He hadn’t had time to find out if the origami book had worked, since the day after he’d left it on Kakashi’s doormat Team Seven had been assigned a C-level retrieval mission likely to last a few days.
Iruka decided to devote this quiet time to some research on a certain jounin. Because even if Kakashi-sensei had stopped… he still didn’t know why he’d been following him in the first place.
In the normal run of things, he would have talked to the student’s parents and classmates. This, obviously, was not an option here, so after class he went to seek out Maito Gai. It wasn’t hard. The trick was to find a high, quiet spot, sit down, and listen for something yelled about “springtime” and “youth.” Then follow the noise back to the source.
He found Team Gai in the midst of another intensive training session.
Their enemy this time appeared to be stacks of paper. Small, square sheets of paper. Coloured paper. With patterns printed on it.
“Hello Gai-sensei, Neji-kun, Lee-kun, Tenten-chan.”
Neji looked up and nodded in acknowledgement before returning to his folding. Tenten looked up from watching Neji fold to smile at her former teacher. Lee, not content with such restrained displays, stood, bowed, and flashed a blinding smile. Whatever else Gai taught his team, Iruka could not help but approve of his lessons in good oral hygiene.
Speaking of Gai… just as Iruka had raised his hand to shield his eyes from the rays of light emitted by Lee’s smile, he was caught in a bone-crunching embrace that would probably have broken the spine of a non-nin.
“Iruka-sensei! I am so happy to see you! Truly it is an honour to be visited by one so dedicated to our village’s youthful flowers!” Maito Gai always spoke in exclaimation points. Unless he was excited, in which case he spoke in ALL CAPS.
“Gai-sen…sei…. Nice to… see you… too.” The ‘too’ slid out of Iruka’s mouth as Gai’s crushing hug finally receded. And the birdies and stars had been looking so pretty. Iruka paused to wipe an imaginary speck off his chuunin vest, taking the opportunity to inconspicuously allow oxygen to reenter his lungs and bloodstream. “I wonder if I might have a word with you? In private?”
“Of course! My adorable students, I shall return to you shortly once Iruka-sensei and I have finished discussing important teacher-type things.” And so saying, he grabbed Iruka’s arm and began dragging him a short distance away. From behind them, Iruka could hear Lee’s answering yell, “Of course, Gai-sensei! If I cannot fold a hundred turtles by the time you get back, I will perform two hundred sit-ups!”
“Now, Iruka-sensei, what did you need to speak to me about?”
“Well… eh…” he’d forgotten how much energy it took to speak with Gai-sensei. Okay, stall while you figure out how to ask about Kakashi-sensei. “I see you’re teaching your team origami.” Which, frankly, had struck him as a little odd. As did the band-aids covering Gai’s hands.
Gai suddenly became more serious. “Ah, yes. You see, yesterday, I challenged my eternal rival Kakashi-san to another duel. He told me he was leaving on a mission and did not have time, but if I liked, we could battle when he got back. And because it was his turn to choose, he told me we would have a stirring test of our manual dexterity by… seeing WHO COULD FOLD THE MOST PAPER CRANES IN A TEN MINUTE PERIOD!” He finished this statement off with a combination smile and thumb’s up that left no doubt who he expected to emerge victorious in his next bout with his rival. It probably would have been more effective if his thumb had not been circled by three different band-aids, all with a different decorative pattern on them.
(A/N: Kakashi would like it known that the actual conversation between himself and Gai went nothing at all like that.)
Then, dropping his voice and his endorphin level, he leaned over and added. “Truly, he is worthy to be my rival. How modern, to choose origami to battle. However, I realized to my horrour I did not know how to fold paper. And so I have dedicated the next few days to mastering the paper crane so that I may once again defeat him.”
Well, at least Iruka knew Kakashi had gotten the book.
Deciding that it was now or never, he began, “Actually, Gai-sensei, I came to talk to you about Kakashi-sensei.”
“Ah, Kakashi-sensei! Has he sent you to spy on me?”
“Eh, no, no, nothing like that…” Iruka rubbed the scar on the bridge of his nose between his thumb and his forefinger, a gesture that meant he was stressed, frustrated, nervous, tired, or angry. In this case, the first three, with an option for the fourth. “Have you noticed him acting… strangely lately?”
“In what way?” Gai rubbed his chin thoughtfully. It was decorated with a yellow band-aid sporting a blue kunai pattern. How on earth had he managed to get a papercut there?
“Well, he…” has been stalking me for a couple of weeks now. It sounded silly when he tried to say it out loud, even if he knew it was true. “… you aren’t in the middle of a competition to see who can best stalk someone, are you?”
If Gai rubbed his chin any more thoughtfully, it was going to come off. “No, though it is an intriguing notion. To show off our stealth abilities in such a manner…”
Gai-sensei was a jounin level ninja, so he must have had stealth abilities. Must have. Really. Even if a universe in which Gai could actually be sneaky must be such a terrifying place that it hurt Iruka’s head to try to contemplate it.
“No, no, really, I don’t think it’s a great way to battle. Have you considered bonsai?” Surely they couldn’t turn bonsai into something horrible, violent, and dangerous. Not even Gai and Kakashi.
“Gai-sensei, can you think of a reason Kakashi-sensei would have to follow someone around?”
But the recent experiences he’d had were forcing him to rethink his stance. Not on being a chuunin… he was quite happy where he was, thank you very much… but on ever becoming a jounin. Because there seemed to be an unspoken qualification for promotion he’d never have met… you had to be completely batshit crazy. It couldn’t be coincidence that so many of them were off their rockers.
Maybe he’d ask Akimichi-san just what was in those chakra pills.
Poor Kakashi-sensei. Becoming a jounin at such a young age, he’d never really stood a chance.
The rest of his talk with Gai-sensei had been less than fruitful. Gai had, quite reasonably, asked him who Kakashi had been following. Iruka, quite reasonably, declined to let on that it was himself, and said instead that he had a friend. Whom Gai-sensei definitely did not know. Who might, perhaps, sort of think that Kakashi-sensei had been watching them. Gai had then pressed for details about the person, about whether they were a nin, what rank, and if they were cute.
The last question had caused Iruka to turn a strange colour and ask what that had to do with anything.
After Gai’s answer had caused Iruka to turn yet another colour, Iruka had made his excuses and hastily left. Perhaps talking to Gai-sensei first had not been the wisest choice.
He decided that tomorrow during lunch break, he would try to find Asuma-sensei or Kurenai-sensei. They’d always come across as sane.
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