Author's Note: Co-written with Ariel-D.

Two Teachers

Being in Konoha was an opportunity for tourism that Baki did not want to miss. After all, Konoha and Suna were polar opposites environmentally. He wanted to enjoy all the lush grass, tall trees, flowers and lakes and cool breezes that Konoha had to offer. Kankuro and his siblings, well...didn't. They were only here for one thing, and the Chunin Exam was all they really cared about.

Baki knew that anyone would be sorry if they messed with his students, so he didn't have to hang around and play bodyguard if he really wanted to enjoy the sights and sounds of the village.

He left them at the hotel and took a walk. He meandered aimlessly through the streets, just enjoying the differentness. Like the way people hung their laundry out to dry. In Suna, if one did that, they would have ripped, sandy laundry. In Konoha, the sunshine and the breeze gently caressed the wet clothing until it was fresh and dry.

Or how every other street smelled like something wonderful to eat. Smells were too quickly blown away by harsh winds to linger in Suna.

Baki quickly found himself attracted to a large park. He walked along a footpath, underneath the boughs of stately trees, enjoying the dappled sunlight and shadows on his face. Finally, the path led him past a pond, filled with cheerfully vocal ducks, to a secluded stretch of greenery occupied only by a green bench.

Baki was charmed. He sat down underneath the shade of a stretching dogwood tree, crossed one ankle over the other, and waited. He didn't know what he was waiting for; then, as he relaxed, it hit him: he was waiting to reconnect, waiting to be able to let his concerns of the moment go and meditate. He leaned back, let his head fall back, even, and for all the world looked as if he'd fallen asleep.

He didn't care. It was just too enjoyable to worry about.

Judging by his senses, and the movement of the sun, he spent an hour this way before someone else came along. A strange someone.

Baki straightened.

Kakashi wandered over to his normal bench in the park, only to find someone there already. What? Share my bench? For a moment, he thought he might be offended. Then he decided he was being silly. Oh... it's the sensei from Suna. Ah... "Baki, isn't it?" he asked, settling beside the man.

"Ah..." Baki blinked. "Yes. Do I know you?" He studied the man with curiosity and a nagging sense of familiarity. "'re that Kakashi." He'd put it together through a mixture of seeing the man once before around the village, and being exposed to publicity about the man via Suna news sources. Though a grainy photograph in a newspaper or a journal didn't give the man credit.

For one thing, he was thinner, and for another, he was clearly handsome beneath that mask.

Baki reluctantly pulled his gaze away and tried to regain the sense of peace he'd worked up to. It would be silly to leave...but he somehow felt as though he was encroaching. Probably because he comes here all the time.

"Hai," Kakashi said, pulling out his Icha Icha volume. He relaxed onto his favorite bench, glancing first at the shimmering waters of the lake and then to the pages of Icha Icha, where a lusty kiss was currently taking place. "It was a good prelim, wasn't it?" he remarked idly.

"What?" Baki was baffled. Then he separated the man's book from the conversation. "Oh. Yes. I suppose so." He frowned. "Actually..." No, don't mention Gaara getting worked up. He smiled. "You're right."

Kakashi nodded. "A few close calls, I'm afraid, but considering what could have gone down..."

"Ah..." Baki thought about what Kakashi was probably talking about. "Well, yes, I suppose it is a good thing that no one has died. It would be an unnecessary tragedy." Kakashi and the sensei whose student had gone overboard - Gai, Baki remembered - seemed close. They'd stood together during the match against Gaara and Lee.

"Especially for a chuunin exam," Kakashi remarked, flipping the page. "I'm afraid the students take it too seriously at times."

Baki considered it awkward at best and rude at worst to hold a conversation with someone reading a book. "Ah...yes. They do." He rallied. "And it is serious. It's just not as serious as all that."

"Indeed," Kakashi said blandly. He flipped the page again. "Your students seem very strong. Perhaps to the point of being held back - not that that is my business."

Baki let out a laugh. "It's not." He couldn't decide if he was offended. Maybe I should leave. Is he needling me on purpose? "Anyway, I don't make those decisions," he said. "I've only been their sensei for two months."

Kakashi nodded. "Neither do I." He looked up and smiled. "But amazing things do happen when we send our students out on the battlefield, yes?"

"Um..." Baki was thrown off guard, and somewhat - in spite of himself - disarmed by the smile. "Like what?"

"I think they rise above the potential we imagine they have," Kakashi answered honestly.

"Oh." Baki found an answering smile. "Well, yes. I believe they do. They shine. Because their hearts are in it, when they're doing it for real...and I think that the realness of the Chunin Exam, how we've tried to make it real, is confusing for them. Emotions can sometimes take over, when normally, they would be able to comprehend it as a test and keep themselves separate. We try to cheat them out of doing that, because we want them to do their best, but in surprising them, it can often have mixed results."

That was the longest thing he had ever said to a stranger.

He felt a little heat on his face, suddenly self-conscious at how he'd responded so freely to the subject.

Baki looked away, at safer things than Kakashi's smiling face. "Well. I want everyone to do their best, regardless of what nation they're from."

Kakashi smiled at him. "Me, too, really. I mean, that's the whole purpose of the exam, and your genin are clearly strong." He paused. "There were some touch-and-go moments in the prelims, and there were some things I'm not sure should have been allowed. But we all pulled through, and I think the final match will be amazing as a result."

"Ah..." Baki looked at him awkwardly. "I know that Gaara should have stopped. I agree with you. There was no need to take it that far, and I have spoken with him to explain again the rules of incapacitation and forfeiting."

"And Lee?" Kakashi asked. "Surely you don't feel that a forbidden justu was necessary to win?" He shook his head. "Perhaps, in Gai's place, I would have gone equally as far, but I honestly hope not. Lee will likely never recover from the damage he has incurred... of his own doing, not just Gaara's."

Baki never expected to hear anyone say what amounted to an apology.