Iruka asked honestly. He felt a little dizzy.
"You know this means more, Iruka." Kakashi said. "I mean…I'll understand if you don't want…like that…" Iruka flushed. They'd been hit and miss for nearly six months in a sort of in-between excuse for a relationship that had been beginning to stagnate recently. There were no concrete words to describe what was happening between them, and Iruka realized that this was Kakashi's way of solidifying what could be between them. He thought this over quickly, thinking of all the moments, almost awkward, almost wonderful, and generally uncomfortable because neither of them knew what to do about it. There was an expectant silence from all around him from his students, and standing before him, Kakashi's chakara churned in anticipation. Iruka smiled.
"Sure. But you're going to have to help me find something nice to wear."
AN: That's it! Show's over!
and whoo gawd I'm so happy it's over. I'm really proud of this fanfic, and I'm amazed that I've managed to stick through it, especially during the last year...life got rough for a while, and then it got busier than hell, and I'm really sorry to everyone for how long it's taken me to finish these last three or four chapters. I could have done it sooner, probably, but I was really loosing the will to keep going at the end here. It wasn't so much that I lost inspiration or whatever (it sure as hell wasn't writer's block) but I ran out of energy. I've mentioned this before, but the irony is just so striking that I'll say it again: I'd originally planned this story to be about a 9-12 page one-shot.
Oh. Mah. Freaking. Gawd.
Never have I been so wrong in my life.
So, two and something years, 207 pages of text, and a SHITLOAD of reviews later, here we are, at the end.
This chapter is a little below my standards in both length and flow, but I was making a lot of awkward little time skips and whatnot, and I probably could have dragged this on for another 2 or 3 pages if I really wanted to, but it ended HERE. I've had this ending in mind from day one (in fact, I thought of the ending almost before the rest of the fic!) and so I stagger and slouch my way to the finish line.
and fall into a dead faint.
It's going to feel weird not feeling guilty about not updating for a while XD Although there already are several other (hopefully)smaller projects in the works that'll be coming up pretty soon. :)
OH MY GOD THANK YOU SO MUCH TO /EVERYONE/ THAT'S READ AND REVIEWED AND FUELED MY ATTENTION-WHORISHNESS YOU GUYS ARE WONDERFUL!
Generally, I don't actually like much praise on my art/writing because I get embarrassed, but this project has been my BABY and it'll probably be years before I put this much effort into a piece of writing again, and I'm so proud and so confident in what I've done and I'm so thirlled that my pride is VALIDATED by all of you who've been so positive and supportive!
Fact! Despite the slightly controversial premise of the story (being Yaoi) and well over 1000 reviews (I'm dizzy..) I have NOT RECIEVED A SINGLE FLAME! Not one! Constructive criticisim (and thank you for that too!) yes, but no flames! None! So wonderful!
THANK YOU EVERYONE!
Also Please note to those of you following my Deviantart works as well, that I'll be posting this fanfic there now, as well, in as few incriments as possible (ie, one huge chunk of goodness if I can) now that this is finished...as soon as I can come up with some preview art for it (since that's required now : )
See you all in the next fanfic!