Scarred vs. Not Scarred: A Game of Shuriken Tag

by Nezuko, Prince of Rats

This is a work of derivative fiction based on "Naruto" by Kishimoto Masashi. The characters and the world in which they live are the property of Kishimoto-sensei.

This story takes place approximately ten years after Yondaime defeated the Kyuubi, two years before the start of the manga. Raidou is 29, Genma 27, Asuma 25, Gai 24, Kakashi 24, Hayate 21, Iruka 20.

It was a good day in Konoha. A really good day. Especially good because all the right people were around, either just back from a mission or just about to leave on one, but for now around for hanging out with. They were lazed at the edge of a practice field, idly sharing stories about past missions and conquests, comparing jutsu techniques, debating the best carbon content for tempered steel kunai – the mundane events and issues of shinobi life – when Genma decided he was bored.

"I'm sick of sitting around here. Let's do something," the bandana-ed special jounin announced.

"Yare yare, Genma, you've only been back a day and you're already bored? Damn!" Asuma pulled one final drag out of the stub of his cigarette before tossing the butt up in the air and immolating it with a fire jutsu.

"Sarutobi Asuma, you are polluting your manly essence with those foul things," Gai declared, as Asuma pulled out a new cigarette to replace the one he'd finished.

"Bite my big one, Gai. I have enough 'manly essence' for everyone here, yourself included," the bearded jounin replied with a twinkle in his eye as he lit up.

"Come on, Kashi, you look as bored as I feel," Genma appealed to his both younger and more senior friend. "Help me get these slackers moving."

Kakashi raised one sleepy eye from his ever-present smutty book to look at Genma. "What did you have in mind?"

"I know, I know," said Hayate. "How about watching the girls practice their katas? I heard the Academy sensei are dividing the classes for a special kunoichi session this afternoon." As youngest member of their little gang of jounin and special jounin, Hayate was still tied closest to what went on at the Academy, even though it had been several years since he had been a student.

"Uh, you think that's wise, Hayate-kun?" Raidou asked with a wink. "Wouldn't want you passing out on us from blood loss."

"Shut it, scar-face," Hayate retorted, but he dissolved into a tortured series of coughs before he could register the effects of the epithet on his friend.

It was true that Raidou had a big, still freshly pink and healing scar crossing his nose and cheek, and running down his neck to disappear into the collar of his uniform. And he was a little touchy about it.

His best friend in the world knew it, too. Genma saw the hurt reaction flicker briefly in Raidou's eyes, even though the spiky-haired man quickly hid it. He's gotta get over this, Genma thought.

"How about a little pick-up game?" Asuma offered.

"Oh, what, my plan sucks or something?" Hayate asked, sounding more whiny than he had meant to.

"Yes," Kakashi replied without raising the nose he had returned to his book.

"What?" Hayate kicked at Kakashi's leg, but the silver-haired young man just lifted it out of harm's way.

"You do not want to watch what they are practicing, trust me," said Genma.

"Yeah," put in Asuma. "Remember the old adage about not watching sausage being made?"

Raidou, Kakashi, Asuma and Genma dissolved into various degrees of laughter. Hayate tried to stay offended, but couldn't help himself and laughed too, before once again descending into a fit of coughs.

Gai looked a little lost.

"I don't see what is so funny about the young women of the Academy learning valuable shinobi arts."

"Yeah, you wouldn't," snorted Asuma.

This exchange brought more laughter from the group, Gai once again the exception. Trying to recover his dignity, he groped for a way to change the topic. "A game. Someone suggested a game?" Gai offered.

"Yeah, OK," Raidou rescued his uncomfortable colleague. "Let's play shuriken-tag."

"Yeah, alright," Asuma replied, stubbing out his second butt and rising to his feet.

"No exploding stars!" Raidou hastened to add.

Genma caught the look of fear that flickered in the expressive brown eyes; saw his friend's hand rise to rub at the scar on his face and neck. He's really got to deal with this, he thought, shifting the senbon in his mouth idly.

"Get up, lazy-kun." Asuma's kick actually managed to collide with Kakashi's sandal before his leg was swept out from under him by the quick moving Copy-nin.

"I am up, Asuma." Kakashi's voice was a slow drawl. "You're the one sitting on his ass." Asuma let a string of expletives fly while he massaged his sore tailbone. Everyone else, including Gai, laughed.

"Ok, alright, who's on what team?" Hayate asked, scanning the ring of faces.

Genma looked from face to face, too, and an idea hit him. "Scar-faced versus smooth-faced," he stated, looking levelly at Raidou.

Raidou flinched, hard, and stared at his friend. "Gen- You bastard. How can you- You of all people?"

"Don't blame me," Genma replied. "You're the one who stepped in front of that Cloud asshole's lightning jutsu."

"Only because you were about to get your head taken off your fucking shoulders by it!" Raidou snapped.

"It's a badge of honor, Raidou-senpai!" Gai declared. "You should wear that scar proudly as a sign of a shinobi loyal to Konoha!"

"And to his comrades," Kakashi added.

'Ah so cool, you know just what to say. Exactly what I would expect of you, my Eternal Rival,' Gai thought, staring at the masked man he both hated and adored.

It had been the right thing to say. Actually both comments had. Raidou swiped a hand across the scar, looking at his friends with a distant expression.

"Yeah, you saved my ass, you sure did," Genma said, grinning.

"Aha!" Hayate pounced. "So, Genma admits that his head is in his ass!"

Everyone laughed, without exception.

The ninja assembled a collection of shuriken from their various holsters, the clink of metal on metal sounding softly from the grass as the pile of weapons grew at their feet.

As they were divvying up the stars to assure each player had an equal number, a thought suddenly struck Gai. "Wait a minute, how do we know what team my Eternal Rival should play on?" he asked. "His face is a mystery."

Kakashi and the others stared at Gai as if he had just dropped in from Mars.

"Do you have some kind of exotic jock itch that's invaded your brain, Gai?" Asuma asked.

"I have never had such an ailment in my life! I am a cleanly man!" Gai looked hurt, and thrust out his chest to assure his assembled friends of his virtue.

Everyone except Gai burst into raucous laughter.

Gai continued to look hurt and misunderstood.

"But if we're playing scarred-faced vs. smooth..." he started.

Kakashi cut him off, "What are you, dumb or just unobservant, Gai?"

"You have never revealed your face to me, this I know, Kakashi!" Gai's voice resounded with dignity.

Kakashi said nothing, just backed up a pace with a dangerous glint in his eye. Slowly, deliberately, as if preparing for battle, he pulled up the hitai-ate that covered his Sharingan eye. His action almost fully uncovered the scar that bisected his left eyelid and cheek, (which hadn't been completely hidden by the band in the first place.) He held his left arm up in a one-handed seal, his index and middle fingers extended.

The assembled jounin watched hesitantly, not quite sure why Kakashi seemed to be taking Gai to heart.

With a deadly serious glare, Kakashi placed the digits below the Sharingan eye, then pulled the lower lid down in the classic little-kid taunt. The profile of his tongue sticking out under his face mask could clearly be seen.

Everyone except Gai busted up laughing. Kakashi pulled his hitai-ate back into place.

"Well," Gai spluttered, trying again to recover his precarious hold on dignity, "I'm sure those of us with unmarred masculine beauty will triumph over you disfigured specimens."

Raidou flinched, but before he could say anything, Genma popped Gai one in the mouth. "Shut up, Gai. Don't be an asshole."

There was more laughter, but Hayate's laugh gave way to another fit of coughing. He leaned against a tree, sides heaving, and spat a mouthful of blood into the grass.

His friends looked alarmed at one another while they waited for their comrade to catch his breath.

"You're ref, Hayate." Asuma said, when the sweaty-faced young man looked up again through the shock of brown hair falling over his eyes.

"Fuck you," Hayate coughed, "I can play."

"Oh, no. I'm not gonna be the one to haul your ass into the medical center all bloody and dying." Asuma glared down at the smaller man.

"You know, Hayate-kun," put in Genma, "we do need a ref."

"Yeah," added Raidou, "and you have the best eye for it."

"And a fast hand. You can throw any of us out without even getting up if you sit at the half-line," continued Genma, rolling the senbon between his teeth.

"You're not gonna con me that easily," Hayate replied. "Kakashi's got the best eye, and you all know it."

"Come on, Hayate-kun," Kakashi entered the argument. "Even if you don't think you'd get a lecture when we haul you over to the hospital choking on a lung, can you imagine what they'd say to me when you drag me in limp from using my Sharingan for a game?"

"You have better control than that," Hayate retorted.

"No. I don't," Kakashi said quietly, looking levelly at the young swordsman through one unblinking, dark eye.

A tension descended over the group, but it couldn't last. It was too nice a day, and despite his protests, Hayate knew his friends were right.

"Yeah, yeah, 'Save your efforts for your missions!'" he mimicked a medic-nin's lecturing voice. "Alright, I'll be ref."

"Good, we were out of balance, anyway," Genma said. "Too many smooth faces." He looked up. "Now we need one more scar face..."

At that moment, a young man in a Konoha uniform approached the knot of restless jounin. He was carrying a small backpack stuffed with books, scrolls, and folders, and had longish dark hair gathered into a high ponytail that bobbed in the breeze as he strode quickly along the path.

"Hey you!"Genma called, catching sight of the man.

Iruka looked up, surprised to be hailed by this set of people.

"You've got a scar. Get over here."

"Who's that?" Raidou asked.

Kakashi appraised the way the unknown ninja carried himself. Nice bod, he thought, pretty cute, but a little too unguarded.

"New Academy sensei," Hayate answered.

Iruka approached warily. He couldn't quite keep himself from staring at the little assembly of elite ninja. It certainly wasn't every jounin in the village, but these guys were some of the best. What could they possibly want with him? He rubbed the side of his scarred nose self-consciously.

"Yeah, your scar," said Genma, when Iruka was close.

"Ano..." Iruka stared at the surrounding faces. He didn't usually think about his scar – a long, pale slash that bisected his nose and cheeks – he'd had it a long time; it was just part of his face. The sight of the new-looking and wrinkled pink flesh on Raidou's cheek made him wonder if they wanted him to say something about facial scars. But that didn't make any sense. Lots of shinobi had them. Nara Shikaku and Morino Ibiki, for instance, and Copy-Nin Kakashi who was here in this group.

"We're gonna play shuriken-tag," Asuma said, as if that explained everything.

"Ano..." Iruka looked blankly at the men.

"We need one more for our scar-face team, Sensei," said Raidou.

Genma smiled a little at Raidou's unflinching use of the term. Good, he thought, that's working.

"We have not performed proper introductions!" Gai exclaimed. He stepped in front of the startled chuunin and puffed out into his Nice Guy pose. "Maito Gai, at your service!"

"Uh... Umino Iruka, the pleasure is mine," Iruka replied correctly, bowing.

"No need to be so formal," Genma said. "I'm Genma. This is Sarutobi Asuma." He jerked a thumb at the bearded man who puffed on a cigarette. "Gekkou Hayate here's ref."

Hayate smiled. "We've met."

"Yes," Iruka replied. "Nice to see you again, Hayate-san."

"Oh, how'd you meet?" Genma asked.

"We were students together when we were kids," said Iruka. "And Hayate-san gave a sword-safety lecture to my class last week."

"You teach the little kiddies how to polish it, too, Hayate?" Asuma winked at the younger jounin and made a rudely suggestive hand gesture.

Hayate responded with a glare and was about to retort, but Raidou beat him to it. "You're a worse perv than Jiraiya-sama, Asuma!" he said. The scarred special jounin rolled his eyes and turned to greet the teacher. "Don't pay him any mind, Sensei. I'm Namiashi Raidou. Pleased to meet you."

"How do you do, Namiashi-san?" Iruka answered, feeling in way over his head already. These people talk about the legendary Toad Hermit as if they knew him?

"No, no, no. Just Raidou, please. And seriously, don't let these guys intimidate you. We're gonna cream them, anyway." Raidou gave him a warm, conspiratorial smile.

Iruka smiled back. He's good – puts you right at ease, he thought. I wonder if Raidou-san works in interrogation.

"Come on, Kakashi, get your nose out of your book and be sociable for a change," Genma called, reaching out as if to take the paperback away from his masked friend.

Kakashi dodged Genma's grasp, stepped forward a quick, silent pace, stuck the book in his utility pouch, and stood before Iruka. He looked the young teacher solemnly in the eye. "Yo."

Iruka swallowed and smiled, a faint blush coloring his cheeks. It wasn't just that the silver-haired man standing before him was famous. Or infamous, depending on your perspective. Or that he was quite good looking, even with the mask. He was. But there was something else about him – a strange force almost like an electric field seemed to emanate from him, compelling Iruka to stare, even lean in slightly.

Kakashi, for his part, studied the teacher and decided he liked what he saw, though no trace of emotion registered on his face. The blush is cute, Sensei, he thought, Do I make you nervous?

The two shinobi eyed each other for a long moment, their erstwhile teammates almost completely forgotten.

"Yah, break it up already! This is Shuriken Tag, not a staring contest. You can fall in love later." A whir of metal flashed between the men and thunked into the tree they stood under.

Iruka jumped back a good foot, wide-eyed and on alert, but Kakashi just turned, pulled the shuriken from the wood and held it out to Asuma. "I don't believe Haya-kun has given us the signal to start yet," he said mildly.

"OK, shall we, then?" Genma asked. "Gai, Asuma, you're on my team. You know the rules, right Iruka-sensei?"

"Of course." Iruka took the small pile of throwing stars he had been alloted and slipped them into his holster.

Hayate gave the signal, and both teams faced off, falling into defensive crouches, shuriken at the ready. Iruka found himself between Kakashi and Raidou, and glanced from one teammate to the other. Both had their battlefield faces on. Kakashi looked fierce and unapproachable. Raidou's eyes glittered with a devious cunning.

"Don't worry, Iruka-sensei, we'll make them regret they ever challenged us." Raidou grinned, the scars pulling the left side of his smile a little lopsided. The overall effect was actually quite charming.

"We shall see about that! I will not go easy on you, just because you have a newcomer on your team!" Gai stood forward, hands braced on his hips, chin thrust out. "This is yet another chance for me to show my superiority over my Eternal Rival and..."

Hayate threw a kunai with blinding speed, just missing Gai's foot as it sank into the soft earth. "Shut up and play. Penalty to the smooth-face team for delay of game."

Shuriken Tag is a game only ninja would play. A kind of cross between frisbee-golf and rugby, but with the addition of sharp weapons and ninjutsu. Every schoolkid at every hidden village's ninja academy played it. It was actually good training in the guise of recreation, and the teachers encouraged it. So while the jounin he was playing with had skills that exceeded Iruka's by a fair margin on the battlefield, in the confines of the game he was as expert as they.

Three quarters of an hour later, the field was littered with bits of wood glittering with shuriken, kunai thrown by the ref, coils of trip wire, caltrops, and the shells of smoke bombs, still smoldering. Clouds of colored smoke drifted over the field, and the shimmer of activated jutsu filled the air. In the chaos, one team finally gained the advantage over the other, leading to the game ending tackle. All six men and a few clones rushed in, in a spectacular pounce onto a single patch of grass.

In the pileup, Iruka found himself pressed alarmingly close to what he swiftly discovered to be a remarkably well-sculpted ass. His own pelvis cupped around the other person's in a truly sensuous fit, and the stretchy, high-tech fabric of their uniform pants made the instantly responsive bulge in his immediately perceptible to the man whose rear had given rise to the situation. He blushed furiously, hoping his predicament had gone unnoticed – Please let it be one of the clones, and not a fellow-player – though he knew it was extremely unlikely.

Iruka's mind was racing through excuses to make, jokes to tell on himself, pratfalls he could take to disguise and distract from the situation, when he felt the hips under him roll and grind backwards into his own. It was a slow, deliberate movement. Iruka almost passed out from the sheer physical thrill it sent through him; he couldn't stop the tiny gasp that escaped his throat. He still didn't know whose body was pinned under his, but whoever he was, he certainly didn't seem to mind.

As the men disentangled themselves from the tackle, a throaty voice murmured in Iruka's ear, "We can certainly do that if you like, Sensei, but let's not do it here where everyone can see, or they'll all want some."

The red-faced chuunin laughed and looked up, surprised to be met with an expanse of black fabric instead of a face. Only one eye was visible, but it twinkled deviously, and the crinkles around it made it clear its owner was grinning beneath the mask.

Making sure his meaning wasn't lost, the silver-haired shinobi rolled his hips again. This time the men faced each other, standing offset at an angle, so that the outer curve of the slightly taller jounin's just grazed the edge of Iruka's own hip. It sent the same electric thrill shuddering through him, making him blush and stammer even more than he would have anyway. He couldn't quite believe it but... Gorgeous, mysterious, aloof, unattainable, sexier-than-the-word-itself Hatake Kakashi was propositioning him.

A kunai thunked into the ground between their feet. "Scrimmage is over, kids. And that is not regulation player contact." Hayate grinned.

Iruka jerked his head around, red-faced. "I... ah... Hayate-san... we... that is, I..." he stammered.

"We were just discussing the mechanics of that tackle," Kakashi supplied smoothly, stepping a pace back from Iruka.

The teacher found it a little easier to breathe with Kakashi backed off, though his attention was half on the hastily constructed genjutsu he'd performed, changing his appearance to that of himself without a conspicuously tented crotch.

"Sure you were. You needn't bother with the henge, Iruka-kun," Hayate snickered, looking meaningfully at Iruka's pants.

"Henge is not an allowed jutsu in Shuriken Tag! You were aware of this cheating, Hayate-kun?" Gai bellowed, eyes flashing with righteous indignation.

"Chill, Gai, we won, remember?" Genma said, putting a hand on Gai's arm. "And Hayate, give it a rest."

"Yeah, can't a guy scope some nookie in peace?" Asuma laughed, slapping at Kakashi's ass. "It's not like Kashi here's been getting all that lucky lately."

Kakashi neatly evaded the blow, swapping places with Gai, so that Asuma's hand collided soundly with the spandex-covered rump of the Great Green Beast. Gai jumped and whirled around, aiming a fierce blow at Asuma's head, but the bearded jounin dodged, then beat a hasty retreat.

"Got a mission report to file before the sun sets. See ya, Gai!" he called, when he had teleported himself a safe distance away. "Don't let that pervert take advantage of you, Sensei!" And with that, Asuma disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

"You will not so easily get away with this insult, Sarutobi-san!" Gai raged, lunging after the departing jounin, apparently forgetting that it was really his Eternal Rival who had set him up to receive the slap.

Iruka stared bewildered at the four who remained: Kakashi now standing in Gai's former position, with Genma's hand still on his shoulder, Hayate on his left, and Raidou on Genma's right.

Hayate stared, too, before starting to laugh, but his laughs soon turned to coughs. He knelt into a crouch, one hand wrapped around his chest as the other covered his mouth.

"Is he OK? Hayate-san, are you...?" Iruka asked, starting to reach for his stricken colleague.

"It's OK, Iruka-sensei. He got hit with a really nasty jutsu on a mission we had a few weeks ago, but he's getting better," Raidou answered, stepping in front of Iruka and shielding the still coughing Hayate from his view.

"The... the same one where you...?" Iruka started, in his concern for them forgetting for a moment how little he really knew these men. They must have been part of the team that was ambushed by those Cloud renegades three months ago!

"Yeah. Same one." Raidou smiled wryly.

"I heard about... I mean... through the grapevine, you know?" Iruka stammered, realizing he shouldn't know anything about their mission at all.

"It's OK, Iruka-sensei, we weren't on the kind of mission that keeps to itself. Failure that spectacular can't help but become gossip," Genma said.

"Genma-san... you were the other jounin on that...? But, your leg..." the chuunin faltered. Shit, I just played all out with these guys! he thought. And Hayate-san taught that class for me! He must have been sick then, too.

"Fine. Kicked your ass with my bad leg, I'd say," Genma retorted, grinning. "Seeing as you lost. Except for Haya-kun we're all pretty much better."

Hayate rose, panting a little and wiping a blood-spattered hand across the seat of his trousers. "I'm fine, see? Just... ran around a little too much... reffing." He still huffed and wheezed, and all thee other jounin gave him meaningful looks.

"Losing team's gonna clean up the field. Maybe you should go in for your treatment, Hayate-kun?" said Raidou.

"Fucking treatments. I'm fine," Hayate grumbled, not meeting his friends' eyes.

"Hayate, don't be a pain in the ass. I seriously do not want to have to drag you off to the hospital again like last week," Genma said. "We shouldn't have even let you ref."

"Kakashi, tell them I'm fucking fine, would you? You can see chakara with that eye of yours."

"I can see plenty without it." Kakashi replied in a cool voice. "You need to stop fighting it, Hayate-kun. We all go through this at one time or another, rehabbing after a bad mission. Quit acting like a spoiled brat and do as the medics tell you."

Iruka did his best to make his presence minimal. He felt like he was witnessing a family fight; like he was someplace he shouldn't be.

"Fine. Fine. I'll go," Hayate muttered, coughing again. "Remind me to pick on you next time you overuse your Sharingan."

"Of course. It'll be my pleasure. Say hi to Nenani-san for me." Kakashi grinned, suddenly inexplicably cheerful to Iruka's eyes.

Hayate winced at the mention of the name. "Fucking harridan," he muttered, but he set off towards the medical center.

After Hayate had gone from sight, the remaining jounin turned to the teacher.

"Don't let that bother you, Sensei. Hayate will be alright. He just needs a little extra persuasion sometimes," Raidou explained, smiling warmly.

"Yeah, he's a brat sometimes, but he's a great guy. He's just still kind of a kid, you know?" Genma added.

"Oh... I... Of course. I like Hayate-san quite a bit, actually," Iruka replied. He's a year older than me, he thought. We were in the Academy together. Do they think of me as a kid, too?

"So, Sensei, ready to help clean up the field?" The voice in his ear was startling, but the pressure at the back of his pants, of Kakashi returning the gesture that had started their closer acquaintance, was what brought the blush fully to Iruka's face. He was suddenly sorry he had dropped the henge.

"I don't think you're a kid, Iruka-sensei," Kakashi whispered into his ear. "You seem pretty grown up to me." The tone was low and sexy, and the content a shock.

How could he know what I was thinking? Iruka panicked, but he leaned back into the warm body behind him just the same.

"So, Kakashi, my man. I know Rai-kun here is honor bound to help you clear the field, but he and I have some things we need to take care of. You can do without him, right?" Genma was behind Raidou in a position similar to the one Kakashi had adopted behind Iruka, leaning his face over his partner's shoulder.

"Sure. We'll be fine, won't we, Sensei?" Kakashi answered, grinning.

"Good man!" Genma grinned back, his senbon wagging up and down between his leering lips.

Before Iruka could even fully register what had just transpired, the two special jounin had disappeared into the tree tops, leaving him alone with Kakashi.

"They're going off to screw in the bushes like a pair of rabbits. No mistake," Kakashi remarked, tracking the motion of his departing friends.

"Oh... I... They are? I uh..." Iruka stammered. He would have moved away, but Kakashi had draped his arms around his shoulders. The gesture was both lazy and intimate, and Iruka had no idea what to make of it. Except that the idea of going off to screw like rabbits in the bushes with Kakashi seemed like a somewhat appealing, if alarming, idea. Not that that was necessarily on offer. But his mind went there effortlessly, just the same.

"Did you used to be a stutterer, Sensei, or do I just make you nervous?" Kakashi asked, leaning even more heavily into the slightly shorter chuunin.

"You... well... I..." Iruka groaned at his tongue-tied state. "You can just call me Iruka, and yes, actually..." He stopped and took a deep breath, then twisted in Kakashi's arms until he was facing the devilish man. "You make me nervous."

"Well that won't do," Kakashi said. He put a hand on each of Iruka's shoulders and stepped back, holding the chuunin at arm's length. "Do you suppose if you got to know me better, you'd feel more relaxed?"

"That would depend on what I find out about you, wouldn't it?" Iruka replied.

Kakashi laughed. "Good answer, Iruka-sensei." His eye twinkled, dark and expressive.

Iruka stood still in Kakashi's grasp, trying to think of what to say next. It seems pretty clear he likes men, he thought, so it's not like he'd be offended if I asked him to dinner or something. But is that what I should do? The man's hands on his shoulders were distracting. I really don't know him, Iruka worried. But his natural reserve and his well-trained shinobi wariness were fighting a losing battle with his hormone-fueled imagination. Those long, slender fingers of his sliding down across my chest. Reaching up and pulling that mask down. Running my hands over his sculpted torso...

"Iruka-sensei?"

The chuunin snapped out of his reverie and met Kakashi's gaze with a startled "Oh!" He felt his face burn. "Sorry, I was just thinking-"

"That you'd like to go to dinner with me?" Kakashi finished for him.

Is he reading my mind? Iruka thought with no small amount of alarm. That was twice already that the pale man had given voice to what Iruka had thought was internal dialogue.

"I mean, would you?" Kakashi asked, dropping his arms away from the younger man now and taking a step back. His expression had closed down again, back to that mask on top of a mask, hiding his emotions. "I didn't mean to upset you. I thought, after that tackle, that perhaps..." Shit, he thought, I blew that. But I'm pretty sure he was interested. Maybe it's the whole notoriety thing working against me?

"Oh, no no no, Kakashi-san," Iruka hastily replied. "I mean yes. I mean I would like to go to dinner with you. I was just - I was trying to decide if you would say yes if I asked you, and then you asked me and..." He chuckled nervously and rubbed his scar, looking off somewhere over Kakashi's left shoulder.

"Oh, well good!" Kakashi's face brightened into an absolutely beatific grin. "Let's just clean up this field, then, and then we can go. Anything but tempura, alright?"

"Sure," Iruka agreed. The famous ninja's mood swings were fascinating. And that smile of his... It radiated delight, in a way that took Iruka's breath away. I'm not going to just fall for him, he told himself. But it was too late. The falling had already begun.

ooo ooo ooo

Notes: This story is complete. I do not intend to write any more chapters. It's just a little glimpse at life in Konoha, friendships, histories and potential new beginnings.

This one has been a long time coming - I've been working on it since June 2005. It all started, if you can believe it, with Asuma's comment to Gai about the exotic jock itch in the brain. You might consider it AU, since it postulates Kakashi and Iruka meeting two years before Naruto becomes Kakashi's student.

Special thanks to Kiki, Momo, Winter, Laura Aoshi, Carcinya and Bite for beta reading and encouragement. Reviews and comments greatly desired and appreciated, as always.