There is the whole new and improved version of the Prologue - now known as Chapter one-, which I worked on recently when I was forced to read the whole story again. When I did so, I realized that I had developed a specific writing style over the last years and that this chapter did not fit with my new writing style.

I recently put the cisors through this story. It was too long and ansgty for nothing, so I removed a couple of things here and there to make it a bit more enjoyable to read. But basically, it's the same story.

Do I need to add that this story is old? Just in case: it's old, and I wrote it a long time ago. I made a few touch-ups, but that's all.

Please leave me comments, I love to read them!

Chapter 1

Of Strange Dreams and Obsessions

Wide, strong hands were exploring his body, light touches making him shiver with a kind of longing he had never experienced before. He could feel the man's warm breath on his neck, his lips so close to his burning skin that it left him helpless and panting with desire and need. A hand slowly crept under his shirt and began to crawl up on his torso, sending waves of electricity through his whole body that made him gasp, his knees starting to feel increasingly weak under the other man's ministrations. He turned his head around to see the face of the person who was making him feel so strange, yet so good, hoping to finally be able to get a taste of those teasing lips...


Iruka jumped with a yelp of surprise at the ringing sound, startled. The next thing he knew, his face and torso were flattened against something cold and hard and he winced at the sudden pain and lack of warmth. Confused and still very sleepy, the chuunin opened his sore eyes and stared his baby blue slippers dumbly. After a few seconds of staring, his brain finally kicked in and the academy teacher realized he was lying flat on the floor, his alarm clock ringing loudly on his bed table.

Oh. So it was morning. And he must have fallen off his bed...

Right, that made sense.

Iruka groaned and slowly, his hand crawled up his night table and shut off the alarm to spare his neighbours' and his own ears. Still feeling sleepy, he let himself fall back to the ground, sighing. He wished he could just snuggle under his warm blankets and go back to sleep again, but he knew from experience that doing such a thing meant arriving late at work, and arriving late at work meant too much trouble to be worth it. But at the moment that argument was completely lost upon the young man, whose whole being longed for that warm and comfortable bed he had been torn away from so harshly. What a shame, he had been having such a nice dream too... Wait, what had he been dreaming about again? He was feeling so sleepy...

And then, it came back to him. Hands. A man's hands. That thought woke the young man's dreamy mind up like a cold shower and he started to blush madly at the realization that he just had a wet dream. A wet dream involving a man, moreover. A man, for God's sake! What was that dream exactly? No, it couldn't be. There was no way he could have such twisted fantasies!

But as the memory of his perverted dream became clearer, Iruka couldn't deny it had felt amazingly hot to have those strong hands exploring his body. And how he had longed to kiss those hot, teasing lips that had been breathing down his burning neck, too! Which only made him feel even more upset, a blush creeping again to his tanned cheeks. It wasn't right - that couldn't be… It couldn't be right.

Rather disturbed by the whole affair, the chuunin shook his head and hurried to the bathroom to take a warm shower, hoping it would help him to calm down and see clear through this mess. He rapidly striped down and went under the shower spray, wincing when the cold stream of water hit him, but it soon started to heat up and the man sighed, thankful for the warmth. As water was pouring on his head, Iruka thought was had just happened over, trying to rationalize this strange dream. There was ought to be a logical way to explain what had just taken place, whatever it had been...

At length, the brown-haired man realized his mild panic attack hadn't been called for. He was already 26 year old and, as unbelievable and oddly shocking as it might sound to some people, he had never had sex before. It was only normal that he thought of things like that once in a while, wasn't it? He was a man, after all. And it wasn't like he never thought about sex before… He wasn't a saint for God's sake!

'But you never imagined yourself doing those things with a man before,' added a small nagging voice in his head, making him frown thoughtfully. Why was that? Why had he dreamed of a man? Was he getting that desperate? If that was the case, then he truly needed to get a girlfriend… Or at the very least, to get laid.

The chuunin sighed in resignation. He guessed he'd have to ask his fellow academy teachers to play matchmaker for him in the end. They'd been DYING to set him up for years, God only knew why... But to say the truth, Iruka hadn't felt like being in a relationship up until now. And he still didn't feel like it, as a matter of fact. Somehow dating girls and having sex had never quite appealed to him, not even back in his teenage years, when growing young men suddenly started to see their feminine team mates under a new light after they reached a certain age and their hormones kicked in. And somehow, sharing his life with a 'significant other' was not particularly interesting him either - he was doing fine by his own and didn't need anyone to make his life significant, thank you very much. He sighed at the thought, feeling suddenly tired. He guessed he would have to put away his reluctance and try to find himself a girlfriend, because it was definitely –not- normal for a healthy young man such as himself to dream about men like that... Not normal at all.

When he came out of his shower, Iruka had a second panic attack when he glanced at his watch and realized he had ten minutes to get to the Academy before the classes started. Panicking, he tried to get dressed, brush his teeth and comb his hair at the same time to win time, managing to be roughly ready to school in around 67.3 seconds, a new personal record. After winning over his pants and grabbing the pile of homework he had to hand back to his students, the chuunin set off running to the Ninja Academy at top speed, hoping that he wouldn't arrive too late. He didn't even want to imagine the state his class would be in if he let it under the care of thirty ninja wannabes for more than five minutes...

He was so desperate to arrive on time that he bumped into someone halfway to the academy and fell hard to the ground, homework spilling out of his hands and happily spreading around him. Quickly getting up, the academy teacher fought the blush of mortification that menacing to creep up to his face. That was just his luck, really... Running into someone in the middle of a crowded street - it couldn't get more unprofessional than this. He was supposed to be a chuunin dammit, and chuunins were NOT, by all means, supposed to run into people! Damn this stupid dream for making him so ridiculously upset and unfocused…!

Embarrassed, Iruka looked up to see who he had to apologize to, only to see a masked face and a bunch of silver hair. At that sight, the brown-haired man felt his heart sink yet lower. Great. Somehow he managed to make a fool of himself in front of Hatake Kakashi, one of the most famous and sharp spoken nin in town. On a crowded street, moreover. This sure sounded like the beginning of another great day.

"I am sorry Kakashi-sensei, I wasn't looking where I was going. Please excuse me," Iruka bowed deeply at the other man, his cheeks blushing from embarrassment. Without sparing the taller man or the surrounding passersby who were staring at him with curious amusement a glance – the chuunin doubted his self-esteem could take so much- he started to pick up the homework resting on the ground around him hastily. The faster he was out of there, the less he would have to listen to the man's sharp comments. But the Copy nin, strangely enough, did not retort some sarcastic remark about Iruka's clumsiness like the brown-haired man had expected him to. Far from being annoyed, the relaxed jounin didn't seem to mind having a man crashing into him to start with.

"Maa, it's okay. I guess I was in the way..." he simply answered as he kneeled down and started picking up homework to help the brown-haired man. Iruka looked up in surprise at the older man. Wasn't Kakashi-sensei supposed to be a lazy bastard? Maybe Naruto exaggerated a bit... Cross that out, he probably had exaggerated a lot. Well, that was Naruto we were speaking of, after all. Shaking himself out of his reverie, the chuunin hastily went back to collecting the rebellious papers, suddenly feeling even more ridiculous and embarrassed than before for having such unfair thoughts about the Copy nin.

Seconds later, the jounin handed the sheets he had picked up to the other teacher, who blushed, thanked him profusely, excused himself and bowed once more before setting off to the ninja academy at top speed again. People around them went back to their occupations without other thoughts, but Kakashi just stayed there, looking at the spot the chuunin once had been standing, a thoughtful look on the small visible part of his face. After a while, he sighed, put his hands in his pockets and slowly walked away.

When the last student left the class, Iruka sighed and fell on his chair, exhausted. It had been another rough day... He loved teaching to children, he seriously did, but he had to admit that on some occasions he truly did hate his job. Like on 'those days' that made every teacher so edgy they wanted to slice the little monsters' throats to finally put an end to the constant racket. And unfortunately enough for the young chuunin, he had just gone through one superb example of one of 'those days'. And as if his nerves had not suffered enough for the day, he had been assigned a mission desk shift after the classes were over, too. At the thought, Iruka sighed with resignation, picked up the new homework he had to correct and very slowly made his way to the mission room. Might as well get over with it already... And besides, it was not like the day could get any worse; he liked to think one man could only have so much bad karma.

As he walked, Iruka wished they'd be able to close the mission room early; he was truly exhausted and needed to correct all these copies for tomorrow. Anyway, it was almost a loss of time to work at the mission desk at that time of the year because the village was low on missions, which meant there were not a lot of people handing mission reports back at the end of the day. And waiting for late nins in an empty mission room for hours on was not really Iruka's idea of a nice evening, or even of a dutiful one. But it was not like he could turn down the Godaime's assignments after all…

All too quickly, Iruka reached the mission room, at little bit late by his standards - that is to say 5 minutes before his shift started. The mission room was rather quiet and the two nins working at the desk and Genma -who probably spent more time at the mission room than at his own place, Iruka mused- greeted the chuunin silently. The brown-haired man waved at them before taking a seat at the desk and getting ready to do his job, while one of the nins started packing his belongings, his own shift over.

"Hey Iruka, you sure look tired today," Genma told him, sucking on his senbon thoughtfully.

"Kids have been hard on you again?" the off-duty mission desk nin asked him with a small smile.

"Indeed, they have," the chuunin sighed.

"Don't worry sensei, there's not a lot of job left for us. We'll be able to leave early today, all the mission reports have been handed in... Except for one," Iruka's coworker said cheerfully, her arms folded behind her head.

"I wouldn't say that if I were you. The last mission report is Hatake Kakashi's," Genma answered dully as he eyed the mission list.

Iruka and his coworker groaned. It was common knowledge to anyone who worked at the mission desk, or people like Genma, that the famous Sharigan user never handed his mission reports on time.

"That's bad! That guy is always late," the girl sighed, now looking depressed.

"If you ask me, it's a small miracle the guy made it to jounin. No decent ninja can survive for very long with such an attitude," the other man said, disapproving.

"You don't know what you are talking about," Genma replied flatly. He looked around for eavesdroppers, bent down and started murmuring, making everyone bend down toward him to hear clearly. "This bloke, Kakashi... He's no ordinary jounin. A genius, that's what he is. I went on a mission with him once. I'm telling you, he's not to be underestimated."

"Really?" the woman asked with quiet eagerness and she and the off-duty nin moved closer to the whispering man, greedy for more gossips. Iruka did so as well, although he was rather ashamed of himself to listen to petty mission room gossip like some brainless schoolgirl. But he couldn't help listening, curiosity getting the best of him. He didn't know his favorite ex-student's teacher very well – he had talked to him only three or four times – and was, truth being told, a little curious to find out more about the secretive man.

"Now that I think about it, I heard the Godaime tell him once that he was one of the best shinobi of Konoha... I thought it was weird, it's not like her to give away compliments like that," the off-duty staff member whispered, looking excited.

"I heard he was a chuunin at the age of six..."

"But he's so lazy and... Weird."

"My point exactly," Genma said at once. "It's a well known fact that geniuses are eccentric. What is he if he's not an eccentric bastard?"

"Yeah, I agree with you. He's definitely bizarre with his mask… What does he have to hide, anyway?"

"He must be quite a horrible sight to hide his face all the time like that," the woman said in a compassionate way.

"You still haven't figured him out, huh? I bet he's really handsome and wears a mask just to drive people crazy. That would be the kind of thing that would make him laugh his ass off, I'm sure of it," Genma told them with a sarcastic smile.

"Yeah, we all know that he has weird tastes... They say he keeps on reading that perverted book of his all day long. In plain daylight and all. That's just... gross!"

"And his hair style? Don't tell me it's natural! He must spend hours to make it stay still that way," the blond-haired kunoichi added matter-of-factly and Iruka rolled his eyes, seeing where their discussion was heading.

"I heard he picks fights with that weird jounin Maito Gai just for the fun of it... What kind of man would do that?"

"Yeah, I even heard he likes to sneak up behind people's back too," a fourth voice added behind them. They all jumped around to find the infamous masked silver-haired man they had been shamelessly talking about standing behind them, leaning against the mission room's wall casually. Breath caught in their suddenly dry throat, they blanched with mortification.


"Yo," the Copy nin greeted them, his single eye curving happily.

Once he was over the shock, Iruka felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment. He hoped against all hopes that the jounin wouldn't go imagining he had actively taken part in that stupid discussion… For some reason, he didn't want the Copy nin to think too badly of him. But it obviously wasn't something the chuunin needed to be concerned about; Kakashi-sensei didn't seem to mind at all to have run into gossips about him. He even looked quite amused by the whole situation. Well, Iruka could see how this situation could look amusing to him, seeing his coworkers' abashed faces. They truly made quite a sight, gaping at him as if Uchiha Itachi himself had popped out of thin air in the middle of the mission room.

Well, he guessed they pretty much all deserved it.

After a very awkward moment, Iruka spoke up to break the awkward silence.

"Is there anything we can do for you, Hatake-san?"

At those words, Kakashi lazily approached the mission desk to stop in front of Iruka, who was slightly puzzled by the serious way the silver-haired man was staring at him. Iruka stared back, sweating a bit. When the other man kept on staring silently, the chuunin felt his throat tighten and his pulse go faster as he became increasingly nervous and apprehensive. What the hell did the other man want? Was he mad at him or what? He couldn't seriously be pissed at him because of the gossip eavesdropping he's done, right? But what else could this be about, seriously? The last time he had seriously spoken to him, it was about team seven's selection for the chuunin exam, and that was years ago. Sure enough the man wouldn't bear a grudge against him anymore, right? Or maybe he felt annoyed at him for what had happened in the morning? But he didn't seem to be angry about it back then… So why...?

As Iruka was trying to figure out why the jounin was staring at him so intendly, the man's hand went to one of his pockets and fished out of it a slightly crumpled mission report that he held out to the chuunin. Iruka suddenly stopped fretting and stared at the paper held in front of him blankly for a second before taking it away swiftly, fighting back a blush of embarrassment. Just how much of a complete moron was he? It was obvious the Copy nin had only wanted to give him his mission report! Why else did people come to the mission room for to start with anyway? Geez, he couldn't believe he had managed to look like a complete incompetent idiot twice in front of his favourite ex-student's teacher in the same day…

As he tried to focus on checking out the report he had previously been handed and keep his blush under control, Iruka suddenly heard the silver-haired man chuckle quietly. Startled, he looked up, and sure enough the older shinobi's eye was curved up again with obvious mirth. Hatake Kakashi was laughing at him? What the hell!

"Maa, Iruka-sensei, you seem a bit out of it today," the Sharigan user told him on a playfully reproachful tone before turning around and walking away, his notorious perverted book in front of his face again as he casually left the mission room. Iruka stared, then blushed again and hastily gave a closer look to the report. It seemed to be in order, so he put it with the others with a small thankful smile, shrugging his previous strange interaction with the ex-anbu as another crazy jounin's antic.

"That was strange."

"Yep," Genma commented with all due seriousness, "He's a weird fellow, that Hatake Kakashi."

"Well I guess we can pack up now and close the mission room now, don't we?" The brown-haired man stated cheerfully as he tidied up his desk. Even if the jounin had acted so strangely, he couldn't help but like the man at the moment because his unusual appearance meant he was able to head home early. At least he would have time to grade the homework now... Not that he was looking forward to it, but it had to be done before he could have a good night of sleep, and he happened to badly need one.

On his way home, Iruka's mind wandered again, musing about the strange elite jounin known as the Copy nin. The man seemed to be a real enigma. He wondered how much of what he'd heard in the mission room was true. Probably very little. A mysterious man who was rumoured to be one of the strongest nins of the whole village... Somehow, that sounded like the description of the protagonist of some rather cheesy romance novel. The kind of man women always fell for... If that was the case, then the guy probably had a fanclub of his own somewhere in Konoha, waiting for him in a bush to try to get a date out of him. Iruka smirked at the thought, imagining the jounin running away from a crowd of crazy ninja fangirls – the latter, he established, being ten times creepier than normal fangirls since they could use their ninja skills to stalk you. The chuunin chuckled silently at the mental image, ignoring people who sent him strange glances on his way.

Well, Iruka guessed that all in all, he didn't mind the strange jounin's quirks. Because there were no doubts that Kakashi-sensei was an eccentric man – the academy teacher knew that much about the man. But it didn't bother him much. What if he liked to wear a mask and act like a lazy, careless ass? As long as the man was a good teacher to Naruto –and Sasuke and Sakura, of course- the rest didn't really matter, right? Anyway, he couldn't be worse than that Jiraiya Naruto had spent two years with. Compared with an old irresponsible pervert, an eccentric man was fine... Even if said eccentric man read porn in public. At least he wouldn't talk his students into taking a peek at women in public bathhouses…

Iruka smiled at his own chain of thoughts. There he was, worrying about Naruto again. The blonde was fifteen already; he was hardly an impressionable child anymore, yet he couldn't help feeling a little overprotective of the young man. Iruka sighed at the thought and suddenly felt old. Far too old for his age. To think that not so long ago, he still used to teach to that exuberant blond boy... Now the exuberant blond boy had turned into a responsible and dependable young man looking forward to his jounin exams, and some part of him had trouble to adjust to this reality.

All of a sudden, Iruka heard his name being yelled behind him and his lips curved into a smile. He turned around to see his interlocutor, but it was futile; he knew only too well that there was only one person on Earth to yell his name through a crowded street that way.

"Hey, Naruto!" he called back to the teenager, smiling brightly.

"Iruka-sensei, let's eat ramen together! My treat today!"

'Some things might change, but some never will,' Iruka sighed with a small smile. "Sure," he answered fondly, forgetting about his tiredness and heading for the ramen stand with his ex-pupil instead of home.

The Copy nin was walking nonchalantly down Konoha's busy streets, reading absent-mindedly his notorious orange book. He was aware of the curious stares and whispers that followed him but he ignored them, as he always did. Even though he didn't seem to, the man was deep in thoughts about something. Or rather, about someone. Someone he'd been thinking about a lot in the past year. A chuunin going under the name of Umino Iruka.

The man was a real enigma! When he had first met him, he had thought that there was something odd about him, something... special about him. He hadn't thought much of it back then and had easily dismissed it as a false first impression. But as they met more often and as he started to get to know better the man, the strange impression somehow lingered and even amplified. Wherever he was, Umino Iruka somehow always managed to get his attention, to catch his eye in a way or in another and leave him staring in a perplexed way. The silver-haired man didn't give these impressions much thought until around six months ago, when he realized with a jolt that the strange brown-haired man was on his mind more often than any of the other ninjas he had to work with on a daily basis. And that was definitely not normal, especially since he almost never saw or even less talked to the polite chuunin. No, it was not normal at all. It didn't take a genius to realize there was something seriously wrong there.

At first, the Copy nin hadn't been able to explain properly why the brown-haired man was catching his eye like that. The whole issue soon started to obsess him and he found himself spending more and more time wondering what about the seemingly quite ordinary chuunin was leaving him so puzzled. At some point, he secluded himself into his tiny apartment for days, frowning thoughtfully to his ceiling as he tried to figure out why he thought so much of Umino Iruka, but he really couldn't figure out why. After a while, the elite jounin came to a logical yet a bit peculiar conclusion: his obsession with Umino Iruka was caused by some kind of instinct - an instinct warning him that there was something off with the man, something out of place.

Seriously, what else could it be? The man gave him a funny feeling every time they met, and somehow he kept on thinking about him all the time. He truly couldn't think of anything else to explain that.

Maybe the academy teacher wasn't the man he led on to be? Maybe he had hidden issues? Mental or health problems? He didn't know for sure, but he was sure of one thing: there was something funny about the chuunin, something abnormal, and he was determined to find out what it was. What if the man was dangerous for the village? He couldn't allow that. He wouldn't allow that.

Unfortunately, he couldn't just walk in the Hokage's office and warn her about the chuunin's abnormality when the only thing he had against him was a mere warning instinct. That was the kind of thing that could get him followed by an ANBU for months just in case – they never took any chance when they thought some high-ranked nin was starting to turn abnormally paranoid. And Kakashi fancied too much his privacy to even give it a try. And as far as he knew, there might be nothing wrong with the brown-haired ninja... although he seriously doubted it. Oh, the Copy nin knew that even he could make mistakes when portraying an enemy - or an ally, as a matter of fact - but he tended to be right about those kind of things and people generally trusted his judgment. And somehow, he knew that Umino Iruka was special in some kind of way, but ignored how. And he was determined to find out what was wrong about the man and then, when he'd have evidence of what was going on, share his suspicions with the fifth Hokage herself. It was, after all, the only thing he could do about it that didn't involve having his mental health questioned, which he wanted to avoid at all cost.

Of course, the Sharigan user saw the whole issue as a special, self-imposed undercover information-gathering mission. And as the trained nin he was, he knew what he had to do to get the evidence he needed to alert the Hokage. First, he needed to gather as much information about the subject as possible to know where to start his inquiry. To do so, Kakashi did the only thing that came to his mind in a situation like this.

He stalked Umino Iruka.

Not the perverted kind of stalking, mind you - he was not as perverted as people imagined. No, just normal stalking.

The problem was that it was not an easy task to spy on Umino Iruka. First, Godaime made sure to keep him busy with A and S-rank missions. Moreover, Kakashi soon found out that Iruka was very perceptive for a mere chuunin, which increased the difficulty of his self-imposed mission. He had to be very careful and couldn't risk stalking the chuunin too often if he wanted to remain undetected by the other nin. Furthermore, since Sasuke's return three months ago, he had been asked to supervise team seven's training again. And teaching three very talented fifteen year olds was a lot more challenging and demanding than teaching newly promoted genins had been. So the jounin had very little time left to gather information about Umino Iruka between dealing with improving teenagers and high-ranked missions, and the first step of his 'mission' was going very slowly.

After about five months of stalking, Kakashi realized with annoyance that what he had found out about the man had gotten him no further forward – because as strange as it sounded, there seemed to be absolutely nothing abnormal with the brown-haired chuunin. To say the truth, he had never met someone as... plain as his students' ex-teacher. Iruka-sensei worked, graded papers, read, trained and randomly treated Naruto to ramen, and that was all. He ate healthy food, always ran his errands and cleaned his house on Saturday mornings, got up and went to bed early. Nothing fabulous there. In many ways, the academy teacher was probably the most normal person had he ever met. Which didn't help him much.

Moreover, the chuunin seemed to be a healthy and stable man – which greatly puzzled the silver-haired man, who often wondered how somebody could deal with thirty pre-genins holding sharp, pointy things on a daily basis and still have some kind of sense of humour at the end of the day. Not to mention that he was, in fact, quite a nice guy; the man was polite, comprehensive and caring, yet he knew what he wanted and didn't fear to assert his authority and make people respect his point of views when needed be. As far as the jounin could tell, Umino Iruka was a loyal, stable and jovial man who valued respect, honesty and friendship - which refuted Kakashi's vague theories about the chuunin, much to his annoyance. And somehow, the Sharigan user highly doubted the brunette was faking those - and if he was, then he was the best actor he had ever seen and definitely deserved to be promoted to the spying squad. But none of that information seemed to truly help him and it seemed that the more he learned about the brown-haired man, the more obsessed he became with him...

As he was walking, Kakashi thought about changing his approach a bit, since his information gathering method hadn't been very successful so far. Maybe he could try to interact more with Iruka… But since the jounin seriously lacked experience in this kind of things and was at loss when he tried to find normal ways to interact with anyone beyond the usual "Hi", "How are you", and "How was your mission", that option didn't sound very appealing to him. Of course, he could also try to ask casually about Iruka to people who knew him. But how could he do it without being suspicious, especially since he almost never talked to anyone? This mission was getting troublesome… Maybe it would be simpler to just steal the Hokage's official report concerning the chuunin. Sure enough there would be something written in there about the man's abnormality! There was no way the Hokage couldn't be aware of something this obvious!

As he was thinking about ways to break into Tsunade's office, he passed by the ramen bar, Ichiraku, where could be found the subject of his musings eating ramen with his favorite ex-student. Kakashi automatically headed to the ramen bar and casually sat three feet away from his student – he might not be very good at these "bonding" things, but he could recognize a good occasion when he saw one. If he was lucky, he might be able to get something out of it…

As soon as he was seated, the blonde's head turned around and Naruto predictably gaped at him with a kind of childish indignant incredulousness he was known through the village for.

"Kakashi-sensei! What are YOU doing here?"

"Maa, can't I eat ramen too?" the man answered casually, amused by the teen's predictable outburst.

Naruto stared suspiciously at him, his eyes narrowed – Kakashi knew the blonde knew him far too well to actually believe he would indulge into ramen without being forced to by the ramen-lover, but he thankfully said nothing about it. Behind the suspicious blonde, Iruka looked up at the jounin and politely greeted him and Kakashi waved back at him nonchalantly before the two others resumed their conversation. The Sharigan then faked interest for the menu, listening intently to Naruto's usual babblings as his eye went up and down the rather dirty flyer. Iruka, he quickly noticed, was eating his ramen slowly and nodding randomly at Naruto's words, a relaxed expression on his average features. He tried his best to hide it to the blond teen, but his stance was giving away his exhaustion: he seemed to have had yet another rough day. The jounin sure understood the tanned man's tiredness; those little hellions at the ninja academy never spared the poor guy. He'd seen them at it – Kakashi honestly couldn't understand how Iruka had managed not to have at least one nervous breakdown in all those years of teaching – he knew half of the jounin population of Konoha would have. Maybe that was what something wrong with the man... But somehow he doubted that the Hokage would take him seriously if he told her Umino Iruka had a problem because he hadn't snapped and strangled one of the little hellions he liked to call his students yet.

Kakashi passed his order to the old man who was running the shop and waited nonchalantly for his food, still listening to his student's rant. As his order arrived, the jounin noticed a rather annoyed-looking Sasuke walking in wide strides toward the ramen bar, closely tailed by an on full date-asking mode Sakura and he inwardly chuckled at the familiar sight. All these years and the pink-haired kunoichi still hadn't gotten a clue… If Gai would have been there to witness this all too familiar scene, he would have probably shouted at the top of his lungs something about the marvels of youth… But as Hatake Kakashi was fortunately enough not the Green beast – for one Green beast was enough, thank you very much - he simply curved his uncovered eye in what people who had a thorough knowledge of him could recognize as a sarcastic smile at the sight. Then Sasuke, suddenly spotting Naruto at the bar, went straight to him and wasted no time to challenge him into a fight, probably hoping to vent out his frustration on his rival and best friend AND to get rid of the pink-haired girl at the same time, the jounin suspected. But Naruto had grown up with the years and gained maturity, so he told the raven-haired boy to wait until he had finished eating with Iruka-sensei to get his ass kicked, which seemed to annoy the already pissed-looking Uchiha heir even more. Changing his tactic, the raven-haired teenager smirked smugly, bent forward and added a few well chosen words, knowing far too well how to get a reaction out of the blonde. And sure enough, after some ear-splitting protests and a quick apology to his favourite ex-teacher, Naruto was following the other teen to the training area, closely tailed by a now pouting Sakura, much to the silver-haired man's amusement. No matter how redundant and predictable his three students could be, they never failed to entertain him. Iruka was watching the three of them go away as well, a small nostalgic smile on his lips and somehow, Kakashi had a pretty good idea what the chuunin was thinking about at that precise moment. There was his chance to get closer to the man…!

"Time goes by, but they don't change much," Kakashi said casually, hoping to get a reaction out of the chuunin. And sure enough, the brown-haired nin turned his head toward Kakashi to stare at him, looking surprised by the quiet jounin's sudden comment. Then, his eyes warmed up and he chuckled with an endearing mix of amusement and nostalgia. "No, they sure don't."

Kakashi simply smiled and nodded, not really knowing what to add to his. They remained silent for a while and eventually, the teacher went back to his ramen bowl. Kakashi stared at his own untouched bowl with increasing frustration and helplessness as the silence stretched even more, at a loss about what to say next. He knew he was supposed to say something back if he wanted to start a discussion with the man and possibly get to know him better, but he really had no idea what to tell the chuunin. What people normally talked about on such situation, anyway? He had to admit he had no clue: he had never been at ease around people and had always managed to avoid having real discussions -ones that didn't involve missions or training- with anyone for too long. Except for Gai of course, but it didn't count since discussions involving Gai tended to be one-sided. As Kakashi was brooding over his frustrating lack of social skills, Iruka silently finished eating his ramen and paid for his and his favourite student's order, and at the realization of the chuunin's eminent departure, the Copy nin inwardly cursed himself for ruining such a good occasion to talk to the academy teacher. But as the Sharigan user thought the chuunin would get up and leave, Iruka finally spoke up to him, to the silver-haired man's relief.

"So tell me Kakashi-sensei, how's Naruto doing?"

It was a fair question. To his credit, Kakashi took a moment to think it over before answering. Of course, Naruto's skills had vastly improved in the past years and even in the past months, no one could deny it, the jounin thought with pride. The blond teen was no longer clumsy and the experience he had obtained with the Sannin had turned him into a quite talented nin. The young man seemed to have also gained maturity as well; he was calmer and more thoughtful than before, even if it didn't always show. Much to Kakashi's pleasure, he had gotten himself friends of his age over the years and, needless to say, he also had learned to trust his team mates and work along with them and Kakashi couldn't help but think that was his best improvement so far. He truly was glad none of his students learnt the value of friendship and the importance of trusting others the hard way, like he had... He wouldn't want that to happen to anyone, and especially not to them.

"He's improved a lot," the jounin said simply after a while. As the words were out of his mouth, he felt those few words were not enough to describe the teen's improvement and express how proud he was of his pupil's achievements, but the Copy nin had never been good at expressing his true emotions – and he doubted he would ever be. Iruka stared at him for a while, as if he was evaluating what the man had said. Kakashi wasn't known for being very talkative, thus what he said meant a lot. The chuunin must have understood that, because he suddenly smiled brightly at the Sharigan user. "Then I'm glad."

Iruka then sighed and stared into the night thoughtfully and Kakashi couldn't help but stare at him, fascinated by the man's openness; it was truly amazing how much his tanned face could display his emotions. When he was angry, his face twisted with fury and his dark eyes seemed to burn with the intensity of his resentment, while those same eyes could warm up so pleasantly and sweetly when the man smiled and laughed. The jounin wished he could find the answer to what was so special about Umino Iruka in the man's brown eyes… But when he looked into those, he found only kindness, determination, faith in life, scars of a distant, difficult past and a tad of loneliness... But definitely not what he was looking for, whatever it was supposed to be.

As he stared into the night, Iruka felt the back of his neck prickle, as if someone was watching him. The chuunin looked up slowly at Kakashi, who was indeed staring hard at him, a strange, funny expression on the very little exposed part of his face.

"Errr... What is it, Kakashi-sensei?" Iruka asked cautiously, looking a bit wary at the strange look the man was giving him.

The jounin didn't answer at first and kept on staring at the younger man until he could feel him squirming nervously under his gaze. Then he spoke up slowly, his eye never leaving the increasingly anxious academy teacher.

"You're..." The brown haired man looked expectantly at him, and the jounin said the only word that came to his mind to describe the complex man sitting beside him with puzzled eyes. "...strange."

Whatever Iruka had expected him to answer, Kakashi guessed that 'strange' had never passed through his mind as he watched the man's eyes widen with astonishment.

"I'm strange?" he asked with a bemused voice and the jounin nodded, finding the younger man's bewilderment somewhat amusing. The brown-haired man blinked at him twice in confusion, then he smirked and gave the Copy nin a look that clearly meant 'Well you're one to talk'. But unfortunately, he kept any sarcastic retort he may have had to himself as he sighed, got up, said good bye to the older man and quietly left the ramen bar.

Kakashi watched the man's retreating figure disappear into the night with disappointment and sadness. He had done it. He had driven him away. How was he supposed to learn more about him if he kept on scaring him away every time they met? The silver-haired man stared sullenly at his own untouched -and not so warm anymore- ramen bowl and suddenly didn't feel like eating at all. Sighing sadly, he wondered why it all affected him so much.

Kakashi silently paid his own bowl and walked away, his mind as confused as before.

To be continued