AN: Inspired by Hey-Diddle-Diddle's beautiful writing, with refinement by Luvwiz's superior grammar skills.

This is yaoi, boy-boy people, so leave if that icks you.

No spoilers for either the manga or the anime.


Iruka looks up from the paper to the black panel of window and the night that has drawn in outside. Sometime in the last few hours it has turned from late evening to very early morning and somehow he has managed not to notice. His pen hovers forgotten over the surface of another essay, just one of almost fifty that lie in two neat stacks, one on either side of him. He has been using them to pass the time until he can no longer keep his eyes open and he will be forced to return to his small apartment and his cold bed.

Iruka doesn't want to go home, doesn't want to trudge back through the lamplit streets, his arms full of essays that are nothing but cold comfort to a weary heart heading reluctantly towards an even colder bed. He sighs and looks down unseeing at the scrawled lines of kanji and inkblots trailing haphazard across a corner of one page.

The other Mission Room chuunin have long since left, with polite words and careful glances in his direction. He has matched them courtesy for courtesy, smile for smile, empty comment for empty comment all this week. He feels that now he has become quite the master of the contrived cheery comeback. Once perhaps he would have cringed inside at the gossip his mind can conjure for them as they sit around idly passing the time. Once perhaps, but no longer. Now a different emotion has scoured all others from his thoughts, bleached away the power of any other feeling until he is left cold and dry inside.

He would do anything to fill that void, that blankness of soul, but he cannot seem to rouse himself from his lethargy. There is only one thing that can put colour back into his whitewashed spirit, and that person has been gone for a week.

The pen hovers over a particularly badly formed kanji and instinctively dips to correct it. Brief, economical strokes put correct meaning back into the lines; he wishes someone would do the same for him. With a soft snort he smiles wryly to himself and cannot help the almost imperceptible shake of his head. He will mark one more, and then he will head home.

'---

It is dark outside again and Iruka is once more in the Mission Room. Ibiki has only just left, his dark eyes pensive and probing as he looked deep into Iruka's gaze. The chuunin sensei met those predator eyes coolly and steadily, his courage springing from the desperation within him to appear collected and in control. It does not occur to him that his unwavering gaze is indication enough to the ANBU that something is amiss.

The smile on the chuunin's lips did not reach to his eyes as he nodded to the taller man stood looking down at him. Ibiki's face gave no hint of his thoughts, but his lingering presence was evidence enough of his concern. Eventually he appeared to reach some inner conclusion and his soft "good evening, sensei" held no more significance than detached politeness. Iruka's gaze nonetheless followed the ANBU's back until the door closed behind him and his footsteps had faded away to nothing.

Now the chuunin sits neatly, his hands folded around his pen and a stack of essays to either side of him. He listens intently for any hint of Ibiki's return, allowing his awareness to filter out along the corridors of the building and creep silently into each room. Satisfied eventually that the ANBU has left the building, he rises from his seat and crosses to the window. It is close to midnight and the streetlamps throw yellow circles of light across the pavements. He looks for Ibiki's figure and is not surprised when he cannot find it. Satisfied he moves over to the coffee machine, slipping his key card from a side pocket and inserting it into the slot. He punches the button for black coffee and stares at the plastic cup as it fills fitfully with steaming liquid. If he notices the splashes of scalding liquid that land on his trousers he gives no indication of it.

He picks up the cup gingerly, gripping the rim carefully and returns to his post behind the Mission desk. The clock on the wall shows the hour to be 12.07am. Eyes half-closed, he sips at the bitter scalding liquid and makes silent estimations in his head. He will stay here until 2am, the coffee machine his life support through the still silent hours, and then if no reports are filed, if no ninja return, he will leave for home.

Setting down the cup, Iruka picks up an essay and begins to mark.

'---

On the eleventh day, Iruka runs out of essays. He considers setting his classes another but fails to find any justification for it. Besides which it would take them time to write, time in which he would still have nothing to do. Instead he sets down a blank sheet of paper and begins to write out a list of questions that he will use as an end of term test. His pen hovers over the paper and his mind wanders. Around him the babble of voices fades as the other Mission Room attendees leave for the evening.

Focus tonight is hard to come by. He spends the next four hours alternating between the coffee machine, the window and his desk. The half-written test paper lies forgotten, his pen set down beside it. At one point he even manages to lose the biro and spends the next ten minutes searching disbelievingly under the table, by the window and across the floor. He even checks inside the coffee machine with a quick self-conscious glance around to make sure that no-one is watching him. Eventually he finds the pen where he left it, tucked into the pocket of his jacket. Disconcerted at his own foolishness, he makes himself return to his seat to apply the newly retrieved pen to the business of test-writing.

Settling as comfortably as is possible on the hard wooden chair, the chuunin reaches inside himself to find his still centre of focus, and fails. The sigh that escapes his lips is long and shakey and he runs a hand through his hair, trying to pull himself together. The mantras of calm and relaxation that have been drummed into him since childhood are as wisps of smoke tossed aside by the wind of his own overactive imagination. For in Iruka's head there is the harsh chink of steel on steel, the scrape of a kunai across the metal plating of an armgaurd and the sudden spray of deep ruby blood. It is so real that he can feel the heat of it on his hands, hear the laboured breathing of unseen opponents, feel the shooting chill of dread as he wonders if this is what Kakashi faces.

Kakashi.

Vision Kakashi turns his head and looks over his shoulder at Iruka, one eyebrow raised quizzically at the young chuunin. Do you really think they could take me? his eyes seem to say.

Iruka does not notice the footsteps that approach the desk, measured and even. His thoughts are lost in a vision of silver hair and pale, supple forearms; of a hard, lean body and the soft curve of a smile that never fails to fill him head to foot with irrepressible joy. It has been eleven days since he last saw that smile. The cankerous doubt had already set in by the third.

"Iruka-sensei."

The tanned hand that suddenly appears placed flat on the empty surface of his page startles him slightly, especially when he realises that he has already been staring blankly at it for a few seconds. He looks up sharply, feeling his cheeks burn with embarrassment, and meets the intense gaze of Ibiki. The tall man is leaning on one hand, his face close to Iruka's own and he straightens up as Iruka sits back quickly in his chair. One hand reaches up reflexively to scratch the back of his neck as the chuunin mentally curses his loss of face in front of the stoic older man.

After a few seconds Iruka smiles and then laughs nervously; he cannot help it. The ANBU jounin is watching him closely, his own smile deceptively pleasant and impartial.

"Ibiki-sensei? Can I help you? I don't have any missions open at the moment, I'm afraid; they've all been taken out by the others. You should have come by earlier!" He's babbling but he can't help it as he runs his fingers fussily across the tops of a neat stack of index cards each tagged with a small "taken" clip.

"I do not want a mission, Iruka-sensei."

Ibiki's voice is deep and calm and for a wild moment the chuunin wonders if this is the voice that he uses on his prisoners, coaxing their secrets out of unwilling lips with deadly calm and deceptive sincerity. He stares into the jounin's eyes, caught by the power of the other man's intensity, and knows that he is outclassed.

"Then how may I help you, Ibiki-sensei?"

"I want you to go home, Iruka. Now."

Iruka gapes at him, dumbfounded. Is that an order, why is he-? Does he think Iruka weak? Is he under suspicion of something? He stares up at the jounin and Ibiki stares right back at him.

"I...don't understand, Ibiki-san," he stalls.

The jounin's gaze does not leave Iruka's as he nods towards the clock.

"It is 2.47am, Iruka-sensei. The Mission Room officially closed five hours and forty-seven minutes ago. There is no need for you to remain here."

Iruka looks up at the clock guiltily; he had not realised that so much time had passed. He tries a smile on Ibiki, "ne, how did it get so late? No matter, I'll just finish up here in a bi-"

"Go home."

There is no arguing with that voice. Iruka forces a smile, nods and gathers his papers together. Ibiki waits until he has risen and then follows him out, flicking the light off behind them. They part in the street, one with a silent nod, the other with an embarrassed half-wave. Iruka heads home, head down and papers clutched tight to his chest.

'---

He has given up pretending to work now. He only keeps the stack of papers in front of him so that he can turn his face and pen to them whenever Ibiki, or even Anko now, poke their head around the door to check on him. Otherwise he simply sits and stares blankly. In his head he can see blood.

Fourteen days. He has told Hokage-sama that he needs the money. He told him of his own accord in an attempt to head off any suspicions that Ibiki may raise about his activities. His motivations. His sanity? But they are still there at midnight to chase him out so he can "get some rest". He tries not to resent them, he really tries. He is not foolish enough however to think that they do not see through his smiles.

It does not matter. When he gets home he flicks on the kettle and drinks coffee until 3am. It helps to settle his nerves as the fourteenth day slips into the fifteenth.

'---

How long does an S-rank mission usually take? It's a stupid question and there is no real answer, but he has been chewing on it for sixteen days now. That's sixteen days, fourteen hours...and eight minutes. He hates himself for counting so precisely, but he can't help it. He needs something else to do.

Out of the corner of his eye he watches Anko watching him watch her. He knows she's noticed his attention because she's smiling at him now. He looks away, pretending not to have noticed. It's four fifteen in the afternoon, Ibiki will be along at five to take over from her. He wonders if they think he hasn't noticed that they're taking it in turns to watch him. Do they really think he's that stupid?

Sixteen days, fourteen hours and twelve minutes.

'---

"I think you should call it a night, Iruka-sensei."

He looks up sharply, trying to keep the irritation out of his expression, and forces a polite smile.

"But Ibiki-sensei, it's only just gone ten."

It's hard to keep his voice so level when all he really wants to do is scream for the other man to leave him the hell alone and stop interfering with his business.

"You look tired, Iruka-sensei. I think it would be for the best if you were to try and get a good night's rest. You have to be alert to teach your students, ne?"

He wants to hit the man for bringing his students into this. For questioning his ability to do his job.

"There's nothing wrong with my teaching. My students are doing fine." There is no way for him to keep the flat edge of anger out of his voice. Some accusations cut deep.

"I was not questioning your ability, Iruka-sensei. I am merely concerned for your health. You seem t-"

"There's nothing wrong with my health!" Iruka cuts him off sharply and Ibiki's eyes narrow dangerously.

"Iruka-sensei, I think it would be best for you to retire for the night. You have been working very hard recently, and although your efforts are appreciated, I feel that you may be exerting yourself unnecessarily. It would be poor conduct for you to jeopardise your capacity to teach your students to the best of your ability. They deserve better than that."

Iruka is almost speechless with anger. He splutters and his hands grip the edges of the table furiously.

"How da- I mean, I am not jeopardising my students! I would never dream of doing so! I-"

"Then go home and rest."

The two shinobi stare at each other, one with a gaze of cool steel, the other flushed and furious, held back only by the knowledge that the other outranks him in every way. In the background the clock ticks towards 10.05pm.

"Maaa...excuse me, sensei? Can I hand this in?"

The two shinobi break gazes, their eyes sliding sharply to the left and the figure standing slouched in the doorway. He looks from one face to the other, pale eyebrow raised in question. Ibiki straightens up, slipping his hands into his pockets and says nothing. Iruka's mouth is open and he stares in disbelief at the newcomer before realising that an answer is still needed.

"Ka-Kakashi!" He stumbles over the words, a furious blush flooding through his cheeks as his tongue refuses to form coherent sentences. "You're back! I- I thought, when?"

The tall jounin cocks his head to one side and regards Iruka through one lidded eye. "Just now."

He gives a nod in Ibiki's direction and slouches over to the mission desk, slapping a slightly rumpled piece of paper onto the desk before slipping his hands back into his pockets and taking up his usual pose of casual disinterest. Iruka stares up at him, his thoughts still scattered in all directions. Kakashi meets his gaze evenly and blinks slowly. Over his shoulder, Iruka can see Ibiki watching him too. They are both waiting for him to do something, anything. Embarrassed yet again, and feeling the sudden welling of warmth that seeing Kakashi brings to his belly, he fumbles for his pen and date stamp.

"Ne...Iruka-sensei. You look tired."

Thankfully, Ibiki chooses not to add any further comment and Iruka simply makes a noncomittal noise and concentrates on keeping the inane grin off of his face. He is so busy checking the boxes on the mission report that he completely misses the look that passes between the two jounin. When he looks up again they are both watching him closely.

"Well, that seems to be in order, Kakashi-san. For once." He can't help the little jibe and he almost laughs out loud in joy at the look in the jounin's eye.

"Ne...I saw the light on and thought I'd get it in before I forgot..."

I hoped you'd see it, he almost says out loud, but somehow manages to stop himself in time. After all, Ibiki is still there, even if he is looking bored and disinterested now.

"Well then," Iruka says, feeling lighter now than he has for over two weeks. "I believe I was headed home to bed." The last is said while staring blandly at Ibiki who returns the look with one just as bleakly innocent.

Kakashi looks from Iruka to Ibiki and back again. "I'll walk with you, sensei," he says in Iruka's general direction. Iruka nods happily and rises, sliding his chair back behind the desk, before heading for the door. Kakashi remains where he is for a few seconds, staring after him before turning his head to meet Ibiki's stare. The Copy-nin's gaze doesn't appear to change, but something in the intent behind it alters for suddenly Ibiki looks away, shaking his head. With a shrug and a half-hearted wave, Kakashi follows the Chuunin to the door.

After a while, Ibiki follows, flicking the light off as he leaves.

'---

They make it as far as the next block before Kakashi pulls him into the sidestreet and presses him up against the wall, pulling down his mask and kissing him roughly. Iruka slides his hands around the other ninja's back, pulling him in close, his nose filled with the scent of sweat and dirt. There is blood too, but he ignores that for now, concentrating instead on the warmth and presence of the man in his arms.

The Copy-nin's mouth is demanding, his tongue sliding between Iruka's lips and running along his teeth, one hand gripping his chin to hold him still. Iruka shudders beneath his touch, desire flaring in his belly as the other presses tight against him. The stone is cold at his back, but Kakashi's mouth is very, very warm. His hands tangle in ruffled silver hair and he returns the kiss fiercely, drawing one leg up and gasping as it shifts the way Kakashi's body presses between his legs to something far more intimate.

The Copy-nin hisses softly, appreciatively, at the movement and tilts the other's head up to kiss along his jawbone and down his neck. Iruka lets his head fall to one side, his gaze turned out towards the street and the clock face that hangs on the wall of one of the buildings.

Eighteen days, twenty hours and fourteen minutes, and Iruka smiles into the darkness.


I have just encountered the evil formatting removal tendencies of this site. Hate, like whoa!

Comments on the fic are welcome.