Chapter Nineteen
Now

Iruka was a snuggler. Kakashi couldn't say he was surprised. He, himself, wasn't a snuggler, but that was all right. He lay awake for several hours, staring at the ceiling, Iruka sprawled on top of him. The man's head was pillowed on his shoulder, an arm flung over his chest. Iruka had even managed to wrap a leg around Kakashi's hips, as if afraid that Kakashi might vanish while they slept.

He stroked the Chunin's spine, long and slow, and breathed in the strange mix of Iruka's hair and his own shampoo. A few times, Iruka started to snore. Each instance he'd pause, rub his face against Kakashi, and fall back into a silent sleep. He breathed through his mouth, slightly open, and the Jounin wondered if he'd start to drool, and if he did, what was the protocol? Did he have to let Iruka drool on him? He didn't really want to move the man, but he also didn't want spit on his chest. Maybe he could put a pillow between them. Would that offend Iruka? Possibly. It was hard to figure out what would offend the Chuunin sometimes. But--drool.

It was close to midnight when the dream started. Kakashi was a good enough ninja not to move when he dreamed. He woke silently and still, even out of nightmares.

Iruka hadn't had that training. He was, after all, only a Chuunin. When he dreamed, he moved. Small at first, a twitch of his fingers or a tightening of his thigh. Then slowly bigger, while Kakashi tried to decide if this was a good dream or a bad one. He looked at Iruka's face, but couldn't decipher the expression. The man started to make noises, but Kakashi wasn't sure about those, either.

Then Iruka whimpered.

That, he knew. That was almost never a good noise. Kakashi moved his hand off Iruka's spine, running his fingers through the shoulder-length brown hair. "Shhh," he soothed, trying to stop the dream without waking the man. "It's all right. You're safe." He combed his fingers through silky locks, spreading them out over the man's shoulder. They slipped and slid over his skin, settling in pools around his neck.

Kakashi made out, "no--no--" and decided to wake the Chuunin. A hand on his shoulder and a careful shake, as Kakashi realized suddenly that he wasn't in the best defensive position should Iruka wake up fighting. Kakashi was good, but still, there were some very sensitive bits currently exposed, and Iruka was a ninja.

Iruka woke up fighting.

"Leave them alone!" he screamed, ripped out of the dream, hands fisting suddenly and pounding down on Kakashi's torso.

Kakashi twisted, grabbing Iruka's wrists, flipped him over and around, and pinned him. "Stop."

"Let go--let go--don't hurt them--"

"Iruka. It's Kakashi. You're safe. They won't be hurt." He spoke calmly, voice slightly bored in the hopes that the lack of danger would break through.

Iruka settled. There was a long pause. "Sorry," the Chuunin said quietly. "Did I hurt you?"

Kakashi gave the back of Iruka's head a bland look. "I'll live." He was a Jounin. "Want to talk about it?" He really hoped not. Kakashi released Iruka's wrists, and the man shifted until he was on his back, staring at the ceiling.

"Just--replaying today, I guess." He scowled up. "I'm sticky."

Kakashi guessed that was the end of that conversation. "Come on," he said, rolling to his feet. "Shower."

**
Then

"Are you always going to wear that?" Kakashi's sensei asked, an eyebrow quirked upward at the boy who was wandering around in a bathrobe and mask.

"Yes," Kakashi said solemnly. The ten-year-old planted a hand on the seat of his chair, pushing himself up and into it.

"What if it's really hot out?" The Jounin set a plateful of eggs, sausage, toast and fruit in front of his student. In the short time since Kakashi's father had died and the youngest Chuunin had come to live with him, he'd learned that the little frame could hold an amazing amount of food.

"Then I'll have special masks made of light cloth." He tugged the material down to his chin and shoveled eggs into his mouth.

"What about when you have a girlfriend?" The man settled on the opposite side of the table, sipping tea and watching Kakashi over the rim of his cup.

Kakashi looked at him with ill-disguised horror. "Women make men weak. They're much more trouble than they're worth. And they're gross."

The Jounin nearly snorted tea out his nose. "Ah," he said solemnly, trying not to laugh. How very ten he was. "And who told you women make men weak and are more trouble than they're worth?"

"Shikaku," Kakashi said airly. He'd finished the eggs, and moved on to the sausages.

Shikaku. The newlywed. That figured. The Jounin just smiled and shook his head, continuing to sip. "You have to take it off sometime," he said finally, standing and walking past his little charge on the way to the kitchen. He ruffled the boy's hair, just to see him duck out and glare hotly.

It made his morning complete.

**
Now

Iruka did his best to hide his head under something soft and warm. That soft and warm thing moved. Someone knocked at the door again. Bastards. All of them. Didn't they know it was still morning--at least, he thought it was--and they should be sleeping?

He heard Kakashi curse under his breath and slap a hand down on the nightstand--grabbing for his mask, Iruka guessed. Then the futon moved and the warm, comfortable weight was gone. Just like that. It was terrible.

Iruka grabbed a blanket and yanked it over his head, ignoring the fact that the rest of him was still uncovered. It was only his head that was important.

He heard the door open, and two girlish voices start to giggle and stutter, and then they quickly excused themselves.

Damn. He was awake. Awake enough to be aware of what was going on.

He heard Kakashi close the door and pad toward--well, whatever he was padding toward.

Iruka cracked one eye, just to test out whether or not it really was morning.

Late morning, from the looks of things. He reviewed his schedule, almost panicked when he realized he was late to class, then remembered that the medical ninja had given him a few days off. That was good. He relaxed and turned his head to look at Kakashi.

Kakashi was wandering into the kitchen, mask black against his pale skin. A lot of pale skin.

He wasn't wearing anything else.

Iruka smiled. Then Iruka frowned. "Who was at the door?"

"Sakura and Ino." Kakashi waved a hand. "The Hokage wants to see us, later today."

Iruka eyed the door and started figuring angles. "How much did you open it?"

The Jounin shrugged, a lithe movement of slender shoulders. "As much as I usually do."

Iruka thought back. Usually, Kakashi opened it enough that you could see most of the apartment, then stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. From that angle the bed was definitely in view.

"Did they just see--"

"Mm hmm."

Iruka felt his face turning bright red. If Kakashi had been standing in the doorway, maybe they'd been so transfixed on him they hadn't seen past. Yes. Surely that's what happened, because Kakashi was naked. Except young girls tended to look away from things like that, and if they looked past Kakashi they would have noticed the bed--

Iruka whimpered and buried his head in the pillow.

He didn't come up for half an hour, preferring to listen to Kakashi putter around the kitchen, clinking glasses and stirring something or other and doing other kitchen-y things that Iruka didn't want to think about. He dozed fitfully, finally waking to a variety of smells. Not just any smells, either, but wonderful smells.

Kakashi had put on pants, he noticed, cracking an eye and watching the Jounin approach, a plate in each hand.

"You made breakfast?" he said into his pillow.

Kakashi knelt in front of the futon, balancing dishes--Iruka could now see he had a plate on each arm holding glasses as well as a plate in each hand. "Yours is on the right."

"My right or your right?" Iruka sat up slowly, surprised to find he wasn't nearly as sore as he'd expected.

"Yours."

Iruka hesitated. Kakashi just waited patiently.

His eyes were calm above the mask, his nose a straight, cloth-covered line. Iruka remembered tracing the man's nose the night before, knew it was narrow but not long. Taking a deep breath, he reached out and hooked his fingers under the edge of the mask, pulling.

Kakashi yanked away, eyes no longer calm. The Sharingan whirled frantically, and his blue eye was wary.

"It's all right," Iruka said softly, scooting forward so he could reach again. He moved slower this time, letting Kakashi know exactly what he was about to do. For a moment, he thought the Jounin might drop the plates and leap out of range. "I've felt it in the dark," Iruka pointed out with a smile. "And we've had enough sex not to be modest. It's all right."

Kakashi stopped pulling back, but didn't come any closer. His eyes flashed everywhere but at Iruka.

Slowly, Iruka tugged. Black cloth, worn and soft to the touch, slid smoothly over the man's face. Silver hair vanished, then came free in a messy rush.

Kakashi stared at a point above Iruka's shoulder, and didn't move.

Iruka put the mask down slowly, then folded his hands between his knees and waited.

He had thin lips, a narrow nose, and an edge to his jaw that came with angular faces. The scar that went through his eye continued down most of his face, ending in a strange parody of a dimple. There was the faint line near the Jounin's jugular that Iruka had felt the night before, but nothing else.

What really hit him was how very young Kakashi looked.

"How old are you?" he asked, breaking the utter silence.

Kakashi hesitated. "Twenty-six." When he spoke the scar moved, shifting along his cheek.

They sat there for a long time before Kakashi's eyes finally started to look around, flickering to Iruka's face and away again. He ducked his head and stared at the floor. "Are you done? Can I have it back now?"

"No." Iruka grabbed the mask and sat on it. Kakashi's jaw tightened, mouth thinning further, and Iruka wondered if the man knew how much he gave away without the mask to hide his expression.

Probably not. He'd never had a reason to learn how to hide it.

"Give me--"

"Why do you wear it?"

Kakashi stopped. He scowled, a fine line appearing between his eyebrows. "Because. Now give it back."

Iruka took the plates, slightly surprised that Kakashi hadn't dropped them yet, and set them on the floor. He grabbed the wrist that started toward him and pulled, rocking backward until Kakashi was stretched above him, then shifting his weight and rolling to one side.

Kakashi landed on the futon with a thump, and Iruka sat on him. It seemed effective, though he knew that he wouldn?t have managed any of it if Kakashi hadn't let him.

Iruka stared down at the man. He looked strange without the mask. "Why do you wear it?"

Kakashi rubbed both hands over his face, and left them there, effectively hiding his features. "Because."

Iruka waited, but nothing else was forthcoming. Eventually, he slid his hands along Kakashi's arms, wrapped his fingers around the man's wrists, and tugged.

Kakashi let his hands come away, and Iruka bent to kiss him. "I like your face," he said softly.

Kakashi scowled. "I hate my face," he snapped, and pushed up.

Iruka yelped as he nearly fell, but the Jounin grabbed and steadied him. With his other hand, Kakashi snatched the mask up from the futon.

"It's a nice face," Iruka said, watching with distress as Kakashi yanked black cloth over his head.

"It's an ugly face, and I don't want to see it."

"But I do," Iruka argued. "I don't want to have sex with someone whose face I've never even seen!"

"You've seen it now," Kakashi said, pushing Iruka up off his lap and standing.

Iruka glared at him.

Kakashi looked steadily back.

Iruka grabbed for the edge of the mask and yanked, and in the next moment found himself twisted and pinned against the wall, one arm wedged behind his back, shoulder screaming. Instincts told him to fight. His mind told him that would be A Bad Idea. He let his body go limp, and murmured, "You're hurting me."

Kakashi released him immediately.

He turned, rubbing his shoulder, glaring at Kakashi. The glare faded.

He'd never seen the Jounin so pale. Maybe after he'd lost all that blood, but . . .

"I didn't mean to," Kakashi said, so quietly that Iruka almost didn't hear him.

"Take the mask off."

Kakashi glared at the floor.

"Take it off." He knew it wasn't the right way to convince someone to do something, but he was hurt and angry. Iruka took a deep breath, counted to ten, and tried again. "Kakashi, you have a good face. There's nothing wrong with it. Trust me. Just take the mask off and have breakfast. Eat without doing that weird thing you do. Once we're both done, you can put it back on. Please."

Kakashi didn't respond.

"I feel like I'm eating with a bandit!" Iruka said, trying to laugh. It came out painfully.

Kakashi muttered something he didn't hear.

"What?"

"I have my father's face," Kakashi said again, louder.

"Oh." He wasn't sure what else to say to that. Then Iruka took a step closer, moving right up to the Jounin, and put his hands on either side of the man's neck. He could feel a tremor running through the other ninja, but ignored it. "I didn't know your father. I know you, and I think your face is beautiful. Please?"

Kakashi kept staring at the floor. When he didn't respond, Iruka held his breath and tucked his fingers under the edge of the black cloth, pulling. Kakashi still didn't respond. He got it all the way off, and dropped it on the floor.

Still no response.

Iruka sighed and kissed the man again--after a moment he kissed back--then tugged him toward the futon.

"Have breakfast," Iruka said, sitting down and pulling Kakashi with him. Kakashi sat, knees folded up, elbows on them, hands linked in front of his mouth. Iruka handed him a plate. He took it, remaining hunched, as if the shadows might hide him.

They ate in silence for a while.

"This is good," Iruka said, though he wasn't at all surprised. Everything Kakashi made was good.

Kakashi scratched at the line of his jaw and said nothing.

They finished in silence.

Kakashi reached for Iruka's plate, and the Chuunin just knew that as soon as he had it, he'd also grab his mask and put it back on. So Iruka pulled his plate away.

Kakashi quirked an eyebrow. "You want to keep your dirty dishes?" he asked, the tilt of his lips curving upward into a smile.

It was crooked, the scar pulling slightly, giving him a lopsided, boyish look. His face was angular, slim, almost delicate. A strong jaw muscle and lips that weren't full saved it from being feminine, but it was still remarkably pretty.

Iruka grinned back, then quickly leaned forward and kissed the other man.

For a moment Kakashi didn't move. Then he started kissing back.

"Are we dating, then?" Iruka asked against the other man's mouth.

"I don't know. Are we?"

Iruka pulled away slightly, watching the Jounin. "Can you go without wearing a mask all the time?" he asked quietly.

Everyone had neuroses. It was whether or not they were willing to work on them that mattered.

Kakashi looked like something was tearing him apart. "I hate my face," he said softly.

"I know," Iruka said simply.

Kakashi looked at the wall over one of the Chunnin's shoulders, then looked back. "I can try anything."

Iruka wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him back to bed.

**

"I hear your mission's a success," Tsunade said, signing papers Shizune kept putting in front of her.

"I suppose," Iruka said slowly. His mission had been, after all, to follow Kakashi and make sure he was all right. Help him make friends. Become more of a normal person.

Tsunade glanced up at him. "Asuma's impressed."

Iruka smiled slightly and inclined his head. "Thank you."

"All right, then." She signed something with a flourish and shoved it aside, leaning back in her chair. "You're done. Your mission is over. Congratulations."

Iruka bowed and left the room. He stepped into the hall, spotted Kakashi leaning against the wall on the other side, and tried to smile. An unsettled feeling landed hard in his gut, and the smile faltered. He watched as the other ninja went into the office.

He had no reason to stay in the hall. Whatever Tsunade wanted, it had nothing to do with him.

But it wouldn't hurt to wait. He leaned back against the wall, then shifted quickly when the tender skin along his spine protested.

It didn't take long for Kakashi to come out. His face was as bland as ever, only one eye showing. Something about the way he held his shoulders, though, the tension in his hands . . . he was upset.

"So," Iruka said slowly, "what did she want?"

"I'm allowed in ANBU now," Kakashi said nonchalantly.

Iruka nodded, though a part of him felt cold at the thought.

"I suppose that means your mission's over," Kakashi said, falling gracefully back against the wall. He crossed one ankle over the other, studying his feet.

"It is," Iruka agreed, uncertain.

Kakashi put both hands in his pockets and shrugged. "So you don't have to babysit me anymore."

Iruka frowned. "It wasn't babysitting." His stomach fluttered, and he had to stop from reaching up to rub his scar.

Things had been so good that morning, and to suddenly turn to this . . . Something was wrong. Iruka studied Kakashi.

Stupid. Of course something was wrong. Kakashi was too nervous to ask, and Iruka hadn't thought--

"I guess--"

Iruka stepped forward, halving the distance between them. Kakashi stopped talking and looked at him.

Iruka took another step forward, checked the hall to make sure it was empty, then took his life in his hands and pulled Kakashi's mask down.

Kakashi jumped, stiffened, then froze.

Iruka kissed him. It was a while before the other man responded. Slowly, his hands came up, wrapping themselves around the small of Iruka's back. Iruka smiled against the Jounin's mouth, threading his own fingers through messy silver hair. He pulled back enough to talk, still touching. "I didn't have sex with you for the mission."

The body pinned between him and the wall relaxed slightly, tension easing away. "Oh?"

"Oh." Iruka kissed him again, just for the taste.

"So we can keep dating," Kakashi murmured against his skin.

"Yeah," Iruka said. He stepped back, watching as Kakashi pulled the mask up, adjusting it quickly. Iruka glanced down at his feet, wishing this was easier, since he was already pretty sure of the answer. Somehow, though, it wasn't. "I'd like to keep dating."

Kakashi nodded, and his single visible eye arced as he grinned. "Good."

Relief flooded Iruka, and he smiled back. "But I get to be on top next time," he added.

Kakashi's smile faded. "What?"

"You know. On top." Iruka looked innocent.

Kakashi laughed uncomfortably, and scratched the back of his head. "Uh, yeah. We can try that."

Iruka nodded once, happily. "Good."

Kakashi laughed, shaking his head, and turned back toward the Hokage's office.

"What are you doing?" Iruka asked, suddenly confused. "I mean--I thought we could go get lunch or--" he glanced at his watch. "An early dinner, or something."

Kakashi nodded, smiling brightly. "Sure! But first, I need to tell Tsunade that I don?t need to be in ANBU after all."

Iruka looked at him, confused.

Kakashi just shrugged. "I have other things to occupy me. Places to go, people to do . . ." He leered.

Iruka laughed and blushed, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously. Luckily, there was still no one in the hall.

**

They'd entered the rainy season at some point, and Iruka hadn't noticed. He didn't mind. He whistled and walked through the puddles, splashing in them, grabbing one of his students who started to pass and swinging them around before releasing them to peals of laughter. Rain hammered onto his umbrella, and he didn't mind that, either. Everything smelled wet, damp with that edge of burned ozone and moist greenness.

Life was good.

"You're feeling cheerful today, Iruka," Genma said, appearing out of the rain and tucking himself under Iruka's umbrella. "Any reason?"

Iruka grinned brightly. "None."

Genma's eyes narrowed, and he looked thoughtfully at the Chuunin. "Virgin-boy?"

Iruka's smile widened.

"Ah," Genma said, laughing. "Should I tell Asuma we won't need to lug separate tents to the campsite for you and Kakashi from now on?"

Iruka felt himself blushing, but didn't mind that, either.

"So what does he look like under the mask?"

Iruka bit his lip and glanced sidelong at the Special Jounin. "None of your business, that's what." He grinned again. "You're going to the Tower?"

Genma just nodded.

They walked together, two men huddled against the rain.

Genma stopped him just outside, a hand on Iruka's elbow. "Iruka, seriously . . . are you sure about this? I mean, he's probably the least sane of all the Jounin--except for Gai . . ."

Iruka laughed. "Tell me about it. He has neuroses you wouldn't imagine, and trying to talk with him about anything is like walking through a mine field because he just doesn't get what is and isn't appropriate. He can be a complete prick, he lies all the time, and we're both paranoid about the other getting hurt." When he finished, he was still grinning madly. "I think I'm falling for him. We're dating now."

Genma stared at him for a moment. Then he started to laugh. "Glad to see you're so excited about this," he said, stepping back into the storm. It flattened his wet clothes against him almost instantly.

Iruka thought maybe the rain was letting up. "Nice day, isn't it?" he said, looking at the black sky.

Genma laughed again. "You're a nut. Go teach your classes, Sensei."

Iruka grinned and headed toward the school.

**
Then

"I really don't get the point of this," Kakashi muttered, lying on the sun-warmed grass, his head on his sensei's stomach.

"There is no point to this," the Jounin said, patting Kakashi's mop of silver hair. Predictably, Kakashi moved away and glared at him.

"That one looks like an elephant." Rin pointed upward, shifting slightly so her skull wasn't right on Kakashi's ribs.

"No, more like a tiger," Obito said lazily.

"This is wasting time," Kakashi said.

His sensei just patted him again. He could feel the boy relaxing, despite his protests. "I know. But sometimes, you just have to waste time. Just think about the nice parts of this."

"What's nice about it?" Kakashi grumped.

"It's nice to just relax and sky-gaze," Obito said.

"Yeah," their sensei agreed, running his fingers through Kakashi's hair. The boy shifted farther out of reach.

"Well," Kakashi said, relaxing a little more, "that's okay."

The man smiled and tucked a hand under his head. He pointed, arm long and straight toward the sky. "Look--that one looks like Tsunade-san."

Rin giggled. "That's not nice, Sensei," she said.

The Jounin grinned. "I know. I'll apologize to her later."

They laid in silence for a time, watching the clouds pass back and forth.

"Know what else is nice about this?" Rin asked.

"What?" the Jounin responded.

"Spending time with your teammates."

"It's always good to spend time with the people you love," he agreed.

Kakashi twisted suddenly, looking up at him.

He just smiled. "Yeah, kid, you," he mouthed.

The cloth of Kakashi's mask moved, and the Jounin suspected he'd been granted a little smile. Then the boy settled back down, his head just under his sensei's hand.

The man petted him carefully. This time, Kakashi didn't move away.

The Fourth smiled, the sun warming his skin. Everything would be all right.

--End


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