Warning: Contains spoilers for recent events. Eventual and implied KakashixNaruto.

Kakashi stood on the stone head of the fourth Hokage. The wind ripped through his hair. He was about to get knocked off – the wind was that strong.

It was during these moments that Kakashi wished he could fly.

He stretched out his arms with the next gust of wind. His hair was blown violently away from his face and he rocked on his toes. No, he wasn't using any chakra to maintain his grip.

After the gust died down, a few soft puffs blew and Kakashi could feel tiny sprigs of tears stinging his eyes … both his eyes.

"Hmph", Kakashi smirked, the wind could do that to you.

He sat down, placing his elbows on his knees and his chin on his laced fingers. He gazed at the horizon, watching small clouds race across the night sky, dull gray against the black moonless sky. Stars peeped out in between as if to remind the world they existed. Existence.

Kakashi was not generous with sighs, but then a ragged, torn one escaped his lips.

He thought back to the time when he had to introduce himself as sensei to his genin team … "Dreams for the future …" he hadn't wanted to answer that question, and so he didn't.

Kakashi had been loved once… most definitely by his mother from conception to birth, by his father … his father had loved him, by his sensei. Even Jiraiya had loved him, in his own Jiraiya-ish way.

Rin had idolized him, just like most of the other women he happened to meet; girls and women who looked at him like perfection incarnate, with no faults and they often measured other men against him. Like Obito had been by Rin.

Kakashi looked up into the sky and the wind blew another punishing gale at him. He felt his lashes flutter and his eyes dry, again bringing out tears. He looked back at the horizon, letting the tears collect at the lower lids of his eyes, held back by the lashes there.

He needed a way to cry somehow.

Poor Rin. He remembered how she was always there for him, even in the last moments … he remembered how she had shed tears when he told her that he was not worthy of her, as he was the trash who would have left her behind. The words had cut her, and she couldn't face him for a few days. But then, she was herself again, sweet and gentle and kind … to him, always. He could have reciprocated, but he didn't because, honestly, he couldn't. It had all hurt too much … so much … everything that had happened with that mission had torn open wounds in Kakashi's heart that had been scarred over and over in a thick, tight wad. Obito's face as he lay dying, the last Kakashi had seen of the boy, as boulders fell in loud crashes over him, to bury him forever … so young - a living, breathing person … A PERSON … someone full of hopes and DREAMS … Obito had loved Rin, he had wanted to spend time with her, he wanted to tell her how much he loved her. An ordinary boy with a family, a boy who could cry, who had had a heart, who had dreams… but when Kakashi looked at the mound of earth that had smashed his team mate … the scars that had hardened his heart tore open and the blood gushed out in torrents that went on and on … his heart had bled when he charged his chidori to attempt his solo take out of more than 20 enemy nins, his heart had bled when Rin wouldn't run away to safety, his heart had split when she confessed the feelings he knew all along she had for him …"Damn … I am not worthy … I am a destroyer of dreams …damn Rin, why doesn't she run away …"

Rin … poor little girl. In the end, to be true, that was what she was when she had died. Just a little girl. Who had hopes and dreams for the future.

Kakashi looked up again when the tears didn't fall. He blinked hard. The tears at last broke the dam of his lashes. He scrunched his eyes harder … come on … fall, damn it … two drops of water slowly coursed down the curves of his cheek bones, down his bare face and onto his jaws. Kakashi closed his eyes in satisfaction and took a deep, pained breath.

The wind blew. The tears were lost in it. He was so pathetic.

"Who am I to talk about dreams …?"

Kakashi lay down flat on his back, and stretched out his arms. He lay spread-eagled on the stone head of the Fourth and shut his eyes. He let the wind blow over him, ruffling his hair and cooling his bare arms and face.

Naruto …

Naruto was such a … child of hope. Hope. Kakashi smiled thinly. The demon brat of Konoha now was the only one who could keep afloat the dreams of the people in these hard times. There's irony for you.

"So much like you sensei …" Kakashi rubbed his ungloved hands over the stone, lovingly. "But I'm just a man of regrets … I never did tell you how much you meant to me, didn't I?"

Sarutobi … that grand old man … that grand old warrior … who had always treated Kakashi like a wayward grandson … he had loved that old man.

And now, even Jiraiya was dead. THAT man … Kakashi grinned as he thought back to when he first men the old pervert. Kakashi had been three and the man was so tall that he had to really crane his neck up to look at him. And he had NOT been amused when the man picked him up and brought him to face level. Kakashi remembered feeling slightly dizzy at the sudden upward movement. He remembered staring into the man's streaked eyes and then at the wart on his nose and then at the weird hair and then again back into his eyes. He remembered Jiraiya guffawing and telling his father something, that to this day Kakashi could not recall, no matter how much he tried. May be because whatever it was had been chortled and garbled, but he did remember his father turning a splotchy red and taking him from Jiraiya's hands to put him back on the ground. They had all gone out to dinner that night, and Kakashi couldn't remember much after that, because he had fallen asleep.

Jiraiya old man … Kakashi opened his eyes and grinned even more at the sky. That guy had really LIVED. He chuckled as he recalled Jiraiya's oh-so-subtle "106 cm" dialog. Naruto wouldn't know it, but Kakashi had as much of a right to mourn that old pervert's death.

Mourning … that was all he could do … but then again, to be fair … he had also died. He had expected to meet his old team mates (the guilt, the guilt) … but not his father.

"Tou-san …." Kakashi's grin slipped away and his voice softened. The wind blew strong and hard and Kakashi shivered; goose bumps spotted his skin.

He shut his eyes and recalled his father's deep, quiet voice and his laugh, which was at most just a chuckle.

One thing Kakashi was happy about in all his years of existence was understanding the reason for his father's suicide … his father … while Kakashi had always tried to never forget his dead team mates and sensei, his own father had waited in that dark, cold place for release … waiting for forgiveness and understanding, which Kakashi had misplaced and displaced… Kakashi involuntarily sighed as his chest shuddered … his misunderstood father …

Willingly or unwillingly, Kakashi knew he was the one who hurt those he cared about.

Naruto … Sasuke … the two misfits of Konoha were put into his team … it would have had been less troublesome for them and for the rest of the ninja world if he hadn't passed them for that test. He remembered how the Third had personally requested him to be the jonin sensei of the two boys; the girl of the team had to be Sakura, there was no choice.

Naruto … that sunshiny stamina freak, number one at surprising people. He laughed quietly to himself at how the blonde's eyes shone when he presented his "gift" to his sensei. Kakashi had been thrilled to pieces when he received that as-yet unreleased Icha Icha volume … but what had turned his stomach over was that he had even been considered by someone as worthy of remembering; Kakashi was sure it was not idolization that shone in Naruto's eyes then… Kakashi had been extremely careful to mask his emotions that time, when he realized.

"Hnm …" Kakashi chuckled to himself again … "Am an expert in masks anyway … masks beneath masks beneath masks…"

Thinking about Naruto never failed to bring him back to reality. He could stay here forever on this stone monument, freezing into a statue himself … as unfeeling as stone, as he always showed himself to be, but thinking about Naruto always brought some life back into his existence.

Kakashi stood up straight, bracing himself for the next blast of wind. He shut his eyes, and stretched out his arms and stood, like a pale ghost, his loose pants billowing, and his hair swept out of face; it was like the loving, cool hands of a mother, comforting her feverish child. Kakashi was feverish … his eyes, hot and glittering, as he opened them into the dark night, the sky now filled with clouds, thick and water heavy, with lightening brightening their edges and thunder growling as the storm blew towards Konoha. Kakashi had to jusitify his existence in this world. He had to give it meaning… there had to be some reason he had always cheated death. Maybe, he reasoned, he had to die some other time, some other way… his death setting of a chain of unstoppable reactions …

"In your dreams …" he whispered bitterly to himself, his soft words carried away by the wind, as the air started to feel moist against his sensitive skin.

Naruto was excited that night as he slurped up the last of his ramen. Old man Teuchi was already closing down the shop, and his daughter was in the back kitchen cleaning up before shutting down for the night. Naruto was excited because he was being sent out for a mission that did not have anything to do with Konoha, or Sasuke or Akatsuki … something different.

Teuchi watched the boy fondly as he wiped his reddened hands on a damp towel. He was looking at a 17 year old, but he was thinking about the scrawny little 10 year old boy who had come to Ichiraku for the first time. How fast they all grow up … the little brat was now the savior of Konoha.

"Thanks old man!! " Naruto piped, as he laid down the money for the 6 bowls he had eaten. Teuchi took the money and counted some out and returned it to the boy.

"Discount for my favorite customer!"

Naruto cheered as he took the money and stowed it religiously into his frog purse.

"Ok then, goodnight! I need to get some sleep, I have an important mission in the morning with Kakashi-sensei …"

Naruto waved his goodbyes to Teuchi and his daughter, and walked home, his hands in his pockets and his jacket zipped partly down. He enjoyed the wet breeze as it blew through his hair and over his exposed neck, cooling him down.

He was full and satisfied.

Naruto walked down the familiar path, thinking. He had learnt a lot about life these past few months … one thing was he now he had felt the pain that came with losing a loved one. He had at last understood Sasuke's grief and desire for revenge … just multiply Naruto's own by a million. Naruto had grown up … he was ready and confident about his own mind and feelings and strength … he understood his limits and …


Naruto stopped in his tracks and looked up. It took him a split second to place the voice, but before that, he recognized the stance of the person on the roof, looking down at him.

"Ka .. Kakashi-sensei ..?"

His sensei was dressed in a sleeveless tank top and baggy trousers, tight at the ankles. His skin was like a live thing, glowing against the dark. His softly bright hair danced in the wind, and Naruto stared at the man, frozen and open-mouthed.

"Oi … Naruto."

The man had hopped on to the ground in front of Naruto, slightly slouched, his hands in his pockets.

"S ..sensei …", Naruto stammered, suddenly embarrassed for staring at Kakashi like that … "what are you doing here?"

"Hmm? … well, I presume you're going home from Ichiraku's … I'll walk with you … come on, before the rain starts."

Naruto pouted … why was this man so … aloof … he was always there for Naruto … but never actually "there" … somewhere always in the background, silently encouraging by not interfering.

As his sensei always said look underneath the underneath … so Naruto brightened and decided to do just that …

Kakashi was walking a few paces in front of Naruto. Naruto gazed at the man's masked jaw and the tip of his nose. Naruto was walking on the man's right, and he could see his sensei's dark eye move slowly as he watched Naruto sideways, from under his lashes.

"What's wrong Naruto?"

There he goes again – so perceptive… always watching, observing … never participating.

The words were soft and … it made Naruto want to hug the man … not that he wanted to ever do that …EWWWW!! But there was something in the man's voice that made Naruto feel like giving him a hug … so lonely.

Sometimes he felt his sensei to be more starved than he ever was …

"Nothing sensei … ummm, just thinking about tomorrow's mission is all."

"Yes, the one with the merchants."

They reached Naruto's apartment, where they stopped. Kakashi stood in front of Naruto, looking at him, and Naruto fidgeted slightly. The rain would be here any minute and the man was hardly dressed for a drenching.

"Kakashi-sensei … why don't you wait for a minute while I get you a cloak or something … you'll get soaked by the time you get home."

Naruto felt a little hot when Kakashi tilted his head to the right and gave him an "eye-smile" … he then placed his hand on Naruto's head and softly rubbed his hair.

"Thanks Naruto, that's ok … I'll make it home before the storm starts … sleep well and see you tomorrow … usual place."

Naruto watched as the man shot up into the air and vanished.

"Good night sensei …"

Naruto couldn't get Kakashi out of his mind as he got his travel bag ready for the mission. He felt that if his sensei just talked to someone … maybe he wouldn't be this … lonely. Naruto could sense a sort of parchedness about Kakashi …something so dry and empty that begged to be filled, but was never asked to.

The very fact that Kakashi was so skilled at hiding his emotions made Naruto wonder how long it had been since he'd started doing that … hiding his emotions.

Naruto had been there once. He knew what need was … and he could sense it. Looking underneath the underneath … he needed to do that if he had to unravel the mystery that was Hatake Kakashi. His sensei was another person who had influenced his life … another person who had acknowledged him.

Naruto paused in his packing, with a small smile on his face, a smile not many people had seen. It was soft and beautiful, with his eyes slightly narrowed, the crazy bright blue glowing in a quieter light. He was thinking about his first "real battle" with the Mist chunin during the time they were escorting Tazuna, the old bridge builder.

Naruto remembered how brash he had been and how he had frozen when those chunin attacked … and how Kakashi told him that he was sorry that Naruto was hurt, but he hadn't expected him to freeze like that.

Naruto smiled when he remembered those words and that look – that sideways glance that his sensei was so famous for … he didn't know it then (sheesh, what an obnoxious brat he had been …) but his sensei was trying to wake him up, to make him understand that he had to live up to his words …teach him not to brag too much, if he wasn't going to back the words with action.

for all your big words, you didn't do much, did you now, Naruto, that look had said … don't talk too much … you're a ninja now.

He remembered when Kakashi had told everyone with a dramatic sigh (that man !!) that since Naruto's wound was too dangerous, they had better drop the mission and get back to the village … and then there was that sideways look again. Naruto had to chuckle when he remembered that famous "Oath-of-Pain-speech" of his …

"Yeeeeeshhh… what a kid I was!!"

Naruto grinned as he shook his head and resumed his packing … life was a bitch when it made you feel like giving your old self a good whack on the head.

The rain started to fall, heavy and thick.

The "ssshhhhhhhh" of the falling rain was lost in the "tap tap tap tap" of it pelting the window panes. Naruto crawled over his bed and opened the curtains slightly so that he could watch through the glass. He could see the rain against the assorted lights over the village. The wild wind was gone now … there was nothing in the path of the rain. Naruto closed his eyes as he pictured the large drops falling onto the ground, churning the dust, making mud. The drops would carve out small puddles, splishing and sploshing as more drops would fall. And fill. Fall and fill … fall and fill. Naruto lost himself in the sound of the rain.

He opened his eyes and looked far as if trying to see the Hokage monuments. He smiled … his face would one day join his father's …

Naruto rolled over and went back to giving his travel pack some finishing touches. He double checked all his supplies and started to polish his weapons.

He would become Hokage one day, it's just that his reasons had changed over the years.

Naruto never did like people who were showier than he was … at least not the first time round. But this guy was a real pain in the ass.

They had just left the village and were walking out along the usual path into the forest. He was walking at the tail of the little group, with Kakashi at the front, Sakura behind him, and the clients between her and Naruto.

The clients were two men, who claimed to be merchants, but looked a bit more sinister than that … at least, that's what Naruto thought. It was an A-ranked bodyguard mission, as these two were supposed to be important business men, and … it was left at that.

The men were extremely suave, the old man at least had the decency to look dignified and impersonal, but the younger guy was just too … too … anyway, Naruto did not like it when the guy was obviously successful at making Sakura glance at him more than once. Both the men were dressed in simple, but expensive travel gear and long cloaks. The young man had a very cool hair cut, and the two of them had similar looking rings on the thumbs of their left hands.

Naruto really thought that the young guy Chiaki was an absolute ass, but then again, Naruto was a mature person now, and Sakura was a professional, and in two days their mission would be completed, and so there would really be no reason to put the guy in his place.

Naruto tried … he really did, to make decent conversation … there was no need for the outward trek to be boring and all. Chiaki, it had turned out, was a bit more of an ass than Naruto gave him credit for.

The argument had almost come to blows, and then Kakashi was suddenly between the two of them, his left hand holding Naruto's wrist and right hand blocking Chiaki's fist.

Sakura wanted to punch Naruto hard … when would the guy learn … but the look the old man gave Chiaki froze her in place.


During break, Kakashi called out for Naruto to join him to look for kindling. Sakura was with the old man. Chiaki's obvious presence in the group was the only indication that he was around. The man didn't even seem like he was breathing.

Naruto knew enough to understand that this was not going to be a usual hunt for firewood. Especially when Kakashi was sacrificing his precious reading time.

When they were far enough from the group, Kakashi motioned for Naruto to stop.

"Naruto … I'm sorry you weren't given more details on this mission … but the Hokage wasn't either… but I've come to some conclusions of my own…"

Naruto watched Kakashi's face.

"Make a shadow clone and go and call Sakura here … think of any excuse, but leave your clone with them"

Sakura was not surprised when she had been told the reason for this secret meeting.

"So what is it, Kakashi-sensei …?"

"Technically, this is a straight forward bodyguard mission – we protect the travelers and see them off safely to the destination, as per their request … from the little information we have, these men are members of the underground."

"Ehh?" Naruto squinted in confusion.

"The yakuza, Naruto … an organization where people deal in … well, questionable practices, like drug smuggling, human trafficking, loan and land sharking … "

Sakura frowned as she processed the information.

Kakashi continued "It seems to me that this particular group has some political clout with the daimyo of the Fire Country, seeing that they came to us for protection. The yakuza are semi-legal, in that they are often open about their identities and activities … and they have their own security system to deal with assassination attempts and the like. "

"Then why …? ", Sakura interrupted.

"It could be that the we may be protecting Ohna-san from insiders … "

Sakura frowned even more … she turned and glanced back at the trail through which she had come.

"So Kakashi-sensei …we're keeping someone from his own team from killing him …?"

"Hmmm … that's what I think, Naruto … we still don't know whether there's someone out to kill Ohna-san or not … it's just one of the possible reasons for shinobi to be escorting yakuza when they very well could handle such things for themselves …"

"So …" Sakura mused, "… shinobi and yakuza keep away from each other?"

"Under most circumstances …yes."

"Then this mission, where the yakuza came to us for help …could probably mean that you're right, sensei …"

"This is just a possibility, Sakura … since we were given no other information …"

"Then I'll head back to the camp … better not to get them suspicious."

"Fine then, see you in a bit."

As Sakura started to retreat, Naruto gazed unseeing in that direction … in thought. Kakashi started to pick up kindling. His arms were full when he walked up to Naruto. The boy turned to him, about to ask a question, when Kakashi dumped the pile of twigs onto him. Naruto had luckily held out his arms on instinct.

"Aaaahhh!! HEY!!!!"

Kakashi had his hands in his pockets and was walking back to the camp. Naruto jogged up come to pace with him. He was irritated with the man, but then there were things he wanted to know.

"Uhh … sensei ..? Why didn't they tell Tsunade anything, and why didn't she ask?"

"Hmmm? Well, as you know Naruto, Konoha is undergoing reconstruction now, and luckily for us, Tsunade's partly regained her health. We need to take in as many missions as is allowed, Naruto … we need the money … and in front of the daimyo, its imperative Tsunade shows no opposition, until the village is restored to pre-attack standards."

They walked for a while in silence, till Kakashi started to speak again.

"This is the second time in recent years we're so strapped … after Orochimaru's invasion … I remember I had been sent out on too many back to back missions …"

Naruto lowered his eyes … of course, Kakashi was thinking about that time. Naruto could sense the bitterness that lay behind the lazy words that came out of his sensei's mouth … back to back missions, when the most important mission lay in Konoha itself … to keep Sasuke safe from Orochimaru. A blunder on Tsunade's part – it hadn't been taken seriously … and Kakashi, Naruto could feel, blamed himself.

"…Sensei … it's … it's alright …"

Naruto hadn't been prepared for Kakashi stopping in his tracks completely and turning around to look at him. He hadn't. He hadn't expected Kakashi to even pzy attention to his quiet murmur.

Naruto hadn't been prepared for the look in Kakashi's eye.

They stood there for a while, Naruto not backing down in the staring contest, till Kakashi noticed that the boy was starting to flush. His expression reverted back to his normal lackadaisical one.

"Come on … Sakura will start to wonder which hole we fell into …"

The pace they had set after lunch brought them to a small town at night. Ohna-san was very generous and got them all rooms at an expensive inn.

"Believe me, I am grateful", the man stated, with a slight nod of his head as Kakashi raised his eye brow when the name of the inn was revealed.

Sakura and Naruto were excited when they heard that Ohna-san was treating them to dinner as well. The inn also had very good hot springs. Chiaki however, hadn't opened his mouth since the incident with Naruto. It seemed that he had completely deflated, and Ohna-san did not even seem to acknowledge his presence.

Before dinner, Ohna-san invited Kakashi and Naruto to the springs for a good, long soak. Kakashi was very reluctant to do so during a mission, but this client was unlike others. A client who was dangerous because of the unpredictability of the situation. And also, the high pay of the mission made them obliged and Kakashi hated obligations. But he agreed.

Naruto and the old man were already in the luxuriously hot water when Kakashi joined them. There was no sign of Chiaki.

Naruto snorted; his sensei had the lower half of his face covered, just like he had that day all those years ago, when they were still Team 7. Naruto frowned and shook his head … don't think of Sasuke now … don't think of Sasuke now …

Ohna-san was obviously an experienced man, and so was Kakashi – they both knew and accepted the boundaries of each, and so, the conversation that ensued was a peaceful, and a very insightful one.

Among other things, the old man spoke openly about his organization and about his reasons for coming to Konoha for aid. Kakashi's conclusions had been correct, to a degree … Ohna-san was headed for a meeting with the other clan heads of his group. A rival faction within his clan had been dead against some new organizational ideas of his (Kakashi could easily guess what these organizational ideas were … men in power were the same everywhere), which he wanted to broach at the meeting. The leader of the rival faction had openly threatened him with his life and then there was a split within the clan. The rival leader was also going to make his appearance at the meeting, with more than half the clan at his side – a show of strength. Ohna-san was confident of his own victory though, as the group head owed him a favor from long ago. But, in any event, the rival leader could have him killed and what better time than now, before the meeting, during the journey. In very veiled sentences, his ties with the daimyo were also revealed. Naruto's eye brows shot up and he glanced at Kakashi. Kakashi's guess had been right. Naruto also felt that the subtle intonation was some sort of an insurance; the under lying message Naruto got from the statement was that, if the ninja had any issues, take it up with the daimyo.

Kakashi didn't say anything; he just tilted his head back and sunk his body further down into the hot water, the picture of perfect relaxation. Both of his eyes were shut, and the heat from the springs had colored his scar a brighter pink. Naruto and the two men were seated in a rough triangle. Kakashi had a folded towel placed on the top of his head, and it caused his hair to splay out even more wildly over his face. His arms were spread out on either side of his body, his muscles taut. Despite the heat of the water, his skin was still pale but there was a slight flush over his cheek bones.

Naruto couldn't look away from Kakashi. His eyes traced the profile of the tilted head, the curve of his sensei's neck and the jut of his adam's apple, the line of the collar bones, the curve of the stretched biceps …

Naruto couldn't help but notice how… how …cool his sensei looked, even in a hot spring … apparently Ohna-san had noticed something too.

Ohna-san cleared his throat and Naruto started and looked towards him. Kakashi still had his eyes closed. Ohna-san was staring at Kakashi. The old man spoke.

"An interesting scar you have there. Is it an old one …? It looks like it hasn't healed yet."

"Mmmm? This scar?", Kakashi lazily opened his right eye and pointed even more lazily at his left eye. Naruto was sure the heat he felt at that moment was NOT due to the hot spring. Ohna-san also looked like he was affected very much by Kakashi's sleepy drawl. The old man sputtered for the first time since they had met him. Naruto lowered himself deeper into the water.

"I have lots of scars …" an even lazier drawl.

"Ahhh … the one over your eye, if … if you don't mind …"

Naruto blinked. Ohna-san was acting like he suddenly lost his usual demeanor.

Shit, what did I miss …?

Naruto then noticed that Kakashi's head, though still tilted back, was now turned to the left, almost lolling, and he was looking at Ohna-san. Naruto moved closer to the two men.

"This scar will never heal fully." Kakashi said. The way his voice sounded, it was like he was getting ready to end their pre-dinner soak.

"Hmmm …" Ohna-san seemed to have regained his balance at the tone of Kakashi's voice. It seemed to have woken him up from whatever spell had caught him from within the mists of the hot springs and the slivery glow of Kakashi's skin.

"You have an eye under there? I can see the lid's not flat …"

Kakashi gave deep chuckle "You're very observant Ohna-san … there is an eye, but it's not mine." There was an air of finality – and that will be enough of that.

Ohna-san knew well enough to change the subject. He was dealing with a ninja here, not one of his subordinates whom he could scare with a look.

He did change the subject.

Naruto watched with some amazement at how the two men conversed now. Kakashi seemed to have come to some conclusion about the old man, and so spoke, to Naruto's surprise, in an extremely wise-ass banter that Naruto hadn't heard him use before. Ohna-san was actually laughing at some of the things his sensei was saying. There hadn't been any breach of boundaries yet, or breach in the relationship between bodyguard and client … but just a shift in the dynamic, as if Kakashi had suddenly figured out how the man operated, and thus could now dominate.

Naruto frowned slightly in thought as they finished dressing.

He was later sent by Kakashi to get Sakura from her room for dinner.

Kakashi never stopped being a shinobi, never … even when they were supposed to relax … not that they should during a mission … but then again, Naruto found that he learned quite a lot from just listening to and observing the conversation between his sensei and the old man. Veiled words, subtle body language, bold looks… it was like a gamble …aside from the old man's frank talk about his organization and the mission, Kakashi had very skillfully gotten the old man's trust with his smooth talking. They would need the old man to be on their side if anything unexpected came up in the mission, and ruthless though Ohna-san was, Naruto couldn't help but wonder how Kakashi had made himself so likeable to the old man. It looked like Kakashi hadn't even made an effort to do so.

He and Sakura were walking towards the dining room when they passed the room where Naruto and Kakashi were bunking together. Sakura was chatting about something to Naruto, but Naruto was lost in his thoughts. Ohna-san had once laughed at what Kakashi had said and had remarked "Ha Ha Ha!!! I really like you!!! If you're ever without a job, come to me!!!!" Kakashi had merely smiled at that.

When Sakura and Naruto reached the dining room, Kakashi hadn't yet arrived, while Ohna-san and Chiaki were seated waiting for them.

The old man, contrary to his earlier superior expression whenever he looked at the two of them, was now more open, and softer. Chiaki was looking like he was back with the living again, with a slight, though strained smile on his face. Naruto was pleasantly surprised.

"Your sensei said he had some important matters to take care of, and will join us later. Why don't we start then, mm?" Ohna-san was very polite.

Dinner was good - the food and the company, Chiaki included.

Kakashi hadn't joined them at all (figures, Naruto thought, he doesn't want anyone to see his face … baka)

Naruto had actually started to feel sorry for the old man … Ohna-san had asked him and Sakura about their life as shinobi, and how it was when they were younger. He told them about life in the yakuza and about his granddaughter, who was around their age, and was about to finish high school that year. And the conversation moved from there to more contemporary topics, and then there was Ohna-san's obvious shock at neither of them knew how other teenagers lived. Duh.

He laughed and told them that they were free to come visit him any time and that he would introduce them to his granddaughter and she could show them how regular teenagers lived.

Sakura was showing some enthusiasm, real or fake …who cared. But Naruto could only feel even more sad for the old man. He was so confident that he'd come unscathed out of this mess he was in … for all the shadiness of the underground, he did have someone precious to him, and he loved her dearly. And was obviously loved in return. Life really was a bitch sometimes.

Naruto smiled softly … everyone in this whole wide world had some one precious to them, someone to talk with, someone to fight with, someone to love … even Sasuke had he and Sakura waiting for him in Konoha.

Even you too … sensei … just look …once …

Naruto squinted his eyes open. The sunlight that streamed through the window was bright, but the air smelled like it might rain some time soon. Naruto lay in bed for a few more minutes, enjoying the chirps of a bird on the tree outside. The clouds were probably going to blow in from the west.

He glanced to his right. Kakashi's bed was empty with the sheets carefully and neatly tucked, as if it hadn't been slept in. Naruto had no idea when his sensei came in to sleep last night, or if he had at all.

He suddenly started as a figure came into the room. It was Kakashi fresh from a shower, in his standard sleeveless tank top, loose pants and the EVER PRESENT mask. There was a wet towel around his shoulders and his hair was damp and extremely messy. Naruto just lay there, staring bright eyed at the man … he looks so young with his hair like that …

"Yo, Naruto." Kakashi greeted. "You have 30 minutes to get ready if we're going to make it to our destination by tonight."

"Yeah, yeah … as if…"

Naruto rose from his prone position and stretched his arms above his head, yawning really loudly. He yawned till his eyes watered and his jaws cracked. He stretched himself to the maximum, twisting this way and that. When he opened his eyes, he saw Kakashi standing in his usual slouch, his head tilted to the right, with a very amused expression in his eye. Naruto found it annoying to have someone find his morning stretches so funny, especially when they acted like the fate of the entire mission depended on when Naruto finished brushing his teeth.

He frowned and got out of bed. His leg had unfortunately been tangled in the sheets, and in his haste to get out… well … there was loud "RRRRRIPPPP" and an even louder "CRASH …. BANG!" and Naruto was on the floor, wrapped up in torn linen.

Kakashi's quiet chuckle infuriated him even more.

He rose up to his knees and pointed a finger at Kakashi.

"HEY!!! This is NOT funny, you baka-sensei!!" Calling him baka-sensei seemed to make Kakashi only more amused.

Naruto growled and got up at once, but his foot caught in the large rip, and he fell again, this time towards the other bed. He tried to grab hold of the bed to avoid another fall, but only succeeded in pushing the bed, missing his precious hold by centimeters. With the force of his shove, the bed moved and knocked down the dresser, which fell to the ground at the same time Naruto did. The total "CRASH" was the crash that beat all crashes.

Followed a deep silence.

Kakashi wasn't a jonin for nothing.

With an extremely straight face, he delicately walked over to the scene of the disaster and towards the blonde who now lying face down on the floor, limbs splayed out loosely.

"Naruto …?"

No sound from the blonde. Kakashi slowly extended his bare toe forward … and nudged the boy's arm. Nothing.

"Naruto …??"

Kakashi came closer to the boy and crouched down. No sound, no movement.

He couldn't have been knocked out, could he …? This is Naruto after all …

Kakashi very slowly inched forward, suddenly worried if Naruto had indeed got KOed.

"Oi … Naruto …" he shook the blonde's shoulder. Nothing.

He then slowly leaned forward, over the boy's head and peeped over, careful not to allow a shadow to alert him. Kakashi was ex-ANBU after all.

The boy's eyes were shut but there was a barely perceptible smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Probably waiting to psyche Kakashi. Well … that's what he thought.

Naruto DID not expect to get tickled. NO FREAKING WAY!!! And not by Hatake FREAKING KAKASHI!!!

The long fingers moved up and down his sides making him gasp and yelp with laughter. Naruto rolled over onto his back, laughing and giggling, his knees to his chest, trying to knock Kakashi off. No avail, the man was persistent. The more the ticking progressed, the more it was making Naruto breathless.

He wriggled around, swinging his arms, hoping to hit Kakashi, trying hopelessly to push his sensei away. His attempts only made Kakashi tickle with more fervor till Naruto was whooping, tears leaking out of eyes.

"STOP!! STOP!!!! God!!! Oh GOD!! Enough, I CONCEDE!! PEACE!!! AAARRGGHHH!! Sensei …oh please …PEACE!!!!"

Kakashi stopped tickling suddenly. Naruto was curled on his side, holding his stomach, hiccoughing and gasping, his sides aching, giggling and taking in great breaths. When he calmed down, he rolled onto his back and looked up. Kakashi was kneeling over him, his knees on either side of Naruto's body, and his palms were on the floor, on either side of Naruto's shoulders. His hair was drooping over his face and falling over his eyes, putting them in a slight shadow. His left eye was shut and there was a soft … almost … happy glow in his open black eye. Naruto watched Kakashi watching him … Naruto stared at the man as if mesmerized … the sight above him was so … beautiful … everything about the man was so … attractive … everything … his hair, his eyes, the shape of his face, his body, his voice … everything.

It was as if time stood still. There was no mission. They were not shinobi hired to prevent a possible assassination. They were not student and teacher. They were just two people. Two people who had found a moment of happiness with each other. A lonely man … scared of loss and a boy who wanted to reach out and touch others, a boy who wasn't afraid to feel and love … a boy with the power to change.

Very slowly Naruto stretched his right arm up, his fingers extending to the scar over Kakashi's eye. When his finger tips were a few inches from the eye, Naruto stopped. The expression in Kakashi's eye hadn't changed, but his eye brows rose up a little. Naruto bit his lip and raised himself up partly on his left elbow. Kakashi did not move. Naruto moved his arm further and his fingers touched Kakashi's skin. At the contact, Kakashi started and moved slightly away. Naruto flinched.

Kakashi was now looking intently at him, both eyes open. Naruto stopped all movement, he couldn't breath. Kakashi's eyes were hot and burning as if in a fever… Naruto couldn't believe that his lazy sensei could have such a … such a … focused look … so wonderful … so beautiful ...sensei … Naruto moved forward so that the gap between the two was slightly less than before and he stretched out his fingers again.

He touched the scar just below the eye. Kakashi took in a ragged breath and shut his eyes. Naruto took this gesture as encouragement … he touched the scar, running his fingers slowly across it … feeling the depth of it. It was quite a deep cut. Naruto closed his eyes and savored the feeling of the trench. He opened his eyes and moved his finger along the scar, up over the eye, through the thick dark lashes. His finger tips lingered over the lid, again moving across the old deep cut. It was so deep. Sensei … it would have hurt so much … sensei …

Naruto softly and respectfully ran his fingers up over to the eye brow. The hair was so smooth, and the cut was deep … he moved his fingers till the tip of the scar, as it ended on his sensei's forehead. Naruto ran his fingers over the scar again, up and down, from cheek to forehead, from forehead to cheek, his touch soft, respectful … loving. He felt his chest swell with … emotion …for this man kneeling over him.

Naruto pushed himself up onto his knees and moved slightly away from Kakashi, trying to regain his breath, and get his pulse calmed down. Kakashi opened his eyes. Naruto again stopped breathing, his heart thumped … thump … thump … those eyes, that look …so feverish, so needy.

Naruto felt his face heat and flush. He wanted Kakashi to shut his eyes, else his heart would burst.

Kakashi hadn't moved from his position. He just looked at Naruto. Naruto felt himself shiver, even though he was hot all over.

Nothing …Kakashi said or did nothing, but just looked at him.

Naruto moved closer to Kakashi on his knees, till their faces were at the same level. Naruto had never, ever looked at his sensei from this close, and he marveled at the exposed skin, at the slanted shape of the eyes, at the sweep of the brows, at the color of the hair, at the fresh scent of the man…

Anything could have happened at that time. That magical time … just like the spell Naruto could have sworn had fallen over old man Ohna last evening at the hot springs… there was a spell over the two of them now, in that room.

Anything could have happened.

Sakura's knock on the door broke it. The magic was gone.

There were now two shinobi in the room, late for the mission.

And one of them was completely breathless.

Things between them after that encounter in their room, were back to normal. At least on Kakashi's side. Naruto had difficulty breathing whenever his eyes met Kakashi's lazy one. But he had to focus. This was a very unpredictable mission.

He took inspiration from Lee. Trying to forget the incident in the bedroom was a kind of training. Yes, training!!

YOSH!! Let's get into this!! Let's get this mission STARTED!!!! YOSH!!!!

He turned to Sakura to discuss the things he learned from the previous night at the springs. They discussed possible scenarios. Sakura was excited with certain strategies she was happy to talk with to Naruto.

And Naruto tried hard to forget the image of Kakashi in the hot, steaming water, his head tilted back over the smooth stones.

Kakashi sighed. When something had to go wrong, it would go wrong in the worst possible way. In absolutely the worst possible way.

Chiaki had led them straight into an ambush.

Only Kakashi sensed the ambush before it happened. Yakuza weren't shinobi. They made a bit more noise. He just hadn't expected Chiaki to be in on it.

Kakashi had been able to signal to Naruto and Sakura just before the 20 or so armed men jumped in on them.

Kakashi sighed. This was going to be one of those missions…

Sakura's mighty punches and Naruto's greatly improved shadow clone attacks would be more than enough to handle the gangsters. All Kakashi had to do was to deflect the bullets away with his kunai and his piercing eye. He and his team wore some degree of armor beneath their clothes, but a bullet wound was a bullet wound. A bit more troublesome than a clean cut with a blade, but crippling nevertheless. So troublesome…

It would have all worked fine, if Chiaki hadn't taken Ohna-san hostage. And run off under the cover of gun fire. And if one of the gangsters hadn't had a machine gun. Which he was using very efficiently.


Naruto turned to Kakashi and caught the signal. He got his shadow clones to create more confusion than usual, and in the melee, disappeared up into the trees. Kakashi, Sakura and some of the clones hid in the forest, away from the machine gun.


Kakashi looked to where Sakura was hidden. She looked very frustrated, and rightly so. Kakashi looked back to where the gangsters were, and the one with the machine gun was coming closer to the wood where they were hidden, meaning to take them out - ASAP. As far as Kakashi was knew, the rival faction would off Ohna-san once they were sure the bodyguards were killed.

Yakuza weren't shinobi, and though they had initially been caught off guard by the sudden appearance of the 'many Narutos', that surprise quickly wore off. But yakuza weren't shinobi and they hadn't noticed one of those 'many Narutos' disappear into the trees.

There was a sudden yelp and a thud. Then cries of surprise. The machine gun was silent. The man who had been wielding it was dead on the ground, a kunai sticking half way through his throat.

"Naruto did it … Sakura, now!!"

"SHANNARO!!!" Sakura growled and with both her chakra enhanced fists she smashed the ground, breaking it. The shock waves traveled over the earth, cracking and fissuring it, and the enemy was knocked completely and literally off balance. They fell and were trapped in the cracks. Before they could react, the shadow clones were upon them, disarming them, and knocking out those not yet unconscious.

Kakashi left the clean up job to Sakura and the clones. He had to find the old man.

Kakashi concentrated his chakra and ran through a series of seals. With a kunai, he sliced open the skin of his thumb and slammed his bleeding hand onto the ground.

"Kuchyiose no jutsu!"

His eight hounds popped up. All of them, just in case Chiaki had reinforcements waiting.

Naruto appeared through the thin smoke, as if he too were part of the summoning. For a second, Kakashi was stunned at the effect, not expecting Naruto there so suddenly. The boy looked at him and smiled.

Kakashi turned to the dogs, and crouched down. They surrounded him and started to sniff him over, distinguishing all the scents that they found on him, separating the two strange, unknown ones within the minute. In a chorus of bays and barks they set off into the forest. Naruto bounded after them.

Kakashi went back towards where Sakura and the clones were, to check on them. Sakura waved out as she saw him approach.

"Sensei, everything's fine … they're secure … go on ahead … we'll take care of this!!"

Kakashi turned around and ran to where he could hear his hounds.

Ohna-san bowed once more. Kakashi bowed again, a bit more deeper than he had previously. The old man bowed again, deeper than Kakashi did.

Naruto and Sakura were kneeling down at the back. The two of them were a bit apprehensive, though excited.

The other clan members and their associates were kneeling at the other end of the room, which was large with a beautifully polished cedar floor. Naruto looked up at the rafters of the same warm wood. He looked back to the front where the leader of the group was saying something to Kakashi.

Hnh … obviously trying to get him to join them… though, Naruto thought, the baka would look hot in a bad boy get up any day… but those tattoos wouldn't suit him at all … still … wouldn't hurt to day dream about it … the mission was over, successfully.

The gang leader had given Ohna-san full rights in dealing with Chiaki and the rival faction in ways he saw fit.

Kakashi was glad to get out and back on his way to Konoha. Naruto was satisfied that they had all had a break from the usual things, and that the mission was over, with full pay and no injuries. A piece of cake really, but it would have become extremely messy if they hadn't taken out the man with the machine gun.

Guns … it had been Kakashi-sensei's quick thinking.

Kakashi …

They were leaping through the trees on the way back to Konoha. Kakashi was in the front and Sakura was behind him, Naruto as usual, was the tail. He watched Kakashi's back as man hopped from branch to branch, flying through the air.

Naruto sighed … he didn't know whether he'd get another chance with Kakashi like that ever again … Kakashi had been so … open then … his eyes had begged Naruto then … Kakashi had practically invited Naruto … his defenses were all down that morning. For once, Kakashi had pleaded, though not in words … but loud enough for Naruto to hear.

And that great swelling of emotion Naruto had felt … he had felt …

Was it love? It had to be …the feeling was like… something so protective toward the man that had knelt in front of him. Something so enveloping. It was like Kakashi had taken a chance, and Naruto had accepted. That emotion Naruto had felt, he felt like he wanted to cover that ... big gaping wound, a wound Kakashi had shown him, only him. At that time ... that time when Naruto accepted. No words had been needed.

Naruto gazed down at the ground as he made his way through the foliage.

Kakashi had looked so young then and somewhat vulnerable, yet so intense … so beautiful, and dangerous, and untouchable, forbidden … what a contrasting man … everything, so contradictory.

Naruto took in a deep breath and looked up, his eyes hard. He was grown …he wasn't a brat anymore… and he knew himself … he was confident in what he knew was wrong and what he knew was right.

And what he was feeling for Kakashi was right … in so many ways. In so many blessed ways.

Life had returned to normal, more or less … for Naruto at least. He had been sent out on a couple more missions with Yamato, Sakura and Sai. He spent whatever free time he got, training.

Reconstruction was still going on, and Naruto helped whenever he could. No new news about the Uchihas, yet.

He hadn't seen Kakashi, he wanted to speak with him. After prodding Shizune for a whole day, Naruto learned that Kakashi had been sent away for a few solo missions. The ranking, Shizune had told him, was classified.

Weeks went by.

Naruto was lounging around the village one evening and ran into Yamato. Yamato had been on his way to the hospital.

"Ehh? What for, Yamato-taichou?"

"Well, Kakashi-sempai had come in two days ago with severe chakra-depletion … over used the Mangekyo again, it seems."

Naruto felt the blood drain his face, and his head started to feel very, very light. His mouth tasted bitter and Yamato's voice sounded very far away.

"… we came to know about this only some time back …" Yamato was saying, "… it was classified, but if it hadn't been for Sakura …"

Naruto shook his head, trying to snap back.

"Is he alright?"

"Yeah, he is … Sakura got to see him in the afternoon, he was unconscious, but his vitals are fine …he's recovering well …Naruto, you coming?"

Naruto lay on his bed. His knees up, his arms spread out. The "ssshhhhhh" of the falling rain hissed outside.

On the way to the hospital he had asked Yamato what kind of mission Kakashi could have gone to, for him to use the Mangekyo. Overuse it, in fact.

Yamato said he wouldn't know exactly, but he could guess that it may have something to with the insurgency caused by Konoha's presently weakened state.

Whatever …Yamato wouldn't say, it was 'classified'.

But for him to use the Mangekyo … the last time he used it … he died.

Kakashi sat on the stone head of the fourth Hokage. The sun was setting and birds flew across the sky back to the trees.

He was dressed in his uniform, ready to leave for another solo mission. He had been cleared by Tsunade just a day ago.

Everything was still, there was no breeze. It was cool and the air was dry. No rain for a while yet. Kakashi smiled. Winter was coming to Konoha. He liked winter. The warmth of the sun was so welcome then.

He turned his head and looked to the direction where he knew Naruto's apartment was.

Naruto … number one at surprising people.

He had been to see Naruto late last night. The boy was in bed, fast asleep with the window open, probably taking advantage of the rare rainless night.

Kakashi had sat on the window sill by the boy's bed and watched him for a long while. Every single feature on that face was dear to him, it had always been, but now, only more so. The large eyes, closed against the world in sleep. The dark lashes, the scarred cheeks. The open mouth drooling on the pillow. The pink tongue. The sharp, white teeth. The tan skin. The uneven, messy blonde hair. That precious, precious soul. That loud voice, that crazily bright grin. So dear to him. He would die to protect that boy. Violent temper and all.

He tilted his head back and looked up at the dome of the sky. It was a dull blue in color, rapidly turning darker. The warm orange in the west was now glowing red. Pretty soon, that furnace would turn off, to get ready for the next day.

Kakashi thought about the note he had left on Naruto's pillow last night. He wasn't afraid of the volatile boy's reaction to what he'd written … but he was … apprehensive. They'd have a lot to talk about when he got back from the mission.

Kakashi stood up. Everything was still, there was no breeze. The sun had gone down, all was at rest. The day was done.

He was at peace. He felt like something had closed that aching, burning hole in his chest. Naruto … had reached out through his masks … and had touched him. Kakashi had heard it in his words, had seen it in his eyes, Kakashi had felt the great emotion the boy had towards him. There had been no need for a verbal confirmation. Kakashi wasn't a jonin for nothing. He excelled at seeing underneath the underneath. Perhaps a bit too much sometimes.

Something had healed inside Kakashi. He was tired, but it was a good tired.

He had one last look around the village, and pointedly in a certain direction. He had found justification for his existence.

Hatake Kakashi leaped up and vanished. He had a mission.