"Need any help?"
Athena turned around to find Yamato offering her his free arms. She gave him a hard stare before dropping the pile of neatly folded clothing on top of them. For at least two weeks he had dashed in and out of her life. Just last night he was knocking on her door. "I was in the area, so I thought I'd stop by and ask how you're doing," he said. Who did he think I was? An idiot?
She still noticed some strange and cautious glances directed at her on the streets, but for the most part, her integration into Konoha had been rather peaceful after Kakashi's report. She was even accepted as a volunteering story-teller for kids at the academy. Of course, she was never allowed to be alone with them. Their teacher, Naruto's first sensei, was a nice guy however. She found him to be an easy-going fellow with not a shred of intimidation like Kakashi or Yamato.
"Where are we going?" he asked her.
"The stockroom," she answered dryly. "I'm making a delivery."
Athena had officially became an amateur seamstress in Konoha. For the last two weeks she had been receiving uniforms damaged in missions or worn by use from the stockroom to mend. Since the Ichiraku Ramen Bar no longer required her help, she had volunteered herself to various jobs in the village, trying to make herself out to be a useful and decent citizen. Her effort paid off when the owner of Haruko Exchange hired her to work in their scent and perfume section. Finally, she remembered how tight she had hugged the poor old woman after being offered a job.
"Didn't you just receive these five days ago? You must have worked really hard."
"I don't really have a lot to do," she said. What do you think I do aside from work? Converse with friends at teahouses?
The jounin, who initially shunned her, had suddenly changed his attitude after their encounter at the Ichiraku Ramen Bar three weeks ago. Apparently, being a coward was a non-spy quality. She was glad she didn't disclose the fact that their Konoha ninja life was being broadcasted for the people in her world to see. I would probably be locked up for life, she shivered at the thought.
They arrived at the stockroom. She walked to the window and made her delivery like usual. The receptionist opened the thick inventory book and checked off something, then handed over another big bag of uniforms. When she turned around, Yamato was still there with his arms out. Without hesitation, she let him pick up the bag and started walking home.
"So, I hear your new job is going well?"
In just a week, her reputation as perfumer extraordinaire had spread to the entire village. People had been rushing in for special orders of fragrances she created. She had been making perfumes for others her entire life; it had almost became a habit. Hayanashi Athena wished to create a scent that deeply moved her, one that could deliver to anyone anywhere an unforgettable experience, one that was created by great depth and carried in its scent the great tremor of the artist's heart. In short, she longed for a masterpiece despite having no inspiration. And I fell in a fantastical dimension! What else is inspiration if it's not this?
"It's going fine," she mumbled.
"You don't trust anyone beside Kakashi-senpai, do you?" Yamato said. "You're always curt with me."
"Or maybe I just don't like talking to you," she replied.
Yamato chuckled. He had a strange feeling that she could bite his head off with her words. She wasn't intimidating in strength in any way, but strangely no one ever thought little of her. She made some comments the other day to some of his subordinates about how the women here were, how did she put it?, 'undermined' and 'unappreciated'. Apparently in her world, women, whether or not they can fight, are equal to men.
"Well, Senpai will be back soon from his mission, then I won't be following you anymore."
"Did Kakashi tell you to do this? Keeping me in check?"
"You sound annoyed," he said, "aren't you happy?"
"Why would I be happy that he designated a babysitter to look after me, a grown woman?"
Do all the women in her world think like that? He thought. What a weird culture! Yamato looked at Athena's furrowed brows and pouted lips, her signature disapproving expression. It was such a serious and peculiarly adorable expression. Unbeknownst to her, he smiled.
"What's this mission that he's on anyway?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that. It's classified information."
"Yeah yeah. Is it dangerous?"
"Are you worried?"
"No, not really," she lowered her voice, "it's just taking a bit longer than I thought."
"I'll be back in a week," he put on his bag and pointed to the ninja next to him in the hallway, "if you need anything, Yamato will take care of it for you."
"You woke me up at 7AM for this?" she said, grouchy.
"Ah, I guess so," he said, laughed, and left.
She went back to bed and lied there wide awake until noon, trying to catch pieces of the cool oak moss and earthy sandalwood scent which was slowly being erased by the growing distance.
That was more than ten days ago.
"Oh, so you miss him?" he asked, slightly teasing her. Her blunt speech presented her as transparent, yet her gaze left you with a sense of mystery. She was honest, yet secretive. She's a bit like Kakashi-senpai, isn't she?
"Don't be stupid," she said. "I just wonder if something unexpected happened."
"So you're worried."
She sighed. Yamato was just as relentless as Kakashi. She felt as if they had made a secret pact of disallowing her even a single white lie. Worse, they seemed to enjoy chasing her to a corner; especially Yamato, every conversation with him ended often in her admitting her defeat.
"Fine. I'm worried."
"Well you shouldn't be. It's only a B-rank mission. Senpai probably took a detour somewhere, or he's just late as usual."
"Can he do that on a mission?"
"He gets scolded for it, but he does it anyway. The way back on this mission passes by some amazing hot spring resorts, he probably stopped there for a short paid vacation."
Yamato nodded, "that's Kakashi-senpai to you. He takes advantage of the system a little, but nobody really minds."
"What do I do to the system?" A casual and laid back voice sneaked up on them.
Kakashi was standing behind them in that slouching posture and that chronically visible mask of his. His backpack was still on his shoulders. His clothes were a bit dirty and there were a few tears, but he didn't appear injured.
"You've gotten even better Senpai, I couldn't sense you at all," Yamato said.
Kakashi shrugged to acknowledge Yamato's comment. His lazy dark blue eye turned quickly to Athena and he took a step towards her. "You've been doing okay?"
"Yeah," she said, "I got a job after you left."
"At Haruko Exchange. I met with Naruto and Sakura at the gate. Congrats."
She shrugged at his congratulations. "Do you need your uniform mended?"
"Oh, you're still doing that? That would be nice, thank you. This shirt needs a bit of patching done."
"Kakashi-senpai, I have a meeting to go to, can you help Athena-san carry this to her home?" his subordinate gave him the big bag full of torn clothes without even waiting for him to answer.
"Well, I have to turn in my report," he said.
"I'll turn it in for you," Yamato said. "You should go home and rest. It's been a long mission."
Kakashi reached into his backpack and gave Yamato the mission report, then he grabbed the clothing bag and swinged it behind his back as if it weighed nothing. "Ready?" he looked at Athena.
His place looked the same before his departure. The bed was neatly made. The plant on his bed was still green despite the hot sun. Nothing was disturbed. He opened the fridge, no stale food. His old milk carton was thrown out. Even his old left-over was missing.
"Did you clean out my fridge for me? Thank you."
"Actually, that was Naruto. He also stopped by often to water your plant."
"I need to thank him later then," he chuckled and closed the fridge. "Unfortunately now I'm out of ingredients to make dinner."
"Would you like to go out for dinner then?" she said.
"Dinner?" Kakashi scratched his head. "Will it be only us?"
"I can't invite another person," she said, "no offense but your taste is kind of expensive."
"Oh," he sighed in relief, "you don't have to invite me to dinner just because I paid for yours once." If only she knew that I claimed it as a mission expense, oh well...
"You also bought me grocery and defended me against your superior. I'm not an ungrateful person."
Looking at her eyes, he knew that he had no choice but to accept. "Alright. Give me some time to shower first."
"Why? It's not a date. You don't need to bother yourself."
"That's..." he blushed. How can she speak of these things so casually? "No. I just prefer to get out of these old clothes."
"Ok," she accepted his explanation just as quickly as she had questioned him.
Kakashi leaned uncomfortably against the cushion seat. This was the first time in his life where a woman would pay for his dinner. Though he had had female subordinates taking him out for meals or drinks, Athena wasn't his subordinate. She wasn't even his relative. He looked at her and wondered if she even noticed how strange was her request.
"Why aren't you ordering?" she asked.
"Oh," he mumbled, "just order for me also."
"You don't have to worry. Just get what you like. I make enough to at least accommodate your taste for one dinner."
He grunted to say 'yes' and then picked up the menu, feeling more and more entranged from the world he knew. Often it was him who had to reassure his students, subordinates, and 'acquaintances' that he could pay for their dinners. He gave the waitress his order and turned around to find Athena smiling at him. Her eyes were gleaming.
"You seem happy," he commented.
"Two months ago I had nothing," she said, "and now here I am, taking a friend out to dinner. Of course I'm happy."
He smiled beneath his mask. So I guess we're friends now. "I'm glad for you."