Characters: Kakashi Iruka
Notes: Manga continuity, if you please (for minor differences). Okay, now I'm wandering dangerously close to actual chapters, rather than just writing semi-connected fic. Argh. I don't need any more WIPs!
Disclaimer: Belongs to Masahi Kishimoto, Shueisha, and VIZ. I just make people love them more and want to buy stuff to show it.
The evening didn't go quite the way Iruka expected. But then that was almost to be expected whenever he was in Hatake Kakashi's presence. The man confused him utterly with his odd glances and strange ways. Made him think things he shouldn't. Wonder things he shouldn't. Plus, he was aggravating, perverse and far too sure of himself. But then, he was jounin.
It was almost a given he'd be trouble.
Kakashi led him to a small noodle shop just outside the main part of town that was definitely not the Ichiraku. The sign over the door, however, was too sun-worn to read. The chef of the restaurant apparently knew the jounin well, greeting him heartily as he walked through the faded cloth hangings over the doorway.
He seemed at ease there, waving back to and trading jokes with the man, while the man's wife cried out a greeting in happiness. They were both old, their hair gray, their hands calloused and spotted with burns from years of working around the hot grills and pots. But they both had deep smile lines on their faces and seemed content, even if they were long past the age when most sought retirement. But then, they were far older than most ninja could ever hope to be.
Kakashi claimed one of the small tables near the back of the narrow shop, settling with the ease of long familiarity into the dim back corner. Iruka had already spotted at least two methods of exit from the supposedly boxed in corner. He was certain Kakashi knew of at least three more or he wouldn't be sitting there so comfortably. Iruka settled himself in the chair that left his back exposed with only a small grimace of distaste. Of course, the chuunin would be expected to take the riskier position. Not that an ordinary noodle shop in the heart of Konoha was all that great a risk, but then, dining in Hakate Kakashi's presence somehow made him feel almost as if he were on a mission.
The old woman had already had a small bottle of sake and a single cup on a tray ready on the bar for Kakashi, as if he were expected, but when she saw Iruka standing beside him, she had quickly added another cup. She shuffled slowly around the end of the cooking counter and came to their table, the sheer cheerfulness of her smile nearly lighting her wrinkled face into beauty.
"For the honored shinobi who protect our village so bravely, the first drink is always on the house," she said, bowing her head as she offered the tray to Iruka first. The shop was small and run down and worn. He didn't think they could afford such gestures. Iruka opened his mouth, prepared to insist that he pay, but Kakashi caught his eye and gave a nearly imperceptible shake of his head. Swallowing his protest, Iruka took the tray from the old woman and set it carefully on the fresh-scrubbed table in front of him.
"Thank you very much, obaasan, we are honored by your generosity," Iruka said instead, nodding to her politely. The old woman beamed at him, winding her fingers in her apron and bowing again.
"Oh! So proper and polite. Would you like me to pour for you both, Shi-san?" she asked, glancing at Kakashi, her face flushed with happiness. Kakashi shook his head at her.
"No, thank you, Reina-baachan," Kakashi said gravely. "Iruka-sensei will be pleased to pour for me." The old woman's eyes lit up and her gnarled hands, full of apron, flew up over her mouth in her excitement.
"Is this the one, Shi-san?" The old woman's sharp gaze raked over Iruka with alarming thoroughness suddenly, almost making him blush. "Oh! You never said he was so young and handsome!"
"Didn't I?" Kakashi said blandly, causing Iruka to glance at him in surprise even as the old woman gushed and cooed over him. Apparently she thought he was a new teammate of Kakashi's. At least that was the most sense he could make of her odd rambles.
"Enough, woman, let them drink in peace, eh! The usual for you and your friend, Shi-san?" the chef bellowed from the back after a few minutes of this, making the old woman flutter and bow in apology for taking their time.
"Aa," Kakashi agreed to the order, his eye twinkling wickedly at Iruka. Who would have bristled and tried to order for himself if not for the broad smiles of approval on the old couple's faces. The old woman scurried away behind the bar to berate the chef, in a loud undertone, about his rudeness in front of guests even as the chef set to work noisily on what was, hopefully, their meal. He wanted this meal over with as soon as possible, his jaw already tight with aggravation.
"What did you want to ask about my stu... my former students, Kakashi-sensei?" He barely corrected himself, his cheeks heating slightly as he remembered the stinging set-down Kakashi had given him at the chuunin exam nomination meeting. They weren't his students anymore. They had graduated and earned their hitai-ate. That was his goal at the Academy, after all. To help them move on to adulthood as shinobi.
"Actually, I think I know them pretty well already. They're not that hard to figure out," Kakashi said, a faintly sheepish tone to his voice as he scratched at the back of his head with his free hand, elbow held high. "It was you I want to get to know better."
Their host's continuing chatter faded into the background as he became aware that Kakashi was blatantly staring at him again. To cover his dismay he turned the two small cups upright and poured warm sake into one. He offered it to Kakashi with a slightly wary inclination of his head. The other man took it, eye dancing with amusement as Iruka carefully avoided brushing their fingers together in scrupulous politeness.
Iruka concentrated on pouring his own drink next, head bowed enough so that he couldn't catch the other's gaze. Know him better? Why? Of course, he still didn't know what to think of the jounin so smugly watching him drowse in the office earlier. He hadn't had much time to think about it. Or about the odd conversation that had followed between him and the Hokage. Much less what the old couple here thought was going on. He sighed heavily. Frankly, his head was starting to hurt trying to keep up with all the surprises and wild shifts of mood the jounin seemed to bring on.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Kakashi pull down his mask, take a deep sip of the sake he had poured for him, and then let out a sigh of contentment. And suddenly – shockingly – the old woman's flutterings made sense.
Iruka jerked his wide-eyed gaze down to the table as his hands fisted there, his cheeks flaming. Okay. So it had taken him a little too long to catch on... probably because he'd spent so much of his life cut off from family of any kind. And it had been years even since he'd last dated. Who had the time? But even so, he should have realized sooner that the formality of being asked to pour drinks for someone else was a sign of... involvement. Of an intimate nature.
He squeezed his eyes shut for an instant, his pulse pounding frantically in his ears.
So now the old woman and her husband thought... they thought he and... Iruka groaned, his shoulders rounding as he bowed his head further. But then hope struck.
Hatake Kakashi had no family either. Perhaps he didn't fully understand the nuance of the gesture. Iruka risked a look over his shoulder at the old woman and her husband. The old woman was fussing around behind the counter, beaming like a proud mother. She understood, that was for certain. Kakashi had to know as well just from her joy. He didn't dare look at the jounin now.
Iruka let his head sag forward. What had just happened? Why would Kakashi let himself be linked with a low-level chuunin like him in the eyes of people he seemed to be friendly with? Or did that explain why he'd caught him watching him with that oddly soft look on his face back in the mission room? Iruka's heart thumped faster in his chest.
"Figured it out finally, did you?" Kakashi said quietly. "I was beginning to think I was going to have to write you a letter or something." Iruka glanced up, stung, and was surprised to find the jounin had left his mask down. It wasn't something he did outside the confines of the Academy much. He must feel truly at ease here in this little dive of a noodle bar. Or else it was Iruka's presence he felt at ease in...
He stared at Kakashi desperately, searching his face, hoping there had been some misunderstanding. But the jounin's expression was more serious than he had ever seen it outside that time when he'd first witnessed the Sharingan. There was no misunderstanding.
"Don't you have a duty to your bloodline?" Iruka asked hoarsely, his breathing rough, his mind whirling. He didn't really know what to think, to say, to feel yet.
"Already done and properly hidden in another village," Kakashi murmured, his gaze steady. "I can't even know if it is a son or a daughter. I have quite a few enemies, you see."
It was a fairly common practice among the highest level jounin, Iruka knew; to make a child and hide it completely. Both in order to prevent retaliation against the parent and to preserve the bloodline. Particularly a bloodline with a skill like Hatake Kakashi's. It was also common practice for the jounin who felt it necessary to go to that extreme to take lovers of only the same sex afterwards in order to prevent accidental births.
There were enough children's graves already in the Hidden Villages. Far too many.
With his own clan strong in other villages, for himself, he'd had no wish to risk leaving an orphan behind. And so his few lovers, over the years, had been either dedicated chuunin women who would allow no mistakes or male. That too was common practice among the shinobi. With his students to guide and train and keep him challenged, he'd been content and had felt no drive to marry. At least not yet. He had time still if he found someone to change his mind later. Not that he'd been looking very hard. But then he'd never expected to attract the attention of someone like this… like Kakashi.
"Why me?" Iruka said, his voice barely louder than a whisper. But of course, Kakashi heard him.
A hand reached across the table toward him. Two fingertips brushed the back of his hand. Stayed. All his attention focused down to those slim points of contact, his blood throbbing even faster in his veins, his skin almost seeming to burn under that touch. Iruka felt a tremor run through his body, but didn't pull away.
After a silent moment, Kakashi spoke, his voice oddly thick, "Because you took the boy who holds the Nine Tails into your heart; perhaps there is room enough there for a blood-soaked nin like me as well."
Iruka looked up then, into the waiting blue and red eyes, and fell.
- - end - -