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A Time and a Place

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Kakashi watched Iruka making tea with tight, jerky motions, nearly stomping back and forth through his small kitchen. It didn’t look at all serene to him. And Iruka hadn’t even noticed that he had a visitor sitting in his window.

“You need to choose your time and ground better, Iruka. I thought you knew that,” he said, finally.

Iruka spun, tea splashing over his wrist, shuriken suddenly in the other hand. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

Kakashi refrained from rolling his eyes. “I’m here to answer your question, because I’m a nice guy.”

“Nice?” Kakashi supposed he’d earned the way Iruka growled that, considering how he’d slapped Iruka down in the meeting not an hour ago. But that was no excuse for not thinking, and he straightened out of his slouch, meeting Iruka’s glare.

“Iruka,” he said quietly. And that was all, but the outrage slowly drained out of Iruka’s expression and he sat down heavily at his kitchen table.

“My apologies, Kakashi-san,” he said to his tea cup, “for disappointing your expectations.”

Not, Kakashi noted wryly, for yelling at him in public, but that wasn’t the part he’d really minded. “So.” He leaned back against the windowsill again. “Now that you’re not being insubordinate and losing control in public, let’s try that again. Do you really think my team isn’t ready for the exams?”

“How can they be?” Iruka demanded, firing right up again, waving the hand not clenching his tea. “It’s barely been a year! They’ve only had a handful of missions! How can they possibly be ready for promotion?!”

“They’re not.” Kakashi’s mouth quirked under his facemask as Iruka stared at him. “They’re not ready for promotion. But they are ready for the exams.”

Iruka stared at him. “You… you, you mean you’re… but…!” Kakashi leaned forward, hands on his knees.

“Iruka. Listen to me. Those three are outstanding, but they also have very serious weaknesses. The only, and I mean only, time I’ve seen them draw together to cover each other the way a team needs to do in the field is when they’re in danger of their lives. That’s also when all of them advance by leaps and bounds you have to see to believe. So. You’re a teacher. You tell me: what should I do to help them progress and become what they can be?”

Iruka looked back at him, torn. “But…” Finally, he whispered, looking down, “But Naruto…”

Kakashi could see the fine tremors running down Iruka’s arms from how tight he was holding his shoulders, and sighed. He’d been pretty sure that was the real problem, yes. As gently as he could he said, “You knew what you were training them for, Iruka. You knew what they would be, once they graduated. Including Naruto.”

Iruka thumped his tea down, sloshing still more over the edge, and buried his face in his hands. “I’m never having children,” he said, low and violent. “Never.”

Kakashi didn’t point out that it was pretty much too late. He slid off the window and came to stand beside Iruka. “Hey.” When Iruka didn’t look up he nudged Iruka’s hands aside, wrapped his hand around Iruka’s chin, and lifted it. “Naruto is finding himself. He’s starting to move forward based on confidence instead of blind, dumb determination. And the three of them can work together; they’ll look out for each other in the exam.” Quieter but firmly, the tone he knew made Iruka respond, “You need to let him walk on his own, now.”

Iruka closed his eyes, stilling under Kakashi’s hand as some of the tension ran out of him. “Yes, Kakashi-san,” he said, husky.

Some people, Kakashi supposed, might feel guilty about using Iruka’s lingering bond to his ex-commander like this. But no shinobi ever would. It was what worked, and it was what his comrade needed. That was all that mattered. “Good.” He slid his hand down to Iruka’s shoulder and gave him a brisk shake. “And that means you’re not going to lose control in the middle of a meeting in front of the Hokage again, are you?”

Iruka flushed red and looked down, finally, it seemed, realizing exactly what he’d done. “No, Kakashi-san.”

“Better.” Kakashi slid one hand up to knead the nape of Iruka’s neck, hard, until he gasped and tipped his head back and finally relaxed. “Don’t beat yourself up over it,” Kakashi murmured. “Family tend to do things like that when the kids are involved. Just try not to do it again.”

“Yes, Kakashi-san.” Iruka smiled up at him, just a little wry. “Thank you.”

“Don’t worry.” Kakashi let him go with a last squeeze of his shoulder and stepped back. The imp of mischief nipped him and he grinned and let his tone turn just the slightest bit insinuating. “After all, you know how I take care of my teams.” He hopped out the window while Iruka was still sputtering and turning red, chuckling.

That should give Iruka something to distract him from his concern for his little brother. Kakashi did, after all, take good care of his teams.