|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2005-07-13 21:07:00
Side Effects, Chapter 19
ChibiRisu-chan (sweatdropping as she looks around at the
scattered collection of dead bodies left in various spots among the last few
chapters' reviews): ...err... ehehehe... (scratching behind the ears) sorry
'bout that, folks...?
Chibi-Iruka (shooting nervous looks at grouchy!Chibi-Sasuke
still hanging onto his arm): Psst. Hey. Do something about this already!
(grouchy!Chibi-Sasuke transfers his glare to ChibiRisu-chan,
who goes a few shades paler and steps back hastily.)
ChibiRisu-chan (to Chibi-Iruka as she edges behind the
nearest large rock): How should I know what to do with him? You're his teacher;
you figure it out!
Chibi-Iruka: ME? Why me? Aren't I going through enough
ChibiRisu-chan: Because Kakashi thought fast enough to dump
him on you, that's why! (looks like he didn't want to deal with it either...)
Chibi-Iruka: But you're the one writing this!
ChibiRisu-chan: (more sweatdrops) I don't know if I'd say
"writing" as much as "observing in fascinated horror and typing
as fast as I can..." (looking nervously over her shoulder to see whether
another wave of antivirus-insane 80-to-120-hour work weeks is coming in a tidal
wave, and hoping she can get a chunk of the way through this before getting
inundated again...) Anyway, you guys are main characters! It's always
main characters' job to suffer, or else there's no tension, which means there's
nothing to resolve, which means there's no plot; so the more miserable,
squirmy, and uncomfortable I make you, the better it works for keeping the
story going, right?
grouchy!Chibi-Sasuke: ...I hate her.
Chibi-Iruka: Good, at least that's one point we agree on.
Always nice to find common ground for a starting place...
Sasuke held Iruka's arm through the entire walk back to the
schoolhouse, silent as a stone. Iruka was too embarrassed to protest further,
not wanting to intrude too much on the young man's likely humiliation at being
given an order which was so patronizing for them both; Kakashi was going to
have to work very hard to apologize his way back into their bedroom
after this one...
The shadow of the schoolhouse at the end of the road was
almost a beacon of hope for Iruka. As he opened the door and turned on the
lights, he found himself chattering again without even realizing what he was
"It's a nice place -- we, er, had to do some sudden
remodeling earlier this year, so the kitchen's brand new, and there are two
rooms upstairs; we'd been using one for our bedroom and one for an office,
except the office is sort of being taken over by nursery things obviously -- in
any case, hmm... if we move the crib and things into our bedroom, there should
be room for a futon for Sakura-kun, and if we turn the downstairs living room
into another bedroom with two futon-- the classroom here takes most of the room
downstairs, of course, but I think a sliding door to the living room would
divide it off--"
"Don't bother," Sasuke said.
Iruka blinked. "Aren't you staying? I thought that we
were being assigned to teach Naruto discretion -- I mean, that task is
going to take some time..."
"That task is going to take years,"
Sasuke replied, rolling his eyes. "I meant don't bother yourself. We have
"I'm not going to make you sleep in the woods when
there's a perfectly good roof right here!"
"Don't worry about us," Sasuke said with a sigh.
"Being sent here is our punishment. There's no reason it should become
your punishment too. Besides, I'm sure you and he want... privacy..."
Iruka hesitated at something in Sasuke's voice, and looked
at him more closely. "Sasuke-kun -- I don't mean to upset you, but we need
to talk about some things."
His face tightened as though he'd bitten into a lemon, and
he said, "Yes, I heard the 'suggestion'. But you also got told to rest.
Sit down. I'll make tea."
"Sit down, Iruka-sensei," Sasuke said,
glowering. "I'm not going to try to explain to the rest of them if
you collapse again while under my supervision."
"I understand," Iruka said, as gently as he could,
fighting back an indulgent smile that the moody young man wouldn't have taken
well. "I just want to change clothes. I'll be right back, and I'll sit
down, so that you won't feel you're neglecting your assigned responsibility for
me. All right?"
His face tinged faintly pink with embarrassment, Sasuke
looked away and said, "Fine. The kitchen's in the back, right?" And
he headed toward the back of the schoolhouse without waiting for a reply.
Iruka hurried up the stairs and dug through the closet,
looking for the most concealing clothing he could find. The maternity overalls
were a good start -- he needed some gender-neutral, high-collared shirt to go
under it, and Kakashi's certainly wouldn't fit. In the end he pulled one of his
oldest T-shirts on, and rolled it up a bit so that it wouldn't be stretched so
snugly over the baby-bulge. Then he ran into the bathroom, cupped water in his
hands from the sink, and started scrubbing his face clean as quickly as he
The pins were pulled out of his hair as fast as he could
manage, with a silent apology to Satori; scrubbing his face dry on a towel, he
hesitated for a minute, looking at a couple of rolls of bandages in the linen
If I wrapped them around my stomach tightly... just for
tonight, just until he gets used to the thought...?
His hastily-unbound hair was a thoroughly untamed mess of
disarranged ex-curls and sticking-out ends and previously-pinned-up bends in
odd places; with a groan, Iruka shoved his head under the sink and turned both
taps on, then pulled his head out dripping and scrubbed the towel over it
hastily and started to drag a comb through the mess.
"Iruka-sensei?" Sasuke called.
"I'm fine! I'll be right there--" He wavered for a
moment, then dashed back into the bedroom and grabbed a jacket and threw it on,
taking a quick look in the mirror to see if it did what he hoped.
...Still visibly rounded, of course. There was simply no
escaping the fact that his waistline had grown since the last time Sasuke had
seen him. The overalls just cradled the lower part of his belly's curve rather
than the top of it. But at least it wasn't that much unlike any overweight
workman in overalls -- and with the jacket to try to camouflage his profile,
and if he stayed sitting behind the table or something -- it would have to do.
Iruka grabbed a tie to finish his hair with, and hurried
downstairs still fighting to get the comb through the tangled mess. Dragging
all of it up to the top of his head, the tie temporarily held between his
teeth, Iruka mumbled, "Shee? I'n fiin', no prollem..."
"Sit," Sasuke said sternly, pointing at a chair.
"I heard you running around up there. You're not supposed to do
Halfway between embarrassed and amused, Iruka hastily
finished his tie and sat down where indicated. "It's kind of you to be so
concerned, but I'm really not that far along yet, Sasuke-kun."
Sasuke turned back to the teapot, his shoulders stiff. A
minute later, he murmured, "You didn't have to do that."
"...Change. You didn't have to change just for
"Believe me, I was glad to get out of the shoes,"
Iruka said quickly, both hands up.
Sasuke turned again at that, with fierce eyes. "It's
the end of August. There's no way you're wearing that jacket as anything
other than camouflage. And there's nothing to camouflage yourself against,
"It's not an 'against,'" Iruka replied,
quiet-voiced. "I just thought... it might be more comfortable for you, if
I looked... more familiar."
"You didn't have to do that," Sasuke said again,
unhappily. "If you liked the dress, you should have worn it, no matter
what I think. It's none of my business."
Iruka leaned both elbows on the table, fingertips to his
temples, trying hard to feel his way to a safe path through the secretive
corners and shadows in Sasuke's mind. A path that would let him speak the
truth, not hurt the boy, and not be taken for patronizing lies -- Sasuke
was simply... difficult. Naruto's headlong, thoughtless forthrightness was
simple in comparison -- one simply had to learn how not to get blown away by
the effects of a human tornado; as long as you kept your feet on the ground and
knew when and how to put a leash on that unbridled energy, Naruto was simple to
deal with. Sasuke was... complex, with too many layers of pain that could be
touched by accident, and too much rigidly self-controlled secrecy to let anyone
know when a touch caused pain...
"It's a perfectly good dress," Iruka said,
choosing each word with great care. "It's difficult to find maternity
clothes that don't make the wearer look like some horribly redecorated melon.
But I'm honestly much more comfortable in this. On the other hand, I did choose
this rather than something else because it's as masculine as this type of
clothing can possibly get... and as you observed, the jacket is entirely for
camouflage. Would you feel more comfortable if I left it on, or if I took it
"The point is that it's none of my business! Wear what
you want to wear."
After a moment's contemplation, Iruka took off the jacket
and hung it on the back of the chair. "All right," he said.
"You're right. I shouldn't have tried to disguise my condition when I
don't know whether that's actually what's upset you. But if I'm going to stop
guessing, then you're going to have to explain at least a little."
Iruka glared at the back of his head, with his best
teacher-gaze to lend weight to it. "That is the worst lie I've
heard all year, Sasuke-kun. And that includes time spent with Kakashi."
"It's not your problem, it's mine," Sasuke said,
taking the teapot off the stove and making himself far too busy with what
should have been a fairly simple act of pouring into two mugs.
"It is my problem if the current circumstances
upset you too much even to meet my eyes," Iruka said.
Sasuke froze motionless; then he set the teapot down, and
took a careful breath, and brought both mugs to the table... making a far too
concerted effort to look Iruka straight in the face. But he simply couldn't
maintain it, despite his formidable force of will -- or stubbornness. Sipping
at the tea gave Sasuke an excuse to stare down at the tabletop again.
"I'm sorry," Iruka said.
That brought Sasuke's eyes back to his for a moment,
fiercely. "Don't apologize. I told you, it's my problem. I'll deal with it
myself." Then he looked away again, and dug a hand through his hair, and picked
up the mug, staring into it as though the tea leaves in the bottom really could
foretell the future.
Iruka sighed, and took a careful sip of his tea; it was
perfectly brewed, a clear, delicate spring-green that almost tasted of the
sunlight the plants had flourished beneath. Whatever nervous fidgeting Sasuke
had done with the brewing process, it was clearly worth it.
"The tea is wonderful," he murmured. "Thank
Sasuke shrugged a little, more a twitch of one shoulder than
Iruka took another sip of the tea, to try to buy another
moment to gather his nerve and his scattered thoughts, and to place a few more
well-chosen silent curses on Kakashi's head. Then he deliberately set his cup
down, and Sasuke flinched just from the sound of it: that distinct sound of yes,
I'm serious about this that any
teacher learned to express with anything hitting a desk. Pens, mugs, a pile of
tests, anything at all... he hadn't actually meant to set this on a
teacher-student level, since Sasuke hadn't been one of his students for years.
But it was better than denials and noncommunication; Iruka was fairly certain
that something in Sasuke still reacted to the sound of unspoken authority. It
was a pity neither Kakashi nor Naruto had ever developed that reflex...
"Sasuke-kun," he said, choosing his words almost
as though he were addressing a difficult student's parent at a conference.
"I understand that such personal matters can be awkward to discuss, and
that you are by nature a perceptive, very private, and fiercely self-controlled
young man. You are among the finest students it's ever been my privilege to
teach, and I'm just as proud of the person you have become since then. That's
why it's so difficult for me to watch you like this -- walking away without even
touching your food after a long day's travel, watching you flinch from looking
"It's my problem," Sasuke said, almost
"It's our problem," Iruka replied. "Because
if you'll just tell me a little more about why you're upset, I can try to find
ways to help you become less uncomfortable with the situation."
Sasuke didn't reply, other than to bury his face in both
After a moment's consideration, Iruka decided this was a
good thing, since the boy hadn't gotten up and stormed out again. So he took a
careful breath and set both hands on the table and tried another angle to
cracking the shell of Sasuke's knotted misery.
"Is it about Kakashi and me? Our relationship? Or is it
just about my condition?"
No response beyond a small shudder, but no bolting for the
door either. Iruka felt a bit like a bomb-defusing specialist, clipping one
cable at a time and waiting with held breath to see if he died in a bloody
explosion a moment later.
"If it's the two of us -- we can be discreet, I
promise. We're both shinobi; we understand when discretion is ...helpful. For
several years, we've managed to be fairly private in a village full of other
ninja, after all..."
"That's not it," Sasuke choked.
All right, progress. Unfortunately, that only leaves one
option... Iruka sighed deeply, and said, "Thank you. That does make
the difficulty more clear."
"It's all right," Iruka said, quietly. "I do
understand how this must have been a shock to you. It was a shock for me, and
I've had months to get used to the idea; no one ever guessed Naruto's jutsu
might have side effects like this."
It was harder to discuss this than he'd expected; Iruka
could feel the traitorous heat in his face, the aggravating blush a too-evident
testimony to his own discomfort. He cleared his throat a little, and murmured,
"I'm sure you understand that there's a -- practical limit on what I can
do for concealment. Particularly as time passes. But I promise I'll do what I
can to... mask the extent of it, so that it's easier to mistake for overweight;
I'm sorry if you find it -- unnatural, or repulsive, but..."
"That's not it at all!" Sasuke burst out.
"That has nothing to do with it-- Iruka-sensei, I don't understand. I'm
trying to understand, I'm trying to be smarter than the idiot, but damn it, I
don't understand at all -- how? How could you--?"
Iruka's blush redoubled itself. "I... er... I'm a
little fuzzy on that part myself; I don't intend to get into details, but it was
a... considerable surprise..."
"No," Sasuke said, intensely. "That's
got nothing to do with it. Or at least, that's the least part of it. How can
you do something like this? You're a shinobi, but not a strong one.
You're smart enough to know that. And you're not an overemotional fool
like Naruto. So how can you risk it--?"
Sasuke stopped short, pushed his chair back, and started
pacing a tight circle around the kitchen. "Hostages are a liability,"
he said raggedly. "Even strangers' children can be hostages. And hostages
you love are far more vulnerable."
It hurt a little, to hear it stated so boldly; Iruka took an
unsteady breath. "I know," he said. "I do understand that my
baby could become a hostage, because of what Kakashi is, or because of what
Konoha is. So could anyone's child, unfortunately. It's a cold fact of the
world. But there's nothing I can do to change it."
"You could have aborted it," Sasuke said.
Shaken, Iruka cupped a hand to his belly in a reflexive
defense against the mere thought. "...That possibility never even crossed
my mind. Sasuke-kun -- from the moment I understood what was happening, I've
never been anything other than thrilled."
"But you're not strong enough," Sasuke said,
"and he's not responsible enough! It's bad enough that the two of you can
be used against each other -- how can you bear a child knowing it will
be the first target anyone strikes at? You're a teacher, not a warrior. He's
gone most of the time -- and he's so... He's a perverted, infuriating,
irresponsible, headstrong, overconfident -- I don't even understand what
someone like you could see in someone like him!"
"I'm serious," the boy said, both hands so
tightly fisted the knuckles were white. "You've never been an idiot.
Never. That's the piece that doesn't fit. You're serious and responsible and
hardworking and you do the best you can with whatever you're given, whether
it's children to teach or a headstrong idiot to keep in line -- you're better
than this! Better than him. He's stronger, but strength is just enough to get
you killed unless you're cautious enough know when not to stick your neck out
-- and he does that too damned much! He talks about ninja ideals, but he never
lives up to them -- he gets too emotionally involved, he cares too much.
Anyone who knows him can use that against him. Anyone. And for the love
of God, he's not even remotely civilized--"
"Sasuke-kun, what are you asking me?" Iruka said,
by then completely bewildered. "Are you asking why I love Kakashi, or why
I love Naruto?"
Sasuke's head went back as though he'd been slapped;
wild-eyed, he shot back, "Kakashi-sensei, of course! Who could love that
-- that -- loudmouthed, brainless, dead-last--"
"It's not that difficult," Iruka said, with a wry,
crooked grin. "It's not difficult to love either of them, really. For
utterly different reasons, of course. I know they're both infuriating in their
own specialized ways. Believe me, I know. Naruto wouldn't know subtlety
if you wrote it on a brick and beat him over the head with it, and Kakashi
would have to dissect and triple-examine the brick to make sure that the
surface message was all there was to it..."
"Isn't that my point?" Sasuke growled.
"I suppose it could be taken that way, yes But really,
despite it all -- to me, I can't understand how anyone could not love
them," Iruka said, rueful and gentle. "Particularly after enough time
to get to know the truth behind their facades. They're astonishingly alike in
"Kakashi-sensei is a genius," Sasuke said stiffly.
"Infuriating and lazy and perverted, but
a genius. Naruto is... Naruto's about as far from a genius as it's
possible to get without actually talking to zucchini or something!"
"I'll grant that Kakashi uses infinitely more
intellectual calculation before he goes ahead and does the stupid thing
that could get himself killed," Iruka admitted with a sigh. "And then
there's his unbelievably twisted sense of humor, as opposed to Naruto's
complete lack of forethought or calculation about anything... but other than
that, really, they're a lot alike. And I find them both truly admirable. The
courage, and the compassion -- and that incredible capacity for loyalty and
devotion to those they've chosen to care for, no matter what the odds..."
"Are you talking about them or about yourself?"
Sasuke asked, his eyes shadowed.
"About them, of course! They're both fearless, and I'm
anything but," Iruka said with a laugh. "Naruto is too
straightforward to notice most of the fear in the world, and Kakashi just
dodges it about as neatly as he dodges responsibility; all I can do is watch
them and try not to cover my eyes in horror too often."
"That didn't stop you from taking a twenty-pound
shuriken in the spine for Naruto's sake," Sasuke said under his breath.
"Everything that moron knows about how to be an admirable person, he's
learned from you."
"That's not true," Iruka said. "It took him a
while to get over the desperation for attention, but he's grown up quite a bit
since he painted the Hokages' faces. He's a good person all on his own,
"But you're the one whom he looked up to all his
life," the boy retorted. "You're the one he wanted to impress.
If he'd fixated on Kakashi-sensei, or God forbid Jiraiya-sensei, by now he'd be
a porn-reading pathological liar with a lot worse things in his repertoire than
sexy-no-jutsu! But they're not the ones who left the greatest impression on
what he's become. You are."
Blushing a little despite himself, Iruka said, "I'm
flattered that you think so, but--"
"You're the one who taught him the things he really
learned the best," Sasuke insisted, stormy-eyed. "You fed him your
compassion with every bowl of that ramen.You taught him loyalty by being the
only person in the world who believed in him. You taught him that stupid
stubborn courage every day in class, teaching lessons he thought he'd never
learn, struggling to become better than he ever thought he could. --And the
problem is you taught him too damn well for his intellectual capacity!"
the boy added, sounding quite annoyed.
"That's a little harsh, Sasuke-kun," Iruka said,
lips twitching with the effort not to laugh, because it wouldn't be fair to
either of them if he did.
"Fear is a survival mechanism! You've got the
intelligence to be afraid when the situation calls for it. He doesn't! He just charges
right on through... and Kakashi-sensei's worse because he does know
better and he still charges into it! How can you love someone
like that? Knowing he's going to get himself hurt if he keeps this up, but
knowing it won't be him anymore if he ever changes..." Sasuke stopped
himself short again, and turned away, shaking.
After a moment's hesitation, Iruka stood to walk over beside
him quietly. If it had been Naruto standing there on the verge of tears of
frustration and bewilderment, he would simply have taken the boy into his arms
and let him cry. Sasuke was different, but he hoped that an adult presence
nearby would still remind him of the way parents cared for their anguished
"Sasuke-kun... love is always a risk." With one
hand resting on his rounding belly, Iruka added, "The consequences of some
risks are more unexpected than others, of course. But I believe love is always
worth the risk."
"Love isn't just a risk; it's a weakness," Sasuke
replied, head bent. "And I need to be strong, to defeat my brother. I've
worked so hard to be stronger, learning to endure it by myself, no matter what
the world throws at me -- I don't have enough strength to spare for loving
people. You're not as strong as I am; how do you bear it? I couldn't bear the
constant fear for everyone around me -- but you care about every single student
who's ever passed through your hands. You make them hostages when you love
them, and you leave yourself open for pain, and I know you. You push your
classes so hard because you grieve for every one of your students who've died.
How can you bear it? I'm stronger than you, and I can't even afford that kind
"But it's not a weakness. In a way, love is the only
strength I have," Iruka said. Daring greatly, he reached over to stroke
the boy's dark hair; Sasuke shivered, but didn't pull away.
"Sasuke-kun, I'm certain that in a fight you could wipe
the floor with me any day of the week," he murmured. "But if someone
I loved was depending on me, I'd get up and come back. If I'd been the only
person I was protecting, I probably would have laid down and died when that
shuriken hit me -- but Naruto needed me, and so I couldn't surrender then. The
people I love are the source of my strength. And it's terrifying, but it's also
"But it never lasts!" Sasuke cried out. " If
Kakashi-sensei goes off and gets himself killed because of that fixation on not
letting his comrades die, where does that leave you? One of these days he's
going to pay for it; and with his child to care for, you'll pay for it too! It
never lasts -- they always leave, they always die, and then you're alone with
nothing but the memories of what it used to be like -- being happy,
having someone who cared about you -- and it's worse than if you never knew
what happiness was at all--"
Iruka's hands reacted before his conscious mind caught up
with the reflex; he caught the boy by the shoulders, pulled him close enough to
hold, and was cradling him gently in both arms with his cheek nestled against his
hair before he remembered, This is Uchiha Sasuke, not Naruto! If you startle
him too much, he could take your hand off at the wrist before he even realized
what he was doing...
Fortunately, Sasuke seemed to be as stunned by the gesture
as Iruka was to find himself making it; he stood rigid and trembling in the
circle of Iruka's arms, struggling just to breathe without letting himself sob.
With one careful hand rubbing at the knot of tension between
the boy's shoulderblades, Iruka said, "I should never have left you alone
for so long. None of us should have."
"It's not your problem--"
"It should have been," Iruka replied, eyes closed.
"I never stopped to think. I thought you were all right, you see. The
village hates Naruto, but they love you -- at least, the idea of you -- all the
girls who want to be the mother of the resurrected Uchiha clan's heirs, all the
parents who ask why their children can't be as hard-working and gifted as you
and Neji and the other prodigies... but at the end of the day, you were still
alone. I should never have left you alone. I shouldn't have listened when you
said you were fine..."
"I am fine," Sasuke whispered, both hands
fisted at his sides. "I was a child, and ignorant. I was too young to
realize that people always die no matter how much you love them -- but I'm old
enough to understand that now. I'm fine by myself. I have to be fine by
"No, you don't!" Iruka shot back, catching
Sasuke's chin and glaring down into furious black eyes. "No one should
have to live like that. No one can live like that. Not you, not Naruto,
not anyone... I never wanted to hear you say that you have nothing left but
memories of what it was like to be loved and happy! Everyone needs someone to
rely on-- I should have told you more often that Kakashi and I are there for
you. Until you could believe that not everyone who cares about you will be
"You're too naive," Sasuke said. "You care
too much. About everyone. How can you--?"
"And you're too bitter, and too badly hurt," Iruka
replied. "I suppose that means I'll just have to stick around and balance
you out with a good stiff dose of family smothering every so often, doesn't
"Don't worry about me!" Sasuke threw back
fiercely, struggling free of Iruka's hold. "I'll be fine. I don't
want to be something else for you to worry about-- damn it, I knew I shouldn't
have said anything to start with--"
Iruka held up two empty, unthreatening hands, and said,
"It's all right. I won't push."
"Don't worry about me either," Sasuke repeated,
standing a few feet away, tense enough to bolt. "Don't upset yourself. I
don't need it. I'm not worth it. You shouldn't care so much."
"That's not true," Iruka said, and then
held up his hands again at the way Sasuke shifted as though about to run.
"I'm not pushing. I'm just saying that it's not as difficult as you think
for someone to care about you."
"But it's you saying that, Iruka-sensei,"
Sasuke said, with a tired sigh. "You're not rational about things like
this. Asking you not to hurt yourself worrying is like asking Kakashi-sensei to
be on time for a meeting... one with lots of bureaucracy in it. It just isn't
"I'm not that bad!" Iruka protested.
Sasuke looked utterly unconvinced.
With a sigh, one hand faintly rubbing against his side,
Iruka said, "In any case, I'm glad you did let us talk about this,
Sasuke-kun, really. Because... it's silly and petty of me, I know, but... it's
a comfort to know that I'm not... disgusting to you."
A shadow shifted behind the boy's dark eyes, just a flicker
of something half-hidden and unreadable. In a low voice, he responded,
"You could never be disgusting to me."
Iruka blinked, and then blinked again, startled by the
undercurrent in his voice.
A moment later, more sharply, as though recalling himself,
Sasuke glared and said, "Sit down. You're supposed to be resting."
A little sheepish, Iruka murmured, "I'd really rather
not, if you don't mind."
"But you're supposed to--"
"I know, I know," Iruka said hastily. "It's
just that... I'm getting kicked at the moment; I think that used to be my liver
before it became the baby's punching bag, and sometimes if I stand up and walk
around a little she'll settle down..."
Iruka hadn't realized it was possible for someone that pale
to turn three shades paler. "Maybe you should sit down, though?" he
suggested, trying not to sound too concerned, because of the boy's
bristling, defensive reaction to the thought of someone worrying about him.
"I don't understand," Sasuke whispered. "How
can you stand it?"
Haltingly, struggling with each word, the boy said,
"You're... I know you're weaker than I am... but... you do
things like this, you do things that hurt; you walk around loving people,
getting hurt for it, getting like this, and you still smile as though
"But I am happy!" Iruka said, surprised. "And
-- honestly, most of the time, it doesn't hurt that much."
"How could it not? I can see how it's draining
your energy reserves, and even just the physicality of it... the way it strains
your body. The way the weight drags at your back, even. And being... being
stretched like that, tight and full and getting fuller, all the time, without a
"It's not like that. I mean... well, in a way it is,
but..." He could feel his embarrassment showing in his face. "The...
the increase... it's not like pulling on your skin, it doesn't hurt like that;
it's gentler, and... --Would you mind giving me your hand, Sasuke-kun?"
After a moment's hesitation, the boy held out his hand;
Iruka placed it atop the soft, well-worn denim of the maternity overalls, and
pressed their hands carefully into the ripening mound of his abdomen.
"There, feel that?" Iruka asked, smiling down at
the contrast between his dusky, tanned hands and Sasuke's porcelain-fair one.
"Women's bodies adapt. There's... a bit of cushioning; it's not just
that the womb's growth stretches the mother's belly. I've gained more weight
than just the baby; you can feel it. And the womb isn't so taut and snug as you
might think. The baby floats inside a cushion of fluids, to shield her if the
mother would fall or be struck in the abdomen, so that the womb is softer than
it would be if the child filled it completely. Later on there's less room for
the fluid, and it does become more firm and full; but I'm just beginning the
final trimester, and somehow there's still room for the baby to turn
somersaults inside me. That's always quite a surprise to feel..."
Iruka glanced up to see if the explanation was any sort of
comfort to the boy's concerns for his pain, and then he yelped. Sasuke's face
had gone almost ashen, and he was swaying on his feet.
"Sasuke-kun! Chair -- you -- I mean -- sit down--!"
Iruka half-dragged the boy over to the kitchen table, folded him into a chair,
and put his head down on the table for him, then sat on his heels at Sasuke's
side and started chattering. "I'm sorry -- are you all right? I didn't
mean -- I've got too many teacher's reflexes, that's all -- should I get you a
glass of water? I'll be right back--"
Sasuke caught his wrist and held on, breathing very, very
carefully with his head still on the table to keep from passing out.
"...relax...! Iruka-sensei, you twit..."
"Too much information, wasn't it,"
Iruka said, apologetic. "I'm sorry, I really am."
Sasuke managed a faint, pale shake of his head, and tried
cautiously to sit up a little. "...Somersaults...? Gah... how do you keep
"Small meals fairly often," Iruka admitted. "Everything's getting crowded inside, including my
"...I can imagine." He closed his eyes for a
minute, breathing carefully, but a small almost-whimper made it past his stoic
attempt at gathering his shattered pride: "...somersaults...?!"
"That's usually Kakashi's fault," Iruka said with
"He likes to tickle the baby. Touching her with little
chakra-flares. I can't tell if she's delighted or miserable, but she always
reacts quite... vigorously." Iruka hesitated, and then said a little
shyly, "I'd... wanted to 'introduce' you too, but... if the thought of it
makes you feel faint, never mind..."
"I wasn't fainting!" Sasuke protested, a purely
knee-jerk reflex accompanied by a ferocious scowl and an even more ferocious
Iruka bit his lip to keep from smiling; apparently Kakashi and Naruto
weren't the only lousy liars in the group. Unfortunately, Sasuke noticed the
crinkle at the corners of his eyes, and repeated at the top of his lungs,
And so nothing would salve Sasuke's injured pride but having
Iruka teach him how to touch the baby like Kakashi did. Fighting to keep a
straight face, Iruka set his palm against Sasuke's stomach.
"It's like a strike in that you focus the energy
outside yourself, but much gentler, much more controlled -- a caress rather
than a punch. Like healing, almost, except that there's no damage to mend. You feel for her energy points and
touch them, warm them... like this..."
When Iruka touched the chakra-point behind Sasuke's navel
and sent a pulse of warm energy into it, the boy dumped his chair over
backwards with the reflexive lurch back, and scrambled away on hands and heels:
Despite his best efforts, despite both hands shoved over his
mouth, Iruka couldn't help bursting into laughter.
"...Dammit, that tickled, that's all!"
Sasuke picked himself up, righted the chair, and sat in it in order to glare
down more imposingly. "You -- I can't believe you! You actually taught
me that, like you'd let me touch your baby that way!"
"Why wouldn't I?"
Sasuke's eyes tightened, and he looked away, one hand
creeping up to touch his throat. "...I'm not going to taint an unborn
child's soul with the shadow of what I am."
"You are not Orochimaru, and you are not
going to taint anything when you touch someone," Iruka said fiercely.
"You are yourself. Just like Naruto isn't the demon fox; he is
himself. I plan to introduce both of your teammates to the baby too; I have
every confidence in your ability to be appropriately gentle, and she loves
being touched by our energy whether or not we 'tickle' her while we're at it.
Just the connection is enough for her to feel you, with or without the flare
behind it. Give me your hand."
Iruka stood and held out his hand, a silent imperative
backed up by the best teacher-glare he could muster. Sasuke had natural
advantages in the solemn-broody-glowering area, but he hadn't had nearly as
many years to refine the technique; after a moment of silent struggle, the boy
surrendered, and placed his hand in Iruka's.
Settling his weight on the edge of the table carefully,
Iruka brought Sasuke's trembling hand to rest against his belly again. He
placed his hand over the boy's, and pressed gently but firmly; they could both
feel the ripple of pressure when he took a breath to speak.
"Little one, this is your almost-uncle Sasuke,"
Iruka murmured. "You'll meet some more almost-aunts and uncles later;
Sasuke-kun's just a bit shy, that's all." He looked up at Sasuke's dark,
haunted eyes, and reached up to stroke the boy's hair almost despite himself.
"It's all right," he said. "I trust you."
"...I don't trust myself."
"Too bad," Iruka replied lightly. "You're not
going anywhere until you've said a proper hello to my daughter."
"I think it'll be a girl. Kakashi thinks a boy. We
don't have that many months left to wait and wonder, though; it'll work itself
out. So are you going to introduce yourself at any point before I go
It took a visible effort; Sasuke braced himself, swallowing
convulsively, and took a deep, shaky breath, and blew it all out. Then he
closed his eyes and reached, trembling with the effort to restrain as
much of his strength as possible, to touch the unborn child's life-energy as
lightly as the flicker of a butterfly's wing.
"Hello," he whispered. "Don't be afraid.
Please don't be--"
The baby pushed against his palm, hard; Sasuke jerked his
hand away as though he'd been burned, and then turned anguished dark eyes up to
his teacher. "It-- she--"
"That wasn't a 'go away,' Sasuke-kun," Iruka said
with a rueful smile, reclaiming the boy's trembling hand to curve it against
the place where the baby had pushed. "She likes you. She likes your
touch. New people are always exciting, you see."
Sasuke stared down at their entwined hands; the baby did
seem to recognize his touch, nudging his palm again with a little patter of
kicks. Then he stared up at Iruka, unable to speak.
"I'd imagine it's something to do with Kakashi's
games," Iruka said, fondly exasperated. "We've never heard of an
unborn child being so responsive to the touch of different chakra, particularly
this early in the last trimester. But I'd imagine she first learned to tell the
two of us apart because I settle her down rather than tickling her, and she's
clearly a playful little thing -- of course, she's Kakashi's child. But I'm
sure it's been dull for her, floating inside with nothing to do, and so she's
delighted when someone notices her and says hello."
When he lifted his face toward Iruka, Sasuke's eyes
glittered far too brightly, with the trembling of fiercely-fought-back, unshed
tears of grief... or of rage.
"Why?" he choked. "How can you bring a
child into a world like this one? So totally unprepared for it...? I never
thought you were so selfish, or so cruel!"
"How can you do this to someone else, without even
asking? Daughter or son, you know what will happen to that innocent
little thing so happily pushing at our hands! Expected to be a ninja, like it
or not; taught either to kill without remorse or to be mocked as weak -- and
mocked for what the two of you are, and for the nature of its birth -- you know
how the village is!" he snapped. "So many times, I've wished I'd
never been born! I wish he'd just killed me with the rest of--"
In shock, Iruka reached for him again, a blind reflex from
years of being able to comfort Naruto with a hug and a good hair-scruffling and
a bowl of steaming hot ramen; but this was Sasuke, who'd already been given
more caring human contact in one evening than his aloof and isolated soul could
And it finally pushed him over the edge. Sasuke ducked away
from Iruka's hand as though it burned, and dashed through the front door.
For the first time, Iruka could have cursed his increasing
child-heaviness, because he couldn't chase Sasuke down like this; all he could
do was to stand on the porch staring out into the darkness, and hope the boy
might still be listening: "Sasuke-kun? Sasuke-kun, I'm sorry! Come back --
please, come back; I didn't mean to upset you -- I didn't want it to go this
He stood watching and listening for far longer than was
reasonable, straining his senses for any hint of direction, even -- but Sasuke
was a past master at hiding whatever he didn't want to be seen, whether emotion
or his entire self.
Finally, even Iruka had to surrender the hope that the boy
might wander back on his own. Leaning heavily against the doorframe, he fought
back the urge to beat his head against the wood, instead forcing himself to go
back inside and to close the door calmly and still leave everything on its
Dammit. Dammit, Kakashi, you trusted me too much. I was
terrified I'd screw this up somehow, and now -- damn it all... damn you,
Kakashi; you knew I never understood him the way you do; you'd just have
stood there being silent at each other and it would all have sorted itself out
in that yeah-we're-inscrutable thing the two of you do, and he'd still be here... dammit!
Iruka drove a fist straight into the wall just to relieve
the frustration, and stalked back into the kitchen to start a mad spree of
vicious dishwashing. It was either that or try to hunt the boy down after dark
in an unfamiliar area surrounded by completely unknown forest creatures,
followed shortly thereafter by at least a solid month and a half of lectures
from Kakashi and all three of the students... and so the dishes were in for the
scouring of the century.
The dishes didn't outlast his frustration, his concern, and
his need to keep his hands busy with something other than kunai and a
garrotte and plans for agonizing and lethal traps around their bedroom door and
window in case Kakashi ever suffered from the misguided delusion that he would
be setting foot in it again without several days or weeks of groveling.
So Iruka followed the dishes with dusting every horizontal
surface available, cleaning the blackboard until it was glossy and dark and
almost too clean to touch with chalk, reorganizing the children's kanji on the
walls, setting out materials for the next two solid weeks of lesson plans, and
finally storming back upstairs to the office.
The crib would stay, naturally, but for anyone else to sleep
in the room, the desk and bookshelves had to go; Iruka sat down and started
shoveling books into boxes, dragged them into the bedroom, and left them
stacked on top of Kakashi's half of the futon, then glared down at the solid
weight of the desk.
The desk had to move first, though; the bookshelves would
need to be wedged into place around it, and no one else was home, and knowing
Kakashi and Naruto in combination, it would be far too late to start
rearranging the room for guests by the time they returned. Still, a twinge of
concern tugged at the corner of his mind: don't strain yourself too much,
idiot. You can't fall, you can't set off labor this much too early, she'd never
survive being born now...
Iruka took all the drawers out of the desk and stacked them
in the corner, then studied the edge of the desk carefully, and took a deep
breath, and got a secure grip on either side. Knees bent, don't pull with
the back -- or the stomach muscles, especially not now -- let my weight move it
and if it won't move, it can wait--
Iruka braced himself and heaved at the
desk; it slid quite nicely, several feet across the floor, and it was a good
thing he was getting his feet back underneath himself when the outraged voice
shouted in through the window.
"Don't DO that! What do you think you're doing?!"
Sasuke's head was hanging upside down past the edge of the
window, like the world's largest and crankiest bat. The boy flipped in through
the window with a quick catch at the frame, landed in the middle of the room,
and turned his glare on Iruka right-side-up this time, scowling like a little
thundercloud: "You could have hurt yourself! You could have hurt the baby!
I swear I don't understand a damn thing about what goes through your
"None of you could sleep in here with both the crib and
the desk," Iruka said.
"So you wait for one of us to come back!"
"Yes, well -- what were you waiting for, hanging
around outside that window?"
"It was my responsibility to keep an eye on you, to
keep you safe," Sasuke retorted, acidic. "Damned good thing I
did, too. Nobody mentioned that it would be hard to keep you safe from yourself
and your redecorating impulses--"
Iruka couldn't help a small chuckle; Sasuke nearly hit the
"It's not funny! Do you know what you could have
done? The baby--"
"I know," Iruka said, still smiling. "I was
being careful. And I would have stopped if anything hurt. But without the
drawers it's lighter than it looks; I'm glad you decided to 'drop in,' the
weight's not so bad but it's awkward to manage alone--"
"You are not moving that desk!"
"But Sakura-kun needs a place to sleep, and if she can
sleep in here, then the two of you can sleep in the living room--"
"You are not moving that desk," Sasuke said
again. "I'll do it myself. By myself."
"Thank you for the offer, Sasuke-kun, but I'm sure you
don't weigh enough to--" Iruka stopped short, startled by the Sharingan's
crimson bleeding into the darkness of his eyes.
"You are NOT moving that desk!" Sasuke
snarled -- and proceeded to lift it by himself. He all but threw it into the
other room as Iruka stared; the desk was followed swiftly by the bookcases, and
then Sasuke shut the door to the bedroom and leaned on it and turned a furious
red-eyed glare on his teacher.
"There's floor space, lay out a futon and she'll be
fine. Happy now?"
"Yes, very," Iruka said, mildly. "And you
know, Sasuke-kun, we never did finish that wonderful tea you made. Shall I go
warm some more water?"
"I'll go heat the water." The blood-red
Sharingan pattern was fading from his irises, but Sasuke still looked
distinctly irritated. "I'll make tea. I'll give you a whole damn tea
ceremony if it means you'll go downstairs and sit down and rest and NOT
take it into your head to start moving furniture by yourself!"
"Just the tea will be fine," Iruka said,
struggling not to grin too much.
Sasuke nodded stiffly. "Go on, then. Go. Sit. Put your
feet up. And don't move. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Iruka said, putting fingertips over
his lips because he knew he was losing the battle with the grin.
Sasuke made a skeptical sound and stalked down the stairs,
all but visibly seething; Iruka followed him dutifully, still grinning to
himself, and he stopped to gather up a collection of his students' papers from
the desk in the schoolroom.
From the kitchen, Sasuke called, "You've got no
business in there! There's nowhere to rest. Living room. Sofa. Feet up. I'm
counting to ten."
"Right, right," Iruka said hastily, and brought
his purloined pile of homework into the living room to settle himself into the
sofa as ordered. There was time enough to argue the peremptory tone and the
overprotectiveness later; at the moment, it was good enough that Sasuke was
actually back in the house and talking. Barking orders did necessarily involve
talking, after all... and the rest could wait until after the tea and the
Right. Grading for a couple of hours. Kakashi should be
home by then. And I can dump the rest of the Sasuke-time-bomb-defusing project
in his lap with no warning and see how he deals with it. Yes,
that sounds like quite a worthwhile use of the rest of the evening...