Chapter Eleven

Iruka held his teacup in both hands, examining the design on the outside, feeling the little ridges with callused hands. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to give Kakashi another chance. There had been too many emotional ups and downs in the last few weeks, and he wasn't ready for any more.

"I went back to my apartment," Kakashi said, after they'd been quiet for a long time.

Iruka grunted.

"It's not as nice as yours."

Iruka glanced up at the Jounin, then away.

"I thought you might know why. Or how to fix it," Kakashi said.

Iruka was tempted to say 'no,' that he had no idea how to fix it. Somehow, he couldn't. He could leave, but he couldn't refuse help when it was so easy to give. "You just need some pictures. Maybe more furniture," he said grudgingly.

"Pictures of what?" Kakashi asked.

Iruka sipped tea, then watched it swirl in the bottom of his cup. "Friends. Family."

"I have pictures of those."

Iruka smiled reluctantly, remembering the photos on the shelf. "You have two. Put up some more."

"I don't have any more," Kakashi murmured.

Iruka glanced up. Kakashi was glaring at the teacup he held. Genma's teacup. "So take some pictures of your friends, and put them up." He didn’t try to hide his exasperation.

Kakashi twirled the cup, then sipped. "I don't really have friends to take pictures of."

Iruka watched him. The man looked up, and Iruka looked back down at his tea. He poured more from the pot, watching steam curl. How to explain? Finally, he took a deep breath. "When you wanted to have dinner," he asked slowly, "who did you borrow clothes from?"

Kakashi frowned. "Genma. Raidou. Only, I asked Gai and Asuma first. And Kurenai was there, though I'm not sure why . . ."

"And the table?"


Iruka nodded and looked at Kakashi expectantly.

Kakashi still looked like he didn't understand the point.

Iruka made a noise in frustration, a small sound in the back of his throat. "Kakashi, Kurenai was there because she likes you. So do Raidou, Genma, Gai and Asuma, or they wouldn't have helped. The only reason you're not friends with them is because you don't ever ask them to do things. They're left with the assumption that you don't want to be friends. I bet if you asked Asuma to dinner, he'd go."

Kakashi frowned. "I'm not interested in him like that . . ."

"No, I mean as friends," Iruka said, nearly laughing at the look on Kakashi's face. He caught himself just in time. He was still angry, after all.

Kakashi looked thoughtful. "What if I do it wrong?"

"I think the fact that you're trying will make up for it," Iruka said softly.

The Jounin glanced at him. This time, Iruka didn't look away. "Will you help me?"

Iruka went back to staring at his tea. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want to get involved," he muttered.


The word was so soft, Iruka almost didn't hear it. He closed his eyes and swallowed.

"Iruka . . ." Kakashi started, and stopped.

Iruka looked at him. Kakashi wasn't squirming, because he never did, but he looked like he wanted to. "I didn't mean to hurt you." The man stopped, frowning into his tea, as if this was the hardest thing he'd ever done.

Iruka suspected it probably was.

"I was an ass, and . . . I apologize. But I rea--" His teeth closed with a click. Kakashi stared hard at the tabletop. "I'll try not to do it again." He looked up, finally, the single eye almost pleading. Pleading to understand, Iruka guessed, because Kakashi couldn't find the words.

Iruka wondered if the man even understood what he was feeling.

Iruka looked away. "I'll help you make friends," he said finally. "But nothing more."

Kakashi just nodded, obviously relieved to have that much.

It hurt. Iruka stared down at his hands.


"Why don't you ask Asuma if he'd like to have dinner at your place?" Iruka suggested, sitting at the counter in the little ramen shop two days later.

Kakashi shook his head. "He might think I like him like that."

Iruka sighed internally. "So ask both him and Kurenai. Then they'll know it's just friendly."

Kakashi was silent for a long time.

"What?" Iruka asked.

"What if they say no?"

"They won't say no. Unless it's a bad day, in which case you just change days."

"They might say no."

Iruka ground his teeth and rubbed the scar across his nose. "You won't know unless you try."

Kakashi picked at his ramen, then finally pushed the bowl away. "What should I say?"

"Just ask them if they'd like to come to dinner," Iruka said, not for the first time. He was beginning to feel a bit like a recording.


"Kakashi," Iruka snapped. He took a deep breath, then tossed money on the counter. "I have to get back to work. I'll talk to you later tonight."

Kakashi nodded, still sitting hunched over. "All right."

Many years ago . . .

On his ninth birthday he found himself outside the prison, sitting on the steps, a flower in his hand. He hadn't seen his mother in four years. He was starting to forget what she looked like.

He twirled the flower, peering down at it. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe he should go now.

The door opened, and a guard stepped out. "Hatake Kakashi?"

Kakashi jumped, and looked up.

"This way."

Too late to run. He stood and walked after the guard, down long, empty corridors. Their steps echoed, even when he tried to walk silently. After a long time, they stopped at a set of double doors. The guard pulled out keys that chattered noisily on their ring, and shuffled through them until he'd found the right one. The door opened with the smell of rust and too much oil used too late, and Kakashi found himself looking at yet another set of doors. He followed the guard up to those, and they stopped.

A metal grate was in the center of them, giving him a limited view of what was inside. A room, with a bench on one side. He couldn't see anything else.

"Get up here, Hatake," the guard barked.

Kakashi jumped, looking up. Then he realized the man wasn't talking to him, and he went back to staring at the door. His heart thundered, hammering almost painfully in his chest, and he was nearly crushing his flower.

His mother was in that room. The only family he had left in the world, and she was inside there, just a few feet from him.

He couldn't decide how he felt about that. Other than so anxious he was nearly sick. He hadn't told anyone he was coming here. Didn't want the questions, and the shame that went with having a parent who was a traitor. Having a parent who killed himself was bad enough.

"Hatake!" the man shouted again.

Kakashi's nails bit into the stem of his flower.

"Go away," a female voice called back.

The guard glanced down at Kakashi, then back into the room. "You've got a visitor."

There was a moment of silence. "Who?"

Kakashi got another look. He licked his lips and said, "Kakashi," as softly as he could.

"Kakashi!" the man bellowed.

They waited. Kakashi didn't fidget because ninja didn't. He waited quietly, perfectly still, breathing through his nose so his mask didn't puff away from his face.

When she spoke again, it was soft. "Tell him to go away. I don't want to see him."

Kakashi didn't move for a long moment. Not until the guard reached out to touch him, to put a big hand on his shoulder. Then he pulled back, slicing a disdainful look up at the guard with the best 'stay away' attitude he knew how to pull. He turned, and walked quickly from the prison.

"Kid, wait," the guard called.

Kakashi broke into a run, out through the main doors, down the steps. He dropped the flower in the mud and bolted, out the long expanse of yard, through the gates, feet slipping and sinking in the soft earth. Into the forest.

She didn't even want to see him.


Kakashi sidled into the mission office door, hands in his pockets, nodding once at Genma.

The senbon in Genma's mouth flicked to the other side in acknowledgement.

Iruka looked up, then back down at the papers he was stuffing into a satchel. "Did you ask Asuma?"

Kakashi hesitated. "No," he said finally.

Iruka looked up again, a frown drawing a line between his brows. "No? Why not?"

He'd tried. He'd stood over the table Asuma and Kurenai were at for several minutes, stuttering and making a fool of himself. Somehow, the right words just wouldn't come. In fact, no words would come. They talked awkwardly about missions and the Hokage for a few minutes, and then Kakashi had fled.

Kakashi waited in silence until Iruka had packed his bag and hoisted it, and then he followed the other man out the doors, down the hall. "I couldn't," he said at last. "I don't know how."

Iruka was obviously annoyed. He'd been vaguely annoyed ever since that night. At this point, Kakashi wasn't certain it would ever go away. He might just have screwed things up that badly.

"What do you mean, you don't know how? You just say, 'Asuma, Kurenai! Want to have dinner at my place on Friday?' and see what they say."

"I can't do that," Kakashi muttered, slouching down the corridor. "You can't just walk up to someone and ask them--"

They turned a corner and nearly ran into Shizune, carrying a large stack of bound scrolls. She yelped and nearly dropped them, and only Iruka's quick reflexes kept them both standing.

Kakashi waited while they sorted everything out, Shizune smiling and apologizing, and Iruka doing the same. Then Iruka glanced over his shoulder, eyes narrowed at Kakashi, and turned back to the girl. "Shizune-san, I was thinking about going to the park tomorrow at lunch. Want to join me?"

She smiled, tossing her head to get hair out of her eyes. "Thanks, Iruka-san, but I've got too much work to do. I appreciate the offer, though."

"Maybe some other time, then," he said, and waved cheerfully as the woman went around the corner. Iruka turned to look at Kakashi. "Like that," he said.

Kakashi frowned. Iruka made it look so easy. "Maybe you should ask them," he suggested casually, following Iruka out of the building and toward his apartment.

"No. It's your dinner party. You ask them," Iruka said.

"But asking them to dinner at my place is different than asking them to join me at lunch," Kakashi said, frustrated but careful not to let it show. Then a terrifying thought occurred to him. "What if they say yes?"

"They're supposed to say yes," Iruka snorted.

"But if they say yes, and they show up, then what do we talk about?"

"Whatever comes up." Iruka looked at him expectantly.

It took Kakashi a moment to realize they were standing in front of his apartment. He frowned. Shouldn't they be continuing to Iruka's place? He looked at his door, then back at Iruka. "Did you want to come in?" he asked, confused.

"Do you want help with this or not?" Iruka barked.

Kakashi jumped, and opened the door.

Iruka walked in, toeing off his sandals.

Kakashi pulled off his own shoes, looking around his apartment anxiously. He hadn't planned for this, and his apartment was a mess. There was dust on the shelf above his bed, and bathroom things just sitting out on the edge of the shower, where anyone could see them, and--

He hurried there first, grabbing his shampoo bottle and turning to stuff it in the cupboard. He froze when he saw Iruka standing in the doorway, frowning. Not sure what else to do, Kakashi dropped his arm to his side and slightly behind him, hiding the bottle.

Iruka's frown deepened. "Kakashi, relax. Apartments are supposed to have personal things in them."

Kakashi glanced around. His razor was sitting on the sink, next to a can of shaving cream, and there were fine, silver hairs that hadn't quite washed down the drain.

"Kakashi," Iruka said again, stepping forward into the tiny bathroom. "Trust me." He stepped close enough that a deep breath would have connected them, reaching down and wrapping his fingers around the bottle of shampoo.

Kakashi refused to let it go.

Iruka tugged, brown eyes holding Kakashi's gaze. "Trust me," he said again.

Reluctantly, Kakashi released the bottle. Iruka stepped to one side, squeezing past him to set it back on the edge of the shower. "You asked me why my apartment was nicer than yours," Iruka said, straightening. "It's because my apartment looks like someone lives there. There should be your things sitting around. It's your apartment. That's okay."

Kakashi didn't respond. His hands itched to hide everything away again, make it as impersonal as possible. He wouldn’t give into that. He wouldn't.

He did, however, rinse the rest of the hairs down the sink before he left.

"Do you have a table?" Iruka asked, hands on his hips as he looked around.

"Just that one." Kakashi pointed to the little fold-out table he ate at; the one that flattened down against the wall.

Iruka sighed and scratched his head, digging a finger under his hair band. "For three people, you might consider borrowing a bigger one."

Panic struck again. "Three? You're coming too, right? Shouldn't there be four?"

Iruka opened his mouth, and Kakashi could see the denial there.

"Iruka!" he nearly shouted. "You can't leave me alone with this! What if I don't have anything to say? Or--"

"All right, all right," Iruka said. "I'll come. This once."

Kakashi calmed. "And you have to be here before they get here," he said anxiously, though he made sure it still sounded vaguely unimportant.

"What? Why?" Iruka asked.

Kakashi forced himself to settle back on one hip, seemingly relaxed, and answered calmly, "What if I do something wrong? You have to check things."

Iruka just looked at him for a moment, then finally shrugged and nodded. "All right. This once."

Kakashi took a deep breath, relaxing again. This hosting stuff was hard.

"So you're going to ask Asuma tomorrow, right?" Iruka asked.

Kakashi started to say yes. Then he scratched the back of his head and stuffed both hands into his pockets, attempting to keep his casual demeanor. Everything was spinning out of control. He could at least control that. "How?"

Iruka dropped his satchel on the floor and sat down on the futon. "Just walk up to him and ask."

Kakashi eyed the satchel. It was sitting there, all flopped over, and papers and scrolls looked like they might fall out at any moment. He reached down to pick it up and put it someplace safer, out of the way. Maybe in the closet.

"Leave it."

He froze and looked at Iruka, eyebrow raised.

"Just leave it there. It doesn't need to be picked up."

Reluctantly, Kakashi left it. They stood there, silently. It was mocking him. Practically screaming to be put away somewhere. Someone could trip on it, there. If a ninja broke in at that moment, and Kakashi had to defend them, he could step in that strap and--


He jumped. "Yes?"

"You're going to ask Asuma tomorrow, right?"

It was still sitting there. Slumped over. Like he was some sort of slob. "Ah, yes." A slob who left things lying around in his apartment, and didn't clean up after himself or his guests.


He jumped and looked up at Iruka again. "I'm sorry?"

Iruka stared at him for a minute. "If I let you put it somewhere, will you please pay attention?"

Kakashi nodded, relieved. Iruka moved his foot, and Kakashi snatched the bag up, opening his little closet and putting it on a hanger inside. He closed it and leaned against the door. "Shouldn't I at least pick up my shaving cream?" he asked, catching it through the open bathroom door out of the corner of his eye.

Iruka stood and closed the bathroom door. Kakashi quickly leaned forward and twitched the wrinkles out of the blanket that was spread across his futon before Iruka could sit back down.

Iruka made a bland expression that made Kakashi's blank expressions look outright emotive.

"You can't be doing things like that when you're having dinner," Iruka said.

"But it looks better."

"It's neurotic," Iruka responded.

Right. And he was trying to fit in. "All right," Kakashi said quietly.

"Now, pretend I’m Asuma, and you're going to ask me to dinner," Iruka said, fishing a pen out of his pocket and sticking it in his mouth in lieu of a cigarette. He looked away.

Kakashi fidgeted. Finally, he shoved his hands in his pockets, affected a casual air, and walked up to "Asuma." "Yo, Asuma!" he said cheerfully.

Iruka looked at him, eyebrows raised expectantly. "Kakashi. How are you?" Iruka asked in a deep voice.

Kakashi grinned at it, then quickly smothered that and tried to be serious. "I'm all right. You?"

"Oh, my knee is hurting again. Tsunade says I should keep off it, but then she assigns me missions . . ."

"Yeah," Kakashi sighed, commiserating. "She tells me I can't be in ANBU and then assigns me missions that are nearly that level anyway . . . "

Iruka was looking at him oddly.

"What?" Kakashi asked self-consciously.

"You're supposed to ask me to dinner, not get involved in a conversation," he said.

"Right. Of course," Kakashi said, smiling brightly to hide his fluster. "So, ah, Asuma . . . would you like to have dinner with me?" That sounded bad. "I mean, not in a romantic way, just--with you and Kurenai. And me. Not romantic, not with the three of us--or even two of us--" he stopped and wilted. "This isn't working."

"It's all right," Iruka said, settling back on his hands. "Let's start over." Once again, he looked at the far wall.

Kakashi took several deep breaths, then started again. "Yo, Asuma!"

"Hello, Kakahsi," Iruka said in his deep voice.

"I was wondering--that is, if you're free, and if you're not I understand--if you wanted to have dinner with me. At my apartment. Or elsewhere, if you'd--" he stopped again, and shook his head. "It's still not working."

Iruka sighed, stood, and pulled the pen out of his mouth. "Pay attention," he said sternly. He turned away, then turned back, smile bright on his face. "Asuma! I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with myself and Kakashi this Friday. Nothing fancy, just at his place."

Kakashi managed not to gape, but only because he'd practiced holding one expression for years. The Chuunin made it look so easy.

"Your turn," Iruka said, and sat back down.

Kakashi took a deep breath, and smiled brightly. "Yo, Asuma!"

Iruka looked up.

"I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with myself and Iruka this Friday. Nothing fancy, just at my place."

Iruka's mouth kicked up in a smile before he straightened back up and assumed his Asuma-expression. "Hmm, well, I'm not sure. I think Kurenai and I have a date . . . "

"Iruka!" Kakashi snapped. "That's not what you're supposed to say!"

Iruka laughed, spitting out the pen. "Sorry, I couldn't help it. But if he does say that, then just say maybe another time, and walk away."

Maybe another time, walk away. He could do that. Kakashi nodded slowly, memorizing the words. Then he realized Iruka had stood and opened the closet--and was that ever a mess, what with his pants and shirts all mixed up right now--and was pulling out his satchel.

"What are you doing?" Kakashi asked, anxiety rising again.

"Heading home. It's late, and I have an early day tomorrow. Meeting with the school staff."

"But--I need more practice," Kakashi said.

Iruka smiled at him. "You'll be fine. Just relax. Asuma already likes you. Trust that."

Kakashi couldn’t trust that. Apparently it was obvious, because Iruka sighed and looked at the floor before looking back up. "Then trust me."

Kakashi swallowed. That he could do. Wordlessly, he escorted Iruka to the door, and watched him walk away down the street. Then he headed toward the mirror in the bathroom, and practiced his lines.

To chapter twelve
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