Chapter Fifteen

Kakashi hesitated at Iruka's doorway.


He could pick the lock, he supposed. Instead, he went around to the window, placed both hands flat against the glass, and pushed up.

It was open.

He climbed in, bringing grocery bags with him, then closed it again. And locked it, just for good measure. Silly to lock a door and leave the window open. Of course, in a ninja village it seemed silly to lock the doors, period.

Kakashi took the bags into the kitchen, walking quietly through the empty apartment. It seemed much more lifeless when Iruka wasn't here, but it was still friendlier than his place. (He had gone out and bought kitchen magnets. He kept trying to put them up, but they always looked so disorderly. So he'd gone back out and bought all of the exact same design, then lined them up along the top of his fridge. That had been more acceptable.)

Iruka's magnets were all different shapes and sizes, pinning notes and photos and drawings to the refrigerator. There was even a pamphlet about the school fair, and several newspaper clippings. Kakashi set the bags down and studied the clippings. One was on a child who'd won some sort of achievement award. Kakashi could only assume it was a former student. Another was Hayate's death announcement, and the article that followed it up. A third was old, yellowed at the edges. A listing of all the people who had died by the fox.

Kakashi studied it, and finally found Iruka's father. His mother wasn't listed, but another clipping was of her death in the hospital, a week later. There was a picture, too. He pulled it from under the magnet and studied it.

Iruka had her nose and eyes.

Kakashi put it back, and only then saw the picture half hidden. He stopped, head cocked, studying it.

It was him. Looking rather bored and unimpressed with the world, and he thought he recognized it as a political function. Kakashi smiled slightly, and turned to making dinner.

It was another hour before Iruka got home. Kakashi heard the door click, and then silence. Probably the Chuunin realizing someone was there. He poked his head around the corner of the kitchen and waved, smiling brightly. "Yo, Iruka."

Iruka looked confused, his arms full of papers. He toed off his sandals. "Kakashi? What are you doing here? How'd you get in?"

"Window," Kakashi said, pointing. "And I thought you might want dinner . . ." Iruka was still frowning. That wasn't good.

Then the Chuunin sighed and set down his stack of papers, rubbing his scar. "Thank you. I'd love dinner. But maybe next time, warn me?"

Kakashi smiled and nodded. "How was the first day of school?"

Iruka groaned. "Konohamaru is in my class. He's spoiled, ill-behaved, and worse than Naruto ever was."

Kakashi cringed.

"Let's please talk about something else."


Iruka was full, and warm, and slightly sleepy. He had a stack of papers to look at before he went to bed, but couldn't seem to bring himself to care. He had a voice in the back of his head that was nattering on about Kakashi thinking this was a date, but he couldn't bring himself to care about that, either. Kakashi could be an ass, but everyone had problems. And, Iruka hated to admit it, he'd missed the Jounin. As insane as it was, and as little sense as it made to him, he liked having Kakashi around.

He rubbed his toes and watched Kakashi in his kitchen, washing dishes quickly and setting them in the drying rack. Iruka would have left them for the night, probably until the next night, when he needed them. At least this way he didn't have to worry about it.

Eventually, Kakashi dried his hands and walked out into the main room, at ease. "You liked dinner?" he asked, though Iruka guessed he already knew the answer.

"Dinner was excellent. I think I ate too much." He dug his thumb into the arch of his foot, trying to make it stop hurting. He'd spent most of the day on his feet, pacing back and forth in front of the blackboard. It was a change from the mission office, where he had sat most of the time.

Kakashi walked closer, hands in his pockets, and knelt in front of the couch. Carefully, he took one of Iruka's feet and placed it on his bent knee. Iruka sighed happily, curled on the couch, and let Kakashi massage.

"You really care about your students, don't you?" Kakashi said softly, head bent over his task.

Iruka reach out to touch the messy silver hair, then paused. Finally, he let strands drift through his fingers. "I do. It's my job to make sure they can survive as Genins. My job to make sure our village stays strong." Then he realized how conceited that sounded, and blushed. "Well, my job and of course that of the other senseis and squad leaders."

Kakashi's fingers hit a knot and kneaded it out smoothly, sending tingles up Iruka's leg. "You know them well?"

He still could only see the top of the Jounin's head. "My students? Most of them. Maybe later, after they've graduated, I'll start forgetting names and faces. I've only been doing this for a short while, compared to some of the other teachers."

Kakashi hmm'ed. He reached the pad of Iruka's foot and pressed, sliding fingers along toes, drawing out the joints and loosening the muscles.

Iruka almost groaned.

Kakashi set that foot down and picked up the other one, shifting his position slightly. Putting Iruka's foot on his thigh, he started the process over again. "You must hate me."

The words were so quiet, it took Iruka a moment realize what he'd said. "Hate you?" he asked finally. "Why?"

Kakashi's head remained bent over his task. "I lost your students."

Iruka could only stare. "Kakashi--"

"Jiraiya had to take Naruto away from the village. I ignored Sakura, and now she's training with the Hokage, and Sasuke--well, I failed him completely. He was so like me, I thought--" he bit off the rest, then shook his head slightly. "I was wrong."

"Kakashi," Iruka said again, threading his fingers through silver hair. He started to say none of it was Kakashi's fault, but the Jounin wouldn't believe that. Instead, he said, "Jiraiya-sama has more experience dealing with boys like Naruto. Sakura isn't a fighter; she's better off with Tsunade-sama. And Sasuke . . . was troubled. There's no telling how he would have turned out with another sensei. But that was his choice, not your fault."

Kakashi had stopped moving. Slowly, he started to massage again. "Hmm."

Iruka petted his head, not sure what else to do.

A tapping broke the silence. Iruka frowned and started to look around, only to realize that Kakashi was looking intently at the window. Iruka turned. A dove sat at the sill, peering in.

The Jounin rose, all grace and lean lines. "I have to go." He put his hands in his pockets, and looked down at Iruka.

For a moment, Iruka thought he saw an apology in that one blue eye. "Go," he said with a smile. The next moment Kakashi was out the window and gone into the dark. Iruka sighed and picked up his stack of papers. He had work to do anyway.


It was only the third day of school, and already he had parents in his office, wanting to know why their children were on detention. Some of them wanted to know so they could talk to their children, but others just wanted to argue.

Iruka dealt with them the same way he dealt with their offspring; a smile, firm resolve, and the knowledge that He Was Right.

Of course, he could understand why the parents were upset. After all, it wasn't often that the entire class got detention. He thought a paint war and attacking their sensei was reason enough.

In fact, his skin was starting to stiffen with paint. His hair was crusty, and his clothing itched. It made him feel only slightly better to know that his students were in a stuffy little room, and while he could go home and change, they were stuck for another hour.

Iruka saw the last parent out his door, then crammed all his paperwork into a satchel and slung it over one shoulder.

He was in the hall when he saw Genma lounging toward him, senbon still in his mouth.

"Some day," Iruka pointed out, "you're going to trip and fall and kill yourself with that thing."

"And if I tripped and fell that easily, I deserve to die," Genma replied cheerfully. "Kakashi's back."

Iruka's heart started pounding. The Jounin had left the village the same night he'd left Iruka's apartment, and no one had heard from him since. Iruka had been trying not to worry. "Is he--?"

"At his place."

Iruka smiled. "Thank you, Genma."

Genma snorted and continued down the hall.

Iruka tried to keep himself to a walk, but by the time he hit the doors he was jogging, and when he got halfway down the street he broke into a run. He couldn't help it.

He made it to Kakashi's apartment in just a few minutes, and paused long enough to bang on the door before opening it and walking inside. He could see the reflection in the bathroom mirror; could see Kakashi inside, shirtless, dabbing antiseptic on a scratch.

Iruka dropped his things and walked over quickly. Kakashi's gaze came up as he neared, and the man smiled, eye creasing above the mask.

"You're all right?" Iruka asked, though the answer was obvious.

"Fine," Kakashi said. He sounded bone-weary.

Iruka sidled into the bathroom, squeezing between Kakashi and the sink. Silently, he jumped up to sit on it, then took the antiseptic Kakashi was using and poured some on a cotton ball sitting nearby. "You're a mess."

Kakashi smiled ruefully. "Had to hide in a thorn thicket."

Iruka cringed. "A thorn thicket? What were you doing?" He didn't even know of any thorn thickets nearby . . .

Kakashi was silent. Iruka looked up. The man was very solemn. "I can't tell you that," Kakashi said quietly, an apology in his single visible eye.

Iruka nodded and returned to his work. Of course Kakashi couldn't tell him that. Any missions important enough to send the Copy Ninja on at the last minute were probably high ranking missions.

He worked on cleaning the man up, putting small bandages over scratches that were still bleeding sluggishly. Nothing was terribly deep, and most of it would heal within a few days. None if it really needed first aid. But somehow, he couldn't make himself stop.

Surely Kakashi could bandage himself. He had been doing it for a frightening number of years. But the Jounin was slouched back against the wall, not protesting, and--it was a relief to see him alive and whole.

After a little while, Kakashi smiled slightly. "You entering a fashion show?"

Iruka looked at him, confused. "What?"

Kakashi reached out and picked up a lock of paint-crusted hair.

It wasn't until then that Iruka remembered how he looked. "Oh," he said, feeling his cheeks heat. "My students . . . it's complicated."

Kakashi had taken a damp cloth and was rubbing at Iruka's neck, stepping closer as he did so. "Paint's toxic," he said quietly.

"Not in these doses," Iruka snorted. He looked over the broad expanse of chest in front of him, searching for any more scratches. There weren't any--at least, none that needed attention. His eyes lingered, drawn toward Kakashi's collarbone. There was a hitch in the smooth bone; broken some time before. Kakashi was nearly hairless, and scarred skin worked over his muscles like silk. He was so close, peeling and scrubbing pain off Iruka, that the Chuunin could smell him. He smelled like pine and soap and warmth, and he radiated heat.

"Lift your chin," Kakashi said quietly.

Iruka did so, shivering when a wet cloth ran up his neck, followed by careful fingenails scratching lightly to get the paint off. Sitting, he was shorter than Kakashi was standing. Not by much, but--well, with his head tilted up . . . he closed his eyes so he didn't have to look at Kakashi, inches away. Closed his eyes and could feel the man's hands on his skin, warm and callused. Drifting over his neck, across his shoulder. He realized his hands were still on Kakashi, too, and let them slide slightly. Down the slim waist, over slender muscles, back up across his chest.

Iruka sensed the Jounin move closer, and opened his eyes.

The man's head was beside his, hands on his waist. Kakashi pulled, and Iruka slipped off the counter, landing on his feet, and suddenly they were of a height again. Of a height, and chest-to-chest, Kakashi's breath warm in his ear. He felt the man's nose nuzzle at his neck, hands sliding around his back.

Iruka broke out in goosebumps. Tentatively, he kissed the bump where Kakashi's collarbone met with his shoulder. Hands slid up his spine, cloth still in the way, and then back down over his ribs. He shivered when Kakashi breathed in his ear, feeling it curl in his stomach. He rubbed his thumbs over the muscle caps on the Jounin's shoulders, felt the other man tighten in response, then slid his hands down his chest, over soft skin and ridges of scars and hit--something wet.

Iruka pulled back. Kakashi did, too, more out of surprise than anything. Iruka barked a laugh and rubbed at the splash of yellow paint on Kakashi's skin, blushing self-consciously as he did so. "I'm getting you covered in paint."

"It's not toxic at these doses," Kakashi said, shifting closer, one of his legs sliding alongside one of Iruka's.

Iruka swallowed. "I should go shower."

"I have a shower here."

"I--" he was suddenly nervous. He pulled back again, smiling apologetically. "I have to be up early tomorrow," was all he could think of. They weren't supposed to be dating. Right? Right. They were just friends. They were friends until Kakashi figured out how to make friends.

Even though Iruka had missed the Jounin something fierce.

Kakashi gave him a look he couldn't interpret, and stepped away. "All right."

Iruka slid out of the bathroom, leaving streaks of paint on the counter. "Oh--geez, sorry," he said, watching Kakashi start to rub them off.

"It's all right," Kakashi said again.

"I--I just--" this wasn't working. Iruka turned toward the door, then turned back. Kakashi was standing in the doorway to the bathroom, pants low on his hips, barefoot and bare chested. He lifted one hand, bracing it on the wall. Iruka licked his lips and swallowed. Pale and battle-scarred, the man looked like some sort of warrior diety. Iruka shook his head. That was stupid, and cliche, and worthy only of one of those ridiculous Icha Icha books Kakashi liked so much.

He was also aware, suddenly, of how utterly goofy he looked, covered in paint, his hair stiffened and his clothes spattered. He felt himself blushing again.

Kakashi raised one eyebrow.

"I have to go." He turned and fled out the door, then froze on the communal porch. He'd forgotten his satchel. For a moment, he debated leaving it. But it had things he needed for the morning, and--damn. Iruka turned and bounded back up to the door, opening it and nearly running into Kakashi, who was holding it in one hand.

"Oh," Iruka said, blushing again. "Um. Thank you." He reached out to take it, and Kakashi pulled it back.

Iruka scowled. Then the Jounin leaned forward, wrapping his free hand around Iruka's neck, his mouth beside the Chuunin's ear. Iruka went very still. "It's okay," Kakashi murmured, a smile in his voice. Then he kissed the delicate skin just under a paint-smeared jaw. A brief meeting of mouth and skin, cloth between them, but--Iruka shivered.

Kakashi released him and stepped back, offering the satchel.

Iruka took it, blushing brightly. He smiled hesitantly and scratched the back of his head. "Um. Maybe--maybe I'll see you tomorrow?"

Kakashi smiled slightly and nodded.

Iruka nodded back. "All right. Okay. Then." He laughed and stepped away, nearly falling off the single stair. He laughed nervously at that too, then slung his satchel over his shoulder and started down the street.

He looked back once, and saw Kakashi still standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets, lamplight turning his skin a warm gold. Iruka smiled and kept going.


The two of them stood, panting, bodies littered around them.

Kakashi glanced up at the other ANBU--thirty, to Kakashi's nineteen--and smiled.

The man smiled back.

All the enemy dead. The hostage rescued and returned. The base of the missing ninja emptied, the men inside killed. It hadn't been an easy task, by any means, but it was over.

Kakashi stood, hands in his lower back, stretching. Then he pulled off the ANBU mask and dropped it in a shadow, making a mental note to get it later. Right now, he needed the air on what was showing of his face.

He walked into the hide-out, looking around cautiously. All the ninja were accounted for, but one never knew who else might be lurking.

The place was empty, though. Filled only a bit more when his ANBU partner entered, chakra flaring as the man looked for traps.

There must have been nothing. Silence reigned, rather than a warning.

Kakashi felt the ANBU step up to him, and turned his head slightly.

"How many missions?" the man asked. He, too, had shed his mask, showing plain brown eyes and scruffy brown hair.

"Enough," Kakashi answered. Truthfully, he'd lost count. He'd done it almost spitefully, knowing the other ANBU counted and compared, and knowing it would frustrate them that he didn't compete.

He was better than they were.

The man stepped closer, and Kakashi turned, stepping back.

"Relax," the man snorted. But he stepped forward again. Kakashi held his ground, eyes narrowed, already cataloging all the ways he could take the man down.

Then the ninja kissed him.

He didn't react at first, stunned into stillness. The man pressed, and Kakashi fell back, coming up against a wall. There were hands on him and--oh, okay, that felt good. He swallowed and started kissing back, whatever he could reach. The man's hands were at his shirt, pulling both that and the vest off in one fell swoop, running over very sensitive skin. Kaksahi bit back a groan as the adrenaline from the fight shifted into an entirely different sort of adrenaline, helped along by hormones.

He'd only done this once before, and that hadn't been in the greatest circumstances. The ANBU didn't seem to mind, stripping them both of clothes, his hands all over and--good grief, but that felt nice.

Kakashi bit down on the man's shoulder, got an answering growl in return, and much more careful teeth on his neck.

This sort of after-fight adrenaline he could deal with.


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