One morning at the memorial, Iruka found someone else there.
As if sensing his presence, the person turned. "Iruka Umino?"
Iruka nodded, his breathing suddenly erratic. He knew this man. He knew that silver hair, he knew that dark eye, he knew that underneath that pulled-down hitai-ate was a long scar running through a dangerous red eye.
"Kakashi? How – how nice to see you," Iruka managed, and then reached forward to grasp Kakashi's hand with both of his. It felt odd - a little like a homecoming and a little like entering a strange and foreign country. He knew the shape of the lips behind the mask, and the power in the deceptive slouch. And now, finally, he knew his name. Not his ANBU code.
"Hello," Kakashi said. "How're you doing?"
"I'm good," Iruka replied. "And you?"
Iruka was left wondering if he should be listening for something he hadn't heard.
"I dreamed about you," Kakashi said to Iruka, abruptly. "It was always about the sea."
"I've thought about you too," Iruka admitted. "I always hoped you were okay, that you'd come home. Safe."
"Thank you," Kakashi said. "Not everybody is always happy about that."
"Well," Iruka tried for a light note. "Sure they're not."
Kakashi snapped his head around to stare at him.
Iruka swallowed nervously. "Having you back, scaring the crap out of the civilians."
Kakashi nodded. "Ah." Something like a crease moved his visible eyelid. Perhaps he was smiling.
"Do you want to have lunch? With me?" Iruka asked, surprising himself.
They walked silently through the village together, a little too far apart for lovers, too close for mere acquaintances.
"This is my favorite place," Iruka said, coming to a halt in front of Ichiraku ramen stand.
"Okay." Kakashi sounded pleasantly surprised. "I like it here too. I couldn't wait to come back home and eat. I got pretty sick of potatoes."
They sat down and ordered.
Kakashi turned toward Iruka and asked, "So, what're you doing now?"
"I'm doing some testing for teacher training. I'm hoping to start soon. Until then, I've been taking a lot of local missions. Mostly B and C rank. And you?"
Kakashi gave Iruka a funny look.
Iruka wanted to smack himself in the face. Of course Kakashi couldn't speak of what he had been doing. He was ANBU.
After clearing his throat, Kakashi said, "I've been busy." Wryly, he added, "You know, after I helped to save the life of the heir of a lost kingdom."
"She's doing well," Iruka said, softly. "It's hard when your parents die. So much changes. You never get over it, of course, but - " he halted, gasping a little at the idea of saying such things to Kakashi.
"You mean, losing a kingdom to your uncle?" he asked.
Iruka quirked an eyebrow towards Kakashi, thinking he should reprimand him. But the look in Kakashi's eye stopped him. It was as if Kakashi was trying to save him from saying something too dark. Instead, Iruka released a cough of a laugh.
"Iruka, little brother!" Akio, smiling, swung his way through the curtains of the small restaurant. Akio, the eldest of them on the ship, who had tried so hard to be a good senior to the rest of the junior chuunin. Akio, with his pleasant smile and his small country ways of speaking. Akio, who had also been taken by Hound for an evening. "I thought I'd find you here. Hey, Yumi and I -" and there it was. The barest trace of surprise registering on Akio's face as he realized who it was that Iruka was sitting beside. It was replaced with a kind of polite interest. "Yumi and I were going to have a little get together next Saturday - if you want to come? Sato and Dai will be there too."
"Sure," Iruka smiled.
Akio turned to Kakashi. He introduced himself, "I'm Akio. You're - "
Akio nodded. "Hatake-san. It's good seeing you, Iruka. Don't forget Saturday, 7 at our place." He tilted his head towards Kakashi, but he didn't smile. "And you too, Hatake-san. You're welcome to join us." He pulled back from the curtains and continued down the street.
Kakashi said, with the casual judgement of the rarely-wrong, "That one's never going to be anything but a chuunin."
Iruka's eyes narrowed. "There is nothing wrong with being a chuunin."
Kakashi's single eye turned to assess Iruka. "Of course not."
"A person can be happy as a chuunin."
"Of course they can."
The food was delivered and placed in front of them.
"That's his girlfriend. Civilian. They've been together for a couple of years now." Loudly, for no good reason, Iruka said, "I think they're a great couple. Very nice."
Kakashi blinked. "Ah."
"What, with the 'ah?'"
"He talked about her. I think he's very fond of her."
"Of course he is," Iruka answered, confused. Wouldn't it be obvious? She was Akio's girlfriend. What did Kakashi think that meant? "They live together. They've been talking about getting married for a while now."
"Ah." They finished their meal in silence. Iruka was confused as to what exactly Kakashi must think when he saw him. Was he chuunin, friend, someone he had gone on a mission with once, what? Iruka asked for the bill and picked some money out of his pocket.
"No," Kakashi said, "I'll pay."
"No, I can pay for myself - "
"Let me," Kakashi insisted. "I was your superior, after all."
Surprising himself again, Iruka let him. "I'll see you later?" he asked Kakashi.
Kakashi stood next to him, his hands in his pockets. He gave a lazy shrug. "Sure."
"Maybe at Akio's and Yumi's place? Saturday?"
And despite his feeling that he really should go, Iruka watched Kakashi's back as he ambled off.
It was only much, much later that it occurred to Iruka that Kakashi might have thought that this had been a date. If it had been a date, then it had gone pretty badly.
Kakashi watched Iruka. Iruka was at that party they'd both been invited to. The one Kakashi hadn't shown up for. He had seen Iruka leave his little apartment, walk several blocks, buy some fruit, and walk several more blocks. He had seen Iruka enter an apartment building. Through the windows, he had seen Iruka offer the fruit to Akio and a young, smiling woman.
He knew Iruka was only a chuunin, only a boy, only back from his first long-term mission, only so many things Kakashi was beyond. Or thought he was. There was no point in regretting the differences between the two of them. He should just let it go.
Still, he watched Iruka, laughing with his friends, moving around the room. Someone turned on music. And Kakashi watched Iruka dance.
In any room of regular people, civilians, any ninja would be seen as the most graceful, physically adept person any of the civilians had ever seen. But in a room of ninja, some of the finest, fittest examples of humanity in the world, there were those who stood out. Without any ego, Kakashi knew he was one of those. And he knew, plainly, that Iruka was not. Physically, Iruka didn't stand out. He didn't look special, he didn't look particularly different. And yet. There it was. Something inexplicably alluring, a warmth, a light that seemed to emanate just from his being.
In a world where killers moved like dancers and dancers competed against killers with all the grace of their lithe bodies - to be a good dancer was nothing special. And yet. Iruka drew the eye, drew Kakashi's eye to his smiling, his nodding, his laugh as he clumsily skipped a step. He started over, undaunted, unashamed, grinning up at his partner.
It seemed as though Iruka's partner agreed with Kakashi's assessment. She smiled back at Iruka and danced closer.
All alone, outside in the dark, Kakashi watched a boy dance.
It had been a good party. Akio and Yumi had thrown him a birthday party - and it wasn't even a surprise. He had just forgotten. He had turned 17 last week. Sato and Dai had been there, along with Izumo and Kotetsu and all his other chuunin friends. Even his jounin-sensei had made an appearance.
Iruka had felt a funny little sensation a few times while at Akio and Yumi's place, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He had shrugged it off. He was terribly disappointed that Kakashi hadn't come to the party, but he wasn't surprised. There was too much difference between the two of them. It was probably better this way. Whatever happens on missions has little effect on real life, life here in Konoha. Akio had tried to tell him that. It was Iruka's own fault for being unable to stop thinking about Kakashi, and what had happened between them in Snow Country.
With a sigh, Iruka went to bed and turned the lights out.
He didn't see Kakashi again for a long time.
When he did, it was an accident.
Iruka was sitting on a tree, thinking. He loved his home and the woods around them, this piece of ground, the smell of the resin of the pines and mustiness of last year's leaves turning into earth. Most of all, he loved the trees. He hadn't forgotten how much he had missed them when he was in Snow Country. He was watching the full moon above, trapped among the branches, when he heard something beneath him. He turned to his side, his warning call froze in his throat as he saw who it was.
Luminous in the moonlight, Kakashi had dropped a small pack on the ground by the base of Iruka's tree. He shoved his hitai-ate so it rested at the very top of his forehead. He pulled out two swords, a long and a short. Inhaling, he stepped backward onto one leg, balanced himself, and then started a series of kata.
Kata, by their very nature, do not very long. Minutes, if that. But somehow, as Iruka watched, time slowed as Kakashi took both the wakizashi and the tanto, cutting through the air in a ghostly dance. There was nothing flashy about Kakashi's movements. They were silent, economical, incredibly fast. It turned something brutal and deadly into something nearly beautiful. Iruka ached with envy. He would never be able to do that. He could never fight Kakashi himself and expect to live - the difference between their skill level was too great.
Kakashi's chest heaved as he controlled his breath.
Then something changed. Kakashi would halt in the middle of a kata, giving his head a single, negative sideways shake and begin again. Over and over. Iruka realized that Kakashi had only his scarred red eye open, his steps moving against some invisible opponent. What was Kakashi fighting against? Was he remembering some battle that had gone poorly? What phantoms was he seeing?
Finally, Kakashi carefully put his swords away, picked up his pack, and then started to walk away.
Relieved he hadn't been called out, Iruka dropped down to the ground. As he turned, he felt Kakashi behind him.
Iruka closed his eyes. He had been unaware of exactly how fast Kakashi was. His mistake. He slowly turned. "Hi."
Kakashi slowly turned with Iruka, as if Iruka was the pivot by which he rotated. Nothing closer, nothing further.
There was a grim set to Kakashi's shoulders. "I wanted to stop - stop looking for you, stop seeing you," Kakashi said. "I didn't want to remember you - I didn't want this. But I couldn't."
"You're the only one who's ever said no."
Iruka set back on his heels. "I know it's insubordination - but - "
Kakashi's voice was soft enough that Iruka had to strain to hear. "I've never - with anyone outside of a mission - and I was their superior officer. They couldn't say no. But you did."
"I'm sorry - " Iruka stammered. "I was scared - "
"You were right." Kakashi breathed out, not quite a sigh. "You were right. I couldn't have forced you. I just wanted you to say 'yes.' Very much." He turned to stare out at the moon. "I didn't know how much until you were gone, back to Konoha. "
Softly, Iruka said, "I couldn't forget you. I could never forget you." He couldn't begin to express himself, all the time he'd spent thinking about Kakashi, all the dreams he had had. "You were - my first."
Kakashi raised his eyebrows. "Almost."
Iruka smiled. "Might as well be."
They looked at each other.
"What do we do now?"
Iruka felt the vulnerability of the question, of Kakashi doing the asking. They had been facing each other. Tempted to approach further, but wary. Iruka felt the need to break that. He stepped forward. Kakashi tensed, but did not move away. "We can do this."
"What is this?" Kakashi asked, wary.
"Have ever you danced?"
Kakashi shook his head, a single back and forth.
Iruka insinuated himself into Kakashi's arms, ignoring the tension in the other man's body. "You just do this." Making sure Kakashi could see his hands, Iruka placed one on Kakashi's upper bicep, the other slowly moving backward until it rested on Kakashi's lower back.
Then he waited. As Kakashi slowly relaxed, Iruka released a pent-up breath. The he moved forward, slowly pushing. At first, Kakashi looked down at him in surprise and bemusement. "You can go backward, now," Iruka chided.
"I can't go forward?"
"No," Iruka said. "You don't know how."
Acceding to Iruka's demand, Kakashi mirrored the placement of Iruka's hands on his body with his hands on Iruka's body. Then he moved, following Iruka's lead, moving in a leisurely circle. It was a sign of Kakashi's excellent physical training and coordination that they moved so well together with the barest minimum of verbal communication.
Slowly, Kakashi leaned towards Iruka until their cheeks lay against the other's. Their steps lagged.
Iruka felt Kakashi's deep, rhythmic breaths. He wondered if Kakashi could hear how his own heart was pounding.
"How will this be different than the mission?" Iruka wondered out loud.
"Mission's over," Kakashi said, "and I'm still here."
And in the cool night air, under the heavy summer moon, they danced.