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Waking immediately from a light and fitful sleep, Kakashi sat up and rolled his shoulders gingerly. Pain swelled as he moved his left arm in gentle circles, still not fully healed from where Tsunade had knit muscle and skin back together. It wasn’t the first time he’d copied a ninjutsu that his body couldn’t keep up with. The force of it had dislocated his shoulder, and nearly tore his arm apart. He knew he was lucky to be alive, but looking around his cold and empty bedroom , he couldn’t bring himself to be particularly happy about it.

He turned to look out the window. The barest hint of colour peaked from over the treetops, bathed in the morning’s twilight. It was somehow especially beautiful, and Kakashi felt the strange urge to look away, as if such a lovely morning couldn’t possibly be for him. His eyes traced down his headboard, first to his team pictures and then to the only living thing ever to share his bed: Mr.Ukki, the plain-looking houseplant all but bursting out of its too-small pot.

Kakashi loved that plant.

Not as much as he loved a certain schoolteacher, but the humiliating reality of his feelings for Iruka-sensei made admitting as much utterly impossible. Iruka’s fiery passion for life and everyone he shared it with had Kakashi hooked from the very beginning. The fact that the man was incredibly handsome was merely a fortunate bonus.

For a moment, Kakashi lost himself in silly little fantasies, picnics and stargazing and gardening and growing old together- all things he knew were impossible. Then suddenly he realized that the sun was shining in his eyes- he was going to be late. Blushing from another morning spent lost with his thoughts, Kakashi pulled his mask up over his flushed cheeks and continued his morning routine at his usual unhurried pace. He headed lazily to Hokage Tower. Hopefully, if Tsunade was in a good mood she would deem him healed enough to finally take a mission.

Either way, he wasn’t spending another day in bed.

In the central office of the Hokage tower, Lady Tsunade sat at her desk looking half asleep and very hungover. Her gaze was fixed on Kakashi almost menacingly, and for a moment he considered leaping through her open window to escape her wrath.

“Don’t even think about it, brat.” Tsunade grumbled, gaze sharp for a moment.

Kakashi uncrossed his arms, shoving his hands into the deep pockets of his uniform pants. He waited for her to continue. Eventually, she fished through the sea of paperwork on her desk until she produced a single file and slapped it on the desk in front of her.

“The only mission I have that’s appropriate isn’t one I would normally recommend for somebody with your skill set.” She warned as Kakashi reached for the document. Kakashi raised an eyebrow at her. “Oh, don’t look so shocked, Hatake, you’re not a god.”

Kakashi didn’t think the quirk of his eyebrow made him look “shocked”, but he smiled at her anyway. “I’m just surprised I’m getting a choice. Usually I get sent on missions whether I think I can succeed or not.”

Tsunade snorted. Kakashi appreciated her playing along - they both knew that he was raised from birth to do whatever was needed of him. He didn’t have a choice now, either. The village needed him, and that would always have to be enough. He took the file and opened it.

“The man pictured in the file was one of our diplomats, recently found dead at his accommodations in the Salt kingdom bordering the Land of Steam. Official reports claim his death was accidental, but our intelligence has deemed it suspicious. The Salt kingdom draws hundreds of tourists to its mineral-rich springs. With a major port only half a day’s walk, people from all over pass through there every day. The diplomat had connections on the council, they want this matter fully investigated. The new diplomat is receiving intelligence training as we speak, but he won’t be ready for deployment for another week. This mission requires you to pose as a hastily-appointed liaison acting on behalf of our new diplomat, in order to scope out the situation before we send him in.”

“That is troublesome.” Kakashi sighed. Tsunade was right- this was not the kind of mission anyone in their right mind would send him on. He was an assassin and a soldier, not a spy. He resisted the urge to groan. “When do I leave?”

***

Tsunade took a long dreg from her teacup, downing the entire thing with a satisfied expression. Iruka suspected it wasn’t tea she was drinking, but he didn’t think it wise to call her out so early in the morning.

The summons had come as a surprise; the ANBU’s sudden appearance at Iruka’s kitchen window activated his ninja reflexes. Had he not been in the middle of making breakfast, he might have grabbed something more formidable to defend himself with than a batter-coated spatula. He’d been embarrassed at first, but eventually decided that if he could bring some joy to the hard life of a special-ops nin, a little embarrassment was worth it. That, and he was very curious to know what mission was so important they needed to pull him away from his students.

Tsunade slapped a file down on her desk and looked up at Iruka almost triumphantly. A shiver worked its way down his spine as his mind raced for an explanation. Am I being punished for something?

He glanced to his right where Genma was lazily flicking the senbon between his lips. Noticing his gaze, Genma winked, smirking around the weapon in his teeth in a way that only deepened Iruka’s unease. The Tokubetsu Jōnin was a notorious flirt, certainly, but he took missions as seriously as anyone else.

Iruka crossed his arms and looked down at the mission folder warily. “Why do I get the feeling you know something I don’t?” he asked.

Tsunade scowled at him . “Don’t play smart with me. One week ago I sent Kakashi on an intelligence gathering mission to the Salt Kingdom, and our latest reports from that area are warning of a possible assasination attempt by rogues from the Land of Water. I’m sending you two in as backup.”

She tossed the file to Iruka. He caught it and opened it, skimming the dossier with mounting confusion. Genma was a logical choice for the mission: he had lots of undercover experience and worked primarily as an escort for high-profile targets. On the other hand, Iruka only had a handful of escort missions under his belt, and he hadn’t done undercover work since he was a teenager. He wanted to ask why he was selected, but he knew better than to question the Hokage’s judgement.

“Isn’t Kakashi supposed to be in recovery right now?” Iruka asked instead, remembering the torn-up state Kakashi had limped into the village in weeks earlier. He frowned, trying to calculate how much time it would take to completely heal injuries like that.

A puff of laughter escaped Genma and he turned to Iruka with a mischievous light in his eyes. “Worried about him, are we?”

Heat sprung to Iruka’s face. “We- I mean he, uh, we’re friends! Besides, he’s Naruto’s team leader.” Iruka wasn’t sure why the teasing struck such a deep chord, but he brushed it aside and tried to bring the focus back to the mission at hand. “And my students?”

“A substitute has already been placed.” Tsunade assured. Clearly he hadn’t been chosen last-minute.

Iruka nodded. If Kakashi was in trouble, the choice was obvious.

“When do we leave?”

***

Perching in a maple tree in the old growth district of Salt City, Iruka and Genma sat surveying the streets. They arrived that morning after two day’s travel, and had since established a lookout in the low branches. The mission dossier made it clear that they were not to contact Kakashi directly unless absolutely necessary. If all went well, they could stay hidden the entire time, watching from the shadows. However, sneaking around in broad daylight was no easy task, and Genma had convinced Iruka to wear a civilian disguise just in case they needed cover. Tsunade had sent them with a change of clothes each, borrowed from the Intelligence unit. Iruka tugged at the puffy sleeves of his disguise, already missing the worn-in comfort of his uniform darks.

“Target acquired.” Genma said suddenly, pointing up the street to where a group of people were making their way towards the market square beneath the tree. Iruka followed Genma’s gaze. Sure enough, Kakashi was there, dressed in colourful civvies and conspicuously bare-faced save the bandages wrapped around his sharingan. He was talking with a wealthy-looking man, trailed by a trio of giggling young women who were dressed in servant’s clothing.

“That must be the diplomat. He matches our records.”

The two of them watched as the group approached, coming to a stop right beneath the branches of their tree. They fell back to the reverse side of the trunk to avoid being seen. There were no branches large enough to conceal them properly, but enough to block the view of the ground below.

Iruka started to channel chakra to the bottom of his feet to cling to the tree trunk ,hoping to get a better look, but Genma stopped him. “Careful. The suspected assassins might have chakra-sensing abilities, remember?”

Iruka sat back on his heels, nodding. It was better safe than sorry.

Genma stretched out his hand. “Give me your arm, I’ll balance you while you stretch around the trunk to see.”

The technique was not unlike the trust exercises he taught his students. Without a word, he slipped into position and allowed Genma to grip his wrist, and once they were secure, leaned out. Kakashi and the others were just below.

“Ah, they’re leaving.” Iruka said. “We should foll-”

“Shit!” Genma hissed, waving his free hand frantically.

“What?”

“There’s a bee!”

Iruka craned his neck to stare in disbelief. “Never mind that! Pull me back!”

“Woah!” Genma said, flinching violently.

All at once, Iruka felt the crucial grip on his wrist slacken, and the world fell out from under him. “Oh, Shit-” Iruka hissed as he slipped, tumbling ungracefully through the branches until hitting the ground hard. Subtle manipulations of his fall prevented any major injury, but he definitely didn’t give away his shinobi identity. No, he was going to give away his shinobi identity when he got his hands on Genma, who was watching from the branches.

I’ll kill him.” he thought darkly, groaning dramatically as he rubbed his head. Kakashi and the others swarmed to him. The sky was still spinning, and Iruka could barely make out the unfamiliar faces looming over him.

“Sir! Are you alright?”

“What were you doing in the tree?”

“You’re bleeding!”

The voices talked over each other, a flurry of questions swirling between them. He sat up gingerly, cradling his scraped arm.

“I’d recognize that outfit anywhere! Kirayoshi, is he a friend of yours from the Land of Fire?”

Iruka looked up sharply at the servant girl who’d just spoken. She was looking between him and Kakashi with curiosity. Iruka turned to Kakashi, momentarily distracted by his bare face. They locked eyes, and Kakashi’s expression deepened. The older man hummed.

“Goodness! Could this be...Iruka?” he asked.

Iruka’s blood ran cold. How did-? He stared, trying to think of where the man could possibly know him from, desperate to save his cover. “Uh…”

“Oh what a wonderful surprise! Your fiance has told us so much about you, isn’t that right Kirayoshi-san?” the man continued, looking between Kakashi and Iruka with delight.

Iruka shifted his eyes to Kakashi again. The normally pale skin of Kakashi’s face was completely red, and his visible eye was wide with shock. Suddenly the man’s words sunk in.

“...my what?” Iruka asked in a small voice.

“Oh no, he’s hit his head...Quick, find him some water!” A servant girl tutted.

Iruka stared in disbelief as Kakashi knelt down next to him. He placed a hand on Iruka’s knee; it was shaking. Iruka’s mind seemed to unravel, it was all too much. “What the actual f-”

“Hi, uh, honey. What are you doing here?”

***

Kakashi had been on hundreds of missions. Many of them ended with him in excruciating pain and barely escaping with his life. More than once he had wished he had just died instead, mostly when he knew his teammates would put themselves at further risk to get him back to the village. Ninjas didn’t tend to live long lives, after all. And yet, never in his entire life had he wanted to die more than he did right now.

Iruka sat before him, dressed in the same style of tacky Fire Country elite casualwear as him, pretending to have a head injury.

Please tell me this isn’t happening.” Kakashi thought desperately, using all of his focus to keep from dissolving in humiliation.

Iroh-san and his trio of “helpers” as he called them were all gathered, their eyes shifting between Iruka and himself with keen interest. He had to let Iruka in on the ruse or they would both blow what thin cover they had. Kakashi racked his brain, trying to think of something normal-sounding to say.

“Hi, uh, Honey-” Kakashi cringed “-what are you doing here?”. He could feel the heat radiating from his cheeks, and lamented the loss of his mask, which served to hide his notoriously rosy cheeks from the public eye. He desperately hoped Iruka couldn’t feel his hand shaking. He doubted Iruka would think highly of a supposed elite ninja who was all but defeated by his own ridiculous crush.

Iruka looked stunned, rubbing his head as if he were still reeling. Kakashi, however, could see the gears turning in Iruka’s mind. Kakashi held his breath. Suddenly Iruka turned to him and gave him a meaningful look.

“Don’t be mad, but I just couldn’t stand to be apart from you any longer. You know how lonely I get when you leave on long trips! What if something were to happen? I want to be there to back you up.

The three servant girls squealed in unison, fawning over Iruka gleefully.

“So dedicated!”

“How romantic. I could just die!”

It was obvious that they missed the subtle message Iruka had sent: he was here as backup. Something must be wrong. Iroh, the Salt diplomat, grinned and held out his arms. “Kirayoshi-san, why don’t you take your fiance back to your suite and get him cleaned up. Our talk can wait for an hour or so, eh?”

Kakashi held out a hand and helped Iruka to his feet. Kakashi’s heart lurched when Iruka wrapped an arm around his waist. He cleared his throat.

“Thank you, Iroh-san. I will meet you back here in an hour.”

Iroh grinned knowingly at him, and Kakashi flushed again. “Of course. Now it makes sense why you asked for the larger accommodations. Let’s go, girls! We will see Kirayoshi-san later.”

Kakashi frowned. He hadn't requested larger accommodations. Iroh started along the path towards the market, but the girls hung back, obviously trying to eavesdrop.

“No more climbing trees. One of these times you’ll actually hurt yourself.” Kakashi scolded, loud enough for them to overhear. Understanding flashed in Iruka’s eyes.

“But they make such good spying places! You can see everything, but nobody can see you! There could have been even more people up there and nobody would know!” Iruka whined, his gaze flickering to the lingering servants and then back to Kakashi again.

Kakashi resisted the urge to groan, realizing that at least one other Leaf nin had witnessed the entire exchange and would no doubt have to be filled in later. “Come along, dear. We’ll talk about this later.”

The girls giggled and hurried after their master, while Kakashi lead Iruka up to the inn he had a room at. Arm in arm, they made their way unhurriedly in what Kakashi hoped was companionable silence.

The moment the door clicked closed behind them, Iruka wrenched his arm away and rounded on Kakashi. He looked furious.

He opened his mouth to say something, but before he got a chance, Genma slipped into the room through the window, grinning like a fox.

“This is the most fun I’ve had on a mission in forever.”

Iruka looked like he was about to clobber Genma. “You! That entire incident was your fault to begin with! You DROPPED ME.”

“Wait, what?” Kakashi asked. That sounded like something Naruto might do, not a trained veteran like Genma.

Unphased by Iruka’s temper, Genma shrugged sheepishly. “What can I say? I’m allergic to bees. I couldn’t just let it sting me. Besides, you handled yourself alright.”

“Handled my-! I should have pulled you down with me.” Iruka hissed.

Genma grinned, sauntering closer. “Aw, but we wouldn’t want Kakashi’s new friends to think his lovely fiance was cheating on him with another man.”

Kakashi winced while Iruka spluttered incomprehensibly. “I can explain.” he said lamely. He was dreading the conversation, but there was no getting around it.

Iruka had his hands on his hips, likely unaware of how much he looked like a teacher about to scold a student.

“This I have to hear.” Genma said, pulling up a chair. Kakashi mentally shook himself. Ok, no more stalling.

He sighed, and shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from fidgeting. “When I first arrived, it became very apparent that the local council was seeking a different type of bond with Konoha than just diplomatic liaisons. I was presented with several marriage candidates, all village elite and far too young to be married off. I had to get them to back off without revealing my true identity, so I...well, I pretended to be engaged.”

Iruka’s eyes went comically wide. “To me!?” he asked. “Why?

Because I’m in love with you. “Because of your low profile. You rarely travel outside of the village, and aren’t listed in any Bingo Books as far as we know. I had to pick somebody that I knew a bit about, so my answers to their questions would seem natural.”

Kakashi cringed, hearing how stupid that plan sounded when he said it out loud. Iruka was shaking his head and muttering to himself. Genma was practically glowing with delight. Finally Iruka looked up at him, clearly exacerbated.

“And you used my real name?”

Kakashi dropped his gaze to the floor, feeling his cheeks redden for what felt like the hundredth time that day. “Quite frankly, I’m not used to undercover missions. I didn’t have a decent lie prepared in advance and it just kind of slipped out. Sorry.”

Iruka let out a long breath. “Well-” he shrugged. “It’s done now, so we’ll have to roll with it. Genma, you stay out of sight. I’ll pose as the lucky groom until the new diplomat is ready. Here.”
Iruka turned, and fished through his mission pack. He pulled out a folder and handed it to Kakashi. “Can I borrow a shirt?” he added.

“Uh, top drawer to your left.” Kakashi said. Iruka grabbed a shirt off the top of the pile.
They watched Iruka turn and march into the bathroom, the clean shirt clenched in his fist. Once the door closed, Genma turned to Kakashi. “I never knew you were such a good actor, Kakashi. If I didn’t know any better I’d be convinced you were really in love with him.”

Unable to stop the blush from rising to his cheeks, Kakashi gave Genma his best death glare. “Shut up.” he said, frowning when the shit-eating grin on Genma’s face widened dangerously.

“Whatever you say.” Genma shrugged.

Anxiety rippled under Kakashi’s skin. “I mean it.” he growled. It was too much, and Kakashi could barely stand it.

Genma’s expression softened. “So do I. I won’t say anything.”

Kakashi exhaled harshly, feeling the knot in his stomach loosen for the first time since the incident. He shot Genma a grateful look before turning to the mission dossier. He blinked in surprise.

“Assassins? Are you sure?” he asked. Genma’s brow furrowed.

“Not as sure as I’d like us to be. But we both agreed, even the possibility warranted backup. We could spare the manpower, mission work has been slow”

Kakashi nodded, but secretly that made him even more worried. If there was a surplus of available ninja, why would Tsunade pull Iruka away from his work in the middle of the semester? Come to think of it, why choose me over an actual espionage-nin?

Something was very wrong, and it had nothing to do with rogue ninjas.

***

Iruka sat at the desk, wishing he’d brought some marking with him. With Kakashi out with the diplomat, and Genma following them covertly, there was nothing left for him to do but sit and wait. He bounced his leg impatiently. Suddenly his stomach growled, and he realized at once how hungry he was. He looked out the window- judging by the sun, it looked to be nearing supper hour. Kakashi wasn’t due back until later that evening.

“Well-” he said to nobody in particular, “-I guess a quick trip to the Inn kitchen wouldn’t hurt.”

Gathering some money from his belongings, he carefully hid the mission dossiers under the mattress of the bed - the only bed, go figure- and locked the door behind him.

The smell of fresh onions and cooking spices wafted through the hallway as he approached the dining hall. It was early yet, so there were plenty of tables. He was about to slip into a cozy table by the windows when he heard his name.

He whirled around; one of Iroh’s servant girls was waving frantically to him, gesturing him over to her table. He waved sheepishly, hoping she’d stop making a scene- the other diners were starting to stare. He made his way over to her. Trapped again. Typical.

“Iruka-san! Please, allow me to treat you to dinner. Courtesy of Master Iroh, of course!” she chirped, beaming at him.

He smiled gratefully back. “That is very kind of you both. I’m afraid in the commotion I never got your name, miss-?”

“Please, call me Miku. Master Iroh is a very modern man, he doesn’t stand on formality.”

Iruka nodded and sat down across from her. She looked very young, but not young enough to be even his oldest student’s age.

“Iroh-san seems like a wonderful person.” Iruka commented. If he could keep her talking, it would reduce the possibility of contradicting something Kakashi had already told her.

Miku cast her eyes down, trying to hide the fondness written across her face. “He is. Me and the others, he saved us. We had nobody else in the world, and we were trying to make a living working at the pleasure house down by the harbor. The sailors paid well, for the most part. But when Iroh saw us, he took us on to be his assistants. He may be a diplomat during the day, but his real passion is matchmaking. He promised that when we are ready, he will find a partner for each of us. Until then, we stay with him, and he wards off unwanted suitors and provides for us.”

Iruka couldn’t hide his surprise. “Wow. That’s amazing! I admit, I am glad to know that he is treating you well.”

Miku grinned. “He really is a good judge of character. That’s why he likes Kirayoshi-san so much. His predecessor was a nice enough man, but there was something about him that was...conniving somehow. Kirayoshi-san is so genuine. He loves you very much, you know.”

Heat rose to Iruka’s cheeks. Kakashi must have really laid it on thick. “I know.” he replied.

“You don’t seem convinced.”

“What?”

Miku stared at him, searching his face. “That he loves you. You don’t sound convinced.”
Damn, she’s not as air-headed as she appears. I’ll have to be careful. Iruka looked down at his hands, buying time to think of a response. Something close enough to the truth to fool her. “To be honest...our engagement came as a surprise. I had my...suspicions as to how he felt about me, but I’d never been sure. It didn’t seem possible for a man like him to see anything in me.”

Miku studied him a moment before nodding, apparently convinced. “You shouldn’t worry. The way he talks about you… his feelings are unmistakable. He loves the way you treat everybody, especially your students, with respect. Like they are all equal in your eyes. He loves your kindness, and the way you bend over backwards to help people you don’t even know. You inspire him, Iruka-san.”

Iruka’s heart thumped in his chest, and he sat in silence, stunned by her words. Could Kakashi really think that way? Could the village’s top ninja really fall so deeply for a simple school teacher? Before he could ponder it more, a server came by to take their orders.

After that, the conversation moved comfortably from topic to topic, never again straying into he and “Kirayoshi’s” relationship. Miku proved to be an eloquent and intelligent young woman, and he enjoyed the meal so much he almost forgot he was undercover.

Soon enough, once the table was cleared and the meal paid for, Iruka noticed how dark it had gotten. Kakashi was due to return any minute. Thanking Miku, he quickly excused himself and hurried back up to the room. He swung the door open, finding Kakashi inside, leaning against the wall.

“Kakashi! Sorry, I was down in the dining hall-”

“Mah, don’t worry. I saw you on my way in. She cornered you i’m guessing?”

Iruka let out a sigh of relief. “Once she saw me, I had no choice. I don’t believe she asked me anything that could’ve contradicted something you’ve said.”

Kakashi held his gaze for a moment too long, and then looked away sharply. “That’s good. Genma wants to meet us. Apparently he has some information.”

“When is he coming?”

Kakashi shook his head. “We are going to him. I received some vouchers for the village’s mineral onsen from Iroh-san. We need to make an appearance there, together, to avoid suspicion. Genma is waiting for us, so we should leave as soon as possible.”

“Oh.” Iruka said. He looked at Kakashi, noting the way Kakashi seemed to avoid his gaze. Miku’s words echoed in his head. Maybe…

“Something wrong, Sensei?” Kakashi murmured, still not meeting his eyes.

Iruka looked up quickly. “No! Actually, I am kind of excited. I haven’t been to a hot spring in forever.”

Kakashi straightened up and opened the door.

“After you, then.”

***

Keep it together, Hatake. In the cool evening air, the heat of the spring water felt heavenly. The grounds were heavily overgrown with climbing greenery and flowering trees, wafting their pleasant scent through the air. As far as hot springs went, it’s fame and reputation were well deserved.

He and Iruka were tucked into a corner, sitting far too close for Kakashi’s frayed nerves. Iruka had piled all his hair on top of his head into a messy bun, and was melting into the water with a look of total contentment. By comparison, Kakashi had his knees tucked tightly into his chest, and felt like he was going to explode at any minute.

Across the pool, Genma hummed, eyeing the two of them with a smirk. “Beautiful night. What brings the two of you out this way?” He asked, leaning back against the pool's edge with an easy grin.

Iruka wrapped his hands around Kakashi’s bicep, and Kakashi sucked in a breath. “We are visiting from Konoha! Come, sit with us.” Iruka called.

Their extra caution was likely unneeded- the men’s pool was abandoned save the three of them. Something about that was odd, too. It was supposed to be one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Kakashi looked around, unsatisfied when he could sense nothing out of the ordinary.

Beside him, Iruka tugged on his arm, violently snapping his attention back to the conversation. Iruka leaned against him, and Kakashi’s heart pounded wildly in his chest. Genma sauntered over to them, or as close as one could get wading through waist-deep water. He settled in a little closer.

“Konoha you say? I’ve been there, it’s quite nice in the fall when it’s not so hot. Did you hear the gossip about the old diplomatic attache?

Iruka piped up first. “We did! In fact, my Kiyo here is the temporary replacement. Right honey?”

Kakashi smiled, ashamed of the spark of delight Iruka’s fond words caused. Hopefully he and Genma couldn’t tell. “Indeed. It’s such a shame when a simple accident ends so tragically.”

Genma nodded, looking relaxed, but his gaze was intense. “Very true. You know he died of a broken neck? He was a bit of a lush, apparently, and he fell down the stairs after one too many on his way back from the gentleman’s club. Poor bastard died instantly, probably didn’t feel a thing. His housekeeper saw it with her own eyes. Poor thing.”

Genma drew his hands together, making the first sign for a genjutsu before propping his elbows up on the ledge. Kakashi nodded, as did Iruka. His insinuation was clear- he’d spoken to this housekeeper, and confirmed her story by putting her under genjutsu. Yet another thing that didn’t make sense...

“It’s good that he didn’t suffer.” Kakashi agreed. “I had heard that it didn’t happen that way. I can’t imagine how such rumors might get started.”

Iruka hummed in agreement, stretching out his legs. He had that look on his face again, the one he got when he was deep in thought. No doubt, he was thinking the same thing as Kakashi: Konoha intelligence nin were highly trained, and would never fail to investigate all possible witnesses to a suspected homicide. If Genma could find out the truth in less than a day, there was no way the intel unit missed something that obvious.

Genma stood up. “It’s been nice talking with you, but I have some things I need to do before the night is out. Don’t get into too much trouble.” he grinned wickedly at them before hopping up out of the water, unabashed as he loped back to the dressing room.

With talk of the mission no longer a distraction, he became acutely aware of Iruka’s bare skin against his own. His stomach twisted itself into nervous knots. Iruka hadn’t moved; he was still staring in the direction Genma had left. Finally, Iruka pulled himself from Kakashi’s side and stood, rolling his neck and stretching out his shoulders. Kakashi tried unsuccessfully not to stare.

Iruka cocked his head and looked down at Kakashi. “This entire mission makes no sense.”

“I tend to agree.” Kakashi said quietly. He looked across the pool, counting lanterns to avoid the temptation to stare at Iruka some more. He got to 16 before Iruka spoke again.

“Not a fan of the hot springs?” he asked.

Kakashi blinked. “They’re fine.”

Iruka chuckled. “You haven’t relaxed even a smidge since we arrived.” Kakashi glanced up briefly, just long enough to catch the humor written plainly across Iruka’s face. He looked over his shoulder at Kakashi and trailed his eyes down slowly, then back up again. “Personally, I could spend all day here. It’s too bad we can’t stay longer.”

Is he flirting with me? He can’t be. Why would he flirt with me? I don’t even know if he’s... Kakashi stared resolutely ahead, suddenly feeling completely overheated. Before he could stop himself, he turned to Iruka.

“I’m sorry for dragging you into this. It was irresponsible at best, and now i’ve implied that you’re...well, that you...that you like-”

“Men?” Iruka laughed. “That’s not exactly a secret. I don’t really have a preference.”

Kakashi looked up, eyes wide. Iruka’s grin softed.

“It’s not as bad as it used to be, you know. Just about everyone’s come around to the idea.” . Iruka started towards the dressing rooms. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Kakashi followed, mulling over Iruka’s words. It was true- when he’d clumsily announced that he was engaged to a man, nobody batted an eye. People still whispered about him behind his back, but not for all the same reasons. Maybe he’d seen things getting better and ignored it. Maybe he was just terrified of letting anyone get too close.

Kakashi smiled, a small but real smile, as he followed Iruka out of the onsen. This man will be the death of me.

“Thank you sirs! We hope you’ve enjoyed your time here.” the front clerk bowed to them.

“It was lovely, thank you.” Kakashi replied. The clerk turned and headed to the door. She pulled a sign off the door and stowed it behind the front desk. Kakashi barely got a glimpse of what it said: “Men’s section closed for private function”.

Another minor mystery. And I’m going to get to the bottom of it.

***

Iruka stood at one side of the bed, Kakashi at the other. It hadn’t really occurred to them that part of playing a couple would mean sharing a bed. Iruka glanced up, eyeing Kakashi, trying to figure out what he was thinking.

“I’ll sleep in the chair.” Kakashi piped up, and turned abruptly on his heel away from the bed.

Typical. Iruka huffed in annoyance and hurried around to cut him off. “Oh no you don’t. You’re still recovering, remember? Tsunade would have my head if I made you sleep slumped in a wooden chair all night.”

Kakashi seemed to fidget slightly. “I feel fine.” he said under his breath.

Iruka studied him some more. Back in the hot springs, he’d reacted with some uncertainty to the light flirting, but Iruka had caught him smiling to himself a couple of times. He likely didn’t even realize he was doing it. Perhaps that’s why he wears the mask. Now that he was paying attention, Kakashi did seem...smitten. Iruka could hardly believe it. He didn’t believe it. Not yet.

“Kakashi, come on. It’s a big bed. I don’t bite.”

Kakashi stared at the bed for a long minute. “...ok.”

At that moment, something in the air changed between them. Suddenly the bed didn’t look so big anymore. “Great. I’ll take this side, you take that side?” Iruka quipped, steamrolling through the tension. Kakashi nodded silently, and padded slowly to his side of the bed. He began to undress, and Iruka found it very difficult not to stare. Instead, he glanced at Kakashi out of the corner of his eye.

He swallowed thickly, and pulled his own shirt over his head. He’d decided against packing pajamas, so he had nothing to sleep in but his uniform pants. They were in his bag, all the way on the other side of the room.

Why am I nervous all of a sudden? Iruka cleared his throat. “Could you, uh, pass me my- actually nevermind, I’ll-”

Iruka’s breath caught as he looked up. Kakashi stood before him, shirtless, gazing into his eyes. Both eyes. The bandages that had been around his eye were gripped in his hand. The sharingan almost glowed in the dimly lit room, spinning slowly. Iruka had never seen it before. He was captivated. It was as if he could sink into the depth of Kakashi’s gaze and drown.

Then Kakashi looked down, shutting his left eye tightly. “Sorry-” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to expose you to it.”

“It’s fine.” Iruka said, still watching Kakashi.

The tension in the air was thick, and Iruka could feel it pulling against his exposed skin as he crossed over to fetch his pack. Kakashi, too, had opted to sleep in his uniform pants. Without the wrappings, they were baggy and soft, especially after so much wear.

Iruka’s heartbeats felt heavy as he slowly pulled back the covers. He tentatively climbed into bed, careful not to bump into Kakashi as he did the same. They almost managed it, but as Iruka reached up to let his hair out of its ponytail, his arm brushed against Kakashi’s hand.

Iruka gasped. “Your hands are freezing!”

Kakashi cringed. “Ah, sorry.” He carefully tucked his hands away. “I have bad circulation” he muttered, almost too quiet for Iruka to make out.

“Don’t worry about it. I promise not to steal the blankets, then.” Iruka whispered, settling down under the covers as well.

After that, nobody spoke, and Kakashi went completely still. Iruka found it hard to fall asleep, even though it was as if Kakashi wasn’t even there. He was still too wired from the crazy day he’d had. This morning, he’d been running through the canopy outside the village with Genma. Now he was in bed with the famous copy ninja, pretending to be his fiance.

Yesterday, Iruka would have laughed in the face of anywho who suggested Kakashi might have feelings for him. They were friends, certainly, but nothing more. Now…

Iruka thought back to the first time they met - Iruka had just made Chunin, and Kakashi was his team captain on a mission that ended in tragedy. It was Iruka’s fault, but Kakashi had placed all the blame on himself. Throughout the whole mission, Kakashi had been a thoughtful and considerate leader. Iruka couldn’t believe how wrong people were about the so-called “Friend-Killer Kakashi”. He acted cool, even lazy, but on the inside it was obvious he cared deeply for his comrades.

Iruka could have kicked himself. Suddenly, all the times Kakashi had come to his rescue, the extra effort he put into his mission reports when Iruka was working the desk, the late-night trips to Ichiraku’s...all that time, Iruka never realized how lonely Kakashi was. How lonely he himself was. Iruka pictured Kakashi’s one-eyed smile, the way he hid behind his book when he was feeling shy, his dry humour, how attractive his long, slender fingers were.

I’m an idiot. Iruka mentally scolded himself. How long have I had feelings for Kakashi?

Suddenly a feeling of exhaustion swept over him, and as he drifted to sleep, he inched a little closer to Kakashi, and fell asleep with a tiny smile pulling at his lips.

***

Sunlight tickled Iruka’s skin, and his eyes fluttered open. As his eyes adjusted to the bright morning, he mused over the decent sleep he’d gotten. Normally he slept terribly when he was away from his own bed.
He took a deep, satisfied breath, and shifted just slightly, eyes drifting closed.

Then all at once his eyes shot open again, as he realized that Kakashi’s arms were wrapped gingerly around his waist. His heart began to speed up. He started to turn to face Kakashi, but the moment he moved, Kakashi untangled himself and drew away, yanking his arms back like he’d been burned.

Iruka sat up, whirling around to look at Kakashi.

Kakashi was sitting with his back turned, drawing his arms into himself defensively. Iruka realized belatedly that he missed the sensation of Kakashi’s strong arms around him. He turned to Kakashi, staring hard at him until owlish grey eyes met his own. Iruka held his gaze despite the almost unbearable intensity.

“Last night...at the hot spring, I could feel your heartbeat.” Iruka murmured. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Kakashi turned away, but Iruka could see the tips of his ears were red. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Kakashi, don’t...please, no more lies. Do you...do you really feel that way? About me?”

Iruka reached out a hand, but Kakashi flinched away. “I’m dangerous. And you deserve better.” Kakashi said, his voice raw.

Pain seared through Iruka, watching Kakashi so casually deny himself even a bit of affection. Old, deeply buried feelings bubbled to the surface, feelings he’d refused to acknowledge for so long. Feelings he didn’t want to deny anymore.

“Kakashi, I’m a ninja. Danger is what I do.” Kakashi turned around to protest, but Iruka cut him off. “And don’t try to convince me otherwise. When Naruto got assigned to your genin team, I admit, I was worried. He’s like a brother to me. But you should hear the way he talks about you. How they all talk about you. I know how far you’d go to protect them. No matter what you think, I trust you, Kakashi.”

Kakashi finally turned around, kneeling on the bed in front of Iruka with intense eyes. His sharingan burned into Iruka, drawing him in with an unseen force, the likes of which Iruka had never experienced. He felt his heart rate increase, and the blood rushed to his face, enough to turn even his dark cheeks a bright red. “Kakashi…” he breathed. “Are you really...in love with me?”

Just then, Genma slipped in through the window. Iruka whipped around to glare at him.

Genma paled. “I hate to break up whatever was just going on here, but I just saw the new diplomat and his escort coming up the path. They’ll arrive in the village in less than an hour. After you make introductions, we just need to debrief him and then we can go back home.”

Iruka blinked. “Already? I thought he wasn’t due for several days at least.”

Genma shrugged. “I thought so too. I guess they want him in position as soon as possible.”

Iruka looked over at Kakashi, who had already slipped into his civvies. All traces of his emotional vulnerability had vanished, and he regarded his teammates cooly.

“Let’s get this over with.”

***

The morning practically flew by. As Genma said, the new diplomat arrived in the village just as Kakashi met up with Iroh, Iruka in tow. The new diplomat was very young, and charmed his way into Iroh’s good books almost immediately. Kakashi had promised to keep in touch, and pulled his replacement aside for an uneventful debriefing.

The young man insisted that intelligence didn’t believe the death of the old diplomat was suspicious, nor had he heard of any assassins in the area.

Kakashi wracked his brain as he sped through the branches. He felt as if he’d been sent on a week and a half long wild goose chase.

The travel back to the leaf was easy, but swift. Kakashi noticed Iruka trying to make eye contact with him a number of times, but he defiantly stared straight ahead. He knew what Iruka wanted to talk about, and he wasn’t getting into it in front of Genma. He and Genma had been friends for ages, but the man was still the worst gossip in the village, especially when new romance was involved.

By the time they made camp for the night, Iruka had given up. He announced that he would take first watch, and disappeared into the trees.

Genma shrugged. “We’re pretty deep into Fire Country. I wasn’t even going to post a guard, but I guess if he wants to be alone he can do that.”

Genma shot Kakashi a look, which Kakashi pretended not to notice. The moon was almost full, and it bathed the ground in cool light. Genma rolled over and went right to sleep, or pretended to sleep, Kakashi couldn’t tell. He thought of Iruka, and their unfinished conversation. He wasn’t sure he was ready to have it. Then something Guy told him long ago popped into his head.

“Kakashi, sometimes the ‘right time’ never comes. If you don’t embrace what’s in front of you when you have the chance, you might never have another opportunity.”

It was one of Guy’s few speeches that wasn’t about youth, but Kakashi had never forgotten the words. Guy had been his friend when it felt like nobody else would. He was the only other person in the world who knew how he felt about Iruka. And if he were here right now, he’d be kicking my ass for being an idiot.

Silently, Kakashi rose from his bed roll and slipped into the night.

***

Iruka was a grown man, he didn’t pout. But he didn’t feel very much like a mature adult, sitting on the bank of a tiny lake, chucking stones into the water’s crystal surface. Once again, he’d indulged his bad habit of jumping in with both feet, and all at once become too much to handle.

His whole life, he’d been prone to overexcitement, jumping from one hyperfixation to the next with childish enthusiasm. As much as he wished he could do slow and subtle, he couldn’t, and now Kakashi was never going to speak to him again.

Iruka sighed, kicking off his shoes and untying his wraps so he could roll up the cuffs of his mission pants and dip his feet into the water.

“Aren’t you cold?”

Iruka whipped around when he heard Kakashi’s voice. He tried to hide his surprise, embarrassed for being snuck up on so easily.

“I should be asking you that.” Iruka replied, turning away. He didn’t know what was going on anymore, what Kakashi could be thinking.

Kakashi didn’t answer, instead coming to sit on the grass next to Iruka. Iruka turned, searching Kakashi’s face. Back in his usual clothing, it was harder to see Kakashi’s expression, but Iruka noticed a faint blush spilling over the edges of his mask.

They stared at each other as the tension mounted, neither keen on speaking up first.Finally, Iruka’s nerves got the better of him. He took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed so hard. I just get...excited.” Iruka started off strong, but quickly trailed off as he realized how stupid that sounded.

Kakashi’s visible eye was wide. “Sorry…? No, I needed the push. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not very good at this.” Kakashi looked down, fidgeting with his hands. “It’s the one thing I can’t cheat at using my sharingan.”

“All these years you’ve been calling that cheating?” Iruka laughed, and Kakashi looked up in surprise. “Geeze, Kakashi. Give yourself a little credit. Having a bigger library of available jutsu doesn’t make you a better ninja.”

Just like that, some of the tension dissolved. I guess we’ve spent a lot of time alone together, just as friends.

Kakashi got a mischievous look in his eye. “Are you trying to tell me that it’s not the size of my jutsu library, it’s how I use it?”

Iruka laughed even harder, playfully smacking Kakashi’s arm. “You’re a dork.”

Kakashi grinned at him. Then he looked down at his hands again. “About earlier…” Iruka stilled, nodded at him encouragingly. “I… I don’t want to lose this. Our friendship. When people become more than that, everything changes.”

Iruka pondered Kakashi’s words a moment. “It doesn’t have to. Lots of people fall in love with their close friends.” Kakashi looked unconvinced. Here goes nothing. “Kakashi, what do you like about me?”

Kakashi exhaled. His gaze shifted resolutely to the ground. The tips of his ears were turning red again. “In a world full of conflict and violence and death, you choose to be kind. You put your heart and soul into everything you do, even if others think it makes you seem immature. Regardless of rank, status, and ability, you treat everyone with the same respect and never pander to anyone for your own gain. I’ve personally seen you run yourself into the ground planning something special for your students while also working the mission desk and volunteering at the community centre. Whenever I come back from a difficult and bloody mission, and the world seems pointless and cruel, talking to you, seeing your smile, it makes me believe there is something left in the world for me to hold on to. Every day I can’t believe you’re willing to put up with my poor socialization. In a world full of shinobi trying to eliminate their feelings to be more efficient, the world needs more ninjas like you, who are just as effective but haven’t lost their humanity.”

Kakashi buried his face in his hands after the words tumbled out of him like sand. He looked terribly embarrassed, and Iruka wished Kakashi would look up and see the unshed tears in the corners of his eyes. He had no idea Kakashi felt that way about him. Hearing that meant so much more than what he didn’t say that morning.

“My turn.” Iruka placed his hand gently on Kakashi’s cheek. He could feel the heat radiating from Kakashi’s face, and finally, he glanced up at Iruka. A wave of affection washed over Iruka and he almost lost his chain of thought. “Kakashi, you are the most selfless person I've ever met. You would lay down your life for anyone in the village, not because you want to be a hero, not out of some deep-rooted sense of obligation, but because you truly understand the horror of war and death, and honestly just want to help. You don’t hold grudges against the people who don’t understand you. Underneath your cool exterior is a funny, gentle and warm-hearted man just waiting for a chance to be known. Ever since our first mission together I've wanted to know you, the real you, and every day since then has been an adventure. And Kakashi, none of that is going to change if...if you agree to be with me.”

Suddenly Iruka’s heart was pounding, and Kakashi’s gaze made him feel completely exposed.

“I want to...be with you, but I...I don’t know if I can give you everything you deserve.” Kakashi said slowly.

“Kakashi, you’re already giving me more than I deserve.” Iruka’s stomach knotted itself with anxiety. To come this far and have him still refuse would be unbearable. “Please, Kakashi, I know it’s sudden but I never thought I needed love but it’s you, it’s always been you. Don’t shut me out, not unless you really don’t want this.”

Kakashi looked down again. When he spoke, his voice was barely a whisper. “No...I mean...physically. I just…”

Iruka smiled, a wave of relief washing over him. “Kakashi, listen to me. I don’t care about that. I want to be with you, and if you’re not comfortable with anything physical, it doesn’t bother me. It’s not your body I have feelings for. Not that you’re not good-looking, of course.”

Kakashi looked like he was ready to faint. “I’ve never met anyone like me before.”

In that moment, it was as if the final barrier between them broke down. Iruka got to his feet, pulling Kakashi up with him. Iruka was tempted to lace their fingers together, but until he knew for sure what Kakashi was comfortable with, he figured he’d wait.

“Come on, let’s get some rest.” he said, pulling Kakashi from his reverie. He snatched up his shoes and started back towards camp when Kakashi grabbed his wrist.

“Wait.” he said. Iruka turned. Kakashi drew his hand up to his mask and slowly tugged it down around his neck. His pale skin almost glowed in the moonlight, still flushed with the glorious red Iruka was starting to find very attractive. He swallowed visibly, and stepped closer to Iruka, never pulling his eyes away.

Iruka leaned in closer, and it felt as though he was an awkward teenager again, with the anticipation of a first kiss surging through him. Kakashi inched closer, and Iruka’s breath hitched. Kakashi’s gaze flicked down to Iruka’s lips and back. Then Kakashi caught his lip between his teeth. It was the last thing Iruka saw before his eyes fluttered closed, and the last of the distance between them evaporated.

Kakashi tentatively wrapped his arms around Iruka’s waist, and Iruka pressed into Kakashi, deepening the kiss. Iruka reminded himself not to get carried away, but Kakashi responded enthusiastically. For someone who claimed he didn’t have a lot of experience, he was a pretty good kisser. Iruka chuckled, low in this throat, and when they pulled apart, Iruka pressed his forehead against Kakashi’s fondly.

“That’s something I could get used to.” Kakashi murmured, grinning.

Iruka hummed in agreement. “Me too.”

***

“Was the mission a success?” Tsunade asked, looking at Genma.

“In every way.” he replied, mouth curled into a half-smile.

Tsunade was sitting at her desk, a smug expression on her face. Kakashi frowned. That’s suspicious.

They’d already given their report in person, at her request, but that was the least of Kakashi’s concerns. He folded his arms. “Lady Hokage, There’s something else.”

Tsunade rounded on him. “What now, brat?”

Beside him, Genma made no effort whatsoever to hide his grin. Kakashi ignored him. “There are many indescrepencies that don’t add up. I was booked into a couple’s suite without my knowledge. Then, we were able to determine that the diplomat’s death really was an accident in no time at all, contrary to the supposed findings of our intelligence unit. Later, Iroh-san apparently booked the entire onsen for us without explanation. Lastely, the threat of assassins dissipated as quickly as it appeared.”

Tsunade frowned. “So?”

Next to him, Iruka was nodding seriously. “Yes! And for me, I still don’t understand why I was pulled out of school for a mission that I was barely qualified for. Then the intelligence unit gave me a completely conspicuous disguise to wear.” Iruka’s contemplative expression turned furious. He rounded on Genma. “And then Genma pulled some kind of rookie bullshit and dropped me out of a tree!”

Tsunade turned her attention to Genma. “Is that true?”

Under her intense scrutiny, some of the humor melted off Genma’s face. “There was a bee.” he defended, sounding like he only half believed it himself.

Tsunade’s expression darkened slightly. “You were the one who gave Iruka his disguise, right? And after you let his cover get blown, you then made the judgement that the diplomat’s death had been accidental?”

Genma paled. “Now hold on a minute-”

“And did you not then also leave the hot spring first, after kakashi had seen there was no sign on the door going in?” Tsunade’s fix on Genma was predatory. Kakashi momentarily felt bad for him.

Finally Genma stopped sputtering, narrowing his eyes at Tsunade. “Don’t you try to pin this on me. If you don’t tell them, I will.”

“What the hell is going on here?” Iruka yelled.

Suddenly, it all fell into place. “We were set up.” Kakashi said. Looking back, it would’ve been obvious if he didn’t believe Tsunade incapable of that level of meddling. He turned to Tsunade, who was staring defiantly at him. “What was the bet?”

Tsunade shut her eyes and smiled begrudgingly.

“You see, Iroh-kun and I go way back. We used to make bets on whether he could get two people together or not. Surely he told you he’s a-”

“Matchmaker. Damn it.” Iruka grumbled tartly.

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. The two of you have been all over each other for years. Everybody in the village knew it except you two. I did you a favour. I bet that Iroh-kun could get the two of you together in less than a week.” Tsunade announced triumphantly.

Kakashi couldn’t bring himself to be surprised anymore, after all that he’d seen Tsunade do in her official capacity as Hokage. Iruka, however, wasn’t taking it as calmly.

“And you knew about this? You did all that shit on purpose?” Iruka said to Genma.

Genma shrugged, grinning. “Unofficially, I was on the mission to supervise the bet proceedings as a neutral party. But honestly, I wanted to see you guys together as bad as Tsunade did, so I helped things along.”

Tsunade scoffed. “I was just in it for the money.” she looked at Kakashi. “And maybe to get you to stop moping around so much.”

“Won’t Iroh-san be mad that Genma was helping him lose his bet?” Iruka asked, still looking lost.

Tsunade grinned. “Iroh-kun is a bigger sucker than me when it comes to romance. I’ve never lost a bet to him in 15 years!” she laughed, throwing a fist into the air.

Shizune sighed. She’d been watching the entire thing unfold with a tired expression. Clearly, this wasn’t the first insane stunt Tsunade had pulled. “Alright, you’re free to go. The village thanks you for your service.” she said flatly. Iruka handed her the mission report with a sympathetic expression.

They filed out of her office and shut the door behind them.

“Was it really that obvious?” Iruka asked, blushing.

Kakashi caught the back of his neck with his hand and looked away. “Probably”

“Awe come on you two, lighten up! You’re together now, that’s what matters.” Genma piped up, slinging an arm over each of their shoulders.

“How did you find out about that, exactly? I don’t remember mentioning it to you.” Kakashi asked.

“What, you honestly thought that I wasn’t going to spy on you when you got up to go find him?”

Iruka turned to Genma with a smile that was just a bit too wide to not be unsettling. “Thank you, Genma, for all your help. As a thank-you, why don’t you come by my class tomorrow? The kids have been working on their Kunai-throwing abilities, and I’m sure they’d love to show you.”

Genma’s eyes widened. “Hey, c-c’mon, Iruka…” he said, backing away slowly.

“Or maybe I’ll tell Raido that you recklessly tossed me out of a tree. He’s been meaning to have me over for tea, and we’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Kakashi chuckled, enjoying the overly-cocky Genma being on the defensive for once.

“Don’t bring him into this!” Genma cried, flushing. He could tease people about their relationships all day long, but the minute somebody ribbed him about Raido it was all over.

“Then try and stop me.” Iruka said. For a moment, he looked just like Naruto, grinning wickedly with mischief in this eyes. Then he took off, sprinting down the hallway and out an open window.

“Iruka! Wait!” Genma called, running after him.

Kakashi laughed, watching his friends disappear into the village. Then he set off to find Guy. He felt like a challenge, and there was something very important he wanted to tell him.

~fin~