Harsh Reality

by paxnirvana

Fandom: Naruto N06

Characters: Kakashi Iruka

Rating: PG-13

Date: 10/24/04

Notes: Manga continuity, if you please (for minor differences). Finding and downloading manga scanlations is truly dangerous to my sense of proportion.

Disclaimer: Belongs to Masahi Kishimoto, Shueisha, and VIZ. I just make people love them more and want to buy stuff to show it. Now hurry up VIZ so I CAN buy it... grrr!

It was the day of application at last and Iruka sat alone in his silent classroom, hands folded before his mouth, staring blankly across the tiers of empty seats. The last of the representatives from the other villages had arrived and the preparations for the chuunin selection exam were complete. It would begin tomorrow.

As Konoha was the host village for this session, the Academy was closed for the duration of the exam so that Academy staff could assist with administration and security. It was a village holiday, of sorts, as well. One that was critical to Konoha's future. The performance of their genin in this contest would secure their pride and prestige against the other villages. Promote them to the leaders of the world as quality ninja and hopefully earn their village offer of the most and best jobs for the coming months. And yet...

Nine rookie genin were among those being offered the choice this year. A record for Konoha. Only a few short months ago, he'd handed the hitai-ate to most of them himself, graduating them from the Academy. His former students, all of them, at one point or another.

He knew the application forms would be delivered and the choice offered to all the rookies that very morning.

Or maybe that afternoon, in Cell 7's case.

Deep inside of him, a familiar foreboding curled, thick and cloying, whenever he though of Naruto entering the exam so soon. The boy was reckless, brash, unwise. All things the exam was designed to punish. Severely. And yet Hatake Kakashi had nominated all his team without hesitation or qualification. A helpless despair washed through him that threatened to smother the as-yet small but surprisingly strong flame that had been kindled in his heart after that dinner two nights ago with Kakashi.

Kakashi. Who had followed him in his impulsive flight across the city with ease and a kind of wild joy. Who had caught him with ease, the light of understanding clear in his eyes as he kissed him. And then who had ended their passionate embrace with a seeming ease Iruka soon came to both rue and doubt. Though it had seemed fitting, at the time.

"Not yet," Kakashi had said. "I don't want to rush. We'll finish this after the exam." The hoarse, faintly unsteady words easing the ache of frustration and disappointment by reassuring him that he wasn't the only one affected when followed by a brush of unsteady fingertips over his open, panting mouth. There had been a visible struggle for control on the scarred face of the man crouched above him. A frown of true regret as he drew away.

And he'd been grateful for the space the other man granted him upon reflection later. Glad for a chance to think about the full implications without passion clouding the issue. But now, it had been nearly two days since he'd last seen Kakashi.

The 'chance' encounters had stopped and the ugly specter of doubt had risen. Had Kakashi's pursuit only been a way to keep him from pressing his objections about the nominations more formally to the Hokage? It was the kind of misdirection and subterfuge jounin could be required to practice, if so ordered. Even against their own people. He wasn't that naïve. Despite Gai-sensei's surprising support of his objections at the meeting, he knew he'd put the Hokage on the spot - even if the old man had not, as yet, taken him to task for it.

He closed his eyes and leaned his mouth against his hands, letting out a slow, heavy breath around his threaded fingers.

He didn't want to be a mission. He wanted that glittering shine of appreciation and need in Kakashi's mismatched eyes to be real. He desperately wanted to believe the instincts that told him it was... and yet... reality was clay to ninja, especially jounin. Something to be molded and shaped to suit need and duty...

"Don't doubt," a voice said from the shadows. "This has nothing to do with you and me." He jerked upright, head swiveling around sharply to face the already familiar form where it leaned against the wall by the window. His pulse leaped, began to race.

"That doesn't matter right now," Iruka said, pushing himself to his feet, struggling to tamp down his response to the other man's mere presence. "I'm worried about the children. They need more time before they face this trial, and much more experience - of themselves and the world." He flattened his hands on the desk, forcing them to stay out of fists.

Kakashi shook his head once, his gaze shuttered. "No. They don't."

He could only shake his own head in mute protest as Kakashi shifted away from his slouch against the wall with a sigh, then closed the distance between them.

To his dismay, Iruka had to use chakra to keep himself from backing away as a half-gloved hand touched his cheek, a thumb brushing lightly across the end of his scar. The jounin had crossed the room quickly, without appearing to do so, almost startling him. The visible eye was fixed on him, hooded and watchful.

"You're shit for lying, aren't you?" The normally lazy tone had sharpened.

He fought a flush. Failed. Let his gaze fall away. "W-what are you talking about?"

"The truth is you think I'm using you."

Iruka stayed silent, his gaze fixed on the scroll pouches on the right side of the vest that covered the chest in front of him. The touch on his face was gentle, sliding down until bent knuckles skimmed the line of his jaw. He swallowed hard, trembling slightly, and was unable to look up into the other man's face.

"They're hungry. They have to move on," Kakashi said, voice softening to something like regret as he let his hand fall away. "Sasuke in particular needs the challenge; Naruto will keep up with him out of sheer stubbornness. It's Sakura I'm worried about for the moment -- she has confidence issues. We'll see if either of her teammates notices in time..."

Kakashi's words trailed away as Iruka frowned. The hand came back to Iruka's face, cupped his cheek, the thumb stroking gently beside the down-turned corner of his mouth. Iruka swallowed hard again, eyes closing as he fought the eager shudder that went through him, the heady elation. "Why tell me this now?"

"So you won't hate me so much."

The baldness of the statement broke his half-paralysis. His eyes flew wide, startled gaze jerking up to meet Kakashi's. There was warmth there. A touch of pain. Longing. Not a deception he could pierce, if it even was one. He hoped not. Oh, how he hoped not.

Iruka reached out. Fisted his hand in the other man's vest. "I can't not worry about him... about all of them."

"Don't then. Just believe in them." Kakashi met his searching look steadily, making no effort to hide the need that flared there. Just desire? Or was it a need for Iruka to believe in him as well?

His hand tightened, twisting the thick canvas of the vest as shame surged for his own persistent doubt. He drew the other man close by that hold until nearly the only thing separating their mouths was the thin blue mask. Their breath mingled, quick and hot.

"I'll try," Iruka whispered, knowing honesty was the only path he could take. He reached up with his other hand, caught the edge of the mask with his fingertips and slowly peeled it down to no resistance.

He pressed his mouth to Kakashi's as he felt arms close around him, hard and tight, and whispered again, "I'll try."

-- end --