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Part 4: Three Dates

 

First Date
 
 
Kakashi reluctantly agreed to Kaori's terms - three dates. To get rid of Gai, that seemed to be worth the effort.
 
Kaori then informed him that they would have dinner together the next day to get to know each other, or rather it would be a crash course on their “relationship” before Kakashi met her family that weekend. The third date she would save for later.
 
But first things first. Kaori had promised Kakashi that she would get rid of Gai. She really wasn't sure how to get rid of him, but she decided the direct approach was best. It was something she should have done a long time ago, if it weren't for her cowardice.
 
In her past relationships, when she was no longer interested in the guy, she would become silent and pensive until he asked her what was wrong. That easily opened a door for her to say this relationship isn't working out or it's not what I expected or some other excuse. But she didn't actually have a relationship with Gai and it seemed he was oblivious to her moods. The direct approach of telling him she was in love with Kakashi did not exactly work either. Gai apparently thought he still had a chance. This time she would have to take a direct, but different approach.
 
Though it was already late, Kaori took a chance and went out to look for him. Lee was no longer staying at the hospital, but it usually wasn't too difficult to track down either one of them. They were most likely in one of the outdoor or indoor training areas. She found Gai surprisingly by himself in the training area with the wooden dummies. It was not difficult to differentiate which was the live dummy since the wooden ones were brown, not green.
 
When Gai saw Kaori approach, to her surprise, instead of running up to her, he threw his arms over his face and declared, “I am not worthy to face you! I have yet to handily defeat my eternal rival.”
 
“Er…yes…about that…can you please stop challenging Kakashi-sensei.”
 
“Why? Are you two no longer an item?”
 
The dangerous spark of hope in Gai's eyes forced Kaori to say, “We are but…”
 
The light dimmed.
 
“I never meant to lead you on. You should find someone more appreciative of your..."
 
“Never! There's no one else but you. You are the woman of my destiny. Kakashi is just a bump in the road of true love. You have just been temporarily blinded. True love must be tested!
 
`Sigh, this is not working. Okay, attempt number two.' She tried again. “I'm sorry, but I'm just not attracted to you…
 
“What do you mean?” The sudden pathetic look in his eyes stopped Kaori from saying more.
 
“I'm sorry, it's not you it's me…” She now tried the usual break up approach, which she had originally planned to use before she accidentally blurted out her feelings for Kakashi, but after Gai's meltdown, there was nothing else she could say at the time.
 
`Of course it's not me. I'm perfect. There's definitely something wrong with her!' Gai waited for Kaori to explain herself.
 
“It's just that… well…I'm not really in love with Kakashi. I just said that as an excuse. The truth is…” Kaori thought frantically for another excuse. “I'm gay and I'm involved with my coworker Otoha!”
 
“What? What?! WHAT?!” Gai grabbed his perfectly combed hair with both hands, pulling it into disarrayed strands. His whole body twisted in agony as if he were being consumed by fire. An unnatural scream reverberated in the cool night air. “NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”
 
`How is it possiblethatanotherwoman I desireisgay?' Gai rationalized it was because he was naturally attracted to that type of women, not realizing that being gay was their most desperate excuse.
 
Kaori did not mean to let loose such an atrocious lie, but there was just something about Gai that drove her to desperation. It seemed he would never let her go if he believed she preferred his rival or any other man. She hadn't meant to involve Otoha, but at the last second, she decided that if her reputation was going to be destroyed, she might as well take down her rival, too. And she figured no one, but Gai, would really believe Otoha was a lesbian, so it was likely that they wouldn't believe Kaori was either. Now if it got back to Otoha, Kaori could just say Gai was mistaken. It was getting to be a very complicated mess.
 
But it worked!
 
-…-…-…-…-
 
“So we're going to get some tonight!” The Obito voice proclaimed happily to the Kakashi in the mirror who was trying to (not) fix his hair before his so-called date.
 
“There's no `we' and it's not even a date. It's blackmail,” Kakashi replied, satisfied that his hair stood up just at the right angle.
 
“Ha-ha! She got you good.”
 
“Well, it seems she kept her end of the deal. No sign of Gai all day.”
 
“She's pretty bright, not like some of those bimbos you've been with. And she's nice, not like some of those kunoichi you've been with. Bed time should be interesting.
 
“No bed time, just dinner,” Kakashi insisted.
 
“The nurse's outfit is every guy's fantasy.
 
“I'm not going to have her cosplay for you!”
 
“You are no fun at all! I wonder if she knows certain medical jutsu…”
 
-…-…-…-
 
Otoha suspiciously called in sick the next day so Kaori was lucky she did not have to face her fake paramour. There was no sign of Gai either, so Kaori was free to relax, or rather to obsess over what she was doing with Kakashi. She was, in essence, blackmailing a man to go out with her. How could she have fallen so low? But it was a fair exchange for having to deal with Gai and possibly having her reputation ruined.
 
She hoped Kakashi could withstand her family's scrutiny. She knew they would be asking him all sorts of questions to ensure that they were in a genuine relationship, and that she did not just grab any available guy to pretend he was her boyfriend just so they'd leave her love life alone. Problem was, Kaori was supposed to have been seeing Kakashi for months, not days. And somebody in her family was likely to know that Konoha's copy-nin had been in a coma. How could she reconcile all that?
 
How could such an upstanding citizen like herself weave a web of so many lies that she trapped herself?
 
Kaori spent the day brooding over her problems. Then she waited for Kakashi to pick her up at the hospital after his mission, and waited and waited.
 
Over an hour after her normal work hours, he showed up saying, “Sorry, I'm late but…”
 
Kaori didn't give him a chance to finish. “It's fine. I know you're busy with your missions,” she said good-naturedly. She accepted his lateness as part of the erratic schedule of a shinobi. She didn't realize he had spent the last hour arguing with his long dead best friend and playing with his hair.
 
Kakashi happily reported that he had not seen Gai all day. But when he asked how she got rid of him, Kaori said evasively, “I just told him I'm not interested in being involved with any man at the moment and that you and I are just acquaintances.” Then she quickly added, “But remember, he can pick up right where he left off if he thinks I've changed my mind.” It was a not so subtle threat in case Kakashi thought of reneging on their deal.
 
Kakashi followed Kaori as she took him around to several places to pick up food for dinner. He walked a bit behind her so she could not hold his arm and so it would not appear to anyone that they were actually dating. To the casual observer, he looked like her errand boy.
 
“We're going to pick up my favorite foods at my favorite places - remember them when you meet my family.” They first went to Ichiraku where Kaori wanted to show off Kakashi to the ramen girl. She ordered two House Specials and gave Kakashi a look that indicated he should pay and carry the bag. The poor ramen girl looked rather sad, but Kakashi paid her no mind at all. Kaori began to wonder how much of what Otoha told her was true.
 
Next stop was the dumpling house where Kaori ordered a half dozen steamed pork and cabbage dumplings and a half dozen pan fried pork and chives dumplings. Then the sushi bar where Kaori ordered an assortment of sashimi and sushi rolls.
 
`I can't believe how much she eats! At least she didn't order the most expensive ones,' Kakashi noted to himself.
 
`Tell her to get the octopus-that's supposed to be an aphrodisiac!' suggested the Obito voice, which Kakashi pointedly ignored.
 
Final stop was the desert shop where Kaori ordered two bowls of tapioca custard and a box of assorted mochi ice cream. Her date's brow furrowed at his emptying wallet, but consoled himself that the next date was dinner with her parents, where he didn't have to pay for anything.
 
They walked in silence back to Kaori's abode, with Kakashi mentally calculating how much money he just spent, and Kaori calculating what she should do next.
 
Kaori lived in one of the more restrictive buildings that did not allow children or pets. It was a well maintained building, both inside and out, with tasteful but austere decorations, which said a lot about its inhabitants. When they entered her apartment, instead of eating immediately, Kaori put the food aside and said officiously, “Now down to business…”
 
Business was Kaori explaining to Kakashi about her family and what he had to do to impress them. “You see, it's like this… My parents have been trying to marry me off for a while. They've set me up on a number of atrocious blind dates. While you were in a coma, Gai sensei got it into his head that I'm his destined one and he crashed our family dinner. My family actually liked him! So I told them I was already seeing someone. At the time I was thinking of you. I know it's pathetic with you being in a coma, but I was desperate. Anyway, I promised that they'd get to meet you, so tomorrow's doomsday.
 
Kakashi suppressed a great urge to laugh. `This girl's quite interesting,' he thought. But it was strange - she didn't seem like the same woman who had dropped by his home. On those occasions, she was nervous, a bit shy, and obviously love struck. Nor was she the same sympathetic, compassionate nurse he remembered from the hospital. Now she was cool, direct, and businesslike. It seemed she wasn't interested in sleeping with him at all.
 
`She doesn't want us in bed? No way!' said the Obito voice in his head.
 
`There's no us!' Kakashi mentally replied.
 
“You have a near photographic memory, right? As a jounin you should be able to remember all this fairly easily. Now my family consists of my parents, my younger sister Sumire, her husband… what's his name… Kazu… Kazuhiko, I think. Well, he's not important. They have three kids - a girl and two boys. Don't worry about their names - I have a hard time keeping all my nieces and nephews straight, too. Then there's my younger brother Akira and his crazy bitchy …Ooops, sorry, I shouldn't have said that. I promised myself I'd be more tolerant…his wife Sadako and their spoiled brat daughter. My mom runs a beauty salon and my sister helps out when she can. My father and brother-in-law are accountants. My brother is a dice dealer and his wife was a hostess, but she's now a homemaker...”
 
This was something different. Kakashi was used to the women he dated to either be all over him, or obviously playing hard to get. They would ask him questions or talk about themselves, not drilling him on his memory for details. He nodded as Kaori rambled on about her family. `She's lucky to have such a large family,' he thought sadly. `I wonder what it's like to have siblings that drive you crazy. Well, I guess I have…er, had Obito…'
 
“Now my family is bound to ask you certain questions or mention certain events to see if you're good enough for me, or to see if you're really going out with me.”
 
Kaori then got up from the table to retrieve a notebook from her bag. “This is, in essence, my life. Try to memorize it by Sunday night.”
 
“A diary?” he dared to ask.
 
“Oh, no, I'd never let anyone see something like that. I stayed up last night and worked on it all day at work. I've included everything I can think of that my family might ask you, including some childhood stories, so you can say, `I remember that Kaori mentioned…' for conversation.”
 
After a few more tips, which Kakashi barely paid attention to, Kaori finally declared, “So that's about it for now. I guess we should have dinner before it gets cold.”
 
The overwrought young woman felt way too tense and now tried to relax into a more normal date mode. It was strange - a couple of days ago she would have been all giddy and excited to be with the man of her dreams. Instead, she just felt annoyed that she had to prep him before meeting her family.
 
“Umm…don't you think your family knows about me being in a coma for months? You told them we've been seeing each other for a while. How will you explain that?” asked Kakashi curiously, expecting an amusing answer.
 
“I've thought about that. I'm going to tell them we went out before your coma and I wanted to stay faithful to you despite your condition. I couldn't say too much about our relationship for fear they would convince me to abandon you for someone else,” Kaori replied as she went to get the food.
 
“I see… that's pretty good.” Kakashi was impressed. She sure didn't seem like the lying manipulative type when he first met her.
 
“You don't think it's bad of me to lie like that, do you? I really hate lying, really, but I don't know…ever since you and Gai…sigh, I really hate lying but sometimes it's so hard to find another way.” Kaori decided to change the topic from lying to something she felt a little less guilty about.
 
She placed the containers of dumplings and sushi on her small dining table. “I'm sorry I didn't ask whether you liked this stuff or not, but I need you to remember my favorite foods and I forgot about learning yours.” She sighed again and sat down across from her date. “Anyway, just so you know, I'm not a crazy stalker or anything, but I have had access to your personnel records since you were my patient,” she admitted, “but I need to know more about you, or my family will sense something is up.” She waited for Kakashi to reply but he just shrugged.
 
“So what are your favorite foods?” she prompted.
 
“I like boiled mackerel and eggplant.”
 
“Boiled mackerel and eggplant? Really? Those dishes are so… boring - I mean simple. Eggplant is so…slimy and it's not really nutritious. It's just bulk food for vegetarians,” Kaori criticized.
 
Kakashi shrugged. “They're simple but easy to make. But I'm not a particularly picky eater. This is good too.” Kakashi reached for the chopsticks.
 
`How different than Gai. I remember Gailoved spicy, flavorful food. He put a lot of pepper on that turkey…' Kaori thoughts were interrupted when she saw Kakashi lower his mask to eat.
 
She instantly went from her cool efficient mode back to a shy schoolgirl with her eyes widening at the wondrous sight.
 
`That face! When was the last time I saw that face? It was when they brought him in…that first day. I've almost forgotten how perfect he looks!' she thought. His beautiful visage struck her mute as she watched the man of her dreams reach for a dumpling.
 
Then some sort of madness came over her. All these months of thinking about him, wanting him, having him so close now, how could she resist? Kaori quickly cleared the table with one swipe of her arm. All the dishes and takeout containers clattered to the floor. For a second Kakashi thought he was about to be attacked and reached for his kunai. But Kaori was already on top of him, pressing her lips to his, unzipping his vest.
 
She could feel him responding underneath her…
 

_..._..._..._..._

 

Waiting for Mr. Goodbar
 
 
Kaori shook her self out of her fantastic reverie when she realized Kakashi had asked her a question. “Excuse me?” she replied, still spacing out a bit.
 
“I'll probably have a mission on Sunday. Tsunade-sama's been working us around the clock, all days of the week. I'll have to meet you at your parents - if that's okay.”
 
“That's fine, just try to be on time. We usually have dinner around 6:30.” She went backing to watching his perfectly chiseled jaw move up and down as he chewed his dumpling. `He eats with his mouth closed - plus five points for that,' she evaluated.
 
Kakashi suddenly stopped and looked at her. “Aren't you going to eat too?” he inquired with his mouth full.
 
She frowned. `Talking with his mouth full, two point deduction.' Kaori had a bad habit of grading her dates. She started with 50 points. Most men dropped down to twenty after just one date. “Actually, I'm not that hungry right now.” She'd rather just sit there and watch his every movement.
 
`What?! I paid how much for all this food and she's not going to eat? Damn, I'll have to eat as much as I can. Don't want all this to go to waste,' he griped to himself. “So are you on a diet like every other woman in Konoha?” he asked.
 
“Diet? Not really. I will have desert later. Don't mind me, dig in.”
 
Kakashi did not like being under a microscope, but he didn't want to waste food either, so he continued to stuff himself.
 
Kaori rested her chin on the palm of her hand, looking dreamily at her date. Her eyes had that glazed look like so many others before her.
 
`She's got that look! She still wants you,' said the Obito voice.
 
`Maybe she's just tired and bored.'
 
`Well, you haven't been stimulating her with sparkling conversation. Come on, you can do better than that! You smooth talker, use your Lothario voice.'
 
`Guess I'd rather talk to her than you.'
 
`That's the appreciation I get for helping you. You're the one who gets lucky. All I get to do is watch, and there's been nothing exciting for a long time now.'
 
`That's it. You're out of here for the rest of the night!'
 
“Is something wrong?” Kaori asked Kakashi when she saw him make a face.
 
“Wrong? No, the food's good. I was just eating too fast.”
 
“You should chew your food twenty times before swallowing to ensure it's properly masticated for easy digestion,” Kaori lectured.
 
“Thanks mom.”
 
“Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lecture you. It's just that I'm use to advising people because of my job,” Kaori explained while blushing.
 
“So you like being a nurse?”
 
“For the most part, yes. I enjoy helping people when I can. But it can be pretty depressing at times. I try not to let it get to me, but…now that Tsunade-sama is back, things will definitely be better.” She paused to wait for a response, but Kakashi just nodded. He was thinking how some things were going to be better, but other things were likely to be much worse. He didn't want to worry the pretty little nurse with a depressing political discussion.
 
“I was once a genin, you know,” she continued.
 
“Oh really?” he said, not that he was surprised, since most of the staff at the shinobi hospital had been at the academy.
 
“Well, sort of. I graduated from the academy but failed to pass the initiation test. But it all worked out for the best,” she smiled to hide her admission of failure.
 
He nodded thoughtfully. From her statement he gathered that she was relatively honest, but prideful.
 
She waited for a response but since none was forthcoming, she made an extra effort to break the awkward silence. After all, no matter how much she loved watching him eat, she realized that it probably made him feel uncomfortable. She noted that although the lower half of his face was exposed, his forehead protector still sat at a slant to cover his left eye. She remembered that eye was the sharingan and her curiosity got the better of her. “Do you mind…can I see your left eye?”
 
He seemed to consider it seriously for a minute, then he replied, “Only if you'll eat with me,” which seemed like a nice invitation, but he just hated seeing his hard earned money go to waste. Kaori smiled and nodded at the invitation, so he lifted his headband to expose his left eye. He opened the eye and blinked a few times before looking at his date.
 
It almost took her breath away. “It's so… beautiful,” she gasped in awe. It was a deep shade of red, which under her ceiling lights, seemed to sparkle like a polished ruby. The three comma shaped dots were not like flaws but like shadows that accentuated the reflections.
 
But then she thought of what that gem cost him. The price was the life of a friend. She thought of how he saw his friend die on a mission he commanded. Then she thought of the Uchiha clan, massacred by one of its own. She thought of Kakashi alone in the hospital with next to zero visitors. She thought of how lonely he must feel and how lonely she felt. These tragic thoughts coupled with the stress she experienced during the past twenty-four sleepless hours, now overwhelmed her. She looked sadly at this man that she wanted so badly, who barely glanced at her all this time, and knew how futile it all was. Tears forced their way through despite her resolve.
 
“I'm sorry,” she sniffled, pathetically blowing her nose in her too small and too thin takeout napkin.
 
“For what?” asked Kakashi, wondering what was the matter with this woman who was so in control a minute ago.`Maybe it's that time of the month.'
 
“I'm sorry about your teammates, your family, your friends…I'm sorry about lying to Gai, my family, myself (though she was not sorry about Otoha). I'm sorry about blackmailing you. I'm sorry about everything!” she bawled. “Forget about Sunday. I'll just deal with my family on my own.”
 
Kakashi thought about her offer for a minute, but how could he say no to a woman in tears? He then decided, “It's all right. It should be interesting.” He gave her a rare genuine smile that sent her heart into overdrive.
 
The rest of the dinner proceeded fairly typically with both participants mostly eating and commenting on the food. Kaori did not learn much more about Kakashi but he did discuss his genin team. He was definitely proud of them and seemed quite fond of them even when he criticized Naruto for his foolishness, Sakura for her lack of skills, and Sasuke for his arrogance.
 
The evening ended with Kakashi asking if she were really going to eat all those leftovers. Since Kakashi did pay for all the food, Kaori agreed to split the leftovers with him, but she couldn't help but deduct another couple of points from his score. He ended up with fifty points, same as what he started with, which was much better than all the other men she dated, but only because Kaori gave him extra, extra bonus points for his perfect looks.
 
-…-…-…-
 
Sunday night came all too soon.
 
Since dinner with Kakashi, Kaori thought a lot about what to wear to her family dinner. Last time she saw Kakashi, she was in her nurse's uniform and she wanted to impress him this time, but she couldn't look like she was trying to impress him, or her family would be suspicious. She decided on wearing her hair down, but with barrettes at the side so that she wouldn't be accidentally eating her hair; one and a half inch heel tan sandals, since any high than that was too skanky; simple silver, not too dangly, earrings with a matching silver pendant in the shape of Konoha's leaf symbol; and a silver charm bracelet, which would look more casual than formal, with charms in the shape of the symbols of all the countries.
 
The dress took extra consideration: a dress, rather than a skirt and blouse, since a blouse could become untucked from the skirt; a knee length dress when standing, which would ride up a few more inches when sitting, to expose her shapely thigh. It couldn't be a new dress, but it had to be a nice one, not too conservative or sexy, and not green. It had to be perfect. She finally decided on a rose pink dress with a subtle intricately weaved pattern, and edges embroidered with burgundy thread. It had mid length sleeves and a boat collar, showing off her collarbone and neck, but nothing below that. Of course, she changed her mind about a hundred times before she finally got dressed, and her usually neat bedroom looked as if new genin had practiced their jutsu in her room.
 
Kaori arrived just before 6:30 to avoid any long interrogation from her family. But as soon as she stepped foot across the threshold, her mother grabbed her, looked behind her, and asked, “So where's your date? You promised!”
 
“He'll be here,” Kaori said while extricating herself from her mother's grip. “He may be late since he's on a mission today.”
 
“Right,” mocked her bitchy sister-in-law. “There's always next time, and the time after that and the…”
 
“He'll be here!” Kaori insisted. She glared at her nemesis, who was allowing her bratty toddler to play with her milk bottle on top of the coffee table. It looked as if she were playing tic-tac-toe.
 
“Unless he gets killed,” Kaori's brother laughed.
 
“Don't say things like that! It's bad luck!” What if something really did happen to him? The thought horrified Kaori in more ways than one.
 
“Sorry, I was just kidding. I'm sure your date will be here," Akira said shamefacedly.
 
But 6:30 came and went with no sign of Kakashi. Her sister's and brother's families had all arrived early in anticipation of the special guest. Kaori's mother and sister had already set the table and all the food was ready. Now most of them sat waiting in the living room. The men grumbled about being hungry, but the women all insisted on waiting for the special guest.
 
“So who is this guy?” her sister Sumire asked after a while. She held the baby in her arms while her other two children sat by her feet drawing pictures with crayons
 
“You'll see,” Kaori replied evasively.
 
“Just tell us!” Sadako thought that Kaori must have hired someone to stand in as her date.
 
"Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!" Her entire family, including the kids who could barely form words, chanted over and over.
 
“It's…umm…Hatake Kakashi," Kaori finally admitted, folding under pressure.
 
“Really? Konoha's copy-nin with the sharingan?” Her father was seriously impressed. `He should have more money than Gai sensei!'
 
"I can't believe it! The perpetually masked shinobi? Have you seen his face?" asked her bitchy sister-in-law jealously.
 
"Hatake Kakashi...he's the one who tried to write off Icha Icha books as a work related expense on his taxes!" complained Kaori's brother-in-law, what's-his-name.
 
"He's like Konoha's number one bachelor," mused Sumire.
 
Her family started discussing all they knew about Kakashi amongst themselves, now ignoring Kaori - to her great relief.
 
“I heard he was the youngest ever to graduate from the academy - even younger than the legendary sannin!”
 
“I heard he was the youngest ever to be promoted to chuunin - even younger than the legendary sannin!”
 
“I heard he stood up to Orochimaru by himself!”
 
“I heard he had two genin in the last chunnin exam final - more than the other Leaf genin team!”
 
They were all impressed until…
 
“Wait a second - wasn't he in a coma for months? How could Kaori be dating him for so long?” asked the bitch.
 
But Kaori was prepared for that. “We were dating before he was attacked. I just didn't want to discuss it with all of you. It was too distressing.”
 
“Poor dear, no wonder you didn't want to talk about it. So faithful,” said Kaori's mother but then her attitude changed upon consideration. “What if he never recovered? You'd be waiting forever you know. I can understand a wife or fiancé waiting for her loved one to return, but you should have played the field while he was out. Always good to have someone as backup.” Kaori's mom was always practical when it came to relationships.
 
The initial excitement died down as they continued to wait. Kaori smartly refused to answer any questions until her date arrived, in case her answers didn't match Kakashi's.
 
An hour later, the children were whining to be fed. The baby got his milk but the older children wanted real food. The adults tried to hold them off for a while longer, but soon they gave in to the constant whining and crying.
 
Just when they were all about to sit down to the reheated dinner, the doorbell rang.

...-...-...-...-...-

Kakashi and the Kuchiki Family

 

Excerpts from Kaori's Notes:

Father: Address him as Kuchiki-sama - he likes those younger than he to be respectful. He's a bit old fashion, but not terribly strict. He likes his job as Vice-President of Konoha's Fidelity Trust accounting firm. His main goal in life is to retire with 100 million ryou in the bank, liquid. Pretend to be interested in his job. He loves it when someone's actually interested in debits and credits and high finance, especially new investment opportunities.

Mother: Address her as Hana-san since she likes to be more familiar. She's got rather strange but practical views on life and relationships. She runs a beauty salon. Her number one goal is to see me married no matter what, even if it's to a 90 year old monk! She's energetic and proud of looking younger than her age. Compliment her cooking and how young she looks.

Younger Sister: Address her as Sumire-san. She's married and has three children. She's normally very nice but not when she's overtired from the kids. Her husband works with my father and they get along well since he's pretty quiet and submissive. Her main goal in life is just to have a happy healthy family and somehow find time for herself. She used to help out at the salon but now that she has three kids she's been too busy. She and her husband are suckers for people who play with their kids.

Younger Brother: Address him as Akira-san. He's married to Sadako and has one child, a tyrannical little brat. My brother used to be a standup guy willing to go out of the way to help others, but ever since he's been with her, he's been a lot more selfish. The less said about his wife the better. They love compliments on their brat. Their main goal is to be better, more successful, more happy than everyone else.

Things to remember about "us": We met at the hospital when Sasuke was hospitalized after you sealed Orochimaru's curse. Then we met again when Sasuke, Naruto and Sakura where hospitalized after their fight with Gaara of the Desert. We went out a total of three times before you were hospitalized.

First date you asked me out to dinner. We went to Kami's Tea House. I had the chicken bento, regular, with soup and salad and you had the beef teriyaki deluxe.

Second date we went to see "The Adventures of Princess Fuun" running time from 6:00pm to 8:15pm , after which we picked up two House Special ramen from Ichiraku. During the movie we had popcorn with light butter and I had a diet soda and you had a regular soda.

Things I like: Reading , especially tragic romances.

Food: House Special ramen, steamed pork and cabbage dumplings, pan fried pork and chives dumplings, warm tapioca custard, mochi ice cream.

Things I don't like: Ignorant, idle, idiots like some of my coworkers! And sister-in-law! Noisy people. The color green (but this is just recently). I don't like food with vinegar like pickled vegetables, tomato sauce, lemon sauce, sour stuff in general.

Other Notes: Remember to bring some fruit or desert or something to dinner since that sort of custom is very important to my family.

Kakashi read none of it. The notebook lay on his dining table untouched.

"Don't you think you should start reading that book?" asked the Obito voice two hours before dinner with Kaori's family.

"I'm just going to wing it. It shouldn't be too hard to get along with everyone. Besides, it'll be more interesting this way," replied Kakashi as he did his best not to prepare for his date.

He had finished his mission early, but, as usual, was in no rush for his second date with Kaori. He knew dinner was never ready by the appointed time. The table had to be set; the food had to cool down; and there was always small talk to engage in. Instead, he decided to rest up a bit before leaving.

Unfortunately, he fell asleep and did not set his alarm clock. After a couple of hours of light sleep, where he never quite reached deep sleep mode, he woke up abruptly - an internal sensor finally woke him. It was already an hour past, so he rushed out the door without checking his appearance. Almost there, he slowed down to his usual saunter. He did not like to look like he was in a hurry. A slow pace suited his cool persona.

Kaori's parents' house was a medium size house with two stories and a small backyard for gardening. He estimated there were probably three bedrooms. The exterior was fairly well maintained though he had the impression that the inside would not be nearly as immaculate as Kaori's apartment. There was more of a casual ease to its aura. He calmly walked up the two steps and rang the doorbell.

Kaori's brother Akira was nearest the door so he was the first one to reach the doorknob in the mad scramble as everyone tried to be the first to greet the guest. Poor Kaori who was the smallest of the adults got pushed aside.

"Welcome to our humble abode," her brother said with an exaggerated bow.

"Hello," Kakashi replied as the rest of the family gathered behind Akira, blocking the doorway. Kakashi just stood there for a minute as Kaori's entire family stared at him.

Kaori roughly pushed everyone aside to clear a path for Kakashi to enter.

"Come in Kakashi-sensei," Kaori said pleasantly. "It's not polite to stare," she whispered harshly to her family.

Kakashi walked in without directly looking at anyone or greeting anyone in particular. At a glance he took in his surroundings and was secretly pleased to see his expectations were correct. The rooms had a comfortable homey feel, decorated with numerous personal objects, unlike Kaori's place which was fairly stark and unsentimental - much like his own.

"You're just in time for dinner," said Kaori's mom as she guided him to the dining room.

"That's okay. I'm not hungry."

"You have to eat something, I insist."

"I already ate on my mission."

"What exactly? Shinobi rations? That's not real food. Sit down and have a real home cooked meal. When was the last time you enjoyed something like that?" She started piling up a bit of everything from the assorted dishes she had laid out.

Everyone else took a seat around him. He sat at one end of the table while Kaori's father sat at the other end. Kaori sat on Kakashi's left and her mother on his right. Kaori's brother sat next to his mom and his wife next to him with their toddler. Sumire sat next to Kaori and her kids sat between her and her husband. Kakashi noted there was no boy-girl-boy-girl order and they were probably sitting in the least offensive way. He remembered Kaori did not get along with her brother or sister-in-law and was indifferent to her brother-in-law. He watched the ensuing chaos as dishes were passed back and forth and as the kids tried to grab everything and as their parents grabbed their kids' hands.

"Stop it."

"Don't grab."

"Don't touch."

"Use your chopsticks."

"Use your napkin."

"You don't like that."

"Try this, you'll like it."

"I don't!"

"Just eat it!"

Kakashi did not touch his food but just listened and watched the busy family, taking it all in, all the chaos and warmth of a family.

He noticed Sumire's baby staring at him. It seemed the baby had never seen a one-eyed man before. Kakashi looked over at the baby and stared back. His eyebrow angled in a mock frown. The little tyke started bawling. Sumire groaned. She was hoping to have dinner in peace, but now she had to deal with a fussy baby. She glanced at Kakashi and had a sneaking suspicion that he was responsible.

"Kakashi sensei, please try my mother's cooking," Kaori encouraged, expecting that Kakashi had read her notes and would compliment her mother's cooking.

Kakashi lowered his mask to eat. A sudden stillness fell over the Kuchiki family. Time froze and for a minute, everyone was quiet as they observed his fine face. Even the baby stopped crying. An impartial observer would have noticed their irises and pupils contracting and distorting into heart shapes.

The guest took a bite of his food and chewed thoughtfully. "It's kind of tough, and a bit too salty," Kakashi honestly appraised the stewed beef.

"Oh, you should eat that with the rice and it may be overcooked since it had to be reheated," Kaori's mother said defensively. 'Because we were waiting for you!' she angrily added to herself. She smiled tightly.

"Er, mom's cooking is best when it's fresh and warm," Kaori quickly interceded. She tried to change the topic. "So dad, how's the world of numbers."

"The usual. We're gearing up for the next round of changes in the tax code."

Kakashi yawned rudely. "Sorry, but tax talk is less exciting than watching my kunai rust."

"Well, it's certainly not as exciting as the life of a shinobi." Kaori's father face grew dark at the insult to his profession.

"Er, so how's things with you, Akira?" Kaori now tried to divert attention to her brother.

"We caught some card counters the other day."

"I never understood why counting cards is illegal. It's all a scam. Gambling is just a government sanctioned racket. All those addicts just throwing their money away. It really should be banned," Kakashi interjected.

Akira and his wife glared at him for insulting their livelihood.

' What the hell is he doing? ' Kaori thought angrily. It seemed Kakashi forgot everything she had told him and didn't read her notes at all.

The awkward silence was broken by Sumire's two older children who started to fight.

"He touched my food!"

"She touched my food!"

"Haha now you got my germs!"

"I'm gonna kill you!"

"Stop it kids - it's dinner time," their father said ineffectually.

"Let them fight. I'm always on the lookout for shinobi recruits," smiled Kakashi. He gave the kids a thumbs up.

The parents glared at him for encouraging violence. The kids stopped fighting and stared at the strange adult.

Unlike dinner with Gai, dinner with Kakashi was much more strained. Each member of Kaori's family wondered what Kaori could possibly see in him besides his good looks, which admittedly, were very good indeed.

Kaori's father noted that although Kakashi was late because he was on a mission, Gai sensei also had a mission. but he had the foresight and consideration to finish his mission well ahead of time and arrived right on time for dinner.

Kaori's mother noted that Kakashi had not brought anything to dinner, unlike Gai sensei who sent flowers and brought a huge, though mutated, turkey. It was the thought that count and apparently Kakashi was not very thoughtful.

Sumire and Akira and their spouses thought how Kakashi was terrible with children, unlike Gai sensei who knew exactly what to do to entertain their children and keep them from fussing or fighting.

They all silently agreed that Gai sensei was much, much better. All he needed was a makeover while Kakashi had more serious problems.

Meanwhile Kakashi happily and obliviously relished his food despite his initial criticism. It was nice being with a family even if he wasn't truly a part of it. He couldn't remember the last time he enjoyed a meal with a family and it was the first time he had met the parents of one of his dates.

So why wasn't he behaving better? Why was he going out of his way to antagonize everyone? Even though he hadn't read Kaori's notebook, she had already given him a heads up summary at dinner the other day. He should have known what to expect and what to do to impress them.

He chewed his food slowly and watched as the family ignored him and talked amongst themselves. Kaori clearly got her looks from her mother, who was still attractive though age and three children had naturally added weight to her frame. Her hair was the same reddish brown color with no gray and he deduced that she recently had it colored. He vaguely remembered that Kaori said her mother ran a beauty salon. A pleasant thought crossed his mind as he imagined the pretty nurse beside him aging gracefully in a similar fashion.

Kaori's brother and sister clearly resembled their father with their greater height and stronger frame. They both had black hair, but like Kaori, their eyes were hazel with flecks of green. Sumire had a more motherly look than Kaori, softer, more friendly, open and patient looking. The brother had an honest square face, which belied the fact that he hustled dice for a living. The hated sister-in-law was all bones and sharp angles with black eyes and red hair that was obviously dyed. The feckless brother-in-law whose name Kaori had a hard time remembering, was much like she described, that is not memorable at all - just a plain quiet balding man who seemed nice enough.

Kakashi listened in amusement as the couples bickered over what and how much to feed their little brats. He watched as Kaori's mom piled more and more food on his and Kaori's plates before they had a chance to finish their initial servings.

Then Akira decided to make another attempt to befriend his sister's beau. He said good-naturedly, "I hope you know what you're getting yourself into. My sister is not as nice as she appears. Even though she's a nurse, she doesn't have any patience - get it?" He laughed at his own joke. Although he meant it as a good-natured tease, his wife picked up on it in a not so nice way.

"That's right. You'd better be careful or you might find yourself wearing tonight's dinner," Sadoko said in reference to Kaori's last blind date.

Kaori's family all laughed, oblivious to her feelings. She felt her temperature rising and steam starting to build.

Sumire saw the tell tale signs of her sister's anger and said in her diplomatic way, "We're just teasing of course. Kaori's a wonder sister and nurse and all around person. I don't know how she puts up with us irresponsible types. We can't blame her for losing it sometimes." Her comment did not make Kaori feel any better.

Undaunted, Sadoko tried another tactic to annoy Kaori. She was certain that Kaori and Kakashi's relationship was a sham. If Kaori had really been involved with such a famous shinobi for so long, she definitely would have boasted about it. "So where did you and Kaori meet?" asked Sadoko in her most friendly voice, which still had a touch of malice.

"At the hospital."

"When?"

"Hmm, it was during the chuunin exam preliminaries."

' That's true,' noted Kaori, praying that Kakashi would get this part right.

"Really? That long ago? She hasn't mentioned you at all. I would have thought your first date would be big news."

' Oh, please please don't say anything that will give me away! ' thought Kaori desperately.

But luckily Kakashi just shrugged. "A serious relationship is not something to be discussed lightly."

"So it's serious?" Kaori's father interjected, frowning again.

"Well, er, it's the most serious relationship for the both of us," Kakashi replied honestly, thinking of how serious Kaori was when testing his memory the other day.

Kaori nodded mutely, surprised at how well Kakashi was fielding the questions now.

"So, has Kaori told you about the time she hurt her arm at the Academy?" Sadoko tried again to find an inconsistency, knowing it was really her ankle.

Kakashi just nodded vaguely.

Before there could be any more trouble, Kaori broke in, "Kakashi-sensei has to be up early for a mission tomorrow so we'll leave first."

"Well actually..." Kakashi was about to say when Kaori abruptly stood up, ready to leave.

"Oh, you have to have desert first. Kaori come help me in the kitchen." Her mother gave her that look that meant we need to talk. There was no denying her mother or she would just have to hear it later, so Kaori dutifully followed her into the kitchen where she had a elaborately decorated chocolate cake.

"So is it really serious? Like getting married serious?" She figured any son-in-law was better than none at all.

"Er, not exactly. It's still early. He's just recovered you know and we're both really busy."

Her mother sighed in relief. "I don't know about that guy. He doesn't seem very reliable. Gai sensei seems to be a better choice."

"Not that again. I've told you over and over, no way!"

"But really Kaori, if you compare everything but their looks, Gai sensei comes out on top. He was on time despite having a mission. He had the foresight and consideration to bring gifts. He got along with everyone. He was funny and smart and entertaining."

"He's not my type, so just forget it!"

"I just want you to be happy. I think in the long one you'd be happier with someone more attentive, more vibrant, more caring. Take it from me, marriage is a life sentence so make sure you get along with your cell-mate."

"Do you say things like that to dad?"

"Of course, and he agrees with me 100 percent. Remember, it's not what's on the outside, it's what's on the inside that counts."

"You tell me that each time I see you. I know what I'm doing."

"I certainly hope so for your sake. The rumors I've heard about that man..."

"What rumors? Forget the rumors - they're all lies!"

"Are you sure? He does read those perverted books doesn't he?"

"Er, yes, but that's not a big deal. They're best sellers so men most in Konoha probably have a copy. I bet dad has a copy."

Kaori's mom quickly dropped the topic of Icha Icha books since her husband did have the whole set and she had read them as well. "Uh, well, what about the ramen girl? I heard they have something going on." She had heard it from her customers at the beauty salon who had heard it from someone who had heard it from Otoha.

"It's a lie. There's nothing going on between them," Kaori said with a confidence she didn't quite feel.

"Well, what about how's he's late all the time? It can't be because of missions all the time."

"You know, everyone has a personality quirk. Look at Gai sensei's green jumpsuit. Which is worse?" Kaori said defensively.

What could her mother say to that? The green jumpsuit was the one thing that was very, very difficult for anyone to ignore. Kaori's mother sighed and gave in. "Right, you're an adult and you know what you're doing. I'm not going to say anything else.for now."

-.-.-.-

 

Encounter at the Hot Springs

There was just one date left, and though Kaori wanted very badly for Kakashi to fulfill his promise, a part of her did not want that day to come. She instinctively felt that once his promise was fulfilled, she would not see him again. It was better to leave the promise unfulfilled so she could continue her fantasy. She had recently read in a magazine that women were happiest while engaged. The exhilarating feeling of an exciting future, of great expectations, of a profound promise - that was better than another bad date.

Kaori still felt guilty about forcing Kakashi to meet her family under abnormal circumstances. She wanted the man she loved to meet her family with the expectation of a future together. Unfortunately, he made little effort to make a positive impression nor did he seem to care. She was disappointed, but decided that even if there could be no romantic relationship, she would be positive during their third date, no matter what. She still wanted to impress him, though he had not done anything to impress her.

She really didn't understand him at all. She had told him about her family and herself, so even if he hadn't read her notes, he should have known what to say or do, and most of it was common sense. If seemed he went out of his way to annoy her and her family. But then it seemed he recovered and handled their questions quite well. After dinner, he made no romantic overture, but he was nice, and didn't seem at all annoyed that she had blackmailed him.

She was delighted, though surprised, that he wanted to fulfill his promise even when she offered to cancel the third date. He had said to her that night after dinner, " A promise is a promise and I am a man of my word.'

Was it just because he wanted to keep his promise or could there be something more? That small bit of hope was enough to carry Kaori through her day-to-day drudgery. She wanted to believe it was still possible for him to care for her. His ambiguity vexed her yet she did not have the courage to confront him directly. She was afraid he would clearly state he did not like her and that would ruin the fantasy permanently. But perhaps that would have been better than her present state of limbo where she could not move on to another man because of her persistent feelings for such an attainable one. Though she sensibly refused to throw her heart and soul into that possibility, she still held it tightly and decided to refuse all other dates until there was no hope at all.

There had not been any word from him since, but she was no longer surprised nor was she waiting on pins and needles. It seemed he was on a mission rotation cycle where he had off one day every couple of weeks, if there were no emergencies. As usual, she excused his lack of communication as his dedication to work - he was simply too busy.

Nearly two weeks later, toward the end of her shift, a messenger bird came zooming in, coming to a stop above her desk. The little brown hawk gently settled down and perched on her stack of reports to be reviewed. This was not uncommon for low security messages, so the nurse naturally assumed that there must have been an accident during a genin mission and the injured party would be brought in soon. Kaori quickly tore the note off the bird's leg. To her surprise, it was from Kakashi.

To: Kuchiki Kaori

From: Hatake Kakashi

Meet me at Hot Springs

Sunday night about 4pm .

'The hot springs ! The hot springs ! He asked me to the hot springs ! ' Kaori had not felt like this for a long, long time. That type of absolute excitement and anticipation of being with someone you liked. Hot springs were where couples and close friends went for fun. Not two people who barely knew each other. So maybe he did have special feelings for her. Why else would he ask her to the hot springs ? It was an unexpected choice for a third date.

He would probably be on the way back from a mission. A bath right before dinner was a wonderfully romantic idea. She had not been to a hot springs for years despite there being one right in Konoha. Why would anyone want to share a bath with a group of complete strangers, even if they were all the same sex? This brought her to her next thought - there was no coed bathing in the Konoha hot springs , so how were they going to spend time together? Maybe it was just the meeting place and not what he really planned at all.

It was Friday and the date was Sunday. Luckily, Kaori had Sundays off. She was scheduled to work tomorrow, but decided to take Saturday off, too. As was her prerogative, Kaori scheduled Otoha as her replacement since Kaori had covered for her several times in the past.

So with the prospect of another date with Kakashi, and the satisfaction of witnessing Otoha's fury when she found out that she had to work on Saturday, Kaori was in a really good mood for once.

She spent Saturday running errands and cleaning her apartment, the activities she usually reserved for her regular day off. Sunday morning she went to a beauty salon for a full treatment: facial, body wrap, manicure, pedicure, hair cut and styled. But not at her mom's salon; Kaori guiltily patronized her rival across town. The owner recognized Kaori and asked why she wasn't at her mother's salon.

Kaori had to think of another lie. She could not tell the beautician the truth - that she did not want her family to know that she was preparing for a date. "My mom's book solid and today's my only day off and I don't have time to wait for an appointment."

That seemed to satisfy the woman, but her good humor dropped drastically with the thought of her rival doing better business than herself. The overly made-up middle-aged woman couldn't help but take it out on poor Kaori. What was meant to be hours of pampering turned out to be more like torture as she roughly washed Kaori's hair and scrubbed her face. Kaori's body ached and her skin felt raw by the end of it.

Kaori spent Sunday afternoon fretting over her date and her clothes, again. She had no idea what she should wear. If Kakashi meant for them to bathe, she should wear a simple robe type dress which would make it easy to undress. But if that was not his intent, she should wear a nice, more formal dress. It was so unfair that all Kakashi wore was his shinobi uniform!

She finally dug out a dress which was a present from her horrible sister-in-law. Kaori suspected she had given it to her only because it was a gift from someone else. Kaori accepted the gift graciously, but never wore it as it reminded her of the bitch. The dress was a couple of years old, but looked new, with tags still attached. It was of a wrap around style where you did not have to put it on by pulling over your head. Instead, like a robe, you simply slipped it on and tied it with a decorative belt at the waist. It was beige with brown geometric designs. Not an ugly dress, but not the colors Kaori preferred to attract a man.

She decided not to wear any jewelry since she did not like the feel of jewelry in water. Still, in case they were not going to bathe, she had to wear someone more ornamental so she placed her hair in a twist held in place by an expensive and elaborately carved jade hairpin. After dressing and doing her hair, she applied some makeup. Any makeup would probably come off during a bath, but Kaori applied some light touches anyway, just in case. Finally she was ready. She carried nothing to her date but a small purse with her keys and some money.

She arrived a bit early as was usual for her. She didn't mind waiting. She had not been at the hot springs for years so she walked around to enjoy the scenery and the wisps of white steam.

The appointment time came and went. Kaori stood around and waited, paced and waited, sat down and waited, and walked around and waited. It was now past six.

Kaori restlessly walked back to the front desk. To her jaw dropping surprise, Kaori saw what looked like her aggravating coworker Otoha with... Gai! What the hell was going on? Did the world tilt on its axis? To be sure, she discreetly walked over, and crouched behind the nearby rose bushes. It was definitely them! But Gai was not in his usual atrocious attire. He was wearing a simple dark brown robe. Otoha wore a bright red one embroidered with flowers. Her luxurious black hair was piled high on her head to show off her long flawless neck.

As they walked by the rose bushes, Gai plucked a flower and presented it to Otoha with a deep bow. "A flower such as this pales in comparison to your vibrant beauty, but please accept it as a symbol of my eternal devotion as your faithful servant."

Unreasonable rage swept over Kaori. 'How fickle! One minute I'm his destined one, and now Otoha? How can that possibly be? Especially since I told him she's gay. And when did this happen? Otoha made no mention of Gai at all. Isn't she still involved with Kanpou?'

Kaori also thought how it was illegal of Gai to pick flowers without the owner's permission. But she knew the thought was just sour grapes. She wondered if Kakashi would bring her flowers and knew that would be very unlikely.

Kaori sat on the ground, too stunned to move. She didn't even notice when footsteps approached.

"Ah, isn't it Kaori-san. I almost didn't recognize you out of your stuffy starched uniform. I never imagined this would be a place you'd frequent. Here alone I see," Otoha said in her snide way.

But Kaori was not one to be cowed, especially by a subordinate. "Didn't I see you here with Gai sensei? I didn't know you two were an item. I didn't think he was your type. You really should stop going after my rejects and find someone on your own."

To Kaori's surprise, Otoha seemed slightly embarrassed rather than angry. "Ah, well, it didn't really start out like this. Sort of an interesting story."

Kaori had to know how Gai had gotten to Otoha, so she pretended she wasn't interested, knowing that was more likely to get the gossipy girl to talk. She stood up and dusted herself off. "Well, whatever. See you at work tomorrow," she said disinterestedly.

As expected, Otoha continued her story. "It was strange. Yesterday he came in with Lee for his checkup. While Lee was in the examining room, I tried flirting with him since I was bored, but he totally ignored me. You know I'm not used to that type of treatment from a man. So I just had to rev it up a bit - you know what I mean. I didn't have a date last night since Kanpou was on duty and.anyway, we spent last night together. Boy, you don't know what you missed! His stamina is amazing! And the size of his."

"That's great. I'm really happy for you," Kaori said with a forced smile.

Gai walked over after getting the towels and bath supplies from the front desk. He greeted Kaori without any reservation. "Ah, my dear Kaori. I'd like to thank you for helping me find the true woman of my destiny."

"Huh? I thought I was that woman."

"You see, I had it all wrong. You were on my path of destiny, but now I have reached the true goal, the brightest jewel among all women - my exquisite Otoha!" He smiled at his new love. "I must have misunderstood you when you said you and Otoha were involved. You must have meant gay in the happy way. I'm glad the two are you are such good friends."

Otoha gave the two of them a quizzical look and shrugged. She didn't understand half the things Gai said, but she didn't mind Gai's idiosyncrasies since he was so great in bed.

Kaori was too stunned to know how she felt. Half of her felt relieved and wanted to celebrate, the other half was furious with jealousy that Gai could possibly prefer Otoha. Then she realized something. Gai did not quite look like his usual self. She squinted at him but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. He was wearing more normal clothes, that was part of it, but there was something else.his hair! His hair was not in the usual floppy bangs, bowl-cut style, but slicked back with hair gel, exposing a handsome broad forehead. And his eyebrows seemed to be a little less thick. He was still nowhere near as handsome as Kakashi, but he wasn't bad at all.

Otoha caught her looking at Gai and smiled. "It seems Gai sensei recently had a makeover. I must say, your mother does good work."

"My mother?"

"Ah yes, she sent me a message yesterday morning indicating she needed my assistance. Luckily, I finished my mission early and was able to stop by her work place. After helping her change some light bulbs, she offered to trim my hair. Since the front was getting a bit long I agreed. I didn't realize she was going to style it into this." Gai frowned and pointed at his hair. "Then I accompanied my dear Lee to the hospital for his checkup and ran into the curvaceous Otoha."

'I see. my mother planned for Gai to run into me since I'm scheduled to work this Saturday. She thought that I would go for him once she gave him a makeover. Nice try mom, but Kakashi's the only one for me!' Kaori almost laughed at her mother's continual attempts to interfere with her love life, but remembered how she really didn't have one at all. "Well, have fun you two. I certainly wish you the best," she said honestly. The relieved half of her finally won.

"So what are you doing here?" Otoha asked.

Kaori shrugged. "Just waiting for a friend. I'm not here for the hot springs ," she lied.

"Well, see you later," Otoha said as she clung to Gai's arm.

Gai smiled and waved good-bye with his free hand. The two of them walked off toward the baths.

Kaori was left alone to wait again.

The sun had set by 8PM and Kaori had been waiting for over four hours. Her stomach ached from hunger .She could not wait any longer or she would not have the strength to move from her spot. With a sigh, Kaori gave up. It seemed Kakashi was too busy with his mission. She wondered what could have happened and panic stuck her as she imagined him dead, impaled by a hundred kunai. She wanted to send out a messenger bird to find him, but that was only for emergencies, so instead she decided to leave a note with the front desk in case he showed up.

She made her way to one of her usual takeout places - Ichiraku. The food was consistently good and inexpensive. It had a balance of nutrients which included noodles for carbohydrates, meat for protein, and vegetables for fiber and vitamins. She could smell the miso stock wafting over the cool night air. Thinking of the hot springs , and water, and water creatures, she decided to get the seafood ramen.

Ichiraku was always open late, but this time she noticed that the ramen girl was not there. To make casual conversation, Kaori asked the old ramen chef, "So where's your daughter tonight? Not sick I hope."

"Oh no, she's fine. She's out on a date with Naruto's sensei," he said as he handed her the bag holding her takeout order.

Kaori nearly dropped the bag.

-.-.-