Characters: Kakashi, Iruka
Notes: Manga continuity, if you please (for minor differences). These two are my favorite guys. No? Really? WTF is up with the other characters disappearing from your upload here? GRRRR Why no plus sign? Arrrgh!
Disclaimer: Belongs to Masahi Kishimoto, Shueisha, and VIZ. I just make people love them more and want to buy stuff to show it.
Iruka sat behind the mission desk, chin propped in one cupped hand, eyes closed. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was shining low and warm into the room through the trees outside the windows. They'd opened one of them earlier, hoping a breeze might stir the still air, but it hadn't. The air in the room was stuffy and thick. Over time, a patch of sunlight had moved across the floor until now it fell straight on his back, warming him through his vest. Lunch in the canteen had been nigiri and tofu-heavy miso soup – far too filling for the weather. Beside him, the Hokage sat slumped in his chair, arms folded over his chest, robes trailing on the wooden floor. The sweet scent of his pipe smoke filled the air.
"Late again, eh?" the Hokage said gruffly, mumbling the words around the stem of his pipe.
"Aa," Iruka agreed without opening his eyes. He was feeling pleasantly sleepy. His duties were done and his paperwork filed, all he had to do was man the desk until closing which was barely half an hour away. He would have drifted off already, if only the Hokage weren't sitting beside him, the fact prickling his conscience. Of course, if the Hokage hadn't just spoken he might have thought the old man had drifted off already himself. Ninja learned to sleep in just about any position early in their training. Which made classes extraordinarily difficult to teach on warm days like this after lunch. The snoring often interfered with his lectures, but it did help sort out the problem kids. Which would then necessitate more time spent training them to sleep without snoring. Always a challenging lesson. Ah. A ninja's life was tough sometimes.
He let out a slow, gusting breath. Shifted his elbow a bit where it was propped on the desk just to keep it from going numb and let his eyes drift open slightly to scan the room.
There was a familiar, smugly grinning masked face propped atop hands folded flat on the table -- right in front of him. He was being watched with unwavering intensity from one crinkled eye.
"K-Kaskashi-sensei!" Iruka yelped, leaping up and rocking back in his chair sharply, his eyes flashing wide with shock. "H-how long have you been there?!"
"Yo," Kakashi said without moving from his kneeling position in front of the mission table. The grin stayed on his face as he shifted just enough to lift one hand in a small wave.
Beside Iruka, the Hokage gave a grunt and tilted his broad hat back enough to fix the jounin with a steely-eyed gaze. Iruka rather hoped the Hokage hadn't known the jounin was there either. The thought did nothing to calm his still wildly pounding heart however.
"Ah, there you are Kakashi."
"I want you to quit tormenting my mission desk people by not turning your reports in on time," the Hokage said sternly. "I want all your reports for Cell 7 current by tomorrow morning."
Kakashi just shrugged. The Hokage let out a soft snort, shaking his head slightly. Iruka stared at Kakashi blankly, still horrified that the jounin had apparently been just sitting there watching him drowse. Utterly without his knowledge. Why would he do such a thing? To humiliate him? Yet there was no malice in that shrouded smile, only a kind of pleased contentment, subtly different in quality from the jounin's usual air of bland amusement. A chair creaked sharply as the Hokage rose to his feet. Iruka looked up at his master, face flushing brightly. How mortifying to be shown as so unaware and inattentive in front of the most respected shinobi of the village.
"Hokage-sama?" Iruka said faintly, but the Hokage wasn't looking at him. The old man's gaze was still fixed on Kakashi.
"He's the best teacher I have – don't break him," the Hokage said obscurely. Kakashi raised his single visible brow high, and the amusement faded from his expression.
"He's tougher than you give him credit for, Hokage-sama," Kakashi said with quiet earnestness. The old man snorted and fixed the jounin with his most forbidding glare.
"It's not his toughness I'm questioning. Remember my warning."
Iruka was gaping between the both of them now, aware that they were discussing him in front of him this way for some reason of their own, but was unable to see exactly why. The back-handed praise made him nervous. The Hokage shot him a brief, sidelong look that made him feel even more uneasy. As if he'd been weighed and found acceptable in some way for some as-yet unknown mission. It was the unknown part that made him nervous.
"Humph. I'll expect those reports. Iruka will tell me if you don't get them in," the Hokage said as he moved across the room toward the door. Kakashi finally leaned back from the table, shifting in his easy crouch to look over his shoulder at the departing old man.
"They're already waiting on the desk in your office, Hokage-sama," Kakashi said, amusement plain in his voice. Iruka barely stifled a sound of outrage, stiffening in his seat, but the Hokage just nodded, one eye gleaming back at the jounin brightly.
"Fair enough." Then the Hokage left, lifting one hand in a dismissive wave as he swept out the door.
Iruka scrambled to his feet, appalled by the jounin's attitude, despite being more than familiar with it.
"What was that all about?" he demanded. Kakashi rose lithely to his feet, moving with all the deadly grace he hardly ever bothered to display. Something almost perilous crackled in the air suddenly. Not quite chakra. Iruka sucked in a startled breath as the one eye fixed on him again, curiously intense.
"You smile when you're half-asleep – did you know that?"
He flushed, thrown completely off balance again. "Er... I... well... No. No, I didn't know that. Thank you for telling me."
The sturdy mission desk was between them and suddenly he was very glad of even that small barrier. He became aware that his hands were fisted at his sides and he tried to force them to relax. He was only partially successful. It wasn't that he was afraid of Kakashi... not precisely. More wary. He was jounin after all, and a very senior one. Senior jounin like him were known for being eccentric. And unpredictable.
Kakashi shifted, leaning a hip against the front of the desk, the casual nonchalance back in place again. As if it were suddenly too much effort for the man to stand square on his feet. Oddly, it didn't make Iruka feel any less tense. He watched the other man carefully. No chakra or jutsu that he could detect was in use, but he couldn't make himself relax..
"Done for the day?" Kakashi said, tilting his head slightly to the side.
"Y-yes," Iruka said.
The single eye twinkled at him. "No books to grade?"
"No." He swallowed hard. Wondered where this ache in his throat had come from.
All amusement and pretense faded from the other's expression. Kakashi went still and calm. Focused. On him. Iruka felt his pulse throb hard.
"Afraid of me?"
"You're jounin..." Iruka began, but a sharp snort cut him off. He stared into that single eye, mesmerized, helpless. "W-what do you want of me?" he finally whispered, mouth dry, hands shaking.
"Just a little of your time, sensei." He thought he saw a flare of disappointment, but the other man's expression flickered into bland unreadability again before he could be certain. The momentary intensity faded from the air as if it had never been.
"I'd like a little more insight into that team you saddled me with. What in all seven hells induced you to put Sasuke and Naruto together? And Sakura as well? Do you know the endless bickering I have to listen to?" Kakashi sighed heavily, rolling his eye dramatically and folding his arms over his chest.
Naruto. Sasuke. Sakura. At the mention of his former students, Iruka drew a deeper - if still faintly unsteady – breath; his breathing came more normally after that. He no longer felt choked by something he couldn't name. No longer felt the odd pressure that told him he was missing something... something Kakashi wanted him to figure out. But of course, it was likely just the need Kakashi had to know more about his team. That was all. What else could he want from an Academy-bound chuunin like him?
"Oi, I want to pick your brain, sensei," Kakashi said, eye crinkling at him again. "Over ramen?"
"O-okay," Iruka said, and wondered if the warmth that filled him then was just from the stuffy room, or if it had something to do with the way the other man's mouth curved under his mask in a distinctly pleased smile at his assent.
"Good," Kakashi said with a nod, and led the way out of the room, Iruka following far more slowly behind.
-- end --