Before he takes Naruto away, Jiraiya meets one last time with Kakashi. Even in the little coastal resort city south of Konohagakure, the nightclub is barely worthy of the name. It's dingy and run-down. But the sake is at least first rate. And the mostly-naked girls gyrating on the stage are attractive enough, if a bit young and fragile for his tastes. He likes partners he can't accidentally break. They're surprisingly difficult to find.
"That chuunin of the boy’s," Jiraiya says, rubbing at the wart beside his nose and grinning foolishly back at the dancers fluttering their veils at him before he picks up his dish of sake and drains it in one gulp. A girl barely older than Sakura minces over in a sad parody of a formal court kimono, the sides split open almost all the way to the top of her thighs. Kakashi hides his surge of distaste behind his own sake cup and watches the girl drape herself all over the Toad Sage as she re-fills his dish to the brim. He waits patiently for the older man to continue as he pretends to drink his own.
Jiraiya gives the girl a smack on the ass hard enough to make her jump and her coy giggle is a little too loud as she moves away after leaving a fresh bottle of sake behind.
"That chuunin," he says again, drawing a line over his own nose from cheek to cheek with one thick finger just in case he thinks Kakashi isn't quite sure which chuunin he's talking about. "He's an interesting one, and the boy loves him like a brother."
Kakashi is well aware of the esteem Naruto holds for his former sensei. He thinks most of it probably has something to do with the fact that the chuunin is a soft touch who always pays for the half-dozen bowls of ramen the boy consumes in one sitting when he takes him to Ichiraku.
"He almost died for the kid, you know."
Kakashi has heard the story. All active shinobi have. Repeatedly. Stories involving traitors always make the rounds both officially and unofficially.
"Not bad looking either. And tough as nails." And Kakashi darts the old lech a wary glance. Jiraiya is a breast man. The larger the better. Anyone who has read the Icha Icha books knows this. That he's somehow noticed that Umino Iruka is moderately easy on the eyes is something of a shock. He wonders why, even though he knows that he himself is far less strict in his physical preferences. His 'not breakable' requirement is a much more effective limiter on the kinds of partners he will indulge with than cup size; shinobi only, preferably ANBU level or better. Gender is very much a tertiary consideration after those two most critical criteria.
Still it makes for a distressing lack of options when he has already gone through the last ANBU roster he had access to in his mind several times without finding one suitable and/or available candidate – male or female. It's one reason he likes Jiraiya's books so much. Vicarious satisfaction. Without the porn he'd probably be a far less stable ninja himself.
"Fond of onsen like me. Got a wicked uppercut on him too," Jiraiya continues with a grin. He rubs his jaw and takes another gulp of sake as Kakashi boggles at him briefly. Is he saying what Kakashi thinks he's saying?
"Are you trying to marry me off, ojiisan?" Kakashi offers mildly, trying to bend his brain away from exactly why Jiraiya loves hot springs so much and how it is really not likely to be the same reason Umino Iruka likes them too. Not if Jiraiya has somehow discovered that the Academy teacher has a good uppercut anyway. The great pervert sage just blinks and laughs, the sound rolling through the shabby, mostly-empty room, cutting across even the loud, rhythmic music like thunder.
"Hell no! Even I know better than that, brat! " Jiraiya finally manages to say after his laughter fades some. He sobers for an instant, a maudlin gleam appearing briefly in his eye. "Pity about your bloodline though."
Kakashi doesn't take the bait, calmly sipping more sake instead. He long ago decided that his family name will die with him. It's only fair. It's just too bad Obito's clan won't outlive his.
"Feh! I got my hands on your records is all. I get why Sarutobi-sensei decided to kick you out of ANBU now." All humor faded from the old man's face again. "Why can't you at least keep a touchstone, Kakashi?"
Kakashi just smiles despite the sudden impulse to get up and leave, letting his eye curve deeply, his sake cup held close to his face. He shrugs. "It's voluntary duty; they just keep resigning."
"Hmm," Jiraiya says, frowning at him for a moment more before his mouth curves into a wry smile. "I'm sure they just do that. Battle-hardened jounin and all. Without provocation."
He knows what it says in his records about those resignations. He's read it too. "Uncooperative with process." "Waste of time." "Never contacted by subject." Things like that. Followed by noisy little notes by the shinobi psych forces demanding stability analysis and battle-fitness checks. He always passes those checks -- but he does seem to get called in a little too frequently on the "random" selection these days.
"It's a safety outlet, Kakashi. Designed for everyone's protection. No one wants the team member they’re relying on to just snap on them in the field. So get one and keep one, eh?" The old man refills his own dish, -- then Kakashi's much smaller cup --, to the brim with sake. "I suggest trying that teacher out for the job… even if he is a chuunin," he says with a wink and a deliberately crude leer, then the pervert sage turns back to whistle loudly at the three girls currently pouring oil clumsily onto each other on stage, his face flushed and guileless again.
Kakashi drinks the rest of his sake in thoughtful silence.
As Jiraiya took extra pains to point out to him, one practical part of Konoha’s Will of Fire is that all shinobi on the Active Mission Roster are required to have some normality in their lives. A touchstone. Someone to talk to about things other than killing and duty. Most get around this requirement by finding steady lovers, actively living among extended family or by getting married.
Sadly, none of these alternatives are open to Kakashi. Mostly by his own choice, of course, but they’re still not viable for him.
Through his own means, he’s just learned that the Psych Division has flagged his file for the Hokage’s personal review. What with Itachi’s little trip through his head, they feel it’s long past time he either takes a refreshing break in their nice padded and sealed rooms so they can pick apart the remnants of Itachi’s jutsu… or he gets himself someone to share some of his lingering mental poison with steadily as regulations demand.
Knowing Tsunade, as soon as she reads that recommendation he’ll find himself relieved of missions for an annoying – and possibly indeterminate – length of time.
Or he can avert all the trouble completely by finding himself a new touchstone first.
That leaves him with Jiraiya’s odd suggestion nagging at the back of his mind. He’s never had a touchstone of lower rank than jounin before. He begins to wonder if it really matters. The chuunin teacher is fairly ordinary, as highly trained users of chakra go, having no bloodline limit or elaborate family specialty jutsu at his disposal, but he is still a ninja.
Besides, adding chuunin to his possible list of candidates for the post increases his chances of getting one to stick. It’s probably worth trying to keep himself on the active roster, he figures.
Snapping his book closed, Kakashi decides it’s time to find out as much as he can about Umino Iruka.
It’s mildly surprising to Kakashi when the chuunin himself hails him just two and a half days later in the hallway outside the mission room. He’s heading toward that long-delayed psych review meeting with Tsunade and considers it fortunate timing on Iruka’s part.
“Kakashi-san, a moment of your time please,” the teacher says politely enough. But his dark eyes are smoldering with something dangerous and his stance is slightly more rigid than it should be. It’s not full-fledged killing intent Kakashi senses, but it at least brings the idea of maiming clearly to mind. Something exquisitely painful but not permanently debilitating. Possibly involving hot pokers or pliers to fingernails.
“Yes, Iruka-sensei?” he replies mildly, impressed despite himself, raising his brows and peering over his book at the other man as the teacher falls into step beside him. “How may I assist you today?”
“Quit stalking me and harassing everyone I work with,” the teacher says without preamble, his expression mild but his gaze seething with the promise of pokers and pliers as he glances sidelong at Kakashi.
Kakashi blinks once and begins to slowly, but steadily, increase his pace. “Ah.” It suddenly seems like a very good idea to have the bulk of this conversation in front of Tsunade herself. "You see...it's like this..."
“Don’t even try to deny it,” Iruka says, the vicious glare still in place, but his tone dauntingly calm.
“How can I when it’s absolutely true?” Kakashi says, making the last turn toward the Hokage’s office with some relief. Other shinobi in the halls are looking around uneasily, unable to pinpoint the source of that seething aura quite yet. He had sensed the ANBU come alert on the roof above them almost immediately and he really doesn’t want them involved. The betting pool on when his sanity is due to break is already far too large, and Gai’s currently in the lead. A murder attempt by a respected chuunin teacher in the hall outside the Hokage’s office might just convince them to pay out.
Iruka comes to a stop and pokes one rigid finger in Kakashi’s face, the other hand is fisted on his hip. His dark eyes are flashing and no one has any doubt where the killing intent is focused now. “Jounin or not, stop it. Now.”
“Now, now, there’s actually something I need to bring to your attention, Iruka-sensei, but I’m late for a meeting.” Kakashi gestures toward the Hokage’s open office door behind him with one hand while stowing his book in his belt pouch with the other. “Would you please step inside so we can get this out of the way? The Hokage’s waiting.”
He turns and makes it to the door before Iruka can get out another word. And yes, he definitely uses chakra to do it. He pauses there and looks over his shoulder. Iruka has commendable poise. He’s not gaping but only grinding his teeth instead. And the maiming intent has been leashed, though he sees hints of it lingering in the snapping looks the teacher shoots his way.
Iruka follows him just inside the room, bowing politely toward Tsunade who is watching the both of them suspiciously as the teacher closes the door behind himself. He’s clearly familiar with the etiquette of attending on the Hokage. Closed doors unless she says otherwise.
“Hm, I just remember summoning you, brat,” she says with a frown and a glance at Shizune beside her. Her aide nods once in confirmation and Tsunade sighs and props her hand against the side of her jaw, elbow planted on the arm of her chair. “All right, what’s going on here?”
Kakashi smiles behind his mask and tucks both hands into his pants pockets. “I formally request that Umino Iruka be registered as my touchstone effective immediately.”
He has the pleasure of watching Tsunade’s eyes widen in shock for an instant before thoughtful calculation takes over. Shizune is, strangely enough, smiling. Or it might be a rictus of horror. With her it is sometimes hard to tell. Behind him, Iruka has sucked in a sharp breath.
“No way in hell,” is the first thing the chuunin manages to say. Kakashi lets his smile widen.
“Interesting choice, Kakashi,” Tsunade says, eyeing first him, then the spluttering chuunin behind him. There is a hint of a smile playing around her mouth. Only a hint, but it’s there. “But it’s a voluntary post, as you well know, and it’s funny how you seem to have forgotten to ask him first.”
Kakashi turns with a shrug. Fixes the now red-faced chuunin with his blandest look. “Well?”
“No,” Iruka says shortly, teeth gritted. Likely against obscenities.
Kakashi turns back to Tsunade. “He’ll do it.”
“What? I said no!” Iruka yelps. “Hokage-sama! I must protest.” Tsunade shakes her head at him, then looks pointedly at the chuunin for a long moment.
“Are you currently serving as touchstone for anyone else, Iruka-kun?” she asks. Beside her Shizune is already shaking her head and Kakashi’s grin widens.
“No, I am not, Hokage-sama,” Iruka confirms with obvious reluctance.
“You have accepted this duty for a jounin before?”
Iruka takes a deep breath, blatantly trying to regain his calm, and lifts his chin slightly. “I have.”
“Who for?” Tsunade says, raising a brow.
“Most recently for Mitarashi Anko,” he says quietly and Kakashi shoots him a look of respect. That must have been an interesting stretch of time for the teacher. Anko’s issues have issues. If he had to guess if there was anyone in Hidden Leaf who’s gone through more touchstones than he has it would be Anko.
“Was it your decision to stop being her touchstone, Iruka-kun?” the Hokage asks quietly.
Iruka shakes his head. “Out of respect for Anko-san's privacy, I don’t wish to say at this time, Hokage-sama, but I will if you require me to.”
“No need,” she says with a careless wave of her hand. “So, how long did it last?”
Iruka clearly looks uncomfortable but keeps his silence. It’s Shizune who outs him. “He was touchstone to Mitarashi-kun for four and a half months, Hokage-sama.” When Iruka shoots her a withering look she just shrugs and smiles at him kindly. “I’m sorry but it is mostly public knowledge, Iruka-san.”
Tsunade holds her own thoughtful look for a moment longer, gears clearly turning in her head, then she smiles broadly at the teacher. “Good choice, Kakashi,” she says. “I approve your request.”
Iruka does gape at her this time, his jaw slack with shock. “Hokage-sama!”
“Iruka-kun, other than the shocking rudeness he’s displayed by nominating you without asking, do you have some other, more substantial, reason to refuse to assist this jounin?” Tsunade says calmly, steepling her fingers in front of her face now and fixing the chuunin with her most steely gaze. Kakashi knows that the forbidding pose is to help her keep from breaking out into a smug grin. She’s a crappy gambler for a reason.
The trap is sprung. “N-no, Hokage-sama,” Iruka says, his tone muted, his defeat clear to him now.
“Good. It should only last a few months at most anyway. The brat is incorrigible. But bear in mind I won’t accept your resignation for at least a month. I have faith in you, Iruka-kun. Do your best!”
Now that he has a touchstone on file, Kakashi relaxes. Goes about his routine as usual. Accepts and completes his share of assigned missions. Takes and avoids challenges from Gai. Runs his dogs through exercises in tracking. Starts re-reading the Icha Icha series from the beginning. Again. But it’s near the end of the free month when he realizes he probably should do something to keep the other man from resigning and putting him right back in the same position he started from.
He catches up to the teacher on the Academy’s training grounds at the end of a Wednesday afternoon. Iruka is hunting stray shuriken in the bushes near the target dummies. His shoulders stiffen the moment Kakashi appears beside him but otherwise he ignores him, going about his menial and tedious task silently.
Just as silently, Kakashi helps him search, retrieving and piling the bent and broken and grossly unbalanced things into the wooden crate Iruka has set out for exactly that purpose.
“Hm, no wonder their aim is so bad,” he says when the task is done, holding up a shuriken with one point bent a complete 90 degrees from center between two fingers.
Iruka just lifts the heavy box with both hands and holds it out for Kakashi to drop the pathetic thing into. His expression is grim and closed for a moment before he gives in with something like resignation.
“Which is exactly why we start with the broken ones. If they can hit the target with these, balanced ones will be that much easier to handle later.”
“Interesting concept,” Kakashi says dubiously.
“Mostly it’s just easier on the Academy budget,” Iruka says, shooting him a glare. As he turns and walks back toward the main building, Kakashi follows a few paces behind, hands tucked deep into his pockets.
“I suppose you’re finally going to try to convince me not to resign as your touchstone of record,” Iruka says as he turns around to shoulder open the back door of the Academy. Kakashi nods and catches the door, holding it open for the other man as he passes through with his burden. There really isn’t any point in denying it.
“Considering I haven’t even seen you in the Mission Room since the Hokage approved this appointment, it’s rather pointless to keep up the charade,” Iruka says, disapproval clear in his tone. “You don’t take the process seriously at all, Kakashi-san, so I don’t see any point in continuing to help you circumvent village rules.”
“I thought you might appreciate the effort I took to avoid you, Iruka-sensei,” Kakashi offers as he follows him down the empty, silent hall toward the weapon storage room. “Since you weren’t pleased to take on the task in the first place.”
“But the duty was assigned to me, Kakashi-san. The fact that you have not even allowed me to attend to that duty I find to be very rude and disrespectful,” Iruka says sternly. His glare sharpens. “Is it because I’m only a chuunin?”
Kakashi stares back at him calmly. “Of course not.” And it isn’t. Not anymore. He's talked to several jounin lately who apparently have no problems at all using chuunin as touchstones. Most of those even seem to prefer it. Who would have guessed his standards had been a bit too high?
Iruka sets down the crate of mangled shuriken on the floor of the storeroom. Shoots a narrow look at him over his shoulder. “They why pick me at all if you had no intention of following through?”
Kakashi shrugs, and some part of him admits it’s somewhat amusing watching the emotions of confusion, annoyance and resignation cross the other man’s expressive features. It’s rare to see a shinobi so open. But Iruka is waiting impatiently for his answer. “Someone suggested you as a candidate.”
“Someone?” Iruka repeats dubiously. “So it wasn’t your idea from the start?”
“Not at all,” Kakashi says, smiling slightly. And for some reason Iruka relaxes a bit at his answer even though his gaze sharpens and he frowns a little, searching Kakashi’s bland, mostly hidden expression for a long time.
“Very well,” Iruka finally says, dusting off his hands as he walks briskly out of the weapons storeroom. “Buy me some dinner and beg me for a while. I promise to at least think about it.”
Kakashi follows meekly on his heels, amused and intrigued despite himself.
Kakashi quickly learns that Iruka has an impressive tolerance for alcohol. And he apparently has a taste for the good stuff too. The drinking is costing Kakashi quite a bit more than he'd thought it would.
The chuunin has a surprising gift for telling amusing stories. And apparently his teaching experience has given him a million of them. A lot of them are about Naruto. Kakashi now has even more ammunition to use on the brat when he sees him next. He finds he's not bored by the evening at all and the teacher seems to relax and enjoy himself too.
At the end of the night when Iruka declares he must go home, Kakashi trails along behind the other man. Iruka isn't drunk, exactly, but neither is he completely sober. He idly wonders how the teacher will handle the hangover the next day. If he'll resort to one of the minor medical jutsu for cleansing poisons or suffer with analgesics and water alone.
"So. Will you?" he asks at last from the stairs below the porch that wraps around the top floor of the apartment building where Iruka lives. He's been waiting all evening for this moment. It's the reason he paid for everything all night after all. He wonders idly if the chuunin actually expects him to beg, as he half-threatened earlier.
Iruka scratches the scar over his nose once then looks up at the stars. They're bright and endless above them in a clear, moonless sky, the River of Fate itself arching low across the northern horizon beyond Monument Mountain. As the silence lengthens, Kakashi finds himself a little more concerned about the answer than he expected to be as he waits. But he is patient. He says nothing more.
Finally Iruka turns toward his door. Releases his personal wards and puts the key in the lock. He stands there a moment, head bowed slightly, then glances over his shoulder at Kakashi. His dark eyes are unreadable in the night's shadows without the Sharingan.
"Okay," he says quietly before vanishing into his apartment. The door closes silently behind him.
Kakashi stands on the steps with his hands in his pockets, head tilted back as he gazes at the constellations above him again.
At the end of the night, the chuunin has agreed to stay on record as his touchstone, so he has to count the evening worth it but there's something else nagging at him. Something Jiraiya had said.
He smiles to himself. Ah yes, that was it. Not bad looking either.
Two months later Kakashi finally asks Iruka the question lingering in his mind from that day in the Hokage’s office.
“Why did you stop being Anko’s touchstone?”
Iruka shoots him a nasty glare over the top of his sake cup. His cheeks are lightly flushed from the two cups he’s already consumed, but Kakashi knows he’s only mildly tipsy.
“It’s none of your business,” Iruka says solemnly, shifting on his cushion but not breaking his relaxed pose slouched against the side of the low table.
He doesn’t take advantage of the well below the table to stretch his legs out in the dimly lit private room, but instead sits in proper long-term drinking fashion, one leg bent beneath him, the other knee raised, an arm looped carelessly around it, other elbow planted firmly on the table. Kakashi has no such compunctions. His bare feet dangle freely in the well beneath as he leans back on both hands, staring across the dish-scattered table at his companion. They finished dinner a little while ago and have just started on the serious part of the evening. The drinking. He has noticed he's still paying most of the time. It matters less than he thought it would.
He lets his mouth curl slightly in a wry smile as he makes a snort of amusement for the predictability of the other’s answer.
He started lowering his mask around the other within a week of their first dinner out. It was only to frustrate and annoy his students that he insisted on hiding his face so assiduously before. It’s just a preference of his, after all, not a neurosis. The fact that he looks almost exactly like his father did at this age doesn’t have anything to do with why he constantly wears a mask in public at all. Honestly.
“It really isn’t,” Iruka says with a shake of his head. “Anko-chan’s still my friend.”
“’Anko-chan’?” Kakashi repeats in open disbelief. “She lets you call her that?”
“Well, yes,” Iruka says ruefully. He rubs at the scar on his nose lightly, glancing away in discomfort. “Um, that’s why, actually. She liked it too much.”
Kakashi understands, suddenly. “Oh, so she propositioned you.”
Iruka clears his throat nervously and takes a hasty sip of sake. It’s not all that uncommon for touchstones to become lovers. It’s become one way single shinobi can safely vet each other in their often conflicting world of missions and family obligations and village duty. Kakashi laughs and shakes his head. “Don’t worry, I understand completely, sensei. She’s a handful I’ve heard.”
“It was just the… snakes,” Iruka mutters half under his breath, shuddering and looking away. He is flushing harder than the sake would justify now as he drains his cup and pours himself another. Anko’s affections are hard to engage. But once given, she’s distressingly direct in expressing her needs. And, unfortunately for Iruka-sensei it seems, more than a little exotic in her tastes.
Part of Kakashi keeps laughing, as Iruka expects, but another part, a larger part, is suddenly concerned. He well knows what Anko likes to do with her snakes. Once upon a time he’d indulged with her himself. It wasn’t the snakes that had bothered him however. It was the increasingly possessive attitude of hers. He’d broken off with her before it got too bad, but only barely. She still shoots him nasty glares from time to time during jounin meetings, but she seems mostly over him now. To his distinct relief.
But he starts to ponder, with some anxiety -- as Iruka quickly changes the subject and the evening of drinking progresses,-- if it was the snakes themselves or the act involving them that Iruka had found more distasteful.
“I think you’d like him” he says to the memorial stone, one fingertip brushing the familiar name carved there as he stands before it in the early morning light. "He's just like you." He puts both hands back into his pants pockets and bows his head. He has a mission that will last more than a week ahead of him and he needs to pay his respects in advance.
He closes both eyes against the inevitable silence. “Except he's never late. And he always does his duty. Otherwise he's just like you.”
She’s a shopkeeper in Konoha. A citizen of the village. Just an ordinary young woman who has only minimal affinity with chakra and a sweet, shy smile.
He’s not interested at all when Iruka escorts her home after one date. Or even a second.
But by the fifth date he’s crouched on a rooftop two buildings away, watching the small apartment where she lives. It sits above the glassware shop she owns. A light comes on for a while after she invites the chuunin teacher inside. It stays on for nearly an hour before it finally goes out. While it is on, Iruka does not leave.
That night he watches the stars wheel slowly across the sky above him. They are just finally starting to fade when the teacher emerges. His hair is loose around his face and his vest is unzipped. The smile on his face is soft and warm and makes Kakashi ache somehow in the pit of his stomach. The woman kisses him long and lingeringly in the doorway and watches, her loose robe clutched against herself, as Iruka jogs silently down the steps to the street below.
Iruka turns to give her a last smile and wave before he vanishes in a burst of chakra-enhanced speed. The woman gasps in awe, her eyes starry with admiration. Kakashi knows it is so he can get home in time to shower and change before his usual time to leave for the Academy arrives, and not just to impress a chakra-blind woman. But it still has that effect.
Kakashi works the idea into conversations with Asuma. Kurenai is nearly always nearby. She is loosely attached to the Academy as a specialized genjutsu affinity screener. And she has always been faintly scornful of those of less skill than she. So it doesn’t take long before the Academy headmaster – a particular friend of hers – decides that all teachers should keep their field duty skills razor sharp.
It’s on a rotation basis, but Academy teachers are soon required to perform at least one mission a month. This means the rest of them have to cover for the teachers out on missions.
Most of Iruka’s free evenings away from the Mission Desk are suddenly taken up by learning other teacher’s lesson plans for when they’re away, familiarizing himself with entire other classes of students, and putting in his own monthly mission.
The dates and conversations with the shopkeeper become less and less frequent until she finally asks Iruka to stop coming around to see her. The son of the local carter who delivers glassware to her shop from the kilns has been very attentive, she says, her shy smile utterly gone. And he comes home every night too.
Iruka is busy enough that though he is dismayed by her sudden lack of interest, he really doesn’t have time to brood over the fact that he’s been dumped.
At the next quarterly review of the Academy’s performance, Tsunade becomes very annoyed and returns all the teacher’s mission quotas to normal. Academy teachers, she says, fixing the headmaster with a stern look during the jounin meeting, already have nearly constant A-Rank missions to perform for Konoha. She doesn’t want them too exhausted to do that work.
Kakashi is just relieved that Iruka's evenings have finally become far less occupied again.
It’s inevitable that it comes up, he thinks later. He should have realized the connection himself much sooner. But it happens one afternoon when Kakashi is waiting under a tree on the route that he knows Iruka uses most often when he leaves the Academy.
Iruka is walking down the middle of the street talking with some animation to two aproned matrons who are holding the hands of their very young children. Barely six years old at most, the kids are dressed in Academy attire. They must be brand new entries to the Academy. The two women, however, are distinctly not shinobi.
The Academy accepts anyone from Konoha. Even non-clan children are welcome. They are allowed to train and discover if they have any affinity for chakra use and the shinobi way. If they don’t, they are transferred to another, still village sponsored but far more mundane, school. Some of Konoha’s most respected shinobi have come from humble origins such as that. Not many, but enough. Sakura-chan, for example. The chance of it binds the regular citizens of Konoha more thoroughly to their shinobi protectors. It’s a good practice, he believes. As long as he doesn’t have to be involved in working with the untalented too closely that is.
Kakashi lets the small group walk by him without raising his head or saying anything to acknowledge them. Iruka ignores him as well. Now is not the time, Kakashi understands.
But one of the women, the one with an even smaller snot-nosed child balanced on her hip too, happens to glance his way and starts violently.
“Oh Iruka-sensei!” she says behind her hand in a hushed voice that she obviously thinks is a private whisper but might as well be a shout to a trained shinobi, “I thought they put that nasty traitor Mizuki in jail!”
Iruka doesn’t glance his way, or pause in his steady walk. But he’s already shaking his head as he puts a reassuring hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Mizuki is in jail, Kaoru-san. That’s another honored shinobi there.”
The woman at least flushes with embarrassment for her insulting mistake, but still glances suspiciously back at Kakashi again as the little group moves further away down the street. The other woman is looking back at him with some concern now too. “Are you certain? He’s wearing a mask but he has the same hair. He might be trying to get to you again, Iruka-sensei.”
“I’m absolutely certain that is not Mizuki,” Iruka says with a warm, patient smile. “Now, about Mika-kun’s sandals, he really must have ones that are designed for shinobi use…”
And he proceeds to distract both women thoroughly with minute details about their two brat’s school supplies as he leads them around the far street corner and out of sight.
Kakashi stays under the tree, hands deep in his pockets, and tries to remember all he can about the traitor Mizuki. It’s true Mizuki has the same hair color as he does, but there the resemblance clearly ends. The man had been merely a traitorous chuunin schoolteacher who chose to use an unpredictable and unskilled student to do his dirty work. Of course, he’d been playing on the village-wide disdain for Naruto as well, hoping for the focus on the jinchuriki’s antics to cover his tracks more thoroughly. Which hadn’t been a bad gambit at all, but he’d apparently not counted on the protective nature of his fellow teacher’s reaction to the boy’s disgrace.
Kakashi vaguely remembers hearing some gossip about Mizuki and Iruka themselves at the time too. Something that made it a touch more personal that Mizuki had chosen Naruto...
He is distracted for a while by the need to avoid another challenge from Gai. It is late in the evening before he finally encounters Iruka again.
“So do I really look that much like the traitor?” Kakashi says as he appears in Iruka’s kitchen.
Iruka looks up from his work at the kotatsu without any surprise for Kakashi’s unannounced arrival and shakes his head, rueful amusement on his face. “You have to understand that Kaoru-san is a great fan of Konoha’s brave shinobi protectors. She’s a sweet woman but completely chakra-dead. And so are all her kids. But she keeps sending them to the Academy hoping one of them can be turned into a great ninja. It’s her dearest dream.”
Kakashi leans against the kitchen counter and tips his head back thoughtfully after folding his arms over his chest. That hadn’t really been what he asked. It had been a masterful dodge on the teacher’s part. Too bad he’s stubborn. “Why would she be worried Mizuki might come after you after all this time?”
Iruka flushes slightly and tenses. He rubs at his scar and grins unconvincingly. “Well, I did interrupt his plans and ensure he was captured.”
“Oh, so it was just a lover’s spat?”
Iruka goes tense in a way that is no longer mild or restrained. The look he shoots Kakashi is furious and uncompromising.
“That comment was completely over the line, jounin-san,” he says with stiff formality. Kakashi meets his glare steadily.
“As my touchstone, if there is a potential threat to you, I should be aware of it.” Iruka doesn’t relax, and his gaze searches Kakashi’s carefully bland expression warily.
“He is in prison,” Iruka says at last. “There is no threat.”
Kakashi lowers his hands to his sides and moves away from the counter. Closer to the other man. “And if he escaped?”
Iruka closes his eyes briefly, his expression going blank. Kakashi finds he can’t look away, his focus tight on the other man’s reaction. When Iruka opens his eyes again there is a hint of pain and sadness there that vanishes as he sighs and looks directly at Kakashi again. “He might,” he admits reluctantly.
Kakashi looks away, his heart-rate jumping suddenly for some reason as possibilities open that he’d thought would be forever closed. “Ah, I’ll have to remember that,” he says and leaves the teacher's apartment in a way that unfortunately puts him right back in Gai's path.
He still wins the challenge.
The mission wasn’t that bad. He’d made it in and out of the target complex without too much trouble. But one of the last of the persistent defenders had been a fraction more skilled than he’d anticipated. And he’s been distracted lately. A touch off his stride.
He crouches on the fire escape outside Iruka’s living room window after landing there with a little less grace than normal, one hand splayed over his side, his head bowed as he focuses on his breathing. Just for a minute, then he’ll knock.
But the window is thrown open before he can gather himself and Iruka is there, his eyes wide and white-rimmed, his lips grim, already sliding a firm arm under his shoulder. The words Iruka is saying to him are profane and angry. And he loses himself in the familiar cadence of the teacher’s annoyance as the other man helps him inside.
He thinks he understands Naruto a little better these days. The little horror had gone out of his way to provoke Iruka once he’d been admitted to the Academy and found himself stuck in the chuunin’s class. The tales of the jinchuriki’s endless attempts at vandalism and the bellowing teacher who most often reined him in are now legendary across Konoha.
“Do not pass out on me, Kakashi!” Iruka is yelling at him right now. “Stay conscious!” His vest, mask and even his shirt have been removed somehow and he finds he’s sitting on the floor leaning back against Iruka’s bathtub, staring up at the grimy, bug-filled light fixture in the middle of the ceiling. Definitely a bachelor’s apartment this one.
But there is an awful lot of blood on Iruka’s hands and his expression is still harsh. He’s leaning close, free hand slapping at Kakashi’s bare face to get his attention. The faintly wet sting just makes him twist his head away from Iruka and smile.
“You do like me,” he says, coughing up something thick.
Iruka suddenly grabs his face with both hands and wrenches it around to glare fiercely into both his eyes. The Sharingan whirls automatically. “Of course I do, you idiot! But why the hell did you come here instead of going to the hospital!?”
Kakashi coughs again. Frowns in confusion. “You’re my touchstone,” he says as something trickles annoyingly down his chin. “Where else would I go?”
Then there are suddenly far more people in the tiny room than the two of them. Frowning, white-clad medi-nin and grim-faced jounin. There is much shouting and angry gesturing. But Iruka won’t let himself be pushed aside. He climbs into the tub behind Kakashi, steady hands gripping his shoulders tightly as the medi-nin quickly start their seals. The smile from that contact stays on his face even as blackness swirls close and takes his sight and his mind down into the familiar place where even pain vanishes.
The pack is starting to get on his nerves about how he’s neglecting them. While he’s not sure exactly how Iruka would react to the appearance of eight hungry ninken in his kitchen, but figures it would probably involve blood (Kakashi’s) and lots of yelling and throwing of pointed things. So he starts out easy first by bringing Biscuit with him. She’s small and unobtrusive and doesn’t eat much. And she’s not a smart-mouth like Pakkun.
In fact, she’s so unobtrusive that it takes Iruka tripping over her in the kitchen doorway before he notices her. She yelps and holds up a forepaw dramatically, whimpering and quivering. The faker. She put herself in his way on purpose, Kakashi knows. But Iruka scoops her up and coos and fusses over her seemingly injured paw until she’s a puddle of doggy bliss in his arms. Kakashi shoots her a sullen glare when Iruka isn’t looking.
She just bares her fangs smugly at Kakashi over Iruka’s shoulder. Once he’s sure she’s okay, the chuunin even treats her to some of the fresh meat that was going to go into the stew for dinner.
Apparently Iruka-sensei adores dogs.
And Kakashi suddenly isn’t sure it’s a good idea to bring the rest of the pack over to meet his touchstone.
It’s only a border skirmish. Iwagakure never did know when to just sit behind their own borders and behave. But unfortunately it happens during the Academy field trip week. Several classes of young pre-genin go missing in the chaos. Including Iruka’s.
Konohamaru is in Iruka’s class. Ebisu is beside himself with worry for the Sandaime’s grandson. Tsunade is less than pleased herself.
Standing orders are for teachers to take their students to ground during an enemy incursion until they receive an all clear.
The other two missing classes are discovered and coaxed from hiding in only a few days. But it takes a week of determined tracking before Kakashi and his pack find signs that lead him to believe Iruka’s class is hidden away in a deep river ravine several days travel from their last confirmed location.
He stands poised on top of a smooth rock in the middle of the huge waterfall’s pool, hands folded into first position and waits.
It takes longer than he expects to draw them out. But it’s Iruka himself who appears behind him suddenly, a kunai pressing against his back over his kidney, a quivering arm wrapped around his throat. The teacher’s arm is bandaged and he is listing to the right heavily, implying he has a leg injury too. He’s unshaven and obviously near chakra depletion, but his eyes burn with fierce protective determination and the kunai doesn’t waver.
“Prove yourself to me,” Iruka demands, his voice rough as he tightens his hold on Kakashi’s throat.
“You never wanted to be my touchstone,” Kakashi says calmly and the kunai clatters down to the stone at his feet. Iruka slumps abruptly against his back.
“I have to call them for you or they won’t come,” he says between gasps, clutching at Kakashi’s shoulders as Kakashi lowers him carefully down to lay flat on the rock. He calls to the children and Kakashi is impressed that they are still wary enough to require convincing that he’s actually Sharingan Kakashi of Konoha and their Iruka-sensei’s trusted friend. They come out from the maze of caves near the waterfall eventually and Kakashi sends his dogs back to alert the rest of the search teams.
But those words coming from Iruka startle him badly.
Iruka’s leg isn’t just injured, it’s broken. He’s been walking on it for two days anyway with only a rough splint to support it and a handful of soldier pills to keep him going. Apparently a pair of Iwa jounin on the scouting team decided harassing Konoha’s Academy students would be a fun diversion as they waited for return orders. The two followed them to Iruka’s first hiding place in an old bear cave and ambushed the children in the night with an Earth jutsu, slowly filling the cave with dirt from the entrance inward like a rising, inexorable tide.
Konohamaru and his two friends got the rest of the class out through the smoke-hole in the roof near the back of the cave and on the move toward the river valley which had been Iruka’s second choice while their teacher stayed behind to delay and distract the two jounin.
He ended up crippling one and sealing the other inside his own jutsu. At the cost of a broken leg.
Kakashi sees that Iruka and the entire class are all delivered into the hands of Konoha’s finest medi-nin and their ANBU and jounin guardians. Ebisu fusses and wails over a Konohamaru who is surprisingly subdued about his own part in all of this, instead watching his Academy teacher with worried eyes. It’s more than his usual awareness that Iruka is important to his sempai, Naruto. It’s now a personal regard too. There’s a new, more serious air about all of Iruka’s class, Kakashi notices, watching them interact with the other jounin and the medical staff in that night’s rough camp.
Because of the advanced state of Iruka’s injuries and the need to stabilize him first, it’s decided they’ll all return to Konoha tomorrow in the daylight. The kids hover protectively near their teacher, even though he’s unconscious.
They’ve learned something very important from this unexpected ordeal, Kakashi hopes. They’ve learned that their teacher is more than willing to give his own life for their safety. Even though he’s lectured them for years about Konoha’s proud Will of Fire, this is the first time they’ve seen that will in action.
That Iruka lived through this demonstration is something of a whim of fate.
With this thought firmly in mind, Kakashi calls his dogs and goes hunting before the ANBU walking in his direction with a determined stride can relay the Hokage’s orders in the ornate formal scroll he has clutched in his hand.
There are still a couple of loose ends out there to tie up after all.
Kakashi is confined in the hospital for chakra exhaustion again and feeling decidedly put out. It’s disappointing. Working the kinks out of this new jutsu he thought up is taking far longer than he thought it would. Gai has been by five times in the last couple of days. Asuma twice, Kurenai on his heels both times. Genma. Aoba. Raido. Even Anko. Half a dozen other jounin and ANBU. There are far more people concerned about his well-being than he figured would be.
Then there is the Hokage, with harsh words on her lips and a stern edict to just fucking rest this time or she’d throw him in jail until he recovers properly.
But no Iruka. Not on any of the three days since Gai carried him back to Konoha from the remote part of the forest where he goes to work on his dangerous new jutsu in private has he seen any sign of his touchstone.
He probably has enough strength back for one jutsu, he thinks hazily, Obito’s eye throbbing dangerously in his head behind the icepack and bandages. He makes the seals far more slowly than usual, but make them he does.
He wakes up lying flat on his back on Iruka’s couch. Somehow he must have brought his I.V. stand with him, he notices. Or else someone’s hooked a new one up to his arm here. He turns his head slowly to find Iruka sitting on one of his kitchen chairs now set beside the couch with his head in his hands, elbows propped on his knees. He’s not wearing his vest, just his dark blue uniform shirt and pants. His feet are bare, his hair messy and undone. Kakashi thinks the chuunin must be attuned to his slightest motion because the dark head lifts as soon as he opens his eye and he’s fixed with the kind of glare that, if he wasn’t chakra-depleted, would make him reach for a weapon and a jutsu to defend himself immediately.
“What the HELL were you thinking by transporting yourself here?” Iruka hisses at him furiously, his tone far lower than Kakashi expects. He looks haggard and exhausted. There are dark rings under the other’s eyes and lines of strain beside his mouth.
Kakashi gives him a wan look. “You didn’t visit.”
The first expression that passes across Iruka’s face then – before the full explosion comes bringing the resident medi-nin running to see if her charge is actually dying right now – is one he has never seen on Iruka before.
He thinks it looked a little bit like fear.
"You know I want children someday." The statement breaks the evening's silence like a glass dropped onto the floor would — utterly and with some dismay for the inescapable mess.
He lowers his book slowly to meet the other man's glare over the top of it blandly. "I do know that." Everyone knows that. Because Iruka is a man who enjoys being around children. It makes him more than a little bit odd, to Kakashi's way of thinking, but he doesn't mind all that much. Most shinobi are odd in one way or another, after all. Even him.
The look Iruka gives him is impatient and annoyed at the same time, the heat in his eyes barely leashed. "You should want that too," Iruka says, hand clenching on the red pencil in his hand tight enough that Kakashi wonders it hasn't broken yet. "Seeing as you have a clan obligation to fulfill."
"Someday." Only if I can't put it off completely, he thinks to himself with an inward shudder he's very careful to keep hidden from the other man. He lowers his book further, drawing his brows down in a small frown as something occurs to him. "Hey. Did you knock someone up, Iruka-sensei?"
"No!" Iruka says sharply. And the pencil does snap now, with a sound like a finger bone breaking. "How is that possible when I don't have a wife? Or even a girlfriend?"
"No, you don't have either do you," Kakashi says thoughtfully as if just noticing this for the first time. And in a way he is, despite the fact that he is sitting on the couch in Iruka's bachelor apartment on a Friday evening, reading his book while Iruka at the nearby kotatsu grades the week's stack of written assignments from his students.
He looks around the room curiously. As usual there is a pot of Iruka's favorite Grass Country tea on the low table and a cup of it near Kakashi's hand. It's his own cup too. The one with the image of a cartoon dog taking a piss on a badly-henged shinobi-as-a-tree on it. He had to get his own because Iruka's cups all have things like "#1 teacher" and "teachers rock!" and other suck-up type sayings on them. They were all gifts from Iruka's students. Past and present. Kakashi's cup had been given to him by Asuma. Asuma had brought it back as a souvenir from a mission to Water Country. He'd said it reminded him of Kakashi. Kakashi still wasn't sure how to take that comment, but the cartoon dog did look a bit like Pakkun, so he'd kept it.
"No, I don't. And I'm not likely to as long as you're hanging around here all the time either," Iruka says with an edge to his tone that Kakashi recognizes as frustration. "It would last two - three months at most, she said. Well it's been almost a year!"
Why had Tsunade said that anyway? Oh yeah. To get the chuunin to agree to the request. Just because his records showed he'd gone through eleven other touchstones in the span of two years and gone for almost one without shouldn't have made it that difficult to find him one.
Kakashi turns his frown into a mild pout. "Hey now, sensei. I'm not always around. I go on missions all the time."
Iruka's glare just sharpens. "And where do you show up first whenever you return?"
At his touchstone, like he is supposed to, Kakashi thinks, staying silent and watching the other man warily now. Middle of the night or not. Bloody or not.
He wonders if this is what has set the other shinobi off this time. He hadn't been bleeding that badly last night. Not like that other time. And it had only been one in the morning. Iruka couldn't have been asleep all that long. The shallow slice in his left arm barely hurts anymore anyway. Iruka is quite good at field dressings and first aid jutsu for little wounds like that. Just as good as the hospital would be, anyway, and without that nasty antiseptic-and-bleach smell that makes his sinuses ache and his eye throb.
"There's natto in my refrigerator," Iruka adds with an elaborate shudder. Kakashi knows Iruka loathes the stuff; unlike Gai, who has no qualms about raiding Kakashi’s place for food. "And a whole case of canned dog food in my pantry."
"And the pack thanks you very much for that, Iruka-sensei," he offers humbly, making his eye curve with genuine gratitude. "I'll make sure they all tell you so next time I summon them." And he would too, those ungrateful mutts.
Iruka glares, the broken pencil in his hand twitching as he clenches his fingers even tighter on the pieces. "I didn't think agreeing to be your touchstone would mean getting saddled with a freeloader who doesn't even pay rent," Iruka says harshly.
Kakashi keeps his expression bland. He paid plenty of rent. Just on a separate apartment. One that was probably getting really dusty these days, as Iruka had pointed out the last time he'd gone there with him to get him a fresh set of uniform shirts after a mission left his last two shredded beyond repair.
"Kakashi, I'm not likely to ever find a girlfriend – much less a wife – if you're always sleeping on my couch."
Kakashi glances at the blankets and pillow he had been careful to leave folded neatly at the other end of the couch this morning and then returns the glare calmly. "Why not?"
The flush on Iruka's face is the kind that any shinobi or student who'd ever been in or near one of his classes would have instantly recognized. It was the volcanic flush that preceded an eruption of temper of epic proportions. He didn't disappoint now. The broken pencil flew across the room as Iruka leapt to his feet, both hands fisted at his side, and bellowed the next words at the top of his lungs.
"Because most women don't want to share their husband with another man!"
Kakashi blinks. He closes his book carefully and tucks it back into his belt pouch. He folds his arms over his chest as he looks up at the angry man standing above him.
"I see," he says. "That could be a problem."
"You think?" Iruka snaps as he plants his fists on his hips, his face still red.
"You'll just have to look extra hard to find a woman who doesn't mind then."
Iruka's inarticulate roar of frustration was possibly heard all the way across the village in the Hokage's office. A few old-timers likely lifted their heads and smiled too, remembering the old days of Iruka chasing Naruto around the village. It had been far too quiet around the village lately. Between invasions, that was.
"Out! Get out! Go back to your own apartment for a change!" Iruka roars, one hand pointing toward the window, the other still fisted and planted on his hip. Kakashi climbs to his feet, each motion deliberate and open so the other man won't startle. He pulls up his mask just as carefully, and settles his slanted forehead protector back in place over Obito's eye.
"Hmm. Mr. Ukki probably does need water."
"Hardly!" Iruka shouts. "That damn plant is sitting in my kitchen window!"
Kakashi blinks and lightly taps a closed fist into the palm of his other hand. "Oh. That's right. The lease on my apartment came up before my last mission and so I put everything else into storage. I don't actually have anywhere to go, Iruka-sensei," he says with a sheepish smile.
"What?!" Iruka explodes. The tirade that follows is broad in scope, lengthy and executed at full – he really does have impressive lung power, Kakashi notes approvingly even as he doesn’t bother to disguise his winces — volume.
The teacher stops only when a discreet tapping is heard at the front door. He glares at the innocent wood panel in a way that makes Kakashi grateful that the other ninja doesn't have an ocular jutsu at his disposal or whoever that is on the other side would be regretting many things about their life right now.
Iruka stalks to the door and yanks it open. The ANBU on the far side actually flinches back infinitesimally. Kakashi doesn't blame him at all. Iruka in a full rage is a distinctly daunting sight.
"ANBU-san." Iruka grinds out in acknowledgement through tightly clenched teeth. He doesn't look cowed at all by the sudden appearance of one of the Hokage's elite.
"Chuunin-san," the masked shinobi says politely. "Is there a problem?"
Behind Iruka's back Kakashi wiggles the fingers of his right hand at the ANBU, his eye curved above his mask. Kakashi's pretty sure he recognizes the ANBU's voice and that makes things a little more uncomfortable for him. "Yo!" he adds, just for good measure.
"Yes there is," Iruka says, jerking a thumb rudely at Kakashi over his shoulder. "HIM! Please remove him at once." And with the amount of venom he can put into his tone he really doesn’t need to resort to profanities, as he had earlier, Kakashi notes. Though he does have an impressively creative flair for them.
The ANBU fixes a look and a thread of chakra on Kakashi. "Are you still in compliance?"
"I am," Kakashi says, his gaze going flat at that searching touch. He knows the rules. He also knows the ANBU is already aware of his compliance through that chakra touch to a seal added to his chest a few weeks ago after a certain conversation made it necessary. His words are just a formality.
The ANBU withdraws his chakra and looks back at Iruka.
"I'm sorry, chuunin-san," the ANBU says. "There is nothing I can do. Please keep the volume down for the rest of the evening; the gate guards became concerned."
The ANBU promptly disappears in a tidy swirl of leaves. Iruka stares at the place where the ANBU had stood, a frown growing on his face. He closes the door carefully, throws the lock automatically and turns to face Kakashi again.
"What did he mean by 'still in compliance'?" Iruka asks, his tone carefully low, his glare edged with a touch of bafflement now.
Kakashi sighs and puts his hands in his pockets, his slouch deepening.
"Initiating physical or chakra contact with a touchstone that one has un-reciprocated physical attraction to is expressly prohibited," he says, his tone carefully bland as he is forced to open the can of worms he'd hoped would stay closed for a bit longer. As in forever. "I may not touch you on my own or subject you to any jutsu of any kind unless in case of village emergency."
“I-I know that rule,” Iruka says too quietly. “But you have to register your concern with the Hokage. And agree to monitoring.”
“Indeed,” Kakashi says. “And so I have.”
Iruka is dangerously still for several minutes, just standing near the door, his blank gaze fixed on something lying on the floor. Kakashi checks his line of sight and finds that Iruka’s staring at one of the broken pencil pieces he threw earlier.
“You’re attracted to me,” he finally says, his gaze not moving. He seems almost stunned by the information.
“Yes,” Kakashi says quietly. There’s no point denying it now.
Iruka shifts at last. His gaze lifts to Kakashi’s slowly. And there’s something there. In his eyes. Something dark and uneasy and pained.
“Go away. I need to think,” Iruka says quietly and Kakashi leaves.
Kakashi finds himself summoned to Tsunade’s office within the hour, the same ANBU who had come to Iruka’s apartment earlier standing beside him now after escorting him in.
“When you fuck up you do it right, don’t you brat?” she says, leaning back against her desk, her ankles crossed, her arms folded over her chest. The look in her eyes is more pity than anger however.
“He’s resigned as my touchstone,” Kakashi says quietly. The words are harder to say than he thought they would be.
She purses her lips and narrows her eyes at him. “What makes you say that?” she asks.
Kakashi just lets his gaze slide to the ANBU beside him. The man shifts on his feet and clears his throat but stays silent.
Tsunade snorts once, impatiently. “Actually, he hasn’t. Yet. But he has filed a formal complaint against you for half his back rent owed.”
Kakashi blinks at that. Already? At this hour of the night? He fights back a rueful grin for the teacher’s nerve and wins. His expression before his Hokage stays mostly neutral. But only mostly.
She notices, of course. Glares. “Pay him what he demands. And get yourself an apartment again if you still won’t go back to that house of yours,” Tsunade says. She sighs and shakes her head at him. “You know better, brat. I gave you that seal on condition it would be a temporary thing and not a way for you to circumvent the issue entirely.”
He says nothing and Tsunade’s gaze narrows again. The ANBU beside him shifts too.
“Jounin-san,” the ANBU finally says. “You do your touchstone a disservice to deceive him about your feelings so.”
“That is none of your concern,” Kakashi responds instantly, his tone sharp. This ANBU lecturing someone about emotions? Lecturing him? That was an interesting turn of events. And quite disturbing too if he considered it more closely.
“Enough,” Tsunade interrupts. “Brat, he didn’t resign but he’s very angry right now. As am I. Be an adult and deal honestly with this problem you’ve created for yourself.”
He bows his head slightly to his Hokage as she passes him the scroll that lists Iruka’s monetary needs. It’s the other needs that weigh most heavily on him now.
He’ll deal with it. But in his own way.
He makes sure it’s the middle of the school day when he disarms the traps and protective seals on Iruka’s apartment and enters it. He sets the stack of heavy coins down in the center of the kotatsu, using them to hold down the Hokage’s scroll. It was a hassle, but he made sure to get Fire Country currency instead of Konoha script for this debt. Gold is far more impressive than paper, after all.
He looks around the familiar rooms one last time before re-setting the traps and seals and taking himself elsewhere.
He leaves the tub of natto and the case of dog food where they are on the kitchen table.
It’s a week before he sees the teacher again. But then it is just at a formal meeting of all active shinobi held on the roof of the Hokage’s mansion. Iruka is standing in the rows with the other Academy staff, his face carefully blank. He doesn’t look around toward Kakashi at all, though Kakashi is certain he’s aware of him.
Because Kakashi is certainly aware of the chuunin. He finds he has a hard time keeping his gaze and his attention focused on what Shikaku, the Jounin Commander, and the Hokage herself are saying up there. In fact, after a while, he just gives up and stares at Iruka instead. If there is anything important in the boring, predictable speeches, he’s sure he can get it out of someone else later.
He’s not sure if he wants the other man to acknowledge him or not. The seal the Hokage put on his chest is still there. It gives him hard prickling spikes of chakra-feedback from time to time when he thinks too long about the teacher.
It’s only at the end of the meeting, after Tsunade dismisses them all, that Iruka does finally turn. And the look he pins Kakashi with is filled with anger and disdain and enough killing intent to start a war. Then he’s gone in a puff of dried leaves.
Beside him Asuma makes a startled sound while Kurenai murmurs something uneasy as well. “Holy shit, Kakashi,” Asuma says under his breath. “Fix that already will you?”
He just turns to the other jounin and gives him a curved-eye smile. “Did they say anything important up there?”
“Shizune told me he still hasn’t resigned yet,” Kurenai says quietly. Kakashi looks away. Toward the mountain and Yondaime’s monument. A cloud passes by, shadowing his old sensei’s face.
“Looks like we may get rain later,” Kakashi says, hands in his pockets, bland smile in place.
Asuma claps him on the shoulder and shakes his head sadly. “Oh, man, you have it bad.” Behind him, Kurenai just rolls her eyes and sighs.
He sends Uuhei first, because he knows she’s Iruka’s favorite. When she doesn’t come back immediately with her tail between her legs and her eyes accusing, he sends Biscuit. Then Bull and Guruko. Shiba and Urushi and Akino.
Only Pakkun does he keep with him, the pug glaring at him the whole time in the darkness of his new apartment.
“Just when did you get so stupid, boss?” Pakkun says once, and that’s exactly why Kakashi won’t send him over there too; because Pakkun has no compunction about bad-mouthing him.
It’s hours later and he hasn’t moved from his position on the bed, sitting silently in the darkness. The cut on his thumb that summoned them is still crusted with dried blood when the pack returns.
Uuhei’s tail wags once, then stops. Her gaze is sad. “He doesn’t want you to send us over again,” she reports quietly, bowing her head in defeat.
“He fed us the whole case of food, Boss,” Bull says somberly, while Biscuit, with her eyes closed, is laying limp on top of his broad head.
“It didn’t taste nearly as good as usual either,” Urushi – who will and has eaten things that even almost made Kakashi feel ill – says with a small whine.
Pakkun snorts. Puts a paw on Kakashi’s sandaled foot. “See? I told you it wouldn’t work,” the pug says. Kakashi’s head droops between his shoulders and his stomach clenches. Maybe this is the way a new genin feels on the way to their first mission. He wouldn’t know; he was genin at age six and barely remembers what it’s like not going on missions.
Uuhei pads over and lays her head on his knee. Her eyes gaze up at him pleadingly.
“You have to talk to him, boss,” she says. “It has to be you.”
Going to see him is easier than he thought it would be. Too easy. Kakashi’s feet take him straight up the familiar steps to the chuunin’s door like they’ve been waiting to do so.
He knocks once. Puts his hands in his pockets and waits. He knows Iruka is home because he followed him here from the Academy.
The door finally opens and Iruka is there. He’s taken off his vest and his forehead protector but kept the angry frown that is his usual expression around Kakashi now.
“What do you want?” Iruka snaps, not moving away from the door, his knuckles white on the knob. Kakashi drinks in the sight of him. Feels the seal on his chest stab him with warning pains.
“I want you,” Kakashi says.
He’s inside Iruka’s apartment again. He’s done the polite thing and taken off his sandals in the genkan. Iruka has closed the door behind them with suspicious control and they’ve both moved the few steps into the main room. They’re standing by the couch where he’s spent so many nights sleeping. Or not sleeping. He knows now it was waiting.
“The last man I had a relationship with buried a fuuma shuriken next to my spine and almost killed me,” Iruka says, glaring at him. “I’m sure you’d finish the job properly, at least.”
“You’d never know until it was done,” he answers automatically. Then mentally kicks himself for the brutal honesty, but it’s too late to unsay the words now.
Iruka stares at him for a shocked moment then laughs. The sound is short and pained.
“Story of my life with you anyway, why not have it be the story of my death too?” he says oddly. Kakashi is shifting on his feet, hands coming out of his pockets to hang uselessly at his sides as Iruka steps closer.
Into arm’s reach. Kakashi doesn’t move.
Iruka looks steadily into Kakashi’s face before reaching one hand up slowly to catch his mask and pull it down. The other hand tugs the slanted forehead protector off his eye, and then his head. It dangles from Iruka’s grip near his side.
Kakashi lets him do it. He also forgets to breathe for a moment, his gaze fixed immovably on the chuunin.
Iruka’s faintly dry fingertips smell of chalk and metal and feel like fire trailing down his cheek. As his mask slides down over his chin he can’t stop himself from swaying forward slightly. Iruka’s hand on his chest stops him as the seal on his chest stabs him with another sharp warning.
“I wasn’t going to get involved with another man again, after him,” Iruka says somberly, his dark gaze riveted on Kakashi’s. “Or any other ninja either. I was going to find a nice ordinary woman who would never dream of betraying me, or going out and dying fighting a monster, and just settle down and make babies with her.”
He sighs deeply, his gaze dropping down to Kakashi’s mouth. Who almost feels that gaze like a touch, but doesn’t dare respond. The seal on his chest, beneath Iruka’s hand, is throbbing steadily in warning but he doesn't need it to tell him things are dangerous right now.
“But all the civilian women I meet are... well, they’re infatuated with it, but they don’t understand shinobi duty. They think it's something you leave in the genkan with your sandals each night. They can admire it from a distance, but they don't really like it up close.”
He hears his words, but Kakashi is mostly just staring at Iruka's mouth now. At the frown there. At the way his lips barely move as he speaks. It's almost as if Iruka is talking to himself and not to Kakashi anyway.
Then he looks up and catches Kakashi's gaze with his. Holds it. There’s fire and ice and annoyance and some pain there. But Kakashi can’t move, can’t shift any closer or the seal on his chest will blast him unconscious. He tilts his head and parts his lips. Licks them once. Iruka watches him, his gaze hazy.
“There isn’t a kunoichi or a clan-woman out there who will come near me while you’re snoring on my couch nearly every night anyway.”
“I don’t snore,” Kakashi says defensively. Iruka’s gaze sharpens, flickers up and catches his. There’s heat and longing and uncertainty now. A little fear.
“Your dogs do,” Iruka says, his hand shifting over Kakashi’s seal. Into first position. “But I really like your dogs.”
“They really like you too.” Kakashi is barely breathing now. Watching Iruka’s mouth twist, his head droop slightly.
“How did I end up stuck with you?” Iruka says and releases the seal Kakashi asked the Hokage to put on him.
Kakashi’s arms close around the other man with all his impressive speed and he draws him close. Pressing them tight from chest to knee. Iruka gasps, tenses, but all Kakashi does is bury his face in Iruka’s neck and breathe in his scent.
Slowly Iruka’s arms close around him in return.