Part Six
Then (But getting closer and closer to 'Now.')

"Gai!" Kakashi jumped into Gai's window and hung on, leaning in without actually stepping inside. He glanced down and was suddenly glad for not going inside; a pile of dishes sat below the window, unwashed.

Gai appeared in the kitchen doorway, a bowl full of toast in one hand.

For a long moment Kakashi considered bringing the man vegetables. Then he wondered how, exactly, Gai managed to stay so healthy. Maybe he had a demon, too. Kakashi dragged his mind back to the reason for the visit. "I'm having dinner with Iruka tomorrow night. But I don't know what to wear."

It had been a week since they'd had lunch, though Kakashi had spent most of that time on missions. He'd only seen Iruka briefly.

Gai finished chewing, swallowed, and smiled. "Wear something other than your uniform."

And the real problem was addressed. Kakashi smiled weakly. "I don't have anything other than my uniform."

Gai frowned. "Normal clothing?"

Kakashi shook his head. He never went out; he never had reasons for other clothing. Besides, it was so much easier to just have several uniforms. They always matched.

"Oh." Gai thought about it, folding a piece of toast in half and eating the whole thing at once. One cheek bulged as he chewed. Then he swallowed, and, looking up, smiled brightly. "Ah, my most esteemed rival, and dear acquaintance who has finally fallen in love! I have the perfect thing! Wait here!"

Kakashi waited while Gai disappeared into his bedroom.

"Ah ha!" Gai said, whipping back into the main room, a long, green suit flourished in one hand.

Kakashi looked at it blandly. "I don't think so."

"It will increase your stamina!" Gai shoved the giant longjohns toward Kakashi.

Kakashi pulled away from them, and nearly fell out the window. "Thank you, Gai, but that's not for me."

"It will drive him wild!"

Kakashi was not impressed. "Maybe I'll ask Asuma." Surely Asuma had clothes. While Kakashi didn't want too many people to know what he was doing--it made him uncomfortable--Asuma would be all right. He respected and liked Asuma.

Gai's smile faltered. "Oh. Well, I suppose if you think that's best . . ."

Kakashi nodded and smiled. "I do."

Ten minutes later Kakashi stood in Asuma's thankfully clean apartment. Somehow, Gai had tagged along, which Kakashi wasn't too happy with, but since Gai already knew . . . The Jounin boomed about true love while Asuma chewed on a cigarette and looked at Kakashi oddly.

Kakashi smiled. "I just need clothing," he said, feeling himself turn bright red. Being him, Gai continued waxing poetic. Kakashi kept grinning cheerfully to hide his embarrassment, closing his eye so he didn't have to see Asuma's half-bemused look.

"I don't think I have anything that would fit you," Asuma said, when Gai finally let him get a word in edgewise. "But maybe Genma . . ."

At that, Kakashi thought maybe his uniform would do. Since he really didn't want the whole village knowing, and since Genma worked with Iruka and that would be just a little embarrassing . . .

But by the time Kakashi had voiced this, Gai had already taken off. A half-desperate look at Asuma had the other Jounin racing after Gai, and five minutes after that Gai and Kakashi were standing outside the mission office while Asuma spoke with Genma.

Kakashi tried to look at the bright side. He supposed this meant he'd have clothes, which was good. It also meant three people knew what was going on, and if dinner didn't work out that was three people he was going to have to explain to.

Finally, Genma looked out the window and grinned around his toothpick.

Another ten minutes after that found them in Genma's apartment. "Did Raidou have to be here?" Kakashi asked. "Or Kurenai? Doesn't everybody have missions?"

"Slow week," Kurenai said, poking through the pile of shirts Genma had put on the bed. "Besides, none of us have ever heard of you having a date before."

"It's not a date," Kakashi muttered, leaning back against a wall, his hands in his pockets. "Just dinner." He didn't add that if he'd wanted them to know, he would have told them. He liked, even respected, Asuma, and Kurenai had always been very nice, but he wasn't sure he wanted them dressing him. Or knowing this much about his life. Or poking around his--"Leave my jacket alone," he said quietly, pinning Genma with a half-lidded glare as the man tried to pull it off.

"You can't try on clothes over it," Genma muttered, looking put-upon.

Kakashi hesitated, then finally shrugged out of his jacket.

**

Iruka yawned, covering his mouth with the back of a hand and packing up his things. Genma was nowhere around. Hadn't been around for a few days, actually, and even when he was there he was . . . odd.

Iruka walked out of the office, turning to lock the door behind him. He paused; there was a noise, off toward--

Pain lanced through the back of his head. Iruka dropped.

**
Now

"I cannot believe you kidnapped me so you could make me dinner!" Iruka yelled. "You just don't do things like that!"

"Well, if you had said 'yes' when I asked you--"

Iruka stared disbelievingly. "Kakashi! I knew you were insane but I didn't think you were that insane!"

Kakashi looked vaguely disgruntled. "I'm not that insane. I made dinner."

"But I don't want to date you!" Iruka bellowed. In his hands, the chopstick he hadn't thrown broke.

"But why not?" Kakashi asked, still calm if frowning slightly. "Gai says I'm attractive, and you and I have been doing things--"

"That has nothing to do with it!" Iruka yelled.

"--and I made dinner, and got new clothes, and look!" Kakashi brightened suddenly, leaping past Iruka to the futon and pointing at the shelf there. "I left my pictures up!"

Iruka took a deep breath and did his best to leash his temper. "It was very nice of you to leave your pictures up," he said finally, as calmly as he could manage. "But it is not appropriate to kidnap someone--" he stopped, realizing his voice was rising again. He took another breath and lowered it. "It is not appropriate to kidnap someone and force them to have dinner with you." He spoke carefully, like he was talking to one of his students.

Kakashi was looking mutinous. "I didn't know how else to get you here."

"Ask!"

"You said no," Kakashi pointed out.

Iruka closed his eyes and rubbed his scar.

"Wine?" Kakashi asked. "Or sake?"

"Yes. Sake. No. I mean--" Iruka opened his eyes and turned; Kakashi had gotten past him and was standing at the little table, pouring sake. He had no idea where to go from here, except that he really should leave. Iruka couldn't even say he was angry anymore; his head hurt too much, and he was thoroughly confused and couldn't keep up with Kakashi's logic. "Where did this table come from?" he asked finally.

"Asuma's," Kakashi said simply, holding out a small cup.

Iruka took it, but refused to sit down. Kakashi stood as well, one hand in the pocket of his black slacks. He did look nice, Iruka had to admit. The slacks fell well, hugging his slim hips. He was wearing a silver shirt, the silk sliding over his narrow shoulders, outlining defined muscles and hinting at more.

"You look nice," Iruka said grudgingly.

Kakashi looked down, as if he'd forgotten what he was wearing. Then he smiled behind the mask. "Genma and Raidou's, actually."

Iruka gave a half desperate laugh and shook his head in tired defeat. "Kakashi . . ."

"Please sit."

"You can't kidnap someone to make them date you."

Kakashi stared at the floor. "All right. But, since I made the food . . ."

Iruka tried to glare, but his head was hurting too much. He sipped sake instead, and finally sat. "I just want you to know, this doesn't make this behavior acceptable."

"All right," Kakashi said, sinking to the ground.

"And if you do it again, I--" he couldn't think of a threat. His normally creative mind was still whimpering about having pressure points hit. "I don't know what I'll do, but it'll be bad."

"All right," Kakashi said simply. He dished food onto a plate, and handed it to Iruka.

Iruka looked at it suspiciously. There was nothing that he recognized. He sipped sake. "Are you sure about this stuff?"

Kakashi smiled behind the mask. "Of course. Try it."

"I should go home," Iruka said, exhaustion and headache catching up with him. The rest of his anger was gone, and it took him a moment to realize he'd been drinking sake a bit too quickly.

"I'll take you home later, but right now you should eat." Kakashi put another dollop of strange looking food on his plate.

Iruka finally put his sake down and picked up chopsticks, poking at his meal. He took a careful bite and chewed slowly. Then he nodded, taking another bite. "It is good," he said, his mouth full.

Kakashi smiled, and relaxed suddenly. Until then, Iruka hadn't realized he'd been tense. "What did you do to my head?" he asked, trying another lump of food. He thought it might be some sort of vegetable.

"Just hit a nerve cluster. It should feel better soon. Try this." He put some sort of bread on Iruka's plate.

Iruka took bite. "Mmm," he said, taking another. Suddenly, he was starving.

Kakashi smiled and sat back, leaning on his hands.

"You're not eating?" Iruka asked, glancing up.

Kakashi smiled sheepishly. "I ate while I was cooking, and by the time I was done . . ."

"Oh. No--wait," Iruka said, realizing suddenly that he was playing right into Kakashi's hands. "Kakashi--I am not going to date you."

Kakashi eyed him. "Why not?"

"What do you mean, 'why not'?" Iruka said. He thought it was obvious, personally. He wasn't interested.

"I mean, why not? Why won't you date me? If you're not interested in men, then--well, have you tried?"

Iruka stared. "This isn't a matter of whether or not I'm interested in men," he said finally. "It's--" he stopped. Frowned. Thought. "Because--" stopped again. None of his reasons, which, frankly, weren't coming to him anyway, would stand up to Kakashi's logic. "There are problems here!" he said finally.

Kakashi frowned. "Are you interested in men?"

Iruka stared some more. "No!"

"Are you sure?"

Iruka started to snarl something, his temper finally rising above the exhaustion and headache, when he realized he wasn't, actually, sure. He'd never thought about it. He didn't date, really. There had been a few girls in school, but not many. He somehow always got stuck in the 'like a brother to me' role. But he didn't look at men, either, beyond things like wishing Genma would spit that damn toothpick out, because he was going to stab himself in the throat with it one day, and besides it was really suggestive and Iruka didn't need that--

Oh, crap.

Iruka looked up.

Kakashi was smiling slightly.

It didn't mean anything. Things in mouths were suggestive, and that's just the way it was. It wasn't like he was going around lusting after men, and he'd certainly never done--well, all right, that once with Mizuki, but they'd been into Mizuki's father's sake and couldn't really be held responsible for their actions.

Really.

Kakashi was still smiling, like he could read these facts right off of Iruka's face.

"I think I need to go home," Iruka said quietly.

Kakashi's smile vanished. "What? Why?"

Iruka stared at him. "I might be gay!" he said loudly.

Kakashi nodded. "I know. That's why I have you here."

It was so matter-of-fact and blasť that Iruka didn't know what reaction to have. Surely this information was more stunning than that. He was slightly put out.

"So you'll date me?" Kakashi asked.

"No!" Iruka snapped.

"Why not?"

"Because you don't kidnap people and then expect them to date you!"

Kakashi sighed. "I already said, you weren't kidnapped. You're welcome to leave at any time."

Iruka glared at him.

"All right, then what do you want?" Kakashi asked finally.

That was a good question. Iruka frowned. "I don't know. But not being kidnapped. And I don't know if I want to date you, period. You might not be my type." It was near-spiteful, and he knew it.

Kakashi's face didn't fall. Not quite.

Iruka went silent. "I'm sorry," he said finally.

Kakashi just smiled and shrugged, but it looked forced.

"I just--I'm going to go home. Think about things. All right?" Iruka asked quietly.

Kakashi nodded again. "Do you want to take food?" he asked, looking at the mostly uneaten meal spread out before them. "I can't eat all this . . . "

Iruka hesitated, and in that moment Kakashi started packing it up, complete with the bottle of sake.

"Thank you," Iruka said afterward, standing at Kakashi's door, a grocery bag in each hand.

"You're welcome," Kakashi said, just as quietly.

Iruka paused, then walked out the door.

"We're still friends?" Kakashi asked.

Iruka stopped and looked back over his shoulder. "Yeah. Friends."

**

"How'd dinner go?"

Iruka's head snapped up, and he stared in shock at Genma. "You knew about that?"

Genma grinned. "Of course. How'd it go?"

Iruka glared. "He kidnapped me and took me to his apartment."

Genma's smile faltered. "He did?"

Iruka nodded.

"Oh. We didn't know about the kidnapping part." He went to sit down, and Iruka grabbed a stack of papers before they were smashed underneath the Special Jounin.

They sat in silence for a time. Iruka stared at his sheets of papers; registration forms for the new school year. "Genma," Iruka said slowly, "I might be gay."

"Yeah, I know," Genma said disinterestedly.

Iruka looked up at him, frustration lancing through his body. "How can you know? You're not me."

"Mizuki," Genma said, flipping through registration forms.

Iruka turned red. He could feel the heat burning his ears. "Mizuki?" he squeaked. "He told you that?"

"He told everyone who'd listen that," Genma snorted. "You ever notice," he started conversationally, as if the previous subject was closed, "how no one names their kids Kakashi? Or Tsunade? Not that Kakashi's in her league, but it's just interesting--"

"I can't believe he told you that!" Iruka nearly yelled.

Genma looked at him. "He did. In case you hadn't noticed, he was kind of a slut."

"I was drunk," Iruka said.

Genma shrugged. "Are you going to date Kakashi?"

"No," Iruka muttered. "He's not my type."

Genma just stared at him.

"What?" Iruka snapped.

"Right. I can see how Mizuki's silver hair and lean build is nothing like--"

Iruka glared. Genma fell silent, grinning. Iruka went back to sorting registration forms.

It was lunchtime when Kakashi arrived. He smiled, standing in the doorway, and lifted a bag. "I brought lunch. I can't stay, but I thought you might--well--here."

Before Iruka could even say 'thanks,' Kakashi had dropped the bag and fled.

Genma picked it up and peered inside. "You date Kakashi," he said, grinning, "and you'll never have to cook again. Smell."

Iruka had to admit, it smelled nice.

**

Kakashi opened the door, and smiled. Iruka stood there, looking awkward. "I just wanted to say thank you," Iruka said after a moment. "For lunch."

Kakashi put both hands in his pockets, leaning against the doorway. "You're welcome." Asuma had suggested it, oh so casually, when they'd seen each other at the market.

"And I wanted to apologize," Iruka continued. "While what you did yesterday wasn't appropriate, I overreacted. To a lot of things."

Kakashi breathed a silent sigh of relief. He hadn't totally messed up, then. "I'm sorry I upset you," he said quietly. "I do try not to upset people." Except Gai, but that was funny. And his Genin team, because they all had such hilarious reactions. And Tsunade, but that was just to remind her that she was still a person, and not infallible. And sometimes Iruka, because that was funny, too. But he hadn't been trying to do that earlier.

"And, well, Genma and I were talking . . . and apparently everyone but me knew I liked other men . . ."

Kakashi nodded. Even he'd known Iruka liked other men, just from the way the Chuunin looked at them.

"And Genma pointed out that I could do wor--I mean, that you might--that is--" Iruka scowled, staring down at his sandals. He twiddled with the hem of shirt. "Genma suggested I could ask you--that we could--maybe--"

Kakashi watched with near-glee while Iruka's face turned red. He really couldn't help it if he had a sadistic streak.

"Help me, here," Iruka muttered.

"Would you like to have dinner with me?" Kakashi asked.

"Yes," Iruka sighed. "That would be nice."

Kakashi stepped aside, and Iruka walked into his apartment.

**
A long time ago . . .

Kakashi peered around the corner, lying on his stomach on the floor, his head flat against the wood so his parents wouldn’t see.

They were eating dinner.

Soft words and softer light, and the gentle laugh that was his mother. She had been gone for days, and only just returned. He could smell the dark of forest and sweetness of sweat. Could almost taste the dirt that creased into her skin.

His father didn't seem to mind. His father kissed her across the table, then stood, smiling as he walked toward the doorway.

Kakashi jumped to his feet and ran, hurrying down the hall, into his room, leaping into his bed and burying his face into his pillow.

Sleep. Really. He'd been sleeping. Sleeping sleeping sleeping sleeping.

He heard footsteps stop in his doorway. "If you're already awake, you might as well come say hello."

He cracked one eye and looked up. "Really?"

His father smiled and nodded.

Kakashi sat up, swinging his legs over the bed. "Even though my tutor comes tomorrow?"

His father only stepped out of the way, waiting.

Kakashi ran down the hall once more, bare feet slapping against polished wood, his shadow stretching and shrinking in the lamp light. This time he ran right through the sliding doors. He went as fast as he could across the room, around the table, flying against his mother. She smelled soft and sharp, and she wrapped strong arms around him and held on.

"Missed you," Kakashi murmured into her neck.

"Missed you, too," she said back. She tightened her hold in a fierce hug, then released him. He fell back onto his heels, smiling happily.

"Let your mother eat, Kakashi," his father said, settling once more on the other side of the table. "She's had a long day, trying to get back to us."

Kakashi settled quietly, hugging his knees and letting his chin fall to them. They ate, his mother and father, and spoke softly. He listened to the rise and fall of their voices, and ate food off his father's chopsticks. Warmth and candlelight flickered, surrounding the three, and food filled Kakashi's belly, making him sleepy and content.

"Would you like more rice?" he asked his mother when she started to run low.

"No, thank you, Kakashi. I've had lots of food. I think I'm going to have a bath, then go to bed," she said, smiling. Then she rose, pausing over him. "Love you," she said, dropping a kiss onto his forehead before leaving the room, as quietly as she must have entered.

Kakashi watched his father pick up dishes, stacking dirty ones together and carrying them into the kitchen. He followed quietly, climbing up onto the counter. "She must not eat much, when she's out," Kakashi said solemnly.

His father looked at him quizzically.

"You always make her dinner when she gets back. No matter how late."

His father smiled, and offered him a cookie. "I think she's probably hungry when she gets home, you're right," he said. "But it's how I can show her I love her. If she's tired and hungry, and has had a hard mission, I can give her warm food and a full stomach before she goes to bed. She does the same for me, when I have missions."

Kakashi chewed his cookie thoughtfully. "Can I help next time?" he asked hopefully. "I can make rice."

His father smiled and flicked water at him.

Kakashi ducked, then rubbed his nose. "I love Mother. I want to help make her dinner."

His father looked at him for a long moment, then smiled. "Kakashi, I would love your help."

*********

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