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Room To Breathe

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"So…I hear you have a boyfriend."

Iruka groaned without looking up from the papers he was pretending to 'organize' and resisted the urge to crawl under his desk.

He couldn't have a moment's peace. In a village where the walls had eyes, ears, and more often than not, recording devices, everyone had known about his date with Kakashi within 24 hours. He had already been assaulted by Genma and Raidou on the way to class, and now it seemed it was Anko's turn to make his life miserable.

"I'm really not trying to tease you," The dark-haired kunoichi perched herself on the edge of the desk and grinned wolfishly at him, "I mean this is good, really good."

"It was one date Anko…" Iruka sighed

"But you are going on another one right?"

Iruka felt the slow heat of blood creeping into his face.

"You are!" Anko all but squealed in delight, clapping her hands like a little girl, "That's so cute! So…is he any good?"

"Good?" Iruka eyed her warily.

"You know – in bed."

At which point, Iruka contemplated the pros and cons of using a pencil to puncture his jugular, "It was one date."

Anko blinked at him uncomprehendingly, "So you mean you didn't sleep with him?"

"One Date," Iruka repeated with more venom.

"Oh Iruka…" she patted him patronizingly atop the head, "You're so cute. When you do get his sweet ass into the sack you have to let me know – we'll have a party."

Then she vanished in a puff of smoke, likely sensing Iruka's intent to launch a book at her head. Lacking a target, he propped said book up in front of his face, still hoping that if he pretended to be busy, he could both distract himself from the fact that he had forgotten to pack a lunch, and ward off any more congratulatory attacks from passing Jonin.

Absorbed as he was in trying to appear absorbed, he failed to notice the green, spandex-clad cloud of youthful exuberance sweeping towards him until it was too late to defend himself.


The Chunin in question made an unbecoming noise perilously close to 'meep' as Konoha's 'noble green beast' swept him into a positively bone-crushing bear hug.

"I must congratulate you on conquering the stoic heart of my most esteemed Eternal Rival and introducing him to the joy of youthful love!"

Iruka made a series of noises rather like a panicked bird of some kind, flailing wildly as he tried to escape Gai's grasp while he slowly turned blue in the face.

He might very well have passed out from lack of oxygen if not for the fact that someone cleared their throat loudly and drew Gai's attention.

"Ah, my Noble Rival!" Gai released his hold on Iruka, who stumbled back against the desk, gasping.

The silver-haired Jonin lounging against the far wall motioned out the doorway, "Can I talk to you Gai?"

"Of course!" With a nod in Iruka's direction Gai strode boldly out into the hallway, only to have Kakashi shut the door behind him.

Gai emitted a rather indignant squawk at being so rudely dismissed, and then seemed to collect himself, "Of course, how rude of me! I will certainly allow you time alone with your beloved!"

He then launched into some great sermon about 'The Springtime of Youthful Love' which Iruka drowned out by banging his head against the desktop repeatedly.

He got in about five good, solid blows before a single finger planted in the center of his forehead stopped him.

"You're upset."

"Of course I'm upset!" Iruka straightened up and glowered furiously at the older man, "One date with you and I'm a laughing stock!"

"No you're not," Kakashi patted his hand in an alarming parody of reassurance, "Well – maybe a little – but they're just jealous."

Iruka grabbed the nearest book and thumped the Jonin over the head with it.

Kakashi blinked at him, only slightly surprised, "Feel better now?"

Iruka sighed, rubbing the scar across the bridge of his nose, "Yes…a little."

"Good," Kakashi's eye curved into a merry arch as he produced something in a plastic bag and deposited it on the desk, "I brought you lunch."

Iruka's empty stomach rumbled happily, "How did you know?"

"Oh…" Kakashi laughed nervously, scratching the back of his head, "I happened to pass by your house this morning and…"

Iruka's eyes narrowed, "Are you stalking me?"

"I just wanted to make sure you hadn't fallen victim to well-wishers, assassins or peeping toms…"

"How do I know you're not a peeping tom?"

Kakashi raised his hands in a protestation of innocence, "I didn't see anything, I swear – your blinds were closed."

Iruka reached for his book again, but it had disappeared from his desk.

"Caring for your Ninja equipment," Kakashi recited from a safe distance, "All good Ninja must know how to care for their equipment properly. A blunt kunai or a bent shuriken could spell disaster on the battlefield; thus all equipment should be examined and prepared well before leaving for a mission. A skilled Ninja has an intricate knowledge of the workings of his equipment."

Something about the inflection he used for that last sentence made a dizzying warmth crawl up Iruka's spine.

"Ge – Give that back."

"This is terribly dry," Kakashi leaned casually against the wall by the door, waving the book dismissively, "You don't lecture from this do you?"

"I don't see why that's any of your business," Iruka stood – grateful that he could without embarrassing himself – "Now could you please…"

"You're just going to hit me with it again."

"You deserve it," Iruka closed the distance between them, reaching for the book, "Now hand it over."

Kakashi held the book high above his head, just out of Iruka's reach, "I think I should spare the dear children such boring lessons."

"Give it back…" Iruka growled warningly.

Kakashi looked away innocently, "Give what back?"

"You're acting like a child," Iruka clenched his hands into fists at his sides, telling himself that he was not going to rise to Kakashi's bait and try to grab the book from his hand. That would involve a lot of touching and possibly rubbing, and that was so not happening – at least not when he had to spend all afternoon teaching.

"Say please," Kakashi taunted.

"Please…" Iruka snarled.

"Please what?"

"Please give it to me!"

Kakashi grinned. Iruka's face became a mask of rage even as it flooded with all the blood from his body.
From outside the door came the smallest of half-stifled giggles.

Iruka turned and flung open the door, revealing Anko and Gai crouched in the hallway, their ears where the door had been. They gave Iruka sheepish smiles, exchanged terrified looks, then took off after Genma and Raidou, who were already halfway down the hall.

Kakashi saw Iruka's chest expand in what was surely a prelude to a hearty bout of screaming, and clamped his hands over his ears.


The windows rattled, the rafters shook, and small birds took flight from the trees outside. Kakashi waited until his ears had stopped ringing before he spoke.

"Really, it's not just you – think about it. How much do you know about everyone else's personal life?"

Iruka's mind graced him with the memory of a story he'd heard only days ago involving Asuma, Kurenai and the table in the teacher's lounge.

He shuddered, "Far, far too much."

"There, you see?" Kakashi rubbed Iruka's shoulder with one hand in an attempt to soothe him and it was almost alarming how quickly it worked, "You just have to keep it all in perspective. You can have your book back now."

Iruka nearly dropped the offered book on his toe as both Kakashi's hands went to work massaging the tension out of his shoulders. Iruka sagged a little against the doorframe and sighed contentedly.

"So," Kakashi sounded amused, "Where should we go for dinner tonight – it's my treat this time."
Iruka made an unintelligible noise of happiness.

"I was thinking sushi…"

"Yum…" was all Iruka could manage in response.

Kakashi laughed softly, "And then maybe some more massage?"

"Yeah…" Iruka's voice took on a distinctly dreamy quality.

"With less clothes…"

Iruka straightened up abruptly, nearly knocking Kakashi over, twisting away from his hands as if they held a weapon, "I should – I – eat lunch now!"

"Right…" there was the smallest smouldering of confused disappointment in Kakashi's voice, "The little hell-raisers will be back soon."

"Is uh – seven alright?" Iruka busied himself unpacking the lunchbox on his desk, deliberately keeping his head down, "For dinner I mean – I could meet you at your apartment."

"That's fine," there was a small pop of chakra, and Kakashi was gone before Iruka looked up.

Immediately, Iruka felt a swell of guilt; he had been too abrupt, obviously. It was just that – well – no matter how well you thought you knew someone in Konoha, you could never know them completely. The scar between Iruka's shoulder blades was reminder enough that he shouldn't let himself rush into anything or get carried away.

Of course, he probably should have explained things to Kakashi first – the trouble was that the explanation sounded a little lame, even in his head; something along the lines of:

'I'm sorry if it seems like I'm playing hard to get but my last relationship ended badly – I mean really badly, and I can only handle having my spine nearly severed once in a lifetime.'

The situation was made that much more difficult by the fact that his traitorous mind had already decided that he liked Kakashi – really liked him – which scared him more than anything because he had no idea what Kakashi really thought of him. He could't tell if what was happening was purely for the Jonin's amusement, or if it meant – could mean – something more.

Iruka picked worriedly at his lunch until the bell rang.


"You're kidding me!" Iruka's hand shot out to catch the stray bits of rice that flecked his chin at his exclamation.

"No, I'm serious," Kakashi insisted, his single eye glowing with mirth, "The 'critical footage' was a tape of the Daimyo in bed with his mistress. A disgruntled former employee had taped the whole thing and was selling it all over Fire Country. The Daimyo hired us to track down and destroy all the tapes."

"And they needed ANBU for that?" Iruka stared at Kakashi with a look of utter disbelief mixed with total rapture.

"Well…he was the Daimyo, so he could afford it – and I suppose they didn't want any inadvertent viewings of the tape to scar the minds of innocent young Genin."

"You didn't watch it, did you?" Iruka eyed him warily.

"We all did."

"Kakashi!" Iruka was really more amused than outraged, but he put on a good show, "Isn't that against regulations?"

"Extenuating circumstances," Kakashi asserted with perfect seriousness, "It's written into ANBU policy."

"And exactly what 'extenuating circumstances' were there?"

"We were bored."

Iruka nearly snorted green tea up his nose in amusement.

"I regretted it really," Kakashi sighed, "the Daimyo was…" his brow furrowed as he tired to think of a nice way to say 'old and fat', but couldn't come up with anything.

"Anyway," he waved his hand dismissively, "I couldn't read Icha Icha for almost a month without some bad mental images."

Iruka rolled his eyes, "What a shame."

Kakashi rather thought that it was, but he didn't say so, "Everyone has missions like that."

"Maybe not exactly like that," Iruka scratched his nose, "But I almost became a vegetarian after a mission where we cornered a fugitive in a slaughterhouse. I fell into the refuse pit and it took weeks to get the smell out of my hair."

Kakashi winched sympathetically, "Reminds me of Team 7's mission at the Nara Ranch…as I recall it ended with Naruto face down in a pile of cow dung and Sasuke…"

He blinked, but just for a moment Iruka saw a flash of pain in the Jonin's eye. Iruka bit his lip and poked awkwardly at his remaining piece of sushi, wondering what he was supposed to say.

Luckily, he was saved from having to say anything at all when a member of their 'audience' at a nearby table choked on a piece of eel.

"Dammit Genma you idiot, you can't keep that thing in your mouth while you're eating! How do you not know that by now?" Anko slapped the older man brusquely on the back as Raidou laughed uproariously and Gai advised her (with a series of too-suggestive helpful gestures) to perform the Heimlich. Kakashi watched the whole scene over his shoulder with a look of wry amusement, while Iruka contemplated how many of them he could kill with his chopsticks while they were distracted.


Dating was definitely less fun when your every movement was subject to the scrutiny of four obsessed lunatics, Iruka discovered. He couldn't do or say anything for fear that it would come back to haunt him later; and somehow it was made worse rather than better by the fact that Kakashi hardly seemed bothered at all. Ignoring their spectators didn't help the matter anyway. By the time they left the restaurant and walked back to Iruka's apartment, the four Jonin with too much time on their hands were in full-blown stealth mode, using their chakra to disguise their presence.

"This was…I mean…" Iruka cleared his throat nervously, scratching his nose. He felt terribly exposed standing on his front step; what the hell was he supposed to say and do if they were all watching?

Kakashi grinned at him, "Do I get my kiss now?"

Iruka floundered, mouth gaping, "Wh-what?"

"The second date is the traditional 'farewell kiss' date," Kakashi informed him with a look of scholarly seriousness.

"They're watching," Iruka scanned the street anxiously, catching sight of something in green spandex ducking behind a lamp post, "And – and you'd have to pull down your mask for a kiss…they'd see your face."

Iruka had no idea why the idea of kissing Kakashi made him so afraid; he was a Chunin for gods' sake, he faced down hyperactive ninja children armed with sharp objects for a living; he should not be afraid of a little kiss.

But he was thankful somehow that their four followers gave him an excuse to scurry away, thanking Kakashi for a wonderful evening and then shutting the door with a bang.


"Now it is important when forming the tiger seal to always keep your fingers perfectly…" the piece of chalk in Iruka's hand crumbled half to dust as he touched it to the board. A ripple of confusion passed through the class, several students giggled. Iruka did his best to ignore the vein pounding in his temple, tossed the half-crumbled piece of chalk into the growing pile in the corner and picked up a new piece.

"As I was saying…it's important to keep your fingers perfectly straight…" the piece of chalk crumbled yet again.

Iruka gritted his teeth to the point that his jaw creaked. He tossed the remains of the chalk aside and reached for yet another piece, only to find the box empty.

There had been two hundred pieces of chalk in that box when he'd started class.

Iruka took a long, slow breath and tossed the empty box into the garbage can.

"Early recess," he announced without turning around, and the slightly bewildered would-be ninjas scattered before he could change his mind.

"You can come out now Anko…" he grumbled when the last echo of sandaled feet had vanished.
There was a loud pop and a chair in the corner by the door became a grimacing kunoichi, who straightened up with a groan, rubbing the small of her back.

"Damn…" she grunted, "Took you long enough to notice me…ya know my mother always told me if I held a henge for too long I'd stay that way…I'm beginning to think she was right."

"It doesn't work that way," Iruka sighed, sagging into his chair, deciding that he would go and find the broom and dustpan after he'd downed a few aspirin for his headache, "and I knew you were there from the minute I walked in this morning."

"Then why didn't you say something sooner?" Anko reset her neck with an audible pop.

"I was hoping you'd get bored and leave me alone," he answered honestly, "You're paying for that box of chalk you ruined, by the way."

She looked at him incredulously, "Doesn't that kind of thing come out of the supply budget?"

Iruka gave her a warning look and she reached for her wallet with a grieving sigh.

"Now," he pocketed the bills she reluctantly handed over, "Please tell me what you want so I can clean up this mess, round up my students and hopefully teach them something at some point today."

Anko came and perched herself on the corner of his desk, "Why didn't you kiss him?"

Iruka looked at her for a very long, silent moment, trying to decide if she was really just that dense – and if so, how exactly she had managed to become a Jonin.

He finally spoke up when he realized that he was honestly expecting him to answer.

"You were stalking us…"

"Aw c'mon Iruka, it wasn't like that…"

"Then exactly what was it like?"

"We're rooting for you Iruka," she squeezed his arm in a show of assurance, "We just want you to be happy!"

Iruka scowled, "And interfering with my date would do that how?"

"We're like your cheering section!" Anko grinned happily, miming pom-poms, "We just wanted to make sure you planted one on him."

"Your misguided attempts at encouragement are heart-warming…"

Anko's face became frighteningly serious, "It's just that since Mizuki…"

Iruka flinched, pulled away from Anko's grasp. He couldn't help it; that name still stung him, two years later, "He has nothing to do with – "

"But he does Iruka," Anko pressed, "You know he does. At some point, if you want to be happy, you're going to have to realize that not everyone is just going to use you and throw you away. I mean – you don't think I would do that, do you?"

Iruka snorted, "Of course not!"

"Alright," Anko stood and brushed herself off, straightening her jacket, "I'll tell the guys to give you space, if you promise to try harder with Kakashi."

She waved at him over her shoulder as she walked out. Iruka sat and scowled. Just how was he supposed to 'try harder'? He knew only children believed life was supposed to be easy, but still, it would be nice to get a break once and a while.


Iruka hunched his shoulders against the biting wind and plunged his half-frozen hands into his pant's pockets. A winter storm was blowing in, and although it was rare to get snow in Fire Country, even in November, it certainly felt cold enough, especially with the sun obscured behind thick grey clouds. A freezing rain started up as Iruka left the schoolyard, but he was too disheartened to run home.

He hadn't seen Kakashi in over a week.

While there was the distinct possibility that the Jonin was on some kind of mission, the fear that he had driven Kakashi away was slowly riddling Iruka's stomach with ulcers. He was busy congratulating himself for being a first-rate asshole as he shuffle-footed down the street, sniffling faintly through his frozen nose and feeling generally miserable when suddenly the sting of frozen water pellets vanished as an umbrella appeared over his head.

"Wonderful weather, don't you think Iruka-sensei?"

"Sure…" Iruka glanced awkwardly at the man now walking next to him, "Fantastic."

"You'd think so if you'd just come back from Snow Country," Kakashi assured him, "I forgot to bring you a souvenir unfortunately."

"Oh that's…." Iruka halted a relieved grin by biting his cheek, "I don't mind."

They walked in silence for a few blocks; Iruka could feel the heat radiating off Kakashi's shoulder where it brushed against his.

"I probably should have warned you," Kakashi said finally, "that I have a habit of throwing myself into things."

"I think I can understand why," Iruka responded automatically, because really, he did understand, to an extent. You could only do so much dilly-dallying in life when you didn't know if your next mission would be your last.

"That being said," Kakashi grinned at him a little awkwardly, "if I go too quickly, feel free to say so – or hit me with another book, that's always good too."

Iruka looked away, face burning against the icy wind, "As if you'd listen."

"I'm listening now."

Iruka sighed guiltily, "I know, I'm sorry. That wasn't fair of me."

Kakashi smiled, "It's fine."

Iruka eyed him cautiously, "Do you ever get angry?"

"Not about trivial things like having a door slammed in my face."


More silence. Iruka thought about the past, the present, and how much he was probably risking by being willing to trust someone; but it was always important to keep things in perspective, and he decided that if there was anyone who could put up with all the rash and stupid things that he was bound to do, it was probably Kakashi. (Little did he know that Kakashi thought the very same thing about him).

They walked in silence until they reached the stairs leading up to Iruka's apartment. Luckily, that was enough time for Iruka to get his courage back.

"Uh – would you – are you free for dinner later?"

Kakashi's eye curved happily, "I could be."

Iruka put on his best stern teacher face, "I'll be at your apartment at seven."

"Why is it I can never meet you at your apartment?" It was hard to tell with the mask in place, but Kakashi sounded like he was pouting.

"Because then I'd be waiting all night," Iruka answered flatly.

Kakashi laughed, "Alright, alright. I'll see you then sensei."

Iruka caught his sleeve before he could walk away.

Kakashi blinked at him, "Something wrong?"

Iruka smiled sheepishly, unable to keep from blushing as he snagged the edge of Kakashi's mask with one finger, "I thought you wanted a 'farewell kiss'…"

If Iruka hadn't been so absorbed in the silky texture of Kakashi's lips, he very probably would have been upset by the conversation he could hear on the roof over their heads.

"Aw dammit! The umbrella's in the way! I wanna see…"

"The Springtime of Youthful love triumphs at last! How beautiful! Truly inspiring!!"

"Fork over the cash Raidou – Iruka started the kiss."

"Fine. Bet you a hundred Kakashi's still on top though."

Iruka's head appeared from under the umbrella at that.


Four meddling Jonin scattered to the wind as Iruka allowed himself to be drawn in for another kiss.