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Better Dreams Than Never

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At six thirty-seven p.m. on a Friday, Iruka was involved in an argument with a construction foreman.

This wasn't a new occurrence, because as patient as he was with his students (and he wasn't actually that patient, but it was really all about relativity), Iruka's temper was infamous, and boiled quite near the surface. So, Iruka was usually in an argument with somebody.

"It's been seven months since that attack in this section of Konoha," Iruka said in low, threatening tones. The foreman appeared defiant and slightly terrified at the same time, glaring at the chuunin who was squinting up at him. "Seven months, and you haven't even reached the window-sill levels of the lower floors as yet?"

"We don't have special chakra-powers to help us build quickly, you know. Yamato-san isn't here to do the hard work." The foreman had a high voice, despite his considerable bulk. Iruka's top lip curled in disgust.

"So. You're telling me that, instead of fifty hardworking shinobi being able to use a new A-Block that has been already paid for in full by the village, you're waiting on Yamato-san to come back FROM HIS MISSION?!" The last three words that emerged from his mouth did so at roughly ear-shattering levels. The foreman cringed away, and then rallied back, blustering. He pointed a thick finger in Iruka's face.

"Now, look here, sensei, just look here--"

Iruka grabbed his finger. He did nothing to it, just held it tightly, until the foreman remembered that he was dealing with a person who had been trained to kill from childhood.

"You look here," Iruka snapped. "First of all, if you needed help from someone like Yamato-san, there are many other capable shinobi who could have helped, if you had requested it. Kakashi-san, for example."

"Yes," the foreman said, trying to pull his finger free. The act was futile."But--"

"And secondly--stop that wriggling, I'm talking to you--secondly, I'm sure you're aware that I'm the person in charge of monitoring the construction works for shinobi residences. I've been warning you for about three months now on your shoddy workmanship and the pace at which you're doing this work." Iruka took a deep breath, and went on: "If there is no considerable improvement within the next cycle, I'm recommending a cancellation of your contract and assigning it to another team. Am I clear?"

Without waiting for an answer, he released the foreman and stalked away.

"You're just a teacher, anyway!" The foreman yelled at his back, after waiting for Iruka to travel a considerable distance. Iruka rolled his eyes, and kept on moving. He crossed one busy street, tersely nodding at students, parents and fellow shinobi. In just a few moments, he arrived at a relatively new building, which actually faced the ongoing construction site. This was the B-Block, and a construction company called Kizuki had completed it just a few months ago. Iruka had been wary to recommend them to rebuild the A-Block, since that might have seemed he was favouring that particular company; but really, Kizuki was fast and competent. They were on the top of his list to present to the managing committee of the construction projects, because he was pretty sure these idiots wouldn't correct their habits any time soon. Iruka wasn't going to allow any of the blocks to undergo shabby construction, not at all.

He entered the wide main entry and went up two winding flights of stairs, before walking down a corridor to door 323. Iruka tugged a chain from around his neck, unhooked a large key from one of the links and then opened the door. He found himself in a small entry-hall, chakra buzzing in an invisible but deadly net, completely blocking access to another door at the end of the hall. The chakra seemed to inspect him as he removed his sandals and placed them on his shelf; they shimmered suspiciously for a few beats, then abruptly identified him as someone who was allowed to be here. He passed right through them without harm (although, as one of the individuals who had set up this particular trap, he was well aware of what it could do.)

"I'm home," he announced as he pushed open the inner door and then paused. Home, for now, was Hatake Kakashi's apartment. Iruka had been fairly pleased when Kakashi had offered to share his two-bedroom flat with Iruka, allowing him to move out of the temporary quarters that had been set up for the disgruntled shinobi who were currently homeless. Others had done the same, so there were only a few of them remaining in the emergency barracks, which were too dark and dank for Iruka to let anyone stay in there for any considerable amount of time.

Kakashi looked up from where he was sprawled across a low couch, one book open in front of his face, three more stacked beside him. He wasn't wearing his mask. The first hour Iruka had moved in, Kakashi had waited until the few boxes had been brought in, the doors had been closed tightly and the thick curtains drawn, before ripping off his mask and sighing, "Ahhh." Iruka had stared at his narrow face for a long time, eyes wide.

Kakashi had motioned to his face. "This is not going to be a problem, right," he'd said, more of a statement, than a question.

"Not to me," Iruka had replied without thinking, and that was that. Apparently, Kakashi's need to have his face covered was only urgent when he was outdoors.

"Undercover missions," Kakashi had explained, showing Iruka to the second room. "I've been sent on them a lot. I mean, I wore the mask as a statement when I as a kid--"

"Right," Iruka had agreed, looking around the brightly-lit space.

"--and, you know, I just got stuck with it until the Sandaime decided that I'd be perfect to send on undercover assignments. Can't know a spy if you don't know his face, right? Now it's just easier if I just keep it on." His smile had been mirthless, until Iruka had grinned at him and said, "I'm glad you can trust me as a friend, Kakashi."

Kakashi had blinked at him and then his smile had smoothed out into something far more genuine. Now, Kakashi wore that same expression: kind of half-surprised that Iruka persisted in willingly returning to the same space that Kakashi inhabited, and pleased about it anyway. People tended to ask, "Haven't you killed each other yet?" because, sure, Iruka was pretty high-strung at times, and Kakashi was almost an expert in passive-aggression disguised as extreme nonchalance, but they lived well together. Sometimes, Iruka could imagine coming home to Kakashi as something more than a good friend. Just a dream, really. One of the nicer dreams Iruka had, in fact.

Kakashi set aside his book and got to his feet. He wore a homely yukata and a few long, flat pins in his hair held the silvery strands away from his forehead and eyes; his 'home' eye-patch was green, a colour Kakashi seemed to like. For someone who had returned to the village a few days ago with the smell of blood rising rank from his clothing, he appeared fairly normal. As far as 'normal' could be for a shinobi, anyway.

"Welcome home, Iruka-sensei," he murmured and Iruka waved a tired hand at him. Kakashi looked at him for a long, expectant moment, so long that Iruka wondered if there was something on his face.

"Hey," Iruka said and stared back. Kakashi's singular gaze slid away for a moment before locking back on Iruka once more, but not quite meeting his eyes. "Is...something wrong?"

"No," Kakashi said. "I made dinner. Are you hungry?"

Something niggled at the back of Iruka's mind. He had been so caught up in his towering rage at the foreman, and his classes had nearly drained him dry today, before his shift at the missions' desk had taken the rest of whatever he'd had left to spare. He was supposed to remember something, but...it slipped away from him like an oiled eel. It was important, too. He was sure of it.

It bothered him through the dinner, which was a very tasty curry rice. Kakashi was a good cook; that was just one of the many interesting things Iruka had discovered about him since he'd started living here. At the same time, Iruka felt that maybe he had a thing for domesticity. Well, maybe not, but just the sight of Kakashi puttering around the house, peering under the sink to repair a leak, or inspecting the weapons for any drastic wear, just did something for Iruka. This 'something' was especially intense when Kakashi involved him in this comfortable sphere: "Iruka, look at this, what do you think this part's for?" or "Hey, Iruka, I cleared the drain in the shower, guess whose hair did most of the damage? Just guess."

It was all so appealing. It made Kakashi, who was already considered Awesome in pretty much every sphere in which he existed, just that much more attractive to Iruka. Not exactly a huge problem, for despite his monstrous temper, Iruka had a far better handle on the rest of his emotions than most people gave him credit for. It made him want to make Kakashi his home.

A pretty awesome dream.

Whatever he forgot, Iruka mulled over it as he took a quick wash and a slow soak. He bid Kakashi a good night, rolled into his soft, freshly washed sheets (when Kakashi did laundry, he did laundry, that was for sure) and thought about the assignments that he wasn't going to grade over the weekend, despite all the sincere promises to himself that he wasn't going to procrastinate ever again. He was half-dozing, on the edge of true sleep, as he pictured the stack of papers in his satchel. The papers in his bag were resting on a special box.

A box that was a present.

Iruka sat upright in bed so fast that his head spun and said, "Shit!" And then, because he knew that Kakashi was still awake, nose buried in a book: "Kakashi!"

Instantly, his room filled with smoke. When it cleared, Kakashi was crouched near his bed, katana held out with deadly steadiness.

"Um," Iruka said, "What are you doing?"

Kakashi thought for a moment and then straightened up. "I thought you were being attacked. Which...in retrospect, is kind of illogical. I'm not sure who would be stupid enough to take you on, much less in here."

"Right," Iruka said, dryly and then recovered to glower. "Why didn't you remind me?"

Kakashi carefully placed his weapon on the tall wooden chest-of-drawers that had managed to survive the destruction of the old block. "Remind you of what?"

Iruka said, "Your birthday!"

"Oh, that." Kakashi was the epitome of indifference, but Iruka imagined he heard a pensive tinge. It may have been his overactive imagination, though."Right, it's my birthday."

Iruka slid off his bed and padded over to his bag, slung over the back of a chair. "You should have reminded me."

"And say what?" Kakashi put his hands on his hips. "'Oh, it's my birthday, and you'd better have something to show for it, or else.'"

Iruka, who had pulled the box out of his satchel with a triumphant flourish, wrinkled his nose at the faux-heckling tone Kakashi had used. "Here, you idiot. This is for you."

Surprise flitted across Kakashi's face like the shadow of a bird over a field. He looked at the box in Iruka's hand as if it would fly up and bite him in the neck.

"I wasn't really serious--"

"I know." Iruka waggled the box in his hand. "But I am. Take it."

Kakashi took it. He shook the box carefully, eyebrows twitching at the lack of any telling crackles or thumps; he turned it over in his hands at least ten times, inspecting the polished wood and the heavy brass hinges and latch; he bestowed a small, secretive smile on it and generally drove Iruka up the wall until he burst out, "Just open it, already!"

"Getting the gift is almost as good as the actual gift itself," Kakashi lectured, but he flipped open the latch and lifted the cover. Almost reverently, he pulled out a long, soft scarf. It was made with yarn of a muted green shade, and felt wonderfully luxurious against the skin. Iruka knew, because he'd wrapped it around his own neck for a few minutes, just to feel it.

"I saw you pull out the one you have the other day, and it's pretty old," Iruka explained. "So, happy birthday, Kakashi."

Kakashi wound his new scarf around his neck and smiled. "Thank you."

"I hope you like it. The box is part of the gift, too," Iruka said, and stepped towards his friend. He wasn't sure why he did, but it felt like a good idea. Kakashi watched him, and took a step himself.

"I do. It's very nice. They both are."

"Nice?" Iruka scowled at him, mock-affronted. "That scarf might save your life one day! And you can put your chakra-signature on that box, and it will open only for you after that."

"Really?"Kakashi glanced down at the box he gripped in his left hand. "That's very handy."

"Right, very handy." Iruka nodded. "And, you know, they're also a little thank-you gift as well. For letting me stay here. With you. As a friend," he ended, feeling absolutely trite. The soft expression on Kakashi's face seemed to cool rapidly, and Iruka felt a mournful chill somewhere under his breastbone.

"Having you here is the best gift you could ever give me," Kakashi said from between stiff lips. He looked as if he was surprised to hear those particular words emerge from himself and stepped away with the obvious intent of escaping Iruka's room. Iruka grabbed one end of the end of the scarf and tugged him back. When Kakashi turned 'round again, Iruka reached up with both hands and cupped his face. He drew Kakashi even closer, feeling warm breath puff against his mouth before Kakashi's lips fitted against his.

As far as kisses go, it was kind of hesitant, and a bit too slow for Iruka's tastes. Then Kakashi's tongue flicked against his, shyly, Iruka pressed up more against him and the kiss got far better after that. As brazen as ever, Iruka allowed his own hands to roam as they liked: fiddling with the ends of Kakashi's hair, sliding along the strong contours of shoulders and arms. He felt strong and perfect in Iruka's arms. Iruka groaned, and tried to climb into Kakashi's yukata. Kakashi broke the kiss with a strangled laugh and pressed his head against Iruka's.

"This is a good birthday," Kakashi said. "Even if you remembered late."

"Better late than never," Iruka quipped, and kissed him again.