|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2005-07-13 21:05:00
Side Effects, Chapter 18
The more he saw of how a woman's world worked, Iruka thought
with a mouthful of ramen, the more bewildered he became.
They'd encountered Satori and her boyfriend on the way back
from the pond; Iruka had made hasty introductions, and Kakashi had helpfully
kept a hand over Naruto's mouth, and the meeting between the two girls was
truly astounding to watch, somewhere between a quick-draw death match and a
ritualized flower-arranging: a precisely calculated spate of aggressive civility
that took place in under three seconds...
The girls took one look at each other, and their eyes
changed, and Satori latched onto her boyfriend's elbow at the same moment that
Sakura latched onto Sasuke's -- and then they noticed each other's reflexive marks
of possession on someone who was not their own object of desire, and
they blinked at each other, and something mentally recalibrated in perfect
And then, three seconds later, they were chattering away as
though they'd been best friends for years, with Sakura complimenting Satori on
her taste, particularly for 'helping' with Iruka's dress and hair, and Satori
complimenting Sakura on her own fashion sense, and asking about each other's
favorite shops in their villages, and Satori happily offering to show Sakura
her favorite places to go for dresses and ice cream and hair ribbons, and... it
was enough to give a grown man shaking chills.
So Iruka just kept staring down at the table, gazing into
the bowl of ramen as though it were some sort of prophetic mirror of wisdom,
hoping that whatever silent duel had just taken place, it had led to an
armistice which would actually last.
Sasuke was staring down into his ramen too, without even
bothering to eat it.
With a silent sigh, Iruka fumbled under the table for
Kakashi's hand, and held it just for comfort; Kakashi glanced over at him,
followed the direction of his anxious gaze, and smiled behind the turtleneck.
With one fingertip, he traced a combination of scout's
shorthand and kanji into Iruka's palm.
Don't worry, OK?
Iruka replied, What's wrong with him?
What's NOT wrong with him?
Irritated, Iruka pulled his hand away, and turned his
attention to the source. "Sasuke-kun, what's bothering you?"
The boy's lips tightened a bit; he didn't reply. Instead, he
picked up a pair of chopsticks, making a visible effort to stir the ramen
around, but it was obvious he couldn't bring himself to lift it to his mouth
even for the purpose of avoiding conversation.
Naruto, who had been regaling Satori's somewhat glassy-eyed
boyfriend with tales of the bear whose ass he'd kicked, shifted gears midstream
to glare at Sasuke again. "Bastard, quit being rude to Iruka-sensei!"
Hastily, Iruka reached to catch Naruto's hands before the
kunai could put in an appearance. "It's all right, Naruto," he said.
"Maybe he's just tired. It's all right. --Don't let your ramen get cold;
it's delicious, isn't it?"
With another glare Sasuke-wards, Naruto sat back down and
started grumbling his way through a mouthful of ramen. Sakura, clearly
distressed, glanced at Sasuke and then traded a silently pleading look with
Iruka; Iruka shrugged a little, feeling oddly helpless, and struggled to gather
the nerve to try again.
After a moment's hesitation, he leaned across the table
toward Sasuke a little so that he could speak more softly. "Sasuke... did
you know about the two of us...?"
Sasuke didn't repond, his face even more tightly shuttered
Iruka closed his eyes for a moment, placing himself in the position
of a sensitive, troubled, and brittle young man who might just now have
realized that two of his most respected teachers had been conducting a secret
love affair for years -- and who had also just been presented with completely
undeniable proof that they were sexually as well as emotionally involved with
each other. Moreover, there was no way for the boy to have braced himself in
advance for that type of proof, given that he'd known that both of his teachers
were male -- and yet, the impossible, unbelievable evidence sat right across
the table, dressed in a now-visibly-bulging maternity gown...
No, the mental picture was not pretty at all.
Carefully, trying not to think about how much every word
hurt like a knife to the chest, he murmured, "Sasuke, I... I think I can
see... why you could be upset. But if you won't talk, how can I help? I do
understand... why you might be offended, or... revolted..."
Sasuke pushed himself away from the table sharply, and
turned for the door.
Wide-eyed, Sakura said, "Sasuke-kun--"
"Sit back down, loser!" Naruto growled.
"You're acting like a total dick and you're wasting ramen!
"I'm not hungry," Sasuke muttered, and stalked out
through the noren curtains at the front of the little shop.
Naruto's jaw dropped open. "Get your cocky ass back
here so I can kick it up between your ears, punk! Just you wait--!
--hmm. 'Wait...' wait... what was I waiting for...? Oh yeah, the ramen! Just a
sec, I'll kick your ass soon as I'm done here--"
He slurped up the contents of Sasuke's bowl in five seconds
flat, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and shoved his chair back too.
"All right, now you're in for it!"
"I'm sorry, I've got to go with him,"
Sakura said franticallly to Satori and her bemused boyfriend, standing up to
follow. "The problem is Naruto's a brain-damaged pathological liar, you
Naruto froze in the middle of the shop, torn between chasing
down Sasuke and arguing the unbelievably insulting description. Caught between
the pull of those conflicting desires, he only managed a couple wordless
squawks of indignation.
"...So if he starts rambling about being a high-class
ninja or getting eaten by a cobra or this boy who walks in and out of ice
somehow, or Iruka-sensei being a man in disguise and Sasuke-kun being a woman,
or -- or summoning giant pink-and-lavender-colored toads--"
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto protested, in
betrayed outrage. "I summoned a giant red toad! RED! Pink
and purple are way too girly-looking!"
"You see?" Sakura asked Satori and her boyfriend,
grabbing Naruto by the ear and dragging him toward the front of the shop with a
sickly grin on her face. "So that's why I've got to keep an eye on him.
I'll talk to you later, 'kay? Bye--"
Satori and her boyfriend stared at each other, then at Iruka
and Kakashi, and then down at Kakashi's ramen bowl, which he'd emptied in the
three seconds they were staring at each other rather than at him.
"Er," Iruka managed, rather intelligently given
the circumstances. "It's... complicated."
"They're teenagers," Kakashi supplied helpfully.
"That's always complicated."
"Dude," Satori's boyfriend said, "what's with
the turtleneck, er, thing?"
"Oh, that's how I got Naruto-kun fixated on the idea
that I'm a ninja," Kakashi said. He pulled the turtleneck back down, and
added rather sheepishly, "He's fun to tease. Old habits die hard."
A little faint, Iruka said, "Naruto's not... he's
really... not that bad..."
Satori and her boyfriend nodded in perfect unison, but they
still paid for their ramen and made a beeline for the other exit with
Leaning back to stretch both arms over his head, Kakashi
said, "Remind me to commend Sakura on that one. That was an amazing
level of quick thinking under fire."
"She called him a brain-damaged pathological
"Can you think of a better way to explain half the
things he says, without blowing our cover?" he murmured, with a grin.
Try as he might, Iruka simply couldn't come up with another
even halfway plausible alternative. "...Poor Naruto."
"He'll survive. He's good at that."
"And Sasuke's not," Iruka murmured. "Poor
"Don't waste too much sympathy on him," Kakashi
said, munching on a stray piece of seaweed left in his bowl. "He has an
allergic reaction to sympathy."
"But... I do understand why he'd be revolted
by... by my condition, by what's happening to me..."
"No, you don't understand, and you're not even
close," Kakashi retorted, dryly. "You've spent too many years around
Naruto and his complete lack of anything resembling a filter between brain and
mouth. Whatever you think you've guessed about why Sasuke's upset -- believe
me, you're completely wrong."
"And you know better?"
"When it comes to Sasuke, yes. Just like you know
better when it comes to Naruto."
Iruka sighed and slumped against the table, rubbing his
temples against a tension-headache. "So what is Sasuke's
"Where do I start the list, and how many hours have you
got to listen?" Kakashi moved Iruka's hand to brush a kiss against his
temple, lightly, and then shifted to toss money onto the table and stand.
"Come on, let's go catch up before we have another set of property-damage
bills to add to the debt collection."
Iruka paled, and scrambled to his feet to join him. "Do
you want to talk to Sasuke, and let me talk to the other two?"
"Actually, no. The exact opposite of that, in
fact," Kakashi said.
Iruka blinked up at him. "But... you understand him
better than I do..."
"Yes, and that's precisely why," Kakashi said.
"Wait. What? Kakashi--"
"Are you coming or not?" he asked, and brushed
aside the noren curtain to step through.
Iruka caught his breath, startled. "Kakashi-- the
"They're going to have to see my face some time,"
he said with a lazy shrug.
"But... I mean... I know it's been... important to
them, important to you... are you sure you want to do it like this? Just
walking up to them in the street, like nothing had changed...?"
Kakashi rubbed his chin for a minute, then nodded
cheerfully. "Yep! Because I guarantee 'just walking up to them in
the street' is the one and only possibility for unmasking me that none of them ever
Iruka put a hand to his temples again. "...I suppose it
does make a certain impossible logic, doesn't it? When you're dealing with a
mind that gets even more crooked than a corkscrew, sooner or later, you
eventually twist around to the ultimate in devious calculation -- which ends up
indistinguishable from being completely straightforward."
"And that always makes it even more of a shock to your
victims," Kakashi agreed, smiling. "See? You're starting to think
around corners too."
"But you think around corners that don't even
"So do sailboats. They never travel a straight line,
but they still get to where they're going by traveling back and forth at angles
across the shortest route they can take," Kakashi said. "I get to
where I need to be too. I just don't keep track of how many times I have to
twist and turn things in order to get there."
"...That explains a staggering amount about your
approach to punctuality, you know."
"I am nothing if not consistent in my
unpredictability." Kakashi bent to brush a kiss against his cheek, then
took his hand and led him toward the street the teenagers had taken; Iruka
struggled almost despite himself, trying to pull his hand away.
"No, I will not stop holding your hand just to appease
a touchy angst-and-hormone-ridden teenager. Sasuke and his little attitude
problem are about to come down with a serious case of us," Kakashi said,
quite soberly. "And since I know we're the best thing that's happened to
him since his family died, he's just going to have to learn to live with a
serious case of us."
Then, as inevitable as the sunrise, both his eye and his
lips curved into a mischievous grin: "And lucky you, you get to go first!
You're the perfect torture for him all by yourself. Because he isn't going to
have a clue what hit him, and I still haven't forgiven him no matter how much I
Truly alarmed, Iruka pulled harder -- but Kakashi wasn't
letting go. "Kakashi, he doesn't need to be hurt any more than he
already has been--"
"Which is why I'm about to fling you at him,"
Kakashi replied smugly. "You'll make him absolutely miserable without
hurting him in any way. If it were me, I know I couldn't resist puncturing his
ego right along with setting him straight about the way the world works! You'll
"But I don't know what to do! Not with Sasuke--"
"That's why you'll do fine--"
There was a distressingly familiar shriek of
Sakura-frustration from further down the street, followed much too quickly by
the sound of something heavy splintering something wooden and fairly thin, most
likely a wall...
Iruka took off running, silently thanking the heavens that
the boys had put in their first appearance while he wasn't yet too child-heavy
to run a block or two, and dragging an unhelpfully laughing Kakashi along with
By the time they tracked down the source of the commotion,
Iruka was gasping for breath around the combination of the baby's unhappy kicks
at the jostling and the heart-pounding, light-headed effects of sheer panic: if
it's one of the festival stalls I can make excuses somehow, but if it's an
actual building -- I don't know what I'm going to do if it's an actual building;
damn it, these people are just not accustomed to overexcitable ninja
students; what am I going to--
"Hah! See, I told you so!"
Sakura translated from Sasuke-ese with the familiarity of
long practice. "Naruto, you moron, you're supposed to throw the beanbag
through one of the holes that's already there! NOT through the board itself!"
...Sure enough, a toss-the-beanbag game vendor was staring
in slack-jawed astonishment at his previously normal-looking painted-clown
board. But now, instead of having holes for the eyes and the mouth, there was
another hole smack in the middle of the forehead, and splinters everywhere,
giving the unfortunate impression of a messily slaughtered ex-clown...
Naruto looked back and forth between the board and the
fuming Sakura. "...No way! That'd be too easy. It's a lot harder to
get enough momentum behind a beanbag to splinter wood; it'd practically be
cheating to use a hole that was already there!"
Sakura had one hand fisted at her hip and the other knotted
in her hair to keep herself from strangling her teammate. "This is a kids'
game, idiot! For LITTLE KIDS!"
Naruto looked at the gawking game vendor with suspicion in
his eyes. "Hey, mister... is that all there is to it? Seriously?
Talk about lame--"
Iruka's knees simply weren't going to hold him any further;
he crumpled toward the ground, and Kakashi caught him hastily.
"Iruka? What's wrong?"
He opened his mouth to try to say something remotely
appropriate, but the only thing he could manage was a few gasps of increasingly
hysterical laughter, clutching at Kakashi's shoulder as though it were his last
remaining hold on sanity, the other hand pressed hard against a stitch in his
All three of the students were huddled around them in a
flash; the part of Iruka's mind that was distantly noting the absurdity of it
all was vaguely surprised that Sasuke had also reacted with such immediate
concern. Both Sakura and Kakashi had their hands curved to his abdomen; Iruka
shook his head a little, still too overwhelmed for coherence.
"...Fine... the baby's fine... --where do you feel for
whether my mind's been fractured, though...?" He gasped for breath,
and started laughing again. "I... I thought... it was going to be
someone's skull through a wall...! You... both of you...!" Iruka shook his
head a little, helplessly.
After a moment's frozen silence, Naruto began shouting at
Sasuke and Sakura began shouting at Naruto and Sasuke stood silent, head bent,
staring fiercely at a piece of pavement that had never previously offended
"Will you three just SHUT UP?" Kakashi
All three heads swiveled to stare at him. And then their
jaws dropped open in unison as they realized they were looking at Kakashi's
"K-k-k-kakashi-sensei--!" Naruto and Sakura choked
in near-unison; Sasuke seemed to be beyond the capacity for speech.
"Sasuke, you're taking Iruka home," he said, with
just barely a glint of amusement at their reaction hidden behind a perfectly
conversational tone. "The day's been long and stressful enough without us
having to worry whether we can leave you and Naruto in one place without chaos,
mayhem, and bloodshed. Sakura, Naruto, you're with me."
The boys were still staring at Kakashi's face; Sakura was
the first to recover from that shock and slip over into indignation. "But
Kakashi-sensei--! It's Naruto's fault; send him home instead--"
"Leaving your teenaged hormones out of this, Sakura --
Sasuke is responsible enough to see to it that they get home without picking a
fight with yet more defenseless inanimate objects," Kakashi retorted.
"Iruka's had enough to deal with already tonight; she doesn't need to
babysit a hyperactive brat the rest of the evening too. And when we're
introducing you lot to the members of a new village, it's better to bring the
ones that actually speak in response to a friendly introduction."
The students looked back and forth among each other,
glowering, because he'd tidily managed to insult all three of them in a few
"So, we're all set!" Kakashi said with a grin; he
grabbed Sasuke's wrist, looped it through Iruka's arm, and gave them both a
little turn and push in the direction of the schoolhouse. "Sasuke, don't
let her fall; it could be dangerous for someone in her condition. Iruka, make
sure you rest, now-- Sasuke can make tea for you while the two of you
catch up on things."
His one visible eye was dancing with absolute glee. Iruka
struggled to keep silent, and to bite back the urge to shove Sasuke into
Sakura's arms, grab Naruto, and run before Kakashi could inflict more of his
sense of humor on them.
When it came to the serious things, Iruka trusted his lover
with his life and more -- things like life and death, the defense of that which
he loved, his extraordinary ability to see beyond the surface of everything
even without his Sharingan eye. And Iruka was fairly certain that
somewhere, there was a serious reason
that Kakashi had thrown Sasuke at him with an almost-order to talk to the boy.
Unfortunately, he was equally certain that Kakashi had
chosen this particular method in order to also maximize his own
amusement at Iruka and Sasuke's mutually uncomprehending tongue-tied misery.
Before Iruka could think of a way to protest Kakashi's
self-indulgent entertainment without saying too much aloud in front of
strangers, the infuriating rogue had taken both of the other students and
nearly dragged them away.
Sakura was still protesting at the top of her lungs. It was
an odd not-quite-consolation to realize that even if he'd managed to protest,
Kakashi would have ignored him just as blithely as he was ignoring her...
"Come on," Sasuke said quietly. Iruka flinched.
"I'm sorry -- I'm... never mind, you're right, let's
go--" He started toward the school hastily; Sasuke dragged on his arm,
with a dark-eyed glare.
"You just about collapsed," he said. "Slow
"...I'm sorry. I'm fine, really -- I just... I
was so certain it was going to be someone's head that had gone through the
Sasuke glared at him again; Iruka stopped short, and bit his
lip to keep from chattering any further irrelevance in his nervous panic. He
slowed his steps to match Sasuke's, and in a much smaller voice, he whispered,
"I am sorry, Sasuke-kun."
Sasuke didn't respond, watching the road in front of them
with a fixed stare.
This was going to be a long, painful evening.