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We Might As Well Dance

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Iruka looked up as the bell above the door jingled, holding the receiver of the phone between his shoulder and ear. He was writing some information from Mrs. Percival about her terrier Perky, so while he felt a jolt of surprise upon seeing the man who had walked into the waiting room, all he could do at the moment was offer a welcoming smile, and nod towards one of the comfortable sofas. Iruka thought the man would take a seat, but he didn't. He simply walked right up to the counter and looked across it at Iruka.

Iruka blinked at the fixedness of the man's stare before giving another small smile; he returned his gaze to his pen, noting Mrs. Percival's numerous concerns. As far as he knew, and he hadn't been working here at A Pause for Paws for very long, Perky the terrier was as healthy as an ox, and ate as much as one in any case.

"And another thing," Mrs. Percival said, "I think he's been at the milk, and I'm sure he's allergic to dairy!"

"But where is the milk, Mrs. Percival?" Iruka asked, writing Perky got into the milk on the long, white notepad.

"In the fridge!" Mrs. Percival's voice was very high-pitched, but there was a hint of pride in her strident tones. "He's a very smart boy, you know."

"I'm sure he is," Iruka said, not even trying to figure out how a tiny dog like Perky would be able to open the door of a refrigerator. "So, do you want to bring him in to see Dr. Sarutobi?"

"Of course!" Mrs. Percival made an appointment for the next day, as soon as the veterinarian office opened to the public at nine. Iruka would be here at eight a.m., at least, and he was pretty sure that Mrs. Percival would be waiting outside with Perky in his carrier. The carrier was bright pink, and if Iruka was lucky, Perky might bark at him for the entirety of the visit.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then, Mrs. Percival," Iruka said and hung up the phone with a small exhale. He looked up at the man who had been waiting for him to finish the call. "Good afternoon, Mr. Hatake. How can I help you?"

Kakashi Hatake simply gazed at him for a few minutes more, and Iruka withstood the weight of his stare. Mr. Hatake was a tall man, and he loomed over Iruka without seeming to stand too close. Iruka couldn't see his eyes, covered as they were with a pair of stylish aviator sunglasses, the kind with the highly mirrored finish. Iruka could see his reflection in the lens of Mr. Hatake's shades: some of his hair pinned up loosely at the back of his head, the rest of it falling in what he hoped was stylish waves around his face; the long scar across the bridge of his nose; the silver hoops in both of his ears; and the conservative clothing.

Well, dark jeans and a white button-down shirt pulled over a black t-shirt were conservative for him, in any case. Usually, he'd be dressed in clothing that moulded to his body; but since he was doing some temporary work here at the vet's, he wore the short-sleeved shirts with the paw-print pattern over the pocket, and sported them with a kind of wry pride.

"I've brought in one of my dogs to see Dr. Sarutobi," Mr. Hatake finally said in that flat manner which had struck Iruka as intensely cold the first time he had heard it. Now, he thought the sound of Mr. Hatake's low, deep voice was pretty sexy, even though it was just the third time he was experiencing it.

The third time; as in, this was the third day that Mr. Hatake was bringing in one of his dogs. The third day in a row.

"Let me get your folder," Iruka said, rising from his chair. When he stood up, he was almost the same height as Mr. Hatake, shorter by only an inch or so; however, the other man seemed so much taller, and Iruka figured that when he wasn't wearing that soft-looking cap pulled over his pale hair, he would be even more striking. Iruka turned and walked into the small room which was beside the receptionist's desk, and glanced up at the shelves which were neatly stacked with the files of Dr. Sarutobi's patients. He didn't have to go looking for Mr. Hatake's folder, however. It was on a small table near the green door, right where Iruka left it yesterday.

"Here we are," he said, going back to the counter. Mr. Hatake's face was turned in his direction expectantly, as if he had watched Iruka go inside the file-room and remained in that position until he returned. "Which dog is this?"

Mr. Hatake looked down at his feet, and Iruka peered over the edge of the counter, smiling at the dog which was looking up at him. This one had pale fur, a grey-white shade, and when it spotted Iruka the fluffy tail thumped on the brown tiles.

"This one is Urushi."

Iruka opened the large folder, flipping quickly through the tabs. "Okay...Pakkun's been here last week Friday. And Bull on Monday..."

"The third tab from the back," Mr. Hatake intoned and Iruka nodded, grateful for the assistance. It was a very large folder, one of the sturdy ring-bound types. As far as Iruka could see, most of the other pet-parents had those paper manila folders.

"How many dogs do you have, Mr. Hatake?" Iruka asked when he located the proper tab. He snapped open the rings and pulled out the first sheet of paper in Urushi's section. That first page contained information regarding the animal's last visit, and it would be the paper he would bring in to Dr. Sarutobi's office when it was time for the pet to go in.

Mr. Hatake said, "Thirty-one," and when Iruka's head snapped up in surprise, there was a faint smile playing around his lips. "One for every day of the month. Depends on which month you're talking about. Like January, or July. And if you worked on weekends, that is."

"But if you were coming every day in February," Iruka said, "you'd have to go into March." He thought about what he said and blushed a little at the thought of seeing this quiet but imposing man every day for a month.

"It would be nice to see you every day for a month," Mr. Hatake said slowly, and Iruka blushed even more at how he echoed the very thought he had been having. "However, I'm kidding."

"What?" Iruka knew he sounded a bit slow, but Mr. Hatake was more than a little confusing. It was his eyes, Iruka decided abruptly. He couldn't see them, so it was hard to detect what Mr. Hatake really meant, especially when he spoke in that low, uninflected tone.

"I was joking. I have eight dogs."

"Oh." Iruka chuckled and then shook his head. "You got me there, Mr. Hatake, good one. Well, that's still a lot. And that's a full week, Monday to Monday...and including the weekend!" He grinned, and was pleased to see that tiny wisp of a smile grow on Mr. Hatake's face.

"Exactly."

They stood there for a few beats, staring at each other until Iruka glanced away, taking in the rest of the waiting patients. There was a large German Shepherd and a fussy long-haired cat that had come in before Urushi, and Dr. Sarutobi was in his office with a young man and his pet lizard.

"You might have to wait for up to an hour," Iruka admitted. Before she had left on maternity leave, Kurenai had told him that Dr. Sarutobi was very thorough with each patient, which was part of his popularity as a veterinarian. "If you'd like to go walk with Urushi in that park across the road until then--"

"I'll wait," Mr. Hatake cut in abruptly, and turned on his heel, striding off towards the couches. Urushi trotted beside him, stepping high and proud, and ignoring the cranky hisses of the cat as they walked by. The German Shepherd seemed friendlier, and strained at its leash towards Urushi, who looked up at Mr. Hatake.

Mr. Hatake glanced down at his dog, and then nodded, a single dip of his head. Urushi sidled over to the other dog, and they went through their tentative doggy greetings, sniffing of butts while the German Shepherd's owner, a woman with lots of long black hair, gazed at the side of Mr. Hatake's head.

Mr. Hatake didn't look in her direction at all. He seemed to be staring right at Iruka, but with those shades he sporting, Iruka just couldn't tell.

Kakashi was the kind of person who had vociferously subscribed to the opinion that there was no such thing as love, much less love at first sight. He belonged to the school of wham-bam-thank you-ma'am (or sir, Kakashi wasn't going to turn away good sex just because of a silly thing such as gender). It was this perfectly balanced viewpoint on life which had led to the biggest disagreement between him and Obito, and they had actually come to blows over it, right inside Obito's living room.

Usually, Kakashi would be the one to win their little skirmishes, but it must have been 'Bito's bewildering depth of emotion for the beloved Rin which gave him the edge that day. He had practically kneeled in Kakashi's chest, his face set close to Kakashi's. There was a large swelling over his left eyebrow, and Kakashi swallowed against the ring of pain around his neck, where Obito had had him in a chokehold before he had managed to slam Kakashi to the carpet-covered floor.

He had taught Obito that hold; he was vaguely proud of his friend for successfully executing it, actually.

"I love you, man," Obito had said softly. "I really do. But if you call Rin 'just another hole', I'll probably tear your face off."

Kakashi had rolled his eyes and tried to shove him off, without result. "We've known her for years. We've both fucked her. What's so special now?"

Obito's dark eyes went even darker, and he carefully twisted a fist in the front of Kakashi's shirt.

"I've loved her for years. And for some reason, she's starting to love me back. Me, and only me." He shook Kakashi in an oddly gentle manner, the same way Kakashi would shake his dogs when they had been mischievous pups. "Don't fuck this up."

Kakashi had opened his mouth to mock Obito about how stupid he sounded, when he took in how serious Obito's dark eyes appeared and pressed his lips together again. They had all been friends since childhood, himself, Obito and Rin. While he thought that Obito was going a bit over the top with this, he wasn't about to lose his friends over something as minor as an insufferable emotion.

"Okay," he had said slowly, and Obito watched him intently. "I won't fuck this up for you."

Obito had patted him on the cheek and then got up, reaching down his arm. They gripped each other's forearms, and Obito hauled him to his feet. As they went about putting the room back in order (the short coffee-table was in pieces, and Kakashi began to stack the wooden shards to one side), Obito spoke in a low voice.

"You can have anybody you want, Kakashi. Anybody. You don't know what it's like to need somebody, and they're not completely for you."

"Humans aren't monogamous animals, Bit," Kakashi pointed out, purposefully using the childish nickname. "I keep telling you, males and females aren't physically programmed that way."

"Yeah, yeah, you keep telling me that." Obito took up a stack of magazines, frowned at their glossy covers and threw them in the direction of the wooden shards. It was a bit surreal to be tidying up after their massive fight, but Kakashi found they did surreal pretty well. They'd been through too much to do otherwise. "But you'll know."

"Right, I'll know." Kakashi had shaken his head at that. He hadn't tried to get Rin into his bed since that day, and had watched her and Obito together with an air which aimed for cynical, but increasingly failed to reach that mode. He saw how her smiles were wider when Obito was around; how their arguments seemed more intense, but shorter than they had been before.

Kakashi had gone on with his perfectly comfortable life for about a month after his fight with his friend, not even bothering an attempt at comprehending how Obito and Rin's new relationship functioned... until he saw the new receptionist at A Pause for Paws.

He had brought his pug in for a check-up last Friday. Pakkun was the oldest of his dogs, and was showing signs of his age: a limp that was a worrying sign of hip dysplasia and a cataract in his right eye. Kakashi had increased his visits to Dr. Sarutobi, hoping that they could work at diminishing his canine friend's pain. He wouldn't say that he had a favourite among all his dogs, but in his heart he knew that as the dog that had been with Kakashi the longest, Pakkun could claim that top spot.

He had strolled into the clinic, carrying Pakkun and completely forgetting the conversation he'd had with Asuma's girlfriend last week about her going on maternity leave.

("My friend will be working there in my place," Kurenai had sighed as she sank into the couch during card-night a few days before. "Iruka really needs the money, too, so that's a good thing."

"Iruka'll do fine," Asuma had grunted out, settling in his place around the card-table, squinting at Genma's sly hands as they dealt out the cards.

Asuma didn't like leaving her alone at their house, not while she was so close to giving birth. Kakashi had thought that her presence would throw a damper over their regular boys' night in, but she had spent the whole evening watching animal documentaries on Obito's widescreen television, ignoring their crass discussion and good-natured ribbing. The lack of smoking wasn't a big deal, either, even though Asuma chewed his way through an entire pack of gum.)

When he'd seen the receptionist that was taking Kurenai's place, he actually stopped short in the doorway and every logical thought flew out of his head.

The receptionist was a man. A slender man with big brown eyes, a weird scar right across the bridge of his nose, lots of dark hair (some of it was braided on one side of his head) and piercings in both ears. He had on the same kind of white shirt that Kurenai wore when she was working, the distinct paw-print logo of the vet's clinic emblazoned on the pocket. Underneath the unbuttoned uniform, he had on a tight-fitting long sleeved grey sweatshirt, the hoodie of which was folded over the stiff collar of the white uniform.

"Where's Kurenai?" he had blurted out and the man behind the counter had tilted his head, smiling.

"I am Kurenai," the man had answered, even though Kakashi's sharp eyes had finally caught sight of the name tag on the other side of the man's chest, across from the pawprint logo. HI MY NAME IS IRUKA, the tag declared, even though this Iruka person was saying, teasingly: "I know I look different today, but I thought we knew each other long enough for you to recognize me, Mr. Hatake!"

Kakashi had been taken aback at that; this person knew who he was. Then, common sense came flooding back and he allowed his lips to twitch into some semblance of a smile.

"I forgot that Kurenai had told me that her friend was working in her place, during her maternity leave," he said and walked up with Pakkun to the counter. "So she must have told you who I was."

"Mostly about the hair," Iruka said, his bright smile fading a little at Kakashi's chilly expression. "And that you have a ton of dogs."

"I do. Here's one of them." Kakashi carefully hefted Pakkun onto the higher section of the counter; the lower section was on the receptionist's side, where the phone, the notepad and a few files were located. "This is Pakkun."

"Oh, Pakkun," Iruka had crooned and carefully reached out a hand, palm-up, to scritch Pakkun underneath his large jowls. Kakashi stared at the silver bracelets around his wrists, and thought about how gentle his touch seemed. Pakkun appeared to like it too, for his stub of a tail wagged weakly.

Iruka smiled at the dog, and glanced up at Kakashi. "I'll go get your file," he said and disappeared into the file-room, moving quickly.

When he had returned, hefting Kakashi's massive folder with an incredulous expression on his face, Kakashi had asked: "Are you a fighter?"

"A...fighter?" Iruka blinked at him, the folder half-open in his hands.

"Do you do some kind of martial arts?" Kakashi clarified and Iruka raised his eyebrows, huffing a little in bemusement. "Judo? Tae kwon do? Kendo?"

"I studied capoeira for awhile," Iruka admitted. "But it was an elective in my first year."

"First year of what?" Kakashi pressed, and felt just as surprised as Iruka at his insistent line of questioning.

"Dance Education," Iruka answered and it was Kakashi's turn to blink. "I'm training to be a dance teacher. I'm going into my final semester in January."

"You're a dancer?" Kakashi frowned down at the sturdy build of his body and when Iruka shifted his weight from one side to the other, he returned his gaze to the receptionist's face.

"Um-hmm." Iruka wasn't looking back at him, but was focusing most of his attention on the folder in his hand. "I've done a few music videos, too. Choreography, that is. But, I want to teach it. Okay!" He looked up with that bright smile; Kakashi, who was used to people staring at him, felt a little staggered at how open and sweet this man's expression was, even though he was not able to see Kakashi's eyes behind the large shades he sported in public. "Here's the record for Pakkun's last visit. You can go into Dr. Sarutobi's office now, you're the first today!"

"Thank you," Kakashi said and gently lifted Pakkun in to see the doctor. He tried to put Iruka's smile out of his mind as Dr. Sarutobi mumured over Pakkun during the examination, and when he paid at the counter, he tried to ignore the flashing silver in Iruka's earlobes and on his wrists.

"Wait, Mr. Hatake...before you go?"

Kakashi turned around, one eyebrow raised. Iruka was blushing slightly, and it appeared a bit odd when paired with his piercings and those two braids in his hair.

"Why did you ask? I mean, about the whole fighter thing?"

"Because you move like one," Kakashi answered. "No wasted effort."

"Oh." Iruka rubbed one elbow absently. "That's...that's the weirdest thing that anyone has ever said to me."

"I suppose so," Kakashi said, and left, and tried to put the man out of his head.

However, when he was at home, playing pool in his basement with some of the guys and looking out the high window into the back-yard every now and again at Pakkun and the rest of the dogs, he asked Genma to pull up some information for him.

"On who?" Genma asked, chalking his cue-tip.

"Some guy." Kakashi sunk a good, straight shot into a corner pocket.

"A name would be nice," Genma said, taking his turn.

"Iruka," Kakashi muttered, and recalled the surname he had managed to wheedle out of Dr. Sarutobi as he had been looking in Pakkun's eyes. "Iruka Umino."

"What do you want to know about Kurenai's friend for?" Obito gave Kakashi a very narrow look. Kakashi cursed his memory, which wasn't usually this keen. Apparently, true love sharpened all of Obito's faculties. "What, did he hurt one of your dogs, or something?"

"Nope," Kakashi answered, watching Guy take a shot in his unmistakably flamboyant manner. "Just...I just want to know about him."

Obito stared at Kakashi for a long time and then burst into long, loud laughter. "Are you serious?" he chortled and leaned against the nearest wall. "Kakashi, seriously!"

"What is it?" Guy asked, looking between them, with his heavy eyebrows pulled down close together.

"Kakashi is interested in that guy! The one that's working at the vet's!" Obito was almost on the floor by now, hanging onto his cue for dear life. "Shit, I never thought I'd see the day!"

"You haven't," Kakashi snapped at him. "It's nothing."

"Yeah, right." Genma was now looking at him closely now and Kakashi stared at the ceiling, long-suffering. "Usually, you'd have them in your bed right now."

"As we all know," Guy put in, disapproval written all over his face. Kakashi stuck out his bottom lip and exhaled in exasperation, blowing the hair that had a tendency to fall over his left eye. He wished Asuma was here to take his side, at least, but he was at home with Kurenai. "But, Kakashi, if you're interested in him, why not ask him out before you do all this...investigation?"

"I'm not putting myself out there like that," Kakashi snapped. "I need to know exactly what I'm getting myself into."

Obito said, "Just because your mother and father weren't too close at the--"

"You shut your mouth about my parents," Kakashi said mildly, but Obito didn't go any further. Kakashi's parents, especially his beautiful mother Kiku, were always a sore topic.

"But this is different." Obito was gazing at him, eyes wide. "You're...getting into something. How long have you even known him?"

"One hour," Kakashi mumbled.

"Excuse me?" Obito actually cocked his ear in Kakashi's direction, eyes comically wide. "Gen, did he just say one hour?"

"I'm sure he did say one hour," Genma confirmed, shaking his head slowly. "You just--saw him and--"

"The gentlemanly thing to do," Guy intoned, "is to approach him like a normal person."

"Kakashi isn't normal, and he's definitely not a gentleman," Genma said, and shook his head. "I'll look him up for you, man."

"At last, one of you jackasses sees the light." Kakashi twirled his cue in one hand and said, "Now, are we playing pool, or what?"

 

Kakashi let Urushi inside his house, and the dog galloped happily to a large romper room which was located next to his living room. He heard the happy snuffles of the other dogs, and then a sharp bark from Pakkun which probably indicated that the other dogs were getting a bit close to him with their energetic welcome for Urushi and he didn't like it.

Kakashi listened for the sounds of a fight breaking out, but this was a calm day. Besides, none of the female dogs were in heat, so the possibility of a fight was greatly diminished. With eight strong dogs, either physically or by dint of their personalities, there were bound to be disagreements that Kakashi had to deal with every day, especially when he was around and they were vying for his attention.

After making sure that no-one was getting cranky, Kakashi hung his jacket in the hall-closet, pulling the warm knitted cap from off his head. He stopped at the side-table and saw that the red light of the answering machine flashing imperiously.

When he pressed the PLAY button, the machine informed him in mechanical tones that he had two unplayed messages.

"Got the info for you on your guy," Genma's voice floated out first. "Check your email."

Kakashi nodded as if Genma was standing right in front of him, and went on the next message. He frowned at the smooth tones of the next person who spoke.

"Kakashi, son." Kiku sounded as if she was bored at the whole world, her default manner of speaking. "I haven't heard from you in a long while. It wouldn't kill you to call your mother, dear."

"It probably would," Kakashi muttered.

"I've raised you better," Kiku went on.

"You didn't raise me at all."

"So give me a call. Goodbye, my dear."

Kakashi sighed at the loud click. He debated not calling her back at all, but that would just trigger a flood of more messages, of increasing stridency. She would probably call Obito too, and because Obito was a weakling in love these days, he would manage to corner Kakashi somewhere and manhandle him into talking with his mother on Obito's phone.

To avoid all that, Kakashi just called her.

"Hello, Kashi," she said as she answered her cell-phone.

"Mother, please don't call me that," he said and she laughed in a throaty manner. Kakashi had been told that while he had the pale Hatake hair and his father's height, he had taken after his mother in all other aspects: the shape of his eyes, the thin lips, his slim frame and even the way he spoke. Kakashi really hated knowing that; he disliked having anything to do with her, really. After his father had been dishonourably discharged from the army, he had committed suicide. Kakashi, too young to understand why his father had left him, and desperately needing his mother's love, had been sent away to boarding school a few days later.

She probably hadn't been able to deal with it herself, Kakashi reasoned with himself these days, but it was still not enough. He had been frightened and extremely sad, and if not for Obito and Rin at the same school, he would have been far worse off than he had been now. As soon as he had graduated, he had joined the armed forces, visiting his mother once before he left.

He remembered her cool gaze, as dark-grey as his own, and how she had told him not to be like his father.

"I was wondering why I haven't seen you RSVP to my wedding invitation," Kiku now scolded.

"Possibly because I don't want to see another good man gone to waste," Kakashi answered as he went towards the kitchen and opened the right-hand door of the wide fridge. Despite its size, there was nothing inside but an opened can of dog food, a few apples and large bottle of water. He retrieved the water and placed it on the wide counter beside the sink, before opening an upper cupboard door and taking out a short, squat glass. Kiku laughed as if it was the best joke she had ever heard.

"You are a comedian, aren't you, darling," she said through her coquettish chuckles. "But I must insist on this one. He's...important to me."

"How is he different from the last two?" Kakashi kept his eye on the glass as he poured out his water. He liked to have the liquid at about one inch down from the rim. Obito said that one could measure that distance when Kakashi finished pouring, and it would be right on the money.

Both Rin and Guy had claimed that Kakashi just took obsessive-compulsiveness to another level.

"He just is."

Kakashi took a sip of his perfectly poured water and frowned a little. There was an odd note in his mother's voice...was that sincerity?

"Come on. Don't tell me you're in love with him, Mother."

"Kakashi, you were the one to tell me that I'm more praying mantis than human, and that I rip off the heads of my mates before I leave them to rot." His mother's voice was dry and very level; not for the last time, Kakashi reminded himself how much he spoke like her. "So I won't bother you with such alien whims as emotions. You wouldn't recognize them, anyway."

Kakashi gritted his teeth. No matter how much he tried to distance himself from her, she was still his mother, and able to cut him to the quick like no-one else could.

"He's not your father," Kiku said suddenly. Kakashi shook his head at the speed at which she changed her tone, softening it to something that was silky-sad, like an old, unused wedding dress. "But he's good and strong and brave. Close enough."

You never forgave Dad, Kakashi wanted to remind her, but he pressed his lips together to keep the words locked in. You never forgave him for leaving you, and leaving me like a burden on your shoulders.

"Say you'll be there, son," she continued, still in that soft voice. Kakashi shook his head as if she could see him. "Say you'll come to my wedding."

"Fine," he snapped after a few beats of expectant waiting from her end. "I'll come to this wedding, but I'll give you two years. At the most."

"It's always such a pleasure to have your vote of confidence," she replied, back to that sharp, skewering tone. "Wear that purple-striped tie, but do not sport a black eye to match like the last time. Please bring a date. Or pay someone to accompany you, I really don't care."

"Goodbye, Mother," he snapped and pressed the end-call button fiercely, but he couldn't cut off the sound of her cackling fast enough. He took a few deep breaths, nodding at a few of the dogs that had trotted out of their romper room to stare at him in concern. They went back inside when they ascertained that he wasn't going to throw things about the place and when Kakashi went into his small office and powered up the sleek computer he'd bought last year, he felt more like his calm, collected self.

He clicked on the Mailbox icon on his desktop, which was blazoned with a photo of himself, the dogs, Obito, Asuma and Guy standing around under a tree in the park, with Genma sprawled on the ground in front; Genma had been the one to perch the camera on a tree-stump, set the timer and race back to insert himself in the shot. He smiled at the memory; this had been a little after they'd started working for the Uchiha family and after they had been discharged from the military. There was still that hardness in their faces from undertaking all those covert missions, even though they were all grinning.

Well, Obito claimed that Kakashi carried that hardness, but he had always been a know-it-all brat, anyway.

The mail opened, with a few forwarded chain-mails from Guy which Kakashi dutifully deleted, and one from Fugaku Uchiha regarding a job for the weekend; Kakashi smiled at that. Obito had told him that he had got hints of this over dinner with his family. Kakashi forwarded that to the rest of his friends for their attention, thankful that while he had left the full employ of the Uchiha family, they still relied on him and his fledgling company for security services.

Finally, finally, he got to Genma's email. The subject-line said: here's your info, go forth and stalk and that pulled a wry chuckle out of him.


There was a whole zipped folder, and when Kakashi downloaded and opened it, he was greeted with a document outlining the life of one Iruka Umino, complete with photographs detailing every major milestone along the way.

Genma was nothing if not extremely thorough. With a grin, Kakashi turned on his printer and sent the entire fourteen-page document to it, in colour. He gathered it up when it was finished, stapled it and put it in one of the manila folders he kept in a desk drawer, and then went to stretch out in the sofa for a read.

Two cups of water, one heartfelt and unfulfilled wish for a cigarette and three doggy hugs later, Kakashi knew more about Iruka Umino than Iruka probably knew about himself: his likes, his dislikes, his relationships. Kakashi knew about the car accident Iruka and his parents were in when he was only six years old; while no one had perished, his father had a broken arm, his mother suffered minor bruises, and Iruka was left with the scar on his face. In middle school, Iruka was a good student, and excelled in the visual and performing arts. He had been a part of the gymnastics team as well; the picture of him with the rest of his team holding up their medals put a small smile on Kakashi's face. His hair wasn't as long as he wore it now, and he looked adorably quirky.

Iruka took up dancing fairly early in high-school as part of his training for the floor exercise, his best event in gymnastics. His parents must have been disappointed when he dropped gymnastics completely, and took up dancing with a kind of rebellious fervour that only teenagers seemed to possess. He attended 'dance-offs' with a group of other teens, whatever those were and had actually been given a scholarship to the school he was attending now. However, the scholarship only covered his tuition. His parents, both teachers, tried to help out with the small apartment Iruka rented in the back of a house owned by a young family. It was not quite enough, not for rent, foods, books and other random educational necessities, so Iruka took up odd jobs to supplement his scholarship.

Iruka modelled for the weekend art class which was held at the local civic center. That was where he probably met Kurenai, Kakashi surmised, since Asuma had shown him some of Kurenai's questionable pottery, and the surprisingly good rose she had painted for him. Asuma had hung it in his bathroom when she had moved in with him.

He also did some volunteer work...like dancing as therapy with recovering children at the hospital. He was almost intolerable in his altruism that Kakashi began to wonder if this man was real.

He couldn't be. Not with that smile, that body, and all that lush fall of dark hair. Kakashi even liked those...what were those, braids? Braids at the side of his head, when Kakashi had brought in Pakkun that first day. Just two of them, running along his head and exposing the paler skin of his scalp. Just two, and Kakashi had been entranced by them. Not to mention Iruka's pretty brown eyes.

And his full mouth.

And his wrists.

"Hm." Kakashi put down the folder very carefully, and sat up, looking down between his knees at his bare feet. Bisuke, Shiba and Akino were right beside him at the moment, giving him quizzical stares. "I, my friends, appear to be fucked," he told them and Bisuke yipped in agreement.

 

Iruka re-shelved the files of the clients in their proper locations in the storage room, and then glanced at the Hatake folder; considering the pattern of the past six days, Iruka left it there on the small table. He felt a small smile tug at the side of his lips, and a funny sensation deep in his stomach at the thought of the serious, pale-haired man. Mr. Hatake was as far away from Iruka's type as possible, and yet Iruka was looking forward to seeing him again on Monday, after the weekend. Iruka wondered which dog would be here. They'd already been through Pakkun, Bull, Urushi, Akino, Guruko and Shiba; all well-behaved and obviously delighted to be in the presence of their master for the day. Iruka wondered why he didn't bring them in two at at time, or even three, but that would mean that there would be fewer days to see Mr. Hatake.

"Iruka?" Dr. Sarutobi called from the office and Iruka stepped out of the file-room, locking it and turning with a grin towards the veterinarian. Dr. Sarutobi stood there at the other end of the receptionist's counter with a curious expression, his hair stuck around in all angles around his head. He looked like a crazy genius, dressed in his heavy coat, and Iruka supposed in a way he was. "That's it for today?"

"That's it, Doc," Iruka said; he bent to make sure that the computer was turned off, and not just gone to sleep. When he straightened up and grabbed his bag from the floor, Dr. Sarutobi was waiting by the front door, gazing at the waiting area in an absent manner.

"Iruka?"

"Yes, Dr. Sarutobi?"

"Did you move around some of this furniture?"

"Ah," Iruka rubbed the back of his head, wondering if he had allowed his friend to talk him into some kind of office faux pas. "Kurenai had wanted to change it up a bit, and she asked me to...you know, put that part of the sectional over there." Iruka pointed at the now isolated seat which Mr. Hatake had sat in for the past six days, his face turned towards Iruka as a sunflower to the sun. "I did it today, but I could move it back."

Dr. Sarutobi was shaking his head, a small smile lifting the wrinkled skin on his cheeks. "No, I like it. I must thank Kurenai when I see her."

He opened the door and held it for Iruka, who slipped out and looked up at the evening sky as the vet locked the front door. It wasn't too cold or dark; he could save some bus money and walk part of the way today.

"Do you need a ride?" Dr. Sarutobi asked, even though Iruka knew he lived in the opposite direction. At Iruka's short, amused shake of his head, he tilted his own head. "How long have you been here, Iruka?"

"About three weeks," Iruka answered, shrugging off his work-shirt and digging around in his shoulder-bag for his hooded jacket.

"And do you like it?"

"Love it." Iruka tugged on his jacket with the hugest grin he could muster. "It's really fun, Doc."

"I'm glad. It's good to have you here." Dr. Sarutobi rummaged around one of the pockets of his coat and fished out his car-keys. He pressed the disarm button and the silver Volvo in the parking lot beeped obediently. "You know, Kakashi has been in here a lot recently."

"We'll probably see him for the last two dogs on Monday and Tuesday," Iruka said, positioning his bag more comfortably against his hip.

"He really loves those dogs," Dr. Sarutobi said as he walked over to his car, moving sedately. "When he went on tour, he asked Kurenai to watch the dogs for him."

"Tour?"

"You've heard of Sasuke Uchiha, haven't you?" Dr. Sarutobi wrestled with the driver's-side door for a minute and got it open before Iruka could go over to assist. "The singer?"

"Oh, definitely." Iruka thought that Sasuke had a pitchy voice, but it was his opinion against that of a billion fangirls, apparently.

"Well, Kakashi and his friends--my son, too--when they returned from..." Dr. Sarutobi paused, sighing as he settled into his seat, "...whatever the army sent them to do, they worked as bodyguards for the Uchiha family."

"Oh." The Uchiha family had business in nearly every sector of society, it seemed. Sasuke's singing career just seemed to be another pie in which to stick their fingers. "That's...pretty cool."

"Of course it's cool!" The good doctor started his car and buckled up. "He used to travel with Sasuke all over...but I think he's stopped now. I will see you on Monday, yes?"

"Sure, Doc." Iruka watched the car pull out and set off, bopping a little bit to unheard music. He walked quickly past the civic center; he'd have to come back here tomorrow, there was an art class he needed to pose for. When school started again in January, he'd have a bit of trouble juggling his jobs and his schoolwork, which was why he'd already spoken to Dr. Sarutobi about hiring another part-time student. He would gladly take less pay, but he needed the time to concentrate on his studies.

He was hurrying past a small supermarket on the corner, just a block down from where he could catch a bus home, when someone called his name. When he turned his head, he saw Kurenai waving at him, one hand holding onto the handlebar of a red trolley.

Iruka turned back immediately, going inside the parking lot. He'd miss the bus in the next five minutes, but there was one scheduled for forty-minutes after. He could wait.

"Hi!" Kurenai hugged him tightly, the taut curve of her belly getting in the way. "How are you?"

"I'm good," Iruka said, helping her to take out her shopping bags and pack in the trunk of the car. "And you?"

"I was at art class today, but I won't be in tomorrow. Lamaze classes," she confided from behind her hand, theatrically. "Asuma's terrified."

Iruka laughed. When he'd first met Kurenai, he'd been half-naked in an art studio and she'd been concentrating studiously on his back and buttocks; it had been Iruka's first time posing, and he thought he'd be horribly uncomfortable. However, the budding artists had been almost as mortified as he was, and had been cracking jokes to help dispel the nervous atmosphere. Kurenai had had the worst jokes of all, apparently gleaned from her soldier boyfriend, and when they'd all gone out for something to eat, she'd sat beside him and chatted his ear off.

Since then, he'd learned about the gruff yet loving Asuma, Guy with the overblown sense of romanticism, wise-cracking Genma, crazy Obito and the quietly lovely Rin...and the aloof Kakashi, he of the Numerous Canine Companions. When Mr. Hatake had walked into Pause for Paws that first Friday, Iruka had known exactly who he was. It wasn't hard to miss the wisps of fair hair, the ever-present shades and the small dog he had been carting around. Iruka hadn't expected him to be so intensely hot, though, and had certainly not expected the amount of attention Mr. Hatake seemed to be throwing in his direction.

He was probably just curious, Iruka thought. While there were a lot of people who dressed oddly on campus, out here in the real world his hairstyles and jewellery were an anomaly. To Mr. Hatake, Iruka was probably a blip on his radar.

"I could drop you home," Kurenai offered as Iruka's bus roared past. "You could fill me in on all the gossip at work!"

"Kurenai, there is nothing gossip-worthy about working for Dr. Sarutobi, you know that," Iruka scolded her, but gratefully getting into the large sedan. He patted the comfortable covering of the seat. "Wow, this is nice."

"We bought it last week. Me and Asuma, that is," she said after she started the car and very carefully backed out of her parking space. "The business is doing really well."

"The business?"

"Oh, I didn't tell you? I'm sure I did," Kurenai muttered to herself, peering at the traffic that was preventing her from pulling out of the parking lot. "I forget a lot these days."

"Doc just told me that they work for the Uchiha family."

"They used to! Oh, thank you kind sir." Kurenai pulled out of the supermarket's exit when someone slowed down enough for her to do so, and set off towards Iruka's home at a speed that was maybe a bit too fast...for anyone, much less a heavily pregnant lady. "It's a security firm. Granted, they still do a lot of work for the Uchiha, but they're branching out. They train personal bodyguards, set up surveillance systems...it's all pretty exciting! Ooh, tough corner," she said as she negotiated it with the dexterity of a Formula One driver.

"They get more time for themselves, too," Kurenai said as she braked right by the gate of the house which Iruka called home. "They even take turns as general manager...Obito is on for this month, I think. It gives them more time to just be themselves. They had it hard...before."

"What did they do... before?" Iruka asked, unbuckling his belt and trying to peel his fingers off from the handle above the door. He probably should have taken the bus, Kurenai drove like a crazy person.

"I don't know." Kurenai turned and gave Iruka a small smile, her fingers drumming on the steering wheel. "I suspect they were all in covert ops, or something like that. Kakashi got injured in one eye, and they followed him after they were discharged. They're all really close."

"Sounds that way." Iruka stepped out, and bent so he could squint threateningly at his friend through the window. "Do you think you can make it home by driving under the speed limit?"

Kurenai pasted on an expression of mock-affront. "I have no idea what you're talking about!" she huffed, and then revved the engine with a grin. "See you around, okay?"

He hopped to the curb as Kurenai zoomed off, then flinched as a voice roared from behind him: "YAYYY IRUKAAA'S HERE."

"From one mad person to the other," Iruka muttered, but the grin on his face was real when he turned around.

Naruto hopped down the few steps of the front porch, and galloped down the narrow path towards Iruka, who braced himself for impact. Naruto glomped him, there was no other word for it, hugging him exuberantly and chatting a mile a minute about random stuff. He smelled like sunshine and home, and Iruka hugged him tightly.

"Let me get that for you!" Naruto grabbed Iruka's bag, slinging it over his own shoulder. "Great, it's not too heavy."

"No, it's not." Iruka ruffled his hair and Naruto made the appropriate noises of teenaged disgust, even as he grinned at Iruka. They walked around the side of the main house, to the small apartment at the back that Iruka rented from the Namikaze family.

"Naruto?" Kushina, Naruto's mother, came around from the back, dragging a rake. Iruka stepped forward to help, but she waved him away with a grin, her long red hair whipping around in the crisp evening breeze. "Hey, there!"

She was almost as loud as her son, and if she hadn't been dragging that rake, she would have probably glomped him as well. It was probably a family thing, but Minato was a quiet man, reserved and calm. Iruka had had the most ridiculous crush on Minato when he had moved into the apartment, and Minato's helpful nature had not helped in that situation at all.

"Hey, Kushina," Iruka answered, hooking his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans and stumbling only a little bit over the name. She didn't use her husband's last name, so he had spent weeks in his first year calling her Miz Uzumaki (he hadn't been able to decide between 'Miss' or 'Mrs'), until she glared at him and told him to use her first name. "Need me to do anything?"

"Nah, we finished with the backyard," she told him. "Naruto bagged all the leaves already--"

"It was hard and now I'm hungry," Naruto groaned, and clutched at his stomach with his usual dose of drama. "Moooomm."

Kushina wrinkled her nose at him. "And now we're going to eat. Greedy boy."

"I'm a growing boy," Naruto corrected her. "You say that all the time!"

"Yeah. More like black hole of doom, when it comes to food." Kushina grinned at Iruka. "Having dinner with us today? Spaghetti, Naruto's fave."

"Nope, that's okay," Iruka told her. He'd had a very late lunch at the vets, five slices of pizza and a soda; not his proudest moment, but Dr. Sarutobi had insisted. "I'm going to turn in early, actually, I have an early day at the civic center tomorrow."

"You work too hard," Kushina said; the faint lines at the corners of her eyes deepened as she stared at him. "You know that, right?"

Iruka gave her a helpless kind of shrug. He did work hard, but he really needed the money. To be honest, he kind of liked being so busy. It kept his mind from dwelling on how lonely he was at times, how much he missed his parents. It would be so nice to go home to someone, be greeted with a quick, hard kiss...maybe play around with the dogs before they went to bed--

He cut that thought off quickly, hoping that he wasn't blushing hard enough for Kushina to see. She simply blinked at him for a moment, and then smiled.

"But you can handle it, right?" she said. Naruto, who stood right at Iruka's door, gazed at them with odd solemnity with his hand resting on the handle, waiting for Iruka to toss him the key. "Minato says you're tough stuff! And I think so too."

Iruka actually laughed at that, feeling his cheeks go even warmer. He missed his mother and father so much, and he couldn't afford to visit them as much as he liked, but living in the apartment near these warm and loving people really made up for that.

He keyed open his door, letting Naruto toss his bag in and race back out after his mother, yelling later, Iruka, before he went in himself, looking at the small apartment. There was a kitchenette to his left, just as he entered: a sink, a counter, a small cooktop and a tiny fridge. He didn't have a dining area, but he had a sofa and a television, and just past that, a narrow staircase which was almost a ladder leading up to the sleeping loft. The bathroom, with a washing machine in a closet beside it, was tucked underneath the staircase. When Kushina and Minato had first shown him and his parents the space, he had fallen in love with it. It was compact and practical, and far better than the dorms on campus.

He'd miss this cosy place when he graduated. All of it, especially Naruto, Minato and Kushina. He made a promise to himself to keep in touch with them as much as possible, for they had become his family just as much as his own parents.

Iruka brushed his hair out, took a quick bath and ran through a quick series of squats and push-ups. Then, he pushed the sofa back as far as it could go, turned on the radio to some station that was blaring out mindless pop, and danced.

If someone asked, he couldn't explain the freedom he felt when he was dancing. Someone once told him that he had a body built to move, which had confused Iruka at the time, because wasn't everyone built to move? However, when Mr. Hatake had asked him the other day if he was a fighter, he thought he understood what that person long ago had meant. Maybe...he looked good moving, at least far better than he thought of himself.

The thought of Mr. Hatake caused Iruka to falter in his tight, whirling movements, stopping in the middle of the room, breathing deeply. Mr. Hatake...Kakashi. He of the Many Dogs and his mouth set in a hard line when Iruka peeked at him from time to time. Iruka began dancing again, but now he moved with slow sweeps of his limbs. The music was hopping along briskly, but Iruka stretched and balanced and turned, placing his hands and feet deliberately. Fighter, he was a fighter, practicing his deadly moves while Kakashi watched in silent approval. Kakashi was a fighter too, so he could appreciate the sharp efficiency of Iruka's movements.

After a long session of that, he sank down to the ground, crossed his legs and chuckled a little to himself as he armed sweat away from his brow. Mr. Hatake was weird, but that didn't mean he was interested in Iruka.

Nonetheless, Iruka was interested in him.

 

"This must be Bisuke," Iruka said as soon as Kakashi stepped inside the veterinarian's, holding the door open so that the little dog could enter with neat little steps. Kakashi hid his surprise of Iruka's knowledge behind a curt nod.

"He is," he answered shortly, and stared at the way Iruka's mouth curled up into a warm smile. In the back of his mind, he hoped that Iruka couldn't see through the dark lenses of his sunglasses at this distance. "Good guess."

"Oh, it wasn't a guess." Iruka lifted a ring-bound folder from behind the counter--Kakashi immediately recognized the bulky shape of it as his--and opened it to withdraw a slip of paper. He handed the paper to Kakashi, who took it from him, gazing at the charming handwriting in red ink:


That's all the dogs, the note went on to say,...unless he really has 31!

"I looked at their files," Iruka said, "and noted which one came in everyday. So that's how I knew that it's only Bisuke left... I just wrote him in. Hi, Bisuke!"

At the sound of his name, Bisuke barked loudly, happily, and Iruka laughed out loud. Kakashi blinked down at his dog, and then looked up at Iruka for a very long time. He was sporting one of those odd hairstyles which, before meeting him, Kakashi would have discarded as frivolous, or even stupid. Iruka made it look whimsical.

"So, this is the last of the dogs," Iruka said, and then bit the inside of his lower lip. "It's...really a pity."

"I would start again with Pakkun tomorrow, but I think the good doctor has been very thorough with their checkups," Kakashi told him and then took a deep breath, before letting it out in a slow exhale. Just ask him, he told himself sternly, and girded himself against the expected rejection.

"You can go in now," Iruka told him before he could open his mouth. "You're the first, so...right, you can go."

"Oh," Kakashi said, deflated. "Thank you."

Inside Dr. Sarutobi's large office, he mechanically answered questions about Bisuke, and his smile felt tight on his face when the doctor pronounced that this dog, like nearly all the others, was in perfectly fine form.

"You take such good care of them, Kakashi," Dr. Sarutobi said, watching as Bisuke leaped into Kakashi's lap and snuggled him for a bit before jumping off and attacking a soft chew-toy on the ground. "I can tell that they're all very happy and well-cared for."

"I try my best," Kakashi told him, already plotting how he was going to tell Iruka goodbye. Probably it was good that he hadn't been able to ask Iruka out; Iruka was too different from him, too nice--

"I close a bit late today," the vet said and when Kakashi frowned slightly at him, Dr. Sarutobi smiled in that benign way of his and rose from the chair he had been seated in. "So Iruka may leave work at about five-thirty. Or six."

"What--"

"Off you go." Dr. Sarutobi flapped a hand at him, an impatient movement that Asuma did sometimes as well, when he thought Kakashi was being purposefully obtuse. "Did you settle the bill with Iruka?"

"I--"

"Good man," Dr. Sarutobi said, bodily shoving Kakashi through the door, and closing it. Kakashi shook his head, completely bemused, and then walked around to the front of the receptionist's area. There was a small television set mounted in an upper corner of the waiting area and Iruka had turned it on to some music channel, the volume low. Kakashi was unsurprised to see one of Sasuke's music videos playing.

"You know," Iruka said as soon as he spotted Kakashi, "he might be a bit more popular if he danced differently."

"He doesn't like it," Kakashi answered and lifted one shoulder in a careless movement when Iruka looked at him with one dark eyebrow lifted. "He claims it makes him look stupid." Kakashi fully expected Iruka to ask more questions, but he didn't. He scrunched up his nose in a move that Kakashi mentally dubbed cute, and tilted his head to one side. He was wearing a long earring in one ear today, and the silver strand lay flat against the column of his neck when he did that. His skin looked so warm.

"There are dance-styles that are better suited for his body," Iruka told him. "If he was willing to learn, I could teach him."

Kakashi wondered what his friends and mother would think when he brought Iruka to meet them; he was so different from their frame of reference, with his outrageous hairstyles, and his jewellery and his seemingly overly saccharine disposition. Kiku would probably laugh incredulously at his chosen career.

A teacher, he could almost hear her titter. How...quaint.

Then, Kakashi realized he thought when, instead of if, and suddenly it seemed too easy.

Once again, Iruka spoke before he did. "Mr. Hatake, would you like to...go for a drink?"

"A drink?" Kakashi repeated, staring at Iruka, who scratched at his nose; a slight smile lifted at the corner of his lips. "I don't drink."

"Neither do I," Iruka said, and lifted his shoulders in a tense expression. "Or, a club?"

"I don't like clubs," Kakashi answered and wanted to bite his tongue at the way Iruka's face fell. He was making a huge mess of this. "Sasuke's doing a concert on Friday. We can go backstage."

"Oh!" Iruka's face brightened. "I could bring my friend, Naruto, he might really like that!"

"Your friend?"

Iruka flapped a hand at him. "My neighbour, Naruto. He's sixteen...same age as Sasuke, right? I mean, I...if you don't mind?" Iruka peered up at him and Kakashi nodded slowly. "So it's date, then?"

"Sure," Kakashi said and dug in his pocket for his wallet and his cell-phone. He paid for this last visit, and then asked Iruka to put his own number in; he actually wanted to watch Iruka's fingers move over the keypad of his phone, slim and nimble. Iruka handed over the phone with a bright smile.

"So...Friday?"

"Only if you stop saying 'Mr. Hatake', and call me Kakashi....and I'll bring all the dogs," Kakashi deadpanned and Iruka's loud laugh followed him out the door. Bisuke had already jumped into the bed of his truck, and Kakashi was about to slide into the front seat when his phone buzzed; when he opened the text-message, he shook his head at words:


 

It would be nice to see all the dogs at once. See you Friday.

"Huh," Kakashi said. Then he called Obito.

"What the hell kind of date is this?" Obito snapped over the line. "Backstage at Sasuke's concert? That's insane."

"You'll be there," Kakashi told him. It was tradition; all of the members of their little group, or those who were available, would trail along on the date. They had a complicated series of handsignals, discreet movements which transmitted a myriad of messages, such as: this person is batshit insane, get me out of here or scram, this one's coming home with me.

"Of course I'll be there. Gen and Guy, too." There was a pause with low murmuring in the background before Obito spoke again: "Rin says you should wear that black two-pocket shirt, the ones with the sleeves you can roll up to show your forearms. Apparently, you have nice forearms. Rin, don't make me say that to him again."

"You be nice, Kakashi," Rin called out, her voice increasing in volume as she apparently pulled Obito's phone closer to herself. "Try to be charming."

"I'm charming," Kakashi defended, and shook his head at the disbelieving silence which emanated from his phone. "I'm so charming, he's already implied that he wants to come to my house."

"Really," Obito said, flatly.

"To see all the dogs at once, but still."

Obito's laugh was long and loud. "So that's why you have all of them! To get more ass."

"See you Friday," Kakashi said, even as Rin was yelling something about him using his poor, poor dogs to attract unsuspecting people. Kakashi hung up on them, and smiled.

 

"Who said I wanted to go to a stupid Sasuke concert?!" Naruto griped from the floor as Iruka ran a brush through his hair, trying to decide if he would put it up, or leave it down. "I hate Sasuke! He can't sing, his songs are stupid, and all the girls at school are always talking about him." Naruto rolled onto his stomach, rested his chin on his folded arms and pouted so hard that Iruka could feel it where he was standing.

"You could tell all those girls that you saw him backstage," Iruka suggested, putting down his brush and inspecting himself with a critical eye. He was sporting a long-sleeved shirt layered under one with shorter sleeves, and a pair of long cargo-shorts; he felt comfortable, and he hoped he looked sufficiently cool enough for tripping around backstage. "Maybe you can get a photo with him, and show that girl in your class that you like."

Naruto rolled over again, and sat upright, his hair standing up around his head. "Iruka, you're a genius. Sakura loves that Sasuke idiot, so if she knew I met him, she'd probably talk to me!"

"Exactly!" Iruka agreed with a grin, sitting down on his bed and dragging out his slip-on Vans, the ones with the black and brown patterns. He snagged his fedora from where it hung on one of the short corner posts of his bed and pulled it on over his hair before tilting it at a rakish angle. It wasn't one of those fedoras with the massive brim, he wasn't going on an adventure or anything; the brim was small, and the first time Kurenai saw him in it, she had exclaimed over the pinstripes.

"But apart from that, why do I have to go with you?" Naruto scrambled to his feet, tugging at his black t-shirt and jeans. "Hmm, Iruka?"

Iruka looked at his curious expression, blue eyes bright and guileless. "In case he turns out to be...you know."

Naruto nodded, quite sage. "A shit-head."

"Naruto!"

Naruto laughed uproariously. "I don't mind, though! If you need to leave, just, you know. Give me a signal." He dug into his pocket and withdrew a set of keys. "And we got the car, like Dad said. I can drive, right?"

"You can drive to the concert, but I'll drive back," Iruka said, knowing that Naruto had his provisional licence and he was a surprisingly careful driver; it was really nice of Minato to lend them the car. What was nicer was that Minato and Kushina allowed Naruto out with him to the concert, on a date with another man. Iruka had told them about it, and while Minato had blinked at him with those eyes, the shade of which Naruto had inherited, he simply muttered, "A guy?"

"A guy," Kushina repeated and then nodded firmly. "Sure! What time will the concert be over?"

"At ten, or a bit later," Iruka had told them. "I'll have him home at ten-thirty, the latest."

"You can borrow the car," Minato had offered in his quiet, authoritative tone and then rolled his eyes at Naruto's loud yell.

"Okay, let's go!" Naruto said now, and raced out. Iruka picked up a couple of his earrings from his tall chest of drawers, putting them in before he strode out and locked his door. Naruto was tight-lipped all the way to the concert venue, so determined to prove himself responsible that he would not entertain distracting conversation. Iruka used the uncharacteristic silence to check the message that had been sent to his phone earlier, from Kakashi. Terse instructions directed him to go around the back of the amphitheatre and inform the security of their presence, and they'd be let in.

It was hard finding a space in the parking lot; when they finally located one, Iruka had to park the vehicle for him.

"I hate parking," Naruto grumbled when Iruka handed him the keys and they started walking towards the brightly lit venue. "It's all backwards!"

Iruka laughed, and looked around at all the people hurrying in the same direction as they were. There were mostly girls about Naruto's age, and younger. Iruka was surprised to see a lot of them in thin clothing and high-heeled shoes.

"Wow," Naruto said, eying the girls hurrying past. "I'm definitely becoming a singer, now."

"You need to actually be able to sing," Iruka pointed out to him. Instead of going through the main gates, they made their way down the side and around the back, following the tall chain-link fence. There was a muscular man standing guard at an open section of the fencing, and when Iruka told him their names, the security officer nodded.

"I was waiting for you guys," he told them, and motioned them in so that he could lock the gate, wrapping a chain around the stiles and snapping a heavy lock in the links. "Gotta keep this shut, or else the fangirls would be racing in. Follow me."

Iruka and Naruto trailed after him, entering the low building which stood at the inside curve of the large amphitheatre. They walked along a corridor, a few people hustling back and forth ever so often; there was low laughter from one of the many doors they past. From in here, they could hear the rumble of the crowd outside, by the time the security officer opened a door and tilted his head, Iruka was bemused at how mundane it seemed. He had expected a more rockstar approach, and was surprised to see Sasuke sitting in a large armchair inside this dressing room, even though he was bedecked in something tight and glittery for his show.

"This is Iruka," someone said from behind the door and Iruka stepped in, turning his head to see Kakashi leaning against the furthest wall, his arms folded across his chest. He was dressed in full black, and the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, revealing his strong biceps. He didn't have his shades on, but there was a patch over his left eye. Iruka tried not to drool, it was far too early for that. "Hey," Kakashi said, his gaze locked with Iruka's.

"Hey," Iruka said with a smile, taking Naruto by the wrist and dragging him inside as well. "This is Naruto."

"Hi," the other people in the room chorused, apart from Sasuke, who was staring at them with little expression in his dark eyes. There were two other men standing, and a woman who was seated beside Kakashi's position. She got up, holding out her hand for Iruka to take.

"I'm Rin," she said, her gaze flickering all over his face. "I like your hat! And your earrings."

"Thanks," Iruka said, and allowed her to point out the other men.

"Everybody knows Sasuke, right? Right. That's Guy," she said, pointing out a man with an odd, bowl-cut hairstyle. Guy sketched a gallant bow and Iruka sketched it back, tickled. "That's Genma...Gen, could you not chew on toothpicks all the time?"

"I could try to stop," Genma said; he had brown hair and a calculating sheen to his brown eyes. Nonetheless, Iruka's instincts said that he was trustworthy. "But I'm keeping my tongue in shape. For the ladies."

"You're such a cad," Rin said, but she sounded fond. "That's Obito," she said, nodding to a handsome man with dark, messy hair and an easy smile. The way her expression softened told Iruka everything. "He's Kakashi's best friend."

"I'm just the person who's stuck around the longest," Obito claimed. "Kash-kash and 'Bit for life, you know?"

"I thought I told you that I'd kill you the next time you used that nickname," Kakashi grumbled as the rest of them laughed.

"But I've always thought 'Kash' was a cute nickname," Rin said through her chuckles. "All the girls in school loved it."

"Did they?" Iruka said with bright interest. "I think I'll start using it too...Kash-kash." He grinned when Kakashi rolled his exposed eye, a small smile curling on his lips.

"Are we going to stand around and chat all night?" Sasuke drawled from behind them. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I have a show to do."

"What kind of show?" Naruto asked, a tight edge in his voice. "You look like a stripper, dressed like that."

"Obviously, you're not a fan," Sasuke shot back, his dark brows pulled together in a frown.

"Obviously not," Naruto sniped in return. "I'm just here for Iruka. I actually listen to decent music."

"Okay!" Rin said loudly as Sasuke got to his feet with his hands clenched into fists. "Kash...uh, Kakashi," she amended quickly at the glower Kakashi sent to her, "wasn't Iruka the person you said could teach Sasuke some different dance moves?"

Sasuke managed to break the glare he was sharing with Naruto, and shook his head at Kakashi. "You know I hate to dance."

"I could teach you some dance movies which aren't as clunky," Iruka told him. "You have a body that's better suited for a more fluid style. Like a fighter," he said, and stole a quick peek at Kakashi, who simply raised his eyebrows in what appeared to be an amused manner. Sasuke wrinkled his nose, and then nodded.

"I'll have Father talk to you about it," he finally said.

"You'd better," Naruto interjected. "Iruka's the best dancer I know, and he's training to be a teacher, too. He'll make you look good."

"I'm sure I didn't ask your opinion," Sasuke told him, tone frosty.

"I'm sure I didn't ask if you wanted to hear it or not," Naruto said. "But I'm telling you anyway."

"Please don't bring this person with you again," Sasuke told Iruka pointedly as the door opened and a few bodyguards stood outside, waiting to escort Sasuke to the stage. "He's annoying."

"Hmm," Rin said as they all trooped out after Sasuke and his bodyguards, "Sasuke's not usually so...wordy."

"Naruto is always wordy," Iruka said, giving the bright-haired boy in question a questioning look. Naruto just shrugged in return. "He's not this rude, though."

"Yes, I am," Naruto countered, his eyes sparkling. They ducked into a corridor that was painted black, and the sound from the audience increased tenfold. "Just ask my mother," he said, much more loudly, since they were now standing in the wings.

A man was onstage yelling at the crowd in what was an introduction to Sasuke's entry, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He turned, pointing in Sasuke's direction and hollering his name, and the screams were deafening. Sasuke adjusted a flesh-coloured device in one ear, it looked a bit like a hearing aid, and then strode out on the stage, the spotlights locking onto him with bright accuracy. Iruka made a face, his ears ringing, and then jumped a little when he felt someone press up against his back.

"Here," Kakashi said right into his ear. Iruka felt something being pushed into his palm, and lifted his hand to see: it was a pair of earplugs wrapped in plastic. Iruka ripped open the wrapping and twisted them into his ears gratefully, watching Naruto in front of him accept a pair from Rin and do the same.

The noise was insane. Iruka wondered how the crowd heard anything Sasuke was saying or singing, they were screaming so loudly; apparently they could understand him quite fine when he greeted them, for the shrieks became more strident. The band started one of his songs, and Sasuke went right into it.

Kakashi remained right behind him, their bodies touching; when Kakashi inhaled, Iruka felt the movement of his chest against his back. He pressed back, experimentally, and Kakashi's hands came up to rest lightly on his hips. Iruka began rocking to the beat and after a few moments Kakashi joined in, albeit hesitantly. He was holding himself in a rather inflexible manner, so Iruka rolled his shoulders and moved his hips in a sinuous curve, feeling more than hearing Kakashi's gasp against the side of his neck.

They were standing behind everyone else, and Iruka could barely see Sasuke from where he was, but he didn't really care as Kakashi relaxed even more, one of his hands shifting up to slip under his shirts, just above the top of his cargo-shorts; his fingers were cold against Iruka's skin. Iruka wanted to reach back one arm and sling it around Kakashi's neck, pulling him even closer but Obito glanced back once or twice, his gaze deeply contemplative. At one point, Genma looked back as well, and scratched his nose; Kakashi moved one hand and scratched his as well, as far as Iruka could see out of the corner of his eye. Genma nodded and turned back around, and Kakashi put his hand back on Iruka's hip.

There were about ten songs and two costume changes, and by the time Sasuke was done, sweat was pouring off his body; Kakashi's arms had snuck around Iruka's waist completely, holding him close. Someone threw Sasuke a towel as they trekked back to his dressing room, and when they entered, he wiped his face and said to Naruto, "I'm sure you didn't enjoy yourself."

"Shows what you know," Naruto said with a grin. "I liked it, I was glad I came. You have a nice voice when you're not trying too hard."

Sasuke stumbled near his seat and tried to cover it by dropping himself heavily into his armchair. He gave Naruto a very long look. "Really?" he said, sounding as if he couldn't care less what Naruto thought, but Iruka thought he could hear a thin note of hopeful disbelief in his voice.

"If I was a girl, I'd throw my bra at you," Naruto teased, and when everyone chuckled Sasuke looked surprised, then actually smiled. That was Naruto for you, Iruka thought. He made friends easier than anyone else Iruka knew, and Iruka figured that it was because he threw people off-balance.

"Well," Iruka said, glancing at Kakashi. "I promised to get Naruto home, so--"

"I could take you home," Kakashi offered and Iruka shook his head in regret.

"We drove."

"I could still drive behind you," Kakashi said, and Obito stared at the side of his face with a look of sheer incredulity. As a matter of fact, all of Kakashi's friends were looking at him as if he had grown an additional limb, like an extra arm or something. "Make sure you get home safe."

"Okay," Guy said slowly, then turned to stare at Iruka with wide eyes. "Well, it was a pleasure to meet you. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of you in the future."

"That'll be great," Iruka said with feeling. He liked Kakashi's friends. They even followed him out to the parking lot, waiting by Minato's car while Kakashi fetched his truck.

Obito stood beside Iruka and murmured, "He actually likes you a lot." He sounded very surprised at his own statement.

Iruka turned to him, eyebrows raised. "I like him too. A lot."

"Don't hurt him." Obito was looking at him intently, a nearby lamppost throwing yellow light over the side of his face. At this angle and with his expression so serious, Iruka thought how much he looked like Sasuke; something about the eyes was similar. "He can be a real dick, but...he's a good man."

"So am I," Iruka said and Obito tilted his head slightly.

"I could threaten you with bodily harm but that's really Asuma's job. He's at home massaging Kurenai's feet." Obito winked at him. "We'll email you the threats, okay?"

"I await with bated breath," Iruka answered, tone dry. Obito grinned, gave him a hearty clap on his shoulder and then went to slide an arm across Rin's shoulders. She pinched him playfully in the side and as he tried to twist out of her way, Kakashi's large vehicle roared up close.

"Let's go, Naruto," he said, getting into the driver's side and starting the engine. Naruto jumped in, buckled his belt and then pressed the control to wind down his window.

"Make sure that idiot tells his dad about Iruka!" he howled and then laughed when Iruka drove out a bit faster than the norm. He fiddled with the radio and chattered incessantly at Iruka as they made their way home. Iruka answered his questions, but glanced in his rearview mirror at Kakashi's headlights. He bit back a smile, but could see Naruto waggling his eyebrows out of the corner of his eye.

When they got inside the driveway at Naruto's house, Naruto scampered in, leaving Iruka to lock the car. Kakashi had parked right behind, and slid out of the cab of the truck, walking slowly towards Iruka.

"I didn't get to see all the dogs at once," Iruka blurted out and then felt his cheeks heat. Kakashi gave him a long look, and then stepped even closer.

"You can see them tomorrow. Come to lunch at my place."

Iruka leaned against the side of Minato's car, and smiled up at Kakashi when he put his hands on Iruka's waist as if they belonged there; Iruka rather thought that they did.

"You know where I live, right?" Kakashi asked, leaning close.

"I've been looking at your file every day for eight days," Iruka said and pressed his lips to Kakashi's. He pulled back before Kakashi could part his lips. "I know where you live."

"Stalker," Kakashi muttered and kissed him deeply, tongue flickering inside Iruka's mouth. Iruka angled his head, exhaling in contentment. He put his hand at the back of Kakashi's neck, feeling the pale hair brush against his fingers. His hat tilted back when Kakashi's forehead brushed against it. When they broke apart, they were both breathing hard and Kakashi licked his lips. He stepped back with obvious reluctance.

"You know you like my stalker tendencies," Iruka told him, and adjusted his hat. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"I'll see you tomorrow," Kakashi confirmed and then turned around abruptly, walking quickly to his own vehicle. Iruka reached down to adjust the bulge in his crotch.

It was going to be a very long night.

Kakashi nearly dropped the bag of food he was carrying, blinking behind his shades at the man standing at his front door. Iruka grinned at him, tossing his loose hair back over his shoulders and lifting the bottle he had in one hand.

"I thought wine would be a bit too much," Iruka said. "So I brought iced tea."

"You're early," was all Kakashi could say and Iruka laughed, rubbing at the side of his neck with his free hand.

"I...couldn't wait, I guess," he said, and Kakashi had to swallow hard at the honest eagerness in his voice. He was dressed in a pair of loose, grey sweatpants and a hooded jacket; the zipper of the jacket was pullled down a bit, exposing a white, sleeveless undershirt. The thick strap of a messenger bag was pulled tight over one shoulder. At Kakashi's intent gaze, which was fixed on the solid planes of his chest, Iruka said, "Maybe I should have changed?"

"Hell no," Kakashi said quickly, wondering how he could get Iruka to turn around, so he could see how the clingy material clung to his ass. "You look great."

"I came straight from school," Iruka told him in a rush of words as Kakashi walked up to him, digging around the pockets of his own trousers for his house-keys. "I got some early practice in studio, and then posed for some visual arts students. Another job, you know?"

I know, Kakashi very nearly told him, and barely managed to restrain himself. This need to come clean with Iruka was distressing; he had never felt the need to tell any of his bed-partners about his investigations. He pushed open the door and walked in, saying, "Come on in," over his shoulder.

"Your house is nice," Iruka said. When Kakashi glanced at him, he was gazing up at the high ceilings and the brightly painted walls with interest. He put his messenger bag on a chair which was placed in the corridor for that purpose and Kakashi approved at how easily Iruka fit inside his space.

"Thanks." Kakashi went into the kitchen to set down the bags on the counter, before accepting the tall glass bottle that Iruka handed to him. Their fingers brushed together and Kakashi felt arousal coil low in the base of his stomach. Iruka's eyes were dark and gorgeous, and the faint blush across his cheeks was endearing.

Iruka broke their shared gaze and cleared his throat to ask, "Where are the dogs?"

"Oh, here." Kakashi strode out of the kitchen, back down past his living room and to the romper room; he unlocked the sliding door which led out to the back yard and pushed it open. The dogs, most of which had been waiting outside that door, stampeded in deliriously. They ran around Kakashi and Iruka, making happy, snuffly noises and tumbled all over each other to lick at Iruka's face when he sank down on one knee to greet them properly. Pakkun sat just at the fringes of this canine storm, barking hoarsely now and again.

"Wow, they seem like so many when it's all of them together!" Iruka laughed, and pushed Urushi's paws off his shoulder so that he could stand up. He looked down at his hands and said, "I think I should wash my hands before lunch."

"There's a bathroom down the corridor, near my office," Kakashi told him, and eyed Iruka's rear as the other man headed out. Some of the dogs followed them, until Kakashi told them sternly that it wasn't time for them to get fed as yet, and they trotted back to their special room with no sense of sulkiness at all.

Kakashi quickly turned out the food he had bought onto the nice plates his mother had sent him a year ago, hoping that Iruka wasn't on some special diet for dancers. At least there was salad, and a loaf of garlic bread to complement the roast chicken and potatoes. He set the cutlery, poured out the iced tea in tall glasses, and then waited for Iruka to return from washing his hands.

He waited for three minutes longer than Iruka should have been away, and then went hunting for him. The small bathroom was empty, the sink and toilet silent to Kakashi's wondering. He actually walked past his office (his mind caught up a daydream of Iruka waiting naked in his bed) before stopping short and retracing his steps.

Iruka was standing by his desk, holding a folder in his hands. The folder with all the information that Genma had gleaned for Kakashi; the folder with all the documentation that Kakashi should have shredded before Iruka set foot in his house.

He had been completely distracted by Iruka; he would kick himself later.

"What the hell is this," Iruka said in a low voice; it wasn't a question, not at that moment and Kakashi saw no point in answering that as yet. Iruka flipped through the pages and then looked up at Kakashi with his dark eyebrows drawn together. "Kakashi, what the hell is this?"

The volume of his voice increased with every word, and from the romper room, Kakashi heard the dogs begin to bark.

"Quiet," he called out to them without shifting his gaze from Iruka's thunderous expression. "It's information."

"Oh, I can see that," Iruka said and tossed the folder away; papers fluttered up into the air and settled on the floor between their feet, an incomplete bridge. "Are you insane? What happened to just asking me? I'm not the enemy, you know."

"I know that," Kakashi said from between lips which felt too brittle. Iruka's anger seemed to heat the air between them, and Kakashi was caught in the flames.

Caught, and helpless. He couldn't stop staring at Iruka.

"I mean, I know stuff about you, from Dr. Sarutobi." Iruka ran a hand through his hair, agitatedly and Kakashi swallowed. "I know that...I don't know, you were in some warzone or something and you damaged one of your eyes, I know crap like that, but...but this." He stared down at the papers and shook his head. "This is an invasion of my privacy."

I didn't mean to hurt you. The words were right behind his teeth, but Kakashi couldn't say them for some reason.

"If you know so much about me, then you know about my last relationship." Iruka was looking at him as if he would rather Kakashi would drop dead in that very moment. "Why I left Mizuki. He did stupid things like this, but he didn't have to do them for too long, because guess what? I left him. Just like I'm going to leave now."

Kakashi stuck his hands in his pockets and turned his head to stare at the wall; he knew he probably looked incredibly aloof and uncaring now. He heard Iruka shift his feet, possibly in preparation to walk out of Kakashi's house, never to return.

He murmured, "I'm sorry."

"What?"

Kakashi glanced out of the corner of his eye, past the curve of his sunglasses. He reached up, hesitated for a beat, and then quickly removed the shades to look at Iruka with both eyes: the normal one, and the damaged one which always appeared bloodshot. "I haven't done anything like this before."

Iruka stared right in his face, undaunted by the unusual bi-coloured regard. He snorted. "Wow, that makes me feel real special, Kakashi."

"You are," Kakashi said and they stared at each other for a long time. Kakashi cleared his throat. "I wanted to know what I was getting into."

"As if you're getting into anything now," Iruka grumbled, but the heavy frown between his eyebrows was relaxing just a bit. Kakashi took a cautious step forward, hoping the glower wouldn't deepen once more.

"I really needed to know more about you," Kakashi finally admitted. "You're so...different."

"I get that a lot," Iruka said, and sat on the edge of Kakashi's desk. Kakashi was deeply pleased to see that; at least he wasn't storming out of the house, a very good sign. "I'm out of my damned mind," he sighed.

"Why is that?" Kakashi took another few steps towards him.

"Because I'm not getting out of here as fast as my legs can carry me." Iruka gave him a sidelong look. "You're hot, you have a lot of dogs and you're mysterious. I'm attracted to all that, but tell me something?"

Kakashi, hardly able to find his voice in the face of Iruka's barefaced honesty, croaked out, "What?"

"Do you always profile your dates like this?"

Kakashi blinked and then said, "Only the one that mattered."

Iruka said, "Oh," in a low, contemplative tone. There was a very long silence, and then Iruka spoke up again: "Can you be as honest as this in the future?" He let his legs fall apart and Kakashi took the invitation to step between them. "Or, at least try?"

"I can try," Kakashi said, and knew that as long as Iruka asked, he would try. Always try; there was a future, after all.

"This isn't a good idea at all," Iruka said and tilted his chin up, an invitation for a kiss. Kakashi indulged him instantly, putting his hands in Iruka's hair, touching his thighs and his chest and tasting his moans.

"Okay, okay," Iruka gasped as Kakashi explored the curves of his neck. "One more test."

"I wasn't aware I was being assessed," Kakashi whispered as he nibbled at the lobe of Iruka's ear.

"You are." Iruka put his hands flat on Kakashi's chest and pushed him away quite firmly. "Let's dance."

Kakashi stepped back, meaning to escape, but Iruka grabbed hold of his wrists and stood up, pulling him into the middle of the office area.

"I don't dance, Iruka," Kakashi told him, but he didn't pull out of the hold. Iruka made a funny little face at him, like a small child who wasn't getting their way.

"Everyone dances," he said and put his arms around Kakashi, leading him into some sliding steps to unheard music. "Here, I'll teach you."

"My mother's getting married again," Kakashi murmured against his hairline. "I'd love you to come with me. You can do all the dancing you like. My mother might even like you."

Kakashi found himself being spun and pushed, and Iruka was still there in his arms. The lunch was getting cold, the dogs were getting hungry, but for now...

"Let's dance," Iruka urged with a laugh, and Kakashi kissed him again.

fin