Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! Welcome to my first attempt at a pre-IzumoxKotetsu story. Two chunin who belong together in my opinion. Enjoy! :)

General Warnings: Spoilers for the utterly adorable omake at the end of Naruto Shippuden Episode 185 (Animal District). Please see it if you haven't! The words in italics are taken directly from it.

Rating: 'T'

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.

- Story Start -

"I remember back when we were proctors for Shikamaru and the others," Izumo said. "Now he's the same rank as us."

"Actually, he's ranked higher than we are," Kotetsu reminded him.

The two disheartened chunin leaned over the table and sighed. Then Izumo straightened up.

"Well, there's just one thing to do," he said in a resolute voice.

"Right. We'll have to decipher this code before they do," Kotetsu agreed.

They clasped right hands together across the table, determination burning within them once more.

"And that'll leave them speechless!" they declared, covering their joined hands with their left ones.

"Izumo! Kotetsu!" The door opened to reveal Tsunade, her hand on the doorknob. "I have a job for you to..." she started at the sight before her, "...do."

Izumo and Kotetsu stared at her and then at each other, taken aback to find they were clasping hands. All four of them. They leapt back, but Tsunade was already smiling, her cheeks a light pink.

"I'll leave you two alone," she said softly and closed the door.

The two chunin ran forward.

"No, wait, Lady Tsunade!"

"Lady Tsunade, no!"

It's not what you think at all!"

Please, come back!"

There was no reply save for the mocking echo of their panicked denials. Izumo and Kotetsu turned to each other, bewildered.

"Is she really thinking what I think she's thinking?" Kotetsu asked in disbelief.

Izumo nodded.

"I don't know how she could've mistaken brotherly camaraderie for anything else," he said, "but we have to do something."

"Before she tells someone else," Kotetsu agreed and then their eyes went wide.

"Shizune!" they said in unison and blanched.

They started for the door once more with Kotetsu a step ahead. In his eagerness, he pulled the door wide open, causing it to slam against Izumo's left side. With a cry of pain, Izumo stumbled and went down.

"Ahh!"

Cursing, Kotetsu pushed the door shut and went to kneel beside his friend.

"Izumo, I'm sorry! Are you alright?"

Izumo sat up and winced, probing his bruised left shoulder and then his left knee.

"You really need to be more careful, Kotetsu," he scolded.

"I'm sorry," Kotetsu apologised again. "Here, let me help you up."

With Izumo's uninjured arm around Kotetsu's shoulders, they stood up together and turned towards the door.

"Ow."

"What's wrong?" Kotetsu asked.

"Never mind what's wrong. We have to go after the Hokage!"

"Wait - where are you hurt?" Kotetsu turned to face Izumo, still keeping his friend's arm around his shoulders. He scanned Izumo's body with worried eyes.

"My left knee, but I'll live."

"Let me see." Kotetsu tried to pull up Izumo's left trouser leg.

"We don't have time for that!" Izumo grabbed his hand to stop him.

And that was when the door opened the second time.

"If you two lovebirds are finished holding hands-" Tsunade broke off and blinked. She sighed, shook her head and smiled.

"Never mind," she said and closed the door again.

The two chunin suddenly realised how close they were standing with Izumo's arm still around Kotetsu's shoulders and Kotetsu's hand in Izumo's. They turned and started for the door again.

"Lady Tsunade! Wait!"

"Lady Tsunade! It's not what you think!"

Nothing.

Releasing his friend, Kotetsu ran his fingers through his hair and groaned in frustration. Izumo shook his head in disbelief.

"She's going to tell Shizune for sure," he stated with resigned certainty.

Kotetsu spread his hands helplessly.

"What could we have done? Lady Tsunade didn't even listen to our denials!"

"We weren't very convincing," Izumo admitted. "Granted, she caught us by surprise... twice..." he gave a sideways glance at Kotetsu, "... and both times did look rather compromising."

Kotetsu snorted.

"We didn't do anything wrong!" he insisted. "If only she had heard what we said about wanting to decipher the code before Shikamaru did."

"But she didn't," Izumo muttered, rubbing his sore shoulder.

"She never listens to us anyway," Kotetsu grumbled.

They were silent for a moment, knowing it was the unhappy truth.

"Forget it then?" Izumo finally suggested.

Kotetsu nodded and straightened up.

"Yeah. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks anyway. We're partners and best friends, and that's all there is to it," he declared.

Izumo smiled at him, his eyes warm.

"That's right. Nothing she nor anyone else says will ever change that."

Kotetsu chuckled, his good humour restored.

"Lucky thing she didn't catch us in a more compromising position, eh?" he teased.

Izumo just blinked at him.

"Like what?"

"Like this." Reaching out, Kotetsu grabbed Izumo's right arm and yanked him forward. With a startled squawk, Izumo fell against his best friend, slamming him back against the wall.

"Ow! Kotetsu, what the hell!"

"Oof, you're heavy."

And that was when the door opened for the third time... only it wasn't Tsunade standing there.

"AAAAIIIEEE!" Shizune shrieked, hands clasped to her pink cheeks, eyes wide with glee. "Milady was right! You two look so cute, I've got to tell her!"

The door slammed shut again. Izumo and Kotetsu listened in dumbfounded silence to the sound of Shizune's rapid footsteps fading away, their cheeks still pressed against one another's.

It was Izumo who moved first, leaping backwards and then staggering as his knee protested.

"Izumo! Are you alright?" Strong hands grabbed his arms and steadied him.

Izumo knocked Kotetsu's hands away and glared at him.

"Do you always have to get us in trouble?" he demanded.

"I didn't mean to! I didn't think-"

"That's the trouble with you!" Izumo interrupted, jabbing an accusing finger in Kotetsu's chest. "You never think!"

Kotetsu bit his lip and then he jerked his chin up.

"Well, how would I know Shizune would come barging in like this?"

"She's the Hokage's assistant, of course she'd be the first to know!"

They stared at each other, Izumo trying hard not to remember how close he had been pressed up against his best friend. Bro fists were one thing. So were shoulder thumps, but this - this was...

Izumo took a step back and looked down, fingers still probing his shoulder. Why was his heart beating so fast?

"It's going to be all over the village that we're a couple," he said in a low voice.

"Wait a minute - I thought you didn't care what anyone thought," Kotetsu countered.

Izumo looked up. Kotetsu's shoulders were hunched and his hands shoved deep inside his trouser pockets. He looked... miserable.

"Don't be angry, Izumo. You're my... you're my best friend."

Izumo exhaled and shook his head in resignation. Try as he might, he couldn't stay mad for long. Kotetsu Hagane was, without a doubt, the mischievous half of their duo. Always had been, always would be.

"Forget it," he said wearily and forced a smile. It felt more like a grimace. "At least we weren't-" he broke off, horrified at what he had almost blurted out.

"Weren't what?"

"Forget it. Let's uhm... let's start deciphering that code!" Izumo spun around, his face growing hot.

A hand closed around his arm and swung him around again.

"At least we weren't what?" Kotetsu asked again, looking steadily at him. "Tell me."

Izumo licked his lips nervously. Kotetsu had taken a step forward and they were standing closer than they ever had before.

"At least we weren't... kissing," Izumo whispered even though there was no one to overhear them.

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"So... do you want to?"

"Want to what?"

They were definitely whispering, a small part of Izumo realised. The rest of him was just occupied by the growing warmth in Kotetsu's eyes and how his lips moved to form words.

"Kiss, of course."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"You mean... you mean like this?"

They both leaned forward at the same time.

And that was when the door opened for the fourth time to reveal the amused faces of Tsunade and Shizune.

"Really, Izumo, Kotetsu. Why do you bother denying anything?" Tsunade asked. "The more you deny, the more obvious it gets."

Behind her, Shizune shook with silent laughter, a hand clapped over her mouth.

"Anyway, see me in my office in five minutes and no more delays," Tsunade ordered before closing the door.

Izumo and Kotetsu stared at the door and then at each other, faces flushed bright red. Then they rushed to the door.

"Lady Tsunade, please wait!"

"Lady Tsunade, it's not what you think!"

"We weren't doing anything! Really!"

"Nothing at all!"

- Story End -

A/N: Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it, a review would be most appreciated :)