Chapter 3

Hours after the mortifying incident, the intense anger had subsided into the faint burn of embarrassment that revealed itself still in the color in Iruka's face. The young ninja sat comfortably in a high oak, resting his back against the tough bark and trying to pay attention to the area surrounding his tree. However, during the nearly three hours he had been on lookout, Iruka had yet to witness anything out of the ordinary- other than the two insomniac squirrels that were playing a game of chase around and on the conifer adjacent to the old oak, blissfully unaware of the tan man who had watching them for the past forty-five minutes, amused by their innocence and frolicking nature.

The small brown creatures eventually tired of their game, swishing bushy tails behind them as the crawled into a small hollow in the tree. Iruka sighed, glancing over his left shoulder to see if there was anything entertaining happening at the small camp. He could see two dark green sleeping bags set up near the dwindling fire. Light purple hair streamed out of the smaller bag, a small lump indicating Murasaki's resting place. Kuma's bed was farther away from the fire, and the large youth seemed too big for the standard bag, as he sprawled on his back half in and half out of the unzipped flannel. His arms were tossed carelessly about him, one over his head and the other tucked uncomfortably beneath his wide body. In the bright moonlight and soft firelight, Iruka could see his face, young and boyish in sleep. Casting about casually, the chuunin noticed that Kakashi was nowhere to be seen. He leaned over the thick branch, glancing around suspiciously. Iruka spotted the lean body curled around the unrolled sleeping bag, long arms and lanky legs wrapped around it. Kakashi was sleeping as far away as he could while still being at the small camp. He had hidden himself in a green bush for privacy. I hope it's poison ivy, Iruka thought bitterly.

Triggered by the sight of the silver haired man, memories of evening's episode began to creep

through his mind. Iruka turned in his tree and leaned against the branch once more. We're both men, he knows how that kind of thing is. I certainly couldn't help it, the waves in the water... Iruka groaned and shook his head in frustration. If it had been anyone else it wouldn't be so bad, but Kakashi is just such a... well, a pervert. He probably thought I was sneaking off to- Iruka groaned louder and smacked his head.

Suddenly, Iruka froze, thoughts of humiliation gone in an instant. There was an odd noise, so quiet it was almost undetectable, near camp. Straining his ears, Iruka crouched on the branch, ready to attack if the situation warranted it. A small whimper reached his ears, surprising the teacher. It hadn't sounded like an animal, more like a human in pain. He peered into the camp, but the new chuunin were sleeping peacefully. He heard it again, a despondent keening, that sounded slightly muffled, as though whatever was making the noise had something covering it's mouth. Thinking that there could be someone in trouble nearby, he decided that he should probably alert the team leader, and leaped as quietly as he could down through the tree, descending quickly and landing with a soft thump on the dirt and fallen leaves. Iruka moved stealthily towards the sleeping jounin. He approached the man, eyeing him warily, then stopped, shocked. The sounds were coming from Kakashi.

Iruka stood a few feet away as more whimpers escaped the nin laying on the hard ground. Kakashi was still wrapped around his sleeping bag, his masked face partially buried in the worn fabric, but now it seemed that the jounin was hugging the bag, using it as a life preserver to prevent him from drowning in his sleep. Iruka moved cautiously to stand before Kakashi, and saw that the exposed portion of his face- his right eye and a bit of forehead- was wet with unconscious tears. The child-loving teacher part in Iruka broke down.

Another low, despairing moan emitted from the huddled mass at Iruka's feet, wrenching his heart, and the chuunin bent down instinctively, wishing to rouse the jounin from his nightmare.

Had he realized his mistake a hundredth of a second later, the sensei would be lying face down among the leaves, most likely in more pieces than he was meant to be. Highly tuned reflexes had transformed the sleeping man into an automatic killer, and Iruka was lucky that he was accustomed to unexpected movements from years of teaching miniature ninja. As the pale hand lashed out, kunai attached, Iruka bounced backwards, just barely out of the way, feeling his vest catch slightly on the weapon and tear.

The chuunin stood a yard away from Kakashi, listening to the ragged breaths slow, as the silver-haired ninja remained completely still in a low attack position. Then, Kakashi peered with a flashing eye at Iruka, whose heart was still pounding from his brush with death caused by his own carelessness. Kakashi had finally managed to pull himself together, looking just as hip and casual as always and straightened up, beginning to speak as he stood, voice betraying his apparent non-concern at nearly decapitating his comrade.

"What the hell do you think you were doing," he demanded, voice shaking nearly undetectably, all traces of sleepiness gone.

Iruka swallowed harshly; why hadn't he just ignored the nightmare? Looking into Kakashi's furious grey eye, and knowing that the older man was probably suffering more from the shame of being caught in such a vulnerable position than anything else- that and trying to kill him- Iruka softened a bit.

"I'm sorry for startling you, but I only wanted to help and wake you. I think you were having a nightmare, and I forgot about the whole... ninja reaction... thing." Iruka finished lamely, gesturing with his hands.

Kakashi seemed to be relaxing finally, still on guard, but no longer anticipating a fight. Breaking eye contact swiftly and running his hands through his thick white hair, the tall man muttered an unintelligible excuse and turned, moving silently towards the direction of the river. Iruka felt a small flare of irritation rise in his chest. It wasn't that he expected an apology, maybe just some confirmation that the older ninja was going to be alright now and Iruka could head back to his post.

As Iruka watched the retreating back, he saw in his mind Kakashi's face at the exact moment he had awoken and lunged autonomically towards him. That solitary iris had been alight with terror and desperation, as though the jounin had just experienced a horror so profoundly appalling that he would never feel joy again.

His vexation fading at the memory, the chuunin felt a tug of worry and grudgingly followed the silver gleam, catching up to Kakashi just before the team leader sat down at the river bank, drawing his long legs close to his chest and wrapping his arms around his knees while he stared blankly at the water. Iruka was surprised at the way Kakashi was acting; he had expected the older man to make a joke out of it and laugh at Iruka for being concerned. Iruka crouched down near the prone figure cautiously, but when he found no reaction from Kakashi, he settled in comfortably, stretching his dark, cloth-covered legs before him and leaning back on his hands.

They were sitting quietly like that for a few long minutes, Kakashi gazing unseeingly across the river and Iruka observing the vast sky, and when Kakashi spoke to his teammate, Iruka jumped slightly.

"I- I'm sorry for listening to you sing earlier," Kakashi said quietly, his voice retaining the hollow quality from their prior encounter. Iruka glanced at him, bemused, wondering foolishly for a second if Kakashi had hated his voice enough to have a nightmare about it, before reassuring his companion that it was nothing to worry about.

"I was upset," he said slowly, "but it's not really your fault. You don't have to apologize for it. I haven't sung for anyone else since my mo- well, for quite a while." Iruka finished hastily. He was thankful that Kakashi had apparently chosen to forget about what had occurred after, but didn't feel like sharing the origins of the song. Not yet, anyway. "I hope that I didn't sound too bad," Iruka continued, trying to turn the conversation a bit lighter, "my voice is out of practice..." He trailed off, remembering the intense lessons his mother had given him every day, and feeling guilty for not keeping his voice trained how she liked.

"No, it was quite nice," Kakashi reassured him, the normal glint returning to his steel eyes. Now Iruka was becoming suspicious. The dream must have really disturbed Kakashi for him to be acting so civil and not taking that blatant opening to make fun of Iruka. "Did someone teach you to sing? And where did you learn that song?" He asked, the stormy orb now regarding him eagerly. Iruka immediately regretted following after Kakashi.

"Uh, my mother taught me, to sing and that- that song," Iruka replied, clearing his throat uncomfortably. Kakashi was watching him intently now, noting Iruka's reluctance on the subject. The pale man had opened his mouth under his mask-probably to ask more unwanted questions- when Iruka interrupted, standing up unexpectedly.

"I should get back," he said, a little coldly, "I have about another hour left on watch. Go back to sleep for now; I'll come get you when it's your turn." Iruka performed a series of hand seals, and before Kakashi could get another syllable out, transported himself to his tree. He knew he shouldn't blame the jounin for his sudden bad mood, but it was hard not to. Kakashi was the one deliberately keeping the subject off himself and asking personal questions about Iruka's past, which he definitely couldn't care less about, unwilling to talk about the nightmare that had compromised the safety of the group. After all, who had been keeping watch while the two sat at the river bed, Iruka feeling obligated to be sure Kakashi was okay? No one, that's who.

Peering through the velvety darkness of the night, Iruka could just make out the blurred figure of Kakashi slinking back to his hidey-hole in the bushes. The fire had finally died in the center of the camp, and the entire forest was bathed in the silvery glow of the moon. Iruka watched the light play on Murasaki's exposed purple hair, catching highlights and dancing on the silken strands. He kept his senses open and aware, but the forest was completely still in the late night, and Iruka was bored within minutes, and the painful memories that had emerged during the conversation earlier become harder to suppress. The hour dragged by painfully slow, as slow as a spider with one leg, and Iruka was sure the deity of time was playing with him. Eventually, though, the small timer at his waist rang out softly and Iruka breathed a sigh of relief.

The chuunin was wary of closing the distance between his person and Kakashi once more, but when he arrived at the bushes in which Kakashi was resting, he found the jounin sitting cross-legged, meditating.

"Hey, Kakashi-sensei, I'm sorry to interrupt but it's your turn to keep watch." Iruka waited only until Kakashi opened his eye and nodded his acknowledgment before quickly retreating to the area where Murasaki and Kuma lay in unwitting slumber. All he wanted to do right now was go to sleep.

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Aa. Shoot. I might not finish this...

11/27/2007 but I'm gonna try.