Chapter Thirteen
Many years ago . . .

"Why are we doing this?" Kakashi asked, arms folded over his very small chest, brows drawn down almost comically.

His sensei didn't laugh, but it took great effort. Instead, the blond Jounin ruffled Kakashi's hair, just for the duck-and-glower he always got, and dropped the portion of camping supplies he was carrying. "For fun."

With a grateful moan, Obito dropped his supplies, too. "We're here?" the Uchiha boy said hopefully.

"We're here!"

"There's no point to this," Kakashi said, slightly louder this time, as if that might make his point more clearly.

"I'm going to share a tent with Sensei," Rin announced, "because you two are too close to my age, and that would be improper."

Obito snorted. "Like you ever worry about what's improper."

Rin stuck her tongue out at him.

Kakashi was giving the Jounin a pained looked. "I could be training right now."

"Kakashi," the man laughed, "even ANBU have fun sometimes. Just enjoy it. You're stuck with us for the next two days. Time to learn how to relax."


"How many people are coming?" Iruka asked, dropping his bags beside a tent and glancing around the clearing.

A firepit sat in the middle, lined with stones, already set up with wood and tinder. Logs and stumps had been dragged into a ring around it, and Genma's hammock swung between two trees.

"A bunch of people," Asuma said from nearby, where he was clearing rocks so he could pitch another tent. "Gai is bringing Raidou, and I asked Kakashi to come, plus you, me, and Genma's already here--hunting for firewood."

Iruka's eyebrows rose as he headed toward Asuma, helping to pull branches out of the way. "Quite a group. Kakashi's coming?"

Asuma nodded, spreading out the tent with sure movements. "It's good that he's finally branching out. I asked him after dinner last week."

Iruka pulled out long, slender lengths of bamboo, threading them through loops in the tarp. Within moments they had a two-man tent set up, and Asuma was moving on to another site. "That's good," Iruka said neutrally. He hadn't seen Kakashi all week. He wasn't sure how he felt about it. One the one hand, it seemed he'd fulfilled his mission; Kakashi was all right. On the other hand, he was starting to miss him, in an odd sort of way.

It was just that he was worried about the Jounin. That was all.

"Hey, we made it!" Raidou shouted, leaping down out of a large tree, Gai hot on his heels.

"Ha ha!" Gai laughed, hands on his hips and his teeth gleaming. "I beat Kakashi, as I said I would!"

Raidou rolled his eyes.

Kakashi jumped down out of the foliage, looking distinctly unimpressed. "Yes, Gai," he said in a voice that screamed he didn't care, "you won."

Gai's smile was replaced by a frown. "Kakashi! Always so cool! Acting like you don't ca--"

"I brought food," Kakashi said to the group at large.

Iruka perked up. "Really? What?"

"I brought ribs," Asuma reminded him darkly.

"So we'll be incredibly well-fed this weekend," Iruka said diplomatically, smiling as brightly as he could.

"Who wants to go swimming?" Iruka heard Genma call. He turned in time to see the Special Jounin drop an armful of firewood by the pit, letting it clatter and crash at his feet. Genma was already stripped down to his underwear and boots--no one wanted to walk barefoot on the forest floor.

"Me!" Raidou answered instantly, tugging off his shirt and dropping it on his pile of supplies.

"I've got two more tents to set up," Asuma said, glancing around. "And then I'll come."

An hour later had all of them down by the creek, nearly everyone stripped down to underwear or bathing suits or--in Kakashi's case--an extra pair of pants and his mask.

"You coming in, Iruka?" Raidou shouted from the headlock Genma had put him in.

"Maybe later," Iruka answered, sitting on a boulder in the sun, his arms around his knees.

"Iruka's shyyyyy," Genma singsonged, grinning wickedly.

Kakashi was looking at him oddly. "No, he's not," he said, eyes narrowed. "I've seen him half-naked around a million children."

Iruka ignored them all, stretching to lean back on his hands and bask in the sun. It was an odd group, and one that he'd fallen into quite by accident. They were all a bit older than he was, and all Jounin--or higher. Working in the mission office gave him access to people he wouldn't have really gotten to know otherwise.

They were a good group, he had to say.

Then he felt hands on his shirt, yanking forward and down. "Oh my god!" Raidou said, his head of brown hair in Iruka's face as he peered down. "He's got burn scars all over his chest!"

Iruka slapped Raidou's temple, bringing a leg up sharply. Anyone else he would have been kneed, but Raidou was a high level ninja; he dodged, laughing the whole time.

"You're a jerk," Iruka muttered.

Raidou flopped down next to him, still laughing, the burn scars across his face and chest shiny in the sun.

"I don't understand," Kakashi said, standing hip-deep in water and looking puzzled.

"He doesn't have any scars," Genma said, grinning at Iruka.

Iruka glared at him, but didn't really mean it.

Genma just grinned. "Raidou thinks that's why he never takes off his shirt."

Kakashi looked up at him, eyebrow quirked.

Iruka didn?t bother to say anything. There wasn't much to say, either. He could deny it, which would only make Raidou tease him more, or he could agree to it--which would only make Raidou tease him more. So he sat quietly and waited for the Jounin to lose interest.

"You should come swimming, Iruka," Raidou said, sprawled on the boulder and leaving a man-sized puddle.

"I don't feel like it," Iruka answered.

"What if we whined at you?" Raidou asked.

Iruka gave him his best Stern Sensei glare. "Don't."

It didn't work on Raidou. "Iiiiiiiirrrrrukaaaaaaaa," he said nasally. "Come swiiiiiiming with--"

Iruka lunged to his feet, grabbed the Jounin by his hair and underwear, and hauled him off the boulder.

As the Chuunin expected, Raidou wrapped himself around Iruka's waist and one leg, the threat unmistakable; I go, and you go, too.

That didn't matter so much, though. With a yell Iruka toppled them both off the rock and into the creek.

They emerged sputtering, hair flattened to their skulls. Laughing, Raidou slicked his back off his face, while Iruka dove under once more, swimming forward and coming up so his ponytail was at least out of his eyes.

"I can swim clear down to the bend and back!" Gai announced loudly. "Faster than you, my oh-so-cool rival!"

"Not now, Gai," Kakashi muttered.

"Oh, I don't know," Genma said, a mischievous glint in his eyes, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I think Kakashi could beat you . . ."

Iruka laughed as Gai's chest puffed out, and Kakashi gave Genma a dirty look. The Special Jounin only grinned wickedly.

"Now we must truly find out which of us is the faster swimmer!" Gai bellowed. "I have already beaten you once, my esteemed rival! Be aware if I beat you again, I'll have the title of most fearsome warrior in Konoha! And if you win, I'll--"

"Take down all the tents and bring them back yourself," Asuma interjected, floating on his back in the water.

"YES! Take down all the tents and bring them back to our beautiful city alone!" Gai's teeth glimmered.

Kakashi sighed. "All right," he said with a nonchalant shrug. "If you really want to."

"I do! On the count of three we'll--"

Kakashi turned and dove, striking off into the deeper area in the middle of the creek with powerful strokes.

"Ah, you are truly a master of being sneaky!" Gai shouted, and leapt after him.

"That was mean," Iruka laughed, pushing toward a deeper area where he could tread water without smacking his feet.

"Yeah," Asuma agreed, a sleepy smile on his face.

Raidou held a finger to his lips, sinking down into the creek until only his head peeked above. Silently, moving gracefully through the water, he crept toward Asuma.

"Don't," Asuma said.

Raidou stopped barely a foot from the bigger man. His eyes moved, looking first at Iruka, then at Genma. Then he jumped up out of the water and belly-flopped onto Asuma.

"Gah! You ass!" Asuma shouted as he went under.

Iruka and Genma laughed, Iruka sinking further down.

Distantly, they could still hear Gai and Kakashi splashing away, though it was mostly drowned out by Asuma and Raidou.

The sun sank below the treeline, leaving them in sudden shadow. Iruka, treading water, shivered. "I think I?m going to go start the bonfire," he said, twisting to grab hold of the overhanging ledge and swinging himself up.

Genma ducked under the water again, coming up with a mouthful and spitting it at Iruka. It fell short.

"Lovely," Iruka snorted. He padded away from the creek, wet feet slapping on the ground, muffled by leaves and heavy dirt. Behind him, he could hear Gai bellowing about his worthy rival, and how he would most certainly take down all the tents himself. Iruka grinned. Guess he'd lost.


An owl peered down at them, eyes reflecting the glowing fire, and hooted.

Genma hooted in return at it, then slugged back another gulp of beer. He sighed and leaned forward, head hanging between bent knees, giving Iruka's hands more room on his shoulders. "That feels soooooo good, 'Ruka," he said into the dirt. "I love you and want to have your babies."

Everyone laughed, then laughed harder when Raidou piped up with, "Careful! He's serious!"

Kakashi leaned back on his elbows, all long limbs and darkness in the flickering light, and watched. Iruka's hands were apparently magic, though he knew that himself. Muscles and tendons shifted, shadows growing and vanishing as strong fingers moved over Genma's back and shoulders, following lines of tension and pressing carefully on knots and nerve clusters.

"Oi! Iruka-hog!" Raidou finally called, standing unsteadily. "Share!"

"You already had him!" Genma yelled back. "It's still my turn!"

"Sake?" Asuma asked quietly.

Kakashi glanced up and smiled, content. "No, thank you."

"Hey, hey," Genma burbled. "You haven't had anything to drink, Kakashi. Want beer?"

"Wine?" Raidou offered.

"Pina colada?"

Everyone looked at Gai.

He smiled sloppily and took another sip, adjusting the little umbrella with precise care.

"No, thank you," Kakashi said again, a laugh in his voice. "I don't generally drink."

"This isn't generally," Genma slurred. "And once in a while won't hurt you."

"Besides," Raidou announced, managing to hold his head at a superior angle for just a moment, "it's a good way to say, 'I trust you all.'"

"I trust you to hold my hair back if I start barfing!" Genma shouted.

"Or at least to not let me sleep in it," Asuma said dryly.

Genma nodded solemnly. "It's a good way to say it, without all the sloppy, sappy stuff." He frowned and mouthed the last three words again.

"Do you trust us, my most esteemed rival?" Gai asked on a hiccup.

Kakashi looked at them all, slightly befuddled. Raidou and Genma had already moved on, swapping alcoholic drinks to see whose was better. Raidou carefully gave Iruka a taste of each so he could vote, too, without pausing in his massage. Most of it dribbled down Iruka's chin and into Genma's hair, but none of them seemed to mind too much. In fact, Genma thought it was hilarious.

Kakashi couldn't figure out how drinking was a matter of trust.

Asuma was grinning down at him. "Have a drink." He offered the sake bottle again.

Kakashi took it after another moment. "Shouldn't one of us be sober enough, in case--"

"Stop worrying. Have a drink." Asuma's eyes twinkled. "No one here's going to kill you in the middle of the night."

So that was how it was trust. Kakashi contemplated the bottle. Then, when no one was looking, he pulled down his mask and had a drink.

He nearly coughed it all back up, much to the hilarity of those present. "Thank you," he muttered good-naturedly.

"Remember that time we put stuff in Hayate's sake?" Raidou asked, sliding over to lean shoulder-to-shoulder against Genma.

"Oh, yeah. Like beer."

"And wine," Iruka laughed softly.

"And he spit it all over the fire," Genma continued, grinning and staring into the flames. "Only we'd forgotten to keep the fire going, so he managed to put it out . . ."

"And then it was dark, so we couldn?t get it started again," Raidou laughed.

"And Asuma and Genma ended up sleeping together--" Iruka said, tears starting to form in the corners of his eyes.

"Oh, that," Asuma groaned.

Kakashi looked at him, grinning.

"Genma gets horny when he's drunk," Asuma murmured.

"Cuddly!" Genma protested. Then he giggled, face rolling into Raidou's chest. "Horny, too," he muffled.

"And Hayate was so upset, because he thought he was going to get to sleep with Genma," Raidou cackled.

The three men, Iruka, Genma and Raidou, laughed uproariously for another moment, and then almost as suddenly went quiet.

A stillness came over the small clearing. A nightingale sang mournfully.

"To fallen teammates," Gai said softly, lifting his glass.

The others did as well, murmuring names into the dark, letting them hang and burn over the crackling fire.

Kakashi sipped sake, carefully this time, letting it spread heat into his stomach. He could feel the fumes in his nose, curling up through his sinuses as if he could breathe them back out again.

"I need a drink," Genma sighed.

Iruka patted his back like he would that of a dog he was particularly fond of. Raidou handed him wine.

"You stopped," Genma said, looking back over his shoulder.

"It's someone else's turn," Iruka answered.

Genma sighed and laid his face against Iruka's leg. "You sure?"

Iruka patted him on the head. Then he glanced up, catching Kakashi's eyes. He raised both eyebrows, as if asking a question.

Kakashi tried to think of what he might have missed. Then Asuma leaned down and whispered, "I think it's your turn."

Kakashi's eyebrows rose right back at Iruka.

Iruka laughed and tilted his head in a 'get over here' way.

"I think he needs to be told," Raidou stage-whispered.

"Kakashi, it's your turn!" Genma yelled.

He stood, and realized the ground was much farther away then he'd thought. He had to just wait a moment for it to stop falling farther.

"You really don't drink, do you?" Asuma said, laughing deep in his barrel chest.

"I'm just a bit dizzy," Kakashi defended. Then he carefully walked around the fire and plopped himself down in front of Iruka.

Iruka tugged at his shirt. "Take it off."

Buttons slipped through holes, and shortly Kakashi was as bare-chested as both Raidou and Genma. He sighed happily as warm hands rubbed carefully over his shoulders, fingers seeking out knots. "Are you still mad at me?" Kakashi asked quietly, while Genma and Raidou roughhoused alarmingly close to the fire.

Iruka sighed. "I suppose not."

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Kakashi murmured.

Iruka slid his fingers up along the back of Kakashi's neck, pressing gently and smoothing out tension. "I know. But try to be a little less of an ass, will you?"

Kakashi smiled behind his mask, folding his knees and settling his elbows on them. "All right."

"Asuma!" Genma shouted, somehow having ended up in Gai's lap. "We should shadow-dance!"

"Shadow-dance?" Kakashi asked.

"Genma, we're too drunk to play shadow-dance," Iruka said.

"So we'll all have the same disadvantage!"

Raidou, lying on the ground, lifted both fists and cheered. "Shadow-dancing!"

Kakashi felt Iruka's forehead fall against his silver hair. "Oh, dear. This could get weird."


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