Story: Making Arrangements
Beta(s): CrystallineX (who catches all my typos, major plot holes, and mistakes due to sleep deprivation) and Ladywinterfic (who has been helping me with characterization and plot development).
Chapter Thirteen: Changes in Accommodations
Summary: Kakashi doesn't know how to deal with all this. No, really. It's not in the handbook.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, I write this for fun and am not paid for it.
Chapter Thirteen: Changes in Accommodations
"No way," wheezed Naruto, staring in shock at her landlady, who was barring the blonde's entrance to the upper floors of the apartment building and, subsequently, Naruto's home.
"What do ya' mean there's toxic mold in my apartment?" Naruto looked bewildered, "What the hell is toxic mold? What does this even mean?"
"It means you can't stay here for the next few weeks," scowled the overbearing woman testily, dressed in a fluffy pink robe with her hair done up in sponge rollers, obviously unhappy to be disturbed at ten o'clock at night.
Naruto couldn't help that she was out late doing her job, trainingbecause she was one of the ninja to whom this crazy woman owed her life.
The annoyed woman bent down to pick something up right inside her door frame, which turned out to be a large black duffel bag. She swung the bag at the blonde, who caught it as it hit her stomach with an "oof!"
Naruto looked at the bag in her arms uncomprehendingly.
"That nice lady-friend of yours came by and packed a bag for you since I couldn't find you after the health department visited."
"Nice lady-friend?" Naruto blinked, puzzled, trying to think of who her landlady might have gotten a hold of to pack Naruto a bag and who would still come across as a nice lady.
Maybe it was Sakura, she thought, still a bit doubtful, but before she could spend more time on the issue her landlady moved to close the door in the blonde's face.
"Wait!" Naruto reached forward to grab hold of the door knob, beginning an awkward tug-of-war between the two.
The civilian pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. "What," she said sharply.
Naruto stumbled through her words, "but where am I supposed to go? This has always been my home—"
The older woman sniffed, waving her hand dismissively, "I don't know, and I don't really care, but you can't stay here. The whole top three floors of the place are quarantined. Nobody's goin' in, nobody's comin' out."
Naruto turned and pointed at the entrance window to the lobby, "But its' pouring outside!" Indeed, the night outside was unusually windy and dark, with cold rain aggressively rapping against the lobby windows. This was the only reason that the blonde had come home this early anyway, and not slipped through her own windows in the dim pre-dawn hours after exhausting herself on a training field.
The crabby woman rolled her eyes and pulled a cigarette out of the pocket of her bathrobe, lighting it and inhaling deeply, exhaling little smoke rings as she critically eyed the younger woman before her and examined her from head to toe. "Look," she said slowly, "You're a pretty little thing and I imagine that in your career you've picked up a few tricks and know a whole cart-load of athletic, lively young men."
Naruto's face scrunched in confusion.
The landlady brusquely tapped her cigarette against her doorframe, ash falling to the already dirty floor. "If you play your cards right, I imagine you'll have your choice of beds to choose from the next few weeks, if you get what I'm sayin'."
"No," said Naruto in dismay, letting go of the door to brush her bangs out of her face, "I don't get what you're say—"
Her words were cut off as the door slammed in her face.
Naruto gazed at the door a bit blankly for a few minutes, and then turned away, miserably clutching her duffel bag. She walked down the hall to the small lobby area, considering the stormy atmosphere outside.
Oh well, she thought wearily, might as well get on with it and go start seeing who'll let me crash at their place for a little while, Naruto looked out at the storm dully.
You really should have let me eat that one, came the fox's dark grumble.
Naruto ignored the Kyūbi, putting her hand on the door and taking a deep breath as she braced herself to head out into the storm.
I'm telling you, Kurama continued, back during the whole, my-eyes-are-better-than-yours bitch-fest, it would have taken five seconds. No one would have even noticed her missing.
Naruto appreciated the sentiment, and therefore didn't bicker with the testy creature about the propriety of eating one's proprietors.
She placed her hand on the door and pushed it open, making a mad dash to the nearest building with an awning.
"Ir-ru-ka-sen-sei!" Naruto chanted the name in time with her knocks on the academy teacher's door.
She'd been pounding on the door for a good two minutes, but it'd yet to be answered. Still, she didn't stop, probably more due to the desperate hysteria that was beginning to grow in her gut than the actual likelihood that the door would open.
She'd started out trying to go to Kurenai's house, but the lights in the woman's apartment were all off and no one had answered the door.
Then Naruto had headed to Sakura's, before remembering that Sakura still lived with her parents and Naruto never really knew what to say around her friends' parents so she was a bit shy of going and crashing on their couches for a week or so. And Ino was in the same situation as Sakura.
Naruto's teeth were beginning to chatter and she zipped her little jacket shut, not caring whether it stretched out like Ino warned her about. She pounded again on the door.
She'd tried going to the Hyūga compound to see Hinata-chan, but the main gates were closed because of the rain, and whoever had drawn the short straw to work the gatehouse was old, snobby, (possibly half-blind) and obviously never got the memo that the fox-brat was now considered socially acceptable company. Naruto was sure that Hinata would be mortified to realize the blonde had been turned away, but it didn't really help Naruto now as she scuttled about Konoha in the worsening storm, soaked to the bone and running out of doors on which to knock.
The loud crashes of thunder were setting her nerves on edge and making her jump at every shadow, and there were lots of shadows this late at night, when the sky was illuminated with a flash of lightning.
Kiba was out for obvious reasons.
The streets had been achingly empty, everyone warm and safe in their own homes. Naruto had felt quite alienated as she'd travelled the familiar routes, even though she knew all of the villagers were just inside the walls of the buildings she passed, happily chatting with their loved ones after dinner, or curling up to sleep in their own comfy beds.
She'd thought about going to Sai or Sasuke. Then she realized that she had absolutely no idea where the creepy boy lived and she blanched a bit at invading the Uchiha compound at this time of night. Who knew all the traps the Asshole had set up around the place. And a few of them were probably genjutsu, the Bastard. Not to mention that things had been a little shaky between the two of them since the whole 'bet' thing. And she still wasn't sure what her landlady had been implying, but she'd made it sound like going and asking the boys would be something wrong to do.
Maybe it was, it wasn't something Naruto had ever done before, or ever heard of Ino or Sakura or Hinata doing.
And then Naruto had started to go to the Hokage tower, to Tsuande, on the slim hope that she or Shizune might be working late. She had stopped with the academy a dozen yards away, overcome with the whole, "I'm a big girl and don't need the Hokage to fight my battles" issue.
Naruto continued to shiver and pound on the door. "Iruk—"
"Dammit, would you shut up, decent people are trying to sleep here!" Iruka's neighbor, another chūnin who taught at the Academy, but who'd never taught Naruto, was leaning out of the upstairs window from next door. He shielded his head with a newspaper from the rain and glared down at the girl.
"'M sorry," Naruto called up to him, trying to be heard over the heavy sound of water slamming against the concrete walls, "I'm just looking for Iruka!"
"He's not here," yelled the man, scowling, "He's out on a mission you dunce, go home!"
"But I-"the man slammed the window shut, ignoring Naruto's protests, and Naruto could see the curtains yanked closed in the next burst of lightening.
She drooped a bit, leaning forward to rest her head against Iruka's door, trying to flatten herself up against the building to get a bit of a break from the rain.
Her apartment was the only home she'd ever known. It was supposed to be safe. It was always, always there. It had stood through every invasion that Konoha had ever had. Naruto didn't know what to do now that it was gone. Was she just supposed to go camp out somewhere? She'd camped out before in rough weather, but she didn't have her gear, it was all in her apartment, which she couldn't access.
And this was her home! She should be able to have some place to go to for an evening where she could take a warm shower and sleep under a roof without having to pay hotel prices (which weren't cheap in a village like this one). She shouldn't have to be alone in the storm and wet and cold and hungry and tired and sad and scared in Konoha, she shouldn't feel this way at all. She pushed back the tiny sob that tried to escape her throat. She wasn't a cry baby. This was just a really bad day. That's all. Nothing to cry about.
Naruto drew herself upright. She still had one option she'd yet to try and he had told her, just the other day…
She drew a shaky breath, swung her bag back onto her shoulder and dove back out into the rain, sprinting toward her destination. Oh please, Oh please, let me in!
It was slightly before midnight and Kakashi was brushing his teeth in his bathroom when he was interrupted by a loud banging sound coming from his front door. Kakashi paused and turned, hesitating. Eventually, he shook his head and went back to brushing his teeth. He couldn't sense a chakra flare, so it wasn't someone coming to alert him about a mission, but he couldn't smell who it was either with the storm going so strong outside. Whoever it was probably had the wrong door; they'd realize this and move on in a minute, Kakashi reassured himself as he continued to brush his teeth.
However, the banging didn't stop, and, as Kakashi continued with his ablutions, the knocking only grew louder until finally Kakashi could make out words being yelled through the wooden door, "Kakashi, I know you're in there, open up!"
Recognizing the voice, Kakashi pulled on his mask and the dark, long sleeve shirt he'd just taken off and tossed in his laundry hamper. He emerged from the bathroom, tucking his shirt into his pants out of habit as he crossed the living room area to the front door, hoping to reach it before this particular visitor decided to kick it in and enter anyway.
The banging continued.
"Ka. Ka. Shi—" the syllables enunciated each bang, but the girls' words were cut short as the door opened and she abruptly found herself facing the very person for whom she was yelling.
Naruto paused, arm raised, fist about to knock on the door again. She blinked up at the jōnin.
"Maa, Naruto," said Kakashi, "what's the problem?"
Naruto continued to blink up at him. Her clothes were soaked, so sodden that the rain just ran off in tiny rivulets instead of being absorbed by the material. She shivered, probably suffering a chill from being stuck out in the storm so long. The blonde clutched a well-abused, wet, stuffed duffel bag with her free hand, hair plastered to her scalp.
Overall she looked like a very miserable, pathetic, drowned kitten.
Which was not cute. At all. Not one bit.
Kakashi flinched, but held firm, however sorely tempted he was to slam the door shut and pretend this was not happening.
He cleared his throat, "Naruto?" he prompted again.
Naruto snapped out whatever trance she'd been stuck in, "Kakashi," she sniffed.
She hiccupped, and tried to begin again, eyes growing large and watery.
Kakashi held himself very still, his own visible gray eye wide open, and he tried not to breath. He wasn't sure what would push her over the edge and didn't fancy being the catalyst for the torrent of tears it looked like she was trying to hold back.
"My landlady," she sniffled, and apparently that word was what allowed her to talk because the rest came flooding out, "Says that there is mold inside my apartment and I can't go back for weeks and that I have to find someplace to stay and Iruka's out of town and Kurenai won't answer her door and Ino and Sakura live with their parents and nobody will let me in the Hyūga compound to see Hinata and I don't know where Tenten or Tsunade or Shizune actually live and I don't need the Hokage anymore to bully my landlords into behaving 'cuz I'm not five and I can't go to Kiba's because of you and I don't know where to go but my landlady says I can't go home and that I should have plenty of beds to choose from because I'm pretty and have tricks and I don't know what that means except now I really don't want to go and ask to sleep with Sai or Bastard," she finally stopped, gasping for air, and then she wailed.
The tears came on, big and thick and not stopping and while it was impressive that she'd managed all of that in one breath, Kakashi's brain may have shorted out because—had her landlady suggested that Naruto prostitute herself for a place to sleep and maybe he should think of that later because there was a hysterically crying teenager on his doorstep who wouldn't stop and any minute now that nosy chūnin with the too-big glasses from 36C was going to poke her head out and this would be all over the administration building the next morning—
Kakashi tugged the shivering, dripping, crying girl inside, closing the door. He almost pushed her to sit down on the couch but grabbed her shoulders and kept her standing at the last minute, thinking better of the idea and going to retrieve some old towels to line his couch before pushing the girl to sit. Naruto continued to cry, eyes scrunched tight, small frame shaking from the cold and she wasn't stopping.
Kakashi nervously skittered backward, feeling useless and mentally deciding on the best and slowest way to kill whoever had the bright idea to send Iruka out on a mission this week because that was kind of their unofficial deal; Kakashi made sure that Naruto learned enough to keep herself alive and didn't kill herself during training and Iruka dealt with shit like this which everyone completely agreed that Kakashi wasn't qualified to handle.
Kakashi backed into the kitchen area and bit his thumb. Pakkun appeared on the countertop in a small burst of smoke.
The pug took one look at the situation and snorted, "I don't think so, you're on your own for this one."
Kakashi grabbed the summons by its vest to keep the dog from vanishing, visible eye twitching, "What. Do. I. Do.," hissed Kakashi softly at the creature, throwing fretful glances toward the girl on the couch who was still sobbing.
Pakkun leveled an unimpressed look at Kakashi, from where he was hanging in the air as Kakashi clutched tightly at the scruff of his neck. "Well," drawled the pug, "Seems to me like she's cold and tired and wet and probably hungry. Go fix it."
Kakashi nodded, still a bit shaky, setting the dog back on the countertop before visibly collecting himself and returning to the girl on the couch.
"Ah, Naruto," said Kakashi, gently, awkwardly reaching forward to pat her on the shoulder before retreating just as quickly.
Her sobs quieted a bit, but tears continued to stream down her face and she hiccupped irregularly.
"Why don't you," Kakashi cleared his throat, "why don't you go take a shower, get warmed up and dried off, ok? You can," he hesitated before bravely offering, "You can stay here on my couch tonight, all right? Its old, but it's comfortable, and it's one of those ones that will pull out into a bed, ok?"
Naruto sniffled, wiping at her eyes with the sleeves of her jacket and nodding her head wearily, all the energy seeming to just drain out of her. She took the hand that Kakashi offered to pull her up from the couch, and let the man gently usher her in the direction of the bathroom. She shrugged out of her jacket as she plodded into the room, ignoring Kakashi's stuttering protests about something or another.
Kakashi firmly shut the door behind the girl once she was fully in the bathroom, catching a glimpse of skin as the girl began to undress by pulling her tank top overhead, apparently too tired to care whether Kakashi was watching or not. He took a deep breath and hit his head lightly against the wall a few times, before turning around to endure the amusement of the pug still sitting on his kitchen countertops.
"I told you," said Pakkun smugly, "Not a puppy."
"Not helpful," declared Kakashi with a baleful glare. "And weren't you leaving?"
"I changed my mind," said the Pug, hopping down from the counter and heading over to the couch, where Kakashi was pulling out the cushions so that it would fold out into a bed. "This is going to be far more entertaining than anything that happens back home tonight."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Kakashi said in a clipped tone as he crossed the apartment to the single bedroom, rummaging through a cupboard and returning with a pile of spare blankets that he only ever used during the winter time. He arranged them carefully on the bed, eyeing the pug as the dog jumped on top of the covers once he was done.
Kakashi looked at the creature, confused, "Are you staying the night now?"
The pug stretched across the blankets, digging at the material a bit with his claws. "Of course," said the pug with a yawn, "You may not appreciate a pretty bitch in your bed, but I do."
Kakashi's eye twitched and he reached forward to cuff the dog off the bed, but before his hand made contact, his actions were halted by Naruto's voice calling for him from the bathroom.
"Yes," Kakashi answered in trepidation.
"Could you bring me some nightclothes from my bag?" Naruto's voice sounded muffled through the door, but at least she was sounding a bit more alert. "I forgot to bring something to change into in here."
"One moment," Kakashi called back, turning around to look for the duffel bag he'd seen Naruto carrying earlier.
Pakkun drug it out by the straps from under the sofa-bed. "Here it is," he said from around the woven handles.
Kakashi grunted his thanks and hauled it up to the table, zipping it open mindlessly, ready to pull out one of the overly-large t-shirts and pant sets he was used to seeing Naruto sleep in on overnight missions when they had the luxury of sleeping in guest quarters and not camping. Instead, his hand came out with some flimsy lacy thing and it took a couple of seconds for his brain to identify what it was he was seeing. When it finally did, he dropped the offending garment as if burned, and snatched his hand back, cheeks hot underneath his mask as he gazed with a wide open eye at the far wall.
"What was that," asked Pakkun curiously, vision blocked by Kakashi's back from where the dog was sprawled across the sofa-bed.
Kakashi made an inarticulate noise and stiffly carried the bag back to the living room, where he dropped it on the floor and unceremoniously shoved it back under the sofa-bed with a firm kick of his foot.
"Kakashi," the pug asked, confused, "What's wrong?"
Kakashi didn't respond and instead disappeared into his room, appearing with one of his own spare night shirts. The garment was a little loose on Kakashi, which meant that it would dwarf Naruto, but it would be better than that, that—thing that Kakashi refused to think about which he'd found in her luggage. She might not be a puppy, but she still wasn't old enough to be wearing that, and now he was never going to be able to erase the image from his mind. Ever.
He rapped his knuckles gently on the bathroom door and it opened a crack, Naruto peering out, obviously wrapped up in his towels. He thrust the shirt at her, "Here."
"Eh," Naruto looked confused, door opening a bit wider as she reached for the garment, "What's this?"
"All your clothes were wet from the rain," Kakashi found himself saying, studiously looking anywhere but at the pretty girl dripping wet in his bathroom, steam curling around her as she was wrapped up tightly in his large fluffy towels.
She frowned, biting her lip, and then shrugged. "Ok, thanks. I'll probably have to go get some more tomorrow anyway," she said with a sigh, "I think Sakura packed that bag, so there's no telling what's in it."
She shut the door and Kakashi took a step back, mind gratefully and hopefully latching onto the idea that the lacy thing had been some kind of prank of Sakura's and wasn't something that Naruto habitually wore to bed nowadays. Because—well, just because.
Kakashi sat on the sofa-bed, head sinking into his hands with a tired groan.
Pakkun looked at the man unsympathetically. "You're doing this to yourself."
Kakashi ignored the dog.
"You know, I bet if I ask, she'll rub my belly all night lon—" the dog yelped in surprise as he found himself swatted off the bed with a strong sweep of a pillow, Kakashi stalking to his bedroom and slamming the door shut behind him.
Naruto timidly emerged from the bathroom, at first relaxing when she saw no sign of Kakashi, and then stretching out her senses for him, concerned, and confused when she realized that the man had sequestered himself in his bedroom.
She felt a bit exposed in the large shirt, which hit her mid-thigh, right where Ino said it should, part of her recalled a bit snarky and bitter. The air was chilly against her bare legs and she crossed her arms over her chest to conserve warmth.
"Don't mind him," came a gravelly voice, causing Naruto to start before she realized it was just Pakkun, sitting on the sofa-bed. She padded over and sat down beside him, reaching out to rub behind his ears in the way she knew that he liked.
The dog sighed, melting a bit into her touch, "He's just in a funny mood. He'll get over himself eventually."
Naruto smiled a bit weakly.
"Tough night," asked the dog, cold nose pushing against her fingers.
"Yeah," she said shakily, "Sorry for kind of falling apart on both of you."
"It's ok," said the pug, rolling over to get his belly scratched, wiggling pink little paws in the air. "He doesn't really mind, it just scares him you know? He doesn't like seeing pack upset that way."
"Oh?" asked Naruto, curious, "I'm pack?"
"Ooohhh, that's the spot," moaned the dog, in a tone of voice that would have been indecent coming from a person.
Naruto grinned a bit, "I think I'm hungry, is there any food around here?"
Pakkun, sighed mournfully, "You're gonna stop petting me 'til you get fed, aren't you?" He rolled back onto his stomach. "You can always make a sandwich in the kitchen, but he doesn't keep a lot of food here."
Naruto rose and walked past the table to the refrigerator, Pakkun hopping down from the bed and trotting at her heels.
She looked at the dog, "Ham or turkey."
The pug cocked his head, considering the options. "Turkey," he said after a few minutes.
Naruto smiled and pulled out the meat. She found a loaf of bread in a breadbox and some cutlery in a drawer to the right of the sink at Pakkun's direction.
Once done, she set aside a few slices of turkey on a plate for Pakkun and they ate together at the table in a companionable quiet, Pakkun delicately nibbling on the deli meat in front of him.
Naruto took a sip from her glass of milk, feeling much calmer than she'd been merely an hour earlier. "So what's this about me bein' pack," she asked the pug again.
"Pack is family," shrugged the pug, "you protect pack, and you don't let non-pack hurt pack," he explained in a matter-of-fact tone.
"You know," continued Naruto softly, in between bites of her sandwich, "the Fox said somethin' 'bout that the other day too, that I'm part of Kakashi's pack and like, his little sister or something."
"Huh," said Pakkun. "Don't put too much stock into what that thing says, foxes hate us, we hunt them."
"But," Naruto said, wrapping her arms about herself as Pakkun finished the last of his meal, licking at his paws, "It kind of made sense, that Kakashi sees me as a little sister, someone he's supposed to be the boss of?"
Pakkun watched the girl as she cleared away the dishes, washing them, drying them, and placing them back in the exact spots from which she'd removed them.
"Well, it's a funny thing about pack," the dog explained, happy to be scooped up and carried to bed despite being perfectly capable of caring for himself. "Pack is always changing," Pakkun snuggled into the covers, digging himself a little burrow in the blankets next to Naruto's warmth. "Nobody's static you know, everybody grows and changes," he growled appreciatively as Naruto gently stroked him behind his ears, "everybody needs different things at different times in their lives. So," said the dog, drifting off a bit, "Once you're pack, you're always pack, but your place in the pack can change. And we're flexible, we can have more than one leader" The dog gave her hand a lick, "That's not a bad thing."
Naruto yawned, curling up on her side, one hand growing more and more still as it petted Pakkun distractedly, the other curled into her pillow, clutching it tightly.
"Smells nice," she mumbled sleepily, burying her face into the fluffy thing, drifting off to sleep.
"Smells like 'Kashi," yawned Pakkun, "smells safe."
"Oh," Naruto sighed, not really awake anymore, letting her thoughts still and giving into the emotional toll of the past few hours, "'that's it."
Kakashi didn't sleep that night. He sat in his bedroom, his back to the door, listening to the deep, even sounds of breathing coming from the living room. He tried to drift off as he counted them, but it just wasn't working.
This shouldn't be that big of a deal, he thought, head resting on his knees. He'd spent many nights camping out before next to others, even a few uncomfortable missions where he'd had no choice but to spend the night literally plastered to his teammates to conserve body warmth and try to prevent frostbite from setting in.
Somehow, though, this was different. This was his home, and now there was somebody in it, right on the other side of the door. This was his safe place, where he took all of the masks off because nobody was there to care or see. Except, now, somebody was here. And Pakkun was right. Kakashi had caught bits and pieces of their conversation through the door of his bedroom. Not all of it, their voices had grown too soft from sleep for him to catch the tail of the conversation, but he'd caught the important bits.
Pakkun was right. Naruto was pack.
So it shouldn't really matter. This shouldn't be that big of a deal. It should be like it was when Guruko and Akino and Bull and all the boys were milling about in the kitchen. It should be just like she was another one of the boys. A younger sibling.
But it wasn't.
And Kakashi could only sit there in the dark, drawn tight and as focused as he would be right before slicing a kunai across a man's jugular, counting the breaths of the woman in the other room, waiting for them to stop, for something to go wrong, for it all to end.
It wasn't right. Something was wrong and he didn't know what. Because Naruto was still pack, but it wasn't the same and Kakashi didn't know what that meant.
Something was wrong.
Kakashi let out a frustrated breath, running a hand through his hair.
He'd go talk to Kurenai tomorrow.
Naruto couldn't stay here.
Kurenai would see that.
Kurenai would help.
In the morning, at what was a mostly reasonable hour, Kakashi gently opened his bedroom door and crept quietly into the kitchen, careful not to wake his company and studiously looking everywhere but the blonde sprawled inelegantly across his sofa-bed, covers kicked to the floor during the night, her borrowed shirt riding a bit indecently high on her hips.
Kakashi did not look at her at all, choosing instead to pull out the bacon and eggs he kept for the rare times he was actually home and awake for a morning meal, starting up the coffee machine that was used on even fewer occasions. Pakkun roused not long after, the smell of food making him curious and sending him padding into the kitchen.
Kakashi gave him a look, "You're not even that hungry, I know you had turkey last night."
His words were soft and the dog shrugged them off, "Only taking my dues," retorted the pug, "it's not like you were any help yesterday."
A sharp retort died on Kakashi's lips as a low moan alerted both dog and man that their visitor was awake. Naruto sat up on the sofa-bed, looking a bit dazed and disoriented, hair a fuzzy golden halo around her head. Her face was flushed from all the crying she'd done the day before, blue eyes dark and sluggish.
It wasn't attractive. Really, it wasn't, thought Kakashi a bit desperately, turning to glare at the bacon, poking it a bit violently.
"Geeze," said Pakkun, from where he'd clambered onto a kitchen chair and then the top of the table to get a better view of things. "What'd that bacon ever do to you?"
Kakashi cleared his throat, "Good morning, Naruto."
Naruto gave an unfeminine grunt, and threw her arms over the back of the couch, watching Kakashi cook with a languid expression.
Kakashi looked back at her briefly and regretted it, turning around quickly, not having taken into account how wide the collar of his shirt would be on her and getting an interesting view to say the least.
Kakashi's eyes twitched a bit and he took a deep breath. It really wasn't Naruto's fault after all, it wasn't like she was trying to look adorable or cute or, even, Kakashi admitted very, very reluctantly to himself, sexy this morning. After all, Kakashi thought a bit hysterically, if she was actually trying all she would have to do is change into what was in her luggage.
"I made breakfast," he said briskly, using a spatula to scrape the bacon and eggs onto a plate, pouring a cup of coffee and setting the table for one.
Naruto frowned, attention perking up a bit, "You're not staying?"
"Oh, no," Kakashi said, running his hands under the water in the sink and letting the skillet soak a bit. "Places to do, things to see, you know the drill."
He turned around to leave and started, Naruto had walked into the kitchen, and was now only a few feet in front of him, arms crossed and pouting cutely in his nightshirt, looking for all the world like she was about to let loose a tantrum reminiscent of her mother's when Minato couldn't stay for breakfast in the mornings.
"Bye," Kakashi said with a wave, eye smiling as he used a shunshin to flee.
Naruto squawked in surprise, stumbling a step or two backwards, turning her glare on Pakkun.
"He's so rude," she complained.
"I know," nodded the pug, sagely, "His momma' didn't teach him no manners."
"Let me see if I understand this," Kurenai said slowly, considering the copy ninja as he sat on her couch, twitching occasionally, which was more anxiety than Kurenai had ever seen the man express before in his life.
"Naruto has been kicked out of her apartment for a bit and needs a place to stay—," stated Kurenai as Kakashi nodded along impatiently.
"—And she can't stay at your place because your ninken are inappropriately fond of her," the woman concluded, her sarcastic tone completely going over the other shinobi's head.
"Yes," said Kakashi, sighing in relief, "that's exactly it."
Kurenai rubbed at her temple with her fingers. "Kakashi," drawled the kunoichi, "that is the stupidest excuse I've ever heard you give! And I've heard you give a lot of stupid excuses over the years," the genjutsu expert scolded.
Kakashi wilted a bit. "But it's true," claimed the copy ninja, "If she stays with me, they'll get all out shape, lazy. She'll spoil them rotten and they'll be useless on missions. They'll lose their edge."
"Kakashi," Kurenai said, eyes narrowed and voice lowering. "I've known you for a very, very long time. And considering that many of our friends are no longer alive, and that Gai has the emotional perception of a blunt kunai, I'd like to say that I am one of the people who know you best at the moment." She turned her deep red eyes to the man sulking on her sofa, "Would you like to know what I think?"
Her companion didn't contradict her, choosing to remain silent and seated, fingers clasped tight and head ducked.
Kurenai took this as permission to continue. "I think that what you just told me is mostly bullshit."
Kakash flinched a bit and Kurenai took the seat opposite to him, where she could keep an eye on Matsu-chan, playing with cereal at the table.
"Do you know why I say it's mostly bullshit?" Kurenai asked, voice low.
Kakashi continued to sit in silence.
"I think that it's mostly bullshit," Kurenai explained, "because I think that what you're saying actually applies to you, not your ninken. You don't want Naruto there because you're too attached to Naruto and you'll afraid that you'll get soft and lose your edge. Does that ring a bell, Kakashi?"
A dark eye glared out at her from beneath silver bangs, but she wasn't feeling any hair rise on the back of her neck or any killing intent leaking from the other party, so she imagined that this was a realization that Kakashi had already made on his own.
"It's ok, you know," said Kurenai gently.
Kakashi's brow furrowed, confused.
Kurenai smiled a bit, "Its ok to like Naruto, to like her, romantically, not just a general like as in, 'Oh yes, she's a likeable person'."
Kakashi looked pale.
"What do you think is going to go wrong, Kakashi?" Kurenai asked, probing for the real reason behind his reluctance and grief. "She's a ninja, she can protect herself." Kurenai frowned thoughtfully, adding "And she's a grown woman who can make—"
"She's fourteen years younger than I am," Kakashi bit out, cutting the woman off. "She should have," Kakashi looked away, irritated. "Her father was my Sensei, her mother used to cook," the man stopped sharing as quickly as he started. He put his head in his hands, "She was supposed to be my sister."
Well, thought Kurenai, and isn't that a crap load of guilt I hear?
Kurenai considered the man before her critically. The question was, how did one push a man—someone who'd lost so much that he'd had to emotionally lock himself down to survive— into risking a new relationship? Kurenai started reviewing the events that had occurred so far and was surprised to realize that for Kakashi to react this way, he'd already let the girl in farther than Kurenai would have thought possible, and probably farther than Kakashi himself realized.
Kurenai knew she had to proceed carefully, Kakashi was balancing dangerously on the edge of precipice, and Kurenai didn't know what would be the strong breeze that blew him in one direction or another. A relationship with Naruto could be the best thing to ever happen to him, if he allowed it. Or, he could completely shut down and shut the girl out, which would break both his and the girl's heart. He would hide it well and Naruto was young and would recover with time. But it would leave wounds. And Kakashi would never, ever let someone in again after this.
Kurenai didn't want that kind of life for her friend.
She didn't want those kinds of wounds for either of them.
But, Kakashi didn't react well to emotional sensitivity. He was never one to crave hugs and platitudes, or even kind words. So, Kurenai scowled, and fed the man some of his beloved, tough-love logic. "She's not your sister Kakashi. Life didn't work out that way. Deal with it." Kurenai stood and walked over to Matsu, bending down to pick up cereal off the floor, avoiding looking at Kakashi, not sure she could bear it if she turned around and saw his heart on his face and breaking instead of carefully tucked away as usual.
"I don't know what this is Kakashi. It's ok for you to like someone. It's ok for you to like her." Kurenai ignored the small wounded sound coming from the grown man on her couch which pulled painfully at her heartstrings.
"But Iwon't be a party to this, whatever this is—you're just," she paused, searching for words, "you're hiding away from your own emotions like a scared little boy." Kurenai swallowed and shook her head. "I'll be here to help when you man up, but you need to own up to the fact that you're attracted to her, that it's not wrong, and that she might reciprocate that attraction. You're a good man, Kakashi, and you are both adults—"
She felt Kakashi's chakra flutter and vanish, he'd obviously listened to her for as long as he could take. He'd handled enough challenges to the foundations of his worldview for the day and had fled to take stock of the damage and rebuild.
Kurenai took a deep breath and blinked back a few tears, smiling widely at Matsu-chan who cooed up at her curiously. She clenched the sippy cup she'd picked up off the floor tightly, nails biting into the plastic. She could only hope that the man would take the time to listen to her words, wrestle with them, and come to understand them. She could only hope that she hadn't chased away one of the few friends that she had left.
To Be Continued
A/N: Okay lovely readers. I'm sorry to tell you this, but this will be the last update until March 2014. A week ago, the partners of my work came into my office and told me that the partnership was dissolving, and that while they loved my work, there would not be a spot for me after the business dissolved. Their timing sucked, it was completely unexpected, and the type of work that I do isn't something for which I can get hired easily in a small town. Therefore, I have to pack up and move home, find a new job, and move to that city. I will be alright, I have a good, close family who will take care of me until I can get back on my feet and I have found several promising job opportunities already. However, I need a month or two to find a new job, get moved, and settle into a routine. I will still be writing, but I won't be able to post at the rate I previously have for a while. So, I'm taking a break for two months. Stay safe until then, and I'll see you in March. Hopefully then, I'll be able to pick up and stick with the old update schedule.