Story: Making Arrangements

Rating: M

Author: CrownsofLaurels

Beta(s): ElectraSev5n and Ladywinterfic

Chapter Nineteen: You're Doing It Wrong

Summary: Kakashi and Naruto do errands. Like normal people. Seriously.

Disclaimer: Naruto is the property and brainchild of Kishimoto. This is a piece of fanfiction based off of the world he created for which I am in form or fashion financially compensated, nor do I seek such compensation.

A/N: Over 22k words people. Enjoy. (And also, this fic hit over 1,000 reviews overall last chapter, which was really exciting. Thanks!)

TUMBLR ACCOUNT has been created, the link is in my profile (or just search for crownsoflaurels1020). Since it's taking me so long to update, I'll be posting previews, little scenes that didn't make the chapters, answering questions, and explaining what I'm doing (other than writing) on the tumblr blog. I've created it to be as interactive as possible, so STOP ANNONYMOUSLY reviewing and telling me to update and go harass me on tumblr where I can answer everyone.

P.S.: Kudos to those who catch the allusions to 'The Blues Brothers' and 'Animal House.'

Chapter Nineteen

Tsunade was enjoying a fairly peaceful day, one in which she broke more even than not on all of her lottery cards—which, typically, was only indicative of a minor problem, like a missive from another kage being mistakenly slipped in with Academy report cards instead of making its way to its proper home in Tsunade's inbox. It certainly wasn't a warning sign that a catastrophe of retirement-inducing proportions was on the horizon.

She'd been looking forward to leaving the office early, a rare treat, and so she'd purposefully ignored the reports she was getting from her secretary that an increasing number of upset civilians were trickling into the building to lodge formal complaints with the Shinobi Personnel Misconduct Investigator.

Tsunade rolled her eyes; I can't believe that the civilians finally managed to successfully lobby for a shinobi misconduct 'investigator.' It was really nothing more than a glorified secretary position, generally filled by some shmuck stuck on medical leave or the latest poor unfortunate soul who'd ticked off Tsunade.

The position had been created because the civilians didn't feel like complaining to the military police about shinobi 'misbehavior' got anything done. So now they came to the administrative building to complain to someone paid to nod his or her head sympathetically and say, 'of course I understand,' who would then forward the complaints to the military police— who still wouldn't get anything done.

Tsunade would privately admit to at least missing that about the Uchiha's presence in the village. When the Uchiha were in charge of the military police, the civilians hadn't been complaining. Not that anything was actually getting done, but the Uchiha at least had enough presence to intimidate civilians into silence and complacency. They got nothing done with style.

Tsunade sighed as she stamped a seal of approval on the four hundredth and thirty seventh paper to cross her desk that day.

This was a military village, of course civilians were going to complain. Civilians liked the increased trade and protection, the feeling of excitement and being 'at the center of things,' that came with living within the walls of a hidden village.

What civilians didn't like was accepting that shinobi would always come first in a shinobi village.

Tsunade didn't know why this concept failed to sink into their thick skulls, it was like they honestly believed that all lives were equal or some such.

The Hokage snorted, Not in my village.

…Not that she was going to let them get killed needlessly, or anything like that either, but some things weren't going to change: shinobi would always be treated first in the hospitals, shinobi would be given a little more than just the benefit of the doubt when it was their word against a civilians, shinobi could fill higher 'government' positions in the village that civilians wouldn't be eligible for, the Shinobi Academy would receive more funding than the Civilian Academy, and yes, special allowances would be made for a shinobi's eccentricities when the same behavior from a civilian would get them locked up in a psych ward.

Civilians didn't like it?

Tough shit.

They could move to one of the dozens of other villages in Fire Country that didn't also serve as the hometown for hundreds of elite assassins.

However, while Tsunade could pretend that she was deaf every time her increasingly harried secretary poked her head in the door and reported that more angry civilians were coming into the building, Tsunade couldn't ignore her office doors being thrown open with a careless boom as the current (rather annoying but generally more capable than the rest of his moronic department) head of the military police bumbled in, carrying with him an odor reminiscent of freshly spread mulch and trailed by approximately four teams of people whom he claimed were all under arrest. And then there were chickens. Free range chickens, squawking and running aimlessly about her office. Which were apparently also under arrest, if she was hearing things correctly?

Surely not.

So much for calling it an early afternoon and heading home to curl up with a good book and some chilled sake. Her mask of righteous indignation slipped for a moment (another sign that she really should hurry up Naruto's 'training,' because did she ever need a vacation) and she gave a sad little hiccough of frustration that might have sounded borderline breakdown-ish. She immediately covered for this error by reassuming her normal temper with a vengeance, and the dozen shinobi in the office all scrambled to soothe the irate woman (or at least, quickly pass the blame off to another person, because no one wanted to be on the end of Shizune's lecture when the Hokage inevitably snapped and tossed her desk through the window for the second time that month).

Eventually, Tsunade had enough of the nonsensical babble. "Everybody, shut the hell up!"

The buzz in Tsunade's bizarrely crowded office abruptly chilled with the crash of what was probably a priceless antique vase against the far wall.

Shizune, who'd slipped in behind the large group, gulped in resignation. She should have known better than to leave gifts from the Fire Daimyo in the Hokage's office for more than ten minutes. She tried to reassure herself that the Daimyo probably predicted his mother-in-law's ugly vase would meet such an end at Tsunade's hands in the first place.

A few moments of silence reigned, where the focus was on the blonde woman with the big hat who was struggling so violently not to explode that she snapped two pens in half before exhaling deeply and settling for directing her assistant to take notes.

"Let's try this again," said the Hokage, clearing her throat, "one more time, without the interpretive dance scenes and the backdrop of a theatrical chorus of incompetent nit-wits, shall we?"

Temporarily quailed, her audience listened to her opening remarks without further interruption.

"There is a line of civilians starting at the secretaries' desk and continuing past the conference room three floors below," the Hokage started her recitation soft and low, but her words quickly picked up pace and pitch. "There are eleven shinobi in my office under military arrest, the only one that is not smells like horse shit, and there are two dozen chickens in here." Tsunade blinked, coming to the realization that she'd fisted both hands in her hair in an attempt to keep herself from punching her desk.

She wanted to continue her tantrum in logical vein, but what came out was, "Two dozen chickens!" in a pitch much higher than intended. She set her elbows down on the desk and the wood underneath them cracked anyway, startling one of the creatures which had come to rest on her desk into fluttering off the edge with an indignant squawk.

"Technically," sniffed Udon, "there are only eighteen—"

Udon's life was saved by a timely ear-twist from his female teammate and a rare moment of wisdom on the part of Konohamaru, who slapped a hand over the other boy's mouth.

Sakura bit her fingertips nervously and twitched when a chicken made a particularly loud squawk at her feet.

"Chickens." Half-hissed Tsunade, eyes narrowing with rage, "Chickens and horse shit!"

Chief Hyūga Some-Name-Or-The-Other straightened in offense, "It's an unfortunate conseque—"

"Silence!" Tsunade's hand snagged in her hair, accidentally pulling loose one ponytail. She scowled and rebound her hair as she continued, fixing all present with an intense amber glare and wondering why being one of the most powerful women in the known world didn't get her out of having to deal with this kind of crap, "I want for whoever has committed the least amount of incidental damage to public property in the last twelve hours to explain this situation, right now."

A bemused silence settled over the room as it suddenly dawned on nearly everyone that they weren't able to answer her directive.

Perplexed glances were exchanged amongst the crowd until a single, smug feminine voice emerged, "That would be me."

Konohamaru snickered and Moegi hit him upside the head.

"Ow," the brunet put his hands to his abused head and joined Udon in scowling at the girl.

As Naruto slipped forward and brushed past Kakashi's shoulder, the sense of embarrassment that flooded the room was palpable.

"Someone tell me she's kidding?" Tsunade said weakly, pleading with the room by gesturing with a sweeping hand. Desperate eyes turned sorrowfully on the other shinobi present, searching for someone who normally could be relied upon to have a modicum of common sense and moderation. "Iruka-kun, no, really?" Tsunade felt strangely betrayed.

The Academy teacher sheepishly rubbed the scar on the bridge of his nose, shoulders hunching in an apologetic shrug, unable to explain the strange turn that the universe had taken that day.

Next to him, Sakura looked embarrassed on his behalf (and perhaps hers as well) while Sasuke leaned against the wall, channeling his best "these peasants bore me" face.

The military police chief looked like he wanted to punch the boy, badly. Tsunade could relate most days. At least, she was going to interpret the Hyūga's look as being fed up with Sasuke, but it was kind of hard to tell when his entire clan adopted looking pissed off as their default expression of choice.

"Fine." Tsunade took a moment to rest her head in both palms after she emitted the bitter word. She collected herself within a few seconds and raised her head with a weary sigh, "Go ahead."

Naruto was lost in the wonder of the novel concept of being the only person not responsible for large-scale property damage for a change. She surveyed the room with wide, pleased eyes, not catching on to the Hokage's order to report.

Kakashi coughed into his hand and elbowed the girl in the side to bring her attention back to the moment.

"Oh, right," Naruto rolled her shoulders back and set her feet, beginning her tale with the air of an experienced story-teller: "Well, it all began this morning, when Kakashi decided we needed to go talk to my landlady…"

Naruto cried out in surprise when her blanket was ripped away violently. She curled into a ball to protect herself against the rush of cold air, fully intending to go back to sleep. Instead of opening her eyes and lashing out at her attacker, she scrunched them tightly together, burrowing her head in her borrowed pillow to block out the intrusive, offending light.

"Maa, maa, Naruto-chan," came the way-too-cheerful voice for the early morning hour, "It's past nine and we have things to do today."

Suddenly, there was a firm hand on her back pushing her off the bed. Almost simultaneously her harasser caught the fold-out bed with his foot and gave it a vicious thrust, collapsing it back into a couch with one efficient movement and hastily tossing the cushions back on it before the dazed girl could collect herself and fight for her safe haven.

Naruto's blue eyes fluttered open sleepily as she sat up on the floor, clutching at the lumpy pillow and shivering at the slight chill that bled through the thin cotton of the tanktop and shorts combo she'd worn to bed. "What?" she tried to ask, but the word was garbled by the loud yawn she emitted concurrently.

The jōnin spun a kitchen chair around backward and sat down straddling it, resting his arms on the high back. "We've got places to be, people to see," his visible eye closed as he (theoretically) smiled, "Get dressed."

"I don't—" Naruto began to come to her senses a bit, peering around the room, confused. Sensing that the strange spirit which had temporarily possessed Kakashi wasn't going to leave him any time soon, she slumped in a pout and squinted at him with a doleful stare, "Where's breakfast?" She stuck out her lower lip and cuddled her pillow, making it clear that she was going to be completely uncooperative until fed.

Kakashi's eye widened slowly at the demand, in mock surprise that the girl would demand a meal before getting down to business.

Naruto's stomach growled loudly. Startled, she looked down, as if she could see it through the pillow. She blushed, scratched one whisker-marked cheek, and hid behind her pillow-shield so that only her eyes peeked up inquiringly at the older man.

"Well," Kakashi drawled thoughtfully, face serious but tone amused, "I probably shouldn't reward your mistaken belief that you possess bargaining power, but at least you're more adorable than my ninken. Get dressed."

Kakashi rose, grabbed Naruto by the back of her tank top as she belatedly yelped in protest, mentally reeling just the tiniest bit at being called adorable (even if in a very round-about way).

Free from similar distractions, Kakashi easily carried out his plan of shoving the chūnin into the bathroom, tossing in her bag of clothes, and firmly shutting the door.

By the time Naruto emerged from the shower, slipping into her cropped jacket and trying to finish towel drying her hair at the same time; Kakashi was putting plates of bacon and eggs and pancakes on the tabletop.

"Yes!" Naruto crowed, dropping the wet towel on the couch. She ignored Kakashi's wince at her actions and bounded into the kitchen, inhaling the enticing scents deeply. "It smells awesome!"

The jōnin, attention diverted by the out-of-place couch-soaking towel, automatically embarked to restore it to its proper location, but was thwarted when Naruto grabbed him from behind in a tight hug.

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou," chanted the blond, squeezing the breath out of the subject of her affections with her unrestrained enthusiasm. "You're the best, I'll love you forever!"

Kakashi froze awkwardly at the words.

Naruto ignored the man and settled into the spare kitchen chair to devour the delectable arrangement before her.

He slowly unwound from the shock and uncertainty that burst into existence with the girl's simple words by reminding himself that she'd said the same thing a dozen times before (in fact, just yesterday it was Tenzō she was going to love forever, for agreeing to play target practice). This allowed him to get back to more important matters that required his immediate attention: such as the wet towel threatening the integrity of his beloved sofa.

That particular crisis averted, he returned to the kitchen to claim his own humble portion of breakfast (three pancakes and half a dozen pieces of bacon) and spare a brief moment to wonder if anyone in the world could prepare enough food to actually fill Naruto's stomach. I meant that to be breakfast for tomorrow too, he thought mournfully, watching the girl devour what had to be enough to feed an entire 'normal' genin team. If I didn't personally know her parents, I'd swear she's part Akimichi, the copy ninja thought, feeling uncomfortable as Naruto finished up her meal by sucking on the fork she'd used to shovel her eggs into her mouth, her eyes darting about the kitchen as if checking to make she hadn't missed anything.

"As I was saying," Kakashi began, recovering from his bout of mild hysteria at observing the spectacle that was Naruto inhaling food and deciding to catch her attention before she demanded more sustenance, "we need to run some errands today."

"Oh," warm, ocean-colored eyes honed in on him and the blond set down her fork. "I've never known you to be in a hurry before." The word slid off her tongue like an insult and Kakashi narrowed his eye.

Naruto smiled gamely, "Whadya need to do?"

"I'm not in a hurry," Kakashi said with a sniff, "but," he began ticking items off on his fingers, "We need to check in with a team that's doing some preparatory research for our mission, at some point we need to check in with the Hokage about said mission," (which they probably should have done yesterday, but, meh, time wasn't an issue on this matter) "and," he levelled a stern look at the girl, implying there would be no wiggle room on this last task, "we need to go talk to your landlady."

"Oh." Naruto looked down at hands in her lap, wringing them together nervously and biting at her lower lip.

"I'm not kicking you out Naruto," Kakashi said gently, eye softening.

Naruto's face shot back up, liquid eyes hopeful.

"But we do need to figure out what's going on with your apartment, that letter you got last night wasn't really that explanatory." His voice was firm, but Naruto was obviously reassured by his words as her expression lit back up with its normal optimism.

"Ok," she agreed amiably. She didn't know what Kakashi thought he was going to accomplish by talking to her harpy of a landlady. Naruto personally thought that she and the woman had a good thing going by mutually pretending the other didn't exist, but whatever. If she continued this train of thought she'd wake up Kurama and he'd start mouthing off about not being allowed to eat people. Again.

However, now that Kakashi was mentioning things that needed to get done, Naruto had a few things that she needed to put on today's list too. She hummed softly as she fidgeted in her seat, "We're almost out of groceries so we should stop to pick them up on our way home—," she nodded meaningfully toward the refrigerator as she stood to collect the dishes and shuffle them to the sink.

No thanks to breakfast this morning, Kakashi eyed the picked-clean plates as they were spirited away, unenthused.

"—And it's Iruka-sensei's birthday today and I haven't got him a present yet, so I need to pick one up—" babbled the girl, smile affectionate as she paused next to Kakashi at the table.

Why does he still get to be called 'sensei?' What did I do to lose that respect? Kakashi was somewhat confused by the matter, but he also wasn't as put out by the realization as he thought he should be, and he stowed the thought away for consideration at a later time.

"Also," the sudden tell-tell glow of an idea spread across Naruto's face.

The silver-haired man tensed as she turned a shrewd gaze upon him. He fought the physical tightening of his shoulder muscles as Naruto placed a light hand upon one, eyes big and wide and was she batting her eyelashes?

"You did promise to teach me how to make some of my Mom's dishes and since we're getting groceries anyway…" Naruto trailed off, using a trick that Ino had taught her and invading Kakashi's personal space, demanding his attention by placing one hand on his shoulder gently, leaning in close. "Please?"

Kakashi's eye was fully open, not drooping in the slightest, trained intently on the opposite wall but not really seeing it as the girl moved so that she slid around him. The hand she'd laid on his shoulder never lost contact as she dragged it across his back, bringing it to rest on his opposite shoulder.

She ran it down his arm and brought her other arm around him slowly but gracefully, loosely encircling him in a hug as she rested her jaw on his other shoulder. "Please?"

Kakashi's mind went blank when she breathed softly into his ear.

This was probably not quite appropriate.

He should probably say something about this.

To stop this.

He should probably—

"Please?" She repeated even more softly, pressing her face close against his neck, the only thing separating their skin the thin fabric of his mask.

"Ok," said the copy ninja.

By the time he'd managed to herd Naruto to the dusty hospital archive, Kakashi still hadn't decided whether he should be amused or upset with himself for his earlier behavior.

He'd established that he was attracted to Naruto, but did that really give him license to act on such an attraction? He was fourteen years her senior; that wasn't an insignificant gap, no matter what Genma claimed. On the other hand, Naruto was an adult and Kurenai implied that Naruto wouldn't be completely opposed to the idea of a relationship with him, that it might actually be good for the girl. Now that he thought about it, the girl had been getting increasingly, well, physical lately, indicating a predisposition on her part for forming such a relationship.

Still, why would such a thing be good for Naruto? What did he have to offer in a relationship that could possibly be good for the girl? Surely Kurenai wasn't suggesting it for the sole reason that Kakashi could provide Naruto with some sexual experience. After all, there were other, far more emotionally stable and balanced individuals who could provide the girl with that. Not that anyone particular came to the top of Kakashi's mind.

Kurenai must think that a relationship with Kakashi in particular would benefit the girl in some way, or Kurenai wouldn't have made a point of mentioning it. Kurenai was the kind of kunoichi who always took care to choose her words wisely. But Kakashi had no idea what he could offer the girl, especially when what he thought she needed was a long-term relationship that had the potential of developing into a family.

Yes, his dimwit, darling ninken classified her as pack, and made clear they had certain expectations, but Kakashi hadn't been entirely raised by canines. He retained enough human social conditioning to realize that he shouldn't let the 'pack mindset' he habitually adopted dictate all his life choices. Just most of them. And the ones he didn't know how to make, and the ones where he felt really uncomfortable—anyway.

Kakashi cleared his throat and nervously glanced at his companion. Fortunately, she was just as oblivious to Kakashi's internal dialogue as usual and was staring curiously at the stalls they were passing, the sellers just beginning to set out their wares.

Reassured that nothing important was happening, Kakashi slipped back into his thoughts. The reality of the situation was that Kakashi's life-expectancy was considerably short at the moment, especially as he didn't plan on cutting back on the amount or degree of danger in his mission work. He couldn't offer her what she deserved; someone who adored her, respected her, and could commit to being in a relationship with her for a long time. Preferably somebody strong enough to watch her back and check the damage of whatever reality bending charismatic bloodline-jutsu-secret power she had that Kakashi still hadn't found a way to adequately explain.

Kakashi rolled his shoulders and craned his neck toward the sky, scanning the tops of the buildings lining the street for potential threats and dangers, cataloguing the normality of it all and yet still feeling uneasy.

He cared for her, certainly, but Naruto didn't need a caretaker. She probably didn't want one either. Naruto needed someone who was able to love her. Kakashi wasn't sure that he had ever been capable of that emotionally. He was intelligent enough to know his own flaws, and honest enough to admit that he was more than a bit broken in that regard, and perhaps always had been.

And what would his other students say, how would they react to their teammate in such a situation? Naruto was very attached and dependent upon peer relationships. How would becoming intimately involved with Kakashi, even for a brief time, affect those relationships?

What a headache.

Kakashi rubbed futilely at the sharingan eye, covered and throbbing dully behind his hitiate as he escorted Naruto to the hospital. She skipped ahead and fell back alternatively, saying hello to every third or fourth person they met and chattering away about nonsensical things like the weather and herb gardens and such. Every once in a while, Kakashi obligingly paused while she finished her small talk and caught up to him. He never had to pause for too long, she had too much energy to stay in one place for a prolonged amount of time.

He was pulled from his time of personal reflection when Naruto hooked her arm through his own and looked up at him expectantly.

He raised an eyebrow in response.

She huffed, but didn't ask the question she was dying to know, which was where the hell were they going. She only grew more confused as they bypassed the main entrance to the hospital and entered through a back way, down creaky stairs into the floors dug underground, bypassing the administrative levels and continuing to areas Naruto had never explored. "Where are we?" The blond asked, finally caving to curiosity and wrinkling her nose at the smell of stale air and old papers.

Kakashi stopped before an unassuming door, pushing it forward with a thrust of his palm and graciously holding it open as Naruto preceded him. "We're where the dead go to be forgotten," Kakashi said dryly, good eye dilating to adjust to the dim lighting as his sharingan teared up in reaction to the dust, despite being securely covered. "Only, of course, nothing is ever completely forgotten in a village of shinobi."

"Haha, very funny," came the sarcastic huff of a sulky teenager from somewhere within the large room.

Naruto walked further inside upon hearing the familiar voice, and sure enough, Konohamaru appeared from behind a long row of shelves filled with files and scrolls, his arms full of a stack of old documents.

"Good morning!" Naruto greeted cheerfully.

A chorus of voices responded: Konohamaru-kun's stiff with dulled enthusiasm, Udon's 'hello' by far the most polite, and Meogi's muttered grumble barely audible, muffled by the racks of files.

Konohamaru crossed his arms and glared at the only jōnin in the room. "So it's your fault we're stuck in here? We've been at this for like, a whole week!"

Udon trotted out to greet them with his own armful of papers, dumping them onto a table that looked like it had been brought in specifically for the trio. "We've only been here five days," informed the boy seriously, taking one of the three seats at the table and opening a scroll dutifully.

"How is that different from what I said?" snapped Konohamaru irritably, before wrinkling his nose in displeasure at his visitors. "You two are so late, you were supposed to be here days ago!"

"We had to renegotiate bathroom occupancy agreements," Kakashi said with a shrug.

Naruto looked oddly at the copy ninja while Konohamaru ignored the explanation.

"Whatever," muttered the Sandaime's grandson, "If we'd croaked you'd totally have been responsible. There's no sun light in here, we're like, gonna' die from lack of vitamin Z or something."

"Vitamin D," corrected Udon automatically, not looking up from his assignment.

"What?" Konohamaru scowled.

"Vitamin D," repeated Udon absent-mindedly, "The skin contains provitamin D3 which reacts with sunlight to form the vitamin—"

"I wasn't asking you," Konohamaru fussed, only to squawk as Naruto hit him upside the head.

"Stop being mean to your teammates," scolded the blond, "they've been working just as hard as you and that's no reason to be nasty."

"Sorry," mumbled Konohamaru, cowed in the face of disapproval from someone he admired so much. "It's just been really boring lately."

"Super boring," agreed the kunoichi of his team, carrying her own burden and slumping down in the chair next to Udon with frustration. "And we've not found anything that we've been told to look for," she added, addressing Kakashi. "Not that we were told why we were supposed to go through the lists of all active shinobi in the last half century and look for missing blood records."

"Not anything?" asked Kakashi, surprised. Konoha wasn't perfect, there should be at least some missing files. The lack of imperfection in itself was suspicious.

"No. Not anything," said Udon, looking up at the two older shinobi and stressing the word, his knowing gaze indicating that he'd already latched on to Kakashi's own train of thought.

"Super boring," huffed Konohamaru, leaning against the table. "Although," the boy gave a sneaky grin, "Udon did find a summoning scroll—ack!" He was cut off as several scrolls hit his back.

"That's not relevant to the medical records at all," mumbled Udon sheepishly, appearing to be taken aback by his own aggression.

Moegi sighed and resumed scanning her pile of documents while Konohamaru rubbed at the back of his head and pouted.

"Do you have any notes," queried Kakashi, thinking perhaps they'd stumbled upon some other anomaly within the records which would help Kakashi determine with whom Danzō had been messing.

"I dunno," Konohamaru shrugged, "I think Udon made a chart or something, beats me."

Kakashi's eye drooped with displeasure at the attitude, but, Not my genin, not my problem. Tsunade and Ebisu could have fun with that. The copy ninja ventured forward to take a look at the pile of papers the spectacled kid pushed toward him.

"It's not like we did anything really bad to get stuck in here," added Konohamaru with a whine, "that new guy who's heading the MP can't take a joke."

Naruto shook her head, unsympathetic to the genins' plight. "I've told you before," she tsked, waving her hand and assuming a lecturing posture, "if you're going to prank someone you have to be prepared to face the consequences; doubly so if you're trying to pull something on someone without a sense of humor."

"You sound like Aunt Kurenai." Konohamaru hunched his shoulders sullenly, "What a drag."

"Really?" Naruto asked, beaming at the suggestion.

"It wasn't a compliment, Boss," said the brunet, dismayed.

Meanwhile, Kakashi flipped through the chart created by the one kid in the group who seemed intent to do the task properly, ignoring said kid's expectant gaze. His eye paused on a notation in the margins that began to appear, "What's this then?"

Udon perked up, "The asterisk? That's for when an active shinobi's wounds recorded in a medical history deviated from those recorded in the autopsy report by more than forty percent. I considered that an anomaly too great to simply be due to chance, so I started noting such occasions. There's a whole bunch of them from the last war."

Kakashi flipped further into the chart, as it had been organized from the oldest deaths first to the most recent. Sure enough, quite a few asterisks appeared by familiar names. Kakashi recognized most as confirmed Root participants. Still, a few of the names were new. It was entirely possible that Root members weren't aware of the full extent of their membership, and as far as he knew, even Danzō's recently discovered storage closet hadn't contained a convenient membership list. Following Udon's analysis was their best bet of knowing the full extent of that roster at this point in time. Using that information, they could identify what areas Danzo had access to and the possible extent to which his influence reached.

It wasn't going to help Kakashi's current mission, as it would only show which of Konoha's many dead were potentially affiliated with Root, but it would help Tsunade identify and remedy potential breaches in security. Perhaps even identify areas of work or specialties where Danzō had found it easier to gather his dissident minions.

And it would keep idle minds busy.

"New orders," Kakashi announced, tossing the chart onto the table. He felt bad for that afterward, as it stirred up a cloud of dust that sent the Udon kid folding over into a sneezing fit. If only the kid had been wearing a mask, oh well, not everyone could be blessed with such wonderful foresight in practical wardrobe choices as Kakashi.

Konohamaru snapped his mouth shut mid conversation and he and his orange-headed female teammate looked at the masked man hopefully: Anything to get out of the basement.

"I want a chart detailing the discrepancies that Udon-kun found, the names of those shinobi and their identification numbers," began Kakashi, ignoring the falling faces of two of the three children in front of him. The identification numbers would allow Tsunade to pull all the personnel files of those shinobi from storage (securely kept separately from the medical histories) for Kakashi to browse at his leisure at a later time.

"I suppose that means you're going to have to redo a lot of your work," mused the copy shinobi, oblivious to panicky widening of eyes in his audience, "But I'm sure you'll have it finished in no time."

"What," protested Konohamaru, "No way! We've already spent days in here, now we're going to be here twice as long!"

"Don't mouth off to commanding officers," said Naruto, swatting Konohamaru on the back of the head again.

Konohamaru looked at her, aghast, "Who died and made you Iruka-sensei?"

Naruto gave a superior toss of her hair and turned her attention to Kakashi, "Did you find what you needed?"

"Not really," drawled the copy ninja, "But I wasn't expecting them to be able to find anything at all, so now that Udon-kun's performed so spectacularly, this might yet produce something interesting."

"Wait," cried Konohamaru, stamping his feet, "You mean, we've been looking for something you didn't think would exist this entire time?" The teenager was nearly frothing at the mouth in anger, "and now you're going to make us stay here longer 'cuz we actually did a good job but it still might be useless in the end?!"

Moegi buried her head in her hands, ignoring her teammate's tantrum.

Udon slumped in his seat, pushing his glasses up his nose, an embarrassed flush spreading across his cheeks.

"Yup," Kakashi said, eye crinkling in a smile. The kids didn't need to know this was actually an important mission anyway, better they whine about 'asshole Kakashi assigning them a useless paperwork mission' than 'being stuck on an important filing assignment.' Because, clearly, Konohamaru was going to whine in public no matter the outcome of the day, it was one of the reasons that he'd yet to be promoted to chunin.

"What are you even going to do with this information anyway," howled the boy, "why can't you do it yourself?"

Kakashi shook his head, "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you," he said with sincerity. "And we don't have time to do it ourselves, because Naruto-chan and I are going on a mission."

"Wait," Konohamaru froze, eyes narrowing, "You mean, you are taking your team on a mission, right?"

Kakashi raised an eyebrow, mildly amused at the threatening tone the kid was leveling at him.

"No," Naruto snorted, "It's Kakashi's mission, but he's taking me because I know how to properly behave on missions and don't throw temper tantrums when I don't get my way or take my anger out on my teammates."

Kakashi bit his tongue; surely she sees the hypocrisy in that statement?

Naruto had her hands on her hips and was looming self-righteously over the younger boy.

Of course she doesn't, thought Kakashi with a sigh, this is Naruto I'm talking about. He cleared his throat and called the blond's name in an attempt to interrupt the squabble that had erupted between the pair. Naruto paused and twisted about to face the older man just as she'd pinned the kid in a headlock.

"Come along," Kakashi said, heading for the door and holding it open for her, "If you want your groceries, we need to get going and finish the other things on our list."

"Ok." Naruto relinquished her death grip on her closet fan-boy, but not before giving him a playfully hard push into the table that rattled the wood and knocked the breath out of him. Latching on to the new topic, she started up her usual comforting babble, "What are we making for dinner tonight?"

"Hmm," said Kakashi, "maybe karaage?"

"That sounds good, what all are we going to need for that?"

The voices grew muffled as the door swung shut behind them, leaving the room with three unhappy teenagers. Konohamaru stared at the closed door in shock, body tense and face slowly turning red as his thoughts whirled.

"Sorry," said Udon, misinterpreting his leader's anger as being caused by the team's newest orders. Udon tried to stifle a sniffle, and moved to rearrange the abused papers and scrolls into some semblance of order.

"It's not your fault," acknowledged Moegi with a sigh, resting her head in a palm, "I was so hoping to be done with this place today, though. What about you Konohamaru-kun?" She blinked as the boy remained unresponsive, back to his teammates, spine stiff.

"Konohamaru-kun?" Moegi repeated the inquiry, tone light.

Finally, the boy straightened and turned to face his two teammates with a slightly manic gleam in his eyes to which Moegi and Udon instinctively recoiled.

"Let's go," said the leader of the trio determinatively, "We've got a new mission."

"We already have a mission," said Moegi firmly, biting her lip in trepidation.

"We have a more important mission," bit out Konohamaru, throwing his scarf more securely around his neck.

Moegi and Udon exchanged a look.

"What kind of mission are we talking about?" Udon wasn't sure he wanted the answer to his question.

Konohamaru was already half-way out the door. "This, my friends, is a mission from Kami," he said seriously, then completed his exit with all the grace and poise of an aged film star.

"Oh," Udon simply stated, before sharing another look of resigned misery with his female teammate. "I hate those missions."

Moegi nodded in agreement and they scrambled to catch up to their fearless leader, because at this point in their lives, they'd long since become accustomed to the fact that even if they weren't at the scene of the crime they'd be deemed guilty by association and assigned a share in the punishment regardless of the extent of their actual involvement.

Might as well enjoy the insanity while it lasted.

And, in Udon's case, at least suggest minimizing the damage.

"She shouldn't be making you pay rent," Kakashi told Naruto as they strolled through the crowded residential streets that led to the girl's apartment building.

Naruto shrugged, "I told her that, but she said she'd consider it a breach of my lease and line up a new renter. It's a good space you know, big for one person at least. And it's the entire top floor, which is great for being a shinobi, except she doesn't like us. And Sandaime-jiji got my rate locked in a long time ago, he did something so she couldn't raise it on me as long I stayed. She'd be really happy to see me go so could rent it out a higher rate."

"Technically," said the copy ninja, "She's the one in breach of the lease right now by not making sure that your apartment is habitable. She should be paying you any cost you are incurring in excess of what you would normally pay in a month's rent under your contract."

Naruto tilted her head, lips curving in a faint frown and blue eyes puzzled. "Ok," she said, but the simplicity of the word implied she wasn't following the older man. "I guess it's a good thing then that you aren't charging me rent, or she'd owe you money!"

Naruto smiled up at him, but Kakashi was looking away, distracted.

"What's wrong?" Naruto asked, brows furrowing.

"One second," muttered Kakashi, stilling for a moment. Just as quickly, he relaxed and continued forward.

Naruto paused to look back and see if she could detect what had attracted his attention. When she couldn't, she darted forward and tugged at his arm. "What was that about?"

Kakashi's face had relaxed and he gave her a small smile, "Your fanclub is following us."

"My fanclu—" Naruto muttered, beginning to twist around, but stopped when Kakashi grabbed her shoulder.

"Don't look," he admonished, "try to feel them."

Naruto huffed, but did as directed, fusing with Kurama briefly to enhance her ability to identify unique chakra signatures and searching through all the people she felt suddenly 'pop' into existence on her mental map until she found—

"Those three!" She scowled and turned about fully, hands on her hips.

Kakashi rolled his eyes but turned with her. So much for teaching her the art of subtlety, he thought wistfully. He had to admit that particular lesson was wasted as far as Naruto was concerned.

"I thought you told them to search for some stuff in the archive?"

Konohamaru and his friends weren't visible. They had, by now, advanced to stealth techniques more complicated than hiding under boxes, but that didn't stop Naruto from scowling in their general direction, a hundred feet or so back.

"They must have needed to walk the dog," mused the jōnin.

"They don't have any dogs." Naruto said snippily, turning on her heel and grabbing Kakashi's hand. She dragged the older man forward for a few steps until he caught up to her brisk pace to their original destination.

Kurama laughed at her predicament, I told you that brat considers you to be residing in his territory. You're the vixen that introduced another dog into the equation; you should be prepared to face the consequences.

He doesn't like me like that, you pervert, snapped Naruto, brain reaching and failing to find an explanation for why Konohamaru was stalking her rather than working on his own assignment. He's probably just bored and planning a prank or something.

Or something, drawled the Kyūbi in agreement.

Well he's not going to catch me, thought Naruto, giving a mental huff and ignoring the chakra beast's snickers.

Naruto tugged more fiercely at her bewildered companion's hand, pulling him up the steps of the entrance to her building and to the peeling green paint of her landlady's door.

Kakashi studied Naruto from the corner of his eyes, but whatever fit had temporarily possessed her seemed to have passed—or not, he thought, as the girl pounded on the door forcefully with the flat of her palm.

"Oy, Old Lady!" Naruto bellowed when the first ten knocks went unanswered, "We need to talk!"

Well, thought Kakashi, scratching at the back of his head awkwardly and wondering why someone with exposure to the phenomenon that was Naruto had yet to invent a reset button that could be used to undo the last ten seconds of life choices and avoid potential crises. That's one way of getting attention. Although, it might explain why her landlady prefers to communicate with her through letters rather than in person.

The door finally opened to reveal an unamused child of roughly eleven, with tousled brown hair and bored eyes. "What?" the kid looked at Naruto with pursed lips and a put upon expression.

"Where's your ma'?" Naruto asked, flipping a pigtail over her shoulder. "I need to talk with her about my place."

"She's in the shower," grunted the kid, "She can't talk now."

Naruto rolled her eyes, "Fine then, just tell her I'm going up to grab some things—"

The kid's eyes widened, "you're not supposed to do that!"

Naruto scowled, "Why not? I'm paying for the place still."

"The Health Inspector said it was dangerous," insisted the boy, "you can't go."

Naruto's eyes narrowed, "Just watch me." She spun on her heel and dashed up the stairs, ignoring the shouting kid she'd left behind in her wake.

The fussy boy turned to assess Kakashi, who was still standing in front of the door with his hands in his pockets.

The kid gave him a head-to-toe once over, and then an unimpressed sniff. "Shinobi," scoffed the boy, slamming the door shut in Kakashi's face.

Kakashi stood in front of the door for a few seconds, bemused and not certain what to make of the situation. Eventually he decided to turn in the direction that Naruto had headed and to amble up the stairs after her. He'd been to her apartment before; although, usually he'd come in through the roof entrance to avoid encountering the girl's neighbors.

When he finally found her, she was standing on top of her couch and poking at a wooden ceiling beam, face thoughtful. Kakashi looked around the apartment. The once cozy home looked depressing and damaged. Whatever had been done to get rid of the mold had apparently required the removal of the walls. This left the original beams exposed. They looked rotten and were sagging under the weight of the roof.

"Is this what termite damages looks like?" Naruto asked curiously, running her fingers along the beams.

Kakashi scratched at the back of his head. "I have no idea; I've never studied termites. But it looks like something has been eating at the wood." He took a deep breath. "Smells like bugs," he offered, unable to pinpoint the some-what familiar smell with more particularity. He'd heard of dogs that could differentiate between species of bug smells, but it wasn't something for which he'd trained any of his pack.

"Ick," Naruto made a face and stopped tentatively prodding the beams. She hopped down from the couch and drooped as she took in her home sans-drywall and most of her belongings. She shook her head, as if that would shake off the unfamiliar feeling of sadness which filled her brain like thick cotton and headed into the kitchen to wash her hands. "At least the water is still running and the electricity works."

"Your landlords' family is always that pleasant?" Called out Kakashi as he sat down on Naruto's couch, jumping a bit when he felt something uncomfortable poking him. A quick check of the couch cushions proved he was sitting on the remote.

"Always," drawled Naruto as she plodded into her bedroom to pack the rest of her clothes. "Although to be fair, I think she hates me especially because Sandaime-jiji made her cook for me when I was little and I refused to eat it and made fun of it so I could have ramen. And, of course, this was a nice building once upon a time and then I came to live in it and she couldn't keep tenants and there went the neighborhood, ya' know."

Kakashi filed her chatter away in the back of his mind and ignored the eerie feeling the skeleton walls gave him. He focused on a problem he could hope to fix: figuring out how to use the remote to Naruto's t.v.

It didn't seem to be working.

He checked for batteries—nope, it had those. He tried Naruto's favorite remedy and hit it harshly against the worn coffee table before aiming it at the screen. The screen flickered and the machine buzzed slowly to life, bringing in some familiar background noise which lessened the gloomy atmosphere of the normally vibrant home. Kakashi rested his feet on the kunai-gouged coffee table and mindlessly flipped through the channels until a comforter was thrown on his head.

He sat like that for a minute; his vision tinted orange as the light from the windows was filtered through the bright fabric. It smelled oddly familiar and comforting, a faded scent of ramen and grass and that one shampoo with the citrusy smell that she favored.

He pulled it off his head. "What was that for?"

"It's cold in your place at night," said Naruto, sticking out her tongue and swinging the now bulging duffel bag over her shoulder.

Kakashi had just opened his mouth to retort (after biting back the automatic, completely inappropriate quote from Icha Icha Tactics, page 36) when the front door was violently thrown open and a fuming woman in a fluffy pink bath robe and slippers ensemble, hair wrapped in a matching towel, bumbled into the room, a similarly frumpy (but dressed) man at her heels.

"What are you doing in here?" The woman exclaimed in a rush, hands fluttering at her sides in worry. "The health inspector said no one was to come in until he made sure it was structurally sound. You'll bring the entire building down!"

Kakashi and Naruto shared a flat look. They were shinobi, they could tell when the beams they were walking upon were solid enough to support their weight. Her weight, on the other hand— Kakahsi cut off his uncharitable thoughts to take in the appearance of the woman who he now recalled had suggested that Naruto use her "tricks" to find lodging after rudely kicking the girl out during a storm.

Realizing that her hysterical rant was falling on unsympathetic ears, the woman rounded on someone she could boss about unquestioningly. "Tell them they can't be here."

Her husband, whose shirt looked like it needed to be introduced to an iron, straightened his shoulders and puffed out his chest. "You really need to leave. It's not safe," he insisted, running a hand through his beard as he tried to fulfill his wife's demands and, at the same time, avoid picking a fight that he knew he couldn't win.

Kakashi personally thought this made the man look awfully like something he'd seen once on a mission called a walrus. However, his commentary probably wouldn't be appreciated, or understood, judging by the level of world-wide exposure the married couple most likely shared between them.

"I'm ready if you're ready," said Naruto with a shrug and a wave to the copy ninja, walking toward the door.

"You want this then?" Kakashi gestured to the comforter. Naruto nodded, so Kakashi stood and tried to fold it into a more manageable clump of fabric.

The harpy and her keeper slipped out ahead of him as he struggled with the uncooperative, bulky orange mass. He caught up with the trio at the first landing, where the women had stopped to have a heated debate in between flights of stairs.

"I'm not paying you until the health inspector says its liveable. I don't have to and you can't bully me into doing otherwise," growled Naruto, standing her ground.

Kakashi felt a flash of pride for the girl and came to stand by her side. That was one of his favorite things about her; that once she was pointed in the right direction she wasn't afraid to fight her own battles, no matter the opposition—or what pitch in which the opposition was screeching. Kakashi fought the impulse to rub his aching ears.

The woman spluttered angrily and tossed her hands in the air with a loud wail of despair, gesturing for her husband to take up the argument. The man looked just as indignant as his wife, but while apparently eager to con an eighteen year old out of money, he was more hesitant to do so in front of a jōnin vest.

Kakashi felt a frown tug at the corner of his lips as he assessed the tentative man and the guilty cast to his face. In what other ways had they been taking advantage of Naruto's naiveté for him to be acting so culpable?

"You'll have to at least pay a holding fee," the man settled for saying, "so that we know you're invested in the apartment and aren't going to abandon the lease. You'll get a quarter of it back when you return and finish out your lease."

"That's absurd," Kakashi butted in, attempting to end the nonsense so they could move on to more important things. They were already a day late in reporting to the Hokage, after all. "You've breached your agreement by not keeping the premises livable; she doesn't have to do anything until you fix that."

"Why I never," hissed the woman, pushing forward to jut her finger against Kakashi's vest and speaking through gritted teeth. "You shinobi think you can just waltz on in here and always get things to go your way, just because you kill people for a living."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow, but let the woman rant. You'd think she'd be a little more respectful of the men and women who fight and bleed and die for her home. Kakashi had to remind himself to reign in his temper; nothing he could say would get through to this woman. Obviously, she had buried herself in the idea that she and hers had been irreparably harmed by shinobi. Naruto's fingers clenched tightly in the loose fabric of his sleeve, and he forced himself to relax to encourage her to keep calm.

The irate woman continued her diatribe in the face of Kakashi's feigned apathy, voice rising with the onslaught of her words, "You think you can ignore how things work and break all the windows and wake decent people up at all hours of the night, holes in the walls and bloodstains in the common areas, always forgetting weapons where children can reach and ordering people to keep certain tenants no matter the trouble they cause. You ruin good folks' livelihoods, and your women are loose—"

"We're done here." Kakashi was more than done actually, but he was recalling a recent promise to the Hokage and the fact that Naruto, despite living in a dump, was emotionally attached to said dump and would probably resent him if he burned the building down and further pushed back her move-in date.

The silver-haired jōnin attempted to move past the woman and start down the stairs, but she moved forward at the same time, and in the crowded space of four people trying to navigate the top of a set of stairs, it was inevitably the civilian who lost her balance and fell forward with a squawk.

Kakashi leaned forward to try and catch her (not his most enthusiastic attempt, but still, there was some effort). However, with his arms full of comforter, what the woman actually latched onto was one end of the blanket. This at least cushioned and softened her fall, but still left her bumbling down the stairs and landing in an awkward heap, robe falling open and revealing rather unattractive frayed blue undergarments.

Awkward silence reined briefly, none of the group sure how to appropriately react to the absurd scenario.

Then, the snicker of teenage voices broke the moment as the 'potted plants' in the lobby *poofed* into a trio of familiar faces.

Konohamaru doubled over in laughter. "You have Granny-panties," he crowed in a delighted juvenile cackle. Udon seemed to find the situation similarly humorous, although he and Moegi at least had the grace to blush in embarrassment for the woman's plight while simultaneously giggling at her expense.

The civilian woman gave an outraged shriek and leapt up to cover herself with Naruto's comforter.

"Ooops," said Kakashi, rubbing at the back of his head.

"Nadeshiko," the balding landlord gasped theatrically, trotting down the stairs to his wife.

"Ummm," Naruto murmured, adjusting the weight of her bag, "At least she's not hurt?" She called tentatively down to the couple, wondering if the woman would release her death grip on the comforter. She really liked that blanket.

Kakashi looked over at Naruto, who was biting her lip and tugging on a pigtail, probably blaming herself for not moving to catch the woman. "Come on," he said, nudging her forward lightly. "She wouldn't have the energy to be that indignant if she was actually hurt, she'd be rolling on the floor and moaning about how you permanently injured her and demanding reparations."

Naruto didn't seem to find that reassuring, but down the stairs they went.

Kakashi hauled the laughing Konohamaru to his feet by the back of his shirt, swatting him upside the head when he teetered unsteadily, as if contemplating collapsing back to the floor.

"Don't you have an assignment to get to?" Kakashi said casually, watching the brunet stiffen resentfully.

"Yes sir," Moegi jumped to her feet and grabbed her teammates' hands, herding them toward the door, "We were just taking a lunch break."

"A really early lunch," amended Udon.

"We eat early lunches all the time," added Konohamaru, in between giggles.

Thankfully, Moegi bustled Konoha's worst group of liars through the lobby doors before Kakashi actually felt obligated to call them on their fibs.

He turned his attention to Naruto's landlords, who might have a future in daytime soap opera judging by the level of drama with which they were infusing the scenario; the woman was practically fainting with mortification.

Kakashi would be mortified too, if he'd been seen in public wearing that underwear. To each their own, he supposed.

"I'll be back to talk about the lease when the health inspector clears the apartment," Naruto said through a false smile, losing her patience. She tugged at her comforter impatiently, her landlady still holding it hostage.

"OH! The nerve, thinking you'll be staying here after all this," Ground out the woman, re-adjusting her robe as her husband fussed with rearranging the towel on the top of her head, until she was forced to release the comforter so that she could bat away his hands.

Naruto hastily retreated with her prize, taking refuge next to Kakashi, who the nameless husband still seemed wary of approaching.

"You just wait, missy," called the woman as the two shinobi exited the building, "You'll get yours one day!"

Kakashi let the door slam shut behind them and took a good look at his companion, noting the slump to her shoulders, downturn to her lips, and distracted expression.

He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.

She paused, turning to look at him, eyes tired but attentive.

"You shouldn't listen to her," Kakashi said softly, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Some people just can't stop living in the past. They just let the wounds, however minor, fester and grow, until they have nothing but pain and that's all they're capable of expressing." His throat was suddenly thick and the words stopped coming. So he settled for brushing her bangs out of her eyes and tucking the longer loose strands behind her ear before letting his hand drop.

Naruto blinked uncertainly and let her gaze drop to the ground. She scuffed a foot in the dirt, feeling awkward. What would Kurenai say? And didn't that thought make her snort, because, really, who the hell knew. She knew what she wanted to do though. She brightened and looked back up to Kakashi, his gray eye widening slightly at her sudden change in mood.

She grinned, and thrust her comforter into his arms. "Your turn to carry this, Lazy! Don't make me do all the work."

As Kakashi fumbled with the comforter, trying to ball it up and keep it from dragging in the dirt, Naruto took advantage of his preoccupation to loop her arm through his and propel them forward. The copy ninja quickly matched her stride, and tugged her into a route toward the center of the Village, where all roads led to the Hokage's Tower.

As they passed through a particularly empty road, Naruto turned her face toward Kakashi's shoulder, resting it briefly against him. "Thank you," she said sincerely.

"For what?" Kakashi asked, looking straight ahead.

"For coming with me today," said Naruto calmly, "For standing by me." Naruto looked forward, pretending this was just an ordinary conversation and not an emotionally vulnerable moment, the likes of which both participants were equally bad at handling. "And," continued Naruto, "For being strong enough not to be like her, to not get stuck like that—"

"Naruto—" Kakashi's voice hitching in warning.

"Don't," Naruto said, head shaking in the negative, "You're not, whatever you think. Because you've never hurt me like that, ever. And you could have," Naruto's voice shook a bit, thinking about how close Kakashi was to her parents, about how he had every right to shy away from her completely, to never let her in, to blame her for taking his precious ones away—"So thank you," she said, voice firm, focusing on walking forward.

Kakashi didn't say anything else as they made their way to the Hokage's office.

But he didn't push her away either; that was enough.

"You're late," snapped Tsunade catching the familiar mop of white hair entering her office from the corner of her eyes.

"We got caught in a territorial dispute with a walrus," said Kakashi sincerely.

Naruto's head swiveled to look at him incredulously. That's the second time his excuse has kind-of-sort-of made sense. Don't tell me he's actually been telling the truth for years? She felt a strange pressure begin to develop behind her eyes and her left eye twitched reflexively several times. She rubbed at it.

"I don't have time for your lies," huffed the blonde woman, finishing her signature with a flourish and then looking up to examine them both, eyes widening as she took in their belongings. "Absolutely not," growled Tsunade, posture tightening defensively, "I've told you before, you cannot have a slumber party in my office."

The blonde chūnin stopped rubbing her, now watering, eyes and looked up in confusion. She quickly realized that Tsunade was making assumptions from the comforter in Kakashi's arms and the duffel bag Naruto was hauling over her shoulder. She snorted, "Don't worry, I'm having a sleepover with Kakashi, not you."

Everyone in the office took a moment to process that statement, and then Naruto turned bright red as Kakashi stiffened and Tsunade's eyes went wide. "I didn't mean—that's not," Naruto spluttered squeakily, "not that kind of sleepover!" The embarrassed girl slapped a hand to her face.

Kakashi cleared his throat and shifted his weight uncomfortably. His hands itched to rub at the back of his head, but his arms were full of obnoxiously bright fabric.

"Oh?" A predatory grin spread over Tsunade's face as she leaned back in her chair. "I suppose the two of you kissed-and-made-up, then?"

"Granny!" Naruto whined, trying not to melt into the floor in embarrassment.

Kakashi tensed and twitched at the words. He knew the Hokage was teasing, but he couldn't shake the panicky feeling that she would punt him through the wall if she actually thought that was what had happened.

"Stop it," the younger blond managed to get out in a half-plea half-huff, blue eyes contrasting sharply against her bright red cheeks. Naruto straightened and clutched the strap of her bag tightly with both hands. "Everything's fine, do we have permission to go on this thing or what?"

Tsunade hummed, shoving some scrolls off her desk as she searched for some particular papers. "Amegakure is somewhat of a mess at the moment, administratively, but I've alerted them that I'm sending two shinobi in to investigate a few odd reports from their civilians." She found the document she was looking for and held it out to Kakashi. "That's the acknowledgment that they are aware you'll be travelling through the place."

Kakashi folded the paper up and slipped it securely into the inner pocket of his flak jacket.

Naruto furrowed her brows, concerned, "They're just going to let us pass through, no problem?"

Tsunade shrugged, "They really don't have the manpower or political presence to complain or retaliate, but they'll probably be watching you." The Hokage gave a sigh and leaned back in her chair, rubbing at her forehead. "However, the alternative is to let you both go in unannounced and inevitably something will blow up and then all three of the border nations you'll be investigating will be screeching about breached treaties and I just don't want to deal with it."

"Ah," Naruto blinked, understanding dawning on her face, "So this way, if we're in Iwa or Ishigakure and discovered, we can claim to have been chasing people from our investigation in Amegakure, which we had permission to do?"

"Very good," Tsunade beamed, then clapped her hands loudly, "Now scram, I've tentatively penciled you both as being out for two weeks for this thing. Take the rest of the days to gather supplies and set out in the morning. If you find that you need more field time, just let me know."

"Ok," nodded Naruto amiably, catching on to the fact that Tsunade meant for her to send progress reports by toad.

Both Kakashi and Naruto left quickly in silent agreement, stepping out into the busy antechamber where Tsunade's secretary was screening the next visitors.

"Enjoy your sleepover, you two!" Tsunade called out after them cheerfully.

"Eh-heh!" Naruto stumbled as all eyes turned on the pair.

An uncomfortable awkward tension settled over the pair as they walked back out in the central village roads.

Neither seemed to know what to say, but Kakashi eventually sighed and scratched at the back of his head in contemplation. "We should probably drop your stuff off at my apartment." Before anyone else draws the wrong conclusions, he thought, single eye twitching from stress.

"That's probably a good idea," muttered his blonde companion, the color in her cheeks finally beginning to fade and her fingers loosening their stranglehold on the straps of her bag. She brushed a stray pigtail over her shoulder and rubbed at her own eyes as they turned the corner, crossing a central road and heading toward an alley way where they could take to a rooftop without alarming too many civilians.

At least that was the plan until Naruto spotted a familiar face and her eyes lit up in recognition.

"Oh," she took in a gulp of air to better yell her greeting, "Hey, hey, Iruka-sensei!"

Kakashi's heart sank in his chest as the girl thrust her hands into the air in a joyful wave. She trotted off down the road toward the newcomer.

The jōnin spared one yearning look toward the rooftops before his shoulders slumped in defeat and he trudged after the blond, ambling slowly in her wake.

He caught up to the pair just as they finished exchanging banal pleasantries.

"Hatake-san," the brunet man greeted, "good to see you, too."

"Ah," acknowledged Kakashi, inclining his head.

"I'm so sorry Iruka-sensei," babbled Naruto, tone anxious as she leaned forward apologetically, "I haven't had time to get your birthday present yet. I even remembered this year, I swear, ask Kakashi!"

The chūnin laughed loudly, raising a hand to rub at the back of his head, "I believe you, Naruto-chan, I promise! I don't need a present; though, it's sweet of you to remember."

"You deserve one," mumbled Naruto, "I'm sorry."

"Really, I don't." said the man with a smile, swinging out one arm to pull Naruto in close for a side-hug, ruffling her hair in a well-practiced gesture.

Kakashi checked his scowl, bewildered at the strange impulse that had overcome him.

"I have some time on my hands right now, and it is almost lunch time, care to join me?" Iruka let the girl go and looked at her expectantly.

"Yes," Naruto beamed, "Let's get ramen, right? And I'll pay because it's your birthday!"

Iruka hummed in good humor, "I suppose I can tolerate some ramen today, especially if it's with such wonderful company."

Naruto bounced on the tips of her toes eagerly, dancing ahead of them down the road. She stopped abruptly, and then suddenly she was back at Kakashi's side, clutching his arm and pulling him forward with a blinding smile, "And Kakashi can come too, right?"

Kakashi blinked in alarm, "I'd hate to intrude—"

"Sure, the more the merrier," Iruka shrugged nonchalantly.

"Yay!" Naruto released her captive and bounded ahead again as Iruka's attention truly turned to Kakashi for the first time.

Iruka's brown eyes widened as he noticed what the man was carrying. The chūnin's smile froze on his face, looking very forced.

Kakashi warily took a step back.

"Kakashi-san," Iruka drawled pleasantly, "Why do you have Naruto-chan's comforter?"

"I'm helping her move," the jōnin responded stiffly, not sure why the other man looked like he wanted to pull out his kunai and gauge out Kakashi's good eye.

"Move where?" Iruka said, forced-fake smile so tightly drawn on his face it looked painful.

"Why are you two just standing here, you snails, you're both so slow," interrupted Naruto, appearing between them, linking their arms together, and pulling the men forward. "There's ramen ahead, no time to dawdle, I'll have hair as gray as Kakashi's at the rate you guys travel."

"I'm not that old," protested the jōnin.

"He is that old," said Iruka grimly, eyes roving over the other man as if evaluating him as a threat for the first time in his life. "Kakashi-san says you're moving, Naruto-chan," the chūnin instructor prodded the girl, voice pleasant; ignoring the offended look Kakashi was giving him over the blonde's head.

"Yeah—this is it for today though," Naruto babbled, thinking that Iruka might be trying to volunteer his help. He was just awesome like that. She dragged the two men along with single-minded focus. "Most of my stuff is at Kakashi's already."

It was beginning to dawn on Kakashi that here was yet another person getting the wrong idea and Naruto's commentary was not helping. "It's just a temporary arrangement, until we figure out something better," said Kakashi, trying to mollify the chūnin.

Surprisingly, the academy teacher's expression only grew more thunderous at the words.

"Here we are!"

Kakashi started at Naruto's proclamation, realizing that yes, they had indeed reached the girl's favorite ramen stand. Naruto ducked under the noren, batting the fabric away and gleefully greeting the owners, leaving the two-men glaring each other into submission outside.

Well, it was more like the chūnin was attempting to murder the jōnin with a stare that was much more threatening than a chūnin should rightfully possess, and the jōnin was fighting the impulse to throw the comforter in his arms over the other man and shunshin away from danger.

In fact, Kakashi thought, there really isn't any need for me to stay, I should just go—

Iruka's teacher-senses kicked into overdrive and he stepped forward to grab Kakashi's arm and prevent the man's escape. "I hope you—"

Iruka's hiss was cut off by Naruto's cheerful cry of surprise and both men broke apart as the girl bounced back out of the stand, dragging her limp prey with her.

"Look who I found," crooned Naruto, holding up her captive by the back of his shirt, like a particularly pleased puppy presenting a freshly fetched stick.

"Hello," said Sai, blinking up at the two older men. Sai's natural apathetic expression was marred by the slightest frown as he picked up on the aggression radiating from brunet chūnin. "Have we interrupted something?" He politely inquired.

"No," said Naruto, before either man had a chance to answer, "but it's Iruka-Sensei's birthday and since you're already here you're going to join us for lunch."

"But I already finish—"

Naruto shook the uncooperative boy harshly in her hands. "Say, Happy Birthday, Iruka-Sensei."

Sai went limp.

Smart boy, thought Kakashi, internally wincing.

"Happy Birthday, Iruka-Sensei," said Sai amiably, plastering on the pseudo-smile that seemed to unnerve Iruka just as much as it unnerved everyone else to whom the boy was introduced.

"Ah," said Iruka, "Thank you, umm, shinobi-san—"

"Oh," Naruto's eyes widened, "How have you never met Sai?" She slapped a hand to her forehead, "I'm so rude, this is Sai-kun, Iruka-Sensei, he's a teammate of mine. Sai, this is Iruka-Sensei." Naruto's eyes narrowed suddenly and she pulled the taller boy down by his ear and locked him in a threatening gaze. "He doesn't need a nick-name. Got it?"

"Ok," said Sai submissively, wincing at her tight hold on his ear. "It's nice to meet you, Iruka-Sensei."

Naruto smiled brightly as she let the cooperative boy loose.

Kakashi jumped into the conversation, seeing an opportunity to flee, "I really should go drop this stuff off at the apartment, Naruto, we shouldn't crowd the—"

"Oh, no you don't," Naruto's head swiveled toward the silver-haired jōnin, and she advanced on the other man, ripping the comforter from his grasp. If you go, you'll never come back. I know you. And we have too much stuff to do this afternoon for me to waste half of it trying to chase you down. I'll take it to the apartment and I'll be right back. Sai, Sensei, make sure he doesn't leave." And without waiting for verbal acknowledgment of her orders, she was gone in a puff of smoke.

"Oh, I think that's just fine." Iruka said, lips pursing as he considered the copy ninja. "We should talk, Kakashi-san," he swept one arm in front of him, graciously gesturing for Kakashi to enter the stand first, posture implying that the invitation was mandatory.

Sai's black eyes darted between the two. "I truly have finished my meal, perhaps these are matters best discussed priv—"

"Take a seat, Sai," said Kakashi with a smile.

Sai sat.

Kakashi and Iruka sat down on either side of him.

Iruka ordered for himself and Naruto, and then voiced his concerns. "How long has Naruto been staying with you, Kakashi-san?"

The jōnin's eyelid drooped lazily as he placed his own order, winking at the waitress. He carefully blanked out his expression in response to Iruka's inquiry, mentally sulking in resentment at the snoopy chūnin's invasion into his private affairs.

"I don't see how that's any of your business, Iruka-san."

Iruka bristled.

Sai tensed as he continued to gaze at his empty bowl, deciding the best course of action would be to flee at the first gleam of metal.

"That's my little sister, you inconsiderate ass—"

"Ramen! Ramen!" Naruto's chant popped the aggressive atmosphere and both Kakashi and Iruka instantly reverted into relaxed postures as if nothing had happened.

"On its way Naruto-chan," Ayame greeted the blond as she handed out drinks.

"Budge over Kakashi, I want to sit in the middle," Naruto playfully pushed at the jōnin's shoulder. He acquiesced to her demands by sliding over to the next stool without objection. She happily settled in between the somber man and her socially stunted teammate, where she could control the flow of conversation (and murder Sai, if needed).

"What did I miss?" She looked around at the group.

"Nothing," Iruka said, shaking his head as he took a drink.

Kakashi hummed an affirmative sentiment and pretended to be busy looking at a menu.

Sai clasped his knees and concentrated on his empty bowl. "Nothing at all."

Naruto paused, something is wrong here. "So what, you all just stared at the wall?"

The three men nodded in agreement and Naruto narrowed her eyes, crossing her arms as she glared suspiciously at everyone and Kurama snickered in her head, contributing absolutely nothing to the situation but an inexplicable sense of amusement and superiority.

"I didn't know you were related to, Iruka-Sensei, Bimbo." Sai said blandly as Ayame began to set bowls on the table.

"What?" The blond blinked at the boy sitting next to her.

"Excuse me," said Iruka, voice cold, "But what did you just call her?"

An unfamiliar, unsettling chill ran up Sai's spine at the words.

Kakashi escaped from the ramen stand with a full stomach and a twenty minute lecture on the appropriate way to address individuals ringing in his ears. He pushed down a groan and rolled his shoulders back, subtly stretching in the sunlight. At least Naruto had paid for everyone's lunch.

He tried very hard not to glare as Naruto emerged from the stall behind him clinging to Iruka-Sensei's arm. Crazy man. That should go without saying, considering how much time the man voluntarily spent around small children. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and waited for Naruto to finish her conversation.

Sai stood listlessly next to the copy ninja, trying to discern the cause of the jōnin's uncharacteristic distaste for the bossy chūnin as well as the underlying meaning of the recently delivered lecture. Perhaps the idea was that it was rude to give nicknames based on sexual attributes—no, Sai shook his head, that couldn't be it. This Iruka must have been cautioning him not to use nicknames in front of unassessed strangers. Sai certainly hadn't done any reconnaissance on the affiliations of the Ichiraku proprietors. He'd remedy that immediately.

"Thank you, Iruka-sensei, for pointing out the deficiencies in my training," Sai said with a bow.

"Um, right—" Iruka said, eying the boy with concern, before his attention was recaptured by the girl babbling cheerfully at his side.

They don't look like siblings, thought the pale boy, comparing their features. Perhaps Kakashi-senpai can spread some light on the matters. "They are very close?" Sai posed cautiously, looking up at the copy ninja.

Kakashi spared the boy a glance, but didn't respond. Instead, he cleared his throat and raised an inquiring eyebrow when he had his target's attention.

"I thought you wanted to get groceries sometime today?" Kakashi drawled, and was rewarded when Naruto brightened at the words, flitting away from Iruka's side to Kakashi's, hooking her arm through his.

"Groceries?" Iruka strode up to join the pair.

Kakashi's eye narrowed, but Iruka didn't take the hint to piss off.

Sai knew the look well, though, and was very relieved to finally understand that the situation was a dominance fight, and that Bimbo was somehow the territory. Now things were clearly in perspective.

Naruto smiled at her former academy teacher, blonde hair glowing in the afternoon sunlight, "Kakashi is going to teach me how to cook."

"Is he now?" Iruka considered the jōnin with suspicious eyes, mimicking the more experienced soldier's posture.

"That is an admirable endeavor," Sai commented, comfortable contributing to the conversation now that he was aware of the social parameters, "with your skill in that area, there is only room for improvement."

"Hey," the blonde girl said with a pout, "I'm not an entirely awful cook."

"I don't know about that," Kakashi drawled fondly, gray eye softening, "the last time you tried to cook you did set my kitchen on fire."

Iruka's lips thinned. "Why were you cooking in Kakashi's kitchen, Naruto?"

"Because that's where I'm staying right now, Sensei, I told you earlier," explained the girl patiently, twisting around to face Iruka as Kakashi began walking toward the market district.

Iruka dogged their steps determinedly.

Sai trailed behind out of absent curiosity and a desire to see how the dominance dispute between the two would be resolved. This apparently was one of those situations that couldn't be resolved with pure social or physical superiority, or this Iruka-Sensei would not be so persistent in his confrontation. Sai was eager to learn the appropriate way to handle such a trial.

The brunet chūnin kept up his inquisition, "Why are you staying—"

Kakashi ignored the questions and let Naruto rattle off answers, letting his mind wander back to its most comfortable routine, searching for threats and guessing where the weapons were hidden on each passerby.

Ah, thought Sai, rubbing at his chin in understanding, Kakashi-senpai and Bimbo have redefined their relationship and Iruka-san is feeling slighted for not being made aware of the change, as someone who sees himself as a guardian to a younger charge.

"Hey, Sai-kun," Naruto nudged her shoulder against his lightly. "You ok?"

Sai noted that Iruka was scowling at the taciturn, silver-haired jōnin once more while Bimbo was gazing at him curiously, as if she expected him to contribute to the conversation.

"I'm glad for the changes in your relationship with Kakashi-senpai, lately," said Sai, reflecting on his conversation the other day with Bimbo's teammates, "Traitor and Ugly seem particularly happy for you as well. Although I'm not sure I understand the development of such relationships," continued Sai, oblivious to the fact that his companions were looking at him with stares that ranged from what-in-the-world-are-you-talking-about to if-you-don't-shut-up-right-now-I-will-acquaint-you-with-the-business-end-of-my-kunai, you-deranged-miscreant.

"Relationship?" Said Iruka, spitting the word out of his mouth as if it were something he'd like to step on and snuff into oblivion in the dirt.

"Yes," nodded Sai, "Ugly stated that the moments which Kakashi-senpai and Bimbo have been sharing lately are important to the student-teacher bonding process but when I indicated that I already understood the concept as the natural evolution of such a relationship as expounded upon in Icha-Icha Seducing Sensei, she disagreed, but could not explain how the behavior deviated from my text." Sai turned a pleased gaze on the blonde girl next to him. "I'm glad my understanding was correct, though." It is exciting to be able to classify the social developments I am encountering without outside aide, thought Sai, proud of his accomplishment.

Naruto's eyes were as wide as saucers.

Kakashi had long since learned that the best way to deal with Sai was to tune him out, pretend he was acting normally, and just nod and occasionally say 'yes.' Therefore, the only warning that he had that disaster was imminent was Naruto's grip tightening on his sleeve and the sudden spike of killing intent emanating from the normally docile academy teacher.

Kakashi stopped walking and turned slowly to face the other man.

Iruka's feet were firmly planted in the dirt road, arms crossed, eyes burning in accusation. He clearly expected some sort of reaction from the copy ninja, but, other than being vaguely aware that Sai had been speaking, Kakashi hadn't the slightest clue what the last nonsense words were which escaped the boy's mouth.

"Yes?" Kakashi offered hesitantly.

"Naruto," Iruka's face grew even darker, "Go take your friend shopping. We'll catch up."

Ah, thought Kakashi, obviously not the right answer.

Sai looked to Naruto, expecting the girl to grab his arm and drag him 'shopping,' but Naruto had unexpectedly stilled. Her bright blue eyes were the only parts of her body that moved, darting frantically between the two men.

It took Iruka a few seconds to realize that his words weren't automatically heeded. He frowned at the girl. "Naruto," he said, tone hinting at his impatience.

Naruto straightened a little, eyes flickering to Kakashi. She took a deep breath, "Why?"

"What?" Iruka blinked, so taken aback at her question that his posture loosened a bit.

"I mean," Naruto elaborated, "why do you want me to leave?" She grabbed one of her pigtails, pulling it over her shoulder so her fingers could thread through it. She was uncomfortable with getting in between Iruka and Kakashi like this, but felt it was necessary to remind the parties that she wasn't a child who could simply be shooed away from a conversation at their pleasure.

"I—" the academy teacher looked completely flummoxed that she would question him like this. However, the retort on the tip of his tongue, that Naruto should obey the orders of her superiors, no longer carried any weight. Iruka felt out-of-his-depth, so abruptly faced with Naruto's growth. His face twisted unpleasantly with hurt and he took a step back.

"I'm sorry," Naruto's eyes scrunched up and she looked at the floor, voice soft, "It's just, you sound angry at Kakashi, but he's not done anything wrong."

Sai watched the unfolding scene in fascination.

Kakashi cleared his throat when he realized that neither Iruka nor Naruto could figure out a way to resolve things.

Naruto's blue eyes flew up to his own single gray one and he tilted his head toward the road. "Its fine, Naru-chan, you'll do me a favor if you get started on the shopping. If Iruka-san has something that he wants to get off his chest, I'm sure I'll live."

Blue eyes peered up at him sincerely, "You'll come find me, right? I'm not going to have to go hunt you down in a training field somewhere?"

Somewhat despairingly, Kakashi realized he'd completely backed himself into a corner on this one. "I'll find you," he gave his word, trying not to sound too pained about having to do it.

Naruto nodded once, satisfied, and grabbed Sai by the back of his neck and steered him down the road. "Come on, you can help me figure out what I'm going to need for dinner tonight."

"Aside from a fire-extinguisher?" Sai asked curiously.

"Shut up!" Screeched a flustered Naruto, bopping him over the head.

Iruka and Kakashi watched the two squabble as they meandered out of hearing distance.

Kakashi was the first to look back. He immediately wished he hadn't; he felt incredibly uncomfortable upon seeing the open, longing look on Iruka's face.

A second later, the chūnin blinked, and it was gone, the man's face once more a mask of professionalism.

Kakashi said a mental prayer of thanks, he didn't have the training or the natural skills to play emotional support in this situation.

"When did she grow up?" Iruka sighed, trying to reorganize his thoughts, rubbing at his forehead. His gaze slid toward the copy ninja, "She may be an adult now, but that isn't any excuse for your behavior." Iruka's voice gained strength as he turned to completely face the older man, "What in the world has possessed you?"

Kakashi's eye widened at the heat in the other man's voice. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Umino-san."

The chūnin narrowed his eyes, not buying the jōnin's deflections for a second. "Oh you know exactly what I'm talking about; I thought I was just hearing exaggerated gossip, but then I saw you and Naruto in the market today and—"

Kakashi held up a single hand to rebuff the man's accusations. "It's really not what you think, nothing is happening," the copy ninja said stiffly.

"Nothing is happening," Iruka repeated flatly, lips pressed thin in displeasure.

"Aa," agreed Kakashi, nodding his head.

Iruka's posture conveyed his disbelief, but his ponytail bobbed as he jerked in surprise at something that caught his eye over Kakashi's shoulder.

Kakashi didn't react; he had a pretty good idea of what caught the teacher's attention.

Iruka's eye twitched. "Why are Konohamaru-kun and his friends posing as really bad mannequins in the shop window behind you?"

Kakashi shrugged, "I have no idea, but they've been following Naru-chan all day."

Iruka rubbed a tired hand over his face. "I'll deal with it." The chūnin marched off, muttering under his breath about teenagers and hormones.

Kakashi refrained from helpfully informing the other man that no one was asking him to 'deal with it.' Kakashi had noticed the man was a bit of a martinet. He had no idea how Iruka and Naruto had originally bonded actually, he should probably ask some day.

The copy ninja continued down the road to catch up with Naruto, trying to ignore the fact that he was truly dreading the whole cooking episode into which the girl had cajoled him into participating. It wasn't that he was too lazy to show her how to cook; rather, it was that it felt so strange going through the motions of something he hadn't done in so long.

After the Kyūbi attack, he found himself surviving mostly off of take-out, as he couldn't cook without recalling who'd taught him the recipes. It was the same with fighting, using moves that hadn't been good enough to save the lives of the ones who'd drilled the motions into him. However, he couldn't function successfully in his job by pushing aside the fighting skills Minato-sensei had taught. It was much easier to get away with forgetting Kushina's lessons, pushing them back to the recesses of his mind and locking them away—until her hyper daughter barged into his life. And he really didn't have the heart to tell the younger girl no, because she deserved to have these memories too, even if all he could provide was a faint echo of the passion with which Kushina had enthused her cooking.

Cooking for others had been one of the ways Kushina showed people she loved them. Despite what people thought, Kakashi generally didn't enjoy subjecting himself to painful things. It was going to hurt, teaching Naruto to cook. But he didn't see a way around it.

He found the blond and her brunet companion, both dubiously staring at a melon in the girl's hands.

"Did it do something wrong?" Kakashi asked, sounding bored.

Naruto started and flicked her blue eyes up at him. "What?"

"The melon," Kakashi inclined his head, "You're looking at it as if it's been particularly disobedient."

Naruto frowned, "I want one, but we don't know how to tell if the fruit is ripe or not."

Sai and Naruto both looked up at Kakashi earnestly, as if for instructions.

The copy ninja hesitated. "Is there mold on it?"

Naruto turned the melon over in her hands. "No?"

"There's no mold on my melons," scoffed the middle-aged man tending the cluster of fruit stalls, wiping his hands on his apron and coming over to join the conversation.

Naruto greeted him with a charming smile, "How do you tell which ones are the best, shop-keeper-san?"

The man obligingly took the melon and began to talk about bruising and bounciness and the most perfect-shade of yellow-green that meant the melon was the epitome of melon-ness. Kakashi was wondering if he could escape to the bookstore around the corner when the day took yet another turn for the worse.

"ETERNAL RIVAL!," came the greeting in a deep booming voice.

Kakashi was expecting the hard slap to the back, but it still sent him stumbling forward a few steps, jostling Naruto and the melon stand.

The melon owner tutted anxiously and quickly steadied the wobbling table.

"What brings you to the market on this glorious fine day, my friend?" Gai bellowed, white teeth gleaming as he addressed the gathered ninja, ever-present minion Lee bouncing eagerly at his side.

Naruto held out her melon. "We're shopping," she said flatly, in a tone that indicated this should have been obvious.

"Ah," Gai nodded seriously, "so you are my blossoming flower."

Naruto blanched and dropped the melon, stepping back and practically into Kakashi, who, now that there were five ninja and an antsy civilian in the space between fruit stalls, had nowhere else to move.

Lee caught it smoothly, "What a lovely fruit, Naruto-san," he said, returning it to the girl, who took it with a mumbled thanks. "What were you planning to do with it?"

Naruto looked quizzically at Sai (because craning her neck to look up at Kakashi would be too difficult in her current position); unfortunately Sai just gazed back blankly. "I was going to," she hesitated, is this a trick question?, "eat it?"

"What a youthful thing to do with such an item!" Crowed Gai. "We shall assist, only the best melons should be eaten to obtain optimum vitality and health. Rival, I challenge you to a contest in picking the most perfect melons out for our comrades' consumption." Gai waved a hand outward, as if bestowing a gentlemanly favor, "come now, you pick first."

Kakashi took the melon from Naruto's hand and held it out to Gai, "This one's good."

Gai took it and scrutinized it carefully, bringing a hand to his chin in thought. Then he clutched it dramatically, "It is indeed such a perfect melon, I will be hard pressed to find its equal, but hope is not yet lost."

And with that, Gai left the selected melon in Lee's care and began rummaging through the melon bins.

"Hey," said the shop keeper, nervously, "stop that, you're going to bruise them."

Gai was nonplussed, "Hush my good shopkeeper, I'm earnestly engaged in a task of utmost importance." He held up a melon to the light. "No this will not do at all," he shook his head disdainfully and tossed it to the side.

"You're damaging my product," the man complained, hastily picking the discarded melon up from the dirt and brushing it off on his apron.

"You really should stop," Naruto said, trying to help, "it's just, searching through all these bins is going to take a while, and I have to finish collecting everything I need for dinner tonight."

"You are quite right, youthful maiden," Gai acknowledged from where he was pawing through some musk melons. "Lee-kun, start searching the bins next door. It will take a while if we're going to search the entire market and do this properly."

"Right away, Gai-sensei!" Lee beamed, thrilled to have been entrusted with aiding his sensei in this challenge.

"What," said the shop keeper, blinking in bewilderment, "No, get back here you!" He chased after Gai's minion fervently.

Kakashi wondered if he should argue that was cheating and if he could set Sai to looking through the fruit bins. Then he reminded himself that Sai had been looking at the melons as if they were an alien species not five minutes ago. And that caving to Gai's more ridiculous challenges was never a good idea.

Naruto looked at the scene with resignation, "I'm going to go get the rest of the ingredients for dinner."

Kakashi nodded, "I'll come too—"

"No," Naruto sniffed, putting a hand against his chest and pushing him back, "he's your friend; you stay here and make sure he doesn't tear the market apart in his search for the perfect melon."

"Maa," Kakashi protested, "there's not a lot you can do to rein him in when he gets wound up about something like this."

As if to illustrate Kakashi's words, a flying melon struck a passing civilian in the head, and the man dropped like a brick.

Sai shifted uncomfortably, "I do believe Tsunade-sama made an edict that this behavior was no longer to endanger civilians."

"Right." Kakashi said weakly, recalling the particular wording of that rule, and Tsunade's promise of retribution should Kakashi fail to contain the Green Beast's challenges. Damnit. He just knew somehow this was all going to get blamed on him. He looked at the downed civilian contemplatively and relaxed when he saw the rise and fall of the man's chest. Still breathing, no harm done.

"Cant' you just tell him he wins, you know, just forfeit," Naruto suggested, scratching at the back of her head.

Kakashi gave her a look that implied she was shamefully naïve in all things Gai and Green.

Naruto sighed, "Why don't you finish buying the fruit. We still need umeboshi. I'll go get the chicken."

Sai perked up, "Then I shall take my leave—"

"Oh no you don't," said Naruto, for the tenth time that day, "you're going to go find me potato starch, whatever that is." She counted out some money and pressed it into Sai's hands.

"I do not understand why I am obligated to assist you in your shopping endeavors," protested the brunet, in a tone that almost could be considered grumpy.

"It's because I know this is somehow your entire fault," retorted Naruto, pushing Sai in what she hoped was the right direction. "And it's only polite."

"How much of this 'potato starch' do you require?" Sai asked, obligingly moving forward.

"I dunno," Naruto shrugged as she walked along, leaving Kakashi behind to deal with his deranged peer, "Just get a couple pounds of it and meet me back at the fruit stalls, I bet Kakashi will still be there."

Sai nodded in acquiescence as Naruto ducked into a butcher store to get chicken. She placed an order for four chicken thighs with a homely, buxom woman manning the counter. She was asked to wait a few minutes and so retreated to a wall, leaning against it and humming as she looked through the bag of items she'd been able to collect prior to Gai's interruption of her shopping trip.

She felt another person enter the shop and take up a position next to her, but she didn't look up to see who it was until the stranger cleared his throat.

Naruto started, "Oh Shino-kun," she said with a smile, "I didn't see you there."

Naruto always felt awkward talking to Shino; it was so hard to tell what he was thinking with his high collars and dark glasses obscuring all the telling features of his face. But really, it wasn't like Naruto had that much ground to complain on, she was, err, pre-dating (is that a word?) a man who wore masks. Every day.

"You usually don't." Shino dipped his head.

Naruto opened her mouth and then closed it again, sheepishly. Is he joking? I can't tell if he's joking or seriously put out. "Was there something you needed," she weakly asked, "Not that it isn't good to see you—"

"I wanted to inquire about your status," Shino said, uncharacteristically interrupting Naruto's babbling rather than letting her talk herself out of breath.

Naruto wrinkled her nose in confusion, "my status?"

"Yes," Shino shifted uncomfortably, "I have been made aware that your living arrangements have become uninhabitable. I wished to make sure you have adequate accommodations."

"Oh," Naruto brightened, "You must have been talking with Kurenai-san then, have you?"

Shino hesitated, "In a manner of speaking." He paused for a moment and then continued. "I have been working through some training exercises for her lately."

"She's so nice," beamed Naruto, "you're so lucky she was your sensei."

Shino said nothing.

"It's all good though really, I'm staying with Kakashi for a while until the damage is fixed."

"My deepest apologies for the trouble," Shino murmured. "Please let me know if I can assist you in the meantime."

"That's really sweet," said Naruto, somewhat distracted as the butcher called her name and waved a brown package in the air that Naruto assumed must be her order. "But everything is fine, and you shouldn't put yourself out like that. It's not like it's anybody's fault or anything, sometimes old buildings just have these problems."

Shino gave a very quiet hum. But that might just have been his bugs.

Meanwhile, back in the market, Kakashi idly noted that the situation was rapidly approaching the point where more fruit was on the ground than actually in the stalls. He had unwittingly made things worse by buying Naruto's requested bag of dried plums, because that had spurred Gai on to enlarging the parameters of the challenge to include other types of fruit. Now Kakashi was holding several bags of random types of fruit which he'd chosen as prime specimens of their species and standing awkwardly to the side as various vendors tried to impede the progress of the Green Beast of Konoha and his prize student. They did not succeed where many valiant ninja that had come before them failed; but their passionate efforts were noted, nonetheless.

Kakashi assured everyone that they would be reimbursed for the product no matter the outcome of this fiasco, but that didn't seem to soothe all the ruffled feathers of the irritated shoppers and shop keepers who'd become involved in the mess. Kakashi was actually quite serious about the reimbursement. Seven months into her reign of terror, Tsunade had taken stock of the situation and decided that 10% of both Gai's and Kakashi's earnings would be set aside to pay for the inevitable damage causes by such challenges. Gai had actually been very moderate in his activities for a while now, so the fund should contain enough to cover this particular stunt.

Kakashi bravely stood his ground as a tall woman who'd been trying to sell various lemons gave Kakashi the stinkeye and watched him disapprovingly from across the way with crossed arms.

Kakashi considered himself lucky that he'd managed to contain the damage to a single row of fruit stalls, and that Gai hadn't yet thought of expanding the search down the lane either way, where other vendors selling vegetables and meats and other edibles were beginning to warily take up defensive stances in front of their stalls and store fronts, armed with brooms and spatulas and ladles.

"There he is!" A loud familiar, female cry reached his ears.

The copy ninja mentally cringed, he recognized that voice. Slowly, he turned around, and, sure enough, Mr. and Mrs. Walrus were waddling down the street, hanging off of the arm of a Hyūga with the symbol of the military police proudly sewn onto the shoulder of his long-sleeved shirt.

Oh boy, Kakashi thought with sarcastic delight, just who he wanted to deal with right now.

"That's the man who broke into my building and pushed me down the stairs," accused the woman dramatically, shaking her finger at Kakashi as her husband nodded his agreement. She was fully dressed now, though Kakashi didn't think that was much of an improvement. She sniffed, "He was with that blonde wench I was telling you about, the really loud one."

Kakashi couldn't keep his eye from twitching. He'd done no such thing. And Naruto was not a 'wench.' She'd done nothing but be patient with this harpy.

Unfortunately, Kakashi had already had some unfavorable run-ins with this particular officer, and he already knew in whose favor the biased man would be ruling. Really, Kakashi thought, rallying himself for the verbal altercation, some people just don't see the humor in the art of evading service. After all, you couldn't actually be summoned to court if they could never find you to serve the summons.

"Hatake-san," the officer greeted the copy ninja, "This woman has filed a complaint of—"

Whatever the brunet officer was going to say was interrupted as a group of teenagers rushed by in a whirlwind, bumping into the officer with a rushed, "sorry officer-san" as they fled down the aisles.

"What the—?" The Hyūga's pale eyes scrunched in confusion as Iruka came barreling down the road after the trio.

"You heathens get back here, I'm not done—" the academy teacher yelped in surprise as he stepped on one of the many melons littering the walkways, tripping and slipping in the juice and crashing into a few wooden stalls, taking them down to the ground from the force accumulated in the speed of his chase.

"Hey now!" Yelled the middle-aged shop-keeper who'd been the original victim of Gai's challenge, "You're going to have to pay for those stalls, I built them by hand!" Despite his scolding, the man helped pull the academy teacher to his feet.

"I'm so sorry," babbled Iruka, "but I've got to deal with my kids first." And with that, Iruka's head seemed to grow three sizes as he screamed down the street, "Konohamaru!"

The trio had stopped at the academy teacher's fall, presumably to take glee in the extent of the carnage, and quickly collected themselves with an exuberant chorus of "oh shit!s" and spun around a corner into an alley.

"What is going on here?" Demanded the Military Police Chief, finally pulling his focus away from the 'injured' landlords to take in the chaotic state of the street in which he was standing.

"Nothing good," muttered Naruto's landlady.

"Not now!" Snarled Iruka, brushing off the officer's hand as it reached out to catch his arm. He raced after his prey without a single deferential look back to the officer's demands to halt and report.

Kakashi felt like snickering, but didn't. The military policeman whirled on him, narrowing his eyes at the copy ninja as if this was all his fault anyway, "You find this funny, Hatake-san?"

"Rival!" Yelled Gai, bounding into the clearing with perfect timing, thrusting a bag of fruit into Kakashi's nonplussed face. "I have found the most perfect specimens, let us compare our treasures and determine the victor with these wonderful salesmen as judges!" Gai thrust out his arm to indicate their audience, which now included an entire street of unhappy vendors, a military police officer, and the landlords of the year.

"Is that what this is all about?" Snapped Officer-san, crossing his arms and attempting to look menacing. "Is this yet another one of your ridiculous challenges that's gone too far?" He sounded very unimpressed.

Kakashi personally thought that was tragic, because this was by far the biggest mess Gai's challenges had orchestrated in at least half a year. It deserved some appreciation.

"They've ruined all my plums!" Cried an unknown voice from the middle of the crowd, others beginning to add pipe up now that the first person had bravely spoken.

"I was promised payment for this mess," added the lemon seller, pursing her lips and butting into the conversation.

The floodgates opened, and the numerous offended civilians rushed forward, encroaching on the officer. Hyūga-san looked harried, but was determinedly focused on jotting every complaint down in his little notebook like a good, dutiful officer should. Gai appeared to be very distressed that not everyone had enjoyed his challenge as much as he had. Both he and Lee were trying to assure the "good people" that they would repair the damage, or walk up and down the street on their hands seven hundred and fifty times.

The good people really weren't fans of the latter option.

Kakashi blinked as he saw Konohamaru and his friends trying to weave through the crowd and make their way to the other side of the street.

"Do you see him?" Konohamaru hissed, as the three slipped under the arm of a large man waving a rolling pin and speaking in a heavy accent.

"No—" Moegi started to say, and then her eyes widened as she saw Iruka's face rounding the corner, "Yes, he's a dozen yards behind us." She pulled the boys to the ground and they began to dog-crawl underneath the irate mob.

Iruka's eyes scanned the masses looking for his miscreants. He couldn't see them, but his teacher-sense must have been telling him that they were nearby, because he didn't leave the street.

Kakashi amused himself by continuing to watch the unfolding chaos.

"We need a distraction," hissed Moegi, wincing as her hand got stepped on by a spindly woman too busy wringing her hands in her apron to watch where she was walking.

"Now would be a good time to use that new technique," Konohamaru bit out, looking pointedly at Udon.

Kakashi focused on the children, getting ready to move and contain any damage that might be unleashed by an unpracticed jutsu in a crowded public arena. Surely the three were old enough to know better than to do something too stupid…right?

Udon secured his glasses, "but I've not tried it yet, I don't know how much chakra—"

"Just do it!" Barked Konohamaru, panicking as he realized that Iruka had seen them and was heading their way.

Udon's fingers came together in the start of a summoning sequence—

"I have returned with two bags of potato starch, Hatake-san," said Sai, smiling his non-smile and looking at Kakashi expectantly.

Kakashi blinked, startled at the boy's sudden appearance and looked away from the trio for just a second—

And then suddenly his vision was filled with hundreds of white feathers.

It really was amazing how easily civilians could become frightened, because with the inexplicable appearance of two dozen chickens randomly popping into existence in the middle of a mob, most of the (presumably) rational men and women ran away screaming as if their lives were in imminent danger, trampling people and melons and stalls in their haste.

A flying melon took out one of the bags of potato starch, exploding the paper container and covering Sai in a thick powder of test. A reflexive replacement jutsu with Lee was all that saved Kakashi from the same fate.

"I have returned with one bag of potato starch, Kakashi-san," said Sai, not missing a beat, tucking the remaining bag protectively under his arm.

Lee gave a weak sneeze, expelling a cloud of starch in the air, looking confused.

Instead of covering their escape, the summoning technique cleared out the area swiftly, leaving the only occupants of the street a tense military police office, an irritated academy teacher, three baffled teenage ninja, two taijutsu experts, and an elite assassin.

Oh, and two dozen chickens milling about in confusion, but beginning to calm down now that most of the peasants had fled.

"Gotcha," said Iruka, sounding smug as he grabbed the collars on Konohamaru's and Moegi's shirts. Apparently Udon could be trusted not to escape the scene of the crime, even though he couldn't be trusted not to summon a horde of ninja chickens in the middle of a mob.

"You three!" Hissed the military police officer, leveling his arm and pointing at the trio with the tip of his pen. "What is the meaning of all this mess, huh? Do you know how much damage has been done here?" The officer waved his arm to the totally trashed street. "This is all going to have to be paid for, and Tsunade-sama won't be letting you off easy this time with so many witnesses."

Iruka blinked, looking a little upset that the officer was depriving him of his hard-earned lecture.

Kakashi began to slip away, but the police officer's whistle stopped him short.

"And where do you think you're going?" Yelled the officer. "I'm placing everyone here," and the angry man began pointing randomly at anything that moved, "under arrest. We're all going to see the Hokage, no one can leave."

"I believe I'm going home," countered Kakashi shortly, not in a mood to humor the flustered Hyūga. He began to walk down the street, turning the corner into a blissfully unaffected area from the afternoon's traumatic events.

The officer and his arrestees followed him. And the chickens, apparently deciding that Udon was the head of the flock, tagged along too.

"Umm," Udon started to speak up tentatively, "may I release the chickens, officer-san?"

"No," hissed the officer, "everyone here is under arrest."

The trio exchanged looks which conveying they doubted the officer's mental stability. Lee and Sai would have exchanged dubious glances, if Sai had known that was the appropriate social thing to do in this scenario and Lee wasn't distracted by trying to rub potato starch out of his eyes.

"I don't think so," said Kakashi, following Naruto's trail toward the meat vendors.

"Come now rival," coaxed Gai, glancing between the chief's rapidly purpling face and the set of Kakashi's shoulders, "it's not very youthful to buck the authority of those doing their best to maintain the safety and order of the village."

Iruka was clearly too embarrassed at being officially put under arrest to offer any input on this scenario.

"You will be accompanying me whether you like it or not," and the officer made a very unwise decision to lunge at Kakashi with a pair of handcuffs as they passed a storefront.

Kakashi didn't know how the officer thought that was going to be successful, he easily side-stepped the man, who went stumbling forward, propelled by his own momentum.

And then the man tripped on an outstretched foot protruding from under the closest store's awning.

The officer pitched forward into a securely closed barrel, sending both man and barrel sprawling. The barrel (which was not as sturdy as it looked) smashed into several pieces, instantly releasing a foul odor in the air.

The ninja took a large step backward in unison, although the chickens didn't appear to be too bothered.

"Oops," came a deep silky drawl, as the owner of the foot stepped forward into the light, a female companion following him blinking into the sunlight.

Sasuke's dark eyes glinted in satisfaction.

"Oh god," said Sakura with a grimace, pulling up her shirt to cover her mouth, "what is that smell?" She executed a basic suiton effortlessly, water washing over the store front and drenching the already soaked military police chief. The man spluttered as he tried to push his long hair out of his face. The contents of the barrel were washed into the nearest sewer drains, but the foul stench remained.

Kakashi allowed himself to feel a small flash of pride at Sasuke's exhibition of a normal human behavior.

"Eew," hissed Sakura, stumbling back a few steps, putting more distance between here and the military police chief, "why does it still smell!"

The barrels' owner hurried out front at the sounds of the crash. "That was my kusaya," wailed the man, "that brine has been in my family for a century. Who is at fault for this, who will pay for this mess?"

"You're under arrest!" Cried the now hysterical police officer, pointing at the large group of ninja watching with wide eyes. "You're all under arrest!"

Sasuke arched an eyebrow elegantly, holding out a clear plastic bag. "I was buying tomatoes" he said simply, as if that should explain the entirety of the situation.

The officer wordlessly snarled at the Uchiha and scrambled to his feet.

It was at that time that Kakashi heard a soothing familiar voice approaching, babbling innocently away to a companion.

"—It's really fine, Shino-kun, I don't need you to walk me—"

"And you!" Howled the police officer, whirling from Sasuke to point at the startled blond who had just walked up to the scene. "You are especially under arrest!"

Naruto's large blue eyes blinked wide open and her mouth gaped, "…What?" She eventually asked, shoulders slumping sadly.

Shino cleared his throat. "Perhaps I may take your bags home for you after all, Naruto-san?"

"—And that's why we can't have nice things," finished Naruto, pounding a clenched fist into her palm and nodding decisively.

Tsunade's face rested in her hands. She said nothing for a full minute, until Naruto began to fidget.

"Can we go home now?" Naruto asked, wrinkling her nose, "because he really does need a bath, believe it." She pointed rudely at the Hyūga, whose eye twitched in response.

Tsunade clearly believed she was the only one entitled to develop an eye-twitch from stress at this point. She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. "You're all fired." She finally declared decisively.

"Not possible," Shizune shot down, used to nixing the older woman's more impractical impulsive solutions.

"Well, then," said the village leader snarkily, "they're all on probation."

"I'm already on probation," contributed Sasuke, sounding bored.

"Technically, it's secret probation," added Sakura thoughtfully. Military punishments weren't generally publicized to civilians.

"Then you're on fucking-double-secret probation," snapped the Hokage, raising her head and pounding the desk with a fist, stirring feathers into the air. She batted them away impatiently, "Damnit. Somebody do something about the god-damn chickens!"

Udon complied hastily, releasing his squawking summons.

"Excuse me?" Asked Tsunade, narrowing her eyes as she caught Sasuke muttering something under his breath.

Iruka took a step away from the Uchiha, not wanting to get hit if anything was thrown in his general direction. Sakura bit her lip but bravely stood her ground.

Sasuke straightened from the wall, "I said this whole situation was ridiculous."

"Well, on that, we can agree," said Tsunade with a sniff. "Who would you hold at fault in this scenario, Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke tensed defensively at her familiarity, but responded to the bait, "The police chief is to blame. His utter incompetence in this situation exacerbated the problem, increased the damage instead of containing it, and wasted military resources."

"Hey now—," the police chief perked up, feeling cornered and a sudden need to take up apologetics.

"Shut up," Tsunade said, tapping her fingers against her desk, her eyes not leaving Sasuke's. "You think you could do better then, Sasuke-kun?"

"I know I could," said Sasuke, with predictable arrogance.

Sakura's shoulders slumped and Kakashi gave her an understanding, sympathetic look. The boy'd walked right into this one.

"Excellent," beamed Tsunade. "Congratulations, you're the new military police chief."

Sasuke blinked, looking completely taken aback for once in his life. "What?" He asked eloquently.

Tsunade frowned thoughtfully, "I probably shouldn't say congratulations, its technically your punishment for today's events, after all."

"That's my job," protested the Hyūga, "You can't give my job to him, he's a child, and I'm in an elected position."

Tsunade snorted disdainfully, "You see, that right there is why you're not fit to hold that job. The military police chief should know that his position can be revoked for misconduct by the Hokage. He's only elected by the rest of the military officers to generally relieve the Hokage from having to personally oversee that aspect of the village too."

"I'm elected!" Squeaked the man.

"You're the head of the military police," Tsunade said slowly, as if speaking to a particularly dull child. Or the Village Council.

"Shizune-chan," directed Tsunade, "get Sasuke-kun some of the files he's going to need to get started. Since he believes that the current department is so incompetent, he'll need to completely overhaul the place."

"Come along, Sasuke-kun," said Shizune cheerfully, tugging on the Uchiha's sleeve and dragging the boy from the room.

Tsunade looked quite pleased with herself.

"Umm, Shishou," Sakura began hesitantly, looking in the direction the pair had disappeared with concern.

"Of course," Tsunade said, slapping a hand to her forehead exaggeratedly, "an administrative assistant would be very helpful in this scenario. What a wonderful thing you've got so much experience in that field, Sakura-chan." The Hokage waved the girl toward the door, "Off you go."

Sakura bowed politely to the room and bolted.

Tsunade hummed contentedly, until she realized her office was still full of ninja staring at her with various levels of expectation and confusion (and in one case, horror).

"Why are you still here?" The blonde woman scowled at the former military police chief. "Go take a bath. Seriously. You smell like shit and you're stinking up the office, get out."

The man left dazedly.

Kakashi, for the first time, could somewhat sympathize with the man. He often left Tsunade's office like that too. Actually, come to think of it, he often left Naruto feeling like that too. Maybe it was just an effect Hokage were supposed to have on their subordinates. He pondered that for a minute.

Tsunade looked at Konohamaru and his friends in dismay, "What am I going to do with you three? What even started this?"

Konohamaru straightened, deciding to be bold. "We were on a mission from Kami-urk!"

Moegi strangled him with his scarf.

"Right," Tsunade muttered, looking skeptical. "Well, then, I expect Iruka-san to escort you back to the Academy, since you're acting like Academy students, and supervise you as you write 100 lines of 'The only Kami from whom I accept missions is Tsunade-sama,' clear?"

"As mud," muttered Konohamaru, scuffing the floor with his sandal.

"What was that?" Tsunade said, voice tight.

"I said 'yes ma'am!" Konohamaru quickly self-corrected as Iruka grabbed him by the shoulder and began to corral the three teens to the door.

"That's what I thought you said," purred Tsunade smugly.

The academy teacher hesitated in the doorframe, "My own punishment, Hokage-sama?" He asked bravely, not wanting to be hypocritical. If he taught his students that they should face the consequences of their own actions, he too should do so, even when the damage he'd caused had been unintentional.

"Supervising them," said Tsunade, rolling her eyes.

Iruka flinched. "Right." He'd forgotten how difficult simply doing that would be.

Tsunade turned her attention to the Green Beast and his prized student with a frown. Before she even opened her mouth, Gai cut in, sounding contrite.

"Forgive us our rash behavior, Hokage-sama," Gai said sincerely, "My student and I will personally see to it that the market is restored to its former glory by dawn tomorrow, or we will purchase and hand-deliver 100 fruit baskets to village orphans."

"You do that," Tsunade said mildly.

"We accept your judgment, most esteemed Hokage-sama," Gai bowed to the woman and Lee mimicked him, before they left through the window.

Tsunade gave a sigh to her mostly empty office, "Why don't you two just go home," she said with a shrug, sounding tired.

"Really?" Naruto perked up hopefully.

Tsunade gave a grim laugh, "for once it sounds like you didn't do anything wrong, I'm told I should reward good behavior." She waved the pair off and started restacking the papers on her desk that had been scrambled around by tiny chicken feet. She blew her bangs out of her face with a puff of air, frustrated. She bet the Mizukage had never had her desk messed up by ninja chickens.

A soft cough drew her attention to the back of the room, where Sai stood at attention, covered in, well, she supposed it was potato starch. "Oh," said Tsunade, she'd forgotten he was there.

"What are your orders, Hokage-sama," asked the boy politely.

Tsunade opened her mouth to send him home too, and then snapped it shut when she realized that Shizune was nowhere to be seen, and with firing the military police chief, she'd created a whole bunch of paperwork that needed to be completed immediately. It was going to be a long night.

She leaned forward and started ticking items off on her fingers as Sai cocked his head attentively. She would never admit that Danzo had been on to anything, but she sure did wish more of her subordinates reacted to her orders like this one kid, "I need six bottles of junmai, and not the cheap stuff either. You'll need to smuggle it up here, I suggest burying the bottles in a potted plant—"

Naruto was pleased to find all her groceries neatly packed away in their proper places when they got back to the apartment.

"What a day," murmured Kakashi, feeling tired and relieved to be home and away from all those people.

Naruto hummed, "But just think, you didn't pull out your book once."

Kakashi paused in the midst of unzipping his jōnin vest. He supposed he hadn't at that. Huh.

Naruto bustled about the kitchen, pulling out the ingredients they'd need for dinner and laying them out on the table and kitchen counters.

"That was nice of Shino-kun to take the groceries home," commented Kakashi as he pawed through the unusually full basket of fruit on the counter.

"Yes it was," said Naruto, happily starting up the rice cooker. "He was unusually nice today, I think he said more to me than he ever has."

Kakashi considered that information. "Why so suddenly loquacious?"

Naruto gave him a weird look as she held the bag of rice. "What?"

"Talkative." Kakashi clarified.

"Oh," Naruto rolled her eyes, "Why didn't you just say that in the first place. I dunno, I think Kurenai told him about my apartment situation and he felt bad about it or something."

Something was tickling at the back of his mind, a theory that was just beginning to form-

Naruto's face popped in front of his, "Ne, Kakashi, what do I do with the chicken now?"

Kakashi let the eager blond pull him to his feet and he shuffled into the kitchen putting on a show of reluctance. But as he began to walk her through the familiar motions, he found himself relaxing and enjoying the activity more than he anticipated. She was the antithesis of sorrow, and it was next to impossible to drown himself in feelings of remorse when she was so genuinely thrilled just to be spending this time with him and learning to do something new.

"So what do you do next?" Asked Naruto, still bubbly and energetic after all the chaos of the day.

"We're going to marinate the chicken," said Kakashi, reaching around Naruto for the bowl as she reached for the ginger. She put the ginger in the bowl with the sake and waited for Kakashi to add the soy sauce. He peered over her shoulder as Naruto dropped the bite-size chicken pieces in the bowl.

She took a step back when done, but didn't realize Kakashi was so close to her in the small kitchen and backed into him.

"Sorry," she apologized.

"It's fine," he said dismissively, automatically steadying her by placing a hand on her waist.

"Why are you holding my hair?" She asked, finally realizing that Kakashi had been pulling her hair back with his right hand and still hadn't let go.

"I'm keeping it from falling in the marinade," he said dryly, giving the coils wrapped loosely around his wrist a teasing tug.

Naruto laughed and twisted her head about as best she could, smiling brightly, "What's next?"

This wasn't painful. Not really. Kakashi was surprised to find it was, for lack of a better word, nice. It felt right again, cooking with company, in a way that cooking alone never had. Tense muscles loosened up, and his features softened as he smiled back at the girl.

As they sat down to eat the meal they prepared, Kakshi discovered that the evening had slowly morphed from something he'd originally approached as an obligation to become something memorably pleasant.

Naruto didn't demand that he share the painful memories of how he learned to cook. She didn't ask questions about Obito. She didn't demand that he talk about his feelings, or even that he add that much to the conversation. She just babbled cheerfully on about her day, her life, all the things she'd learned in the market while talking to various people. And surprisingly, she'd learned quite a bit of important information about which politically powerful clans and civilians were distracted because of a family illness or worried about a business or considering making one investment or another.

She had a skill with people that Kakashi admired. If it was something that could be learned, Kakashi certainly had never been able to pick it up.

"What's that look?" Naruto asked as they stood side by side at the sink. Naruto was washing dishes as Kakashi dried them and set them on the counter.

"What," said the copy ninja, focusing on the blond as her words drew him from his thoughts.

"You had a funny look on your face, just then," said Naruto, a smile tugging at her lips. "What was that about?"

Kakashi smiled at her, even though his throat felt thick. He set down the cup he was holding, and made the mistake of looking in those eyes he liked so much. "I was just thinking what an excellent Hokage you were going to make."

Kakashi could physically see the breath leave her in shock as her eyes dilated in hurt, like she thought he was teasing. Her expression was so open and vulnerable that Kakashi shook his head, moving instinctively closer, trying to figure out how to soothe the injury. And her face, always so expressive—Kakashi saw the moment when she realized his words were genuine, when she gained confidence and accepted the compliment and something else—and her lips were on his, or were his on hers? He could feel the gentle pressure through his mask, her soft cheek warm against his.

Five seconds, ten?

He snapped back to himself, removing his hand from the back of her head. When did that get there? "Naruto," he said hoarsely, shaking his head, taking a step back, "We can't—"

And the blue orbs were on fire, stubborn jaw set, "What do you mean we can't?"

Words failed him, and the copy ninja looked at her sadly.

"Why can't we?" Naruto repeated, taking a step forward, but stopping when he took another step back. She looked hurt again, and something gripped Kakashi's heart painfully.

"There's nothing wrong with it, Kakashi," said the girl boldly, only the fingers clenching the folds of her skirt giving away her nervousness. "I know you want me," she said, gaining confidence when Kakashi couldn't bring himself to contradict the statement. "Why is it wrong when I want you too?" She said, voice smaller, looking up at him hopefully.

He couldn't give her what she wanted.

He couldn't.

She must have seen something in his expression, because suddenly the blue eyes were filling with liquid and she spun on her heel, storming off to the bedroom and slamming the door.

Kakashi heard the lock turn as he bent over the counter, taking a deep breath and trying to calm down his heart rate. He rested his head against the cold countertop, and splashed some water from the sink on his face when the strength returned to his legs. That was when it dawned on him that Naruto had stolen the bed.

"Naruto," he called out loudly, knowing she could hear him. "That's my room," he said, putting forth what he thought was a logical argument.

"It's mine now!" Was the muffled wail that reached his ears, and he winced miserably when he picked up the sniffling sound, confirming she'd been crying.

Well haven't I made a mess of things, thought Kakashi. He sighed and scratched his head. Only one thing to do in this situation; they had to be ready for a mission in the morning after all.

He bit his thumb and summoned Pakkun.

The pug popped into existence on the kitchen counter.

"Yo," said the dog, raising a pink paw. "What's the deal?"

Kakashi jerked his head toward the bedroom as he leaned against the opposite counter.

The pug's ears perked up and he sniffed for a minute, before leveling a sympathetic gaze on Kakashi. "Kicked out of the dog-house tonight, huh?"

Kakashi decided that was a rhetorical question. "She's not going to let me in," murmured the copy ninja, "I'm going to take a shower, can you go in there and calm her down? Tell her she can come out and change while I'm in the bathroom, and leave some clothes out for me on the sofa. She can have the bed tonight." Kakashi avoided eye contact with the pug. "Make her think it's her idea."

"You messed up big then, huh," said the pug, not-so-sympathetically.

"I did not," said Kakashi, regaining a bit of his energy. "We just had a minor miscommunication."

"Right." Said the pug. "Minor. Which is why you've been exiled to the couch."

Kakashi grunted and crossed his arms.

"You know," said the canine, trying to be helpful, "this would probably work out better if you found your balls and ninja-d yourself into that room to talk to her—"

"Pakkun," glowered Kakashi, in a tone that indicated the dog should stop talking.

"I'm just saying," said Pakkun, hopping down from the counter and giving himself a good shake followed by a stretch. "A couple minutes of petting in the right places—"

"We don't have that type of relationship," bit out Kakashi, for what felt like the hundredth time.

"You don't?" The pug sounded dubious. "Then I'm telling you, you're doing it wrong. I know you are a bit backwards for a human, but generally she can't kick you out of the dog-house until you've brought her in it."

Kakashi rubbed at his eyes, too tired to translate the pug's odd advice.

Pakkun sensed this, and so put it more simply: "I mean, she can't kick you out of the bed unless you invited her into it in the first place, squirrel-butt."

Kakashi waved a hand at the dog. "I'm going to take a shower."

"What's the rush?" Inquired the pug.

"We have to be ready to go on a mission tomorrow," Kakashi admitted, eyeing the locked door as he walked into the living room. "We need to be able to talk to each other and communicate effectively."

Pakkun sighed, his nails tapping against the wood floor as he trotted over to the bedroom door. "Shoo then human, while I go work my magic with your bitch."

Kakashi made an unflattering gesture with his finger, which didn't really offend Pakkun, because he was a dog.


Pakkun scratched on the door when Kakashi started the water in the bathroom. Naruto let the pug in, having heard the part of the conversation between the two when they'd moved into the living room.

Pakkun followed her back to the bed as she flopped down on it. He jumped up and curled against her side. She stroked the fur on his back methodically.

"I'm sorry, little fox," Pakun murmured, pressing his cold nose into his hand. "He's going to get it eventually," the dog promised. Naruto snuggled under the covers and buried her face into the pillow.

Pakkun wiggled until he was under her arm, where he could talk to her softly with his head right under her chin. "Don't give up on him, ok?"

"Hmm?" Naruto murmured sleepily.

"He's not as stupid as he seems," said the pug with a yawn, "his brain will kick in soon and he'll snap to what your place in the pack is. Everything will settle down once he stops fighting his instincts, just wait and see."

Naruto took a shuddering breath, taking comfort in the small dog's promises, holding onto the words while everything on the inside felt it was falling apart. She tried to close her eyes, but all she could see when she did was the rejection written plainly across Kakashi's face.

"None of that now," Said Pakkun, startling the girl's eyes open with a lick to her nose. "Did I ever tell you about the time boss thought he could make his kunai better and melted wax all over the kitchen and tried to clean it up with a hairdryer?"

"No," Naruto said, gold hair falling about her face as she listened to the small dog tell tales of some of the more humorous mishaps of Kakashi's childhood.

In the living room, Kakashi found some sleeping wear laid out for him on the sofa. He slipped into the loose clothing, and tried to get comfortable on the old pull out sofa bed.

He tossed and turned, less from the springs digging into his back than from the fact that the entire thing smelled like Naruto.

And she wasn't there.