Iruka headed over to her favorite bookstore as soon as school let out, eager to get a copy of the newest book by her favorite author. (Well, her second-favorite author, but she'd admit to loving Icha Icha Paradise about as soon as she'd admit to having been the one to dye Izumo's hair green when they were teenagers.) The release date had been yesterday, but she’d had to work late last night and had missed her chance to pick it up.
Iruka waved at the shop owner as she entered, and turned to head to the Romance section over in the far corner. She blinked. Hatake Kakashi was standing in the Romance section. Everyone else seemed to be trying very hard not to see him. Iruka considered going home and coming back tomorrow, but she'd been looking forward to reading tonight, and she had a shift tomorrow at the mission desk right after school, which would make getting to the bookstore tricky.
Well, she thought. He's just looking at books. How bad can it be?
Iruka had never seen someone execute a transportation jutsu that hastily.
* * *
Two months later, Iruka ran into him again. This time he didn't vanish the instant she appeared, but perhaps that was because she'd been there first. She looked over when he walked up, stepped back from the shelves to let him browse, and pretty much ignored him. It was pretty easy: he left within a minute, with what looked like a book chosen completely at random. Really, Iruka thought, he could have chosen better: that series wasn't any good after the third volume, and he'd grabbed the eighth.
* * *
The third time Iruka ran into Hatake Kakashi in the Romance novel section, she decided to do something about his disappearing habit.
"Have you read this one?" she asked, holding up Life among the Roses. He glanced at her in surprise, and then at the book in her hand. "The cover's a bit much," she admitted hastily, "most of her covers are, but the story isn't half bad." He didn't say anything, and she found herself still talking. "I usually swap the covers out with something else, actually," she added. "That way nobody bothers me about it." He nodded, and held out his hand, and Iruka passed the book over. When he didn't vanish, she tried introducing herself.
"I'm Umino Iruka," she said quietly. "That's one of my favorite series, but you have to cut her some slack on the first one: it was her first novel."
"His, actually," Kakashi said absently. "I recognize the name from a conversation with —“ he paused, "with someone who was annoyed about it."
"Oh," Iruka said. She cocked her head to one side, considering. "Huh. Why was your friend annoyed?" Kakashi glanced down at her, and seemed to realize where he was. Iruka bit her lip, hoping he wouldn't disappear again: he looked at her for a minute, and seemed to relax.
"He thought it was dishonest," Kakashi said, then, waved the book at her, "I'll try this one. Thanks." And he left.
Well, Iruka thought, at least he walked away this time? It was an improvement over jutsu, at least.
* * *
After that they ran into each other at the bookstore every month or so, and Iruka discovered that Kakashi liked many of the same authors she did, and was engaging and even sometimes funny if she could get him talking about the books they both read. It was almost like the plot of a novel: schoolteacher meets dashing hero, except that whenever Kakashi seemed to remember where they were, or got jarred out of conversation, he abruptly left the bookstore.
Really, Iruka thought one afternoon, watching him hurry off. He could have the grace to come up with a better excuse. Who on earth worried about being late to watering his plant?
At least it was an improvement: last time, Iruka had spent almost a week fuming to herself over being ditched for a fictional duck-duck-goose competition.
* * *
Iruka knocked on the hospital door, which was half open.
"Excuse me?" she asked, "May I come in?" She was pretty sure she had the right room. It wasn’t as if the nurses would be uncertain which room Hatake Kakashi was in, after all.
There was the sound of conversation cut short, and then an unfamiliar voice said "Come on in, doll." She frowned.
Iruka walked in and saw a tall figure leaning against the open window's sill. She blinked, and glanced at the bed to be sure this really was Kakashi's room. She gaped at his visitor for a moment.
“You—“ she said, a dozen little hints clicking into place. She wheeled on Kakashi. “This is your friend who writes? And you didn't tell me?" Kakashi raised his hands as if to ward her off and winced in pain.
"And —“ she sputtered, turning to the figure in the window, who was grinning at her. "That was a terrible cliffhanger!"
Jiraiya-sama, the famous Toad Sage, one of the Three Sannin of Konoha, and author of Icha Icha Paradise, met her gaze and burst out laughing.
Iruka could feel herself flush, and turned back to Kakashi, who, she could now see, was propped up only halfway in bed, leaning against a massive stack of pillows. He was so pale he looked almost bluer than the sheets, his color set off by the black mask he still wore and his grey hair. There was a long, red scar through his left eye that she’d never seen before.
"What happened to you?" Iruka asked, unable to help herself, and then, because she wasn't stupid, “I know, you probably can't tell me." She glanced at the Sage, who had mostly stopped laughing, and flushed again. She suddenly felt very out of place: this was the Copy Nin she was bothering, not one of her neighbor's wives. She had no right to gossip with him so freely, no matter what he read in his free time.
“I, um. I brought you something to read," she said lamely. "I thought, well, it just came out, and you liked the other ones, so…" she broke off, and shoved the books at him.
"I'm sorry," she said awkwardly, "I hope you feel better soon." And she turned to go.
"Wait a minute, kid," the Sage said, and Iruka froze, and turned back to face him. She wasn't quite sure how to address him, so she just waited, head bowed a little in deference.
"She's the one you were talking about?" the Sage asked, and Kakashi nodded. Iruka stared at him in horror. Had she been that annoying?
“Well?” the Sage asked, and Iruka looked up with an apology on the tip of her tongue, unsure what she was supposed to say. Kakashi grumbled something just under his breath, and Iruka glanced at him to see him leaning toward her with a red-jacketed book in hand: she took it almost instinctively, only reading the title once it was in hand.
“Wait—“ Iruka said, staring at the copy of Icha Icha Violence she’d just been handed. “But this isn’t out yet!” Kakashi smiled.
“Pre-publication copy,” he said, and leaned back against the pillows. Even that looked like it had taken something out of him, and Iruka couldn’t resist the urge to lean over and straighten one of the pillows behind Kakashi’s head.
“Oh, look,” the Sage said, “there’s Sarutobi-sensei. Have fun, kids.” He slipped out the window, and Iruka glanced back and forth between the suddenly empty room and Kakashi.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to intrude.” Kakashi shook his head slightly, and looked at the book she was holding.
“Would you—“ he paused, and she noticed that he’d shut his eye. “Would you mind reading some of it aloud before you go?” he asked. “My vision isn’t really very good right now.”
She blinked at him in surprise, then looked around for a chair: there wasn’t one. Iruka shrugged, and sat crosslegged on the floor to begin reading. Kakashi peered down at her.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, “I can’t hear you from down there.” He patted the edge of the bed. Iruka perched hesitantly, careful not to jostle him, and opened the book.
It was every bit as good as she'd hoped it would be, and she only stopped reading when she realized Kakashi had fallen asleep, his breathing slow and steady. She put Icha Icha Violence down reluctantly.
He stirred when she stood, and blinked up at her, looking very young for a moment.
"Will you read more tomorrow?" he asked.
Iruka smiled and agreed.
(Alarmingly Long) OMAKE:
"Good Morning, my Hip and Youthful Rival!" someone yelled from Kakashi's bedroom window. Iruka squeaked in alarm and was halfway across the room, kunai in hand, before she realized that Kakashi's only response to this incursion had been to sit up and stretch lazily, somehow already masked. Iruka realized with growing horror that she was stark naked. That probably meant she had her priorities in order, but a kunai didn't cover much.
"Not now, Guy," Kakashi said, sounding a little annoyed. "Can't you see I've got company?" He glanced over at Iruka, and made an "I'm sorry" face, gesturing for her to come back over.
The man — Might Guy, absolutely unmistakable in his bright green leotard -- seemed to notice her for the first time and flushed tomato-red, clapping a hand over his eyes and flailing for balance with his other arm.
"YOUR PARDON, tender and gracious Lady!" Guy yelled, and Iruka gave up every hope of privacy. Clearly all of Konoha was going to know where she'd spent the night inside the next fifteen minutes. She went back over to the bed, put the kunai in its slot in the frame, pulled on Kakashi's shirt and sat tentatively next to him.
"It's all right," Iruka said, when no one else spoke. "I mean, it was a surprising way to wake up, but, you know."
"You can take your hand away from your eyes now," Kakashi said dryly. "She's dressed."
"I beg your pardon!" Guy exclaimed, pinning her with a frighteningly earnest stare. "I would never had intruded, had I know you were Brightening my Rival's night with your Beautiful Company!"
"Um," Iruka said, "okay."
"Truly, you are without Equal!" Guy exclaimed, and then zeroed in on Kakashi.
"My rival!" His voice got even louder, which Iruka hadn't been sure was possible. "After my humbling defeat at our last combat, I have come to challenge you again!" He gave Kakashi a thumbs up, and grinned. His teeth were appallingly white. Iruka could swear they actually sparkled.
"Maybe tomorrow, Guy," he replied, putting an arm around Iruka's waist and tugging her close.
"But how shall I recover from my Humbling Defeat at duck-duck-goose!" Guy demanded. Iruka looked between the two of them.
"You mean —“ she said, “—you really were challenged to a round of duck-duck-goose!?"
Kakashi looked at her.
"What? I thought you were blowing me off," Iruka said. "I mean — duck duck goose? My youngest students play that during recess!"
"Indeed! A most Noble and Worthy pursuit for the Fiery Youth of Konoha!" Iruka surreptitiously pinched herself, though she wasn't entirely sure her subconscious could come up with a dream quite this weird.
"Right," Kakashi said. "Well, if you could go over to the playground and see if all the kids know how to play, I'm sure Iruka would appreciate it."
“I accept your challenge!” Guy gave another thumbs up. “I will see that the Youth of Konoha know how to play duck-duck-goose by noon, or I will spend three days and three nights in the Forest of Death!” He jumped off the windowsill and disappeared, a green blur.
“Right,” Kakashi said, pushing the window shut and pulling Iruka close. “Now, where were we?” Iruka pulled a very dog-eared novel out from under a pillow.
“Chapter seven,” she said, and then flipped forward a few pages. “Though we could skip to chapter eight…”
She was pretty sure Guy spent the next three days in the Forest of Death, but it was hard to say, since they spent most of that time in Kakashi’s apartment. They had a lot of books to get through, after all.