Ino leveled a disbelieving stare at Team 7.
“You really didn’t know,” she said flatly, unconvinced.
Sakura covered her face with both hands, silent in her horror.
Sasuke was actually open-mouthed, wordless, and paler even than before.
Naruto shouted, “You’re lying!”
Ino rolled her eyes. “No,” she said firmly, “I’m not.”
“You have to be lying,” Sakura wailed. “You have to.”
Crossing his arms over his chest, Sasuke joined in with a noise of agreement and narrowed, suspicious eyes.
Ino fluttered an unconcerned hand at them, losing interest. “Whatever,” she said.
Team 7 huddled at Ichiraku later, hovering over empty bowls of ramen—Naruto’s stack pushed off to one side—staring wide-eyed at one another in increasing suspicion.
“You have to know something, Naruto,” Sakura said urgently, looking pale. “You’re Iruka-sensei’s favorite.”
Naruto wrinkled his nose. “He just takes me out for ramen. And makes me clean grafitti.”
“We didn’t say you were his favorite for good reason,” Sasuke growled, and ground the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. He’d been flashing on truly disturbing mental images all day.
Before Naruto could go off on one of his screeds, Sakura said, “Well, I think Ino-pig is lying.” But she sounded unsure even as she said it. Laughing nervously, she added, “Anyway, if Iruka-sensei was married, we would have heard something—or seen a ring!”
“Not everybody wears rings,” Sasuke answered flatly.
Swallowing hard, Sakura asked the next logical question. “Then,” she struggled, “does Kakashi-sensei—?”
“No!” Naruto and Sasuke chorused, and Naruto added furiously, trembling, “Ino has to be lying! Iruka-sensei would never—and with that pervert!”
Even if Naruto didn’t know he was Iruka-sensei’s favorite, there was no question that Iruka-sensei was his, Sasuke thought sourly, trying again to banish the image of their jounin sensei in a steamy embrace with his—God—Academy teacher. There were degrees of wrong and it violated all of them.
“Ne, ne,” Naruto hissed, trying to be discreet, eyes darting left and right, “do you think—do you think Kakashi-sensei is forcing Iruka-sensei against his will?”
Sakura’s eye-roll could be heard in Sand Country. “No, Naruto,”she said flatly, “I don’t think that Kakashi-sensei is forcing Iruka-sensei against his will.” A pause. “First of all, Tsunade-sama would kill him.”
“And then I would kill him,” Naruto said.
“Right,” Sakura said without any conviction, and sighed, rubbing her hands through her hair until it nearly stood up on end. Sasuke reflected that all things considered, this was a tragic waste of time that could potentially be used to train—but before he managed to slip off away from his teammates, he heard Kakashi say:
Naruto and Sakura shouted “Bah!” together and nearly flailed out of their seats, clutching at the shop counter. “Kakashi-sensei!” Sakura managed, huffing and red and huge-eyed.
“Yo,” he said mildly, sliding liquidly into a seat next to Naruto, who was giving him a look reminiscent of a wet and seriously angry cat—hair standing on end. Kakashi looked at him askance and turned to Sakura, saying, “Ne, Sakura.”
“Yes?” she squeaked.
Kakashi rested one cheek on the back of his hand, bracing himself on an elbow in a sloppy, sideways lean that always looked just unbalanced enough to make Sasuke nervous.
“Just checking,” Kakashi continued lazily, looking past them into the bustling street, “but didn’t we have a training scheduled for today?” He cocked his one visible eyebrow. “Two hours ago?”
Sasuke stared at Sakura who stared at Naruto who stared at Kakashi, open-mouthed.
“Oh my God,” Sakura said, sounding vaguely ill. “We’re later than you?”
“Oh well,” Kakashi sighed, aggrieved and rising from his seat. “It’s too bad.”
“Why is it too bad?” Sasuke asked.
It turned out that Kakashi’s perversion and inertia was rivaled only by his cruelty in retribution. Team 7 ended up on four D-rank missions in two weeks: cleaning the royal gutters of a nearby summer estate; escorting a lord’s extraordinarily amorous daughter to her wedding; escorting her back after she’d been spotted molesting a stable boy; retrieving two cats and three gerbils from a thatch of spiny flowers.
“Is this punishment?” Sakura had demanded, helping to pluck thorns out of Naruto’s back—which more closely resembled a hedgehog than a boy. She’d offered, earlier, to help Sasuke. He would have accepted, too, if so many of the spines weren’t so uncomfortably close to his reproductive organs. The life of a ninja was fraught with perils.
“Saa,” Kakashi had said, looking mild. “Why would I punish you?”
And now, they were entrusted with the task of finding a pair of misplaced undergarments, left at one establishment or another in a red light district. Kakashi had told them to divide and conquer and disappeared in a puff with his well-read copy of Icha Icha Paradise.
“Oh, you don’t think he’s taking the opportunity to cheat on poor Iruka-sensei while we’re here, do you?” Sakura had asked, clearly imagining any number of diseased prostitutes Kakashi was engaging in foul sex acts even as she said the words.
Naruto had covered his ears and shouted, “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU THAT WAS NEVER SAID IRUKA-SENSEI IS TOO GOOD FOR THAT PERVERT LA LA LA.”
As much as Sasuke’s fingers had twitched over his weapons then, it was nothing compared to three hours of serious groping from middle-aged perverts trying to make him wear elaborate kimonos only so they could strip Sasuke out of them. “I’m not for sale,” he kept insisting, but Sasuke feared nobody was really listening to him.
After the third time he’d been forced to render a particularly persistent sexual harasser unconscious, he made a beeline for his other teammates when he spied them in the rush, hoping for safety in numbers.
“Did you find anything?” he asked, slumping down beside a shell-shocked Sakura and Naruto.
“Not the underwear,” Sakura said faintly.
“You would not believe what some people here are doing with vegetables,” Naruto reported glumly. “It’s like an entire town of Kakashi-senseis.”
They shared a collective shudder at the thought.
It took them two more hours and 34 more men attempting to pick up Sasuke to acquire the underwear in question—in the possession of a woman who purred at Naruto to call her Eiko and to come visit whenever he liked, trailing a lacquered fingernail down the side of Naruto’s flaming face.
Sasuke couldn’t even tell who’d jerked Naruto away from her first—he or Sakura.
After their adventures in the flower district—for which Sasuke had a suspicion Kakashi-sensei had gotten an earful from Iruka-sensei, who was completely and totally without a question not his wife—things slipped back into normal, or as normal as things ever were in Konoha. He continued to train in order to one day find and kill Itachi; Naruto continued to yammer about becoming the next Hokage even though he could trip over his own two feet; Sakura trained with the Hokage, who helped her to become more violent and terrifying.
When after a month of serious study, Sasuke still failed to find any evidence to support Ino filthy, horrifying lie, he said so, waiting for Kakashi to show up at the training grounds.
“Of course!” Naruto shouted. “Iruka-sensei would never be with that lazy pervert!”
Sakura looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard rumors he’s terribly handsome under his mask.”
“Sakura-chan,” Naruto gasped, mortified. “He’s our teacher. A lazy pervert teacher.”
“Either way,” Sakura dismissed, fluttering a hand in the air, “I guess Ino was wrong.”
Two days later, in what was supposed to be a D-rank mission to plant tulips in a perfect rainbow for a particularly persnickety Fire Country noble, a missing-nin appeared, his kunai glinting in the afternoon sun.
“Children,” Kakashi said pleasantly, making no move to uncover his Sharingen eye, “off to one side, please.”
The battle was short and silent and eerily devoid of blood, almost like a business transaction, so naturally Team 7 was understandably surprised when—after breaking the missing-nin’s neck—Kakashi paled and rocked on his feet, started to crumble, the shallow cut on his arm oozing blood sluggishly.
Sakura used her Hokage-learned powers for good instead of evil for once while Naruto and Sasuke made a frantic run the last mile and a half into Konoha. They returned, gasping, with doctors and supervising ANBU to see Sakura was nearly as pale as Kakashi, trembling as the medic-nin relieved her, praising her chakra control. They took turns carrying her back, and Sasuke thought about how her weight had felt on his back: warm, the soft press of her body against his spine, the way Naruto hovered, dashing between monitoring Sakura and running alongside the medic-nin treating Kakashi.
When he and Naruto and a much-refreshed Sakura ventured back to the hospital the next day, they pushed open the door to Kakashi’s room to find Iruka-sensei already there, sitting on the edge of Kakashi’s cot and looking drawn, clothing wrinkled—touching Kakashi’s masked cheek.
“It’s like he spent the night there,” Sakura determined, having dragged Sasuke and Naruto away from the door silently and down the hall, to a tiny alcove near the nurse’s station. Her eyes were gleaming. “He looks terrible,” she said gleefully.
“He’s just worried about Kakashi-sensei because Iruka-sensei’s a nice guy,” Naruto argued, scowling. “He worries about everybody.”
“But does he stay at everybody’s bedside? Giving them tender looks?” Sakura pressed.
Naruto looked nauseated. “No he does not give tender looks because he is a boy!”
Sighing, Sasuke turned to peer back down the hall, only to realize there were at least three nurses staring at them, eyes wide with revelation.
“Hey,” he muttered, unheeded as Naruto and Sakura continued to argue their cases. “Hey,” he said again, but he his voice was overlapped by Naruto saying:
“I DON’T CARE IF YOU THINK HE’S PROBABLY FINE, IRUKA-SENSEI WOULD NEVER MARRY HIM. NEVER.”
One of the nurses dropped her clipboard, mouth hanging open.
“God,” Sasuke muttered, rubbing a hand tiredly over his face.
It took Kakashi nearly a week to recover from the poison coursing through his system: two days for it to pass out of his bloodstream and then five more before he was field-fit again.
“Are you feeling better, Kakashi-sensei?” Sakura asked, worried.
Kakashi crinkled his one visible eye at her. “Ah, yes, Sakura—from what I hear, I owe a great debt to you and your medical skills. Thank you.”
Blushing deeply, she said, “Oh—oh, it’s nothing. I’m just glad you’re doing well.”
“Maa,” Kakashi said, scratching his head, “I’m glad, as well. Five days enforced bed rest and no Icha Icha Paradise was five days too many.” And giving them all a too-mild look, he said significantly, “Iruka-sensei’s terribly strict, isn’t he?”
Sasuke sought Naruto’s eyes immediately, finding his horror mirrored in the dobe’s face.
“Yes,” Sakura agreed in rapture, eyes bright with discovery, “yes he is, isn’t he?”
And suddenly, it was as if awareness exploded overnight and Sasuke realized, miserably, there had been clues all along: the way Iruka-sensei’s face softened in fondness when Naruto ranted about Kakashi’s latest round of excuses for his tardiness; why Kakashi seemed so content to loll around Konoha despite his reputation and skills; why nobody knew where Kakashi lived.
“He lives with Iruka-sensei, then,” Naruto said hollowly, sounding grieved. Even his hair seemed depressed. His funk had lasted four days already, and nothing, not even offers of ramen, had managed to bring him out of it. “He lives with Iruka-sensei and is late home and reads porn at the kotastu and…” he trailed off, clutching at his head in silent agony.
“Well, I think it’s romantic,” Sakura decided.
“Tch,” was Sasuke’s contribution.
Personally, he wondered why they hadn’t been told to start with.
It would have saved Naruto the stroke he was having and Sakura the trouble of losing precious hours fantasizing about their teachers’ torrid affair.
Sasuke learned later—when one day Kakashi failed to appear after more than four hours and they were eventually met by a messenger from the Hokage—they hadn’t been told because no one had been told. It wasn’t, as Ino had implied, an open secret so much as an unspoken reality. As it turned out, they found, sitting in the Hokage’s office, being Hatake Kakashi, the Copy-Nin’s, lover was a danger proposition—it made you a natural target. And as Tsunade-sama explained the situation in calm, measured words, Sasuke watched Naruto ball up his fists on his knees, body trembling in rage.
“Konohamaru and the rest of Iruka-sensei’s class is still pretty shaken, but they’re unhurt. Iruka-sensei did an excellent job drawing the kidnappers away,” Tsunade said, detached and looking out a window. “Anyway. The ANBU have been sent and Kakashi has gone with them.” She gave them a soft, soft look. “I thought you’d like to know.”
Kakashi returned to Konoha—a battered Iruka in tow—on the fourth day. He was bruised and bloodied and wary, but no worse for wear, and when Sasuke, Naruto, and Sakura made a pilgrimage to Iruka’s apartment to visit, it was Kakashi who opened the door.
“He was wondering when you’d show,” he said, amused. “Come in.”
It took a rough shove from both Sasuke and Sakura to get Naruto moving, making him trip over the threshold. Kakashi kept an intentionally-disinterested gaze trained on Naruto as the dobe toed off his dusty shoes and stood in the entryway, frozen, rubbing a worried hand over his hitai-ate again and again.
“There’s no way you can be angrier with me than I am with myself,” Kakashi said flatly, unaffected, breaking the silence, and Naruto turned finally to glare at him fiercely.
Kakashi said only, “He’s been asking after you three—come.”
Iruka’s apartment was neat and cozy and lined with shelves fairly overflowing with books: old school books, teacher’s manuals, volumes of fiction and nonfiction and magazines and manga. Sasuke managed not to say anything when he spotted the first Icha Icha volume snugly fitted between a book on ocean reefs and a political thriller, casual and clear as day. There was, indeed a kotastu, and a mountain of letters and scrolls and half-graded homework on it, a red pen uncapped and abandoned.
There were newly-patched places at the window, and Sasuke tried to imagine how it might have been to be Kakashi and come home to find Iruka-sensei gone.
“He looks worse than he is,” Kakashi said suddenly, almost a whisper, stopping at a closed bedroom door, a hand on the screen. “There’s a lot of bruising.” Sakura paled, and Naruto dropped his head again, neck flushing. “I don’t want you to be surprised.”
And as he slid open the bedroom door, he called out, “Iruka-sensei? You have visitors.”
Naruto managed a whole ten seconds of looking at Iruka’s bruised face, peering at them from where he lay on a futon, before fat, ugly tears started to roll down Naruto’s cheeks. Iruka’s expression crumbled, and he sat up, drawing Naruto close and wrapping his arms around the boy, making reassuring noises as Naruto choked out, “Iruka-sensei, Iruka-sensei,” over and over again.
Really, Sasuke wondered, how could even a dead-last like Naruto fail to notice he was Iruka’s favorite?
Naruto showed no inclination to move from his spot, camped out at Iruka-sensei’s bedside. He was red-faced and puffy from manly sniffing but determined, and when Sasuke and Sakura left, Kakashi tagged along, playing escort.
“It’s not dangerous,” Sasuke argued. “We’re still in the village.”
Sakura gave him a pitying look. “Boys really are that emotionally retarded,” she mourned.
“They get better with age,” Kakashi said. It looked like he was smiling beneath his mask.
“What?” Sasuke demanded, glaring back and forth between the jounin and Sakura, who was still rolling her eyes. “What?”
“You’ll get it one day,” Sakura sighed, patting his arm affectionately. Sasuke couldn’t decide if he liked her better back when she’d been obsessed with him, or now that Team 7’s relationship had started feeling vaguely incestuous.
Kakashi paused where he stood, balancing precariously and without any effort on the very edge of a roof tile—light as a feather. He looked over his shoulder, back in the direction of the lit windows of Iruka’s third-floor apartment, and Sasuke thought that as silly as it was, maybe Kakashi couldn’t bear to go even so far as half the distance of the village.
“We can more than take ourselves home,” he told Kakashi, resolute, and gave Sakura a Look. She smiled at him approvingly. “Good night, sensei.”
“See,” she crowed a moment later, sailing over the rooftops in the blue night, “you’re learning already.”
“I don’t see how anybody can like that dead last best,” Sasuke said.
Sakura laughed, and it echoed in the dark around them. “It makes sense, though. Iruka-sensei seems to collect misfits.”
Sasuke narrowly avoided a collision with a tree, thinking about Iruka’s unnatural fondness for the dobe and for Kakashi-sensei of all people. Soon, they’d learn that Iruka was carrying on a torrid affair with Gai-sensei, or worse, Ibiki.
“Let’s not talk about this anymore,” Sasuke muttered, and Sakura’s laughter trailed her all the way hope, a disappearing swish of hair in the dark as she took off, skirt flapping in the wind.
Their next three missions were C and B-ranked, which meant they sounded just interesting enough to prove disappointing in practice—except for the obvious entertainment of stuffing Naruto into formal dress for their latest B-rank escort mission.
“It’s a tragedy I don’t have a camera,” Kakashi drawled, sitting bonelessly at the other end of the elaborately formal room—it was twenty-seven tatami mats large and pared down to the most elegant essentials: a single plum branch in a narrow white vase, a low table, a fan, affixed to the wall and casting a wavering shadow in the afternoon sun. Sasuke had never known he could be bored by what was literally a room before that moment.
“THIS ISN’T FUNNY!” Naruto argued, voice muffled by the vast heaps of brocade still covering his face and hair—Sakura struggling to tug it over his wriggling shoulders.
Sasuke agreed, but that was mostly because he was already wearing the heavy, hot official robes. He didn’t see the point in the expense of hiring ninjas at a B-rank mission rate only to render them useless from heat exhaustion and inability to move in ceremonial dress. At least his robes were blue, Sasuke thought sourly, and not some horrible, eye-blinding orange like the ones Naruto was trying to and failing to wear.
“Okay,” Sakura huffed, “that’s it.”
Taking a breath, she hit a quick series of pressure points, and all Sasuke heard was Naruto’s high-pitched squeak of protest before an unnatural stillness set in.
“You pushed me to it,” Sakura told him, and continued to jerk the brocade down his body, pushing his arms through the wide, satiny sleeves.
Nearly smiling, Sasuke said, “You look beautiful.”
Naruto gave him an utterly poisonous look, but stayed silent, unmoving.
Sakura fussed with Naruto’s hair for a moment, frowning before she gave up, combing it down and straightening his robes over his knees, inspecting his sleeves, before she regretfully unfroze him to find Naruto already midway through a rant, yelling, “—JUST WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING FREEZING PEOPLE RANDOMLY WITH PRESSURE POINTS LIKE THAT SAKURA-CHAN—!”
“Or a video camera,” Kakashi continued, pulling out his tattered copy of Icha Icha Violence. “Iruka-sensei would probably enjoy this.”
Scowling, Naruto pointed a shaking finger at him. “Don’t talk about him,” he growled. “Just—just because I’ve accepted it doesn’t mean I want to hear about it, you—you despoiler of innocent teachers!”
“And what a despoiling it was,” Kakashi said, and whatever else he was going to add was drowned out by the sound of Naruto’s high-pitched screaming.
They returned to Konoha nearly a month later, having run all the way back from Wave Country just to feel the stretch of their muscles, the wind on their skin—finally free after weeks and weeks of smooth, elegant interiors and gently lowered voices. They could finally feel the sun on their faces again and it was nearly as sweet as the fizzy lemon candies Sasuke remembered from years ago. Through the murmuring leaves, Sasuke could hear Sakura and Naruto shouting back and forth to one another, laughing, and there were tiny murmurs, too, of Kakashi’s movements through the trees—near silent and graceful as a bird.
And as soon as they crossed the village threshold, just as Sasuke could tell Kakashi was about to pull his regular disappearing act, they heard Iruka-sensei shout:
“It’s about time you four got back!”
Naruto whooped, loud and carefree and almost—almost barreled into Iruka-sensei, stopping himself at the last minute to rub the back of his neck sheepishly. “Eh he he—how are you, Iruka-sensei?”
“Good. I’m doing well,” Iruka assured him, ruffling Naruto’s hair and smiling up at the rest of the group. “You all must be tired from your trip.”
Sasuke shrugged, and Sakura managed to head off what promised to be some sort of perverted statement from Kakashi-sensei by saying, “Mostly hungry—we didn’t stop for lunch.”
“Well then,” Iruka said, grinning and clapping his hands together. “Ramen—my treat!”
Naruto celebrated all the way to Ichiraku and Sasuke watched Kakashi slouched the way only elite jounin could—dangerously. Sasuke resisted the urge to make any editorial comments all through Naruto’s steady recounting of their mission and Sakura’s interjections of how beautiful the court had been, and how lovely all the flowers were, and weren’t the noble ladies in Wave Country beautiful, too?
“They were,” Naruto agreed heartily, waving his chopsticks. “Ne ne, Iruka-sensei—there was even this one lady—I forget her name—”
“Ah,” Sakura interrupted, flushing and eyes darting over to Kakashi, who’d stiffened by a miniscule degree, suddenly—single visible eye tensing. “Naruto, this story is kind of boring…”
“—No it’s not!” Naruto argued, and Sasuke had to stuff his mouth full of ramen to keep from cracking up when the dobe went on to say, “And anyway—this one lady at court, she was always hanging around: asking if Kakashi-sensei could walk her through the garden, or escort her home, or if he had seen her fan or just a whole bunch of other stupid stuff! She wasn’t even the one who hired us!”
“I see,” Iruka-sensei said, mouth twitching, and Sasuke forced himself to keep staring into his bowl of ramen. From the corner of his eye, he could see Sakura biting her lip hard.
“Maa, Naruto,” Kakashi said, warning. “It is a boring story.”
“I think it’s very interesting,” Iruka contradicted, his voice too sweet.
“See, Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto crowed. “Anyway, she was always going on about what a brave and handsome and skilled ninja Kakashi-sensei must be and I asked her how she knew Kakashi-sensei was handsome—he wears that mask all the time! He could horribly ugly under there—!”
And that was Kakashi’s breaking point apparently because Naruto suddenly found his mouth stuffed full of gyoza, and he managed to blink three times, baffled, before he shrugged and started chewing, story forgotten.
“Brave and handsome and skilled, huh,” Iruka-sensei said, propping himself up on the counter by the elbows, grinning widely.
Sasuke kept putting food in his mouth so he wouldn’t say anything like, “She also wore her kimono really low on her neck,” but it turned out to be a moot point because Sakura broke first, and shrieking with giggles, said:
“Oh my gosh, Iruka-sensei—the things she’d wear when she knew Kakashi-sensei was going to be there.”
Growling, Kakashi said, “I fear you all may die accidentally on our next mission.”
“I’m sure Tsunade-sama would have something to say about that, oh brave, handsome, and skilled jounin-sama,” Iruka laughed, and ignoring Kakashi’s increasingly aggrieved expression, Iruka turned back to Sakura and said, “Well? Tell me more about this poor misguided woman.”
“You know,” Kakashi said darkly, and signaled to the counter for sake. “I liked you three much better when you didn’t know.”
Iruka-sensei didn’t seem to agree, for all the obvious trauma and scarring the knowledge of Iruka’s entanglement with their perennially tardy, unrepentantly perverted jounin teacher caused Naruto.
“Oh, my,” Kakashi said, deceptively mild, “I never thought I’d see this day.”
“Kakashi,” Iruka said, just the slightest edge of reproach in his tone.
“Don’t feign virtue,” Kakashi laughed, teasing, bumping his shoulder gently along Iruka-sensei’s. “I remember the first year Naruto was in your class—things were said. In fact, things were shouted—loudly, and throughout Konoha.”
“He’s grown on me,” Iruka scoffed, still smiling. “Unlike some people.”
“Iruka-sensei’s horrible,” Kakashi said, pouting. “Just horrible.”
Sasuke closed his eyes, shuddering. If that was what being married was about, it appeared the Uchiha line would have to die with him. No Sharingan heir was worth having his mind rot so obviously.
“Oh!” Iruka-sensei said, looking at his watch. “I’ve got to run—I promised Hokage-sama I’d help her herd the newly promoted.” But before he left, he stopped and touched Kakashi’s wrist. “You’ll be there?”
“If I don’t get lost on the way,” Kakashi said, voice light.
“You’ll be there,” Iruka confirmed, smiling, and took off, disappearing in a rustle of leaves, melting into the canopy of green overhead.
Kakashi stood, unmoving, for long moments until he looked up, directly at Sasuke’s well-hidden perch and said, “Eavesdropping is very rude, you know.”
“Tsk,” Sasuke said, annoyed, and dropped out of the leaves silently, glowering. “I was in the tree first.”
Looking amused, Kakashi said, “You know, if you want relationship advice—you just need to ask.” Sasuke sputtered, and Kakashi added, “Although really, Sasuke-kun, Iruka-sensei and I are hardly the template you’ll need for bagging Naruto—”
Sasuke barely took the time to shout “GAH!” before taking off.
Later that night, crowded into the banquet hall with the other newly-promoted chuunins, listening to the loud and drunken revelry of all and sundry, Sasuke downed cup after cup of sake, muttering evilly. There was rowdy and then there was Lee, Tenten, Shikamaru, Choji, Ino, and Naruto playing drunk strip poker and failing to understand why Neji was winning every hand, collecting reluctantly discarded articles of clothing left and right.
Every once in a while, Sasuke lifted his head unsteadily to shoot a glare at the unofficial table of nostalgic jounin and chuunin teachers—who were easily out-drinking their students and unashamedly gossiping.
“You know, I never thought I’d see Naruto make chuunin,” Asuma said.
Iruka-sensei laughed, nudging Kakashi in the side, easy and familiar—no space between their bodies, slumped together at the table. He said, “I thought this one was going to fail all of Team 7—when Sandaime-sama showed me his track record I nearly fainted.”
“I very nearly did,” Kakashi replied, voice dry as tinder.
“OY,” Naruto said, lurching up to Sasuke and drawing his attention, reeking of alcohol clad in only his blindingly-orange boxers, his hitai-ate and a single black sock. He was squinting hard. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, SASUKE-BASTARD?”
“You’re too loud,” Sasuke muttered, trying to cover his ears and failing to locate them.
Naruto was trying to sit down but failing to negotiate with the chair and ended up collapsed mostly underneath the banquet table—which was better than going back to the poker game, Sasuke thought blearily. Actually, he decided it was probably a good idea all around and craweld under the table into the blessed shade, pillowing his head on the nearest soft object.
And just before he didn’t pass out, he heard Kakashi’s voice, laughing as he said, “Ah—young love.”
“What does Kakashi even do anymore?” Konohamaru groused, flopping down into the dirt beneath Sasuke’s favorite tree, kicking his heels into the grass. Sasuke felt that neither saying “whatever the hell he wants” or “Iruka-sensei” would be very conducive to the afternoon’s engagements, so he kept his silence a moment longer.
“More importantly, where the hell is our teacher?” Moegi muttered, sitting cross-legged in the grass next to Konohamaru. “At least Ebisu-sensei was always on time.”
Sasuke allowed himself a private smile at that—ah memories.
“Hey—did either of you know?” Udon said, tone curious, “I heard the most amazing rumor today, about Naruto-nii-sama!”
“What!” Konohamaru shouted, suddenly at attention. “What rumor?”
Dropping his voice low, Udon looked left and right, paranoid. But not up, Sasuke thought with a sigh. “That he and Sasuke-sensei are…” Udon held up his pinky finger and wriggled it. “You know…doing it.”
Moegi covered her face with both hands, silent in her horror.
Konohamaru shouted, “You’re lying!”
Udon waved his hands, cheeks flushing. “I swear!” he insisted. “I overheard it when I walked past the teachers lounge at the academy the other day!”
“You have to be lying,” Moegi wailed. “You have to.”
Crossing his arms over his chest, Konohamaru joined in with a noise of agreement, grinding out, voice intense, “NARUTO-NII-SAMA WOULD NEVER.”
Sasuke rolled his eyes, hoping that Naruto and Sakura’s teams were at least as hopeless as his own, and swung down from his perch, asking coolly, “Naruto-dobe would never what?”
And as Team 3 scattered, screaming at the tops of their lungs, Sasuke allowed himself a moment of empathy for Kakashi, but no more than just a moment.