Yea, it's been awhile, but those of you who follow my other works know that I've been a busy little bee since I last posted. For those of you who didn't get to it, posted a little Naruto blurb called 'Truant' to tide you over. No one has read it (sob). Go look!
In themean time, I present a new chapter, in which Iruka shows that he does indeed have a spine.
They took the long way around the park, with Naruto alternately walking beside Iruka and running off to greet people. Much to Iruka's surprise, the majority of the ninja he passed seemed more amused than surprised at the sight of Kakashi stalking along at the end of a leash, devoid of book and dignity. Either they'd been in on the joke, or Kakashi had been up to something that demanded revenge and no one was surprised to see the results of it.
Lunch was uneventful. Naruto paid no attention to anything other than his ramen, and Iruka was too busy thinking about how he was going to work his schedule around Kakashi to ask any more questions, so Kakashi was able to eat in peace.
Naruto left after they ate, running off with the excuse that he had training. It was more likely that he was off to get into trouble, but Iruka didn't feel like looking into it. He had a new charge to deal with.
"I have a question," he murmured on the way home.
"I may not have an answer."
"Why you what?"
"Why did you wind up with me, of all people? There are plenty of other ninja in the village who could have been given charge of you, and many of them don't have as rigid a schedule as I do. What made Genma and the others choose me?"
"Beats me. All I know is what they told me. Reasoning behind the decisions wasn't relevant to what I was going to be doing, so they didn't tell me."
"And you just agreed to be my…my pet?"
"Kind of? How do you kind of agree to something like that?"
"I wasn't totally clear on the details before I agreed to the bet. After I lost, they filled me in, and it was too late by then."
Iruka sighed and massaged his temples.
"How did you achieve the rank of Jonin?"
"I passed the test. Why do you ask?"
"I'm having trouble understanding how someone with your rank and apparent skill got himself into what amounts to a modified hostage situation, complete with an elaborate set-up and multiple perpetrators, as easily as you just did. Even worse, it seems that you simply strolled into it. Naruto might have done a better job at avoiding it; I'm sure most of the ninja in the village over the age of thirteen would have done a better job. And yet, here you are, with a record of achievement as long as you please and a reputation to end all, wearing a collar and being lead around Konoha on a leash."
Kakashi actually winced at that.
"You don't have to put it that way," he muttered.
"You're right. Let me try it this way. You got drunk. You started betting with colleagues who were obviously not quite as drunk as you were. Betting escalated, and you wound up with your back to a wall of kunai, facing the result of the initial bets I assume you lost. You were summarily stripped down to boxers, packed into a kennel, and delivered to my front porch just in time for my birthday. Now, here you are, looking like some strange version of a bondage situation out of one of the Toad Sage's horrible books."
"My students all know what kind of idiotic things you can get up to when you drink. All of the teachers at the Academy cover the advantages and disadvantages of alcohol. Did you miss that day when you were in school, or did you just not bother to pay attention?"
"Would you quit that?"
"Quit what?" Iruka snapped. He'd been on a roll, thank you very much, and didn't appreciate being stopped.
"You're wasted on the Academy," Kakashi grumbled. "Go off like that at a prisoner and you'd have them telling you their secrets in minutes. Why aren't you in with the Interrogation Squad? Hell, why haven't you applied for the Jonin test?"
"I like kids," Iruka sniffed. "They're easier to handle than adults, and they make good training for the missions I do get sent on. Interrogation bores me. Being a Jonin would keep me from teaching until the students reach Genin ranking, at which point the most impressionable time of their lives had passed and the impact I want to make can no longer be made quite as strongly."
"You have the power, don't you?"
"What power?" Iruka asked innocently, not looking at Kakashi.
"You're strong enough to be a Jonin, if you took the test."
"I don't understand you."
"Maybe that's why they gave you to me."
"It's good for you to be utterly confused every now and then. When you're in over your head, you learn new things. I happen to believe that you can teach an old dog tricks, no matter how set in his ways he is."
Kakashi said nothing, choosing to brood the rest of the way back. Iruka turned him loose in the living room, then settled in to grade. Kakashi made dinner without the apron, the smart-alec commentary, or the loud noises, and then retired to his kennel as soon as Iruka volunteered to wash the dishes.
The following morning, Iruka was up and out on his tiny balcony with a cup of coffee before Kakashi had a chance to crawl out of the kennel and protest. When Kakashi did get up, he peered out the door at Iruka, and then wordlessly made pancakes. Iruka thanked him, ate, and returned to his grading.
The apartment remained silent until that afternoon, when Gai arrived on the front porch with considerable fanfare.
"I come to challenge you, Kakashi!" he announced. Iruka heard him clearly, even though the entire apartment and the door separated them.
"Kakashi, are you going to answer that?"
"Are you kidding?"
"I am not."
"Answer the door, then."
"Do you want me to explain to him that I can't participate in whatever ludicrous challenge he has today because I'm your pet until further notice?"
Iruka glared at Kakashi, but put his pen down and went to answer the door.
"Good afternoon, Gai-sensei," he said politely. "Can I help you?"
"I was told my Eternal Rival was here," Gai announced. "I wish to challenge him."
"He's…tied up right now," Iruka said delicately. Behind him, he heard a scuffling noise that he suspected was Kakashi tying his leash to the nearest solid object. "Maybe later?"
"I will issue my challenge now. As the challenged, he can choose the time we meet."
"Ah…well…er…come in, then."
Iruka took advantage of Gai's removal of his sandals to turn in Kakashi's direction and make frantic gestures, urging him to get the leash off now. Kakashi politely ignored him.
"Tell me, sensei, why exactly is my Eternal Rival here?"
"Repairs are being done on his apartment. I offered my couch."
Gai nodded his approval. Iruka braced for a barrage of praise and commentary surrounding his Youth™, but was saved by Kakashi's rather timely sneeze. Gai whirled.
"Why are you tied to a table?"
"It's a leash."
"I challenge you to see who can be the better pet."
"Pet?" Gai repeated. Kakashi nodded sagely.
"Yes. Iruka graciously agreed to help me, so I'm being his pet today."
Gai considered this for a few minutes, then grinned. Iruka squinted against the glare.
"I accept your challenge!"
"Great. When do you want to start?"
"Tomorrow. You have to find someone who needs a pet, first."
"I will win this, Kakashi! I shall return tomorrow with an owner! Prepare for defeat!" With a final pose in the doorway, Gai vanished. Iruka slumped against the nearest wall and laughed until his ribs ached.
"Are you alright?" Kakashi asked, holding his book up as if it would serve as a suitable shield to protect him from Iruka and his hysterical laughter.
"You…you just keeping digging yourself deeper!" Iruka gasped. "Just one…one story after another!"
"And you think it's funny?"
"You have no idea!"
Kakashi buried his nose in the book and waited for Iruka to calm down. It took a few minutes, but eventually Iruka stumbled out onto the porch and dropped into his chair, flushed from lack of oxygen and teary-eyed from the laughing.
"This is unbelievable," he chuckled, wiping his eyes.
"Bad birthday present?"
"Not at all…a very good one. I've never been so entertained by a single gift!"
"I'm so glad I amuse you," Kakashi grumbled.
Iruka shrugged helplessly and returned to his papers, grinning. Kakashi sulked behind his book.
"Do you want to go out for dinner tonight?" Iruka asked suddenly.
"I asked if you wanted to go out for dinner tonight, instead of cooking."
"Why are you asking me? It's up to you."
"Don't be difficult. You're the cook, you get to decide."
"Do you even have to ask if I want a break from being your happy little house maid?"
"That's a yes?"
"We are not bringing the leash."
"But I have-"
"The terms of your bet can go chew on a shuriken. I want one evening where you aren't acting like my dog. That collar-"
"The collar stays."
"Yes. I'll get into half the trouble if I leave it on. Take it off and I'll die a humiliating social death."
"But no leash."