|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2005-07-13 21:09:00
Side Effects, Chapter 20
"Kakashi-sensei, what the hell did you have to go and
do that for?" Naruto demanded, arms crossed and glowering like a little
old man. "What did Iruka-sensei do to deserve getting saddled with that
bad-attitude cocky-ass bastard all night, instead of being at a festival with
Annnd... time to test the theory. Kakashi draped an
arm around Naruto's shoulders and bent enough to murmur into the irritated
"You know, some people would recognize when
their kind, generous, and thoughtful teacher is doing them a favor."
"Like how?" Naruto grumped.
"If Sasuke were here, what do you think Sakura-chan
would be doing right now?"
"Drooling over him, like always," Naruto said,
with a roll of the eyes.
"And he's not here. And you are. Notice that part
As the slow dawning of comprehension began to light the
boy's eyes from within, Kakashi planted his hook: "Or is it that you don't
want an excuse to be at a festival when your unfairly brilliant and
gorgeous archrival is nowhere to be seen? You're practically out on a date with
a pretty girl, you know -- is it that horrible an idea...?"
And if it's even occurred to him that I'm suggesting he
might be more interested in Sasuke, he's going to go crimson and start
protesting a mile a minute that Sakura is perfectly fine with him and he
doesn't mind at all--
But instead, Naruto's face was completely transfigured with
a disturbing cocktail of emotions; if he'd had to mix it in a glass, Kakashi
would have reached for a bottle of overjoyed glee with a spritz of mischievous
For perhaps the first time in history, Naruto flung his arms
around Kakashi's waist as though he were Iruka.
"Kakashi-sensei, I take it back! I take it all back!
Every single time I called you a lying lazy-ass kinky-pervert no-good lame
excuse for a teacher, I take it back -- you totally rock! ...Along with
Iruka-sensei of course!"
...Now, if that was supposed to be a compliment, I've
heard more flattering descriptions used in deliberate insults. "You
don't say," he murmured, lips barely twitching.
The boy struggled for a moment, but nothing could shake his
good mood at the opportunity for an almost-date with Sakura: "I even
forgive you for doing kinky stuff with Iruka-sensei!"
"How wonderfully magnanimous of you," Kakashi
Naruto squinted at him suspiciously. "Hey. Is that word
rude or something?"
"Not at all," Kakashi said, almost straight-faced;
he'd come to rely on the mask more than he thought, around the kids. Sarcastic,
yes; rude, not inherently...
With a bit of mental discipline, he reined in his
mischief-imps and offered Naruto a real smile.
"I know how important Iruka is to you, and how
protective you are of people whom you care about," Kakashi said to his
wriggling student. "Now, keep in mind that I'd stay with Iruka whether or
not you objected -- but it's nice to know that I've passed your
He scruffled the boy's hair just to watch him splutter, then
added, "So what are you doing wasting time with me when you could be
enjoying your almost-date time with Sakura-chan?"
Naruto giggled like a much younger boy, as he scratched
behind his ear. "Oh yeah!" And he set off skipping down the street
toward Sakura, sing-songing happily: "I'm on a date with Sakura-chan! I'm
on a date with Sakura-chan--"
The poor girl's shriek of disbelieving horror and dismay
must have been audible for miles.
Watching Naruto latch onto her arm with an ear to ear grin
despite the way she propped an elbow on his face to try to pry him loose,
Kakashi sighed to himself.
...So they're still going round and round at this after
all. He thinks he loves her, she thinks she loves Sasuke, Sasuke thinks he
doesn't love anyone, and I'd bet good money they're all at least half wrong.
And even if they could be right, even if they truly do
feel the way they think they do -- I know it's for the wrong reasons right now.
Naruto simply wants her to acknowledge him; if she
actually offered him anything deeper than that, he'd probably fall over dead of
heart failure at the sheer shock.
Sakura wants Sasuke as a trophy as much as a boyfriend, so
she can be 'the one pure damsel whose steadfast devotion warmed the lonely
heart of the ice prince' or some such.
And the ice prince himself... If Sasuke has any clue what
he is or what he wants, he's so far gone in denial of anything resembling
normal human desires that I'm not sure anyone could find the truth for certain.
And Kakashi was quite sure
that no one could tell Sasuke that truth
just yet, particularly if his truth was anything other than "yes, your
destined goal in life really is to
become the perfect ninja: an asexual killing machine whose lingering humanity
is just a temporary and inconvenient distraction." The boy had some
remarkable blind spots when it came to things like emotions and normal teenaged
Granted, he had teenaged
angst down in spades... but that was the only part of normal teenagerness he showed any grasp of. And Sasuke managed
to take personal angst to levels most broody teenagers only fantasized about...
I'd hoped they'd sorted some of this out by themselves
while we were gone. No such luck, I suppose.
Kakashi pondered this for
several minutes, watching with mild interest as Sakura got the sole of her foot
onto Naruto's face in further desperate efforts to pry him off.
Good to see
she'd been keeping up with her stretches; flexibility and gymnastic talents
were some of the best weapons in a ninja's arsenal...
...This is going to be unbelievably messy to untangle.
Even for me.
So I guess that means I should drop the whole mess in
Iruka's lap! I'll even get to watch him blushing and stammering and looking at
me desperately to beg for help... mmm, Iruka with help-me-I-need-you eyes...
Yep, this sounds like a truly inspired solution.
Silently congratulating himself on his brilliant strategy,
and following his students down the street from a distance safe enough not to
let himself appear too connected to the ruckus they were raising,
Kakashi made a mental note to make sure he didn't finish the night without
acquiring a decent supply of sake. Desperate times called for desperate
measures, after all.
Sasuke stiffened, but didn't speak. He'd apparently used up
all his available vocabulary for the night, and was letting rigid tension and
fierce scowls and the occasional monosyllable communicate whatever else needed
to be conveyed. And he was taking his duty to keep Iruka from harm far
too literally, in Iruka's somewhat tart opinion. The boy was studying a scroll
while sitting crosslegged on the floor directly in front of the sofa, so that
Iruka couldn't possibly put his feet down, let alone try something as daring as
Iruka shifted his weight awkwardly, trying to sit up a
little straighter to ease the pressure on the small of his back. Sasuke lifted
his head to look up at him, and then silently got a pillow off a chair and
settled it behind Iruka's back, and sat down with his scroll to resume his
Somehow, Iruka couldn't decide whether it was more endearing
or infuriating. He dragged his attention back to the pile of student papers,
checking each carefully written kanji for correct strokes and something
...Of course Megumi-chan has memorized the word for 'watermelon' stroke-perfect. Now if I
can just motivate her to remember the difference between 'west' and 'four' --
how to get her to remember that 'west' is the first kanji in watermelon...? And
that 'south' is the first kanji in 'pumpkin,' and that's the difference between
how to write pumpkin and watermelon...
"Sasuke-kun?" Iruka asked, trying not to get his
hopes up about the likelihood of a response. "When you were learning to
write, how did your teachers explain the difference between 'west' and 'four'
He didn't look up this time. After a long moment's silence,
he shifted one shoulder closer to his ear for a moment, a minimalist's shrug --
and still kept his eyes on his scroll.
"What are you studying?"
Sasuke hunched over it a little further, all but defensive,
as though Iruka had been prying into his personal equivalent of Icha Icha
Paradise -- but the covering on the scroll clearly declared it to be about
ninjutsu, not hentai manga.
Both exasperated and amused despite himself, Iruka said,
"This has really got to stop, you know. Would you please
move just a little? I don't want to kick you in the face when I get up..."
"What do you
need to get up for?"
"I'd kind of
like a snack..."
Feeling his cheeks
warming despite himself, Iruka said, "I've also been drinking tea, and
there's this extra passenger pushing down on ...places that really don't need
any more pressure just now. And that one you really can't take care of for
lifted his head enough to blink up at him, completely lost.
With a groan, Iruka
said, "The bathroom. May
Blushing the color of an overripe beet, Sasuke scrambled
away from the couch.
Iruka tried to keep some measure of dignity together as he
not-quite-hurried toward the toilet.
When Iruka came back from his brief
escape from supervision, along with a glass of milk, strawberries, and the
peanut butter jar, he blinked in surprise at the almost-an-expression on
"What is it?"
You know, sometimes I wonder why
I still bother to ask...
Iruka settled himself into the sofa
carefully, so as not to spill the milk, and balanced the plate of strawberries
carefully atop his bulge to free enough fingers to unscrew the peanut butter
jar and dip the spoon into it.
He spooned some peanut butter onto
a strawberry, bit into it with a small sigh of bliss, sipped at the glass of
milk, and settled in to brood.
...He said he wished he'd never
been born. He said he wished Itachi had killed him...
And I never suspected a thing.
No one did. He's Uchiha Sasuke, the genius, the last of his bloodline in
Konoha, he's the wonderchild, he couldn't possibly be hiding painful emotions
behind that poker face... he works himself far too hard, he obsesses on killing
his brother, obviously his life is fine since he's becoming a strong ninja and
that's all that matters, isn't it. --What idiots we were, all of us.
But I'm sure Kakashi knew. This
must be why he told me to talk to him... he wasn't kidding when he asked how
long it would take to go through the list of Sasuke-kun's problems...
Iruka put a spoonful of peanut
butter on another strawberry and bit into it, brows furrowed in concern.
And... the way Sasuke was
talking about Kakashi and Naruto, and about how anyone could love them... he
was so intensely, personally involved in that question... and in his own
The three students of Group Seven
couldn't have been more different if they'd had to be, really. Sasuke stood
alone against the world, tall and rigidly proud, like an oak tree, strong and
unbending. Sakura was a willow, outwardly pliant and graceful with a surprising
inner core that flexed and bent under pressure but never broke. Naruto was a
tumbleweed, scruffy and disreputable, rootless and wandering, and somehow
And of the lot of them, the oak
trees were the most brittle -- unable to yield, or to roll with the punches,
with that fixation on standing in silent unshakable resistance, not flexing
until they shattered completely under a bolt of lightning, swift, lethal, and
Sasuke needed to learn the willow's
grace, or the tumbleweed's rootless tumbling survival; the world was simply too
cruel for anyone to be able to stand against it alone, and if he didn't
recognize that -- if he didn't recognize his own need for love and
Iruka wondered, not for the first
time, whether Sasuke might be gay. The young man had very little use for women
and looked at Sakura strictly as a teammate -- of course, having seen how the
poor boy had been chased around the streets of Konoha for years, being all but
molested by overpushy kunoichi, Iruka couldn't quite blame him for a trained-in
aversion to being stalked, groped, and squealed at.
But Sasuke seemed to have nearly as
little use for most men... his actual respect was reserved for less than half a
dozen people Iruka could name, most of whom were people who'd proven themselves
to be strong or capable of training him.
Not a misogynist, but an
There was something between
the boys of Group Seven, though. Something more than the name-calling and the
withering contempt they admitted to aloud. A rivalry didn't last that long and
grow that deep without either total spite or some sort of unspoken mutual understanding
developing behind it. Sakura and her friend Ino were another prime example --
they fought like cats over the right to stalk the broody young Uchiha heir, but
then they'd also lay their lives on the line for each other's sake, because
before they'd been rivals in romance they'd been friends in everything else...
Neither of the boys would have named
their relationship a friendship. Both of them were too touchily proud for that;
they were polar opposites in too many ways, and far too much alike in others.
But they'd worked together for so long, and they'd risked their lives for each
other more than once -- immediate, instinctive, the kind of reaction that came
with no hesitation at all. Either of them could have let the other die a dozen
times over. But without the other as teammate-and-archrival, neither of them
would have a standard to measure himself against...
...and still, somehow, thinking
about the fierce desperation in Sasuke's voice as he'd asked how anyone could
love someone like Kakashi or Naruto... as though he were asking himself more
And that odd tremor in the young
man's voice as Sasuke told him that he would never be disgusting...
Emotions were clearly difficult for
him to endure, and to express. Iruka could hardly blame him for that, given how
many of his life's greatest emotional impacts had revolved around death, pain,
and isolation. But the pattern that was forming itself in Iruka's mind was
frightening to contemplate, and made far more sense than Iruka wanted it to.
Uchiha Sasuke. The last
Sharingan heir in Konoha. All but compelled to renew his clan's bloodline --
which, until he saw me this evening, meant finding a nice woman who didn't try
to stalk him and marrying her. And afraid of any human touch, because people
you care about die on you and the rest try to hurt you... so he deludes himself
with his 'mission,' because it's less risky. Physical pain he knows how to
endure; but his emotional pain has never healed, and he doesn't even know where
So he isolates himself and calls
himself an avenger, because it means he doesn't have to feel things for those
around him; he doesn't have to feel anything beyond his need for revenge. If he
keeps everyone else at arm's length, his contacts with others are restrained,
distant, strictly under his own control... and control of everything is so
important to him.
And love is the least-controlled
emotion there is. It falls into your life and blows apart all your
carefully-constructed safety zones; suddenly there's this other person living
in your heart, bumping against painful things, hurting each other
unintentionally as you learn how to share what used to be an isolated space
inside, someone bewildering and precious and impossible to imagine living
without-- your life is tangled into someone else's, and it's terrifying when
you realize how deeply you depend on another person's presence, another
Renewing his clan wouldn't
necessarily have been a loving proposition for Sasuke. Iruka had far too little
difficulty in imagining Sasuke choosing someone who was like Hinata -- someone
quiet and inoffensive but strong beneath it, someone who would understand the
need to bear children without protest since they were required of the Uchiha
heir's wife, someone who wouldn't make emotional demands simply because of the
technicality of marriage.
Iruka could never have lived a
silent marriage of convenience -- he couldn't imagine his life without the
vibrant, unpredictable, gleeful spark of Kakashi's exuberance dancing through
each day. But he could imagine Sasuke taking care of his responsibility
to produce heirs with that kind of emotionless dedication to duty... and
telling himself that duty was all there needed to be.
That in itself, Iruka realized, was
the essential core of the problem.
He tells himself what to
do, what to think, what to feel. He tells himself he has to be fine alone, and
so he lives as though he thinks he actually can. He tells himself he has to be
an avenger, he has to be strong, he has to renew his clan. He lives according
to what he tells himself he has to do.
And he's been doing it for so
many years now -- ever since his clan died -- can he even recognize it anymore,
if what he wants to do is different than what he tells himself to do? Or does
he just make himself want to be what he tells himself to be, what he thinks he
has no other choice than to become...?
It made sense. It made too much
Uchiha Sasuke, the last
bloodline-Sharingan user, had to be strong to avenge his murdered clan. And the
last Uchiha had to pass on the Sharingan ability to children to prevent his
gift from dying with him. Kakashi's Sharingan was a transplant; Kakashi's
children would not inherit the bloodline, even if Kakashi could train Uchiha
But there had to be Uchiha
children. The last Uchiha could not be gay. It was not permissible.
Therefore, it was not imaginable. And anything that he might otherwise have
felt would be pushed away into the corner of his mind that was labeled
'childish things' which he left behind when he became his clan's avenger.
He wouldn't even have admitted the
possibility to himself -- he wouldn't have admitted that he even had desires,
let alone desires contrary to his single unwavering goal in life.
There would be children.
Therefore, there had to be a woman. Women could be endured, if he could find
one who didn't irritate him with emotions and demands and needs. Anything could
be endured. Anything could be endured because Sasuke told himself so. A life
alone, a fated future, a loveless marriage for the sake of breeding
Sharingan-bearing offspring -- being duty-driven to take all the agony he'd
felt over years of struggling to suppress any gentler emotions and use that
rage to strike down the once-beloved elder brother who had killed the rest of
Anything could be endured; or else
he would never have been able to live with the single goal of committing
premeditated murder, to kill his last remaining blood kin with all the pain
he'd gathered up over years of forcing himself to live the life expected of the
last acknowledged Uchiha heir, rather than simply a young man named Sasuke who
had once been a happy and loved child and who missed it desperately...
...Except that now, there was a
possibility he'd never imagined in that preplanned, premeditated life. Now
there was another alternative, for a boy who had learned to live with no
alternatives to his chosen path for so long that even the thought of having
choices like love and risk had shaken him to the soul this evening...
Specifically, the conscious
thought of those choices had shaken him. Because when he wasn't consciously
thinking like an avenger, Sasuke said and did some very un-avenger-like things.
Risking his life for a loudmouthed rival, scolding his visibly pregnant teacher
for moving a heavy desk; asking how people living through danger could love
each other, as though he suddenly wanted, needed, to understand about
how to be strong despite taking emotional risks like love...
Iruka jumped when one pale hand
quietly set another plate of strawberries by his elbow.
"You're worrying again,"
Sasuke murmured. "Stop that."
Iruka realized a few minutes too
late that he'd been just staring at his last strawberry for far too long.
"I'm sorry! I mean-- I'm-- you didn't have to--"
"Don't apologize," Sasuke
said, scowling more fiercely than usual. "And you're low on milk. I can
get you another glass but that's all that's left. Is there a convenience store
"It's all right," Iruka
said, feeling his cheeks burn. "I'll get more tomorrow morning."
"You've got three teenaged
freeloaders taking up floor space," Sasuke said, sitting down to glare at
his scroll again. "The least we can do is help with chores."
But, oddly, his dark eyes kept
flickering up from the scroll -- glancing for brief, almost-involuntary moments
at the strawberries; the pile of children's awkwardly and carefully written
homework; Iruka's hands; the spoon standing in the peanut butter jar; the
rounding, ripening girth that gently filled out the belly-panel of the
The boy's face colored, and he bent
his head over his scroll again.
The trouble with his newfound
guesses about the pain and duty-driven desperation hidden behind Sasuke's eyes,
Iruka realized, was that all his guesses were theoretical. And general. And
general theory did nothing to help him puzzle out whether Sasuke was
now-fixedly-not-staring at Iruka's peanut-buttered strawberries in
bewildered curiosity, stomach-turning bemusement, or an attempt not to burst
into un-avengerly guffaws of hilarity...
Cursing his own blushes, Iruka
tried to stammer through it somehow. "I know it seems strange -- Kakashi
teases me all the time -- but really, it's just like a peanut butter and
jelly sandwich, only healthier. And... I need the extra protein in the peanut
butter and the calcium in the milk, for the baby's sake -- and -- it just... it
tastes good together, somehow; the peanut butter kind of glues itself to your
mouth without milk or strawberries or something to unstick it with... I'm
sorry, I'm babbling again. If it bothers you I can--"
"Stop that," Sasuke said,
staring even more fixedly down at his scroll. The tips of his ears were pink.
Oddly, it made Iruka feel better to know he wasn't the only one blushing.
"I don't want to talk about
it. I've said too damn much already. Forget it. All of it. --And stop
"I was just going to say thank
you," Iruka said softly.
After a moment of rigid silence,
Sasuke murmured, "You're welcome."
Iruka breathed a deep, careful sigh
of relief, waiting for his heart to stop pounding in mad panic in his throat. He
didn't run again. All right. I can do this. I can. Really.
And I'm going to wait a while
before I ask anything personal, just in case.
But... just one thing...
took a rather unsteady breath, waiting for a reply; when none seemed
forthcoming, he gathered what remained of his strained nerves and dove in
headlong. "Wouldn't you rather sit on the sofa or..."
"Keep your feet up."
"...All right. I understand.
I'm being good. But at least if you sat by the sofa, you could lean against it
or something -- I mean..."
Sasuke didn't even look up.
Iruka ran a hand down his face, and
tried again. "My back always hurts, lately," he said, a little
sheepish. "So I suppose I'm just oversensitized, but... you're sitting all
hunched up and I can't help thinking... that your back must hurt...
"And you worry about everything,"
Sasuke finished for him in an undertone. With a dark sigh, the boy picked up
his scroll and sat down crosslegged in front of the sofa, his back to the
sofa's front. "Happy now?"
"Almost," Iruka said.
"Here." He took one of the pillows that had been propped under his
ankles and fluffed it a little, then tucked it between the sofa and Sasuke's
back. "Isn't that better?" he asked, wistful.
Sasuke made a noncommittal sound,
and returned to his scroll.
The baby kicked and rolled inside,
protesting the way she rested against Iruka's spine as he lay half-sprawled on
the sofa; Iruka rubbed the softly swollen mound in the overalls with a bit of a
Not just yet, little one. I'll
ask him if I can move enough to lie on my side a little later. I just don't
know how much I dare to push without letting him settle down for a bit, you
And your idiot father is going
to have a GREAT deal of apologizing to do if he wants back into our bed
any time this decade. How long is he planning on leaving me alone with our own
little avengerly time-bomb anyway? I'd swear he's got to be deliberately
avoiding this discussion...
"Kakashi-sensei, I'm tired,"
Sakura protested. "We've been walking all day. And the last thing I want
to do is get dragged around some strange village like a dog on a leash and have
everyone think I'm actually dating this dork!" She gestured
at Naruto, who was still trying to scrub Sakura's footprints off his face and
"Come over here a minute,
Sakura-chan," Kakashi said, putting his arm lightly around the girl's shoulders
and leading her to one side just outside Naruto's hearing range. Sakura glared
up at him, with a clear expression of You'd better make this one a GOOD lie,
"Like you said, this is a
small, rather backwater village," Kakashi began. "They don't even
have ninja. I'm not sure they'd recognize one if one bit them. And this is
their big harvest festival."
"All the more reason not to
spend it hanging out with him! We train together, we don't have to be
joined at the hip or something."
"But I thought he'd come in
handy," Kakashi said helpfully.
"Someone's got to carry all
the shopping bags, you know."
Sakura blinked. Then blinked again.
"The harvest festival,"
Kakashi said again, patient. "When everyone's collected up their arts and
crafts and their grandmother's favorite jelly recipe and brought them here to
sell and trade. They don't have stores with things like shuriken and kunai.
That means your souvenir-shopping options are going to be limited to the more
Sakura's eyes were enormous green
pools of rapid-fire recalculation. Just to make certain the hook had set,
Kakashi planted another 'thoughtful suggestion'.
"So that means this weekend's
festival is going to be one of the best shopping opportunities you're going to
get. I thought you might like to take advantage of being here on the first day,
before everything gets picked over--"
Sakura wasn't even listening
anymore; she'd latched onto Naruto's elbow despite his yelp of astonishment,
and was dragging him down the street.
"Come on, we're going
"Just think of it as an
almost-date, remember?" Kakashi called. "You do what your date likes
to do to keep her happy, right?"
"...Oh yeah! Er--
ehehehe...." Naruto managed to get his feet back under himself, so that he
was trotting along rather than being dragged; he even managed to nerve himself
to say, "So where do you want to go shopping first, Sakura-chan?"
And that should take care of
quite a few more hours...
Iruka looked up from the last of his students' papers in
surprise at an odd grumbling sound. When Sasuke ducked his head further in
scalding embarrassment, Iruka realized it must have been the boy's stomach.
"...Oh, that's right -- you never did eat any of your
ramen! How thoughtless of me -- you've been traveling for days, I should have
made sure you ate something more than tea -- I'll..."
"Sit," Sasuke said. "Stay there."
"I said stay there."
"Sasuke-kun, I appreciate your concern, but I am not
going to spend the next three months lying on this sofa," Iruka said
firmly. "Now, if you aren't planning to tie me to the furniture-- and I
certainly hope you aren't--"
"I'll get something for myself," Sasuke said,
almost desperately, and bolted for the kitchen.
With another small
sigh, Iruka took the opportunity to stand and stretch and rub his aching back;
the milk glass needed washing too, and so he followed Sasuke into the kitchen,
rather more sedately.
Sasuke flinched at the sound of footsteps, and closed the
Bewildered, Iruka asked, "What's wrong with looking in
the refrigerator for food?"
The boy groaned and knocked his forehead against the
refrigerator door, then opened it and grabbed some things completely at random
and shut it again.
Iruka blinked at his collection. "Er...
Sasuke looked down at his hands -- a jar of kimchee, a
package of cream cheese, raspberry jam, hot dogs, and a half-empty can of baked
beans -- and then he said defensively, "I'll think of something. Go
A little nervously, Iruka asked, "Is there something
with fangs growing out of a mold patch in there?"
"I can't think of any other reason you'd be so
determined to keep us both from looking into the refrigerator."
With a sigh, Sasuke slid down the edge of the counter,
landing on the floor with a thump. "...It's nothing. I'm just too damn
Iruka sat on his heels by the huddle of Sasuke-angst, now
completely baffled. "Why on earth do you think you're selfish? Of course
I'm going to make sure you eat dinner! If we were in your house, you'd do
"It's not that." Looking away fixedly, Sasuke
murmured, "They... smelled really good. Your strawberries, and the peanut
butter. But they're yours-- they're your special treat, for the
baby, so I'm not about to--"
"Is that all?" Iruka reached over and
cuffed him across the head, just hard enough to ruffle his hair.
"Strawberries grow, Sasuke-kun! We've got half a freezer full of
them and Kakashi keeps a dozen pots of the things growing in our windowsill
just to make me blush. Honestly, you find the most amazing things to torture
"You're serious?" Sasuke asked, almost startled.
"I mean, if it was Naruto and his ramen I'd be bleeding by now -- and
everyone says pregnant women and cravings... er... --I think I'd better shut up
Iruka laughed, and ruffled his hair. "Be glad it's not
Naruto and his ramen, or the village might not survive the brawl! But as long
as you're not planning on eating every strawberry in a ten-mile radius, I'm
sure I can manage to soothe my cravings. And if you think you'd like peanut
butter with them, they're really, really good dipped in chocolate... I
just don't let myself think about that too often, or I'd be twice as big around
"Really?" Sasuke looked a little skeptical.
"They aren't too sour?"
"That's what makes it wonderful," Iruka said,
wistfully. "Especially dark chocolate. So the strawberries taste even
sweeter by comparison with the almost-roasted chocolate flavor -- and then the
chocolate starts melting in your mouth, and it's silky and creamy and a little
tart from the strawberries and..." He stopped quickly, and shook his head
to try to clear out the images before his body managed to convince him that he needed
chocolate-covered strawberries. Right then.
"But peanut butter is healthier!" Iruka told
himself as much as Sasuke, rather more firmly than usual. "More protein
and minerals for the baby. So I should..."
Sasuke's head and shoulders had vanished into the pantry,
though. When he came back out, he had a bag of semisweet chocolate chips in his
hand. "Will these do?"
Iruka stared, swallowed hard, and looked away. "...But
we need to make you dinner."
"All right," Sasuke said, and grabbed something
apparently just as random out of the freezer. "I'll cook something. Go
"Sasuke-kun," Iruka said, trying not to let his
eyes focus on the bag of chocolate chips, "you are not going to
cook something with kimchee, hot dogs, raspberry jam, baked beans, and frozen
"You don't want to watch this, then," Sasuke
replied, opening the jar of kimchee. "And you won't need to, if you're in
the living room resting like you ought to be. Right?"
"Uh... right." Iruka turned and made a beeline for
the sofa again, trying hard not to think too much about the possible
combinations there. But it was a little like trying not to think about pink
elephants. Raspberry kimchee hot dogs with edamame? Or raspberry baked beans
with -- urgh, no, don't go there...
And they say the pregnant women are the ones who eat the
strangest food combinations in existence... how many teenaged bachelors have
Sasuke watched his teacher leave, smiling just a little
despite himself. As soon as Iruka-sensei was safely out of eyeshot, most of the
ingredients went back into the refrigerator; the kimchee stayed out, though,
and he grabbed a packet of noodles from the pantry to make Korean-style beef
The chocolate chips stayed out too. As he waited for two
pots of water to come to a boil, Sasuke pulled one of the cookbooks off the
shelf and started flipping through the recipes.