A/N  Huzzzzzaaaah! I'm back, and I'm TERRIBLY sorry for not updating in eons. Life kept me really busy, but as some of you know, I wasn't completely absent from the World of Fanfiction. I've written two one-shots since my last update, and I've read some wonderful fics, some of them are now gracing my Favorite List :D
Now, concerning this chapter: I must warn you. It's probably LITTERED with typos because I didn't have the energy anymore to proofread it properly. But that's nothing new; I always edit my docs 2348084 times after posting them XD.
Roughly half an hour later, they approached the gates of the Yukigakure shinobi district and could recognize a little hut situated directly next to the massive iron gates. Three men dressed in thick, shiny white winter coats were sitting inside. They immediately spotted Kakashi and Naruto and two of them briskly stepped out of the hut and walked towards them.
"Halt! We need to check your ID before we can let you go any further," the taller guard exclaimed firmly, suspiciously eying the two Leaf shinobi and the bodies they were carrying.
"Of course," Kakashi replied casually and opened his weapon pouch to reveal his identity card attached to it, while Naruto did the same.
The guard read the cards and within a second, his expression changed from distrust to awe.
"Hatake-san! You're no stranger to us! Welcome back!" he said and bowed in respect. "We're terribly sorry for the inconvenience, but I'm sure you know that our country takes security issues very seriously. May I ask what brings you here?"
"We were sent here to investigate the "cottage case", as Yume-sama called it," Kakashi informed, shifting the heavy dead body on his back.
"Ah, right! Wait – let us help you with that. Hiroto!"
The two guards took the corpses from Naruto and Kakashi and nodded to their remaining comrade who was still keeping watch in the hut.
"We'll escort you to headquarters. Just follow us, please," the guard said and led the way.
As they were walking towards the HQ, they passed several large advertising posters portraying different kinds of winter-sport athletes. It had started to snow again, and the man apologized for the horrible weather as if it were his fault. Naruto, who was glad not to have to carry that stupid corpse anymore, figured that this must have been the number-one small talk topic in the Land of Snow, even more so than in Konoha or in other countries without such extreme weather conditions. It was funny how the guy was cursing the weather, only to praise the wonderful Gods for providing so much snow for their fast-approaching Annual Snow Sports Festival a minute later.
After a while, the seemingly boring conversation wasn't even as pointless as it had started, since Naruto learned quite a few things about the Land of Snow. While he already knew that their leader wasn't a Kage, but a feudal lord, he had been unaware of the fact that it was the only country where both ninja and regular police forces worked together. This system was a pilot experiment that had been introduced nine years ago, and according to the guard, pretty much everyone in this country was very satisfied with how effective collaboration between ninja and regular forces was. The guard then asked them how they managed to take down the enemies they had encountered, and congratulated them on their success. He seemed very pleased to say that, apart from the cottage case and some minor issues like shop-lifting and burglaries, there was less crime in the past eleven months here than there ever had been. Apparently, there were no big cases that really required international help anymore, and the only reason why the feudal lord had asked for Konoha's aid in finding those remaining troublemakers who had sought the cottage regularly was because nearly everyone was busy with preparing for that Snow Festival, and because of the law that the countries of the world shouldn't entirely seclude themselves from others, but stay in touch with one another.
"This is it," the guard announced when they finally reached the impressive steal edifice. They walked in through the back entrance which was the shortcut to the autopsy department and entered a hall that was bigger than the one in the Hidden Leaf Hospital. It was quiet there, as no one else was around.
"We'll get back to you shortly. Please take a seat right here," the talkative guard offered, pointing at the row of seats near the large window. When Kakashi and Naruto complied, he bustled away to another corridor with his comrade right beside him.
"Phew," Naruto sighed and slumped against the back of his chair, wiping the melting remnants of snow off his face, and ran his other hand through his hair that was completely tussled by the wind. Kakashi just sat cross-legged on the seat without any utterance. He didn't even pull out his Icha Icha book – though that was probably due to the fact that the guards could be returning any time now. Naruto glanced around the hall and stared at the white wall across from him.
Minutes passed, and they were still left deserted. It was so damn quiet and he was getting really bored. He idly considered the idea of talking to Kakashi, but again he couldn't think of any way to start a conversation that wasn't all too generic. So instead, he just let out a low sigh to somewhat disrupt the silence. In that moment, he thought he could feel Kakashi staring at him. He turned his head towards his sensei, but the guy was still in his initial position and it didn't look like he had even so much as moved. Since his left eye was covered by his headband and he was sitting on the chair to Naruto's right, Naruto was in Kakashi's blind angle. The guy would have had to tilt his head in order to get a proper glimpse at him, and the friction of his clothes must have caused some noise, but Naruto had heard none. Ah, whatever. Maybe his bored mind was just imagining things… He subtly turned his head to the side and looked at an invisible spot on the floor.
However, some moments later, he again had the feeling that Kakashi was staring at him! This time, he kept his neck slightly cocked to the side, so if Kakashi really did move, he would be able to see it.
Naruto tensed. His eyes narrowed in suspicion and he stayed as alert as his senses would allow. Then suddenly, he could hear the *nearly* insignificant shuffling noise of Kakashi's jacket. HA! He HAD moved after all!
"'What'?" Kakashi repeated with a different intonation pattern, as if to make sure he had heard the correct word.
"What are you staring at?!"
Kakashi just shrugged his shoulders and casually leaned back in his chair.
"Ah, nothing really. It just looks like you henge-d your nose into a cherry. You might want to break the transformation before the guards come back."
"Huh?!" Naruto looked astonished and immediately screwed up his face in disagreement, but he briefly led his hand to the tip of his nose, almost as though he were really expecting to be touching a cherry. Kakashi couldn't resist snickering at that.
"There's nothing wrong with my nose!"
Then, aware of the startled look on Naruto's face, he added with a little chuckle, "probably because of the rather drastic change in temperature."
Naruto's eyes widened frantically as he pictured the embarrassing image of himself with a glowing red nose in contrast to his paler-than-usual complexion, and started to feel an involuntary blush spreading over his face. He could almost hear the guards from before having a good laugh at his unfortunate self behind his back! Even Kakashi was laughing at him!
"Tche! Why do these weird things never happen to you?!" he huffed, crossing his arms in discontent.
Kakashi gave Naruto his sweetest eye-smile and pointed at his mask, earning an angry little curse in response.
"It's alright, Naruto. I'm sure the redness will fade away in a short while," he said. When he chuckled again, Naruto let out a small grumble and squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Uh-oh, nature was calling…well; it had been hours since he had taken a leak.
"I hope they have a restroom somewhere close," he muttered and before Kakashi could answer, he stood up to see if he could find one in this corridor. However, he immediately turned around and walked back to his seat when he heard someone's footsteps.
The guard who had seated them approached them with a look on his face that was a cross between distress and guilt.
"I'm so sorry for keeping you waiting, Hatake-san and Uzumaki-san. There was some trouble with a machine in the autopsy room, but it has already been taken care of. The DNA analysis is being carried out as we speak, so it'll take another ten to fifteen minutes until the results are available. In the mean-time, I'll lead you to Yume-sama, so you can report to him. And of course so he can personally thank you for your help," he said, smiling politely and already hustling towards another corridor. He seemed to be in a hurry, or perhaps he was just trying to be nice and carry out his duties as quickly as possible, so they wouldn't have to wait for too long – and therefore also have no chance to go to the restroom which Naruto just spotted at that moment. Oh great. That meant that he would have to hold in his pee until the report was over… He decided to try his best and not dwell on the golden opportunity missed, and to ignore the horrible, tingly feeling in his bladder by paying attention to his surroundings instead.
Unlike in Konoha, the Snow HQ incorporated the medical facility and the mission department in the same building, so they didn't have to go out anymore, but simply had to take elevator to the tenth floor. It was a very modern glass elevator, and Naruto was impressed by the advanced infrastructure of the Land of Snow. He didn't know a lot about the economics of Konoha, but he did think that his home country should invest in some fancy modernizations. Now that the war was over and many parts of the village still had to be renovated, there might even be a chance to give the larger buildings a cooler makeover. He definitely would have to tell Granny Tsunade about his idea when he got back. Trying out something new never hurt, right? Maybe even Yamato-taichou would agree with him, since he was into architecture a lot…
Naruto was torn out of his musings when the door of the elevator opened. They stepped out and the guard directed them to the feudal lord's office. Naruto noticed a mirror in the hallway and subtly checked whether his nose was still significantly red, which it, thankfully, wasn't. However, the pressure in his bladder grew with every second, and meditating was virtually useless now. This was bad! He was a ninja! Ninjas had to control themselves! Controlling emotions was hard enough, but controlling bodily urges was even harder! After all, he was a human being too, and human beings had to breathe, eat, drink, pee, take a dump, sleep and Kami-sama knew what else. 'Ninjas are tools' his ass! When did a fucking kunai ever have to worry about things such as having lunch and suffering from the final stage of digestion in the most disadvantageous moments?!
They waited for a few painfully long minutes until they got to see the feudal lord. Finally, the door opened and a man wearing the same uniform as the guard stepped out and made his way to the elevator.
"You may come in now," a friendly-sounding voice called from the other side of the spacious office. Naruto and Kakashi followed the guard into the room. A dapper middle-aged man dressed in a formal gray kimono with silver embellishments stitched onto it was sitting on a large shiny black leather chair in front of a neat ebony desk. He had dark hair and gray eyes and seemed very composed, unlike Naruto, who was too busy resisting the urge to squeeze his eyes shut in discomfort, desperately longing to relieve himself as soon as possible. Oh God, this damn mission report had better not take too long!
"Hatake Kakashi and Uzumaki Naruto from the Fire Country, Sir," the guard introduced them and stepped aside.
"Ah, so you are the shinobi your Hokage dispatched, I take it?" the feudal lord asked calmly.
Yeah, yeah, that's us, get on with it already…
"Yes, your honor," Kakashi confirmed, pulling out the mission scroll before the man could ask for it right away. He handed it to the feudal lord, who took his eyes away from Kakashi to look down his nose at the scroll, nodding in approval.
"Would you be so kind and elaborate on what exactly had happened?" he asked, diverting his attention from the scroll back to Kakashi.
Naruto shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Oh no, now came the lengthy explanations…at least Kakashi was doing the talking…
"Naruto was attacked and wounded by four ninja two days ago. We know your shinobi wouldn't assault anyone with no reason, so we suspected them to not be part of your armed forces. As you know, us Konoha shinobi usually try to keep our enemies alive for interrogative purposes, but unfortunately, there was no way Naruto could spare their lives because they fought him with the intention to kill him, so he had to take them down. We brought two of them to the autopsy department. The two remaining bodies are still in the forest where we found them, near the hill where the cottage is situated. I put a chakra-induced electric fence around them, so no one can remove them unless I dispel the chakra flow."
"I see. A well-thought-out idea, Hatake-san," the feudal lord praised. He looked over the mission description scroll once again, nodding and grunting more to himself than to anyone else. He then neatly rolled it up and leveled his gaze at Naruto, intently scrutinizing him as if his anxiety were clearly written on his face, which must have been flushed pink by now. He wouldn't be surprised if the words "PEE! NOW!" had suddenly appeared on his forehead like the seal on his belly. He started to get hot and could feel a bead of perspiration tickling his forehead.
The feudal lord's eyes narrowed further and his frown got deeper.
"Are you alright, Uzumaki-san? You don't seem very much at ease…"
Of course he didn't seem very much at ease. How much at ease could a person be when there was a pretty substantial chance that they would PISS THEIR FUCKING PANTS?! He really wanted to yell "Old man, you really have no idea what I'm going through right now, do you?!" but the more rational part of his mind decided against it. Trying his darndest to maintain his conviviality, he looked back as confidently as he could and shook his head, idly wondering whether he should have nodded instead.
"I'm fine, it's just a little hot in here," he lied, turning his wide eyes to the floor and simultaneously tucking his hair back behind his ear. He bit his lower lip. God, the way his pants were strangling his poor junior which was DYING to release the tempest rampaging within his urethra was pure torture! He thought about deferring the conversation and just asking whether he could quickly use the restroom, but that would be too embarrassing, especially with Kakashi around, who was staring at him again. Crap.
"Are you sure? You look –" the feudal lord continued, raising his eyebrows, but in that moment, someone knocked on the door. He nodded to the guard, who immediately opened the door, and a tall, lean brunette woman wearing a white lab coat and dark-framed glasses promptly emerged from outside.
"Ah, Wakako! Is the machine not working again?" he inquired, folding his long, thin fingers together. Naruto suppressed an exasperated sigh and wondered whether it was the same machine causing problems the guard had mentioned before. Was that lady from the autopsy room?
"No, Sir, we managed to fix it. Kitaro asked me to see you as soon as I had reliable results for the DNA test of the bodies which were brought to us for analysis," the woman responded.
"Yes, he just arrived moments ago with these two Leaf shinobi," the man smiled. "What are the results?"
She held up a piece of paper and waved it in the air in a quick motion.
"I was able to identify the corpses by comparing their DNA with the samples we found in the cottage two weeks ago. There's no doubt that they were the suspected nuke-nin Kobushi and Fure Matsuoka."
Aaah yeah, those names rang a bell in Naruto's head. He couldn't recall the other guys' names, but he vaguely remembered that the four of them were brothers. However, trying to bring back those fragmented memories was too big an effort when his queasy brain was busy keeping his aching bladder under control. WHY WAS THIS FUCKING REPORT TAKING SO FUCKING LONG?! It felt like minutes had been expanded into eons that were seeping away like the last drop of honey off a wooden spoon! Oh God, he was so close to wallowing in his misery and weeping hot tears of desperation, and he knew his junior was just about to weep as well. Hot, yellow tears of desperation.
"Excellent!" the feudal lord exclaimed. "Alright, Hatake-san, Uzumaki-san –,"
Suddenly, all eyes were on Naruto. GAAH! This was NOT the time for another diversionary maneuver! Why did his stomach have to show off its death metal vocal skills now and in front of these people?!
"Aah, are you hungry, Uzumaki-san?" the feudal lord asked in concern.
Naruto almost rolled his eyes heavenwards. Well, duuuh! That wrathful belly-growl should have sufficed as an answer!
"Um, well, hehe…"
Score, Naruto, really eloquent… He scratched the back of his head and grinned sheepishly. Yeah, he was hungry alright, but GODFUCKINGDAMNIT HE HAD TO PEE SO BAD!
"Here, let me give the both of you a meal coupon for the cafeteria on the third floor," the feudal lord offered cheerfully. He produced two little red paper cards from his drawer and handed them to Kakashi. He then looked at the guard.
"Kitaro, please show them the way to the dining hall and then ask an unoccupied guard to go and find the remaining two corpses with you, and bring them to the autopsy department."
He cleared his throat. It was the sign Naruto had been waiting for ever since he had stepped into the room. The sign that meant that they were about to be dismissed. He instantly perked up at the prospect of getting out of here as quickly as possible.
"Uzumaki-san and Hatake-san, you have been a great help to us and I want to thank you for your efforts," the man said and opened his drawer again to pull out something else. "Take these train tickets – you will get back to Konoha much faster if you take our newest high speed train instead of the ship. Now please, enjoy your well-deserved meals and have a wonderful day. Return home safely!"
YES! OUT! O-U-W-T OUT! GOD, YES! Nothing could have sounded more beautiful to his ears at that moment, except perhaps his piss splashing into a toilet. He could almost see how his happy vibes took shape and were practically dancing around in Technicolor. He was more than ready to leave and he probably would have forgotten to bow if the others hadn't done so. Turning on his heel, he waddled out of the feudal lord's office, almost panting. If anyone had given him a weird look, Naruto hadn't seen it.
When the lady with the glasses closed the door, Naruto had the most frantic expression on his face and his unsteady chakra was indicating his distress.
"Don't worry, Naruto, we'll get something to eat right n –" Kakashi started, but stopped when his student suddenly grabbed Kitaro by the arms with a feral look in his eyes.
"LOOK, I'M BEGGING YOU, PLEASE TELL ME WHERE THE RESTROOM IS!" he bellowed.
Kakashi stared in utter surprise. Oooh, so it wasn't just his empty stomach causing him problems, but his full bladder as well! He then remembered in amusement that Naruto had already wanted to seek a restroom before the guard had picked them up in the waiting hall…
"Um, yes, there's one on the floor below," the guard assured him with a faint chuckle, clearly glad that Naruto hadn't actually throttled him. Kakashi scratched his head and inaudibly gulped down his laughter. If the kid was that desperate, he really must have been suffering a lot.
Naruto dashed to the elevator and repeatedly punched the poor button with his fist, but apparently, the elevator was still on the first floor!
"Gaah I can't wait this long! I'm taking the stairs!" he fumed, ignoring the guard and his sensei who were telling him to calm down as he was sprinting down to the floor below. This was NO time to calm down, damn it! He searched and searched, but the restroom seemed to be on the farthest side of the awfully long corridor!
"RESTROOM! RESTROOM!" he cried when he saw two women passing by. They eyed the frantic youth in sheer confusion and just kept staring at him as if they had no idea what the deuce he was talking about. However, being the person he was, he didn't want to give up, so he tried again.
"WHERE IS THE RESTROOM?!"
"Oh, I'm very sorry, but the one on this floor is out of order due to a water leak, so you'd have to go to the one on the eighth floor," one of them said.
"WHAT?! You've got to be kidding me!" Naruto interjected irately and ran off sooner than the two ladies could even think of a reply. A water leak?! HE was about to have a water leak!
He nearly tripped down the stairs twice and accidentally barreled right into a man, who he nearly knocked down.
"SORRYABOUTTHATPLEASETELLMEWHEREEXACTLYICANFINDTHERESTROOM!" he cried, flailing his arms like a madman. HE WAS GOING BATSHIT INSANE, DAMNIT! His bladder was about to explode any moment now!
"Umm…just go straight ahead; it's behind the sixth door to the left…," the man explained and was left dumbfounded when the blond youth took off with a "THANK YOU!" which at least spoke of genuine gratitude.
Naruto reached the sixth door and thanked his lucky stars when he saw the restroom sign. He busted into the little cubicle and almost tore off the button of his pants when he pulled them down with his adrenaline-induced energy. He let out a protracted sigh of relief as he felt his urine bursting out with a current that could put Kakashi's chidori to shame. Right now, it was the best feeling he could think of. It was like how much more amazing food tasted when you were starving. His eyes practically rolled back in his head. NEVER had he had to pee this bad in his life!
After urinating for what felt like a year and a half, he dried himself off, pulled up his pants and washed his hands, hoping he would find Kakashi in that dining hall, wherever the hell that was. Not that he would mind Kakashi waiting for him. The guy was constantly late anyway, and perhaps he was pissing himself laughing right now! In retrospect, Naruto realized just how silly he must have looked. The people around him probably assumed that someone had stuffed his sanity into an invisible suitcase and sent it off somewhere far, far away. Well, they had no clue how much he had been suffering, so he couldn't really blame them. Nevertheless, he still thought it was terribly unfair that these unfortunate mishaps were constantly afflicting him! He tried to picture Kakashi in such an embarrassing situation, and while the mere thought was amusing, it still remained too…unlikely. Naruto had already come to terms with the fact that Kakashi was simply an expert at maintaining his composure at all times, and even though he was a human being, he could make it seem as though he were a tool. A tool that had to breathe, eat, drink, pee, take a dump, sleep and Kami-sama knew what else. As a ninja, Naruto would have to learn that too. After all, being a shinobi wasn't just about acquiring sneaky skills or special tactics.
He left the restroom a great deal calmer than he had entered it and let the nearest person tell him where to find the cafeteria. He hadn't eaten since morning and he was looking forward to going to get some food into his grumbling stomach. He really hoped they had ramen there… his body and soul were CRAVING ramen after all this excitement. It was sheer dumb luck that his stomach had cried out for food so noisily in the feudal lord's office, or they wouldn't have gotten these meal coupons and would have had to wait until they got home before they could eat anything.
When he reached the third floor, the distinctive smell of food directed him to the lunchroom. There were about thirty people there and he immediately spotted Kakashi, who was sitting at a small table near the window, lazily waving his hand at him. He walked to the table and sat down next to his sensei, whose empty bento box indicated that he had already had his meal.
"Eh, sorry about that…it was really…urgent," Naruto apologized sheepishly and took off his coat which he draped over the back of his chair.
"It's alright," Kakashi said with a chuckle and handed him the coupon. "Here, take this and get yourself whatever you want to eat. I must warn you, though; they don't have any ramen on the menu."
Naruto's face fell in disappointment. "WHAT? No ramen? Aw, man!" he moped, eying Kakashi's food box. "What did you have?"
"Salmon teriyaki bento."
Naruto considered ordering that too and walked away to get his meal. In less than four minutes, he returned with a bento box and sat down beside Kakashi. He broke his chopsticks apart and started eating his meal.
"Do you like it?" Kakashi asked after a short while of silence. Naruto looked up, his mouth full of food. Swallowing, he said "Yeah, it's good. But still, I'd prefer having a big bowl of hot, fresh miso ramen with extra pork. Nothing can beat that!"
Kakashi smiled with his eye. "I know. If you want, I'll treat you to Ichiraku ramen when we get back."
Naruto's eyes lit up. Kakashi was voluntarily offering to treat him to ramen?
The smile slipped off of his face as his jaw dropped.
"Just kidding. Yeah, I will. I haven't done so in quite a while, have I?"
"You got that right," Naruto said, accusingly pointing his chopsticks at his sensei, but then he smiled. Somehow, he felt really happy about having ramen with Kakashi. It gave him this warm feeling in his heart, like when Iruka promised to take him to Ichiraku's. Having ramen was always good, but having ramen with a friend was even better. He wondered whether Kakashi knew that.
"It's been a while since our last Team 7-gettogether and I… I really miss it. Sakura is always spending so much time in the hospital and Sasuke is um… so, that just leaves you and me. I mean, I recently went to Ichiraku's with Sai but…well, you know how he is," Naruto said, slouching back in his seat with a pout of disapproval, but his face broke into a grin just a moment later. "So that would be really cool, us having ramen together! Hehe, especially when you're taking care of the bill…"
Kakashi inwardly 'awwed' at that statement and couldn't help but smile. He knew how much Naruto appreciated spending time with his friends, and since their conversation last night, he also knew how much he would appreciate spending more time with Naruto.
With a mischievous gleam in his eye, he asked, "What if I decided not to pay after all?" and watched how the boy's happy grin morphed into an angry pout.
"Then you'd prove what an asshole you can be," Naruto said before stuffing a piece of makizushi into his mouth. "Bu' you wou'shtil haffa khom along a' leesh'," he added, and Kakashi had to let out a little chuckle at the kid's non-existent table manners.
"Maa, don't worry, I will. And it'll be my treat," he promised, smiling with his eye. Naruto flashed another grin and helped himself with some more food.
"Khool, thanksh, shenshei!"
Kakashi chuckled yet again. It was something he found himself doing a lot lately. Ah, he would definitely spend more time with Naruto. Things were simply brighter with the sunny blond around.
When Naruto finished his meal, they left the large cafeteria and saw that Kitaro and Hikaro were waiting for them at the entrance door. They exited the building and made their way to the forest, casually speaking about missions, ninja wages and, of course, the bad weather. After some time, they finally reached the core of the forest and the spot where the bodies laid. Kakashi dispelled the chakra flow in the ninja wire and the two guards hoisted the corpses over their backs. After saying their good-byes, the two guards walked back to the Snow HQ while Kakashi and Naruto proceeded to go to the cottage.
Neither of them knew for how long they had been walking, but it had gotten dark already and the thought of returning to the cottage, which they could already recognize from afar, spurred them to hasten, but Kakashi stopped and stared at the stars which loomed over the snowy hill.
"Looks like we're in for some surprises."
Naruto gave him a confused look which he probably couldn't see. "What do you mean? Do you smell trouble?" The last thing he wanted was being attacked again by a bunch of lunatics.
"Don't let your guard down," was all he said. Naruto couldn't hear any worry in his sensei's voice, but just to be sure he wasn't taking this too lightly, he tried to detect any foreign chakra. He sensed none, so he turned around again and accelerated his pace as he continued to walk uphill ahead of Kakashi, when suddenly, something cold plowed right into the back of his neck.
"What the- HUH? A SNOWBALL?!"
It never got old seeing Naruto's reactions when he was caught off guard. "I told you to not let your guard down," Kakashi laughed, already gathering a little pile of snow to form another snowball. "And didn't I teach you to expect the unexpected?"
"WHY YOU SNEAKY BASTARD!" Naruto yelled as he reached up and wiped the cold snow from his face, tossing a hot glare at Kakashi. Boy, he sure had a mischievous streak! How the guy kept catching him with his guard down was a mystery. Or maybe it wasn't, but he was simply too good at doing so. Naruto noticed the second big snowball flying towards him and ducked. He successfully avoided it just in time, though he nearly slipped.
"HA! YOU MISSED!"
If he was going to win this snowball fight, he had to come up with a decent strategy. His lips curled into a satisfied smirk and he summoned some snow with his chakra, and using some wind manipulation, he molded it into a rasengan-like snowball.
"TAKE THAT, KAKASHI-SENSEI!" he yelled, throwing it with great force at his sensei.
The jounin easily dodged the attack and also crafted a snowball with his chakra.
"You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?" he said cockily, as he sent the swirling snowball flying in Naruto's direction.
"HEY! YOU STOLE MY IDEA, COPYCAT!"
"Talent borrows, genius steals*," Kakashi chirped, but had a good run for his money when Naruto created about ten more snowballs which hurled themselves at him with remarkable speed.
"You won't be able to dodge these! I'm gonna win this!" the blond shouted, his voice full of certainty.
Now that was Naruto talking. Kakashi chuckled.
"You think so?" he laughed and ducked down. Fortunately, none of the snowballs hit him, and, taking advantage of not standing under the moonlight so Naruto couldn't see him, he copied Naruto's multiple snowball-rasengans, which was fairly easy. He hadn't had to use his sharingan for a rather simple technique he already mastered.
Naruto jerked sidewards and created a shadow clone to help him dodge the other snowballs. He was glad that none of them hit him, but still, why did Kakashi manage to avoid pretty much every single snowball?! Maybe he had been practicing this with Gai-sensei on his last mission here!
Their little snowball battle went on for some time, and while it was a lot of fun watching Naruto fighting tooth and nail, Kakashi was longing to return to the warmer cottage. Spending so much time in the cold wouldn't do them any good, and he had no intention of getting sick.
As Naruto's foot touched the ground, he noticed that they were on a particularly icy spot. This time, he knew he would slip for sure – and he did. Crap!
"I wouldn't have thought you'd give up so easily," Kakashi teased as he stepped towards him.
Naruto rolled his eyes.
"Oh, shut up and give me a hand!" His back hurt, as the snow on the ground was too icy and could not have cushioned his fall.
He stretched out his own hand and when Kakashi took it to help him get up, Naruto pulled it down so hard that the jounin stumbled and fell flat on his back beside Naruto.
"Hehehe, that's what you get for being such a jerk!"
"I'm sorry!" Kakashi sighed, though there was no trace of genuine regret in his voice.
"No, you're not!"
The jounin got up and wiped the snow off his clothes while Naruto mimicked the action.
"Maa, I don't get to do this very often," he chuckled. "It has been a while since my last snowball fight."
"Why are you so good at it, then?!"
"I'm good at everything, Naruto," he replied nonchalantly and looked up at the dark sky.
"You're a bad loser."
"You're a horrible winner!"
Kakashi took a moment to laugh and ruffled Naruto's hair.
"AAAH! COLD! STOP THAT!"
"Come on, Naruto, let's go inside and have some warm tea," he suggested.
"Sounds good," Naruto mumbled and the two of them headed to the cottage which was only a few minutes away.
Kakashi's numb fingers reached out to the door knob to open it, and finally, they were inside. After discarding their wet coats and boots, he told Naruto to put some water in the kettle to boil while he made a fire to warm up the place. Kakashi pulled out a storage scroll from his backpack and summoned some extra clothes for his student and him. Naruto gratefully took the new pair of sweatpants and long-sleeved shirt Kakashi gave him and went to the bathroom to take a shower and wash the wet flakes off his hair.
He let the warm water wash away the exhaustion and sighed out of contentment. Man, this had been an exciting day. It had been nice to see something other than just the boring walls of the little cottage for a change, but most of all it had been really cool to act with Kakashi the way normal friends did. The invisible wall dividing them definitely seemed to have fallen. He had never expected the guy to initiate a snowball fight! Okay, he had lost, but still it had been fun, and Kakashi seemed to have had fun as well. Never did the guy laugh so much before and around anyone else, and it made him really happy to see his sensei like that. In the past few days, he had even displayed his more affectionate side– he was ruffling his hair more often, like he had done when he was a kid, and he had even hugged him when he was in need of an embrace – something the both of them usually weren't too comfortable with, but at least that showed that they were more comfortable around each other now.
He smiled as he scrubbed himself. He was really glad that Kakashi had joined him on this mission, not only because he had gotten to know the man better but also because he hadn't really spent that much quality time with him in ages. It reminded him of his first year in Team 7, when they still occasionally had picnics together or went to the hot springs or just had lunch together once in a while. It had always lifted the mood of all team-members, even Sasuke's. Naruto's heart clenched. He had wished so badly for Sasuke to be able to laugh again with him, and that Team 7 would be re-established. Now Sasuke was dead and more or less replaced by Sai. But Sai was part of Team Kakashi, not of the original Squad 7.
Sighing, Naruto turned off the water and hopped out of the shower cabin. He grabbed his towel and as he was drying himself off, his mind continued to wander. Since the war was over, they didn't really get any assignments that were to be carried out by their old teams. They were usually sent alone or in mixed groups. It was nice to also see the other former rookies – Shikamaru, Kiba, Choji, Shino, Hinata, Tenten and the others – but it just wasn't the same. Even though he liked them all, he didn't have the kind of bond with them he shared with his teammates.
When he had finished getting dressed and brushing his teeth, he returned to the main room. Kakashi was sitting at the table.
"Here, have some tea," he offered, smiling with his eye as he cautiously handed him a full cup.
"Thanks!" Naruto took the cup and let the steam warm his neck.
"We'll be leaving early in the morning to catch the train at 9:15 am, so it would be best if we started clearing up now," Kakashi said. "It will take us about nine hours to get back to the Fire country. If you want, we can spend the night at the hot spring near the border, since we're ahead of schedule. I have enough money along for that."
Naruto's eyes widened. Just a few minutes ago, he had thought about the hot springs! With a sheepish grin, he replied, "Sure, I could use a nice soak! Eh hehe, I completely forgot about those train tickets... and wow, it'll really only take us nine hours to get back home? I came here by ship and it took me three frigging days to get here!"
"I know. Though I myself took the train to catch up to you, since Lady Tsunade asked me to join you two days after you left."
"Huh? But she didn't give me a train ticket!"
"You could have bought one," Kakashi chuckled. "That's what I did."
"Damn it, why didn't I think of that?"
"Why am I not surprised that you didn't?"
"Hey! I always take the least expensive means of transport!"
"Maa, you really need to level up to Jounin," the silver-haired man chirped, "then you'll be able to regularly afford these little extras."
"I guess you're right…," Naruto mumbled and took a sip of his tea before placing the cup on the table. The fact that he was still officially a Genin by ranked bugged the hell outta him, and he had to finally change that!
"Jeez, can't Grandma Tsunade just level me up? I mean, I'm at least jounin level anyway!" he huffed, plowing his fist in the air.
Kakashi smiled with his eye. "Actually, since the war is over, Lady Tsunade and the Elders have been debating whether they should change the law that one must be a chuunin in order to become a jounin. Of course, that law makes perfectly sense under normal circumstances, but you have proven often enough that you are capable of handling situations normally jounin alone would be entrusted with. We all are aware of how much stronger you have become, Naruto."
Anticipation was glowing in the teen's bright eyes. "You mean they'll really let me skip a rank?"
"It's likely –"
"HA! I KNEW I WAS THAT AWESOME!"
Kakashi held up his hand.
"But you still have a lot to learn, especially how to keep your cool at certain times. A trip or two to the library to do some catching up on the basics wouldn't hurt you either," he said with a chuckle.
Naruto rolled his eyes. If he got five yen for every time someone told him that…he'd be rich!
"Maaan, I'm not stepping into that stuffy old library! Besides, 'The more you study, the more you know; the more you know, the more you forget. The more you forget, the less you know... so why study?' I mean, I never forget the cool jutsus once I got the hang of them – but I barely I remember all that theoretical stuff," Naruto shrugged. "I don't need that!" he added with an impish grin.
"Maa, but someday you might have a genin team of your own and they will probably want to know how those 'cool jutsus' work, so you'll have to find a way of explaining it to them," Kakashi said, briefly winking his eye.
Naruto looked a bit surprised. "A genin team of my own?"
Kakashi nodded. "As a jounin, you not only have the responsibility to carry out more difficult assignments, but to also pass on your knowledge and the Will of Fire to the younger generation. They say that is the most important mission in the life of a Konoha shinobi."
"Oh… hehe, I never really thought about having a genin team of my own…"
"Judging from my observations of when you were talking to Konohamaru, I'm sure you'll be a good sensei, and definitely a popular one."
Naruto's lips creased into a smile as he recalled teaching his 'little brother' the rasengan and praising him after the battle with Pain.
"Mh, now that you mention it, taking a bunch of little brats under my wing could be fun! Hehe, I'll make them worship me! And of course I'll teach them the important stuff like teamwork and all that!" he said, confidently crossing his arms.
Kakashi stretched his arm and lightly patted his head. "That's the spirit, Naruto-sensei – I personally think being a genin squad leader would suit you a lot better than being an ANBU."
Naruto looked up and seemed to have remembered something.
"Oh yeah, speaking of which… I wanted to mention this before, but I kinda forgot…anyway, I know Grandma Tsunade said she normally wouldn't send regular ninja on a mission like this because they wouldn't wanna be exposed to such freezing temperatures, and I guess she just wanted to show me that the black ops have to do all the dirty work. But all ninja have to do the dirty work all the time! Just think of all those silly D-ranks we used to get! Besides, the weather in the Land of the Moon was just as unbearable and we managed. I'm sure that the ANBU are needed elsewhere and do all the top-secret undercover stuff. So why was this mission ranked ANBU?"
"It wasn't," Kakashi said casually and stood up; waving his hand at Naruto to indicate that he should do the same.
"Wha- why that sneaky old liar!" Naruto hissed distastefully and followed his sensei into the kitchen. MAN! How he hated being fooled like that, and he hated himself for falling for a stupid trap like that! He would make her pay for that! If someone pulled him into a stinking little pile of deceit, he couldn't let them get away with it that easily!
"Why do Grandma Tsunade and you really not want me to be an ANBU? "
Kakashi grabbed a scrub brush and the little bottle of detergent, turned on the water in the sink until the dishes were wet enough and started cleaning them.
"Remember what I told you at Ichiraku's after our battle with those Akatsuki members Hidan and Kakuzu? 'The greater the jutsu, the greater the risk'," he said, languidly scrubbing the first bowl, not looking at Naruto. "Of course you can say that simply being a ninja is dangerous and risky; that's a true fact. We all put our lives on the line to protect our comrades and our people. I taught you that teamwork is the most essential thing to keep in mind when you're on a mission with others. I'm very proud of you that you have learned this valuable lesson, and I know you would never abandon your comrades, but you're still too impulsive, especially when you are under a lot of stress. You have to learn to maintain your composure in such situations and keep in mind that you shouldn't act alone, unless you really are alone." He rinsed the clean bowl, picked up a cloth and handed the items to the teen.
"Yeah, I know, I'm still too impulsive and obnoxious and what not, but I can change for the better, really!" he asserted as he dried the porcelain container.
Kakashi looked at the teen and let out a quiet sigh. "Of course you can change in here," he said and lightly tapped his index finger on Naruto's head. "But as an ANBU, you'd have to change in here." This time, he led his finger to the boy's heart. "We don't want that to happen." He watched those bright blue eyes widen and turned back to the sink to wash the next bowl.
"While the black ops also know that teamwork is important, they predominantly have the success of their mission in mind. They get the undercover assignments with the highest risk and must complete them no matter what. If top-secret messages get into the wrong hands and any information concerning the black ops team is revealed, the person responsible for leaking it has to be eliminated, even if that person is a comrade, a friend. After several ANBU missions, you inevitably start to turn into a cold-hearted killer. The mask conceals your identity and you become invisible to the world. That's not you, Naruto, and that's not what you want."
Again, he handed him the clean bowl to dry.
"You already experienced how horrible it is to have someone close to you die at your own hands. Could you imagine killing Sakura, or me, even if your heart told you it was wrong? Would you really want to experience that pain again?"
Naruto shook his head and looked down, feeling bad. "No, I…no." He looked up again as he felt his sensei's hand on his shoulder. The man was giving him a reassuring smile with his eye.
"I can ask Lady Tsunade whether you can go to some of the ANBU trainee core lectures, if you want. That's where you learn the 'sneaky stuff'," he chuckled. "But the more you get into it, the more important it is that you have someone to help you process the information you acquire or experiences you make. Since I already promised you that you can always come and talk to me about anything, I could be that person," he offered, and watched how Naruto's lips creased into a sincere smile.
"Sure!" he chirped and put the bowl back into the cupboard, looking a lot happier again.
"At some point, you'll probably notice yourself that you won't feel comfortable around the black ops," Kakashi said and lightly ruffled his hair again. "There's a reason why one can't see the sun at night."
Kakashi arose at dawn. He grabbed a quick shower and got dressed. He then sealed the leftovers from the kitchen into his storage scroll so he could use them up at home and therefore wouldn't have to go grocery-shopping tomorrow. They'd buy something to eat in the train, and would dine properly at the ryokan. He was glad Naruto had agreed to stay there for the night because he had a little surprise for the kid.
When Naruto was awake and ready for their journey home, they left the cottage and spent their walk to the train station talking about whatever came to Naruto's mind and letting a companionable silence settle between them every now and then. Three hours later, they reached the station and quickly stopped at a little store to buy some onigiri and drinks. They caught the train in due time and headed to an empty compartment. Kakashi didn't mind that Naruto insisted on having the seat at the window because he already pulled his Icha Icha out of his backpack and started to read and therefore wouldn't pay attention to the scenery outside.
Naruto was staring out of the window and seemed to find sitting still terribly uncomfortable.
"Maa, aren't you jittery today," Kakashi commented without taking his nose out of his book.
The jounin finally put his novel aside and opened his backpack again, out of which he pulled out another book.
"Here, why don't you read too?" he offered sweetly, lightly hitting the object on the teen's head before letting it fall into his lap.
"Wha- GAH! Not that again!" Naruto yelped as he recognized the black cover. He was certainly NOT going to read that dirty stuff anymore, much less in front of Kakashi!
The silver-haired man snickered.
"Let's play a game," he suggested.
Naruto looked surprised. "A game?"
"Have you ever played 'Mad Libs', Naruto?" Kakashi asked.
"I don't think so…how does it go?"
"It's a word game. You can create a new story by changing a few selected words in another story," the jounin explained, bending down to pull out a pencil out of his backpack.
Nope, he had definitely never heard of that game before…
"Mhh okay, let's try it out."
"Alrighty, then. I'll just quickly underline the words you'll be changing."
"Wait, WHAT? You mean it's a game involving your porn?!" Naruto shrieked, trying to snatch the pencil away from Kakashi without succeeding.
"It'll be fun, trust me!"
Damn that stupid eye-smile!
A little growl of annoyance escaped him, but he decided to give in and wait until Kakashi had finished underlining the words.
Two or three minutes later, Kakashi announced the beginning of the game.
"Okay Naruto, let's start. First, choose a male name."
"Uh…Kiba," Naruto answered. Kakashi penciled his choice in his book.
"A body part; plural form."
"Another male name."
"A type of food."
Kakashi chuckled. "Why doesn't that surprise me…okay, a type of disaster."
"Uhh...the attack of the Nine-tails?"
"A type of animal, plural."
"Okay, a job."
"And another job."
"A what?" Naruto asked.
Kakashi sighed, but looked amused. "A word that describes someone or something, like tall, green-"
"Oooh I know! Um…nifty!" Hehe, he loved that word!
"An adverb; that's a word that tells how something is done."
"I know that! 'Quickly'"
"Now choose a nickname."
Kakashi snorted as he scribbled the word into the book. "Right…an action verb, past tense."
"A body part other than the one you have already chosen."
"A body part further down."
This time, Kakashi snorted even louder.
"Eh? Another one, huh? Uuhm…unusual."
"Now choose two adjectives specifically describing a person."
"Um, ahaha, a profession."
"A type of weapon; plural form."
"And the last word; an adverb."
Kakashi stared at the open page and bit his lip. Then he snorted, and his snort turned into a chuckle which then turned into boisterous laughter.
"What? What's so funny? Sensei?"
They guy was still splitting his sides and clutched his head helplessly. As the shudders in his body slowly diminished, he handed Naruto the book.
Naruto grumbled and started to scan the marked page, but his eyes widened in confusion as he read the first sentence.
Kiba dropped to one knee and threw his hands around Choji's belly.
"Please, Sir, you mustn't turn us out! I know my father's fields haven't produced ramen all season, but it wasn't his fault. Truly! First there was the attack of the nine-tails, and then the stampede of the toads. His crops were ruined! But my sister has found work as a ninja and my mother is making a pretty penny as Hokage. We'll pay your nifty taxes soon enough. Have mercy on us!"
Okay, he had to admit that was funny. But only because it involved ramen, the toads and two of his favorite words!
Choji reached down quickly and hauled him to his feet. "And you, my dirtball? How will you be earning your way?" He ran a thick finger down the side of his head, sliding it down his neck until he jerked away with an unusual motion.
"Say whaaaat?! Ewww!" he shrieked, ignoring Kakashi's laughter.
"My lord, I know not what you think of me, but I was raised to be stupid and lazy. You shall not turn me into a ninja for your pleasure." His eyes shot shuriken at him, and he chuckled happily. "It would not merely be my pleasure, I think..."
"What. The. Fuck?!"
"I told you it would be fun."
"Oh yeah, I can totally feel the humor sinking into my funny bone," Naruto replied sarcastically and tossed the book at Kakakshi's lap, crossing his arms in protest. "That was just plain creepy! Now I'll never be able to look at Choji and Kiba the same way again!"
"Ah, but imagine Lady Tsunade being replaced by Tsume-sama. I wonder which one of them would be the worse slave-driver," Kakashi mused. "You wanna play it again?"
"Are you sure?"
"Really?" Kakashi asked slyly and produced an Ichiraku ramen coupon from his supply pouch, waving it in the air and watched with amusement as Naruto's eyes practically fell out of their sockets.
"Where'd you get THAT?"
"Oh, I've been saving it for moments like this," he replied nonchalantly, inspecting the little piece of paper with no real interest. With his free hand, he opened the window and gave Naruto a diabolical smirk as he wordlessly threatened to let the ramen coupon fly out.
Naruto nearly felt his heart stop.
"SENSEI! What the hell are you DOING?! "
"Shinobi tactics 101: Bribery"
"ARE YOU CRAZY? These ramen coupons are worth a FORTUNE!"
"Actually, they're worth precisely 800 yen," Kakashi corrected with a somewhat patronizing smile that was seriously ruffling Naruto's feathers.
"Gah, you really don't know shit about Ichiraku ramen! Technically, it could be worth at least ten times its weight in gold, but the truth is that the feeling you get while eating it is priceless. They don't say it's 'the best pleasure' for nothing!"
Kakashi shrugged and sighed in defeat. "My, aren't you a lucky punk for being able to eat something so valuable nearly all the time," he chuckled, closing the window. "Take it."
The youth's eyes were full of hope.
"Really? ALRIGHT! I love you, sensei!" He stuffed the coupon into his pocket. "For giving me the coupon, that is, hehe," he quickly added just in case that creepy dude got any ideas.
"So…round two?" Kakashi asked with a smirk.
The blond rolled his eyes as he grabbed the book and Kakashi's pencil. "Bring it on."
They ended up playing nine more rounds and only stopped when Naruto's stomach requested to be filled with the onigiri they had bought. The blond started to love the game, even if he had tried hard to deny it at the beginning. He wondered whether he should tell his other friends about it, but a part of him wanted it to remain just a fun inside joke between Kakashi and him. What he knew for sure was that they would definitely play it again when they were back in Konoha. After lunch, a bathroom break and a hilarious telling of silly anecdotes, they decided to take a nap and slept for six hours straight. When they woke up, they had almost reached their destination and only had to wait for another twenty minutes until they could leave the train.
One hour later, they entered the ryokan and were welcomed by a short auburn-haired woman who then guided them to their room which was a lot cozier than the cottage. After unpacking their bathroom supplies and taking a shower, they decided to go for a soak in the hot water. Naruto went to the restroom first, so Kakashi told him that he would be waiting for him in the water.
Naruto smiled. The last time he had been to a hot spring with Kakashi was back in his Team 7 days with Sasuke and Sakura, and they had unsuccessfully tried to see the guy's face. Hehe, he could almost smell the nostalgia along with the faint scent of sulphur that lingered around the place.
As he left the cubicle and walked over to the sink to wash his hands, he noticed a creepy old man who kept glancing over at him. Naruto cringed at the sight of the man's fat little knees peeking out of the untied yukata like two chubby wrinkled babies' heads and screwed up his face in disgust as the guy flashed a lecherous grin at him. GAH! What was up with those weird hacks and why didn't they just mind their own business?! He shook his head in disapproval and turned off the faucet. When he left the restroom, he could hear some piped music and the gushing of the near fountains. The volume increased slightly as he approached the door to the big rock bath that was surrounded by large bamboo trees.
"Hey, Kakashi-sensei, I– "
He couldn't finish his sentence. He couldn't speak. He couldn't breathe. All he could do was gape like a half-witted goldfish and feel how gravity was violently pulling his lower jaw down.
There he was, Copy Ninja Hatake Kakashi, Jounin of the Hidden Leaf village, lackadaisically leaning against the rock. WITHOUT. A. MASK. COVERING. HIS. DAMN. MUG.
Holy crap. Holy shit. Holy fucking Godmother of all ramennoodles in the world THIS WAS NOT HAPPENING, WAS IT?!
"Well, come on in, Naruto," Kakashi said as casually as ever.
Naruto gulped. And clenched his fists. And took a deep breath.
"I get to see you not wearing your mask for the first time in my whole life and you're expecting me to 'just come on in'?" he started, his voice tiny. "ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?!"
It was a good thing that no one else was in the bath, or they might have been reported for disturbing the silence. Ah, euphemisms, Kakashi thought with a small, yet very visible grin.
"Na-uh-uh, I just told you last night that you need to keep your calm, ne?" he replied, wagging his finger sideways.
"YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! How the FUCK should I keep my calm when…when…GAAAH!" Naruto jumped into the hot water, completely forgetting that he was still wearing his towel around his hips.
He had to see it again. His heart was racing in his chest as he dragged his attention back to the man. He saw Kakashi-sensei's real face. He looked up at him again and HOLY SHIT the mask was still gone! No buck teeth. No blimp lips. No tiny mouth. Just a normal, clean-shaven, smooth face with one thin, long vertical scar running through his sharingan-eye, high cheekbones, a straight nose, a defined jaw-line and full, but not too big lips.
The guy smirked. He SMIRKED. His LIPS curled into a crooked SMILE which Naruto could SEE. Who would've thought the usually inexpressive man could look so smug?!
"I'm glad you didn't get a heart-attack," he said with a cocky grin. "Now all you have to do is try not to get a nosebleed."
"OH SHUT UP!" Naruto raged, slamming his hand into the water and causing it to splash all over Kakashi's face and torso. "There was no way in hell I could've predicted that you'd show me your face, jackass!"
He turned away. He felt like his brain had been thrown into a stir-fry pan and was brutally turned and smacked by a spatula. This was…unbelievable. Amazing. Crazy. Nerve-racking. Awesome. His mind kept spitting out adjectives that might come in handy for their next round of Mad Libs, but none of them could accurately describe his emotional stampede in that moment.
He looked away and stared half-heartedly at the flower arrangement on the nearest window pane.
"You...you really did it..."
Kakashi didn't reply. He just smiled, knowing that from now on, Naruto would get to see his real smile often enough.
*"Talent borrows, genius steals" is a quote from Oscar Wilde. I just had to use it XD
A/N  PHEW. This was the longest piece of prose I have ever written. Woohoo! I hope I can break the record soon :D
Speaking of long – This fic is gonna be a lot longer than I expected. When I started writing it, the only idea and goal was to make Kakashi and Naruto fall in love, and the ANBU thing just popped in my head because I saw a really hot ANBU!KakaNaru fanart XD I didn't even plan the first four chapters, the ideas just kept popping in my head, and one day I really thought a lot about where this story would be going, and BAM! I had the entire plot outlined in my head! This fic is probably gonna have 40 chapters or so! o.O
The plot will become more complex, and while it will center around the KakaNaru romance of course, there will also be many other things happening in the story. It's actually gonna be really sad at some parts, but I like to weave some fluff and humor into my writing when I can because I can't handle too much angst without becoming depressed XD. And I have already planned the happy ending in my head.
I hope you liked this chapter enough to think that it was worth the long wait. Thanks for reading! (I always send a thank-you PM to my reviewers but I can't reply to those who weren't signed in, so thank you for your feedback! My heart makes five somersaults whenever I see that someone enjoys what I put a lot of time, thought and effort in! :D
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