Sasuke glanced down at his wristwatch and back up at the door to Hatake Kakashi's office. It was closed and the lights were off.
Sasuke stood up and picked up his bookbag. He walked up to the front desk at the end of the row of counselors' offices.
"Do you know when Mr. Hatake will be back?" he asked the woman behind the counter.
"I expect him back at any moment," the woman assured Sasuke. "He just stepped out for a cup of coffee."
"But I've been waiting for him for nearly two hours - " Sasuke started to protest, when he heard the bell dangling from the door to the counselors' offices tinkle softly behind him.
A hand reached past Sasuke. It placed a steaming cup of coffee on the counter. Sasuke glanced down at the arm; it was a little too close, a little too warm, and a little too big for Sasuke's comfort.
"Sorry I'm late," Hatake Kakashi told the receptionist. "My car broke down."
Sasuke examined his new counselor. He had seen more counselors in the last year than he had ever wanted to see in one lifetime, but he had never seen anyone like Hatake Kakashi. Only one eye and a slice of Kakashi's face was visible between where the scarf wrapped around his neck and mouth, and where he had crammed a wool hat down over his head at an angle sharp enough to cover half of the right side of his face. Sasuke didn't need to see Kakashi's face to know that he was lying; if his car had really broken down, he wouldn't have been so casual about it.
Still, it wasn't as if he had anything else to do; he had a counselor appointment scheduled for eleven o'clock on Thursday morning, and he couldn't skip it merely on the grounds that he suspected his counselor of lying about car trouble -- not even if it was almost going on one.
Sasuke followed Kakashi down the hall and waited for him to open the door to his office. He took the opportunity to scrutinize the rest of Kakashi.
He was at least a foot taller than Sasuke, and probably had fifty pounds on him. Aside from the hat and the scarf, he was wearing a thick, warm-looking black coat that zipper up and jeans. If Sasuke had passed him on the street, he would never have guessed that he was a high school guidance counselor. He looked like he worked in a more... hands-on profession, like a car mechanic; he looked like he was someone whose hands could dance over the underside of a car as easily as he could fondle the curves of a woman.
Sasuke gave a start. He hadn't realized that his attention had wandered, but there Kakashi was, holding the door open for him and gazing at him steadily with that one, dark eye.
He averted his attention to the ground and entered the office. Kakashi followed and took the seat on the far side of the desk.
"So," he said, pushing the paper around on his desk until he uncovered a manilla folder with Sasuke's name written on the tag. He opened it, and glanced over the contents. "Do you know why you were sent to see me?"
Sasuke feigned disinterest and shrugged. "No idea," he said.
Kakashi's eye crinkled around the corner, and Sasuke could have sworn that he was smiling beneath his mask. "Should I let you figure it out on your own, or should I make this as painless as possible for both of us?"
"Whatever you want," Sasuke said. He cross his legs so that his ankle rested on the opposite knee and started toying with the laces on his boots. "I'm not in a hurry."
"Your calculus teacher is worried about you," Kakashi said. His voice was not cold, nor filled with pity. He announced the statement with as much emotion as if he was dealing with just another statistic -- and for some reason, it pissed Sasuke off. "She thinks you're suicidal, depressed, on drugs -- and homicidal."
Sasuke sat up with a bolt. "What?"
He glared at Kakashi, face flushed with anger and his chest constricted. "She doesn't know shit about - "
Kakashi met his eyes with his unwavering gaze. Sasuke immediately felt the anger drain out of him, only to be replaced with empty frustration targeted at an intangible foe.
"I would ask if you want to talk about it," said Kakashi, closing the file. "But I'm pretty sure the answer will be no."
Sasuke crossed his arms and slid down in his seat a few inches.
"Well," said Kakashi. "I don't think we're going to get any farther than that today. I'll write you a pass to take back to your teacher, and I'll see you next week, same time."
Sasuke waited as Kakashi wrote out the note and handed it to him. He was half-way through the door when he paused. "Are you going to be late again?" he asked.
Kakashi didn't answer him; he had already turned back to a stack of paper off to the side of his desk.
Sasuke left and walked back down the empty hall towards his next class, pondering what Kakashi was thinking: did he think that he could break him, or did he think he was a hopeless case? Sasuke wasn't sure what he wanted Kakashi to think. What he was sure of, however, was that he wouldn't mind getting a glimpse of what was beneath all the layers of Kakashi's winter clothes.
When Sasuke arrived at Kakashi's office the following week, he was surprised to see that the counselor was already behind his desk. After Kakashi had made him wait for two hours last week, only to show up with a false excuse as to his tardiness, Sasuke had asked around the school about the mysterious Mr. Hatake. From what the other students told him, he was a mystery to them, too. He was chronically late and always had the wildest excuses. Sasuke was slightly disappointed that Kakashi hadn't lived up to the rumors, but mostly, Sasuke was pleased that he got another chance to try and get a glimpse of what was beneath that scarf.
Sasuke knocked on Kakashi's door even though it was open. Kakashi looked up, and upon spotting Sasuke, smiled. Or at least Sasuke thought he smiled. It was hard to tell because Kakashi was wearing his hat and scarf once again, despite the fact that it felt like an oven in his office.
"Don't you get hot wearing those?" Sasuke asked. He gestured to the scarf and the hat as he took the chair in front of Kakashi's desk.
Kakashi ignored the question and changed the subject. "I received another e-mail from your calculus teacher this morning."
"What did she say this time?" asked Sasuke, turning defensive. "That I was planning a school shooting? That I'm going to blow myself up? That I'm going to burn down her classroom?"
Sasuke could have sworn that he saw a glimmer of laughter in Kakashi's visible eye, but the man betrayed no other hint of amusement. Instead, he leaned back in his chair.
"When did you last hear from your brother?" he asked casually, as if he was talking about the weather of who won last night's baseball game.
Sasuke sat up suddenly. "What do you know about that?" he snapped. As soon as the words had left his mouth, Sasuke realized how venomous they sounded and added a quieter, "I haven't heard from him since he left."
"That was... nine years ago, correct?" asked Kakashi. He hadn't even flinched at Sasuke's outburst.
Sasuke gave him a small nod, but refused to look at him.
"And you've been in foster care since," finished Kakashi.
"I'm almost eighteen," offered Sasuke. "After that, I'm free."
Kakashi nodded. "Well... " He shut the file. Without skipping a beat he asked, "Do you know how to play poker?"
"Are you serious?" asked Sasuke, staring at him.
"I'll assume that's a 'yes,'" said Kakashi. He pulled a deck out from the pocket of his coat and started shuffling the cards.
They played poker for nearly an hour before Sasuke agreed that he should probably return to his class. He was reluctant to go, but his reluctance was placated by the fact that he had picked up ten bucks off Kakashi from the poker games.
As he left, he felt Kakashi's eyes watching him, and it filled him with a sense of pride.
On Saturday morning, Sasuke was walking through the park near his foster parents' house. He watched the bare branches of the trees rattle in the winter wind, and hugged his coat closer to his body. He jammed his fingers into his pants pockets, wishing he had remembered to bring a hat to keep his ears warm.
But as cold as the wind was, he didn't want to go back to his foster parents' house, at least not while his foster father was still drunk. He had only been living with his wife and him for about a month now, but he had already learned to steer clear of him when he was drunk, unless he didn't want to be able to sit down for a week.
The current foster family was the sixth that Sasuke had stayed with in nine years. He had spent a lot of time in the state homes in-between families. While he didn't like either option all that much, at least the foster homes provided him with more freedom, generally speaking. If he was lucky, the foster parents wouldn't care what he did with his free time, as long as he stayed out of their way.
Sasuke had just made up his mind to ignore the cold when he heard a familiar voice call out to him.
He turned around to find Kakashi jogging up the path behind him. He was dressed in a pare of loose cotton shorts and a faded t-shirt. Sasuke found himself suddenly speechless. He had grown accustomed to Kakashi wearing his hat and scarf, and was thoroughly unprepared to see Kakashi expose so much flesh.
He barely even noticed that Kakashi had exchanged the hat and scarf for a workout towel thrown nonchalantly around his neck in such a manner that it hid his mouth and nose, or that the bandana that Kakashi had tied around his forehead had slipped down his face to cover his right eye. Sasuke's eyes were drawn away from these things by the fact that Kakashi's limbs were completely exposed.
As his eyes traced the edges of the muscles that wove themselves into the slender, sinewy structure that composed his body, he wondered why someone as fit and active as Kakashi wasted his time behind a desk.
"What are you doing out here?" asked Kakashi, as he caught up to Sasuke.
Sasuke realized he was staring and glanced away. "Nothing. You?"
"I'm heading home from the gym, actually," said Kakashi. He studied Sasuke and frowned suddenly. "Are you busy?"
"Not particularly," said Sasuke, wondering where the conversation was headed. "Why?"
"I have a book I want to lend you," said Kakashi. "If you don't mind dropping by my apartment for a few minutes, I can get it for you now. I just live on the other side of the park."
Sasuke hesitated, but only for a moment. He certainly didn't want to go back to his foster parents' house yet, and it was pretty cold outside.
Kakashi's apartment was exactly what Sasuke had expected it would be. It was average-sized, sparsely furnished and more or less clean. A few empty take out boxes sat on the kitchen counter and a shirt hung over the arm of the sofa.
"Do you live alone?" asked Sasuke, as he walked into the apartment.
Kakashi headed towards the bookshelf along one of the walls of the living room.
"I do at the moment," he said vaguely.
Sasuke watched as Kakashi scanned the bookshelf, looking for a particular title. His book collection spanned half a wall, from the floor to the ceiling. Sasuke's eyes were drawn to a particular section of the bookshelves on the highest shelf, farthest from the kitchen where a set of well-worn books sat slightly apart from the others. He could barely make out the spines from where he stood, but from what he could see, he was pretty sure he knew what they contained.
"Here it is," announced Kakashi.
Sasuke tore his eyes away from the erotica stashed on the top shelf and glanced at the book that Kakashi was holding out. It was small and thin, with no image on its cover and a title that Sasuke had never heard of printed on the side.
"What is it?" he asked, turning it over in his hands.
"Something I think you might like," said Kakashi. "Go on and take it. Give it back to me when you finish it."
Sasuke accepted the book wordlessly, unsure of how he was supposed to respond. He didn't have sufficient time to dwell over the matter, however, as Kakashi abruptly changed the subject.
"Are you hungry?"
"It's lunch time," explained Kakashi. "If you don't mind eating miso soup, you might as well stay since you're already here."
"But - " protested Sasuke, but Kakashi cut him off.
"You wouldn't be imposing," said Kakashi. "In fact, you're more than welcome. It's pretty quiet around here."
Sasuke didn't press the matter. Now that he was warming up from spending the morning out in the cold, he was beginning to realize how hungry he was. He had skipped breakfast on his way out the door, and it had been a long time since he had eaten dinner the previous evening.
"Miso soup's fine," he said quietly.
Kakashi disappeared into the kitchen. From the sounds of it, Sasuke guessed he was preparing lunch; the clatter of the cooking pot, the bowls and the chopping board could be heard from where Sasuke was sitting on the couch in the living room.
"Could you watch the pot on the stove?" Kakashi called to Sasuke. "I'm going to take a quick shower."
Sasuke felt his cheeks flame as he imagined Kakashi showering only a few inches of plaster and sheetrock away, but he struggled to suppress the thought and check his emotions. "Sure."
Kakashi disappeared down the hall and closed the door to his bedroom. Left with no alternative, Sasuke pulled out a chair at the table in the kitchen, sat down, and started to read the book that Kakashi had loaned to him. Every few paragraphs, he glanced up at the pot to make sure it hadn't boiled over yet. Halfway through the first chapter, Sasuke ladled some of the soup into the bowls that Kakashi had provided and turned the stove that the pot was resting on down to a low simmer. Then he picked his book back up and continued reading. He was almost finished with the second chapter by the time that Kakashi emerged from the bedroom.
"You dished up the miso soup already," Kakashi commented as he toweled off his hair.
Sasuke glanced up at him--and was so startled he almost dropped the book in his hands. Kakashi was wearing a pair of jeans again, and a long-sleeve shirt. But Sasuke didn't even notice that. His eyes were transfixed on the edge of the towel, beneath which Kakashi's mouth was just barely visible. He watched motionless, as Kakashi shifted his arms an inch to the left and the towel was swept away from his face, revealing his nose in addition to his mouth.
Sasuke had known that Kakashi had an attractive body, but he had never dreamed that he had such a gorgeous mouth; he had half expected his mouth to be the one flawed feature of his body, the terrible curse left over from some hideous childhood accident with a campfire--or the tragedy of another, equally ridiculous horror story. Instead, his lips were flawless. The only mystery in them was the original one: why did Kakashi cover such a beautiful face?
It was only when Kakashi finished drying his hair and tossed the towel over a nearby chair that Sasuke's question was answered. He knew he was staring, but he couldn't help it. His eyes followed Kakashi's face as the man walked over to the bowls of miso soup and examined its contents.
"It looks good."
Sasuke nodded dumbly.
Kakashi turned to face him. "Are you going to come over here and eat?"
"Oh," said Sasuke. "Right."
He set his book down and walked over to where Kakashi stood. He tried to tear his eyes away from his face, but he found that whenever he looked up from the bowl of miso soup, his eyes immediately led him back to Kakashi's face.
"I bet you're wondering about my eye," said Kakashi, as he sat down opposite Sasuke at the table.
Sasuke turned red, but he nodded slightly, still transfixed.
"It's not a very interesting story," Kakashi warned him.
"I don't care," said Sasuke.
"I was camping with my two best friends when I was sixteen. We had set up the camp for the night and were sitting around a camp fire, when there was a slight landslide. A couple of rocks fell off the mountain next to our tent--directly over the campfire.
"One of my friends was crushed instantly; I was struck by a rock in the eye. That's where I got the scar and the discolored iris. It's called heterochromia. I lost most of my vision in the eye, too."
Sasuke didn't know what he was supposed to say after this, but Kakashi must have recognized his unease, because he immediately jumped in again and broke the lingering silence.
"It was a long time ago," he said, giving Sasuke a reassuring smile.
"Can I get a closer look?" asked Sasuke, quietly.
"If you want," said Kakashi.
Sasuke scooted his chair back and stood up. He approached Kakashi cautiously, as if Kakashi was a hunter, and he was a doe, ready to bolt at any given minute.
Up close, Kakashi's right eye looked even more alluring. It was a beautiful shade of brown, with several golden-red highlights. The discoloration expanded from the iris outward. Around the edges, it diffused back into black, like Kakashi's other iris.
Before Sasuke knew what he was doing, he reached out a hand and ran his fingertips over Kakashi's eye. He traced the indentation of the scar that connected above and below the eye socket. Kakashi's eyelid slipped close beneath his fingertips. Sasuke splayed his fingers out over the eye socket and was surprised to find how smooth and alive Kakashi's eye felt beneath his touch.
He lowered his hand to Kakashi's lips. He ran his thumb over the edge of Kakashi's bottom lip, where the edge of the lip met the warmth of his mouth. He pressed two of his fingers against Kakashi's lips. Kakashi opened his mouth and let Sasuke slide the fingers in. He ran his fingers over Kakashi's bottom lip, and was surprised--but not at all deterred--when Kakashi tongue reached out to his fingertips and encircled them, exploring them. He pressed his fingers further into Kakashi's mouth, and Kakashi tightened his lips around the penetrating tips, sucking on them gently.
Kakashi's movements caused Sasuke to jerk his hand out of Kakashi's mouth suddenly. He blushed almost immediately afterwards, embarrassed that he had freaked out like a little kid.
Kakashi didn't say anything, though. He just clutched Sasuke's wrist and pulled the black-haired teenager down, until he had stilled. Then he kissed Sasuke full on the mouth. By the time that Sasuke had managed to reign in his surprise, at least enough to concentrate on remembering to breathe and not to choke, it was over.
Kakashi released him and he stumbled backwards. Confused and disoriented, Sasuke did what was only natural in a situation where he felt panicked: he ran. He stumbled over the chair in his way, and knocked it roughly toward the side. Then he ran through the living room, through the foyer and out the door.
From somewhere behind him, he heard Kakashi calling to him. With a jolt, he realized he had forgotten the book. But there was no turning back down. Sasuke was still reeling inwardly about what had just happened to feel comfortable returning to the apartment.
Sasuke skipped their next appointment. He almost wanted Kakashi to come to his calculus room personally and ask him why he hadn't come, but he knew he wouldn't. Calculus was so boring that day that Sasuke half-regretted not going to his appointment, if only to avoid spending two hours listening to his teacher's dry lecturing. His unwillingness to confront Kakashi was the only thing that kept him from ditching class.
Sasuke's foster father started drinking again that weekend. It got so bad that Sasuke locked himself in the bathroom. He sat on the edge of the toilet for forty-five minutes, trying to decide whether he wanted to vomit or cry.
Eventually, he walked across the bathroom to the cabinet below the sink and opened it. He pulled out the handgun he had stolen from his foster father two days ago. He ran his hands over it slowly, feeling the cold metal beneath his fingers. He cradled it in his palms, before slowly raising it to his temple. He stared at the reflection of the gun pressed to the side of his head for a full minute. He didn't move a hair. Then he slid the gun into the pocket of his coat.
After checking to make sure the door was still locked, he turned on the shower and climbed back up onto the toilet. He removed the screen from the small window above the toilet and lifted himself out of the bathroom using the window ledge for support. As skillful as a cat, Sasuke climbed down the edge of the apartment complex. It was not his first time doing so.
After he had reached the ground, he made his way to Kakashi's apartment. He didn't know why he was going there. After all, he had spent the last week avoiding him as thoroughly as possible. All he knew was that he needed to see Kakashi's face--immediately.
Kakashi answered the door when Sasuke knocked. He looked disheveled, as if he had only woken up a few hours ago and had spent the better part of the morning lounging around his apartment, doing nothing. If Kakashi was surprised to see Sasuke standing on his doorstep, he didn't say anything. He just opened the door wider.
"Come in," he said, quietly. It was then that Sasuke knew that Kakashi knew. He could read the unspoken acknowledgment of this truth in the way that Kakashi held himself, and the way that his eyes followed Sasuke's frame as Sasuke slunk past him.
Later that night, Sasuke pushed Kakashi's arm off his chest and crawled out of the older man's bed. He searched around the bedroom in the dark, looking for his clothes. In the process, he stubbed his toe on the leg of the bed, cursed and looked nervously in the direction of Kakashi. The grey-haired man was a heavier sleeper than Sasuke had thought, however, because he didn't even twitch.
After slipping into his boxers, Sasuke left the room and walked through Kakashi's apartment. He had never had a proper chance to explore it, but he had been dying to uncover the various mysteries that he was positive were tucked into the nooks and crannies. Sasuke had once read that where a man made his home, his story could be found, and he was dying to find out who Kakashi really was.
Forty minutes later, Sasuke had discovered Kakashi's medicine cabinet (an assortment of over-the-counter pain killers), his porn collection (nothing unexpected, for a man of Kakashi's age and apparent tastes), some liquor (which Sasuke proceeded to drink all but half a bottle of), and his music collection (again, nothing unexpected). Sasuke slipped a CD into the CD player without looking at it and curled up on the couch with the remaining half a bottle of liquor.
When Kakashi woke up several hours later, he found Sasuke passed out on the couch with an empty bottle of vodka cradled in his elbow and his mouth slightly ajar. He removed the bottle from Sasuke's loose grip and put it in the recycles. He fixed a cup of coffee and grabbed some painkillers from the medicine cabinet in the sink. Then he turned off the music and gently shook Sasuke awake.
Sasuke opened his eyes blurrily. It took him a moment to remember where he was, but when his eyes finally focused on Kakashi, he sat up, perhaps a little too quickly, and rubbed his head.
Kakashi offered Sasuke the cup of coffee and the painkillers. Sasuke took them both, without quite meeting Kakashi's eyes.
"I'm not mad at you," Kakashi said.
His statement seemed to relax Sasuke a little, but not enough to quell his fears.
"Will you put this in your report?" he asked, quietly.
Kakashi cracked a smile. "And tell them that I slept with you?"
When Sasuke only met him with his serious, dark eyes, Kakashi sobered up.
"No," Kakashi told him. "I like my job."
Sasuke gave him a doubtful look, although he relaxed enough that Kakashi assumed that he was no longer worried about being ratted out for having drunk Kakashi's entire liquor collection. (To his own defense, Kakashi didn't have very much liquor on. He obviously was not the type to party or binge. Or if he was the later, he hadn't restocked yet.)
"Are you trying to tell me that there's something remotely appealing about dealing with a bunch of high schoolers who had rather be doing anything, anywhere--drinking, having sex, getting into fights, stealing shit, or a cocktail of all four--than be in class?"
Kakashi smiled again. "I suppose I am."
Sasuke hit him playfully with the pillow. "Yeah. Right."
"Okay, okay," said Kakashi, holding his hands up in the air. "So maybe it isn't my first preference for an occupation, but it does come with certain perks." He winked at Sasuke, and deftly caught the pillow the boy threw at him.
Sensing that a change of subject was in order, Kakashi said the only thing that he could think of. "Do you want to go out to breakfast?"
The next time Sasuke showed up at Kakashi's office, he had exchanged his usual ensemble for a long-sleeve shirt, a scarf and a hat. When Kakashi saw him, he frowned. It was cold outside, but not that cold. Instead of confronting the issue directly, which would undoubtedly cause an immediately rejection from Sasuke, Kakashi decided to pretend he hadn't noticed--at least until he could think of a way to establish whether or not his fears were based in reality.
"Have a seat," he told Sasuke, who was standing awkwardly near the door. He was acting like it was his first time visiting Kakashi's office, rather than his twentieth.
Sasuke opened his mouth as if to protest, but closed it again when he realized that he couldn't just stand around for an hour. He sank into the seat reluctantly.
Kakashi was in the middle of a stack of paperwork that was making his head feel like it had been cracked open on a jagged length of pavement when he heard a knock on the door.
"Come in," he called.
The door open and Sasuke slid into the room. He walked over to one of the two chairs in front of Kakashi's desk and sunk into it. He didn't say a word, but Kakashi could tell from the sullen look on his face that something, or someone, had pissed him off.
"It's Tuesday," said Kakashi, frowning slightly. So far they had only met on Thursdays, or on the weekends.
"You don't have to tell me that," said Sasuke, glaring at the poster on Kakashi's wall instead of meeting his gaze.
"What's going on?"
Sasuke gave him an ugly look. "My math teacher kicked me out of class."
Kakashi's eye widened. "What?" he asked. "Why?"
"She thinks I cheated on the final exam," said Sasuke with a derisive smirk.
"Cheated?" asked Kakashi. "That's a serious charge--does she have any proof?"
Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "You think I cheated too!"
Kakashi realized what he had said had sounded rather presumptuous and opened his mouth to rephrase the sentence, but Sasuke was already on his feet.
"You're just like the rest of them," said Sasuke, snarling. "I don't do my homework, so she thinks I'm stupid and sends me to you. You do nothing except pat me on the back and tell me I'm right and suck up to me with your stupid poker and miso soup, and then the moment you're bored of me, you start agreeing with her. I get an A on my test, I must have cheated! Other kids can get As, but not me. Not the welfare orphan with the fucked up brother."
He turned on his heel and fled. This time, Kakashi didn't even try to stop him.
The last time Kakashi saw Sasuke was at graduation. They had stopped seeing each other every Thursday; Kakashi had written up a report for Sasuke's file, explaining how the boy was headstrong and antisocial, both of which could be chalked up to a potentially turbulent living environment, but that the fears of his calculus teacher were completely ungrounded, and that Sasuke was not a threat to either his peers or himself.
When Sasuke had learned about what Kakashi had done later, he realized that he had been wrong about Kakashi in the end. The pain that accompanied this realization was almost too much to endure, and yet, Sasuke knew that he would endure it--and much more. He would never forget Kakashi, but he knew that he had to move on, whether or not he was ready to. Maybe one day he would find someone he could lose himself in again, but until then he was left with nothing except the memories and the small, black book that Kakashi had lent him at the beginning of their relationship.
He pressed the book against his nose and breathed in the quickly fading smell of Kakashi's scent from the creased pages of the book. Running his fingers over the thin spine one last time, he replaced the book in his bag and gathered the last of his possessions from the bare room in his foster parents' house. He spared his room one last backward glance before walking out of his old life forever, and out into the brave new world.