|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2004-09-13 00:12:00
Missed Iruka's birthday thanks to crazy con prep/summer insanity, but here's a Side Effects side story for Kakashi's birthday... (sweatdrop) this is unedited 'cause I'm starting Sunday and I have to finish it fast if I'm going to get the chance before the 15th... of course, a late birthday present for Kakashi would be WAY too perfect. Anyway, hope y'all like?
Iruka had always loved the beginning of autumn; this year he was particularly delighted by it, though. August's heat and humidity was bad enough, but adding it to pregnancy's awkwardness and elevated body temperature made it even more miserable. The summer's sticky heat wave had finally broken, though, and some of the leaves were just beginning to turn colors; he smiled out the window at the gold-edged green of the tree in front of the schoolhouse, then quietly crept toward the bedroom door.
Iruka was sure Kakashi had woken up when he moved; Kakashi never failed to notice the slightest sound, the slightest shift in motion in any room he was in, as a consequence of years of training and life on the ANBU front lines. But he was equally sure Kakashi was still pretending to be asleep, in order to wrench a few more minutes (or hours) of drowsing out of the morning.
This particular morning, Iruka planned to let him. As exasperating as it could sometimes be to need to physically evict his drowsily lecherous lover from the bed in the mornings, on this one day in particular, Iruka was counting on the fact that Kakashi rarely got up until he'd been either coaxed or threatened. It gave Iruka time to visit the market and buy sanma for his favorite breakfast.
Birthdays only happened once a year, and Iruka was determined to make the most of them.
The fishmonger in the village market was a tall, lanky, painfully shy young man who blushed even more ferociously than Iruka did; his grandmother took care of dealing with actual customers, and the little old grandmother was feisty and chatty enough for three or four grandsons. So Granny Sakamoto crowed greetings to the pregnant young schoolteacher, and bustled around the end of the counter to coo and pat the ripening mound of the baby and laugh at the strength of the kicks from within and deliver nonstop prenatal and parenting advice without apparently pausing for breath.
Today's lecture involved posture and the need to support the tummy and lower back as the pregnancy grew heavy; Iruka nodded when it seemed appropriate, and tried not to squeak when Granny smoothed the maternity gown over the baby-bulge and started a delighted commentary on how big Iruka's tummy was getting, and how carrying so high and forward meant a girl because boys were carried lower and broader in the hips, and so on and so forth. Sakamoto-kun the fishmonger, his face as red as his freshest tuna, gave Iruka a look that was so desperately helpless and apologetic that Iruka wished he could have gotten a word in edgewise to reassure the poor embarrassed young man.
Because really, although it was a little embarrassing, Iruka understood that the old lady's delight in a young mother's pregnancy was sincere and heartfelt. And he had no parents of his own to make a fuss over the coming of a first grandchild; neither did Kakashi. So he stood and smiled down at the little old lady, and waited patiently for the gleeful chatter to swing around to the topic of what Iruka had actually come to buy.
This was the other reason Iruka was glad Kakashi rarely got up on his own. It wouldn't matter how long Granny Sakamoto wanted to chat before breakfast was ready... and if Kakashi was the type who did get up early and come to market, then Iruka would have had to deal with Kakashi meeting Granny Sakamoto. And then the imp in Kakashi would have been compelled to judge a blushing contest between Iruka and Sakamoto-kun, which would have meant the need to cause a blushing contest between Iruka and Sakamoto-kun, and Granny Sakamoto would have been far too eager to assist, and they would have gotten along like a house afire -- rather too literally for the mental health of anyone in their vicinity, in fact. So, all in all, it was a good thing that Kakashi took every excuse he could find to sleep in...
...ah, here was the magic phrase: "You know, we have some excellent clams in this morning and I was just telling Heisuke-kun that we should make some oden. Are you in the oden-making mood, Iruka-sensei?"
Iruka ordered some fresh and some salt-grilled sanma, because salt-grilled sanma with eggplant miso soup was Kakashi's favorite; and so Granny Sakamoto was nodding approvingly and starting in on a lecture about the importance of getting enough calcium for the baby, and enough protein, and plenty of seaweed too because of all the minerals and vitamins, and they had some good fresh wakame, here she'd throw some in free, have to make sure the baby's healthy and all, and they don't pay teachers enough, shameful really, teachers are vital for the children of the future! So of course Iruka had to take the wakame -- for the children's sake, all of them, the teacher had to stay healthy and set a good example -- now mind, wash it good because of the salt, and drink plenty of good green tea too, did they need some more tea? no? Well, Iruka knew where to come whenever they ran out -- and be sure to get that fish straight into the refrigerator at home, it's packed in ice but that'll melt in an hour in this weather...
Iruka kept smiling and bowing as he backed carefully out of the shop, feeling behind him with a toe before he set a foot down. Bowing had become awkward; his belly was growing more round and full, and so he couldn't quite bend properly anymore, but everyone seemed to understand, somehow. Granny Sakamoto giggled like a much younger girl at the clumsiness, and patted the baby-mound again, and shooed Iruka off toward home and the refrigerator for the fish.
There was one more stop he had to make on the way back, and this one took more mental bracing than Granny Sakamoto did; Iruka paused and took several careful, steadying breaths before he walked into the greengrocer's shop.
The greengrocer was an intimidating man: nearly seven feet tall and as broad as two of Iruka put together, all of it pure muscle. Iruka sometimes wondered if he'd gone into vegetables simply because anyone would have been too intimidated to walk into the butcher shop of a man with his build holding a cleaver and covered in blood and innards. And somehow, the greengrocer seemed to take Iruka's pregnancy as a personal affront; he glared and muttered, and took an almost vengeful satisfaction in making a point of personally choosing the best vegetables to sell to Iruka, as if to get the teacher out of his store more quickly.
Iruka had no idea what he'd done to offend the man, but the greengrocer did sell wonderful vegetables; and so, firmly reminding himself that this was for a special occasion, Iruka slipped quietly into the shop and began looking for eggplant. Kakashi loved grilled eggplant in miso soup nearly as much as he loved Icha Icha Paradise. There was just no accounting for some people's taste.
A harrumph from behind startled Iruka, who clutched at his package of fish and turned around hastily. "Good morning, sir," he managed, and didn't quite squeak, and tried his best to bow deeply. For some reason, that gained another harrumph, and the grocer took the eggplant right out of his hands and put them back on the shelf and glowered.
"Er... are those not for sale? I'm sorry, I thought... I mean, they looked like they were for sale, and.." Iruka bit his lip hard to keep from letting any more of the nervous chatter escape.
The greengrocer glared at him for another long minute, then grunted, "Stay there," and turned on his heel and stalked into the back of the shop.
Surely somebody else has eggplant, Iruka thought frantically, edging towards the door. I don't know if he has a cleaver back there. For the pumpkins or something. --Somebody else has to have eggplant...
...too late; the greengrocer was coming back with a jar and a crockery pot in his hands, and he set them on the counter and glared.
"I'm sorry," Iruka said reflexively, torn between terrorized intimidation and the wild impulse to laugh at the sheer absurdity. "I didn't know the eggplants weren't for sale--"
"Not for you," the grocer said.
Iruka ran a hand down his face, and took a very careful breath to try to fight off the wave of sheer outrage, and he said very carefully, "I'm very sorry I've offended you somehow. It wasn't intentional. I don't even know what it is I've done. But if my business is that unwelcome, I'll shop elsewhere. If you'll excuse me--"
A huge hand came down on Iruka's shoulder, and he wavered for a minute. A grade school teacher doesn't know how to break a man's elbow with a twist of the wrist. But if the other hand comes at me, his elbow's gone and the kneecap's next--
"That's not it," the grocer said, scowling even more fiercely than usual. "They're not good. Not good enough."
Iruka felt his jaw drop open, but couldn't quite figure out what to do about it. He blinked up at the greengrocer several times, then tried again.
"I... er... what...?" he managed.
"These are better," the grocer said. "Yesterday's. Grilled them. You're buying them for breakfast miso? Don't bother with those. Take too long to salt, won't be done in time."
Feeling a little light-headed, Iruka carefully sat on the edge of a barrel and tried for coherence. "How...? I mean... huh...?"
The grocer pointed at the parcel of wrapped fish and its label. "Sanma," he said, and then pushed the jars closer across the counter with a fierce glare. "These are better. Take them!"
Hastily, Iruka scooped up the jars. "Uh... thank you? I, er, don't quite understand, but that's all right; I don't mind if you don't. I mean, do you mind? I can't tell, so I'm guessing, and I'm blathering now aren't I. I should shut up. I really should. Uh. Right. Eggplant. Already grilled. Thank you. Er... what's in the crock...?"
"Umeboshi," the grocer grunted. "For you. The shiso kind, not the salty kind."
Iruka blinked down at the little pot of pickled plums in utter bemusement.
Scowling at the floor, the grocer muttered, "Good for pregnancy. Sour. Vitamins too. Helps digestion. --Pregnant women eat a lot of umeboshi."
That was the longest complete sentence Iruka had ever heard from the man. He simply stared at the crock in his hands, and then up at the vegetable-loving surly giant.
The grocer thumped a huge fist on the countertop angrily. "...Bastard."
Now completely confused, Iruka managed a "Huh?"
The grocer hauled a box of squash out from under the counter and produced an evil-looking cleaver and split one of the squash down the center, tearing the seeded guts out with his bare hands and flinging them into a scrap barrel. "Bastard," the grocer said again, and gutted another squash. "Doesn't deserve you. You're smart. You're a teacher."
The awe in the grocer's voice when he said 'teacher' was a little alarming. I'm not feeling particularly smart right now, Iruka thought, and had to bite down hard on a laugh that wouldn't have been taken well. "I'm really sorry, sir, but I don't understand..."
"You're too smart for that bastard. Make him marry you. Or marry somebody better! For the baby." The grocer glared again, and pointed a finger dripping squash guts toward the swollen curve rounding the front of Iruka's maternity dress. "Someone should take care of you. Go shopping for you. Work for you. Let you rest. He doesn't. Bastard."
"That's not it at all!" Iruka said, startled. "I mean -- it's not that he's not... I want to do these things, I really do. I'd go mad if I couldn't do anything but sit around, I like keeping busy, and besides it's his birthday, and I wanted to make him something-- it's not that he doesn't take care of me, he does, just... not the way most people think of it, but... he's strong, and patient, and caring, even if he teases a lot too much, but it's all right because it's him-- I mean... I..." Iruka stopped and sighed. "I'm saying this all wrong, but..."
The grocer scowled down at his latest squash victim and tore the guts out with particular vehemence. "You love the bastard," he muttered.
The grocer heaved a huge sigh. "Love makes people stupid."
Ruefully, Iruka said, "I suppose so, yes. What do I owe you for these?"
The grocer transferred his glare from the squash to Iruka and growled, "I said, take them!"
Iruka scooped up the groceries and fled.
With a rueful sigh, Iruka gestured toward the other pot, which was covered to keep it warm. "Put the ramen in your miso."
"But it has eggplant in it!" From the tone of the boy's voice, it sounded like eggplant was a virulent and agonizing poison.
"I know, but Kakashi likes it that way," Iruka replied mildly.
"Jeez. Just because it's his birthday you don't have to kill the rest of us..."
"You could always cook your own breakfast, you know."
Naruto gave him a look of such utter bemusement that Iruka started laughing despite himself.
"I take it you want chashuu ramen for breakfast on your birthday, then?"
Naruto nodded vigorously. "Lots of it!" Then his brow furrowed, and he looked at Iruka's belly. "Except you're going to be really fat by then."
"Excuse me," Iruka said, with half-lidded eyes.
"Well, you are," Naruto said, leaning his elbows on the counter and staring at Iruka's bulge. "If you shouldn't be standing up and stuff when it gets around to my birthday, I could get Sakura-chan to do it if I tell her Sasuke asked..."
"It's all right," Iruka said wryly. "I'm not going to be too fat to stand up, you know."
Naruto still looked skeptical. Iruka reached over and swatted him on the head with the spoon. "I'm pregnant, not incapacitated," Iruka said sourly. "And I'm not going to get that fat."
The boy wrinkled up his nose in thought. "You sure?"
Iruka hit him with the spoon again, then tossed it into the sink and got another.
"'Cause if you do get that fat, really, Sakura-chan would..."
Iruka went fishing in the sink. Only instead of coming out with the wooden spoon, he came out with a frying pan that he thumped against a palm meaningfully.
"I'm just saying!" With a reflexive hunch lower into the orange jacket, Naruto mumbled, "Sakura-chan says sometimes pregnant women have a hard time with the last couple months 'cause they're all tired out from carrying around the baby, and they need to stay lying down all the time with their feet up and stuff... so I'm just saying, if you want help or something..."
"...Oh." Iruka put the pan back in the sink, and reached over; Naruto ducked in case it was another swat, but Iruka just ruffled his hair. "If you're worried, why don't you just say it that way, instead of going on for hours about how fat I'm going to be?"
Naruto rolled his eyes heavenward. "Picky, picky."
"Says the kid who won't eat eggplant in miso ramen."
"But it's eggplant," Naruto said again, and heaved a huge sigh. "I know, I know, it's Kakashi-sensei's birthday. But he better not ask for eggplant for lunch or I'm gonna hurt him!"
"I do need to warn you," Iruka said, the corners of his lips twitching with a grin he was fighting back. "Chances are quite good that he's not going to ask for ramen for lunch or dinner. Do you think you can survive?"
Naruto looked up at him with the face of a martyr in stained glass and heaved an enormous sigh. "It's just one day... right?"
Iruka nodded, and began ladling the soup into five bowls. "You can have ramen again tomorrow, I promise. And you can put that ramen in with the miso if you like..."
"I'm not gonna spoil perfectly good ramen with eggplant," Naruto said, shuddering.
"Your choice," Iruka said, and put lids on two of the bowls and set them on a tray that held a teapot and plates of grilled sanma arranged on shiso leaves. "I'm going to take these upstairs; will you tell the others that breakfast is ready if they want it?"
"Sure thing," Naruto said, staring glumly into his bowl. "There better be birthday cake or something later."
Iruka blinked, his hands pausing in the process of dishing rice into bowls to go with the soup. "...I didn't think of that."
"How do you not think of birthday cake?"
A little sheepish, Iruka scratched behind an ear and said, "I was concentrating so hard on getting the soup right..."
"There isn't a 'right' about eggplant!" Naruto planted both hands on his hips and shook his head in resignation. "Okay, somebody's going to have to do something about this. Got any birthday cake recipes or stuff?"
"No ramen in the cake!" Iruka said hastily.
Naruto shot him an incredulous look. "What kind of weirdo do you think I am?"
"Er..." The obsessed with ramen kind? "Just checking," Iruka offered a bit lamely. "Here." He handed the boy some money and suggested, "Why don't you take the others to the bookstore after breakfast? I'm sure Sakura-kun will have some ideas on what makes a good cake cookbook, and you can get ingredients while you're there."
Naruto looked a little too contemplative, looking down at the handful of shopping money, but Iruka didn't feel like worrying about it just yet; first he had to survive feeding Kakashi breakfast in bed without getting molested and ending up with fish and miso all over their bedding.
Iruka crept into their room quietly; Kakashi looked asleep, but then he always did. He set the tray down carefully before he reached over to touch his lover's shoulder.
"Rrrrgh..." Kakashi rolled over onto Iruka's hand and rubbed his cheek against his forearm.
"Kakashi," Iruka said, torn between exasperation and amusement. "Breakfast."
"...mmmm..." Eyes still closed, Kakashi nuzzled at the captive arm, and licked at it, and nibbled a little, and started wriggling closer, somehow still keeping the sheets tucked up to his shoulders.
"No, not me," Iruka said with a sigh, trying to tug his arm free with little success. Kakashi kept wriggling his way across the bed, and he seemed to be oozing his way up Iruka's arm to nibble up towards the shoulder. Or toward the cleavage, Iruka realized a moment too late, when Kakashi buried his face there and started nuzzling.
"...All right, now I know you're not asleep!" Iruka planted a palm on Kakashi's face and pushed. "Breakfast first, before it gets cold."
"First?" Kakashi echoed brightly, no sleep-fuzziness at all. "Meaning that the more interesting parts come second, third, and...?"
Blushing despite himself, Iruka said, "But you have to eat your breakfast first!"
With a sudden whirlwind of blankets, Kakashi was sitting there quite properly on the edge of the futon. "Why didn't you say so sooner?"
With a sigh blended of exasperation and affection, Iruka leaned over and kissed Kakashi's cheek. "Happy birthday, love."
"It's certainly shaping up that way, yes," Kakashi replied, with his best cheerfully lecherous grin.
Downstairs, Sakura walked sleepily into the kitchen and stopped short at the expression on Naruto's face. She took a couple hesitant steps backwards, then turned and bolted for the door; not quite fast enough, though.
"SAKURA-CHAN! We've got a super special mission from Iruka-sensei and you've GOT to help! Iruka-sensei said so!"
Struggling to pry the orange leech off her arm, Sakura leaned an elbow into his face and said, "What are you on about this time?"
"Iruka-sensei was all busy cooking -- urgh -- eggplant miso so he-I-mean-she didn't have time to get a birthday cake for Kakashi-sensei so we've gotta go to the bookstore and get a cookbook and some ingredients and we gotta get Sasuke in on it too 'cause he'll--"
Those were the magic words; Sakura immediately stopped prying and floated off into her Sasuke-dreamland. "That's right! We've got to get Sasuke in on it so I can impress him with how magnificently I can cook! Which means we've got to get exactly the right cookbook -- so what are we doing standing around here? Come on, move it!"
"You know, that kinda wasn't how I figured on the conversation going, somehow," Naruto said, scratching his head.
"What do you care? I'm baking the cake for Iruka-sensei's 'mission,' right? Come on, come on, we've got to get Sasuke-kun too--"
"But Iruka-sensei made breakfast."
Sakura blinked over at the pot. "...And it's not ramen?"
"No! It's eggplant!"
Sakura blinked at her bowl and shrugged. "Well, at least it's not ramen. And we need energy to go shopping. Eat your breakfast."
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto wailed.
Ignoring him, she picked up her bowl and gulped down the contents in ten seconds. She scarfed down her rice and fish, picked up Sasuke's soup and rice and fish, and said, "Stay here, I'm going to serve Sasuke-kun breakfast."
Naruto's face crinkled up. "But... but... it's eggplant... but he deserves it... but it's Sakura-chan... but...!"
While he was debating whether or not to rescue Sasuke from the horrors of eggplant miso, Sakura walked out of the kitchen and kicked the door closed behind herself, heading for the boys' makeshift bedroom and trilling, "Sasuke-kun! I've got your breakfast!"
When the children left for the bookstore, Naruto shut the door loudly enough to rattle the windows; Kakashi immediately put down the fish he'd been picking at, and grinned at Iruka.
"It's my birthday, remember?" Kakashi purred, and slunk closer. "And I ate breakfast and everything. And you're looking like a tantalizing midmorning snack."
"Um. --We should at least lock the door first..."
Kakashi pulled out a kunai and flung it at the door without even looking. The kunai thunked into the door and effectively nailed it into the frame. "Good enough?"
Feeling his face burn, Iruka nodded, and tried to keep his voice steady. "What do you want most...?"
Kakashi paused in his slinking, and blinked his one visible eye at Iruka. "What do you mean?"
"I'm... I'm trying to make today perfect for you," Iruka said, hating the way his face burned with shame. "So... um... what do you want most? I mean... I can't imagine how you can want me like this, but you do, and I'm happy, bewildered, grateful -- but if you'd rather have me... um... like I used to be...?"
Kakashi was staring at him. Iruka closed his eyes tightly and plunged ahead. "I mean, I can give you a clone who's... what I used to be. I mean... thin and athletic and, er, not clumsy and fat and... so... whichever you want, whatever you want me to be, I'll give that to you--"
"Are you," Kakashi asked in growing astonishment, "you, actually trying to be kinky?"
"No! Not deliberately anyway -- I mean... unless... unless you want that... but otherwise no, I'm just..." Iruka stopped, and shrugged, and looked away. "I want to give you a gift you'll truly take pleasure in. And it's so hard to tell -- you're always teasing, you're always flirting, I don't know which of me you'd really rather have. So I don't know which to give you today. So please, you choose, because I don't know how to guess. I don't know if I want to guess..."
Abruptly, Kakashi's seduction-mode was gone as though he'd turned off a light switch, and he sat beside Iruka and set a gentle fingertip under his lover's chin. "What is this about really?" he murmured.
"This is about you," Iruka said, eyes closed tight against the fear of something he didn't want to see in Kakashi's face. "This is for you. I just don't know how much you've been -- tolerating what I've become, or whether you truly want me like this -- I don't know which you prefer, and I'm almost afraid to ask, but--" Iruka stopped and clamped a hand over his mouth a minute too late. "...oh, damn. I'm sorry, Kakashi-- I didn't mean--"
Kakashi was staring at him again, and even without the Sharingan, he was seeing much more than Iruka was comfortable with. "Afraid to ask?" he echoed, strangely gentle. "Because you're afraid of both answers...? Afraid to know that I might prefer you as you were, a strong and graceful man -- or to learn that I might prefer the woman, even growing awkward with the child within... and so there isn't a right answer for me to give, is there? Because each of them will hurt you differently."
"That's not what I meant--"
"It's not what you meant to say, certainly," Kakashi agreed. "But I think it's exactly what you meant. Can you look me in the eye and tell me I'm wrong?"
"...I'm sorry," Iruka murmured. "I'm -- I shouldn't have even started talking. Please. Just tell me who you'd want and I'll be that person for you today--"
But Kakashi shook his head, and bent and brushed a kiss against Iruka's cheek -- and then he said, "Make some clones. Several of them."
Iruka gawked at him, feeling his face turn scarlet. "You... you can't possibly mean... can you...?"
Kakashi's eye widened -- and then he laughed aloud. "Now that thought hadn't even occurred to me! Although it would be quite educational-- chakra control through an astoundingly intense collection of distractions...? I wonder..."
"No!" Iruka yelped.
Kakashi chuckled again, and brushed a fingertip over the blush brightening Iruka's face. "Some other time, then. No, love. What I meant was for you to try the ball-and-shell game on me. Make some clones, and shuffle places, and I'll keep my eyes closed. Make yourself and them into whatever you want them to be. Whoever you want to let me choose between. And I won't use Sharingan. And I'll choose that way. All right?" He pulled his headband down over both eyes and turned away.
Iruka drew a shaking breath, and began shaping seals with his hands. The man he'd been a year ago, sturdy and solid and slender; and the sort of woman he imagined Kakashi would like, the sort of woman in Kakashi's books, slender and busty and wide-eyed in lingerie threatening to slip off one creamy shoulder... and who else...? Another man, someone more like Kakashi himself -- a cheerful flirt who would happily dive into Kakashi's perverted schemes with him, rather than hesitating over practicality or embarrassment. And a woman not as far advanced in pregnancy, her belly visibly round and ripening, but not yet so heavy as to be awkward. And he needed to disguise himself as well...
Iruka couldn't make himself slender now; one touch would ruin that illusion. But he could pad his belly and deepen the perception of pregnancy, so that Kakashi had a full range of choices: his Icha-Para heroine, or the more gently rounded mother-to-be, or the great gravid imminence of nine full months.
He nudged the Icha-Para heroine, and she winked at him before she called out, "Open your eyes!"
Kakashi readjusted his headband, and looked around, and said in grinning delight, "You know me far too well. Now this is what I call a happy birthday!"
"We're looking for birthday cake books, not Valentine-chocolate," Sasuke told Sakura with a sigh.
"...Oh! Silly me, I wonder how that found its way into my hands..." She put the book back hastily, and made a show of turning around to face the baking cookbooks again.
Naruto tugged on Sasuke's sleeve and rolled his eyes ostentatiously towards the corner and jerked his head that way a few times just to make sure the point got across.
Sasuke sighed again, and went where bidden, and only when they were safely out of Sakura's earshot did he bother to actually speak. "You know you've got the subtlety of a brick to the head, moron."
"Shut up! Anyway, the point is, we've got to get Kakashi-sensei a birthday present too, right?"
Taking that as agreement, Naruto said, "You know how much he loves those pervert books. And we're both too young to buy 'em. So here's the plan. I go and light some toilet paper in the bathroom sink and pull the fire alarm and then I stick some money in the cash register while the bookseller guy's not looking because he's putting out the fire in the bathroom, and you grab the book and run away through the fire escape!"
"That's the plan?"
"It's better than me being the one who has to not get noticed, isn't it?" Naruto pointed out sourly.
"I don't even want to touch one of those books. Who knows what the people who were reading them were doing..."
"But think about the mission! The mission!"
"This is your 'mission,' moron. I've got a better present in mind anyway."
"A better present for Kakashi-sensei than Icha Icha Paradise?!"
"You heard me." Sasuke brushed past, heading toward the front of the shop where Sakura was checking out.
Stymied, Naruto dashed for the hentai manga section, then tried to salvage what he could of the plan. He wrapped a smoke bomb in a couple of bills, picked up the Icha Icha Paradise CD special (with the first-edition making-of DVD included), and whistled sharply.
"Oi! Bastard! Think fast!"
Sasuke put his hands up by reflex, just in time for the speeding CD case to thump into his palms. Two seconds later, the smoke bomb slammed into the wall behind the shopkeeper's head and burst into clouds of variegated smoke and dust. Giggling like mad, Naruto leapt over three bookshelves and dove out the fire escape door, setting off the alarm in the process.
Gauging by the howls of outrage coming from behind, Naruto's blazing orange jumpsuit hadn't gone unnoticed. Ah, just like the old days, Naruto thought happily, and set off to carve as great a swathe of vandalism and mischief as he could manage. Got to give Sasuke the chance to escape with the mission target, after all!
Naruto shot a look over his shoulder.
...wait, was that Sasuke back there chasing him...? And Sakura too?
The kunai that whizzed past his left ear pretty much confirmed that guess. Naruto gulped hard and started running faster. On the bright side -- at least we're getting ourselves and the mission target out of range... that's good, right? And they're putting up a good show for the book-seller dude?
He dodged another kunai hastily, and thought, A really, really good show...
Somehow, Iruka's offer of Kakashi's choice of lovers had turned into the world's most surreal nonalcoholic cocktail party. Other-Iruka was helpfully offering the second-trimester mother to be a backrub and advice on choosing schools, both of them 'sipping' at the leftover tea from breakfast; the Icha-Para heroine was busily flirting away with both Kakashi and the flirtatious extrovert, both of whom were flirting back as naturally as breathing.
Iruka never had been much good at cocktail parties, particularly flirt-filled ones. A little awkwardly, he wandered toward other-Iruka and the mother-to-be, because they looked less intimidating. Other-Iruka smiled a welcome and patted a seat on the futon; he'd turned his hands to rubbing at Iruka's shoulders before they'd even 'introduced' themselves. Well, this is one useful thing I've learned about clones this morning, Iruka thought. There's enough of me in them that they know when and where my back hurts before I even tell them...
Other-Iruka's voice sounded just like Iruka's own, and it was a little eerie to hear your own voice saying things you weren't saying yourself. Other-Iruka was friendly and sympathetic, and very good at backrubs, and Iruka made a mental note to remember how to create this particular clone, because nine months of weight dragged painfully at his lower back and talented hands were a welcome relief whether or not they were technically human hands.
He wished Kakashi would just make his choice, so that he wouldn't have to watch him deciding.
Kakashi glanced over at the other group, and sheer mischief glinted in his visible eye -- and then there was a startled-looking 'Kakashi' trying gamely to catch up with the flirts' conversation, and the mother-to-be tied her hair-scarf over a mismatched eye and settled down on the futon beside the Irukas, both of whom were blinking in bemused unison.
"Kawarimi?" other-Iruka asked. "Why bother?"
"They're both interested in men, so she needed to look like a man to keep their interest," the 'mother-to-be' said, looking with interest down at her own breasts. "Now that's a sight I don't see every day..."
"Pervert," the Irukas said in unison, and then looked at each other, and the 'mother-to-be' snickered.
"Still, this is interesting. I have cleavage! I'm not used to having cleavage. --Or this too, of course," she added, patting the swell of her belly. "There's nothing inside a kawarimi-swap, though. I don't feel a baby moving. I was curious about what it felt like from inside... ah well. I'm not curious enough to find out the other way!" She grinned, and stretched, and with a faint puff of chakra-smoke, it was Kakashi sitting beside them again. "So how do I decide between the two of you?"
Both Irukas looked at each other, and then at Kakashi. "Between us?" Iruka asked carefully.
"You looked like you were enjoying the company," other-Iruka said, just as carefully.
"A gift for making small talk has nothing to do with desire," Kakashi replied, smiling at them both. "You two are the tricky ones, though. Temptation in two gorgeous packages; what's a self-respecting pervert to do? Such a dilemma... I don't suppose I can taste-test, can I?"
Both of the Irukas choked, wheezed, and started spluttering: "You -- you perverted --" "No! Not in public--" "--not that this is public exactly--" "--but it feels like it--" "--yes, it does! So that means no--"
"I meant a kiss, of course," Kakashi said, fascinated. "What did you think I meant?"
The Irukas looked at each other, and other-Iruka curled up in a ball and hid his face in his knees muttering something incoherent, and Iruka hid in the back of other-Iruka's shirt because curling up in a ball wasn't an option with a taut round bellyful of baby in the way.
"...You are a very, very bad man."
"Me? I'm not the one who thought of it!"
Other-Iruka curled up smaller, almost whimpering. Kakashi chuckled and patted his shoulder commiseratingly.
"There there. Let daddy kiss and make it all better."
Other-Iruka glanced up at Iruka, who shrugged helplessly: "It is his birthday..."
Other-Iruka's voice caught with a far too familiar husky, half-breathless hitch as he said, "All right."
Iruka looked away despite himself, to try to give them some semblance of privacy, and to not have to watch Kakashi kissing someone who was and yet wasn't himself.
Other-Iruka made another too-familiar little sound of bliss interrupted when Kakashi pulled away, a little catch of breath as if to protest, followed by a small almost-soundless sigh; Iruka was briefly furious with himself for making sounds like that, so vulnerable and so full of need.
I have to let him choose freely, dammit; this is the day for his fantasies, so if he doesn't choose me -- one of me -- it has to be all right, just for today; making sounds like that isn't fair to the rest of us...
it isn't fair to me; it's just a clone, it shouldn't be able to... to...
but then that's the point of clones: to be able to fool people, or at least people who aren't using Sharingan... but still...!
Kakashi licked his lips, as though savoring the last bite of a sweet dessert; then he smiled down at Iruka and curved a gentle hand to the arch of his throat, fingertips lingering at the pulse-point. "Your turn...?" He guided Iruka's chin up gently, and bent to brush their lips together.
...and if Kakashi had kissed the clone like this, suddenly Iruka couldn't blame it for that little desperate whimper. His lips were warm and passionate and far too skillful, tasting and exploring, and despite the clones and the background chatter and all of it, time stood still as Kakashi's lips claimed Iruka's and marked them as his own.
Iruka couldn't tell if he'd made a sound when Kakashi pulled away or not; he was too busy gasping for breath, his heart pounding fiercely in his throat, against the light, knowing touch of Kakashi's fingertips. Kakashi smiled at him then, the smile of a cat with a sunbeam and a full bowl of sweet fresh cream, and he bent close and kissed Iruka's cheek again.
"I choose you. You can let the clones go now," he murmured into Iruka's ear, and followed it with another kiss; for a moment Iruka wanted nothing more than to melt into Kakashi's lips, but then he pulled back sharply.
"No -- that wasn't the point, the point wasn't some kind of test for you to find me among the clones without Sharingan--"
"Wasn't it?" Kakashi asked, still smiling.
"I wouldn't do that to you! I meant what I offered, damn it-- this wasn't supposed to be a test! I wanted today to be for you--"
"Easy," Kakashi murmured, one hand finding the knot of tension between Iruka's shoulderblades and kneading lightly. "I know you meant it when you offered. I mean this too. I choose you. I don't care what shape the body you're wearing takes. I don't want an illusion that speaks the words you think I want to hear, in a body that isn't yours -- a body whose heartbeat doesn't quicken with my kiss... I'm arrogant that way. You keep trying to offer me my own selfish pleasure, without considering yours -- but, love, it doesn't work that way, because I'm a smug cocky bastard who takes his own pleasure in making you blush and squirm and wriggle... and in making you whisper my name in your passion. I want it to be you. That's the part that matters to me -- regardless of whether you're flexible enough to tie in knots or whether you've grown so awkward you need help putting on your own socks and shoes. I don't care what you are-- just who. All right?"
Iruka stared up at him, mutely stunned.
"And for your information, the only reason I was hesitating between the two of you is that I wondered whether you might be projecting enough of a genjutsu to make me see you as someone who could hug your own knees at the moment," Kakashi added wryly. "One kiss was all it took to figure that one out. Not that your clone's a bad kisser or anything -- just that he's not you."
Still unable to speak around the knot in his throat, Iruka slipped both arms around Kakashi's shoulders and clung tightly, face buried in his lover's chest.
"Of course," Kakashi said far too brightly, "if you feel like playing dress-up, I've got a long list of fantasies to contribute to that cause -- since it'll be you inside the clothes and all. We can play obstetrician -- I'd be the doctor, of course. Or 'schoolgirl who fell in love with her teacher and got pregnant and ran away and now they're having their adoring and passionate reunion' -- that's Icha Icha Paradise #16 in a nutshell basically, I can show you pictures for reference--"
When Kakashi's shirt tore from the force of the grip Iruka had on the fabric, Kakashi shut up.
...Not for long enough, though.
"Or if you want to just tear my clothes off and throw me down and ravish me, I can go for that too-- there's all kinds of Icha Icha reference material we can go over for inspirational purposes--"
"Well, that's nice to know," Kakashi replied, straight-faced.
Iruka took a deep breath and blew it all out, and lifted his head to look Kakashi in the eye, and said, "Pick one."
"Pick one and I'll do it. For you. Because you'd enjoy it. --Mind you, I said one."
Kakashi's grin alone should have been arrested for indecent exposure.