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"The course of true love never did run smooth."

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“Just ask him out already,” Yamato muttered, he stood next to Kakashi in line at the missions office, having watched him return Iruka’s wave.

“Who?” Kakashi replied, putting his hand back in his pocket.

Yamato wearily sighed. “You know who. Just do it, finally.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“What if he says no?” Kakashi mused. “Then what?”

“That’s what you’re worried about?” Yamato laughed. “Why would he say no? You’ve been hanging out for a while now.”

“With Naruto, mostly,” Kakashi commented. “Now that he’s back I haven’t seen Iruka by himself much.”

“So get Naruto out of the picture.”

“Have you met him?” Kakashi sighed. “Blond, annoying, clingy? Would threaten me if I did anything towards his precious Iruka-sensei?”

“You’re scared of him?” Yamato mocked. “How unlike you.”

Kakashi cleared his throat. “I’m not scared of him, I just don’t want that headache.”

“I think you’re afraid of something else. Maybe you’re afraid he’ll say yes.”

“I think you’ve been watching too many soaps,” Kakashi countered.

“There’s no such thing, as you would say about your beloved Icha Icha,” Yamato commented, as the line moved forward. “If you don’t ask him out, I will.”

“I’ll murder you in your sleep.”

“A risk I might be willing to take,” Yamato said, smiling. “He’s handsome, isn’t he?” he said, looking at Iruka. “I’m not sure I ever noticed how good looking he is. And nice,” he continued, nodding. “Perhaps he’d like to join me for barbeque next week…”

“And here I’ve always thought you were straight,” Kakashi commented, surprised.

“I am,” Yamato said, shrugging. “Perhaps I’m just curious. And if he’s caught your attention, he could catch mine…”

“I hate you,” Kakashi said, scowling underneath his mask.

“You love me, that’s why I’m doing this,” Yamato muttered. “Straighten up, we’re almost there.”

For soon enough, they were at the head of Iruka’s line.

The chuunin smiled as he greeted them. “Hello Kakashi-sensei, Captain Yamato. I hope you’re well?”

Yamato smiled and nodded, leaving Kakashi to speak.

“Pretty good,” Kakashi said. “You?”

“Better now,” Iruka said, smiling again. “How may I help you?”

“Well,” Yamato said, but Kakashi coughed to interrupt him.

“He’s got our report,” the copy nin said, nodding at the wood user.

“Great!” Iruka chirped, holding out his hand.

Yamato sent a half-glare at Kakashi as he turned over their scroll, and spent the time while it was being reviewed alternating looking between the two men.

Iruka was busy reading, oblivious to Kakashi’s mask moving as he tensed and untensed his lips, at times even opening his mouth before closing it. He then pulled out a shuriken, twirling it around his finger as they waited.

Soon, Iruka nodded and reached for a stamp.

“Great report, thank you for your service,” Iruka said, smiling as he rolled it back up. “Both of you.”

“We’re happy to help,” Yamato said, returning the smile. “Aren’t we, Kakashi? Always up to help? Spend time with others? Do stuff?”

“Yes...well, I guess it’s as good a time to ask then,” Kakashi said, nodding and looking directly at Iruka, who blushed slightly, widening his eyes.

Yamato bit his bottom lip, eager to see how this soap opera would play out in front of him!

“Yes?” Iruka asked, softly, as Yamato nodded.

“Uh...ah….well...any missions for us and Naruto?” Kakashi asked.

“What?” Iruka and Yamato said in unison.

“He’s always going on about wanting more missions, and since we’re here...” Kakashi mused, giving Iruka an eye smile as he twirled the shuriken faster.

“Oh,” Iruka said, practically pouting. “Let me check…”

Yamato gave a long sigh as the teacher viewed open missions, soon offering them an option for village guard duty.

“There’s not much at the moment for him, but I think this will be a good opportunity either way,” Iruka said, passing the scroll.

“Agreed,” Kakashi said, accepting it. “Til next time,” he said, waving the scroll as he turned.

“Goodbye, sensei,” Yamato said.

“Bye,” Iruka said, sighing as the men left. “Next please,” he called out, frowning slightly.

___

“I had no clue you were such a coward,” Yamato said as soon as they had left Hokage Tower.

“What makes you say that?” Kakashi asked, sticking his hands in his pockets as they walked.

“You totally backed out of asking him out!”

“I did not,” Kakashi countered.

“You did! You had the perfect time and opportunity! He looked so eager!”

Kakashi considered it briefly before shaking his head. “I don’t know about that. And I wasn’t a coward.”

“You were nervous. You did your twirling shuriken move, that’s your biggest tell that you’re nervous.”

“Not always,” Kakashi commented. “I usually do it to look cool. And because it’s fun.”

“That’s not a ‘no’ that it’s not a tell,” Yamato sighed.

They walked in silence for a few moments.

“You should have asked him out,” Yamato said, softly. “Just do it.”

“Maybe,” Kakashi said, looking at the sky. “Come to think of it, I don’t know that he’s even single.”

“What?”

“It’s possible. Perhaps I’m interested in a taken man, and I should just accept it.”

Yamato frowned. “I doubt he’s seeing anyone.”

“What makes you say that?” Kakashi repeated.

“I don’t know,” Yamato admitted. “I haven’t seen him with anyone like that. Or heard anything.”

“I had no clue you were in tune with the village gossip mill,” Kakashi teased.

“Somewhat,” Yamato laughed. “But least of all, we would have heard about it from Naruto. Or Anko. But definitely Naruto.”

“I suppose,” Kakashi admitted. “But without knowing, perhaps I should sit back on it all.”

“Then we’ll get that information,” Yamato said, nodding. “Sounds like we have a second mission now!”

“Great,” Kakashi said, sarcastically. “In the meantime, you can buy me a meal to cheer me up.”

Yamato laughed. “Sure, if that’s what it takes, let’s go,” he said, guiding them around the next corner, Kakashi deep in thought.

____

“He’ll thank me for this,” Yamato said to himself five days later. “I know he will.”

He darted around the village, before finding Iruka heading home from Hokage Tower.

Nodding to himself, Yamato headed towards his target, dropping down half a block from the teacher, who startled slightly at the unexpected companion on his route.

“Evening, sensei,” Yamato greeted.

“Good evening, ANBU-san,” Iruka said as he neared, nodding his head at the fully covered ANBU standing near him.

“May I join you?” Yamato asked, studying him.

“I don’t see why not,” Iruka said, scratching the scar on his nose. “Is everything alright?”

“Fine,” Yamato assured him, trying to convey a sense of aloofness through his ANBU mask. “Just wandering.”

“It’s a good night to wander,” Iruka agreed, and they continued to walk.

Yamato asked questions about Iruka’s class at the academy, about lesson plans, students, this and that.

Basic interrogation tactics, the jonin thought to himself. Butter them up and ease into a sense of dull security before hitting them with something bigger.

“Are you single, sensei?” he suddenly asked.

“What?” Iruka asked, surprised.

“Single. Are you?”

“Why do you want to know?” Iruka asked, narrowing his eyes.

“I’m gathering information.”

“I don’t believe that,” Iruka said, shaking his head. “Not for a minute. My students are much better liars.”

“You shouldn’t call an ANBU a liar,” Yamato playfully admonished him.

“I will if it’s appropriate,” Iruka replied. “I don’t think I have to answer that.”

“Sure you do.”

“Oh?”

Yamato nodded. “ANBU get the information they want, from who they want. I’d have to take you to T&I to find out, you could get written up...it could be a mess…”

“And you could just ask around the nosy people of the village,” Iruka laughed. “Some people know everything there is.”

“Perhaps, but this is faster,” Yamato said. “And easier.”

“Perhaps…” Iruka mused, before shrugging. “I guess it is less trouble to tell you. I’m technically single.”

“Technically?” Yamato asked, surprised.

Iruka cleared his throat. “I’m...interested in someone, but single, yes.”

“I see,” Yamato said, trying to keep his excitement hidden. “Who?”

Iruka barked out a laugh. “You’ll definitely have to take me to T&I for that one,” he told the ANBU, pausing. “This is me, thank you for the walk,” he said, bowing.

“No, thank you,” Yamato said, returning the gesture before watching the teacher walk away. “Mission complete,” he said to himself, smiling underneath his mask before jutsuing away.

____

A week later, Kakashi had returned to the village from a solo mission he had been away the past ten days for.

Upon signing in, he took his time in the village, deciding he could get something to drink and walk around before considering even starting his report (he didn’t dare turn it in just yet).

And so, before long he found himself lounging on the academy grounds, reading in a tree that happened to be near Iruka’s classroom.

Time passed, and soon enough a window opened and Iruka leaned out, smiling widely.

“Hello, Kakashi-sensei!” Iruka called out, waving. “How have you been?”

Kakashi moved to perch on the windowsill, Iruka moving down to give him some space. Kakashi sat with his back at the window frame, one foot perched on the frame and one dangling outside the building. Iruka was leaning out the window not far from him, enjoying the fresh air.

“I was away on a mission,” Kakashi said. “I’m better now that I’m back. And I’d be even better if you dropped formal titles, like I’ve suggested before.”

“I probably shouldn’t do that on school property,” Iruka whispered, as if he was letting him in on a secret. “Or at the missions desk.”

“Then next time we’re somewhere else in the village?” Kakashi posed, and Iruka nodded.

“I hope you returned safely?”

“I did,” Kakashi replied. “How are the brats?”

Iruka laughed, and Kakashi felt something inside him flutter at being the cause for that sound. “They’re good. Getting excited for fall to be here. Outside activities, cooler weather, Halloween, that sort of thing.”

Kakashi nodded, unsure of what to say after that, and so the men sat in silence for a moment.

“Are you going to Anko’s party?” Iruka suddenly asked. “Did you hear about it?”

Kakashi shook his head, and Iruka nodded.

“Of course, depending how long you were gone for,” Iruka apologized. “It’s going to be fun! It’s this weekend, a fall themed party. “The big September bash,’ I think she’s calling it. There’s going to be a campfire, cider, stuff like that.” He bit his lip and looked out the window. “You should go.”

“I will,” Kakashi quickly said, and just as Iruka turned to look at him, smiling, an ANBU appeared.

An ANBU that was familiar to them both, though more familiar to Kakashi than Iruka.

“I apologize, but I have been asked to find Hatake-san,” Yamato said from behind his ANBU mask.

Kakashi sighed and moved to leave his perch. “Nice talking to you,” he said to Iruka, waving.

“And you,” Iruka said, returning a wave from the ANBU as well as the copy nin’s.

“Any more info to share?” the ANBU asked, and Iruka laughed.

“Not willingly?” Iruka teased, before moving back into his classroom.

“Shame,” Yamato sighed, before turning to look at Kakashi, who had killing intent rolling off him in vicious waves.

“What was all that about?” he asked through a clenched jaw.

“It’s not what you think,” Yamato assured him. “You’ll thank me. Now let’s get going, and I’ll tell you everything later….”

_____

Anko had reserved a training ground to throw her party at, and as the sky darkened it was full of lively shinobi enjoying themselves with a mix of food and drink, lounging about here and there on benches and around tables she had asked Yamato to make.

A blazing fire was in the middle, certain jutsu used to make it big and wide, but also contained and ash- and smoke-free, a specialty.

Partygoers mingled around the fire to cook food and snacks on it, others at tables playing games, and some were just milling about weaving around the whole thing.

Kakashi arrived with Asuma and Yamato, laughing as Asuma immediately darted away when he spied Kurenai.

“Cute couple,” Yamato said. “Perhaps they’ll soon have a run for their money.”

“Is that why we’re here?” Kakashi sighed.

“I’m here to have fun, I thought you agreed because a certain someone told you about it before I did,” Yamato teased. “Isn’t that right?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kakashi said, looking around the party.

“I don’t see him yet,” Yamato continued to teased “But if I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“I think I’m going to get some food,” Kakashi said, “I’ll see you when I see you.”

Yamato laughed as they parted ways, and the party continued as night crept on, more people coming to join, bringing more food and drink with them.

By nine at night the party was in full swing, and Kakashi noted that Iruka had arrived some time before.

He caught the man’s eye once, but before either could actually meet up, Gai had swept Kakashi off for a challenge. After that, Iruka was pulled into a conversation by some academy teachers.

But eventually, Kakashi spied Iruka sitting near the fire with Izumo, roasting marshmallows.

When the other chuunin left, Kakashi took advantage and quickly slipped into the empty seat.

“Hello, Kakashi,” Iruka greeted him.

“First names only? I’m impressed,” Kakashi teased.

“I never said I wouldn’t, just that it was based on the time and place,” Iruka laughed. “Would you like a marshmallow?” he asked, as he pulled his snack towards him to check on it.

“I should skip it,” Kakashi sighed. “Toasted marshmallows and the mask don’t really mix.”

“No, I suppose not,” Iruka laughed, as he put the stick closer to the fire again. “I feel like that’s something you can say from lived experience.”

“Lived experience and a ruined mask,” Kakashi said, shaking his head. “Are you having a good time tonight?”

“I am, it’s nice to just hang out with people,” Iruka said, smiling. “Is this getting you in the mood for fall yet?”

“Perhaps,” Kakashi said. “I’m not sure I ever really care much about the season, but it is nicer to not have hotter temperatures for missions and training.”

“Definitely!” Iruka agreed, as he took his marshmallows out of the fire’s range again. “It’s nice tonight, but I like when there’s a proper chill in the air,” he said as he began to eat.

Kakashi could only nod, watching the man eat the marshmallows straight off the stick, the glow from the fire highlighting his features as he did so.

He was so enraptured it took him a moment to realize someone was saying something...to him? For him? About him?

“Huh?” he less than eloquently asked, as Iruka looked at him.

“I think they’re calling you,” the teacher said, covering his mouth with his hand as he talked while he ate, before swallowing. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, but they’ve been trying to get your attention,” he said.

Kakashi frowned and turned to find Gai and Asuma waving at him.

“Not another challenge,” the copy nin sighed. “I really need to put a limit on them at social events.”

“From what I hear, you don’t go to enough social events to put rules on them,” Iruka teased.

“It’s possible,” Kakashi agreed. “Well, what’s the next big one after this?”

Iruka thought about it, pursing his lips as he did so. “Probably something for Halloween? Parties for that start popping up in a few weeks. I think Anko said she’s going to throw another party then.”

“Then I’ll have to go,” Kakashi said.

“You’ll need a costume,” Iruka reminded him.

“Oh,” he said, pausing. “What are you going to be?”

“The crappiest ANBU costume I can find,” Iruka proudly told him.

“Because…?” Kakashi asked, wondering what had transpired between the younger man and Yamato in his absence.

“My class suggested I be an ANBU for Halloween,” Iruka admitted. “So I’m going to be, like, the worst version of it.”

“Oh,” Kakashi said, relieved. “That’s fair.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll have to think about it,” the copy nin said, before his friends called his name again. “I should go see what they want, I’ll see you later though?”

Iruka nodded and smiled, and Kakashi sighed again as he left the warmth of both the fire and the other man.

____

Iruka was sat at a table with some friends talking sometime later when he excused himself to get a drink, deciding to take the long way back after.

Drink in hand, he wandered around the party, waving at this person and that, and catching snippets of conversations.

The training ground Anko was using had a large open area that was the focus of the party area, but also had a bit of forest on the west side, and as Iruka passed the edge of it in his wandering, he paused.

He smelled the familiar scent of Asuma’s cigarettes, but it was the conversation that caught his attention as he hid behind a tree, listening.

“Yeah, me and Kurenai are still going strong, no surprise there,” Asuma said, and Iruka smiled.

“We all know that, I’m just bummed you won’t give any juicy details,” Iruka could hear Genma tease, and the teacher rolled his eyes at the man’s actions.

“Asuma doesn’t kiss and tell,” Kakashi interjected, and Iruka’s eyes widened in the darkness as butterflies filled his stomach. He gripped his drink tighter and bit his lip as he listened more.

“Neither do you,” Genma said.

“Maa, there’s nothing to tell,” Kakashi replied.

“About a certain someone?” Genma continued.

“A certain someone you’ve had your eye on for a while?” Asuma teased.

“Though my rival’s love life is quiet, his interest in another burns brightly!” Gai exclaimed, and Iruka’s eyes widened even more, threatening to pop out of his head.

“And nothing you want to share with the class?” Genma asked. “Nothing about how he’s so your type?”

“What does that even mean?” Kakashi asked.

“You know what he means,” Asuma laughed.

“Yeah,” Genma said. “Brown hair, brown eyes, lovely smile.”

Iruka smiled and grazed fingers over his own smile. Could it be…? Was it really…?

“Isn’t that right, Yamato?” Asuma suddenly asked, and Iruka’s face fell.

“What?” Yamato asked, sounding like he had just joined the others.

“Brunette, big brown eyes, good smile. Kakashi just melts over them,” Asuma laughed.

“Naturally,” Yamato agreed. “I’d even say it drives him crazy,” he added, and Iruka felt the butterflies in his stomach fly far, far away as the men laughed.

For an image of that jonin came to mind. Another brunette, with brown eyes. And, Iruka had to admit, a nice smile.

Who was often with Kakashi, both for work and in off-hours.

Who had quite a rapport with the other man.

Who, rumor had it, had known the copy nin for quite some time.

“How stupid of me,” Iruka thought to himself, and silently moved away from the tree to rejoin his friends.

An hour later, Kakashi was wandering about the party, looking for a certain someone but failing to see the owner of a very cute ponytail.

“Have you seen Iruka?” Kakashi asked Kurenai, who shook her head.

“I bumped into him a bit ago, he said he was heading out a little early,” she told him. “Not that it’s early, but he was one of the first to head out.”

“Thanks,” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets as he returned to hang out with Gai, frowning underneath his mask.

____

Iruka had originally expected to run some errands the day after the party, but decided to stay home, telling himself he had a lot of work for his class to do, as well as cleaning and laundry to catch up on. But he knew it was because he was allowing himself the start of a pity-party.

“I was mistaken,” he told himself as he cleaned his kitchen, scrubbing his sink harder than it needed. “He was never flirting with me, just being nice. Mostly because Naruto was around,” he said, nodding. “Even when it happened to just be he and I on occasion, it was him just being friendly.”

“Of course he would be with someone like Yamato,” Iruka muttered to himself as he folded clean laundry later. “Why wouldn’t he? Jonin, tall, handsome. Broad-shouldered,” he said, pausing as he thought about it, before shaking his head. “Better shinobi, no doubt. And they’re working side by side for Naruto now, which is good,” he said, nodding. “I’m glad Naruto has such great teachers in his life.”

“Such great teachers who are clearly into each other,” he said as he cooked dinner later. “Such great teachers who deserve each other. Who like each other, who have a history together.”

Iruka paused and sighed, running a hand through his hair before putting it up again.

“I just need to give myself some time, and space, and I’ll get over my stupid crush,” he said. “At least I didn’t ask him out, I saved myself some embarrassment…”

He tried to put it all out of his head but found himself scurrying about the village to quickly catch up on errands the next day after leaving the academy, and at the missions desk that week offered to do more filing than usual to busy himself. And to not be in the more public areas, though he tried to push that thought away.

And, if he declined plans with friends that weekend and stayed home, well, it was nobody’s business but his...

___

The following Wednesday, Kakashi sighed as he watched Naruto work on a jutsu.

“Okay, what gives?” Yamato asked, not moving his sight from their student. “And before you try to play cool, I’m talking about your sigh. All day, I keep hearing you sigh.”

“It’s nothing,” Kakashi said, shrugging.

They sat in silence for a moment, Yamato figuring that the other man would say more without prompting soon enough.

And as expected, he did.

“You haven’t seen Iruka around by any chance, have you?””

Yamato smiled. “No, but I’m not the one always keeping an eye out for him. You haven’t seen him?”

“Not since Anko’s party,” Kakashi admitted. “I mean, I don’t see him everyday, but I haven’t seen him at all since then. Not even a glance.”

Yamato’s smile turned into a frown. “That was over a week ago, I’m surprised,” he agreed. “I feel like Naruto would have mentioned if he had been called away on a mission…”

“It’s probably nothing,” Kakashi quickly said, pulling out his book to hide behind it...read casually.

“Just go say hi at the missions office,” the other man suggested.

“I haven’t seen him there,” Kakashi said from behind Icha Icha. “And no, I didn’t ask about him. That would’ve been too obvious.”

“You could do with being more obvious,” Yamato said. “If you don’t make a move one day, someone else will. He’s quite the catch in the village.”

“Don’t I know it,” Kakashi sighed, not wanting to even consider that outcome.

“Hey!” Naruto yelled, releasing his clones and running over to them. “We’ve been training for a while, can we go see if there’s any missions for us? It’s been forever since we left the village for one!”

“Naruto,” Yamato laughed. “I took you, Sakura, and Sai out on one two weeks ago. It’s not my fault that lately they’ve all been local missions.”

“Right, two weeks ago was forever ago!” the blond pouted. “Kakashi-sensei, can we go to the missions office?”

Kakashi gave him an eye smile. “You know what Naruto? That sounds like a great idea. Maybe Iruka-sensei will give you top priority for a mission.”

Yamato rolled his eyes as Naruto cheered.

“Right!” the boy agreed. “Oh, I think he said he has tonight off, so let’s go tomorrow when he’s working, okay?”

“Well if you insist,” Kakashi playfully sighed, and Yamato shook his head at it all. “We’ll go tomorrow…”

____

Iruka’s stomach dropped at the usually welcomed sight further down his line.

Naruto waved as soon as he got in line, and Iruka waved back...only to find Yamato and Kakashi behind him, also waving.

Iruka waved as well, albeit a slightly shorter gesture, and turned his attention to the shinobi moving up to his desk.

He tried to focus on his work and remind himself he could be professional, and that it didn’t matter who was in his line…

Still, when the three moved to his desk, he felt a forced smile on his face.

“Hello!” he greeted them. “How can I help you tonight?”

“We’d like a mission!” Naruto yelled. “Out of the village. Please? Iruka-sensei?”

Iruka felt his smile become a little more genuine. “I’ll see what we have,” he said, turning to look at the available missions.

Looking at those, instead of at Yamato, not daring to risk finding Kakashi perhaps swooning over the jonin, or finding more reasons for why Yamato was a better match for the copy nin than he was. Him, a desk worker, academy teacher, and, oh yeah, chuunin.

Did he really stand a chance, he wondered? Had he ever?

He cleared his throat to center himself, and nodded as he selected a mission.

“What about this one?” Iruka asked them, holding it out, unsure who to give it to.

Kakashi moved forward, reaching over Naruto’s head to grab it first, giving Iruka an eye smile.

To Kakashi’s surprise, the teacher cast his eyes downward to his desk briefly, before moving them back to Naruto to engage him in small talk while the jonin reviewed the mission.

Kakashi frowned but opened the scroll, briefly pursuing its contents.

“We’ll take it,” he said, interrupting the others. “Thank you, sensei.”

“Yes!” Naruto cheered. “How long will we be away for?”

“Oh!” Kakashi exclaimed, as he had overlooked that.

Yamato peered over his shoulder to read the scroll, something not missed by Iruka, who frowned slightly.

“About two weeks, at least,” Yamato said.

Naruto cheered, Yamato nodded, and Kakashi silently cursed his life for having to be away for so long. Iruka silently cheered that he would have a reprieve from his recent source of misery.

“Well, be safe, and return successfully,” he said to Naruto, who nodded.

“Always! And we’ll go for ramen when I get back?”

Iruka, to his surprise, laughed at that, the first laugh he felt he had had since the party. “Sure,” he said, smiling. “We’ll have ramen when you get back.”

“We’ll see you then,” Kakashi said, waving as the group turned to leave.

Iruka nodded, not waving back, and called for the next person in his line.

Yamato and Naruto began to talk about the mission as they left the room, with the blond desiring to leave early the next day. Kakashi half-listened, trying to figure out what was missing from their interaction with the teacher…

______

“You seem different,” Anko said as she lounged on Iruka’s sofa after they had finished dinner.

Iruka shrugged. “I’m okay,” he said.

It was the second weekend Team Kakashi was away, and truthfully he was anything but okay.

“What’s been going on?” she asked. “Not just today, but for a few weeks…”

“Nothing,” Iruka said, shrugging. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind. Should we go out for a drink?”

“Yes, but not til I know what’s really going on,” she said, making herself more comfortable by laying down and putting her feet over his lap, to hang over the arm of his sofa. “I’ve known you for too long and I can see through your lies, so just tell me.”

Iruka sighed and rested his head on the back of the sofa, staring at his ceiling.

“Are you and loverboy fighting?” she asked.

“There’s nothing to fight about.”

“Ooh!” Anko squealed. “It’s going that well, then? How many dates have you gone on? Who made a move first? Has he spent the night here? Should I go looking for blackmail evidence of him in the bedroom?”

Iruka laughed and shook his head, looking at her. “No, it’s not like that. We’re not anything.”

“But I saw you guys hanging out at my party,” she said, frowning. “Sitting by the fire, looking all cozy.”

“We were,” Iruka sighed.

“And?”

“And nothing.”

Anko sighed. “Something happened. You didn’t hang out one weekend and then you seemed sad, then okay, and now….I don’t know,” she said, pursing her lips. “Tense? Burdened? I don’t know,” she repeated.

“I….it’s…” Iruka began, sighing and looking back up at the ceiling. “I guess I just….”

He sighed again.

“Team Kakashi was, is, gone on a mission, and they’ll be back in a few days,” Iruka told her.

“Oh, that’s it, you miss him!” she laughed. “That’s understandable.”

“It’s not that,” Iruka mumbled. “I’m not looking forward to them being back.

“What? Why not?”

Iruka sighed again. “The night of your party I found out something about Kakashi, and I was...bummed after. So I kept myself busy so I wouldn’t run into him, and then I felt fine since he was out of the village. But he’ll be back soon, and I don’t want to see him.”

“Did he do something to you?” she asked, narrowing her eyes and pinching his arm to make him look at her. “Because if he did, I’ve got some favors to call in, and it won’t be painless for him, I promise you that!”

“No!” Iruka scowled at her, rubbing his arm from the pinch. “Nothing like that.”

“Oh,” she said, relaxing. “Then what was it?”

Iruka sighed for the umpteenth time. “That he’s taken,” he admitted. “I had no clue.”

She frowned. “He’s what? By who?”

“I don’t want to say,” Iruka said, but yelped when she pinched him again. “Stop that!”

“Tell me or I’ll keep doing it,” Anko warned, reaching to pinch again.

“Yamato!” Iruka snapped, moving to try to get away from her, but found he was still trapped by the arm of the sofa.

“Yamato?” she repeated, confused. “You think he’s with Yamato?”

“I heard them talking with some other people at the party,” Iruka said. “I’ve felt so embarrassed that I was attracted to someone who’s involved with someone else. Can you imagine how mortifying it would have been if I had asked him out?”

“He’s not with Yamato,” Anko said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Iruka rolled his eyes. “I heard them. Genma and Asuma were teasing Kakashi for his ‘type.’ Brown hair, brown eyes, other things. And Yamato joined them and agreed, and Kakashi didn’t deny it.”

“Idiot, you have brown hair and eyes,” she chided him.

“Yeah, but Asuma was all ‘isn’t that right, Yamato?’ and Yamato was all ‘of course, he goes wild for it,’ and they all laughed and Kakashi didn’t disagree,” Iruka groaned.

Anko sighed and sat up, putting her hands on either side of Iruka’s face to make him look at her, squishing his face slightly.

“Did they actually say they’re dating?”

“No, but --”

“Did they say it was definitely Yamato?”

“No, but--”

“Did they say it definitely wasn’t you?” she continued.

“No, but --”

“Did you see them or just overhear them?”

“Overhear them,” Iruka admitted.

“Then you don’t know it all,” Anko said. “There’s how many brown haired, brown eyes guys in the village? Plus, Yamato is straight. He and Kakashi are friends, that’s it. That’s all they’ve ever been.”

“He’s straight?” Iruka asked, and she nodded. “But Kakashi may still like him like that…”

“I don’t care,” Anko said, releasing his face. “And anyway, it wouldn’t work, and he doesn’t. Besides, you really think he wasn’t talking about you?”

“I...I don’t know,” Iruka said, not daring to allow himself to rekindle his feelings for the copy nin.

“You’ve been undressing each other with your eyes for how long?” Anko asked. “I’ve seen you two, you’ve both only got eyes for each other, bedroom and otherwise. You’re just both too lame to make a move.”

“I was hoping he’d make a move first, and then I was going to at the party, but he got called away, and then I heard all that…” Iruka said softly.

“Well like you said, he’ll be back soon, and you can do it then,” she said, standing up. “Now let’s go get a drink, you can buy me one for saving your relationship,” she laughed, pulling him off the sofa.

Iruka nodded and moved to get his sandals as they left, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders for the first time in weeks.

____

As the team headed back from their mission, Kakashi’s mind was free to wander, no longer worrying about the mission itself or planning anything for it.

It had been a success, and they were fairly on schedule, arriving back a day past their expected return.

His mind was currently betraying him as Naruto rambled about this and that. As they usually did, his thoughts drifted to Iruka.

Iruka, with his friendly smile and bright eyes. The smile that had been directed at him for how many months?

The smile, he remembered, that seemed forced, tense, at their last interaction.

Yamato’s warning rang through his head.

“If you don’t make a move one day, someone else will. He’s quite the catch in the village.”

Kakashi sighed, he was right. Iruka was a catch, a far better person in some ways than Kakashi. Anyone would be blind to not want to catch the teacher’s attention, have some of his kindness directed at them and only at them, for them.

And it had been, for a time, directed at him, given to him. So why had Iruka seemed absent for a period of time, and then distant?

The last time Kakashi saw Iruka as Iruka was at Anko’s party, he recalled. Had the man met someone there, when they parted ways? Had someone beaten Kakashi to asking him out?

He cursed himself as they continued their return journey. How many opportunities had he missed? How many chances did he let pass him by?

And now he had been out of the village for two weeks (and a day, his brain traitorously reminded him). In that time, how many dates could Iruka have gone on? Would he even care to see Kakashi?

“If,” Kakashi said to himself. “If there’s a chance he’s still single when I get back, I’m asking him out. No excuses this time!”

“But,” his brain interrupted him. “He has to give you the time of day first, unlike the last time you saw each other.”

“Quiet!” he hissed at his brain, and his team turned to look at him in surprise.

“What?” Naruto asked.

Kakashi shrugged. “Nothing, I thought I heard something but I think it was a squirrel.”

Yamato and Naruto nodded and continued, Kakashi mentally kicking himself.

___

“Whoo!” Naruto cheered. “We’ll be back in less than an hour! I hope Iruka-sensei doesn’t have Friday night plans so he can take me for ramen!”

Yamato laughed. “I think he said he’d take you for it when we were back, not the exact day we got back.”

“Same thing,” Naruto sighed, rolling his eyes. “Are you two going to join us?”

“Are you sure you’re not just trying to secure someone else paying for your ramen in case he’s busy?” Kakashi asked, and Naruto shrugged.

“I think I’ll head home,” Yamato quickly said. “I’ve got a lot of laundry to do.”

“That’s pretty boring for a Friday night,” Naruto said, frowning.

“It’s called being responsible,” Yamato argued.

“If you were responsible, you wouldn’t have let it build up,” Kakashi pointed out.

“True, but I guess that means you can join Naruto and Iruka for dinner,” Yamato said, grinning.

Before Kakashi could say anything, Naruto cheered again.

“Great! Let’s hurry so we can get back, I’m starting to get hungry!” he said, pushing them to move faster.

“You can thank me later,” Yamato murmured, moving to catch up with Naruto as the blond took the lead.

“I hope so,” Kakashi sighed. “I really hope so.”

___

When the group returned to Konoha and checked in with the gate guard, Naruto frowned.

“I think Iruka-sensei will have left the academy by now,” he sighed.

“Why don’t you two head there to see if he’s running late? Or catch him on the way to wherever?” Yamato asked.

Naruto nodded and began to drag Kakashi with him, the two waving goodbye to Yamato who laughed as he headed in the opposite direction.

They found Iruka a block from the academy, and Kakashi noted he seemed surprised but pleased to see them.

Hopefully, Kakashi noted, pleased to see both of them.

“Iruka-sensei!” Naruto bellowed. “We’re back! Can we go for ramen now?”

Iruka laughed and ruffled blond hair. “Welcome back! And I don’t see why not. I have to run a quick errand not far from there, would you like to go and grab our seats? I’ll meet you there soon?”

Naruto nodded and began to pull Kakashi with him before the adults could say a word to each other, but Kakashi felt his spirits lift when Iruka locked eyes with him and waved at him.

Definitely at him, as Naruto’s back was to the other man.

Waved, and gave him a smile, his smile, Kakashi’s brain sang as he waved back.

Perhaps he still had a chance?

Kakashi began to plan what he might say, and how, cursing himself for not spending more time on it earlier as Naruto rushed him to Ichiraku’s.

There, the copy nin pouted slightly as Naruto grabbed their usual seating set-up, with him in the middle and Kakashi to his left, a seat saved for Iruka to Naruto’s right.

As the group ate there fairly often, Ayame was only too happy to place an order for Iruka before he arrived, which he did a few moments later. Iruka greeted Teuchi and Ayame and joined the others.

“So,” Iruka began. “Tell me all about your mission!”

Kakashi let Naruto do the talking, as usual, correcting details here and there but largely allowing the blond to make it into a bigger deal than it was.

“And now we’re back! Just in time for the weekend!” Naruto sighed, as their food was placed in front of them.

“Well, I’m glad you’re back, safe and sound,” Iruka said, as they began to eat. He caught Kakashi’s eyes. “All of you,” he said, giving a small smile.

Kakashi gave him an eye smile, and took pleasure in the way Iruka’s smile widened, before the teacher leaned over his bowl to hide his face.

It had been tiring enough of a mission that Kakashi allowed himself to indulge in a second bowl of ramen, with Naruto ordering a third.

“No second bowl yourself?” Kakashi teased Iruka, who laughed.

“I had a big lunch,” he said. “I didn’t know we’d be going out tonight, or I’d have planned better.”

This prompted Naruto to launch into another story about their return journey, as Kakashi rolled his eye and Iruka smiled over his cup of tea.

When they were done and the bill paid, they returned to the street outside of the restaurant, looking at each other.

“I’m beat, I’m heading home to sleep for days!” Naruto sighed. “Goodnight!”

The adults bid him goodnight and watched him leave before looking at each other.

By now, nighttime had fallen over the village though it was just past seven at night.

“I’m glad your mission went well, and that you got back safely,” Iruka said, suddenly feeling shy around the other man. Who, he noted, he hadn’t really seen for about a month, save for the brief interaction before the mission…

“Thank you,” Kakashi said, adjusting his rucksack on his shoulders before sticking his hands in his pockets, unsure of what else to say. Though, it was now or never….

“You’re back just in time,” Iruka suddenly said, and Kakashi tilted his head out of curiosity. “Um, I mean, it’s October 15th, and tomorrow Anko is throwing her Halloween party,” Iruka said in a rush.

“Unless I’m mistaken, Halloween is the 31st?” Kakashi asked.

Iruka laughed. “Sure, yes, it is. But no one’s really going to throw a party on a Sunday, and a lot of people will be having parties the night before. I think she wanted to make sure people could attend hers, or maybe she wanted to throw the first one for it?” he said, shrugging. “You know how she is. But, a lot of people will be going, it’ll be a lot of fun. If you’re interested,” he added.

“I am,” Kakashi quickly replied. “I’ll go.”

“Great!” Iruka cheered, smiling widely. “It’s at the same place she threw her last one, you remember, right?” Kakashi nodded. “Then I’ll see you there, it starts at sunset.”

Kakashi nodded again, trying to remember how to speak.

“You must be tired,” Iruka commented. “I know I am, and I wasn’t the one on a mission. I’ll let you go, and I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Kakashi nodded again before his brain kicked in (finally).

“Would you like to go together?” he asked, noting how Iruka’s eyes widened. “I...if you don’t already have someone to go with,” Kakashi added, unsure of what the other man’s relationship status was at that time…

“Sure,” Iruka agreed. “That would be nice.”

“Great,” Kakashi exhaled, remembering to breathe. “I could pick you up?”

“I’m working the missions office tomorrow before the party,” Iruka remembered, puffing his cheeks out in slight frustration.

A move Kakashi found to be only too adorable.

“I could meet you there?”

Iruka nodded, but paused. “Actually,” he said, with a sly grin and a twinkle in his eyes Kakashi knew meant trouble. “Why don’t you meet me at the party?”

“Uh, sure...any reason why?”

“It’s a costume party, so I want you to meet me in my costume there,” Iruka teased. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Kakashi agreed. “I’ll be there.”

“Don’t be late,” Iruka teased again.

Really, Kakashi noted, the man could be merciless, but he could live with it. Forever, ideally.

“Yes, sensei,” Kakashi said, making the other man laugh.

“Have a goodnight,” Iruka said, as Kakashi bid him goodnight as well.

As they were walking away from each other, Iruka called out again.

“Don’t forget - you need a costume!”

Kakashi nodded before continuing to walk. Costumes weren’t his thing. Disguises, yes...but a costume? He’d figure something out, he thought as he yawned.

_______

The next night couldn’t come fast enough for Kakashi, who spent that day sleeping and re-reading his favorite parts of different Icha Icha, purely for research purposes.

Eventually, he met up with Gai, who Kakashi was relieved to find was also wearing a shinobi uniform.

“No costume?” Kakashi asked.

“What?” Gai gasped. “I’m in full costume, rival! Note the leg binding, and my wrapped arms!” he said, proudly holding out his white-wrapped hands and arms. “Surely you can tell who I am?!”

Kakashi shrugged. “Yourself?”

Gai laughed and slapped him on the back. “No! I am my wonderful student Lee!”

“Of course,” Kakashi sighed. “Right.”

“And you?” Gai asked.

“It’s a surprise,” Kakashi told him.

“Right!” Gai cheered. “I am just pleased you are going out! Socializing so much lately, it’s great for you!”

“Sure, sure,” the copy nin said, waving him away. “Let’s get going.”

The men walked through the village towards the training ground, soon finding themselves at the party. Sunset had been at about half past six, and they arrived closer to seven, the party already in full swing by then.

“It’s going to be a long night,” Kakashi mused, seeing as the party had taken off so early.

“Even better!” Gai cheered. “Let us mingle and see who is here!”

They did, finding Anko in a far too revealing outfit that Kakashi couldn’t really make sense of, and Asuma and Kurenai wearing matching green plain outfits.

“Two peas in a pod, get it?” Kurenai asked, standing next to Asuma, arms around each other’s hips.

“Not really,” Kakashi admitted.

“I told you we only look like green people,” Asuma sighed. “But it makes you happy, so who cares?”

Kakashi watched as Kurenai smiled and leaned up to kiss her boyfriend, a longing setting in his own chest.

He excused himself saying he was going to get a drink, and took the opportunity to wander, trying to find a certain someone.

What costume would Iruka be wearing, Kakashi wondered as he walked around. Some people had their faces or even just parts of their faces covered...was Iruka wearing a mask of some type? Was his intention to avoid Kakashi? Was he regretting his decision to be at this together? Was Iruka just being nice to him? Was that why he hadn’t wanted him to walk here from work?

Kakashi tried to calm his racing thoughts, and remind himself that Iruka was perfectly capable (more than capable, his brain countered) of speaking his thoughts and not mincing words. He would have told Kakashi otherwise if he hadn’t wanted to even see him tonight, much less be at this together…

Just as Kakashi felt he was making progress with his internal battle, he spied a familiar person standing near the roaring fire.

He began to slowly make his way over, catching Iruka’s eye, who soon excused himself from the conversation he had been in.

With Kotetsu, just a friend, Kakashi noted.

“Hi!” Iruka said, smiling as he met Kakashi.

“I’m not late,” Kakashi said, internally rolling his eyes at himself.

Fortunately, Iruka laughed. “That’s true! I didn’t get here too long ago myself.” He paused. “Where’s your costume?”

Kakashi looked down at himself, in his regular uniform. “This is it. Can’t you tell?”

“No?” Iruka laughed, shaking his head.

“Guess. Just try.”

Iruka pulled a face but remained smiling. “Umm...someone who doesn’t like costumes?” Kakashi shook his head. “Someone...umm...I don’t know!” Iruka laughed. “You look like a regular shinobi?”

“I’m an academy teacher,” Kakashi explained.

“Right,” Iruka agreed, laughing as he nodded.

“I even have a textbook,” Kakashi said, pulling out said book from his vest.

“Do you really?” Iruka asked, surprised, grabbing it from him before the jonin could stop him. A moment later, he shook his head, laughing despite himself.

“Busted,” Kakashi sighed. “I covered an Icha Icha…”

“Of course you did,” Iruka laughed.

“Well,” Kakashi asked, “what about your costume? What are you supposed to be?”

“Can’t you tell?” Iruka teased, holding out his arms.

Kakashi studied him. The teacher was wearing a black t-shirt and black pants, with regular shinobi sandals. His forearms were covered in black arm warmers and white plastic gauntlets, and over his chest and back he wore a white plain sleeveless top.

“I have no clue,” Kakashi admitted. “It almost looks like an ANBU uniform…”

“But crappy, right?” Iruka laughed. “I told you I was going to wear a crappy ANBU costume for Halloween,” he said, laughing harder. “It’s terrible, right? ANBU don’t even wear white gear, can you even imagine?”

“It’s pretty bad,” Kakashi agreed. “No mask?”

“Ah, here,” Iruka said, reaching behind his back and producing a plain white mask. “I think it’s meant to be decorated. ‘Be your own ANBU,’” he recalled. “I’ll probably decorate it before my classroom party at the end of the month,” Iruka said.

“You should wear it now, even so,” Kakashi suggested.

“You want me to cover my face?” Iruka asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, like an off-duty ANBU or whatever,” Kakashi casually said. “Like this,” he offered, stepping closer to the younger man and taking the mask, setting it on Iruka’s head so it was off to the side, behind his right ear, keeping his face exposed.

The face that Kakashi was closer to than usual.

Iruka looked at him, his brown eyes even darker in the nighttime.

“Thank you,” he said, softly.

“Glad I could be of help,” Kakashi said, not moving from his spot. “After all, I’ll need ANBU protection tonight if anyone attacks me. I hear academy teachers are quite sought after.”

Iruka laughed. “That’s true. Sure, if anyone gets too close to you, I’ll keep them away.”

“Promise?” Kakashi asked.

“Promise,” Iruka agreed.

“You could start by finding us somewhere a bit less in the public eye here,” Kakashi requested. “Or soon Gai will seek me out for a challenge.”

“I think I know of a place or two,” Iruka told him, grabbing his hand.

Before he could lead them away, Kakashi stopped him, keeping their hands together.

“I think I’ll need protection tomorrow too,” Kakashi said. “Around lunchtime.”

He watched as Iruka’s expression turned from surprised to happy, seeing again that smile he cherished on the other face.

“That could be arranged,” Iruka agreed. “For a fee.”

“Oh?”

“Sure,” Iruka said, shrugging. “I assume ANBU are paid for missions like anyone else.”

Kakashi nodded. “Name your price.”

“Dinner later this week?”

Kakashi smiled underneath his mask, not that the other man could see it. “You got it.”

Iruka smiled again and squeezed his hand, before turning and leading them away from the crowd at the party, Kakashi floating on air behind him.