Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Author's Notes: Written for the Festival Ficathon on the Kakairu lj comm.. Requested by ariaofthewind, who wanted humour.

The exact challenge was as follows:

"I'd like a funny piece.
For some reason, everyone has a date except the two of them so they decide to just stick with each other.
Iruka and Kakashi become engrossed on this game where of course, the Jounin is more proficient but pretends he's a newbie so that Iruka would win the games and be happy (Kakashi likes to see him smile)hahaha
Iruka teaches Kakashi how to play these games (thinking that the Jounin is indeed inexperienced) which will eventually lead to a skin-to-skin encounter (goosebumps for Kakashi)
You decide how they eventually seal the evening. I hope these will not restrict your creative powers"

I wouldn't say this is humour, or even an approximation of it, but well, all I can say in my defense is that it's not angst. I hope I didn't disappoint too much—please enjoy!

Comments and constructive criticism most welcome:D

Catching Fish in Summer

As with all things it started fairly innocuously—just a little blip on his radar of unimportant things. But really, Iruka realised in retrospect, all manner of life-altering events began that way; benign and deceptively harmless before springing up behind him in true shinobi style, ready to take him down.

If he thought about it, it all began that night he went drinking with Genma and Kotetsu. He ought to have known better, but it was early, and it was Friday, and damn it was a cold day in hell when the two coincided. He'd been plenty fuzzed after the third drink, not yet drunk, but his ears hummed pleasantly as he drew wet rings on the table surface with his fingers. Genma was on the other side of the booth, squashed in with Kotetsu, who was talking animatedly to Izumo, who had passed the line of wasted much earlier in the evening and was slumped on Iruka for support.

"So, Iruka," Genma drawled, around a mug of beer. "Coming to the Summer festival with us?" Casually, as if it were the most natural question in the world to ask. Iruka stared down into his drink, stalling for time, until Genma gave him a none too gentle kick under the table.

"You're coming, "Genma said, more of a statement than a question, and his voice had lost its slightly slurry edge.

It was the first year Naruto had left with Jiraiya, Iruka wasn't sure he wanted to go to the festival. It sounded stupid, even to himself, but the summer festival meant Mizuki, and Iruka wasn't going to find out if he could take the pain, even after so long. It wasn't that he was alone, Iruka knew, but while he knew Genma meant well and if it came down to it, Iruka was honestly touched—he'd never put Genma up as someone who he'd been really close to, never thought Genma cared. But it was entirely possible to feel lonely in a crowd and if he were to confront the ghost of his memories, he would rather do it alone.

"Thank you for the offer, Genma-san," Iruka said, smiling and feeling a little shaky although he hadn't done anything at all. "But there are papers to grade, scrolls to file—"

Genma cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Iruka," he said. Iruka wondered at whether he was floating, giddy as lurching as he was.

Izumo shifted against Iruka and looked Genma in the eye. He turned to Iruka. "Offer still stands, yeah?" he said, "It's been a while since we've gone out together.

Iruka nodded, more in an effort to end the conversation than actual agreement with what was being said. Izumo was right, it had been a long time—what with Mizuki and Naruto taking up most of his free time. Mizuki was obviously a grave, horrible mistake Iruka vowed never to make again.

"Thanks," he muttered, staring down into the bottom of his glass. Fuck, he thought morosely, what a time to remember. He thought he'd done a pretty good job of forgetting, but there were always scars that stayed tender after the wound had healed, sore and a little aching. No more lovers, Iruka promised, as he ordered another round of drinks to chase down the metaphorical bile in his throat.

"Well?" Genma said, breath warm and chin almost tucked over Iruka's shoulder as he leaned over from behind.

Iruka, stunned, scooted forward hastily. "Well what, Genma", he said, trying not to let the shock at the sudden proximity through his voice. His fingers fiddled restlessly with the sash, tugging at the knot and brushing over imaginary creases. The silk was surprisingly heavy and luxuriant, resting on his skin meditatively, cool and reassuring. When he moved the folds swayed, just a beat after.

Then Iruka looked at the price tag, and his breath hitched for the second time since he'd set eyes on the yukata, but this time for entirely different reasons. It had been a while since he'd splurged on something this expensive—it really was a pity to spend so much on something that would cost much less elsewhere, but any ninja worth his salt wasn't going to walk around in plainclothes without any hidden pockets for equipment.

Then Kakashi walked into the shop, the bell attached to the door handle tinkling after him. Genma went over to talk to Kakashi, but Iruka stood by the mirror to the dressing room, not quite staring at himself but just looking, and trying to see himself under the scar and the yukata and the faintly bitter smile. He had aged and the lines were showing faintly at the corners of his eyes where he was used to smiling. There were layers where experiences had accumulated and sedimented and become part of him, as integral to the essence of being Iruka as Iruka was himself. Iruka wasn't sure what he was searching for, but instinct said happiness and so it was, but Iruka knew it wasn't quite that, not really. He had never chased happiness, only its approximations—security, comfort, companionship—but damn if he knew. It was important, and he was going to get it back or die trying.

There was movement behind him and Iruka half turned. "Kakashi-sensei," he greeted, embarrassed to be caught in such a reflective moment.

"Iruka-sensei," Kakashi returned pleasantly, giving a slight wave. "Shopping?"

"Ah," Iruka murmured, stepping out of the way so Kakashi could use the mirror. "Not really, just trying it on."

Kakashi gave himself a cursory glance and tugged at the sleeves. "Orange is your colour, sensei. Well, Naruto's colour, but it looks good all the same."

"Thank you," Iruka answered, on reflex, caught at the mention of Naruto. He hadn't meant to choose orange, but he'd walked in and there it was, as unapologetically loud and unashamed as Naruto was, bright and cheerful and flamboyant in the way that orange was wont to be. Then again, maybe he had been thinking of Naruto, and this was some unconscious decision on his part to have something to remind himself— Iruka shook his head to clear away the thought. He wasn't some clingy mother, for god's sake; he'd get another more mature, sensible and suitable colour.

Seemingly having read Iruka's thoughts, Kakashi turned round. "It looks good on you," he said, almost appraisingly. Iruka fought down the blush that was threatening to spread against his will, wondering a little at why that sounded suspiciously like the compliment it probably wasn't meant to be. Behind the words he thought he heard you should get it and Naruto would want you to, as if Kakashi was telling him to stop being foolish, to get the yukata preciselybecause it reminded him of Naruto.

Then Iruka looked at Kakashi, really looked this time round, unencumbered by thoughts of imaginary hidden things in himself or Naruto related pain, only to realise that Kakashi was wearing something sky blue and patterned that did wonders for his eye and complexion. What the hell, he thought, if his line of thought was going as such it was clear that he needed to get out more, that and to stop seeing things that weren't there.

"The yukata is lovely," Iruka finally found the voice to say, not entirely sure which one—orange or blue—he was referring to. He felt foolish for the second time in the day (and damn, didn't trouble come in threes?), but it was only the truth.

So it was that early in the evening two weeks later found Iruka at the village square, perched on the roof overlooking the west entrance, peering down at the summer festival in its early stages and hovering between going home by rooftop or foot. He had word the standard issue sandals, not the geta he supposed was traditionally worn, but evidently if a fight broke out sandals were infinitely more convenient. Plus he was fully armed— even if the weaponry needed some relocation to remain inconspicuous— and would be able to defend himself. Then again if a fight broke out he ought to be wearing his uniform to be best equipped, so he ought to head home now and change—

There was a slight rustling on the rooftop beside him and Kakashi appeared. Iruka suppressed the instinctive urge to lash out--with words or a kunai or two, but it was certain that Kakashi would appreciate neither. "Sorry to intrude," Kakashi murmured, looking down at the people in the square rather than at Iruka. "Genma told me to get you."

"Genma, that basta— " Iruka began, already working up a good deal of steam and preparing to go on a roll. Oh he'd show Genma, leaving him like stranded like this, and not even coming personally to pick him up, that complete assho—

Mercifully, Kakashi cut in before Iruka could sink himself even deeper into anger that even Iruka would admit was misplaced. "Iruka-sensei," he said pleasantly, "I'm sure he meant to come."

"Ah," Iruka replied, torn between going into a long rant on how irresponsible Genma could be— he needed to vent the frustration and insecurity somewhere, damnit! — and excusing himself politely to go home, and wait for the storm to blow over. No way he'd be agreeable company in this state, perhaps he should just head back, Kakashi would understand. They all had their demons, and summer, oppressive, baleful, summer; still with the calmness of death, soft, rotting and gentle decay, gentle like the breeze that stirred the dust and disturbed the memories of the earth. Haltingly, immeasurably slow in passing, of seconds and slow laborious breaths, demons of the own and the demons of others, not to forget, but to remember, and mourn, each in their own way.

"I should go," Iruka said, standing up and brushing imaginary dirt off the folds of his yukata. It was more muted in the evening light, the orange not as fresh and unsullied as it had been in the shop.

Kakashi stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Won't you stay, Iruka-sensei," he said, kindly. "We should enjoy ourselves, yes?"

Iruka raised an eyebrow, a little stunned. From where the 'we', why the sudden solidarity--if this was pity Kakashi had no right to barge in, kind words and gentle touches, what would he know, or understand? Then Iruka realised that Kakashi did know, and know more than anyone else, perhaps, the aching and pain of loss: it was true that it was entirely possible to be lonely in a crowd, but at least this time he would not longer walk alone in solitude. He and Kakashi, two together but walking down the lane of different memories, and that would make all the difference.

"Then let's go, Kakashi-sensei," he surprised himself by saying, "to the festival."

They walked into the village square late evening, when the sun set into grey twilight and there were bloated, white clouds in the sky. It was already getting rowdy; between the wrestling matches and the procession of floats, it was almost deafening. The press of people was choking. Iruka couldn't understand how so the entire village could be crammed into the small space of the village square and sincerely hoped not everyone had decided to congregate there at the same time. At least stay on the rooftops, or something. He would have to do that soon, if he wanted to get any proper breathing done.

As if reading his thoughts, Kakashi abruptly led them into a side street. "It's less crowded here," he told Iruka almost apologetically.

The street was rather wide; enough for a carriage. On both sides it was flanked with stalls, some nothing more than a rickety wooden cart laden with goods, some merely a small booth consisting of a table. Other vendors peddled their goods in a tray, walking around to cajole pedestrians into buying. At least here it was possible to feel a small draft of wind. Kakashi seemed happy— so far he'd bought one paper fan with Konoha's motif printed in festive red, a bag of assorted hard candies, and a honey-coated plum sweet for Iruka. At present he seemed to be in the midst of haggling with an old lady for a red umbrella. Iruka wondered what Kakashi needed it for, but then the sky looked threateningly dark, so maybe Kakashi was merely preparing for contingencies.

Iruka wandered further down the street, giving Kakashi a tap on the shoulder that he was moving on for just a little bit. It had been a long time since he had been to one, and even longer since he had gone alone. It wasn't that that was anything new, however, so Iruka supposed that he should be used to it by now; the feeling of solitude even when the crush of people was overwhelming. His haphazard steps brought him to the front of a stall selling crushed ice balls. The plum sweet was still in his mouth, the honey long sucked away, and he was beginning to feel a little thirsty.

"One strawberry-flavoured ice," he told the old lady behind the counter. She nodded at him briefly, before turning to crush the ice and shape it into a ball with her hands. Iruka watched as she poured pink syrup over it, wondering if he should get one for Kakashi. After all, the man had bought him a sweet, even if Kakashi had claimed that it dropped into his candy bag by mistake. It was only fair, after all. Except that Iruka had no idea what flavour Kakashi liked, and these things tended melt with surprising alacrity in the heat.

"And the same for me," Iruka heard someone say behind him. He spun around quickly, and almost crashed into Kakashi.

"Kakashi-sensei," Iruka said, feeling vaguely unsettled at their proximity. He moved to the side on the pretext of looking at the next stall, which had a goldfish catching game. "You like strawberry?" he teased. Strawberry seemed a little too... feminine. For Sharingan Kakashi, at any rate.

Kakashi smiled easily. "Rather," he replied, reaching out to take his ice from the old lady. "It's good for hot nights."

Iruka took his ice and licked it tentatively, enjoying the feel of the coolness on his tongue. He paid, and inclined his head towards the next shop. "Let's play a game, Kakashi-sensei," he suggested. "After we finish the ices."

Kakashi nodded, and moved further down the street. Iruka followed him instinctively, weaving through people and trying to keep the ice from melting and dripping all over his yukata. They reached a corner, and then Iruka lost Kakashi. He blinked in confusion— he hadn't been that far behind, and he had seen Kakashi's shadow disappear round the bend. Unless this was Kakashi's way of ditching him politely, in which case Iruka was more than prepared to give him a piece of his mind. That bastard, he wasn't any better than Genma was! There clearly was much to be said about his deplorable habit of trusting people since time and experience had undoubtedly proven that he was a horrendous judge of character.

"Up here, Iruka-sensei!" Kakashi called, and there was a flare of chakra from the roof. Iruka looked up, and there Kakashi was, framed against the charcoal black sky, a shadowy blue figure clutching a red umbrella. Inexplicably, Iruka felt like laughing, of amusement or of embarrassment, he couldn't tell: in that moment he felt a flash of fondness of Kakashi, despite himself, as though he had known Kakashi for a long time, a though there was something to be fond of. "Coming!" Iruka yelled, and jumped onto the roof.

An hour later found Iruka staring down at Kakashi, who was in turn staring with unblinking eyes at one particular goldfish in the pool of many. "What's the matter?" Iruka asked, moving to crouch beside Kakashi patiently.

Kakashi turned and gave Iruka an embarrassed smile. "Well," he said, giving a half-hearted swipe through the water with his torn net. "I can't seem to get it right, sensei."

Iruka took in Kakashi's net, ripped in the middle and trailing forlornly in the water, and Kakashi himself, who looked close to exasperation and perhaps lifting the edge of his headband to take a peek with the Sharingan. "Kakashi-sensei!" Iruka mock-scolded, reaching over to cautiously pull the headband a little lower.

Kakashi gave a laugh, and shuffled a little back from the edge of the pool. "Maa, maa, sensei," he said placatingly, holding up both hands, palms facing Iruka. "Can't help it."

Iruka drew his hand back, wondering a little that he hadn't got his fingers batted away. Here he was keeping a religious bubble of personal space, and then suddenly reaching out... He took the net from Kakashi and inspected the tear. "Too bad, Kakashi-sensei,", he said, "it's completely useless now, but you'll still get a complimentary fish anyway!"

Kakashi smiled again, more easily this time, and Iruka thought in the curve of his eye there was something close of amusement. "Ah, but I had my eye set on that one," he said, pointing to an orange mottled fish that looked to Iruka like every other of the twenty fish in the pool.

"So you'll try again," Iruka said, reasonably, going up to the owner and taking money from his purse. He got a paper net and small bucket in exchange.

He crouched down beside Kakashi and dipped the net into the water. "The trick is to be gentle, and watch the flow of the water. You can't move too forcefully, and you can't oppose the flow, or the net will get torn," he instructed, slowly tracing the path of the fish Kakashi had pointed out. He gave Kakashi a reassuring smile, pleased to see that Kakashi was listening and following his movements intently. "And of course, the longer you stay in the water the more fragile your net will become, but you'll need patience in order to trip them into your net."

Iruka continued moving the net, watching the fish dart around. He had almost lost track of the one Kakashi wanted, although what was so unique about it was questionable. "Here," he said, passing the net to Kakashi, "you try." Kakashi took the net and looked at Iruka uncertainly. Iruka had that inexplicable desire to laugh again, amused at Kakashi's hesitance. "Don't worry," Iruka coaxed. "You'll get it."

When Kakashi still didn't move Iruka turned to take the net from him but thought the better of it, instead putting a hand over Kakashi's and guiding it through the water. "It's easy, Kakashi-sensei," Iruka teased, "just that you can't try too hard, or the net will tear and the fish will no longer want to be caught." Guiding the net gently through the water, Iruka traced seemingly random circles, cutting a fluid path through startled fish.

Kakashi stared at Iruka, covertly monitoring the movement of the fish in the water. The one he wanted was boldly evading capture, brazenly weaving a fearless path and coming too close to the net more than once. He could have caught it with a quick flick of his wrist, but since Iruka was doing the teaching, he might as well listen, and too quick a movement might tear the net again anyway. He could use the Sharingan, of course, but that might not meet with Iruka's approval, and plus, he would not be bested by a trivial goldfish catching game. It wasn't as though he'd never done this before, but having two people play at the game was infinitely more fun than playing himself, and he was curious to see where this was going.

In the next instant his hand was lifted up, and with it the net. Kakashi was mildly surprised to see two fish in the net, both turning frantically and gasping out of the water. Iruka took the bucket and filled it with some water from the pool before lowering the net gently into the bucket. "Not that difficult, Kakashi-sensei?" Iruka asked with a chuckle, and it was all that Kakashi could do to smile and laugh quietly.

"Of course, but it was all thanks to Iruka-sensei," he replied, trying to keep the delight out of his voice.

This hadn't been difficult, not by a long shot, but Kakashi wondered just how he was supposed to 'not try too hard' as Iruka advised. Because as he looked over at Iruka who was cheerfully getting the old man to pack the fish into plastic bags, he had just this small inkling that the fish might want to be caught, so damn if he didn't strike soon, before the net got soft.

Kakashi poked to side of his plastic bag unceremoniously and peered at the two fish swimming inside.

"Stop poking," Iruka automatically reprimanded. "You'll scare them." Kakashi stopped the poking , but made up for it by bouncing the bag against his thigh. He stopped though, when Iruka gave him a glare. When that failed to stop what Iruka called his 'traumatic antics', Kakashi found himself very rudely divested of a bag of happy fish.

"Kakashi-sensei," Iruka said, sighing in exasperation, "you didn't catch them just to kill them, you know?"

"Yes, Iruka," Kakashi ventured, putting his hands behind his head and looking up to the sky. The street was still lined with red lanterns; still early, there would be plenty of people coming later. They had only walked through a few alleys, perhaps if they hurried there still would be the passing floats to look out for. It was still warm and balmy, but no longer unbearably close and oppressive. It was as though there were ghosts, but in the laughter and festivities they were banished, momentarily forgotten. Kakashi felt ancient, of another time, suddenly drained in the heat. There was too much to remember in the smoky choked alleyways in which people jostled and cried out, where the smell of sweetmeats and roasting chestnuts wafted up and carried away, where the sound of procession drums and illegal firecrackers could be heard in the distance.

Red was the colour of luck, of fortune and of many other things, but red was blood and red was life— and red was death too. He felt the fan tucked into his sleeve, with its ribbed face and paper and clutched the umbrella tighter. Iruka was trailing a little behind, no doubt reassuring himself of the welfare of the fishes. Originally he thought the fishes, one red, one white and orange— one for Iruka, one for himself— but they were in one bag and not two. "For you," Kakashi told Iruka, "so that they won't be lonely." For loneliness is a terribly unhappy thing, it eats away and corrodes, the very fibre and will of existence, gently and in the softest of possible ways, he wanted to say, but that would have been unwarranted and too raw, so kept silent, waiting for the silence to fill in the gap.

The rain began just then, quite heavy and sudden. Iruka ducked into a shop and sat huddled on a stool, bag containing the fish cradled carefully in hand. Kakashi joined him, still smiling slightly, looking out beyond the curtain of rain to where the Hokage tower was, a pinpoint of light on the top like a beacon in the middle of the sea. He felt as disoriented as that, like he was tossing in a choppy sea, caught in this moment and this place, in here, and now.

He snapped out of it with Iruka calling into his ear. "Kakashi," Iruka said, startling him out of his thoughts; but just as well, since the feeling of immense giddiness receded like waves on a shore once he looked back to the bright lights of the stall and Iruka's concerned staring.

"Let's go," he told Iruka, as happily as he dared, getting off the stool and walking to the edge of the stall where water was dripping off the awning in torrents. Kakashi opened the umbrella— red is for luck, prosperity and fortune— and waited, until Iruka joined him by his side and they stepped out into the darkness, fish in hand.

Red is for love, for life, and for happiness. When Iruka reached out into the night, he dared, and grasped all three in hand.

The End