Today was a very long day.
A room full of first day students was always trying, to be sure. I couldn't help the explosion of my temper not five minutes into class. Two students had tried to sneak out.
Right in front of me.
Keeping them inside for the remainder of the day had been taxing to say the least.
But that wasn't even the end of it.
I'd had a night shift in the mission room afterwards.
That in and of itself isn't so bad, but I'd had to reprimand six different Jounin for their terrible reports.
One of them was very close to throwing a kunai at my face. I noticed the twitch in his arm and had to stand and call attention to it by raising my voice so that if he had attempted anything, I'd at least have witnesses that I was only defending myself.
Before a decision on either of our parts could be made, a gloved hand appeared on his shoulder and he was pushed out of the way and handed a blank scroll at the same time.
"Maa, it's easier to just rewrite it. Iruka-sensei is no pushover. Trust me."
With a huff and one final glare, he stalked off to the side to presumably do as he was told. I turned my glare to my would-be savior.
I'd hoped I could escape the day without having to meet him. This particular man always found a way to push my buttons, and I knew today would be no different.
"Kakashi-san, I could have handled it. I'm not weak..."
He cut me off rather gently as his visible eye curved up and he presumably smiled.
"I have never thought of you as weak, sensei. I know full well that you could've put him squarely in his proper place... but I was feeling a bit selfish. My way was simply faster. No offence was meant. I swear."
I reclaimed my customary seat once more as I took in his unkempt and rather haggard appearance... Also noting the bag under his visible eye. His usual slouch seemed less lazy and more weary than anything else. In fact, he seemed utterly exhausted, now that I really looked.
I held out my hand and let my features melt into a warm smile.
"Welcome home, Kakashi-san."
He lifted the hand not in his pocket and placed his mission scroll into my awaiting palm.
"Thank you, Iruka-sensei. It's good to be back."
His tone was light, almost happy... Nothing like his usual bored air. I knew it was a charade though. Most everything he ever did was, in some way. He liked to think no one could figure him out. That he was a mystery to one and all.
He honestly wasn't all that hard to discern.
Most of the things he did were to protect himself, to entertain himself, or to keep people out of his comfort bubble.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to understand that.
I opened the scroll, and moments later, nearly banged my head against the desk in frustration.
The report was mostly legible. Which was admittedly far better than usual. The problem lay in the stick figure drawings littered throughout the entirety of it. Complete with what I believed to be a depiction of myself at the very bottom. It had a ponytail and a scar across its nose. The figure was apparently speaking, with a word bubble containing the words 'Kakashi is the best! So heroic and handsome!'.
I rubbed my scar in irritation and sighed as I brought my eyes back up to his mostly hidden face. I reached blindly back and to my left and pulled a blank scroll free from the stack I always kept at the ready. Moments later, I set it down before me on the desk with a much put upon sigh. It was then that I noticed an errant twig in his unruly silver hair. It seemed his travels weren't easy this time. His smile didn't seem to waver in the slightest when I stood. I shook my head in consternation and sighed again. With an exasperated smile, I reached out and plucked that twig away, showing it to him in silent explanation before dropping it to the floor. For his part, he seemed content to let me do as I liked, and merely watched me in silence.
He really did look awful, though. Honestly, I felt kind of bad for him.
"Just this once, and I do mean only this one time... I will rewrite this for you."
My voice came out softer, and possibly more fond than I'd meant it to be. His eye widened slightly before curving up once more. I knew he was about to make some sort of smart ass remark, so I continued on before he could have the chance.
"Go and rest. Before I change my mind."
He suddenly bowed, keeping his eye trained on mine. This brought his face closer than I'd been expecting, a few mere centimeters from my own... but before I could protest the action, he was back up again and in his usual slouch once more.
"Iruka-sensei is very kind."
I sighed in exasperation and nodded.
"Yes, yes. Now go. Konoha thanks you for your service."
He stayed for a beat longer, just watching me, and then turned on his heel and threw a parting wave over his shoulder as he left.
I'd had to stay late to rewrite the damned report. But when it was done, I smiled and filed it away. Hesitating for just a moment before taking the original scroll and tucking it into my vest.
It had been kind of amusing.
The walk home hadn't been terribly long, it never was... but the day had been so very tiresome. All I'd wanted was to settle in with a nice cup of tea and get lost in a good book.
I unlocked my front door after disabling all of my wards and traps and stepped inside.
It was in this moment that I happened to glance down and noticed a large manila envelope taped to my door. I frowned and pulled it free before closing the door behind me as I kicked off my sandals. I hung my messenger bag on the coat rack by the door and stepped into the kitchen to put the kettle on. There was no name on the envelope. Only a tiny little drawing of a dolphin.
It was definitely for me, then.
I opened it and pulled out its contents.
A single eight by ten color photo.
I was instantly perplexed.
The photo was a smile.
Or rather it was of a man smiling.
Straight teeth, with prominent incisors. Pink lips, stretched yet still plump looking, set over a singular birth mark just under the corner of those lips on the left side. A pale chin and throat, an Adam's apple, and shoulders with a hint of some kind of tank top. There was nothing about the person in this photo that I recognized. I couldn't see enough of the face, or even the hair color to get any sort of clue. It was just lips, chin, throat, and a hint of shoulders.
Why the hell would anyone leave this for me?
I turned the picture over to look at the back.
There, in intricate and precise, shiny black calligraphy read:
You never fail to make me smile. I hope I can return the favor.
I turned the picture back over and examined it once more.
Well, it is a nice smile.
Very nice, indeed.
But this is still pretty weird.
Who would do such a thing?
The sound of the kettle whistling pulled me from my musings with a start, and I moved to make my cup of mandarin orange tea.
An hour later, I was curled up in bed, still staring at it.
When I drifted off to sleep, I dreamt of warmth and dolphins and bright smiles.
I stared at my desk the next morning.
There, in the very center, was another envelope.
Once again it only contained a small hand drawn dolphin to identify it's intended recipient.
Even so, this was my personal desk, in my assigned classroom.
It was obviously for me.
I set my bag down on the floor and took my seat as I carefully lifted and opened the envelope.
This one was of a hand. Well, his palm, and a portion of his arm. The back of it seemed to be resting against something soft and fabric covered. A bed perhaps? A couch, or maybe a pillow? The fabric was black, and it was hard to tell. But the contrast between his skin and the fabric was almost artfully eye catching. It was a nice photo. Just like the first one.
The fingers were slightly curled, seemingly relaxed.
I turned the picture over. Again there was calligraphy.
I lie awake sometimes and wonder what it would be like to feel your hand in mine.
Would you hold my hand, or pull away?
My eyebrows shot up as I turned the picture over once more.
So I have an admirer.
But who could it be?
In a village full to the brim of eccentric and odd individuals, I was hard-pressed to name a suspect.
So far all I have to go on is a birthmark, and pale skin. But that could be half of the village.
I should probably be concerned.
I know this.
The photos had been left at my home and at the school. Whoever it was knew my routine, and where I worked and lived. But those weren't exactly pieces of top secret information.
Everyone knew where I worked, at least.
Still, nothing about either photo caused me any alarm. Even though I know it should.
They weren't stalker-like photos. They weren't aggressive or scary. If anything they felt playful and sincere and decidedly hopeful. Nothing about them felt ominous at all. These gestures gave off more of an inviting tone.
Like, 'Hey... do you want to play?'.
And I'm not even sure why, but my answer isn't an overt no.
I can't ever recall being pursued, let alone in such an oddly sweet manner.
It was almost... cute.
I replaced the photo into its envelope and moved it into my bag. The children would be filtering in soon.
And if my mood was better than usual, they were too new to my classroom to notice.
I couldn't say I was surprised to find another envelope taped to my door that afternoon. I didn't have a shift in the mission room today, and whoever he was, he really did seem to know my schedule.
I grabbed the unassuming paper off of the door and made my way inside.
This one was of his chin, a sharp collarbone, a tank top clad torso, his right arm splayed across himself, and his hand relaxed over his heart. He seemed to be laying against that black fabric once more.
A bed, then.
This photo, while just as carefully and artistically taken, seemed more sensual than the previous two.
I really like your voice.
If possible, I'd want to talk with you for hours... Or just lay down and listen to you speak about anything, everything.
I'd want to soak it up.
To bask in it.
To keep it with me, always.
A flush stained my cheeks as I examined the image once more.
I traced the hard line of his shoulder and bicep with a light finger, careful not to damage the print.
Whoever he was, he kept himself in shape.
I had no doubt he was extremely attractive, even if the photos only showed him to me in bits and pieces.
It wasn't entirely fair in my opinion, to be courted this way.
How could I respond?
Because I really wanted to respond.
I wanted to let him know that these gestures weren't entirely unwelcome.
That I might, perhaps, like them... a little.
And I was so very curious. I'd really like to know who he is.
But he seemed to feel the need for this game to get his feelings across.
He clearly needed something to hide behind, for the moment.
He wants my voice, huh?
I glanced over to my bookshelf and set the photo down on my low coffee table.
I stood from my couch and grabbed the book I'd bought last week, in one smooth motion. I'd been meaning to read it anyways.
Smiling to myself, I grabbed a glass of water, and stepped back outside into the warm spring afternoon.
On my porch, to the right of the door, is a small patio set.
Nothing fancy, just two weather resistant chairs set on either side of a small table.
I took a seat in the closest chair and set my water down on the table.
Then I cleared my throat lightly, opened my book to the first page, and began to read.
I read for hours, letting my voice carry on the light breeze.
I read until the light faded from the sky and the street lights became the only illumination by which I could see.
I have no idea if he was around, or if he could even hear me.
But, I really hoped he could.
It was another couple of days before another envelope appeared.
I did not beam at it as it sat innocently on my desk.
I set down my bag and opened it carefully though.
It was a little more difficult to discern this one. It took me almost a full moment to understand what I was seeing.
He'd shrouded himself in a blanket. Most of him was covered, but what did show of him was bare skin.
He was obviously naked, but not graphically so.
This one, taken from the front, head on, showed him laying on his side. His face was entirely obscured by said blanket, which was also black in color, as well as the curl of one of his arms underneath it. But the blanket fell away in such a way that couldn't have been an accident. It showed the top of a bare shoulder, and a line of skin appeared across the center of the horizontal picture. The line revealed part of a defined pectoral muscle, hinted at a set of cut abdominal muscles, and led down to a strategically placed portion of thigh, calf, and two of his toes. The background was blurred beyond any recognition.
It was beautiful.
Utterly unequivocally beautiful.
I swallowed thickly and licked my lips before turning it over to read.
Are you reading for me?
It feels like you are.
I definitely hope that you are.
I don't mean to be too forward, so forgive me if I am, but... It makes me imagine you here, in my bed, reading to me on a lazy relaxing morning.
It makes me want to curl up next to you and watch your lips move to form those words, from up close. I've begun to wonder how your hair would look down, and splayed against my pillows.
It's my favorite daydream now.
What do you think of my dream, sensei?
Is it alright if I keep it?
So he had been listening.
My entire face burned even as a pleased warm feeling settled into the pit of my stomach.
I've been reading outside a little each day ever since the last photo, and planned to do so again later today once classes were over.
I was inordinately pleased that I'd pleased him. That my message had reached him, and that he'd liked it so much.
It made me want to do it again.
Please him again.
I spent the entire day only half focused on the lectures I gave. The other half of my attentions were set to how I would respond to his current move.
There was no mistaking it now.
It was indeed a game.
I'd made an appropriate move, and he'd taken his time in considering his follow up. It had been bold, as I'd emboldened him.
It made me want to reciprocate.
I had a small old instant camera. Nothing fancy. And the photos it developed were only wallet sized.
It would suit my purposes just fine.
I'd already spent the afternoon and early evening reading on my porch yet again.
But it was night now... And I was alone in my room, in bed. I took my hair down, raked careful fingers through it, and laid down into my pillow. Said pillow was swathed in a brand new black pillow case that I'd picked up along my way home earlier in the day. The entire bed was dressed the same way. Certainly not my usual style, but I knew it would be appreciated. I held up the hand mirror I'd brought in and adjusted the way my hair lay until it looked as pleasing as I could make it. Then I lifted the book I'd been reading to him and opened it to our current page. I placed it face down, open, against the bottom of my face, and lifted the instant camera that I'd held in my right palm aloft.
I took several photos.
Different expressions, only recognizable through my eyes and the tilt of my brows, stared back at me as I spread them on the black blanket before me for inspection.
The one I eventually chose was simple. The book covered from my nose down, but my scar was still evident. My eyes were closed, and my face was relaxed. My hair was perfectly splayed, and the visible fingers resting on the book cover were lax. To any who saw it, it might appear that I was asleep.
To him, it would look as if I'd fallen asleep while reading to him, in his bed.
I knew he'd like this one best.
I smiled and stood, photo in hand, and went to hunt down my silver permanent marker.
The words I could fit on the back were few. It was too small a photo for it to be any more than that.
My face flushed lightly as I wrote the only thing that came to mind.
It's a very nice dream, indeed.
The blush stayed even as I slipped the picture into a plain white envelope and sealed it.
It was here that I paused to consider the next step.
I couldn't very well tape this to my front door, nor could I leave it on my desk at the Academy. But what to do?
I scribbled a small note on the front of the envelope.
To my photographer...
Yes. Keep it. I want you to... and I hope it pleases you every time you imagine it. I also hope you like my gift at least half as much as I've grown to enjoy yours. I'm not nearly so talented, but I did my best.
It seemed innocuous enough.
That didn't stop my blush from growing though.
Then, I paused again.
There was only one place I could think to leave it. But it would bring him in close proximity to me physically. It didn't concern me to be near him. I wasn't in any way off put, nor nervous of him or his intentions. He may not chance it, though.
His current need for distance and anonymity seemed very real.
Biting my lip, I shrugged. If he didn't take the risk, it was his loss. It was his daydream after all.
And I'd practically gift wrapped it for him.
I grabbed a piece of scotch tape, opened the window next to my bed and taped it to the other side. The bedroom window was the kind that opened much like a door, and came inwards, so the task was done in moments. It locked with a tiny click and I smiled at the image it made in my eye.
That settled, I cleaned up the small mess I'd made and settled in for the night. I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.
I awoke to my alarm as always, and sighed as I reached out blindly to quiet its horrid noises.
Rubbing my eyes, I sat up and stretched.
The move brought my window into view and I couldn't help the huge grin that suddenly lit my features.
The envelope was gone.
It was a Saturday, so there were no classes to teach, but I did still have to rise. I was on desk in the mission room this morning, and for once, I was so very looking forward to it.
Running the desk meant I'd see a lot of faces. I had the sneaking suspicion that my photographer was a ninja. He was able to listen to me read without being seen or sensed. He was in fighting shape. He was clearly eccentric, and felt the extreme need for discretion and secrecy.
He might even be a Jounin.
This meant, if my meager assumptions were correct, that I may come across that birthmark and smile today.
I couldn't wait.
I stood and headed for the shower, grinning all the way.
Halfway through the day my search was consistently coming up empty. I'd seen at least a hundred faces, but none were his.
Plenty held birthmarks, but never in the right spot. A few sported the same skin tone, but they definitely weren't him.
Still, my smile and good mood couldn't be broken.
Though I knew that the next Jounin in my line was about to test it.
Izumo's voice suddenly filled my ear.
"What's got you so chipper today? Did you get laid?"
I sighed, ignored him, and fought a blush as Hatake Kakashi stepped forward.
There was no way he hadn't heard Izumo. He'd only been a couple of feet away. I wanted to duck my head, but refused to allow the motion. I would never let this particular Jounin see me vulnerable or weak in any way.
"How can I help you today, Kakashi-san?"
My smile was polite and warm.
His eye crinkled pleasantly as he bent a little and leaned forward slightly, to meet my eyes and match my seated height.
It wasn't a condescending gesture though, which surprised me. It was actually rather playful.
"Maa, Iruka-sensei... I wanted to take a mission."
I almost frowned, but refrained, and pulled the list of out-of-commission ninja sitting in its clipboard up off of the wall to scan it.
Sure enough, his name was right at the top.
"I'm sorry Kakashi-san, but that isn't possible. You're still listed as out on medical leave, so we can't assign you one. You aren't cleared for at least another week. I'm fairly certain you're well aware of it, too."
His already slouched shoulders slumped, making his ridiculous position look even more so. But at least he looked much better than he had the last time I'd seen him.
"But sensei, I'm so very bored. Can't you give me a B rank? Something easy? I'm low on Chakra, but I can still do my duty..."
I raised a hand to stop his pleas and stood, bending at the waist and leaning on my palms over the desk between us so that I too kept his eye. The movement brought or faces close, and now we both looked ridiculous, but I didn't much care.
I smiled broadly, sincerely. My voice, when I loosed it, was quiet but light, and as soothing as I could make it.
"I understand that you dislike sitting still and watching others do what you currently can't. I realise that you've been protecting this village since you were six, and it must bother you terribly to be forced to sit by the sidelines. But you must understand that this order is in place for our safety as well as your own. You are this village's greatest asset and we need you to heal so that you can continue to be so."
Something in his expression shifted. I couldn't tell what at first, as his face was so obscured... but when I looked at his eye, I noticed his gaze had softened somehow. I know my reaction wasn't what he'd been expecting. I know that in his boredom he'd probably only come to harass me for some small entertainment. But my mood today is too good and the rise he'd expected wasn't coming. Still, he didn't seem disappointed with me. Instead, he seemed to be genuinely pleased. Whether for my words or for something else, I wasn't sure.
"So kind, sensei. I wonder if Izumo-san is right... did you get laid?"
A snicker sounded from somewhere to my left but I ignored it. Instead, I lifted an amused eyebrow and regarded Kakashi with an appraising eye while smirking. I reached my right hand up to gently catch the bottom of his masked jaw, and held his face in place while I moved even closer and brushed my nose against his. When I spoke, the words floated out on the breaths we currently shared.
"Sex isn't the only thing that can make a person so happy, Kakashi-san. Perhaps, on another good day, I might be inclined to teach you."
He could've pulled away. He could've moved before I'd ever touched him. He could've transported out of my grasp. He could've done a great many things, but he hadn't. He'd allowed my actions, and remained eerily still while I spoke. I don't know what possessed me to do it. I don't know why he allowed it. I don't know why it caused such a thrill to race down my spine.
I do know that if I hadn't been so close, I would never have noticed the rosy color on the tiny portion of his cheek peaking out from just above the boarder of his mask, or the way his pupil had dilated as it focused squarely upon my lips for the briefest of moments.
I do know that as I pulled my hand away and back down to the desk, he managed to compose himself and smile, but his eye was still dilated.
I do know that his voice came out slightly gruff, when he replied a beat later.
"I think, I think I'd very much like that..."
I grinned broadly and sat back down, with deliberate slowness. My eyes firmly upon his singular one.
"I'm certain you would. Now, however, I have work to do and a line to keep moving. You'll simply have to be patient. Rest well, Kakashi-san."
He blinked, still in his half crouch, then simply teleported away.
Izumo wasn't the only one staring at me with shock when I surveyed the room. But his voice was the one to break the silence.
"Holy shit! What's gotten into you?"
I shrugged and thought of my photographer. His attentions had inadvertently bolstered my confidence as well as my mood, apparently.
Nothing was going to bring me down today.
I waved the next Shinobi forward and steadfastly ignored all of Izumo's follow up questions, smile still in place.
There was no photo on my door when I arrived home later that day, but I hadn't been expecting one yet.
Considering my last move had been so bold, I figured he'd take another couple of days before making his next one.
I almost tripped over something as I unlocked my door and disabled my home defenses, though.
I crouched down, startled, and examined it briefly before reaching out a curious hand and picking it up.
There was no note nor any dedication inside.
But there was a hand drawn dolphin on the blank page just beyond the cover.
This wasn't a move.
It was a request.
I was almost finished with our book, and it seemed my photographer hoped I'd continue to read for him. That and it looked as if he'd like me to read this one next.
I hugged the book to my chest and hurried inside. My things were put away in a flash, and a few short minutes later, I was out on my porch once more.
This time with two books, a sandwich, and a glass of iced tea.
I read until the book ended, and smiled as I set it down next to my empty plate.
"That one was indeed worth the read, though the ending was a bit sad. Shall I start the next one?"
I spoke into the air, and received no reply, but I lifted my newest book anyway, and began to read aloud the words written there on the first page.
The next picture was taped to my bedroom window the following morning.
I wasn't terribly surprised, as I'd crossed that boundary myself only two nights ago. It was only fair the he could do the same.
This picture was taken from the surface of his bed, just above his left shoulder. From a very close angle. I couldn't see more than the side of his mouth, his birthmark, part of his left arm, most of his right hand, the tip of his tongue, and a portion of his bare chest.
His left hand rested somewhere unseen on his belly. His right hand curled around his chin. His thumb also couldn't be seen, his pinky and ring fingers bracketed his birth mark, and his pointer and middle fingers were curled over his bottom lip, dipping into his mouth. His tongue peaked out from under his middle finger, and I knew it'd been captured in mid motion.
I was utterly mesmerized.
While the last photo showed more of his body, this one illustrated far more eroticism.
A heady jolt of want seared its way from my gut straight down into my groin.
I sucked in a heavy breath through my teeth.
Whoever he was, my photographer was amazing at this. He had a keen eye, and his talent was obvious.
He was probably a genius.
I swallowed hard and turned the photo over.
You're teasing me now.
More than you probably realize... and I like it.
Gods but I really do.
You doing these things, for me... just for me. It makes me a little giddy.
Thank you for the gift, and my dream, sensei. I'll treasure them always. I'm not nearly as beautiful as you, but I thought I'd try my hand at teasing this time.
What do you think?
Then, just a little farther down, he'd added:
P.S. The ending was quite sad, but the lilt of your voice more than made up for it. I hope our new book will be good, too.
~ Your Photographer
(Your photographer... I really liked that as well. I am yours, after all. Regardless of whether you know me or not. So I stole the name, just as you've stolen my breath.)
I moaned and fell backwards onto my bed, carefully holding the photo above me as I ran my eyes over the image once more.
I stole his breath?
Is he serious?
Because right now I'm the one who can't breathe.
I groaned and sighed as I traced the tip of his tongue with my eyes, wishing all the while that I could touch him... I wanted to taste him.
It's absolutely ridiculous because I don't even know his name, but by the gods above, I want him.
My window was still open, I knew because some creature moved within the tree just beyond it, and I moaned again... wishing it were him.
I was suddenly thoroughly excited by the idea of him watching me right now.
Watching my reaction to his teasing, and to his words.
I cleared my throat, and kept my eyes on the photo, but when I spoke, I let my voice carry.
"Gods you're gorgeous... I don't know why you felt the need to approach me this way, but it's okay. I like it. It's strange, but sweet. Like you are. This game is fun, and I'm ridiculously flattered, but I want to know you. Really know you. I hope you don't make us both wait too long, because I want to spend real time with you... And I'd really like to find out what these beautiful lips taste like."
The tree shook lightly again and I smiled, imagining he'd lept away just then.
But who really knew?
I decided to let myself maintain my little fantasy... it was my day off, after all.
A few hours later found me out and about in the village. I'd bought groceries and a portfolio to put my photographer's gifts in to. The sleeves for each photograph were clear and I loved that. I'd be able to peruse each photo and read each message easily. The cover was lined in silky black fabric and held a blank silver plate in the center, so that I might name the album. I was very much looking forward to getting home.
But it was just about noon now, and my stomach rumbled just as the scent of Ichiraku Ramen wafted into my nostrils.
I ducked under the noren and took the closest seat, without even bothering to look around. I set my grocery bag down and shifted my messenger bag around me. I didn't set it down though. What it carried now was far too precious for that. Teuchi-san came over and took my order with a smile.
I nearly fell off my stool when a voice to my left floated into my ears.
The tone was soft and low, unexpectedly private, almost intimate... And very, very close.
"Good afternoon, Iruka-sensei. You look well today."
I turned my face to regard the owner of this voice, and smiled. He was even closer than I'd expected. But he was in the seat directly to my left, so it would be close quarters regardless. His own steaming bowl of Ramen sat before him. Silver hair, unkempt and wild, gleamed. A single eye, dark and deep bored into me. Oddly intense.
"Thank you, Kakashi-san. You're looking almost back to your usual self. I'm glad."
His mask shifted as he probably smiled back at me.
"You've been keeping tabs on me? Why, sensei... I'm flattered."
I snorted and bodily turned to regard him fully.
"You looked absolutely terrible some five days ago. It's hard to forget. But you seemed better yesterday, and even more so today. You really should take better care of yourself."
He lifted his left arm onto the counter and propped his chin up with his palm as he took me in fully.
"Now I really am flattered. Iruka-sensei sincerely is most kind. I was sure you didn't like me... but here again you show concern. It's unnecessary, but... nice. Thank you."
I blinked in surprise. He seemed totally sincere, and I found myself at a loss. For just a moment.
But then I gathered up my resolve and spoke just as earnestly.
"You're not inhuman. You bleed, and tire, and sweat, just as I do. And you're not as mysterious as you'd like to believe. I don't know you well enough to like or dislike you, but I know enough of you to know that you're far more than what you seem. You were right back then, at the exams, Naruto wasn't my student anymore. I simply couldn't let go. And you were right even before that. You helped me to open my heart to him in the first place. Whatever our disagreements in the past, I couldn't possibly hate you. Not after that. Whatever you may think of me is fine... But I do think highly of you. Even if you spend a good portion of our interactions trying to find ways to piss me off."
His visible eye seemed to glitter in the early afternoon light as our gazes locked. But the moment didn't last. I jumped as my order was suddenly placed before me, and looked down into my bowl with renewed hunger.
I didn't expect the conversation to continue.
I didn't realize he was still watching me with that kunai sharp gaze.
So of course I wasn't expecting his next words while I happily indulged in my first bite.
"Is today another good day, sensei? Because I think I'm ready to be taught that lesson now..."
I nearly spit out my noodles. I didn't, but it was a very close call. I chewed and swallowed before turning my eyes back to him. There was no blush on my cheeks, but only by sheer willpower was that accomplished.
He still had his chin propped up on his arm, but his bowl was now mostly empty.
How did he do that?
His eye was curled up into that presumed smile as he waited patiently for my reply.
I was slightly dumbstruck.
I never expected him to hold me to the words I'd spoken yesterday. In fact, I'd assumed that he'd end up angry at me for seemingly besting his teasing in a room full of witnesses.
But he didn't appear to be angry, if anything he seemed almost... eager?
"Are you sincerely asking me to teach you how to be happy?"
My words sounded exactly as incredulous as I felt.
He leaned forward and closed the space between our faces in a near perfect imitation of the exact move I'd pulled on him the day before.
When our noses brushed, just once, he closed that eye ever so briefly before catching me within it once more.
"You said you'd teach me about the things that could make a person so happy... and I have found that I'd really like to know."
I blinked once, twice, thrice, as he pulled back but not away.
Hatake Kakashi, the man of one thousand jutsu, the famed protector of Konoha, had just openly flirted with me. I'd done the very same thing the day before, sure. But I'd done it to throw him off kilter. I'd done it to throw his defences down, and it'd definitely worked.
I certainly didn't think he'd flirt back.
The most curious fact of all of this, though?
He'd touched me willingly.
Yes, it was only with the tip of his cloth covered nose, but it was... I'd never seen him touch anyone like that. Not ever.
He sparred, and shook hands when the need arose, but that was entirely different. It felt like...
I reached out and grasped his chin gently, another echo of yesterday's conversation, and studied his eye warily.
He allowed the movement, the touch, and even the inspection with an air of apparent disinterest.
His eye gave away the game, though.
It darted over my features almost feverishly.
It felt like, maybe, he was possibly a bit nervous over my next move.
It struck me that there was a lot of trust being placed upon me. To allow these touches on my whims, when he had no idea where they might lead, like this...
Perhaps that was the real question.
Where did he want these touches to lead?
I smiled genuinely.
"Alright. I know how bored you must be, so I'll indulge you. Even if you're only making fun of me for sport."
Three times now, I'd touched him. Each time had been allowed. He hadn't in any way showed an aversion to my touch... but neither had he shown any obvious indication that he genuinely liked or welcomed it.
I drew my hand back but held his eye as he replied.
"I do a great many things for entertainment. I admit that freely. But that and this are very different things. I am in no way making fun of you."
I smiled again. He was trying to reassure me.
"So serious today, Kakashi-san. Now I'm the one who's flattered. I daresay you're never this serious unless you're in the midst of battle... Is that what this is, a battle?"
His jovial and disarming tone returned.
"I'm not sure what you mean, sensei. However, I'm sure you're aware that when it comes to battle... I never lose."
I laughed. Riotous and long.
When I wiped the tears that had begun to form at the corners of my eyes away after I'd settled down again, I looked back to him.
He looked for all the world like he was exactly where he wanted to be.
His eye was pinned to my flushed cheeks and my wide grin.
"I see the lesson has already begun."
I laughed again and patted his shoulder gently, just to see if he'd let me, and breathed out a reply.
"Indeed... And I expect your full attention. A student must always work just as hard as their sensei on the materials to be learned."
His chin was once again propped up on his palm. His bowl had been pushed aside though.
"Oh you definitely have my attention, Iruka. And I always work hard... Especially in my studies."
I blinked at the sound of my name and it's obvious lack of honorifics.
Everything he does is intended for some purpose. I knew this well.
He'd chosen that moment to attempt a more familiar relationship with me.
The way he'd said the last statement was full of possible innuendo, but it was again said with such a serious tone, so it changed the usual sound of our banter drastically.
I chose my next words and tone carefully as I schooled my features into my patented bland-teacher-face. There was only one way to know if he actually was flirting again.
I let my eyes drag appraisingly down over his slouched shoulders and chest at a leisurely pace, before bringing my eyes back up to his face.
"That's very good to hear, Kakashi. I can be rather strict, you know. Rigorous. I wouldn't want to have to slow my pace just so that you might keep up."
His pupil dilated once again, and his breath hitched ever so slightly.
So, I did have some effect on him.
And it seemed to assuage him slightly when I replied to his subtle overtures in the exact same manner. It felt like we were having two different and distinct conversations at the same time.
One for everyone around us, and one just underneath it, meant for our ears alone.
His shoulders minutely relaxed when my words registered on both levels, and I offered him a smile. A small form of apology, because I hadn't even realized he'd been tense to begin with.
"Though, if I might finish my meal first, I would be much obliged."
He nodded wordlessly and I turned back to my bowl.
Still warm, and delicious.
I ate rather quickly, if only to keep from feeling rude.
He waited patiently, and seemed to be completely content in watching me while I finished my lunch.
I tried my very best not to blush at the attention, but I wasn't entirely sure that I'd succeeded.
When I finished, I went to pay my bill but Teuchi-san merely waved me off and motioned to Kakashi. He had somehow paid for the both of us already.
Seriously, how the hell did he do that?
For lack of anything else to do, I laughed, and I picked up my nearly forgotten bag from just beside my feet. We made our way out into the day silently.
Without a word, I set out for home.
I needed to put my groceries away, and I wanted to get my album back safely as well.
He fell into step beside me easily.
The journey home was short, and the shared silence was strangely comfortable.
Upon arrival, I removed my wards, undid my traps, and unlocked the door.
"Please come in. I'll just be a few moments."
He nodded to my invitation and stepped in before me. The door closed softly behind me, just as it occurred to me that I hadn't had a guest in ages. The thought made me slightly nervous.
I set my bag on its usual hook, but didn't bother to remove my sandals as I moved around him and ventured into the kitchen.
A few minutes later I was nearly finished when his voice called my name from somewhere deeper into the house.
I frowned and walked out of the kitchen, through my small living room, and into my bedroom.
He stood at my window, holding the manila envelope I knew had been taped to it just moments before.
My face went hot as my blood ran cold. It was a very odd sensation, indeed.
I stepped forward and gently took it from him, noting silently that it was still sealed.
My relief must have been apparent on my face, as he tilted his head to the side in obvious curiosity. He motioned to the window now behind him.
"That's a very odd place to receive mail, Iruka..."
The words themselves weren't a question, as bland as they were spoken, but it was in there all the same.
My blush increased as I carefully tucked the envelope away in my nightstand, so that I might view it later. In private.
"I seem to have an admirer. He leaves me things sometimes."
It was all I'd intended to say on the matter, but he didn't seem keen to let it go.
"Leaves you things on your bedroom window? That seems rather curious. Who is it?"
His tone was gentle, light.
I ducked my head before I could think better of it. But then I decided it'd been the right move anyway. I don't like feeling judged. And I didn't want to actually watch him judge me.
"I don't know. He hasn't named himself yet."
A long pause followed. When he spoke again, his voice was still gentle, though.
"You've used that pronoun more than twice now. It's a man? Don't you find this strange? He could be a stalker... Shouldn't you report it?"
His words came out carefully spaced, and he even sounded bored as he posed them. I frowned anyway, suddenly feeling defensive.
"He's not a stalker. I was the one who left something for him on my window first. He usually just left things on my front door or my desk before that. Yes, it's odd, but it's also kind of cute. He's done nothing wrong, I'll have you know. Is the idea that someone would find me attractive enough to court so strange? So outlandish? He's sweet, and thoughtful and... Is it really so weird?"
I blinked as a gentle hand appeared on my elbow, squeezing once in an attempt to soothe. His voice changed, came softer now.
"I don't find the idea of someone courting you strange at all. I merely wondered what you thought about it... Wouldn't someone in your position be at least a little concerned?"
I hunched my shoulders as I clenched my hands into fists.
"Perhaps, yes. But he's never overstepped any clear boundary. And his gifts are earnest and simple. He even asks permission to simply think about me. He's not a danger to me. I'm certain if I'd never responded favorably to him, he would have left me alone."
The hand still holding my elbow squeezed once more. Reassuringly.
"But how can you be sure?"
I sighed in slight irritation. I hadn't been prepared to explain this to anyone, or to be interrogated. And that's certainly what this felt like. Whatever tone he used.
"Because he's not taking creepy photos of me or doing anything that might remotely scare me. He's been very careful in that way. If anything, between the two of us, he's clearly the more timid one. These gestures are a way to endear himself to me first. I have no doubt he'll come forward eventually. But for right now, for whatever his reasons, he feels he can't. I've gone over many possibilities. It could be a number of things. It could be because he's a man. Though I think I've made it clear that his gender doesn't bother me. It could be because we've never spoken, but I know he likes my voice, so it can't be that. It could be because we may not have had the best of interactions in the past. You aren't the only Jounin I've screamed at over a sloppy mission report. He could be unused to romantic interactions and had no way to start things with me otherwise. He could even simply be afraid of rejection in general. I won't know for sure until he comes to me."
I still didn't meet his eye, but he seemed to take that in stride. It certainly didn't deter him from asking more questions.
"So he's a Jounin? How do you know that?"
I smiled to myself. That one was easier to explain.
"He's covert, prone to eccentricity, plans carefully, and I've never sensed his presence. Not once. If he's not a Jounin, I'll eat my hair tie. Hell, he may even be ANBU."
His laugh, light and not at all condescending, filled my ears.
It was a surprisingly nice laugh.
"It seems he's not as covert as he'd like to believe, then. Do you have any idea who it might be?"
I shook my head once.
"Not yet. I only know he's pale, and has a birthmark under the left corner of his lips. But I can't recall anyone on the active duty roster with a birthmark in that spot."
His voice, when he spoke again, was closer.
"Have you seen him?"
I bit my bottom lip while I had a quick internal debate, only to sigh in defeat. Fuck it. In for a penny...
"Not in person. His gifts to me are mostly photos. Of himself, before you ask. Nothing identifying or truly revealing. Just bits of him. His hand. Or his smile. They're actually very artfully done. He's quite skilled. I've seen a portion of his face, yes, but that hasn't helped me any."
The hand on my elbow disappeared momentarily, only to reappear on the small of my back.
"Do you like him, sensei?"
The question came out more intense than I would've expected from him. I frowned curiously and finally lifted my head to meet his eyes.
"I don't know yet. I can't know until I spend time with him. Until I get to know him. But it's more than possible. I like his gifts, his words, and his attentions. For now, that's enough."
He was openly taking in my every expression. It seemed like he was studying them, cataloging them. Faced with his Sharingan as I currently was, I realized he quite probably was doing just that.
"I don't find it strange that you've caught someone's eye, Iruka. There's plenty about you that's more than worth catching an eye on. Sincerely. I think you're amazing."
I blinked in astonishment, and my cheeks were suddenly very warm.
"Kakashi... that's literally the nicest thing you've ever said to me..."
The hand on my back clenched slightly.
"What do you think of me?"
It didn't escape my notice that he'd deflected my comment with another question, but I answered him anyways.
"I think you're exceedingly brilliant, but most likely a little lonely. You're certainly unused to anyone being able to see through the layers you hide behind. And you prefer it that way. I think you're much kinder than you'd have most people believe. I think you pretend to be detached and laid back because you can't stand to let just anyone really see you. I think you feel things very deeply. I think you're probably actually a very intense, serious, and thoughtful person, if a little childish at times. But I'm not supposed to think any of that... so I pretend not to. Because I was sure you'd rather I didn't, and because... I think you're amazing, too."
I paused to lift my lips in a fond smile, and reached my right hand up, slowly, towards his Hitai-ate... Giving him plenty of time to move away if he liked.
"And finally, I think that you should close this eye before you hurt yourself. You're on medical leave for Chakra depletion... That's certainly not going to help you get better any faster."
He allowed me to grasp the black fabric, and when he slowly closed that blood-red left eye, I took it for the permission that it was. Gently, and with great care, I slid the Hitai-ate down over his bisected eyelid. Once it was set back into place, l turned my attentions slightly to the left, and stared up into his still exposed eye.
"Iruka, you really are so very kind."
For the first time, it struck me that he might be using the word 'kind' instead of the words he really wanted to use.
Because the way he said it now, here, in the middle of my bedroom, felt like it meant something else entirely.
I wanted to laugh, because it would make sense that this too would be another layer to hide behind.
"Perhaps one day you'll use the words you really mean, instead of hiding them within others that you know will be overlooked."
I don't really know how it happened. Perhaps he'd been moving so slowly that I hadn't noticed until now, but either way, I realized I was almost pressed against him. Nearly chest to chest. With the hand on my back holding me in place. My own traitorous hands were on his upper arms, though I had no memory of putting them there. We weren't actually touching aside from our respective hands... but the distance was only a couple of centimetres at most.
His eye was glittering again in the light that filled my room, with something I couldn't rightly read. Not entirely. There was pleasure in there, as well as something else...
"Sensei is very adept at looking beneath the underneath... I have chosen my teacher well. I'm learning quite a bit already."
I realized that was as much confirmation as I was going to get on the subject for the moment, but that was alright. It was fun talking to him in this way. Because once again we were having two different conversations. He certainly knew how to keep me on my toes.
"I'm delighted to have a student take such a keen interest in his studies. But today's lesson isn't over just yet."
I moved to back away, out of the one armed hold he'd gotten around me, but he pulled me right back to him. Scratch that, he pulled me even closer. I thought my face was going to catch fire at any moment.
Because now we were actually chest to chest.
I could feel him breathing.
Gods above, but I hadn't been prepared for that.
"Maa, sensei... can't we take a small break? I promise to review today's lesson thoroughly..."
He sounded every bit the petulant whiny student, but I wasn't fooled.
He wasn't trying to make me laugh, or to annoy me this time.
He was asking me to stay like this, in his grasp, for a little while longer.
He was asking my permission. Maybe not outright... But he was still asking in a way that he knew I'd understand.
Asking without asking.
That was so very like him.
But I was torn.
I didn't know quite how to respond. Because while I'd been learning this side of Kakashi that I'd never seen before, and while it intrigued me, and drew me to him... I couldn't help but think of my photographer in that moment.
I didn't know him, and I hadn't promised him anything, but this felt... This moment wasn't some game. Kakashi was being serious, intensely so, about whatever this was happening here between us.
And I didn't want my would-be suitor to be hurt.
"I know you're thinking about him, Iruka... But it's alright. I'm not pressing for anything. Nothing more than this. You are free to do whatever you want. You aren't betraying anyone. Not him, nor me. Just a moment or two of your warmth, of this closeness... That's all I'm asking for. Please?"
His words and demeanor were more open and raw than I'd ever seen from him before.
He stood at his full height, his eye pleading wordlessly as it too held me in place.
For just a moment, he'd dropped his armor, all of those layers.
He was laid bare.
Even while his mask still hid his face.
How did he do that?
I sucked in a breath and wrapped both arms around him in lieu of a reply.
Because there was no way I could ever refuse such a precious gift. And because I didn't trust my voice at the moment.
He trembled slightly, and his breath caught when I laid my head against his shoulder. Both so miniscule that I'd never have noticed if I weren't plastered against him as I was.
His other arm came around me, and I was enveloped within a world that consisted of only him. I let my eyes fall shut so that I might fully savor it all.
His body heat.
It was thoroughly intoxicating.
I chuckled softly and turned my face towards him, buried my nose in the space where his neck and shoulder met. The smell of the forest and some sort of light spice was stronger there.
It was perfect.
I didn't want to let go.
A warm palm slid up from my back to cup the back of my neck, and traced soothing circles over the delicate flesh he found there with an errant thumb. It was my body that trembled lightly this time.
It was a gasp, a plea, and a prayer all in one breath. Encompassed in just his name. Sighed out from my lips and directly into his skin.
He tensed, like a viper coiled tight, ready to strike.
"I... I'm only human, sensei."
I didn't miss the way his voice, thick and gravelly and tight, wavered.
It was a warning.
This man wanted me.
He wanted me so badly that the mere suggestion in the way I'd said his name was testing his control.
At any other moment, the thought alone would jar me, shake me to the core.
I would deny it, find logical reasons as to why it couldn't be true, and I would be unsettled for hours afterwards.
People like him, they don't desire plain and ordinary people like me.
But his arms left no room for any doubt, as tightly as they held me now.
"Just one more minute, then."
The tension left him and his nose pressed into the top of my head.
I wished I could've felt his heartbeat. I wanted to know if it was pounding, like mine was.
His arms pulled away slowly, far too soon in my opinion. But I made no move to stop him. Even if all I wanted to do was pull him right back in again. He didn't go far though, just a half of a step. I got the feeling he was just as reluctant to me go, too.
"I've learned a great deal today, Iruka. Thank you. May I... May I come again? I would like to learn more... I'd like to learn everything."
Again he'd reverted to our double conversation. The more he did so, the more I found I really liked it. It was something only we did. Like a secret code that children use to talk around other people who weren't allowed in.
Something about the way he'd said that, though... so properly, so earnestly. The words he chose, and the openness with which he spoke them... It all reminded me of something.
But I pushed the thought aside.
I had more important things to think about.
I took a moment to drink him in. And while I did, I thought about our conversations within conversations. I thought about all the different ways he'd looked at me today. Including the anxious look that currently sat within the dark orb he'd fixed upon me. I thought about the way he'd let me really see him, for just a moment.
My lips quirked up only slightly at first, and when his eye slid to my lips to follow the movement, a full beaming smile bloomed. Even as I flushed in nervous excitement. I lifted a hand to scratch at my scar. A nervous habit I can't seem to shake.
"I think I would like that very much..."
Another echo, but his reply wouldn't match my original one. I knew that it couldn't. But as his eye lit up, I knew he'd followed my train of thought, anyway. And that was just as good.
"Me too. I... I really enjoyed spending time with you today. And I'm looking forward to doing it again. But, I've taken up enough of your day, so I think I'll let you enjoy what's left of it in peace."
He was leaving? Already?
But, but... it was so soon. I wanted him to stay, but I didn't want to be rude because he may have things to do, so I ended up not even knowing what to say.
My silence must have looked like acquiescence because he seemed to smile and then stepped around me to make his way to the front door.
I followed on his heels, frowning all the way. He'd opened the door and made it out onto my porch before I'd found the nerve to capture one of his wrists and speak.
I probably sounded like an idiot, and I have no idea what he saw when he stopped in his tracks to turn and look into my eyes. Whatever it was, he seemed to like it, though. Because he turned his wrist in my grasp and twined our fingers together as he bent to my eye level.
I swallowed audibly as he squeezed my hand to urge me on, and to soothe. I found I loved the way it felt, his warmth within my grasp, again.
"When can I see you again?"
I sounded too eager, and it embarrassed me greatly... but I absolutely had to know.
I couldn't let him walk away until I knew for certain that we would be seeing each other like this again, and soon.
His free hand was suddenly upon my cheek. Caressing my cheekbone at first, then sure and gentle fingers trailed down to my jawline, before coming to rest on my chin. My lips parted in surprise when his thumb smoothed a line across the skin just below my bottom lip.
"Iruka, you're making it very hard to remain a gentleman. Heavens... It's like you're begging to be kissed. You don't have to worry. I'm not going to disappear... I'll come to you whenever you want. When would you like to see me again?"
I swallowed at his words as I struggled to keep my breathing within its natural rhythm. My face had steadily grown darker with every syllable he'd uttered, and I suddenly desperately wished that he would kiss me.
"Tomorrow... can I see you tomorrow? I have classes during the morning but I'm free after two... Sometime afterwards, maybe?"
A small chuckle filled the space between us as he nodded his assent.
"Then tomorrow it is. And it can't come soon enough..."
He adjusted his hold on my hand and lifted it up between us.
My eyes were held captive as he bent a little further and placed a gentle, cloth covered kiss just below my knuckles.
"Until then... be well."
He waited for my own nod of understanding before gently releasing me. Then he stood, bowed, and turned to leave.
I stayed on my porch and watched him go, until he disappeared completely.
And it was then, just after the last of him slipped from my view, that something occurred to me.
We'd shared a meal together... and he'd payed. Then he walked me home. We spent private time with each other, and got know one another a little better. Established a rapport and comfortable dynamic. He'd asked me what I'd thought of him, told me he thought I was amazing. He'd held me, but kept it innocent. He'd asked if he could call upon me again, we'd held hands.... And he'd left in a proper and timely manner, with a kiss on my hand and a promise to meet tomorrow.
Had that been...
Had that been a date?
Holy shit! That crazy Jounin had tricked me into a date!
An hour later, my groceries were all put away, and I'd spent the rest of that time contemplating the entire date I'd apparently gone on today over tea.
Kakashi was definitely strange. He could have simply asked me. Though I do understand why he might have been a little reluctant... it doesn't mean he can just trick me like that.
He really was very sweet though, and surprisingly romantic.
But damn him.
He knew very well that I'd figure it out, and he also knew that by the time I did, he'd know whether or not it would matter.
And at this point, it didn't.
Because I actually like the jerk.
I rubbed my scar in irritation and set my teacup on the table before standing and making my way into my room.
A few moments later, I'd gathered up all of my photographer's previous gifts as well as his newest unopened photo. Now, I sat on the floor in front of my coffee table, and reviewed each one in order, as I placed them into the album I'd just bought.
When all the rest were safely settled into their new home, I set the album aside and went about opening the new one.
He was laying down on his stomach this time, his blanket covered his left arm and shoulder. Said blanket dipped away and left his back totally exposed, then came up again just below the dip of his tailbone. It curled tastefully over the expanse of his bottom, but left a small portion of it still visible along his right hip. Hinting at what lay beneath. His right leg was drawn up and bent, almost touching the tip of his right elbow. His arm held a black pillow over his face, leaving only his chin and throat in view, and he looked for all the world like he was asleep.
His back was well defined, muscles apparent as they bent and dipped in his relaxed position. I bit my bottom lip as I traced their lines with a careful finger.
When I turned it over, a small letter awaited my eyes.
I want to know you, too. I want to know what you look like when you laugh, and cry, and every expression in between. I want to know what kind of dreams you have at night. I want to know what troubles you during the day. I want to know your desires, your hopes, and your fears. I want to know all of it.
I want to know everything.
But you might not want that... Not when you know me. That is my biggest fear.
I promise I will come to you. When I do, I hope you won't be angry. I saw no other way to convey my feelings.
May I wait a little longer, though?
I don't want to end this just yet.
I want to keep it for a short while more.
~ Your Photographer
I read it twice and smiled. Because while he detailed what he'd wanted to know of me, he'd answered it all as if I'd been able to ask him in return, myself.
He hoped I wouldn't be angry. He feared coming forward and losing me completely. He detailed his wants, and I already knew his dreams.
My photographer really is very sweet.
I carefully added it into the album I'd set aside earlier, and stood to make some more tea.
Some ten minutes later found me out on my porch, our book in hand, with a fresh steaming cup on the table before me.
"I know you're worried, and I can't say how I'll react until the moment comes, but for now... I understand. I'll wait until you're ready. But I'd like to be honest with you, too. I spent time with someone else today. I hope that doesn't hurt you to know. I hope you understand that while I like your attentions, very much... I'm drawn to him as well. I'm sorry. I'm seeing him again tomorrow, but I'll read for you once I get home."
Silence was my only reply for the moment. But I hadn't expected any less.
I took a sip of my tea, and opened our book.
The next few hours were once again wiled away while reading.