|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2005-07-13 21:16:00
Side Effects, Chapter 21
(FF.net rant snipped in hopes of escaping the dreaded LJ Length Limit! Fear the LJ Length Limit! Not to mention that LJ commenters seem MUCH more sane than the average FF.net commenter on the whole...)
Okay, the length limit aversion didn't work. But the second half still stands...
The bar was like a hundred other bars in a dozen other
cities; but Naruto stared around as though it were some sort of seedy run-down
paradise for a somehow elite group of drunks and tired-out salarymen joined by
their common recognition as Adults.
The barkeep had looked at him suspiciously when he brought a
couple of teenagers in, but Kakashi had blithely lied about their ages. Naruto
stood up straighter and tried to lower his voice, and Sakura was too overcome
with horror to protest beyond a few incoherent squawks.
Better their first time with me than with barely-met
teenagers in a strange town that doesn't need to know about Konoha's secrets, Kakashi thought to himself. Eventually, a
combination of peer pressure, alcohol, and Naruto's sheer thoughtless braggart
tendencies would let something slip that shouldn't have. Sooner or later,
they're going to have to learn about drinking. I'd rather have them learn under
supervision, and I'm not so sure I trust Satori's boyfriend.
Iruka would say it should have been later, of course.
Iruka would have let them wait until they were our age. But if they're old
enough to die for the village, they're old enough to drink. Let's see whether
they've got any kind of sense about it.
Kakashi was vaguely surprised that it only took a beer and a
half for Sakura to pick up the karaoke list, trip the next person swaying in
line for the microphone, and plant her foot on top of the speaker like an
Sakura was so much in the habit of ignoring Naruto that she
didn't even blink. The microphone squawked a bit as she held it too close and
proclaimed to the entire bar, "I want to dedicate this song to the love of
She tapped in the song number, and Kakashi bit back a sigh
at the opening chords.
Naruto slid lower in his chair with a groan, thumping his
head back against the wall to make it hurt less than what was going to be
coming next. "Kakashi-sensei..."
"Everyone gets their turn at the microphone,
Naruto," Kakashi said, sipping at his own beer. "Karaoke is the great
equalizer. Music unlocks the key to what your heart most wishes to say... and
it doesn't matter how much you can or can't sing, particularly after a couple
beers or some sake. We're her teammates; the least we can do is listen."
"I don't want to hear it," Naruto grumbled,
staring at the way a bead of condensation was trailing its way down the side of
"So maybe you should look for a song that says what you
want to say," Kakashi suggested, pulling one of the song lists across the
With a heartfelt sigh, Naruto started morosely flipping
through the song lists.
Sakura tossed her hair back over her shoulder and planted a
dramatic hand over her heart as she started to sing:
"Every breath you take, every move you make,
every vow you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you.
Oh, can't you see? You belong to me. My poor
heart aches with every step you take... "
Naruto beat his head against the wall a couple more times
just for good measure, and whined, "Kakashi-sensei~~!"
Kakashi just sighed, sipping at the beer again.
Yep, open the music box of Sakura's heart and you find
the Ultimate Obsessed Stalker song. Poor, poor Sasuke...
Leaning against the pillow in front of the sofa, his hair
still wet from the bath he'd taken, Sasuke sneezed abruptly despite the warmth
of the evening. Iruka blinked at him over the top of a book on educational
"I can close the window if you're chilled--"
"Not in this weather." The boy scratched the tip
of his nose and heaved a sigh. "Where are those idiots? Nothing's open
anymore, not in a town this size."
"I'll bet Kakashi and Naruto both decided they wanted
the same prize at the fair; they're probably still dueling it out
somewhere," Iruka said with a matching sigh.
That really was a useful word Sasuke had there, Iruka
thought to himself, flipping another page.
About two and a half beers later, Naruto was fuzzily trying
to narrow down the list of 'he's such a bastard, why don't you love me instead'
songs he was trying to select among. Sakura had given up on him entirely and
had stolen the microphone to serenade the universe again, considerably more
off-key by this point:
little thing that you have said and done feels like it's deep within me.
really matter if you're on the run, it seems like we're meant to be.
don't care who you are, where you're from, what you've done, as long as you
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know," Naruto
hollered toward the stage and shoved the song book under Kakashi's nose again.
"What about this one, huh? Maybe she'd get the idea if I sang this at
Kakashi blinked down at the page in some bemusement.
saw you standing alone with a sad look on your face.
call him on the phone, looks like he left you without a trace.
falling out of your eyes, he's living in a disguise,
been feeling bad for so long you wonder if it's right or wrong.
do you want him? Why do you want him?
"Well, that gets to the point," Kakashi admitted,
"but it's kind of... how do I put this... blunt as a sledgehammer between
the eyes?" He rubbed his chin for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah,
that's about it."
"Not everyone reads thirteen layers into everything,
you know!" Naruto grumped. "Besides, it's like she hasn't gotten the
message yet or something. I gotta do something more
wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee at her, don't I?"
"That might have something to do with the fact that she
doesn't want the message," Kakashi observed. "Look, stop
worrying about Sakura's songs. Why don't you find the song you want to
sing? Something straight from your own heart. Something about what you feel,
not what someone else ought to feel."
Naruto heaved another huge sigh, and kept flipping.
"Yeah, well, what about you, Kakashi-sensei?"
"Me? Oh... I know a lot of songs." He took another
carefully staged sip of beer; neither of the kids had noticed that he hadn't
finished his first yet, and he planned to keep it that way as long as possible.
"Yeah, so which of them are you going to sing?"
"Hmm, let's see..." He trailed off, scratched his
head, flipped a couple of pages in the song book, and let the silence hang
until Naruto forgot he'd asked the question.
"If you want to get up, you'd better be heading toward
your bedroom and your actual bed. Otherwise, go back to sleep."
"But I want to--" It was embarrassing to have to
stop for a jaw-cracking yawn, but when he could breathe again, Iruka continued
determinedly: "I want to wait up for them. --Not least because Kakashi
owes me quite an explanation about why they're coming home this late at
"Go to sleep," Sasuke said again. "I can keep
watch for you."
"You've had a long day too," Iruka said, and then
held up a hand when Sasuke took a breath to growl. "All right, all right,
I'll take a nap for a bit... shall we trade shifts later on?"
Iruka could practically see Sasuke testing the shape of that
in his mind, between the not-quite-hidden delight at his teacher offering to
treat him as an equal, and the even-less-hidden calculation of if Iruka-sensei falls asleep I might just
'forget' to wake him up. Which was an admitted risk, of course, but at the
moment it also looked to be losing the battle in Sasuke's honor system with but
Iruka-sensei trusts me, I should prove I'm worth it.
After another round of rapid-fire silent calculation, Sasuke
nodded with all the gravity of a grandfather four times his age, and he tucked
the sheet more carefully around Iruka's shoulders. "I'll wake you if they
come in, and I'll take first watch."
As though it were a military operation of some sort,
Iruka thought, privately amused.
Then he thought about the range of potentially painful
instruments he'd been contemplating bringing into the 'conversation' he was
going to have with his lover, and silently revised his assessment again: all
right, maybe it does qualify for a military operation, at that.
Iruka settled down and tugged the sheet up closer to his
nose to try to pass for sleeping, and to try to hide his expression in case he
got too bloodthirstily aggravated while itemizing the full and complete
list of sins Kakashi was soon to be taken to task for. (The fact that he had to
keep itemizing for quite some time also did little for the 'relax and sleep'
idea, but a great deal for the 'planning a not so covert military assault'
Sasuke, he suspected, wasn't fooled in the slightest; the
boy kept glancing up at him, and so many years of communicating with
monosyllables had left him with a remarkably expressive sigh. This particular
sigh translated itself quite clearly into obviously, getting older does NOT
make you more grown up. It was followed by the all-purpose 'hmph' of yes,
I really am surrounded by idiots after all.
Iruka was too busy blissfully contemplating Kakashi's
screams of agony interspersed with pleas for forgiveness to take the time to be
amused by Sasuke, though; he made a happy little sound and snuggled further
into the sofa, wringing the sheets between his hands and testing their
potential for use as a garrotte.
Flushed with success, Sakura danced back to the table,
plopped back into her seat, and drained the rest of her beer, then dragged the
back of her hand across her mouth: "wheeee~~!"
Leaning a little harder on the table than she meant to, she
reached over and poked Kakashi in the shoulder. "You go sing too! You
brought us here, you go sing something!" She plucked the song book out of
Naruto's hands and dropped it in Kakashi's lap.
"Hey!" Then Naruto blinked a couple times, and
said again, "Hey!" Pointing at Kakashi with an indignant
finger, the little blonde complained loudly to Sakura, "He told me he was
gonna tell me what he was gonna sing but he never did!"
"That's why you keep poking him until you annoy him so
much he surrenders," Sakura said loftily. "You're good at annoying
people; you know that."
"Really?" Naruto turned an ear to ear grin at
Kakashi. "Hey Kakashi-sensei! Sakura-chan says I'm good at
something! That's progress, right?"
Kakashi opened his mouth, closed it, sighed deeply, and
buried his face in both hands. "...I suppose by some definitions, that
could be considered progress, yes."
Right about then, precisely what Sakura had said he
was good at soaked through the beer filter, and Naruto turned around so quickly
he wobbled in his chair. "...Sakura-chan!"
Sakura was writing Sasuke's name in the beer rings on the
table with a damp fingertip. "But it's far and away your best
talent," Sakura said, with a sharp quirk at the corner of her lips.
"You can annoy anybody! That takes a natural-born talent for
"Aw, jeez! Sakura-chan--" It was obviously taking
a lot of work to come even that close to howling the roof down like normal,
though. Apparently beer hit him more as a relaxant than as an agitator, or at
least in this quantity, Kakashi noted to himself.
Naruto struggled with summoning up more indignation to
protest and whine further, then sighed and slumped forward and leaned both
elbows on the table. In an unexpectedly quiet voice, chin propped on his
crossed arms and staring at nothing, he asked, "What's wrong with
"If you liked me even a quarter as much as you like
Sasuke, I'd be so happy I'd explode or something," Naruto mumbled, staring
into their empty beer mugs. "And Lee practically worships the ground you
walk on. What's wrong with people who like you? Why have you got
to keep running after that ice-cold bastard who doesn't pay any attention to anyone
unless they kick his ass first?"
"But he's Sasuke," Sakura said, as though
that were all that needed to be said.
"But I'm asking about me. Is it because I'm the
kyuubi?" he asked. "Is that why you can't stand me?"
Sakura just blinked at him, jaw hanging slightly open.
With a hiccuping, almost tearful half-laugh, Naruto said,
"Never mind. I don't want to know if it's not 'cause I'm the
kyuubi. Because if it's not, then you just hate me because I'm me, and that's
He looked around for a mug that still had anything in it,
spotted Kakashi's, took it, and drained it in one long swallow, choking a
little by the end of it. "...hey, Kakashi-sensei, does this stuff actually
"Usually not," Kakashi admitted with a sigh,
running a tired hand through his hair.
"Then why do people bother?"
"Because after a few, they kind of forget that it
doesn't help, generally."
"...I want another."
"All right," Kakashi said, and started to stand
up; but Sakura stood so quickly she almost unbalanced the table.
"I'll go get them," she said, and all but ran for
And then I'm going to wrap this around his neck and tie
the other end to his ankles and pull, and that's when I'll ask him 'So what exactly WERE you doing keeping two underage children
out until--' what time is it now? Long past midnight, I'm sure-- that
thoughtless, irresponsible, infuriating, always-late--
"Iruka-sensei?" Sasuke asked, barely looking up
from his scroll, but his voice sounded a little pained anyway. "What are
Iruka looked up from his wish-fulfillment
sheet-strangulation of a throw-pillow and blinked a little -- then realized
approximately what it had to look like. He dropped the pillow hastily, feeling
his cheeks burn. "Er... that is... um... Sorry about that,
"It's a little disturbing when you're killing
the furniture in effigy and chortling under your breath," Sasuke said,
rather grumpily. "You're the sane one. Remember that part? ...er ...you are
the sane one, aren't you?"
"I'm sorry," Iruka said again, feeling very silly.
He sighed and punched a fist into the sofa back just to try to relieve the
pent-up frustration. "What on earth are they doing this late
at night? I'd have thought at least Sakura-kun would have been rational enough
to drag them home by now!"
Sasuke was clearly exhausted, because he actually laughed a
little... except that the sound held no mirth at all, only fatigue.
"'Sakura' and 'rational' are not two words I would have
used in the same sentence," he said. "But then, having been
monomaniacally stalked for years does tend to warp my perceptions a
"She... er... she's not that bad, is she?"
Sasuke's face tightened, and he looked away.
"Sasuke-kun?" Iruka asked, beginning to be
alarmed. "If... I mean, she's your teammate; if it's that difficult for
"I've lived with it for this many years," he said
dully. "I'll survive."
"I'm just so damn sick of it," Sasuke murmured.
"I don't know how to tell her I'm sick of it. I never asked to be
the trophy handed out in her little who's-sexier competition with Ino. I'd have
liked to be asked my opinion. I'd have liked the opportunity to have an
opinion. But instead I woke up one morning and found myself being used as the
human rope in the middle of their private ego-boosting tug of war..."
Iruka bit down hard on his first impulse to try to defend
the girls; there would be time enough for that tomorrow, and what Sasuke needed
tonight was someone to listen to his feelings, in the rare window when
he was tired enough to admit to them and they had privacy enough to make it
possible to put aside that touchy, brittle teenaged-boy pride.
I told him I could stop lecturing and listen; it sounds
like he's taking me at my word. I'll just have to make sure I don't look too
surprised that he's taking me at my word...
Into Iruka's silence, Sasuke murmured, "She treats
Naruto like he's something to be scraped off her shoe, in order to try to win
points against Ino in their childish little duel. So Naruto's set his
second-greatest goal in life to humiliate me, because she chose me instead of
him. And I never asked them for any of it."
Digging a hand through his hair, Sasuke leaned back on his
elbows and stared tiredly up at the ceiling.
"They'd just as happily use one of my clones if it came
with bragging rights to the Uchiha clan name and Sharingan eyes," he
mumbled. "No, actually, they'd probably prefer one of the clones,
because Naruto could 'kick the bastard's ass' whenever he wanted to prove
something to Sakura, and the girls could tell it to do whatever they fantasized
their dime-store-romance-novel hero ought to do. They'd all be happier."
"You really think so?" Iruka asked, a little
"Of course they would. Particularly the girls; at least
Naruto expects a challenge, instead of an obedient doll to dress up." With
a short, sharp laugh, Sasuke added, "Besides, with a little adjusting, the
clone could be taller. I'm sure Ino would appreciate that. I never fit the
'tall' part of the 'tall dark and handsome' requirements."
"They don't seem to mind," Iruka offered.
"No, they don't, and I wish they did! If they did I
could at least get a break from their obsessive little spotlight! ...I've never
been any good at playing the whole stupid romance game. You'd think they would
have noticed by now, but apparently they're too fixated on the idea of 'what
they want me to be' to notice who I am... If Sakura wanted a person for who he
is, she'd have taken Lee-kun one of the first thirty times he threw himself at
her feet. He's a better human being than I'll ever be. But they don't care who
I am; they're fixated on what I am, the name and the damned too-pretty
face and the bragging rights, so completely shallow..."
Iruka tried to think of something helpful or
listening-leading to say, but all he could manage was, "I'm sorry."
Sasuke shrugged a little, a stiff lift of one shoulder, and
stared down at his scroll again, but Iruka doubted he was actually seeing the
words; Iruka picked up a handful of his students' papers for much the same
purpose of camouflage, and shuffled them at random every once in a while, still
startled that Sasuke had said as much as he had.
And then the key clicked into place.
He can talk to me, the way he couldn't talk to
Kakashi, Iruka realized. I'm not competition. Not now, not like this.
Sitting here grading children's papers, in a woman's
body, so bulgingly pregnant at him-- there's no way I'm any kind of
competition. I have his respect as a former teacher, but I don't threaten him,
because we both know there wouldn't be any question of who'd win. So he doesn't
have to pose, and I don't have to push. I just had to wait long enough.
Damn it, Kakashi, couldn't you have mentioned that part of
the 'why' a few hours ago? Before I put
him in a panic, trying to pry out his hurts so I could bandage him up before he
was even willing to admit to being hurt?
Iruka bit his lower lip
hard to keep from sighing aloud. In hindsight it was blindingly obvious that he hadn't given Sasuke's prickly
teenaged ego time to work out the way their status has changed... he just could
have used a little more foresight. When
Iruka had first become Sasuke's Academy teacher, Sasuke had been so young that
a fully trained adult man like Iruka was unimaginably strong -- which made him
someone to be strong in front of, someone to try to impress.
And most of that old
power-positioning had been turned on its head... in the space of one moment's
He'll always be younger, he'll always have been my
student, so it unnerves him to realize what else has changed. He's become
stronger than I am -- particularly now, particularly when I'm like this -- and
so now he doesn't have to defend himself against my strength by keeping up the
facade of his own strength. He never had to in the first place, but he would
never have believed it. So I couldn't just tell him that. I had to wait for him
to realize it for himself.
--And I needed to acknowledge it when he kept trying to
demonstrate it. With the berries, the tucking-me-in, the little gestures that
said 'look, I'm grown up, I can take care of people too. See how grown-up I am?
Acknowledge me. Recognize that I'm stronger, that I'm taking care of you...
see?' Like a wolf cub that's testing out his territory under an elder's
Because the one who wants to be the alpha wolf can only
admit pain to someone who's weaker. Admitting pain to a rival is revealing a
weakness that can be exploited. I had to wait for him to truly realize that I'm not a rival, that I have
neither the ability nor the intention. That I won't challenge him if he admits
to me that he hurts. Because he's grown up alone, in a pack of rough-housing
ninja students, without parents to remind him that it's all right to be
vulnerable and cared for... at least I had my parents long enough to be able to
Iruka sighed despite himself. Was I ever that young, or
that teenaged, or that touchy about trying to become the alpha wolf of the
pack? I hope the Hokage didn't laugh too hard...
...And damn it, Kakashi, you knew it wasn't going
to occur to me! You set me up to make him miserable on purpose. Naruto's always
been happy in his little-brother role with me, it wouldn't even occur to him to
try to take a dominant role simply because I look female and pregnant now. And
Naruto would never have to feel safe in a dominant pose before he could admit
to me that he was hurt... couldn't you at least have mentioned that part
But then, you couldn't have gotten your kicks knowing
we'd both be writhing in misery, even if you weren't here to watch it. You're
sleeping on the couch for at least a week, you smug insufferable ass...
Iruka hid a covert glance at Sasuke under the guise of more
completely pointless paper-rustling.
...He still has something he wants to say. His shoulders
are practically up around his ears; he's tied himself in knots trying not to
But I'm a chuunin, and I taught him when he was barely old
enough to hold a kunai. Strength isn't the only path to a victory, after all.
Stealth has got at least as much going for it.
It must have been almost half an hour later when Sasuke
He took a too-deep breath and struggled with it for a long
minute before he finally whispered, "Iruka-sensei?"
"...Hmm?" Iruka put the papers aside and looked
up, trying to keep himself outwardly calm, even as he inwardly braced himself
for whatever Sasuke might say next.
It took the boy a couple of tries to find his words again,
and his voice trembled as he spoke.
"What's it like... to be loved for who you are?"
he murmured, staring fiercely down at the scroll. "To... to be loved for
who you really are? Not your face, not your bloodline, not your family
name or your inheritance or what someone can get from capturing you, just...
being loved... for yourself...?" He blinked at the scroll, and
added in a whisper, "I can't even remember what it felt like..."
Iruka couldn't have forced words past the knot in his throat
if his life had depended on it; instead, he reached over and drew Sasuke close
enough to hug, hoping the gesture might in itself go some small way toward
answering the question.
He was more than half expecting Sasuke to pull away; but
instead, after a moment's hesitation, the boy's arms crept about Iruka's waist
and clung tightly.
And then a moment later he jerked away as though burned:
"I'm sorry-- I wasn't thinking--"
"Come back here," Iruka said tartly, and pulled
Sasuke into another slightly awkward but heartfelt hug.
Sasuke was painfully careful with his hands this time,
taking too much care not to put any pressure on Iruka's rounding belly;
he knotted his hands in the fabric between Iruka's shoulderblades instead.
Iruka silently held him, and rubbed his back, and didn't say
a word when the boy's breath caught too raggedly, or when something warm and
damp and suspiciously like tears trickled down the curve between his throat and
his shoulder. Sasuke's hair was still damp from the bath, it could have been a
stray drip or two; at least that would give him a way to salvage his pride if
he needed one... particularly to himself.
Iruka knew Sasuke would likely never forgive him for
noticing something like that, something so vulnerable and human; as soon as he
regained that frigid control, likely it would be a while before Sasuke could
even forgive himself for allowing himself such an emotional release. But
in the meantime, it was late at night, dark and quiet, and no one was there to
point or mock, and Sasuke was simply exhausted from the years of walking his
chosen path completely alone even amid his teammates; and so Iruka held their
silence as carefully as he held the boy himself.
It took Sakura far too long to bring back three beers. From
the way she was swaying as she carried them back to their table and set them
down with a thump, Kakashi suspected she must have gotten herself something a
little stronger at the bar, borrowing a little courage from a bottle for the
conversation she was bracing herself for. Naruto blinked up at her blearily at
the thud of the heavy mugs.
"Don't take this the wrong way and I'm only
going to say it once," Sakura said, leaning hard on the table.
"I don't hate you. I... I... oh, hell..."
She drank half of another beer at one go, and landed in her
chair rather more abruptly than she'd intended, but at least she managed to stay
in the chair, which surprised Kakashi more than he'd have admitted. Naruto was
still gawking at the sight of Sakura chugging a beer. She set it down far too
carefully, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and took a deep breath.
"I don't hate you, you're kinda entertaining to
have around. --Sometimes. Sometimes. When you're not being a total
uncool loser. Which isn't all that often. But I don't hate you. I kind
of..." She rolled her eyes and grabbed Naruto by the collar and tried to
get it all out in one breath.
Even Kakashi found himself blinking at that one.
Naruto hiccuped a little and tugged on Kakashi's sleeve.
"Wha'd she say...?"
Sakura beat her head against the table, then sat up and
propped her head in both hands. "I don't hate you," she muttered.
"You're kind of the annoying little brother I never had, but if I did have
one, you'd be him. Except I don't. But it's almost like I do, 'cause it'd be
you if it was anybody; it just wasn't. Got it?"
Naruto blinked at her a few more times.
Sakura tried again, a little desperately. "Like how
pineapple isn't really pine-ish or apple-ish, but it's something, and it's
just... like... it's just pineapple, right...?"
"You probably shouldn't have drunk that beer so fast,
you know," Kakashi observed.
"No, really, he's a pineapple!" Sakura said,
thumping one hand on the table for emphasis. "He's all bristly and spiky
an' stuff. An' yellow. And he's... like... kind of sweet inside, sometimes,
except for when he's green and sour and crunchy and what the hell is it with
that orange jacket anyway? Anyhow... it's like... he's got good parts if you
can just figure out how to get at them, but most of the time you end up like
chewing on a mouthful of rind and you go 'why do I even bother?' Except for the
parts when it's worth it..." Sakura blinked, and dropped her head forward
on the table. "...Never mind."
"But... but... Sakura-chan... that was NICE!"
Naruto said, sniffling a little and scowling fiercely at an inoffensive beer
mat to keep from blubbering. "...Except for when it wasn't, I mean. Other
than when it was mean, it was, like, nice..."
"But Mom is going to kill me if I tell her 'I
think I have an almost little brother and he's a pineapple!'" Sakura
"I'm sure that would come as something of a
surprise, yes," Kakashi agreed, the corners of his mouth twitching despite
Sakura ran a hand down her face, and thumped her head
against the table one more time for good measure. "What's wrong with
me?" Sakura groaned.
Naruto rubbed his chin. "You're drunk?" he
"I mean aside from that!" She waved a hand in the
air as though shooing away insects. "And I'm not that drunk. I mean
why doesn't Sasuke love me...?"
"'Cause he's a bastard," Naruto said, then hastily
ducked a swing from an empty beer mug. "Oh, you mean aside from that too?
Er..." He scratched his head, then offered, "'Cause you haven't
kicked his ass?"
"But... but... why would Sasuke love me if I could kick
"'Cause that's the only way to make him do what
you tell him to?"
Kakashi hastily choked down a mouthful of beer to keep from
spraying it across the table in a fit of badly-timed hilarity. You know,
kid, you have no idea how much you hit the nail on the head there...!
"But I shouldn't have to tell him to love
me!" Sakura wailed. "I'm gorgeous and I'm smart and I'm wildly in
love with him and it's like he doesn't even notice!"
"Like I said, he's a bastard," Naruto said with a
shrug, using both hands to get the beer mug into the vicinity of his face
"...That's not helping, you moron."
"I'm not a moron; I got a great idea! You could fall in
love with me! I know you're gorgeous and smart and all that stuff!"
Sakura sniffled, and wiped her eyes on the corner of her
skirt, and said, "But you're not cool."
Naruto toppled over backwards and landed on the floor with a
"Sakura-chan, that was just cruel," Kakashi
"But he's my pineapple," she said, waving a hand.
"I mean, you just don't think about kissing pineapples or little
brothers. It's just... all prickly and ewww and... stuff."
From the floor, Naruto asked groggily, "So if I was
Sasuke instead of a pineapple, you'd think about kissing me?"
"But you're not," Sakura said, with the tactless
logic of the well-intoxicated.
"I can fix that." He blinked at his hands to make
sure he could focus on them, then started shaping seals.
Kakashi scooped him on the floor, deposited him on his chair
again, and thumped him on the back vigorously, making sure the jutsu-cancelling
ofuda he'd hastily slapped in place was thoroughly attached to Naruto's jacket.
"Forget it," Sakura said gloomily. "You
couldn't be Sasuke even if you looked like him. You don't brood and glare and
...well, all right, you glare, it's just all in-your-face instead of
dark-romantic-angst... and... you just couldn't. You're just too much you."
Naruto finished his own beer far too quickly, and then
pushed the empty mugs out of the way to beat his head against the table.
Kakashi put a hand on his shoulder, a little alarmed.
"Hey. Don't break the table, they'll make us pay for it if you dent
With a groan, Naruto left his face planted against the wood
of the tabletop, and his voice came out somewhat garbled by mumbling through a
beer mat. "Beer duzzn' help af'r all."
"Not really, no," Kakashi agreed.
"...So I ha'n't drunk enuff yet to frogit it duzzn'
With a huge sigh, Naruto let his head roll to one side,
ending up with his cheek in a puddle of spilled beer, and apparently not even
noticing. "Kakashi-sensei...? How come I can't just be Sasuke
"Sasuke couldn't be you either, you know," Kakashi
observed. "He doesn't have it in him to be so vivid and outgoing."
"Yeah, but he'd never need to want to! Everybody loves
him already! And I can't even pretend anybody 'cept Iruka-sensei loves
me, and that's different anyhow..."
"What about Hinata-chan?" Sakura asked, chin
propped in one hand.
Naruto gave her a look that suggested she'd just grown a
second head. Although, Kakashi reflected, if his eyes were starting to lose
focus, then in his line of sight she might well have.
"What about Hinata-chan?" Naruto asked. "The poor kid practically
jumps out of her skin whenever I look at her sideways! And it's like I'm torturing
her when I try to talk or anything..." Naruto heaved a huge sigh. "I
dunno what I did to scare her like that, maybe she thinks 'cause I'm the kyuubi
I'm gonna rip her head off or something."
Sakura's jaw hit
the table with a thud.
"I try to be
nice, I really do, 'cause she's a sweet kid and stuff, and sometimes she
actually manages to talk a little without stuttering -- so I try to be nice and not scary and growly and stuff, I really do!
Except then she always freezes up and... I don't know. I can't ever do anything
right, can I? ...no, wait, don't answer that. I know. I'm not bloody bastard
genius Sasuke, I'm just the village screw-up, of course I can't do anything
right. Dammit, I know that already..."
destroy everything you touch,
you know," Kakashi observed. "The table's still in one piece, after
"Ha ha so very
much ha," Naruto mumbled, head in his hands, then heaved another sigh.
"I need more beer, it hasn't all gone away yet..." And he pried
himself off the table and wobbled towards the bar.
Sakura smacked a
palm into her face with a groan. "Kakashi-sensei, how do boys get to be that stupid?" she demanded. "Naruto hasn't got
a clue she's got a crush on him, Sasuke hasn't got a clue I love him... come to
think of it, you and Iruka-sensei are both m--" She stopped herself short
and clamped both hands over her mouth hastily, remembering Iruka's jutsu.
"...Anyway, how did the
two of you ever manage to get together...? Iruka-sensei seems, like,
practically more clueless than Naruto about romance stuff..."
"Simple," Kakashi said, with a sip of his beer.
"Simple?" Sakura blinked up at him with wild hope
shining on her face. "Simple enough I could do it to Sasuke?"
"Well, that depends..."
"What did you do?"
Kakashi's visible eye arched up into a happy grin. Playing
with drunk people was so much fun...
"Teased her mercilessly for months," he said
brightly. "Then I hog-tied her with her own headband and dragged her off
to a hot spring and stripped her naked and got out the edible soap and--"
Heads turned all over the bar at that.
Her face a brighter red than her dress, Sakura let out a
yelp and slid under the table and hid there whimpering while Naruto wove his
way back through the crowd with another beer. He put it on top of the table
very carefully, then bent his head under the edge of the table to blink at
"What about edible soap?" Naruto asked fuzzily.
Sakura's response was nearly incoherent, involving much
whimpering and the phrases "didn't need to imagine," "such a
liar," and "except I can see him trying to--" followed by more
whimpering and several more iterations of "bad mental images! bad!"
Naruto blinked a couple times, propped his chin on the edge
of the table, and asked his far too smugly grinning teacher, "What'd you
do to Sakura-chan?"
"Who, me?" Kakashi tried innocently batting the
eyelashes on the one visible eye. It must not have worked very well; Naruto
looked like he'd just bitten into a sour pickle that squirmed and was trying to
decide whether or not to run screaming.
"...Never mind! Need more beer," the boy decided
with a shudder, and picked up his mug very carefully.
After a while, Sasuke had pulled away of course, and it had
taken a long time for him to stop storming around the house doing whatever
growling and sulking his pride considered necessary for the reassemblage of his
usual "I'm cold and surly and completely independent, no seriously, I am,
and stop chuckling right now dammit" image.
Iruka didn't try to disturb him this time, simply waiting
for the boy to stop pacing circles around the floor and glaring out the windows
and muttering scathing things under his breath about idiot strays without the
sense to come home for the night.
Finally, done with his prowling, Sasuke had plonked himself
down partway across the room and settled in to smolder and be desperately
angsty and superior and irritated and not a lonely child at all
thank-you-very-much. But he'd left his scroll in front of the sofa, and
when he got done with his "I don't care if you're watching me, see how
much I don't care if you're watching me, I'm all tough and grown up dammit,
see?" fume-fest, it was rather dull with nothing to do beyond
Carefully nonchalant, as though the boy were actually some
undomesticated and touchily proud wild animal, Iruka reached down and patted
the sofa cushion that was still propped there waiting for Sasuke's back to
settle against it.
Sasuke stiffened and looked away with a little 'hmph.'
Iruka didn't say anything, quietly flipping through his
grade book to review his notes on the students whose papers he was rereading
for the fifth time, in an effort to look inoffensive and non-dangerous and
He was, he had to admit, quite good at it. Looking
non-threatening was one of the most potentially dangerous tactics in a
shinobi's arsenal -- and Iruka had been chosen from the entirety of the village
to be the one who taught future ninja the very foundations of their art.
He would never have been appointed if he hadn't mastered those foundations to
the point where they were nearly as simple as breathing.
Of course there was no question of who would win if he and
Sasuke faced off in a match of pure strength... but in a match of the arts of ninjutsu, the ones
involving psychology and subtlety, Iruka had the unfair advantages of both
years of training and years of life surviving the relentless smirking
psychological warfare which was Kakashi on the prowl.
Making a small sound of surprise, Iruka looked down at the
gentle bulge in the overalls, and smiled, and patted the baby-roundness with a
tender, affectionate hand. The little gasp had been completely calculated; in
truth, the baby was peacefully settled into the curve of his hips, rocked to
sleep by the gentle rise and fall of Iruka's breathing, but Sasuke
didn't know Iruka wasn't being kicked at the moment. Iruka didn't need to look
up in order to feel Sasuke's eyes, all his attention focused on the idle
pat-pat, pat-pat of that light, lovingly parental hand.
The boy swallowed hard. Still gently smiling down at the
sleeping curve of the baby as he patted that drowsy rhythm, Iruka thought to
himself, I wonder if this counts as abuse of power? I know I'm taking
utterly shameless advantage of my condition; the poor boy honestly doesn't
have a chance... it's not fair at all, really.
It was only a matter of time until Sasuke had inched over to
the sofa in the not-quite-movement of a stretching cat, trying hard to look
like he wasn't moving at all, and certainly not in response to a manipulative
temptation. No, cats went precisely where they wanted when they wanted, on
their own time, and the availability of a human's fingertips to provide ear
scritches were completely not part of the consideration. Pillows and
quiet, family-gentle company were just as irrelevant to the Broody Avenger as
ear scritches were to a cat. So was the scroll. Completely irrelevant. Sasuke
just happened to find himself sitting by the sofa again. That was all.
Iruka kept reading, trying not to let himself smile too
By the time of the last call, none of the other bar-goers
were feeling foolhardy enough to try to pry Sakura off the karaoke system; she
was sprawled on the floor half-propped against one of the speakers, the
microphone in one hand and a beer in the other. She growled wordlessly at
anyone who came too close between songs, flipping pages with a toe until her
eyes blearily focused on something she wanted to sing to Sasuke, no longer caring
that he wasn't there to hear it.
took your coat off and stood in the rain; you were always crazy like that.
watched from my window, always felt I was outside looking in on you.
were always the mysterious one, with dark eyes and careless hair;
were fashionably sensitive, but too cool to care.
you stood in my doorway, with nothing to say besides some comment on the
in case you failed to notice, in case you failed to see--
is my heart bleeding before you; this is me down on my knees..."
Kakashi sighed to himself a little, and finished his second
I wondered how long it would take her to strip away
enough layers to come to this level of honesty with herself. Too bad Naruto's
not coherent enough to be listening to lyrics anymore...
Naruto was face-down on the karaoke book making gargling
half-snoring sounds. Kakashi put a hand on his shoulder and shook gently.
"Naruto-kun? It's last call for beer; they'll be
"Bu' I still haven' foun' a shong..." When Naruto
sat up, one of the pages was beer-stuck to his cheek; he peeled it off
gingerly, and his eyes vaguely struggled to focus on the page, more habit than
...And then Naruto's eyes lit up like... like...
After some consideration, Kakashi realized he'd last seen
that sparkle-sparkle-fizz-flare in a package of recently-lit high
explosives prepped to level half a city block. The bar table was clearly not
going to be enough protection, and he wondered in some alarm whether the walls
would even be standing afterwards.
The boy gave the most unholy cackle he'd heard since
Maybe this beer thing hadn't been that great an idea after
all. Cautiously, Kakashi felt the 'tone' of Naruto's chakra... swaying and
flaring with the relaxant effects of the alcohol, but not crimson-tinged from
any strain on the kyuubi's seal; so what on earth...?
Kakashi managed to keep his voice fairly steady as he asked,
"Naruto, what the--"
"I found MY SONG!" Naruto crowed at the top
of his lungs, and began to stagger a not-at-all-straight line toward the
karaoke machine and Sakura.
In half-horrified bemusement, Kakashi found he couldn't look
away from the brief, loud, and ugly battle over the microphone. Naruto won, not
surprisingly, but Sakura was vicious when drunk; he almost wondered if this was
an avenue to pursue in training, then shuddered at the thought of having to
deal with this again.
Naruto punched numbers on the karaoke machine, chortling
with maniacal glee, then announced into the microphone, "This is the song
I've wanted to sing my whole life! This is MY song!"
And he jumped up on top of the speakers and started
head-banging to the opening chords of a tune Kakashi had never heard before.
There might have been something intended for a melody at
some point, but it was hard to tell between the electric guitars and Naruto's
top-of-the-lungs, give-it-your-all-and-then-some style of far too
overexcited cover music:
FOR A DOLLAR!
IN THREE MINUTES!
TO RAMEN NOOOOOOOODLES~~!"
...There was a horrible electrical squerch.
Sakura was leaning against the wall with the power plug in
one hand, eyes shadowed, panting with shaking horror.
Naruto's eyes vanished into slits.
With an incoherent howl of rage, he jumped for Sakura and
the power plug.
Kakashi decided that the "forcefully apply skull to
hard horizontal surface, repeat until it stops hurting" prescription for
drunken karaoke survival really did have its good points after all. It
was doing wonders for his own state of mind so far.
Purely as a humanitarian gesture, he pushed the beer mugs
off the table and onto the floor in order to have more surface area available
for beating suffering fellow patrons' heads against, in case the drunken
bar-wide brawl in the making decided to keep spreading. Really, putting them
out of their misery was a blessing at this point, and he saw a recognition of
that in the faces of some of the glassy-eyed bottle-wielders who were heading
Kakashi was fairly sure they'd thank him for it tomorrow --
provided he survived that long, of course. He wasn't worried about the drunks
in the least. Iruka's temper, on the other hand... taking the kids to karaoke
was one thing, but bringing them home after a bar brawl was something
Kakashi sidestepped neatly, twisted the bottle out of the
drunk's hand, and planted another skull firmly against the Merciful Table of
"Yes, I know," he said to the now-limp body
sliding to the floor. "At least for you, the suffering's over with for a
while. Why do I have the feeling mine's just started...?"
"rrrrAAAGGGHHH--Aiyeeee~~! Ow ow ow ow--" thud
"...And pleasant dreams to you too."