The parfait is twice as sweet for the knowledge someone else is paying.
“Well!” says Kakashi, at length. He sets his spoon down with a clink, and gives his belly a contented pat.
“Well,” agrees Gintoki, who has long since loosened his obi to accommodate his own belly’s satisfied curve.
“You’re a generous date,” Kakashi continues, and at the same Gintoki says, “You’re very kind to cover our dinner like this.”
They look at each other. The warmth of their expressions does not falter.
“Only S-rank missions pay anything worth mentioning,” says Kakashi, “and as the responsible sensei of three lovable genin, I’m hardly in a position to take anything but D-ranks nowadays –”
“The Intergalactic Diplomacy Federation did try to recruit me,” says Gintoki, at the same time, “but the hours are so demanding, and Weekly Jump is very difficult to get hold of once you go off-world –”
“– and once the pay of a D-rank has been split between my greedy students, of course, barely enough remains for the essentials –”
“– and I have young mouths to feed, and coming home to those bright, hopeful eyes is so much rewarding than the tedium of steady income could ever be –”
“The waitress is on her way,” says Kakashi.
A long moment of eye contact draws out between them. Then a swirl of smoke bursts up and Kakashi is gone, and a chair is kicked back and the restaurant door is swinging, and Gintoki is gone.
They find a roof with warmth beneath it and stay there, dozy with post-parfait satisfaction.
“In my world,” says Gintoki, his hands folded behind his head, surveying the stars of this alien sky, “a pervert may buy a ninja costume from the shuttle port’s cosplay shop for only the price of a cheap nurse’s dress and stockings, or perhaps a slightly higher quality set of cat-girl accessories. You call yourself a ninja, but is it possible you’re no more than a pervert with money to burn?”
“Guaranteed,” says Kakashi. “But I’m also a ninja.”
Gintoki gives this its due consideration. Perhaps it is a universal constant that ninja must be sickeningly perverted; given Zenzou’s predilection for violent anal penetration and Sacchan’s predilection for hiding in the pedal bin in the kitchen of the Yorozuya and seductively moaning Gintoki’s name until he scrapes the congealing leftovers of his last egg-over-rice onto her flushed and upturned face, he would not be altogether surprised were his companion to possess similarly deal-breaking flaws.
“Would you consider yourself an S or an M?” says Gintoki, by way of testing the waters.
Behind his mask, Kakashi gives a weary sigh. “Maa, it exhausts me just to think of it. If you can’t indulge your baser interests while lazing in the sun on a weekday afternoon, what’s the point of indulging them at all?”
“Just so,” Gintoki agrees. “Aa, just so. Who has time for whips and chains? I don’t believe a man should ever do anything he can’t be mistaken for sleeping while doing it.”
One grey eye regards Gintoki thoughtfully. “I may have some material of interest to you,” Kakashi says, at last, and Gintoki looks around to find the lurid cover of a small paperback held out before him. “What’s your position on erotic literature?”
It could be the heaps upon whipped heaps of cream his parfait had risen proudly up beneath, it could be the stupendous proportions of the young woman on the paperback’s cover, it could be the knowledge that he has found a soulmate’s company: but whatever the cause, Gintoki’s heart is pounding. “Horizontal,” he says, “generally on the couch, as I ignore my noisy and troublesome children. This looks like sordid filth, Hatake-san; do you have more?”
“Whatever do you mean?” Kakashi asks mildly. “I’m right here, aren’t I?”
“Your hair’s too nice to be Gin-chan,” says the girl, who is flopped on the couch on her stomach and rummaging disinterestedly up her nose. “Gin-chan has an ugly perm-head, which is why he should never have been the main character, since no one wants to watch a show where the main character has upstairs hair that looks just like his downstairs hair. Are you here to replace him? Did Sunrise send us a new and improved Gin-chan to boost our ratings?”
“If you’re Gin-san, then you’d know information only the real Gin-san would know,” interrupts the boy, shoving up his glasses as he regards Kakashi with a look he likely imagines to be cunning. “Tell us the income of the Yorozuya last month, after tax.”
The girl vaults from the couch, kicks the boy aside, and lands with perfect form. “Gin-chan would never know that! Mister, if you’re the real Gin-chan, what you’d do is take me out for all-you-can-eat yakiniku, since that’s what the real Gin-chan does every Monday!”
“Is that so?” says Kakashi, wandering through the main room, hands in pockets.
“You bet,” the girl assures him. “Mister, if you take me out for all-you-can-eat yakiniku, I’ll pretend to believe you’re Gin-chan even if the real Gin-chan comes back.”
The boy whirls round to her, scandalised. “Kagura!”
Kagura gives a decisive nod, hands planted on her hips. “I’ll pretend to believe you’re Gin-chan even if the real Gin-chan crawls up to me and cries like an ugly baby and hugs my ankles,” she announces, “even if he calls me Ultimate Fearless Kagura-sama, Terror of the High Seas, and begs me to be merciful, even if –”
“You can’t say things like that!” cries the boy, whose face is reddening with outrage so rapidly that Kakashi watches with interest to see if his glasses will steam up too. “And you! You are not the real Gin-san! Where’s your yukata? Where’s your bokutō? Where’s your other eye?”
“It’s unfortunate you should ask,” says Kakashi, “as I’m afraid I’ve forgotten.”
“Amnesia,” Kakashi explains. Ruefully, he lifts his palms. “If you two have nothing more to do than harass your gentle-hearted sensei, perhaps you could train. Do you train? Train anyway. You’ve exhausted me, and your stance looks poor.”
“We’ve had an amnesia arc!” the boy says heatedly. “Later episodes have even featured callbacks to Gin-san’s classic opening monologue! The real Gin-san would know that!”
“Well, I don’t recall,” says Kakashi, “since I have amnesia. Would you excuse me?”
And he assumes a position of repose on the nearest couch, props his ankle on his knee, and pulls Icha Icha Scandal!! from the inside pocket of his jounin vest.
After a moment, the boy comes at him, bokutō upraised and roaring in a manner that suggests his stealth training has been less than comprehensive. Kakashi flickers to the opposite wall; the boy lands his hit, and the vertiginously high pitch of the shriek he lets out when Kakashi’s shadow clone explodes is enough to bring a dog the size of Gamabunta hurtling straight for him through the doorway, its vast tongue flapping free.
The dog’s mouth clamps shut. The boy’s scream cuts off.
Kakashi tucks his book away. He and Kagura watch together for a little while as the boy struggles to free himself from the dog’s colossal muzzle. His pristinely white uwagi is slowly soaking through with blood. Dog slobber runs liberally down across his shoulders.
“That’s a fine dog you’ve got there,” Kakashi says, eventually.
“Isn’t he!” says Kagura. “Gin-chan doesn’t think so. I like you better than Gin-chan – we’ll keep you, so long as you give me a cut of whatever you get for his kidneys. Don’t bother selling his liver, it must be as shrivelled and rotten by now as his –”
A sudden, deafening bleep obscures her next word, but from the vigorous crotch-level gesticulation her meaning is perfectly clear.
“I’ll bear it in mind,” Kakashi says gravely.
“Traffic jam,” says Gintoki, his voice muffled by the heavy winter scarf he’s wearing wrapped around the lower portion of his face. “Shuttles backed up all the way through Omega Centauri. Terrible, terrible. I hear they’re planning to restructure the JX7 Intergalactic Expressway, but it’s hardly soon enough.”
“Eh?” says the orange one.
“You’re not Kakashi-sensei,” says the blue one.
“Where’s your hitai-ate?” says the pink one.
“Hiked up the price and sold it at a Jump convention,” says Gintoki, and pats the eyepatch he’s wearing in its place. The eyepatch is black, and printed with a large white skull. “A space captain gave me this,” he adds, though Zura is still technically unaware of his generous donation: he had been sleeping at the time he made it, which was when Gintoki stealthily shoved up his window sash and clambered in to liberate it from his well-stocked dressing-up box.
“You’re not Kakashi-sensei,” says the blue one, again.
“Nonsense,” says Gintoki. “You’re clearly suffering from some sort of demonic possession, or possibly a tragic wasting disease localised to your mental faculties. You two, check him for wasting diseases. Wait, no – you check him for wasting diseases, and you get over here and teach me Rasengan.”
The pink one stares for a moment, and then rounds obediently on the blue one; but the orange one screws up his face in an expression of confusion so absolute it causes Gintoki’s own head to ache just looking at it. “I gotta teach you what?”
“Aa, have you not reached that arc? Perhaps it’s a spoiler. Your sensei’s wise old brain is addled, Beruto-kun, and most likely only a nap will improve it. Excuse me,” says Gintoki, and steps past the kid, heading for the appealingly dappled shade of the trees that fringe the dusty training grounds.
“I’m Naruto!” yells Beruto, which is an assertion so absurd that Gintoki entirely disregards it. “Kakashi-sensei! Hey, Kakashi-sensei!”
The heartfelt invective continues at top volume. Weekly Jump is one matter, but experiencing such unstoppable shounen vigour in such close quarters is quite another; Gintoki settles himself down at the foot of a broad and comfortable-looking tree, closes his eyes, and reassures himself through practical demonstration that he still possesses the natural, overwhelming lethargy of any healthy adult.
“Do you think it’s genjutsu?” whispers the pink one. “Some sort of test? It’d be just like Kakashi-sensei, if it was. What if we have to break the illusion?”
“Yeah!” says the orange one, his voice now ferociously, deafeningly determined. He thumps his fist against his open palm. “Yeah, Sakura-chan! You got it! I’ll bust that illusion right up, I’ll kick his ass all the way to Hidden Sand, I’ll –”
Gintoki cracks one eye open. The dappled shadow patterns around him have changed shape, blotting out the daylight in a way that suggests someone might be crouching above him in the tree.
He heaves a weary sigh. “Maa, you’re ruining my suspension of disbelief. I always imagined you stealthier than this. More respectful, too, and quicker to bring your devoted sensei his required daily quota of parfait. Could you move out of my sun?”
“You are not Kakashi-sensei,” hisses the blue one, from somewhere up above Gintoki’s head. “I can’t see any chakra in your body. You’re not even a ninja. What are you?”
“A little peckish,” says Gintoki, “so I’d be grateful if you could hurry up with that parfait you promised me. Chop chop.”
“I didn’t promise you anything!”
Half a dozen shuriken zip from the cover of the branches. With no particular haste, Gintoki rolls aside and clambers to his feet.
The shuriken thud into the dirt. A moment later, so does the boy himself, flipped out of the tree and onto his back with a not-ungentle swipe of Gintoki’s bokutō.
Behind him, the orange one whoops with delight. “Eat dirt, bastard!” he hollers, and immediately follows it up with, “D’ya see that? D’ya see it, huh? Sakura-chan, d’ya see that? Hey, Sasuke-bastard –”
“Day and night I work to teach you the path of the ninja, and what do I get for it? Nothing,” laments Gintoki. “Nothing but violence and base ingratitude, and that won’t pay for my pachinko habit, will it?”
The kid says nothing. Gintoki prods him in the belly. The kid continues saying nothing, scowling up at him with a simmering fury so boiling hot it tires Gintoki just to see it; and just as Gintoki heaves another weary sigh, moving to sheathe his bokutō, the kid belches out a ball of flame that reduces it to blackened cinders in Gintoki’s hand. “You are not Kakashi-sensei!”
The charred remains hold together for a moment, then droop, then wilt, then disintegrate into a shower of ash. This particular bokutō was bought in a three-for-two deal after Kagura repurposed the last one as a toothpick for Sadaharu, and so Gintoki has two identical back-ups stashed away at home; practically speaking, it’s no great loss.
Still – Gintoki certainly knows who he won’t be cosplaying at Edo’s next Jump Festa.