Part Five
Then (as in, shortly after the water fight)

There was something very wrong with him. He was sure of it. He was sick. The children at the lake had gotten him sick. It was the only explanation for how he was feeling, because damn it, he couldn't be feeling anything else.

He certainly couldn't be obsessing over Iruka.


Kakashi jumped, flattening himself against the fence.

"Are you all right?" Gai asked hesitantly. "You look a little . . . ill."

"Ill," Kakashi said, trying to smile and failing badly. "Yes. I think I'm ill."

Gai reached out to put a big hand on Kakashi's forehead. Kakashi didn't pull back, but only by force of will. He wondered if Gai could feel a fever through the forehead protector.

Gai pulled his hand back and looked puzzled. "What's wrong?"

Kakashi took several deep breaths. Then several more. He tried to smile again, and once more failed. He didn't like this feeling. He'd never felt it before--or at least, not since he'd been a teenager. "I don't know," he said.

Gai frowned. Whenever Gai frowned, it gave Kakashi the sense that something was very wrong with the world. That something terrible and monstrous must have happened, because Gai never frowned. "Describe it."

He wasn't sure he wanted to describe it. He wanted it to go away. It wasn't comfortable, and it was dangerous. But he didn't know how to make it go away, beyond waiting, and he didn't have that much time. He was distracted. Distracted ninja got killed. "I can't get Iruka off my mind."

"Iruka? My beloved students' former sensei? Umino Iruka-san?"

"Of course Umino Iruka. He's the only Iruka in the village," Kakashi said, the words lazy despite his frustration.

Gai was looking at him thoughtfully.

Kakashi waited.

"Maybe it's just a phase."

"It's not a phase!" Desperation bloomed. It wasn't going to go away, he knew that much. "Gai--" He looked around and dropped his voice to a whisper. "I let him into my apartment."

Gai stared.

"I know," Kakashi said, mentally berating himself. He never let people into his apartment. It wasn't good. It was his.

Gai started to smile.

Kakashi cringed.

"It is the springtime of your youth, Kakashi! You've finally found someone your heart can beat for!"

If Kakashi hadn't been certain it was noon, he would have sworn the sun was setting over Gai, who was still waxing poetic. Kakashi sighed. "Gai, really."

"It is wonderful that you've finally found another young person--"


"—who you respect and admire and want to spend your time with--"


"--who can make your heart race, and we all know and love Iruka-san--"


"--this is wonderful, Kakashi! Congratulations!"

Kakashi debated just walking away. Then Gai grabbed him and hugged him. That was it. He sucker-punched the other Jounin.

Several years earlier…

The Third Hokage looked up from his desk at the young man hovering in the doorway. He smiled and set down his pen, resting on his elbows.

The silver haired teenager, all arms and legs and long, lean muscle, twirled a flower and stared at his boots.

"Kakashi? Did you bring me a flower?" He already knew the answer to that one, but he couldn't help asking--laughingly--anyway. "I'm a little old for you . . ."

Kakashi turned pink above his mask and somehow managed to lounge his way inside the room, until he was leaning against the desk. He offered the flower.

The Third took it wordlessly, looking it over. A daisy.

"Is there something wrong with it?" Kakashi asked quietly.

The Third studied it carefully, treating the question as seriously as it had been asked.

He wished the Fourth hadn't died so suddenly. He had the feeling that this was going to be a conversation better suited for Kakashi to have with a man closer to his own age--but as far as the Third knew, Kakashi didn't talk much with boys his own age. Or maybe boys his own age didn't talk to him. Either way, since the Fourth had died so terribly, Kakashi didn't seem to talk much with anyone.

It worried the Third that a sixteen-year-old spoke mostly with a man in his late fifties. And even they didn't speak that much.

He returned his attention to the flower, examining it closely. "There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it," he said finally, handing it back.

Kakashi took it forlornly. "Oh."

The Third waited, but when the boy didn't continue--only kept staring morosely at his flower--asked, "Is there a reason you thought there might be something wrong with it?"

Kakashi looked at him sidelong, then looked back down at the flower. "I tried to give it to this girl. She just walked faster."

The Third cringed inwardly.

"So I thought maybe there was something wrong with it." He sounded like he hoped there was something wrong with it, but really knew otherwise.

The Third sighed. "Women are mysterious, Kakashi," he said slowly.

Kakashi shook his head. "It's not just them, though. I don't--I don't understand them. Any of them." His face flushed, and he adjusted the forehead protector he had taken to wearing over Obito's Sharingan. His flak jacket seemed big on his small frame, though he'd finally grown large enough to fit into his shirt. "I didn't understand them when I was little, though I knew that they didn't like me because of my father. But now people don't look at me and see what my father did, and they still don't like me." He twisted his fingers, nails piercing the stem. "I don't know how to fix it."

The Hokage cringed. "Kakashi . . ." He had no idea how to say this. "You are somewhat outside the bounds of normal people."

Kakashi looked up at him.

"You're a genius."

Kakashi gave him a look that clearly said, "Well, I know that."

The Third smiled slightly. "Before, you were too far ahead of others your age to relate to them very well. Now," with Obito gone, he didn't say, "the people you work with are adults." Who may respect and even fear you, but don't want to associate with a teenager, he didn't say. "You're in an awkward place, and it might take time to figure out how to make things work."

Kakashi plucked a petal and let it drop onto the desk. Two more followed. He arranged them into a careful triangle. "So what now?"

"Maybe you should find the places the other boys and girls your age go to, and start joining them," the Hokage suggested.

He pushed the petals around into an arrow. "They don't like me."

They're afraid of you, the Hokage didn't say. They understood him as little as he understood them. Too young, too adult, too powerful, too much of a skipped youth. "They just have to learn. Like you."

"Yeah," Kakashi said, though he didn't sound convinced. He looked at the mangled flower, then smiled behind his mask and handed it to the Hokage. "For you."

"Why, thank you," the Third said with a chuckle. He took the broken and bare flower, and set it carefully to one side. "I'll treasure it." It stuck up jauntily, refusing to wilt despite its treatment.

Kakashi grinned, both hands in his pockets, and meandered out of the office.

Then (that is, after Gai was waxing poetic)

"I can't ask him to dinner," Kakashi said, his head in his hands.

"Why not?" Gai asked between sips of sake.

Kakashi sat back, rolling his teacup between his palms. He didn’t say that he'd never been to dinner with anyone. The two people he'd asked had either ignored him or said no, and while two people wasn't a bad rejection list, the fact that he'd never managed to successfully do anything with anyone was telling.

But Gai didn't need to know that much. It wasn't something Kakashi liked about himself, and it wasn't something he wanted others to know. Somehow, over the last few years, people had started to think he was 'cool.' He was pretty sure 'cool' people didn't struggle with relating as much as he did. But--being cool was good. People looked at him with awe instead of uncertainty.

He wasn't about to ruin the lie by admitting he didn't know how to date. Besides, the few friends Kakashi had made hadn't turned out so well (his mind shied around Obito, twisted around the Fourth, and he tried hard not to think about his Chuunin team, scattered and maybe in danger). The whole thing was just a bad idea, and entirely confused in his mind. "I can't go to dinner with people," he said finally, latching onto the last thought as the easiest to explain. "What if he gets hurt?"

"At dinner? I suppose you shouldn't serve something that will make him sick . . ."

"That's not what I meant," Kakashi muttered.

"Oh. Well, you said he felt you following him and set a trap. Obviously, he can take care of himself."

Kakashi looked up. He mulled the thought over, replaying the trap and remembering other times when he'd seen Iruka fight. "That's right," he said slowly. "He's a Chuunin. Obviously a good one. He can take care of himself. I don't have to worry about that. Right?" He looked at Gai hopefully, mentally begging the man to agree. He didn't need more nightmares. He didn't want Iruka in danger.

"Right," Gai said firmly, and ordered another bottle.

"Right," Kakashi repeated in an undertone. He wouldn't kill Iruka. Iruka could take care of himself. Iruka had been taking care of himself for twenty-three years. It was perfect. He had experience.

All Kakashi had to do was ask him to dinner.

No one had ever agreed to dinner before. He had learned that if he asked people things, they said no, and Iruka hadn't asked him to dinner, so Kakashi didn't have the chance to simply say yes. This would never work. "What if he doesn’t like me?"

"Iruka is obsessed with you," Gai said. "His heartbeat triples whenever you're near!"

"Really?" Kakashi asked hopefully.

Gai nodded.

If that was true, then--Kakashi frowned and looked at Gai suspiciously. "How do you know that?"

"Oh, well, I can tell," Gai said airily.

There went that source of information. Kakashi looked around the little area, glancing over tables and booths with a practiced eye. There were only a few other people in the establishment, mostly off-duty ninja, and the waitress. "I can't ask him out," he said softly.

"Why not?"

Kakashi didn't fidget, but it took effort. Very purposefully, he relaxed back into his seat and looked as indolent as possible. "I don't know how." He didn't look at Gai.

"Just say," Gai's voice suddenly gained in volume, "'Beloved Iruka--'"

Kakashi's eyes widened, though he remained carefully still.

Gai didn't seem to notice. "'Beloved Iruka, please join me in a celebration of my love for you! At dinner!'"

Kakashi tried to sink farther into the chair. He smiled weakly at the other patrons, who were now staring at them. "Thank you, Gai," he muttered. "I'll do just that."


Iruka pretended not to notice Kakashi walk past the office door for the fourth time in ten minutes.

"Any idea what he's doing?" Genma asked quietly, digging through scrolls.

"None." Iruka glanced over and frowned. "Are you supposed to be looking at those? Put them down," he said, taking the scrolls away from the Special Jounin. He set them down on his other side and went back to filing mission reports.

"Isn't Kakashi supposed to be on a mission?" Genma asked, flopping down in a chair.

"He got back yesterday," Iruka muttered, sorting papers.

"Really? Is his mission report around? Those are always fun to read . . ."

Iruka took the stack of reports from Genma with a frown, and set them aside. "Those are not for your amusement."

Genman sighed. His toothpick flicked from one side of his mouth to the other.

Iruka ignored him, returning to his filing. Asuma's report went under 'C' for completed, and Raidou's needed to go into the pile for the Hokage to see, since there were injuries.

"I'm off. Do you need anything done?" Genma asked, standing.

"No, I'm fine."

Genma jumped over the desk and wandered out. Less than a second went by before Kakashi walked in.

"I don't have any missions for you," Iruka said, putting the ANBU scrolls into a drawer and locking it as subtly as possible. "The Hokage has some she hasn't handed out yet . . ."

"I know. No missions for me. No fun ones, anyway."

Iruka watched the man carefully. Something was off. His hands were in his pockets, but his arms seemed tense. He was smiling, but it looked forced--even with only one eye visible. "What's wrong?" Iruka asked finally.

Kakashi paced, then finally settled in front of the desk. He was still wearing that stiff smile. "I just--that is, I had a question--well, more of a suggestion--"

"What is it?" Iruka asked. His anxiety levels were steadily rising. Something was going on.

"I'm having dinner on Friday--well, of course, I have dinner every night because skipping meals just isn't healthy, and--"

Iruka rubbed his scar tiredly. "Kakashi, what's wrong?"

Kakashi's smile got more strained. "Did you want to have dinner with me?"

Iruka froze. He looked up. He studied Kakashi. The man was sweating now, and the smile was still fixed in place. "I'm sorry?"

"Would you like to have dinner with me?" Kakashi said. Even his voice sounded tense.

He was serious. This wasn't good. Iruka knew something like this was going to happen. He'd known it from that day on the porch, and the discussion about Gai's theories of crushes. "Kakashi-san . . ." Iruka said slowly, straightening a pile of scrolls, "this isn't--"

"We can have food. I mean, of course there will be food. Or--"


"Don't call me that." The smile was gone. So was the tension in his shoulders, though Iruka suddenly wished it were back. The man stared at the ground, slouched back, his hands in his pockets. He seemed deflated. "I'm sorry," he said, glancing up and smiling half-heartedly. "Bad idea." He turned and started toward the door.

"Kakashi, I'm flattered," Iruka said, watching the man freeze. "And I'd love to be friends. But--"

Kakashi turned, looking back over his shoulder. "Will you come for a friendly, ah, something, then?" he asked, sounding only marginally hopeful.

Iruka nodded, glad to have something he could offer the Jounin. "Of course."

Kakashi turned farther, almost facing him. "Tomorrow?"

Iruka hesitated, mentally reviewing his schedule. "I could meet you around lunch."

A nod, and the smile was back--relaxed, this time. "Lunch, then. I'll meet you here."

Iruka smiled. "Don't be late."

A long time ago . . .

Rin found him. She sat down beside him, in the puddle in front of the monument.

It kept raining. Kakashi shivered, soaked through.

They sat.

"I'm leaving."

Kakashi didn’t look at her. "You already said that."

She ducked her head, staring at the ground. "You have no right to be angry with me about this," she said finally.

"I'm not."


Kakashi's head snapped around, and he glared at her. "Do you expect me to be happy that you're heading to the country of the Sand?" he asked quietly.

"Why not? You've been in ANBU now for two years. I don't want to do that. Maybe there I can work on my medical techniques and--"

"You could do that here," Kakashi said.

Rin was quiet.

"Is this because I asked you out?" he asked, staring at his hands.

"No," Rin sighed. "It's been coming, anyway."

They sat, silent. Rain pattered down. Distantly, thunder rolled.

"It's not the end of the world, Kakashi," Rin said. "You'll make other friends. There'll be other girls."

Kakashi's gaze burned, but he didn't turn it on her. "When do you leave?" he asked, finally.

"A few days. There's a group going."

Kakashi just nodded.

They sat. Rin shivered, as water soaked slowly through her clothing. "You will make other friends, you know," she murmured.

Kakashi said nothing. Except for Rin, the people he'd loved were all dead. Not that there had been many of them. Maybe she was right. Maybe he would make more friends.

He doubted it.

Back to 'Then' and lunchtime . . .

Kakashi stared around his apartment. The bed was made. His toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and floss were all put away, as were all his shaving things. He poked his head inside the bathroom just to double check, grabbed the shampoo off the edge of the shower, and stuffed it under the sink.

He came back out and stood in the middle of the tiny apartment. The box of books had a blanket tossed over it. The bed was made. He'd taken the pictures down, and put them in a drawer, then put them back out--it seemed disrespectful to put pictures of fallen teammates in a drawer--and on the shelf, but behind the window curtain.

The apartment was clean. It was always clean, though. He spent as little time there as possible.

All he had to do was go get Iruka. He looked at the bedside clock. Ten minutes. Kakashi picked the clock up off the nightstand, started to put it in a drawer, then realized he was probably being neurotic. He put it back in its normal place. He stood, debating, then finally pulled the photos from behind the curtain and put them back on the shelf. He was trying to be social. Social people shared personal facts, like friends and family. He wanted Iruka to be his friend. He hadn't realized how lonely he was until Iruka started talking to him. Rin had always said he didn't share things, so he would share this, and then--

Then they would be friends. And Iruka wouldn't leave.

Right. Time to go. He slipped into sandals, and headed out. He could be at the office in eight minutes and thirty-three seconds.

But did Iruka really need to know so many personal facts about him? He felt exposed. His apartment was private, and--

Kakashi gave in, and raced back to the apartment to hide the pictures.


Iruka looked up just in time to see Kakashi fly from a rooftop and land beside him, smiling brightly.

"Hi," Iruka said.

The other ninja grinned, his single visible eye squinting shut. "Hi."

Iruka watched him. "You look flushed. Did you run?" he asked, vaguely surprised. Kakashi ran for no one, from what Iruka could tell.

"Hmm. Shall we get lunch?" Kakashi asked.

Iruka thought about asking again, but . . . well, obviously Kakashi was uncomfortable. He left it alone. Besides, it wouldn't be good to appear too interested. Kakashi might think he was that kind of interested.

They wandered down the street, Kakashi with his hands in his pockets, Iruka smiling at people as they passed.

"School starts again soon, doesn't it?" Kakashi asked suddenly.

Iruka nodded, trying to appear relaxed. It was hard, with Kakashi tense. And despite how he was trying to appear, Iruka could feel the tension. "In another month."

"You'll be teaching again?"

Iruka nodded and smiled. "Will you be taking on another Genin team?"

Kakashi shrugged. "Tsunade hasn't asked me to."

Iruka didn't know what to say to that, so he remained silent. "Where are we going?" he asked after a little while.

"My apartment. I didn't know when you had to be back, so it's close and I have food . . ." Kakashi trailed off.

Iruka stared at him for a moment. His apartment? Iruka didn't think people were allowed in there. He wondered how this was really going to work. Maybe they'd eat on the porch again.

Maybe this was Kakashi's way of showing affection.

Iruka stopped walking. "Kakashi," he said slowly, "I'm really not interested in you. That way." The words were out before he even realized what he was saying. He cringed internally, and hoped he hadn't just made an ass out of himself.

Kakashi froze. "I know," he said finally. He looked at the ground, hands still in his pockets, then looked up and smiled. "But, we're friends, right? And friends hang out in each others' apartments?"

Iruka hesitated. "If you're not comfortable with it . . ." He had agreed to friends. Heck, being friends with Kakashi was supposed to be his mission anyway.

"I'm comfortable with it," Kakashi said. "And I cleaned."

Iruka wasn't sure it had been dirty in the first place, if his initial peek inside had been any indication.

They stood there for a moment. Kakashi looked back at the ground again, studiously examining his shoes. "If I'm not doing it right . . ."

Iruka frowned. "Doing it right? Doing what right?"

There was a pause, then Kakashi looked up, smiling brightly. Iruka was starting to realize that the bright smile was to hide embarrassment, rather than for any real joy. It made him wince. "Being friends right. If I'm making you uncomfortable--"

Iruka mentally flinched. "You're doing fine," he said quickly. "I'm just--I just need you to know that it's not going to go farther than that. And part of being friends is knowing each other's boundaries, so if one of yours is not having people in your apartment, that's okay." He was suddenly hyper-aware of the fact that they were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, at lunch hour. He tried to ignore the funny looks shot their way. Think teacher, he told himself. A teacher teaching something. That's all.

Not being friends right . . ? No wonder Tsunade had been worried about Kakashi.

"I could have you in my apartment," Kakashi said at last. "That would be okay."

Iruka nodded slowly. "All right. If you're sure."

Kakashi nodded. "Of course. Hurry, or we'll waste you entire lunch break." Then he turned and wandered down the street.

Iruka set aside his concerns and followed.


"We had lunch," Kakashi said, sitting in the window to Gai's apartment, one leg propped up, the other dangling outside.


"And we even went into my apartment again," Kakashi said. He still wasn't sure about that; it felt strange to have someone else in his personal space. Still, he was trying to be friendly. He was making a friend. Only seven years since he'd lost the last one, since Rin had gone to the Sand, and he was making a friend.

At least Iruka wasn't like Gai. He didn't fill the space with his own presence.

"Kakashi! You're in love!"

Kakashi didn't look at Gai, because he might have to hit the man. He continued to stare blandly out the window, at the people walking around below. "He doesn't want to be more than friends," he said. Damn it.

"You must not take no for an answer! This is true love! You must pursue him! He will feel it, too!"

Kakashi looked at Gai thoughtfully. "Does that work?"

"I have had many loves, and all of them started out by saying no! Be persistent!"

Kakashi stared back out the window.

"Would you like tea?"

Kakashi glanced over. Having tea meant going all the way into Gai's apartment. Gai's apartment was filthy. He smiled and declined.

'Don't take no for an answer,' Gai had said. Gai certainly had more experience than Kakashi did. Maybe that would work.


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