Obito was the first one to see it.

It was a furry ball of sunshine, with bright brown- almost yellow fur, a smattering of white on the face, and curiously-upturned whiskers. It was perched on the boulder by a tree, comfortably settled beneath the shade.

Had he been alone, he would have run to it. Since childhood, he had a little soft spot for the domesticated type of animals, especially cats. He had used to own one when he was little, but it grew up way faster than he would have it. He was caught by surprise when, one afternoon, it didn't come back from its neighborhood strolling for its meal. Days later, he was told by his relatives that cats were ungrateful creatures who valued independence above loyalty. Nevertheless, his attachment to these felines didn't fade.

"Obito, what's keeping you?" asked Rin's voice from the clearing.

He blinked, and then sought the source of the voice with his eyes. He was startled to see that both the girl and Hatake Kakashi were already way ahead of him.

"Coming!" He didn't even notice them pass by him, enraptured by the animal he was. Fixing the weight of his backpack, he turned his gaze away from the cat and quickened his step, only to freeze and then turn his look back to the cat.

Blood?

………………………………………

They Called Her Cat

Long overdue request grant for izumi-17. She was asking for a fun Gaiden Team Kakashi story, which was a little tricky, to put it mildly. Thank you for patiently waiting all these months, and I hope you enjoy reading this two-part story. By the way, I do have my pairing biases in this story. Woe is me, hehe.

…………………………

"Wild animals. I'm quite sure they're the culprits."

Obito glanced at Rin, who was inspecting the feline's wounds, worriedly. "Will she live?"

"Why didn't she fight back?" said Kakashi in disgust. The silver-haired boy had repeatedly expressed in the entire span of the hour his disdain over the recent developments. First, their group was delayed in reaching the first checkpoint of their survival training. Now they were hampered by a mere cat.

Rin looked at Kakashi first. "This cat may be domesticated, and simply got lost in the woods. Pets are unequipped with skills to protect themselves from naturally wild creatures." Then she turned to Obito. "The cat will live. Just the right amount of chakra can bring her back to pink state of health in no time."

"Just how much time are we talking about here?" asked Kakashi testily.

"One night."

A vein popped on their leader's head. "Make it two seconds while I slash this creature's head off."

"One wrong move and you're a goner," he threatened at once.

Kakashi glared at him. "That's a pathetic attempt at menace." But to his glee, the silver-haired boy did drop the notion of the cat's summary execution.

"What will we name her?" asked Rin, tapping her chin thoughtfully.

Before he could suggest, Kakashi spoke up flatly. "Cat."

"Cat?" echoed their female teammate.

"Is that the best your imagination can do?" he complained. "Don't you know that a creature's most important treasure is its own name?"

"If you want to name that animal, be my guest," shrugged the silver-haired nin. "No need to get so emotional about it."

"I-It's not that I want to name it! It's not that at all!" he yelled. Though Cutie-chan would be a nice name…

Rin got up. "Well, for the meantime, we'll call her 'Cat', since I don't really know how to give names to pets. I never had one. But it is imperative that she stays with us for the night so her wounds would heal completely."

"This is a training, Rin," reminded Kakashi. "Carrying excess baggage like wounded animals will slow us all down."

"And I am training to be a medic, Kakashi," said the girl, unfazed. "I will not desecrate my profession so as to leave any injured creature when I very well know that I can do something to help."

You tell him! Obito silently cheered.

"Besides, once Cat's well, we can let him go already," added Rin, making the Uchiha's shoulders sag.

Kakashi seemed to consider this. "Will the cat heal fast?"

"Positive," nodded the female.

The group leader looked at the slumbering animal in disdain, and then walked away wordlessly.

Rin sighed, shaking her head. "Trust Kakashi to never be agreeable when his way isn't followed."

"Can't we keep her a little longer?" asked Obito, petting the feline's neck affectionately.

"I'm afraid not," replied the female. "Kakashi is right, too. We have a training to prioritize."

"I see." He rubbed the back of the ears of the cat gingerly, as Rin gazed at him sympathetically.

"Give her to me," she said after a moment. Meekly, Obito handed the wounded animal to her, but he did follow her still when she walked towards the nearby stump where her first-aid kit was placed. It wasn't that he didn't trust Rin—he was just curious as to what magic the science of a medic' hands could do to save the little one's life.

Rin didn't seem to mind, though. Gently, she laid the feline on the stump—which now served as her improvised worktable. And then her nimble hands became busy, efficiently pulling out herbs, vials, and bandages from her orange backpack. Then she got up, a plastic bowl on her hand.

He watched her awkwardly, not knowing how he could be of any assistance to the healer. In the end, he turned to Cat timidly, contented to stroke the animal's soft fur, matching the rhythm of the feline's own haggard pants. "You'll be okay, Cat," he said in his most soothing voice. "Rin's very good at healing… Sensei says so. Too bad she couldn't do anything about the permanent swelling of Kakashi's big head yet, but I know she'll discover the cure for it one day. She's going to be a very good medic nin, so you should be proud that you'll be her first real patient…"

Behind her, Rin stood silently, still clutching the bowl of clean water. She was just about to announce her presence to him awhile ago when she caught his last few words. After awhile, she shook her head smilingly, and then rushed forward again. "Obito."

He looked up at her. "Huh?"

"I'm going to need some help," said the girl, grinning.

……………..

Kakashi watched his two teammates from afar—not that he was interested, just that they were in his plain view from the treetop where he was currently resting—and he angrily muttered under his breath. This was a very unnecessary delay, what with his goal to finish this training ahead of the other Konoha teams who were also holding their own skills practice in the vast forests scattered around the Fire country.

But with the current twist of events, he knew that he had given the other competing teams an undue advantage. If this dragged on further, he knew that the comfortable lead that they had established days ago would be moot..

It was easy to walk out and leave them here but—damn those training rules—the team should go in and out of the forest as a three-man team.

With a sour look on his face, he pulled out his kunai and began to polish its steel finish. Every other moment, he held it up against the dying afternoon sunlight, inspecting its glistening edge. I really should get a more interesting time-waster if this keeps up. Maybe a bad book or something.

……………………

Obito was dreaming of Cat chewing delicately on a silver stash of grass that suspiciously resembled Kakashi's hair while drinking sake served by a kimono-clad Rin when he felt a pair of hands gently shaking him.

"Obito, Obito, wake up."

His eyes defied the soft-spoken voice that was attempting to penetrate his lethargic muscles. Cat had handed him quite a number of rice wine bottles earlier while they listened dreamily to Geisha Rin humming an old Japanese love song.

"Obito—"

"He's dead. The cat must have stabbed it last night when you were both asleep." A sound which was unmistakably a smirk. Suddenly, Geisha Rin's head vanished from the elegant robes, only to be replaced by Kakashi's smirking face. "Smart animal," the red-painted lips said to him. And to his horror, Geisha Kakashi got up on his feet and began to prance around delicately.

A jolt of adrenalin surged through his veins. "Whaa—"

Geisha Kakashi danced his way towards him, fingers gracefully snapping in the air. "Oi… Obito…" He sounded like a hoarse grizzly bear seducing him at gunpoint.

"NOOO!!!" Obito bolted up from his supine position, profusely sweating. His gaze met Rin's startled eyes. And Kakashi, well thank Kami-sama the thick face powder and thick scarlet lips were gone. He was the usual rigidly-postured, frowning teammate who looked like he never knew amusement his whole life.

"What happened?" asked Rin worriedly while Kakashi crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Obito recalled his dream, then decided that it was not worth re-imagining the horrors of his subconscious to his teammates. Instead, he turned his attention to the stump where he had rested his head in fatigue sometime last night. "Cat?"

The animal was not where he last saw her fast asleep. Panicked, he looked up at Rin, who smiled at him warmly, and then pointed to his right. His eyes mutely followed where she was pointing.

"Ah!" Obito let out a delighted cry. Cat was happily leaping around, trying to catch a fluttering butterfly with its bandaged paw.

"She responded very well to my treatment," said Rin brightly. Any hint of fatigue or lack of sleep just to look after the animal all night was not visible on her pretty face.

"I presume that this means we can proceed with our training mission now." Kakashi said sharply, making Obito turn to him in surprise.

"Wait a minute!" cried the young Uchiha. "W-We can't do this… we can't leave Cat just like this!"

Kakashi looked severely displeased. "And why the hell not? That animal had done enough damage as it is to our mission. We can't afford to be slowed down again."

"Missions are not the only thing that matter in life!" Obito snapped. "Cat has just healed… what if another animal attacks her again? She may still be too weak to defend herself. Then what Rin did would have been all in vain! Right, Rin?" He turned to her expectantly, but she was shaking her head slowly. His face fell.

"Obito, Cat already feels well," reminded Rin tenderly. "Now she must return to her true owners, who must be very worried for her."

"We don't know her owner—"

"But Cat does," said the girl tactfully. "And Cat is smart enough to find her owners."

"But—"

"Don't you trust a medic's word?" she asked.

He relented. Sighing in defeat, he picked up the wiggling cat in his arms and buried his face on its fur. He then looked up and mumbled lamely, "All right." And then he scowled. "But I'll have to find her a good home!"

He caught Kakashi's look of displeasure, but Rin hastily agreed, just so the topic would be dropped for the rest of the day.

…………………………….

It took him half an hour to find the perfect spot where he could leave the feline without worrying about wild animals, unsteady branches that can easily break off, and places that were too far from sun, fresh air, and sources of food.

By then, Kakashi was at the edge of the rope of his patience. Rin took it upon herself to announce lunch to distract their very annoyed team leader as he went to the boulders above to say goodbye to the cat that needed only a night to claw its own niche into his heart.

Setting her down lovingly, Obito smiled at Cat affectionately. "I will miss you, Cat. You take care of yourself, okay? And yeah, I do hope you've learned your lesson with what happened to you. Back down when you know you're facing a bigger bully. It's not something a proud cat should do, but trust me, when you grow up, you'll get your chance."

The Cat looked up at him with fascination, as if his monologue was actually a poetry recital offered to ancient gods. When he tried to stand and take his first few steps away, the feline immediately followed, running its body against his legs. She intelligently knew when to criss just when he's about to cross, her long brown tail caressing his knees.

He scratched his cheek. "Cat… d-don't do this. Kakashi already hates us. If I bring you along…"

Cat looked up at him and gazed trustingly at his eyes.

"Cat…"

She purred.

"GRAAAAAH!" Obito raised his hands in frustration, and then, his mind made up, hurriedly stashed the startled cat back into his knapsack. "Stay quiet so Kakashi won't hear us, okay? Okay?"

A muffled 'meow' came from his bag. He tore a medium-sized hole on his bag to ensure that Cat would still be able to breath. "I mean, really," he said, tying the strings of his bag, "Kakashi couldn't possibly hate us more than he does now, right?"

……………………………

At first, Obito's plan seemed to be working like a charm. Cat remained tranquil inside his bag, perhaps even asleep, as the trio made their way to various terrains the whole day. He was extra careful not to make sudden movements, so as not to awaken the animal and alert his teammates to her mews.

But the minute that Rin had placed down their cooking utensils to prepare their meals, Cat shot up from his bah like a guided missile, sprinting straight to the startled Rin and knocking off several pots to the ground.

He watched helplessly as their team leader's face darkened, then angrily made his way to him.

"You took the cat with us?" snapped Kakashi.

"No! I didn't! I just…" Obito looked helpless. "I forgot to close my backpack, and Cat must have leapt back into it without me noticing." He tried to make it seem like cats popping out of their knapsacks are but a casual everyday occurrence for their team missions.

"No self-respecting person would believe such absurdity would happen," said their team leader, exasperated. "That cat would just slow us down!"

"No, she won't! I promise you that!" declared Obito. "I'll be the one responsible for her! I'll make up for her! I'll double my pace so she won't be a bother!"

"I knew it!" The silver-haired jounin slapped his forehead with his palm.

"Obito…" Rin looked troubled, torn between empathy for him and the cat, and for sticking to their missions, like Kakashi said.

Their leader glared at the feline mewing frantically behind them, as if demanding where they placed their meal. After awhile, he formed his decision.

"The cat will stay, as you want it to," he announced, "but that cat won't get an extra ration from us. You can't also use it as an excuse for slowing down."

"No problem," answered Obito positively.

"But let's make this clear: just one instance of that cat being a bother in our training and we'll leave you," Kakashi said warningly.

"If only to annoy the hell out of you, Kakashi, Cat and I would stick with you!" said the Uchiha haughtily.

He was ignored. "Do you understand?"

"FINE!"

The argument was interrupted when Rin's voice came, announcing dinner.

Obito stuck a tongue out at Kakashi, and then hurried to his knapsack to retreat his own boxed meal which he would pair with Rin's warm soup. Stupid, bossy Kakashi… who does he think he is, acting like he's the boss of everyone…He grabbed his knapsack's strings angrily and pulled out its knot, but then paused.

"GRAH!" Obito's eyes widened in shock when he saw that what remained on his backpack were just small breadcrumbs and a few rice grains. Beside his opened backpack, Cat was licking her paw contentedly.

He sweatdropped. "Cat, why didn't you save even just a few bites for me?" Reaching out inside his bag, he rummaged through his things, hoping to see something edible that Cat missed. Unfortunately for him, though, Cat was quite thorough, and had completely devoured his three-day supply of meals.

His stomach grumbled, making Obito sigh. "You know, Cat, after all I've done to keep you, it won't hurt to be a little grateful to me, ne?"

The cat's ears perked up, and then resumed its paw-licking activity.

"Fine, fine." He decided to let the matter go. He crawled towards his sleeping spot—underneath the shade of an old, gnarled tree. Leaning against the bark, he inhaled deeply, and then looked up at the velvety darkness of the skies. Unlike the previous nights, the sky was devoid of the twinkling stars.

Looks like rain tomorrow.

He closed his eyelids and prepared to drift off to sleep, but his lids flew open quickly when he felt something creep towards him.

It was Cat, who was leisurely heading for him. He watched curiously as she walked towards him, jumped on his lap, and crawled towards his stomach. She laid her head on his neck, nuzzling it.

His heart warmed. Smilingly, he placed a palm gently on top of the feline, and then closed his eyes. Peaceful sleep followed shortly.

…………………………

"You're not eating, Obito," said Rin gently, plopping down on the grass beside him the next morning.

"Ahahaha! I've already eaten!" he replied, laughing forcibly.

"You said the same thing at breakfast. And it's already lunch." She looked at him worriedly. "I… I was watching you secretly, and I saw that you haven't eaten lunch yet."

He looked down.

"I also noticed that you seem to lack energy, even to just walk," she remarked. "You're pale and lethargic, too."

"Rin—"

From her bag, she fished out a plastic bag of rice and meat. "Here."

Trying to fight the urge of hunger, he tore his drooling gaze away from the meal. "I can't take this, Rin. I'm sorry."

She shook her head. "Please, Obito. I'm sure that the food supply we each have is only good for ourselves. Now that you're with Cat, I'm sure you're running pretty low on stock."

Low? Try empty! But he shook his head with even more firmness. "I'm not dragging you into this. I told Kakashi specifically that we won't be a bother to both of you."

She was about to protest further when she paused. She saw it—saw fiery pride in his tired, hungry eyes. Grudgingly, she admired his resolution to keep his end of the bargain with Kakashi.

She wouldn't tell, and she knew she could convince even Kakashi of her lie. But in the end, Obito's young feisty pride will not be fooled.

Nevertheless, she would not allow him to die of starvation just because of a silly condition set by their teammate. Getting up, she wordlessly headed for Kakashi, who was busy making marks on their map as he scouted the whole place.

………………………….

Obito watched Rin go, longing eyes following both the girl and the heavenly-looking packed lunch clutched by her hand.

Stupid… you had the chance to eat… she would never tell Kakashi about it anyway… you would have been full by now… But he knew he did the right thing. It was more than just his word that he gave Kakashi—it was more because he didn't want Rin to cut down on her nourishment just for him.

Ever since they first met and became a team, he had always looked up to her. She was the only one who could really stand up against that obnoxious Hatake Kakashi. She was the only one who could smile at him with such kindness, who looked after him with such protectiveness, the only one who believed he could when he himself was losing faith on himself.

She was smart, beautiful, brave, and kind. She wasn't afraid to face anyone and anything in this world. She had those eyes that could see through anyone's veil, and see the innate goodness within everyone.

It was something he could never tell anyone, but in his heart, Rin occupied the biggest room inside it. She was a precious person he would readily die for to protect, an important person from whom he first learned how to care deeply for people.

……………………………………………

"Kakashi."

He momentarily looked up from the map he was sketching on, and then glanced at the yellow-haired girl who was looking at him earnestly.

"It has gone too far. Obito is starving himself out there because you won't let us help him," she continued.

He looked at her, and then back at his work.

"The pain of a finger is felt by the whole hand," she uttered in a reasonable tone. "If this keeps up, Obito would become sick. That would slow you down even more. And you want to finish this survival training on record time, right?"

"Subtle manipulation won't work on me, Rin," he said warily.

A vein popped on her head. "You are on a team, Kakashi. Act your part." Her voice remained calm, yet anger still seeped through her words.

He didn't even seem affected by her controlled ire. "I said it from the very start. I don't care about the team—I am only after my own strength."

Her delicate features hardened, but she didn't say anything more. All these years of working with Hatake Kakashi in various missions had provided her with some insights regarding this male, and right now, she was sure as hell that not even the moon's gravitational pull could move him.

It was one of the traits about him that she both admired and loathed about him. He never admitted perfection when it comes to his leadership of their team, but he would always stand by his decisions, may they be good, bad, or tragic. Accountability was solely on him—he never let her or Obito take the heat of matters with him.

But right now, faced by the same obstinate will of his, she simply wished that sky would fall down on him and bonk him hard on the head.

If it wouldn't make his skull crack, she was hoping that at least it would ruin his hair.

"Very well," she said stoically, and then pivoted to leave—all the while wondering why she even tried contemplating the use of reasoning out with Hatake Kakashi.

………………………………….

From the corners of his vision, Kakashi watched her walk away, fully aware that her silence was a deceptive mask which the true weight of her anger held in place.

Calm, composed, and sensible Rin. Her youthful smile belied a wisdom beyond her years, which she modestly kept in a quiet and commonsensical demeanor. A glance would not suffice for anyone to gauge her intelligence—a memory that could serve as a precise medical handbook at any given time, an above-average ability in all three domains of a ninja's skills, and most astoundingly, the capacity to interpret human nature in its most complex hues.

In their missions wherein the dividing lines of life and death were easily faint, she was always the person whom dying people sought to talk to in their final minutes of existence. He and Obito would hear her comforting words, like balms, that soothe the troubled, weeping souls of people who lost their lives too soon in ways more oft than not, undesired. And they would both wonder what kind of person was Rin, to embrace compassion, which their very profession shunned, and yet have plenty more for other people that would come their way whenever they wanted to borrow any form of strength or courage from her before they passed away.

A weak strong woman.

His thoughts were interrupted when she suddenly turned to him, her eyes suddenly twinkling. Admittedly, this made his curiosity rise a notch. He waited as she made his way back to him, striding purposefully, determinedly.

She's got something in mind. He could see the busy wheels turning in her mind furiously, excitedly. She was easily the most transparent person he knew in his life.

"Do you like bets, Kakashi?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He crossed his arms in front of his chest, waiting for the rest of what she had to say.

………………………………

TO BE CONTINUED