October 18

Good cop, bad cop

A/N: Set during the 3 year absence of Naruto in the manga. My first Kakashi x Iruka fic. /

Midsummer theatre

"I'm really sorry, Iruka-sensei," Genma apologized for the sixth time.

Iruka sighed. "It's okay, Genma-san. Just bad luck, that's all." They were at Genma's apartment – the jounin wrapped up in the bed, his face pale and streaked faintly with sweat. Iruka and Raidou had made some space in the alarmingly balanced clutter that lay about the small room, waiting to snow in unsuspecting visitors, and they sat on two chairs that had likely never seen the light of day until today. "Nobody would have thought that your cooking could have had such an effect."

Raidou picked up the other jounin's hand, patting it with a grin. "Not that I don't appreciate you trying to cook for my birthday, Genma, but… next time, try and follow some recognized recipes, would you?"

"Yeah, yeah," Genma groused, grimacing as a fresh ripple of pain radiated from his stomach. "And the hospital refuses to spare any medical ninja to cure 'mere food poisoning'. Tsunade-sama told me that it'll be a useful lesson to myself. She's evil, you know."

"No doubt," Iruka said, dryly, very relieved that Genma had indeed tasted his concoction before bringing it to the pot luck. His cooking was a weapon in and of itself.

"But the play, Iruka-sensei," Genma persisted. "Who's going to take my place? Just about all of the other free jounin already have parts, or are on missions, and the school play for teacher's day is due to go into final rehearsals in a week, and Tsunade-sama said I would be indisposed for longer."

"I suppose I could find a chuunin," Iruka said, rubbing his temple. "But…"

"The nature of the play," Genma pointed out, "The whole point of it was to have jounin for…"

"But who do you know is free? Better that we just find some chuunin and make a few changes to the plot…"

"There's Gai-sensei," Raidou said, reluctantly.


Gai-sensei was flagrantly inappropriate for the role – even Raidou admitted it, after the informal audition held in the training ground for Team Gai – with Lee and the others sent away so as to preserve the secrecy of the script (at least at this stage of the production – Iruka was sure something would leak out, sooner or later).

"If you don't give up the location of Rumi-hime, I will strike you in the name of all that is just!" Gai thrust out his thumb. Sunlight gleamed off his teeth. Iruka and Raidou groaned.

"Mitsuhi is supposed to be menacing," Raidou said, very patiently. "And I'm fairly sure the last part of that line was not in the script."

"That was my menacing pose," Gai protested, holding the pose in question for the two ninja to study.

"No, Gai-sensei," Iruka said carefully, "I think Naruto-kun calls that your 'nice guy' pose…"

"There's an obvious difference," Gai pointed out, "In my 'nice guy' pose, my legs are slightly bent, so as not to emphasize the looming height of the green beast of Konoha!"

"Unfortunately, such a subtle detail may be lost on the children," Raidou said wearily, "And we don't really want it to become a parody."

"Oh." Gai deflated visibly, then abruptly brightened again. "In that case, I will make it my personal duty to help you find a perfect Mitsuhi! Or I will do three hundred laps around Konoha hopping on one foot with a book on my head!"

Iruka glared at Raidou, as Gai teleported before they could object. "This is your fault."



Kakashi grabbed a branch to steady himself, as he nearly toppled out from the tree at the bellow from below. Granted, it was a little careless of him, but the Icha Icha novel he was reading was just about to get into the climax regarding the real identity of the heroine's father, and he had been absolutely absorbed (the fact that the setting was in some sort of bawdry house, the heroine having done rather unbelievable deeds to get to that point, had nothing to do with said absorption, of course). He peered down at Maito Gai in exasperation. "What?"

"I need your help," Gai said, looking (for the man) somewhat abashed.

"What, now?"

"Of course! After all, I see that you are enjoying your leisure time in this beautiful summer day."


"Oh, the hip cool response!" Gai struck his forehead dramatically with the back of his palm, then pointed at Kakashi with his free hand. "Unfortunately, I must insist."

"Nothing you can say will possibly make me move from this spot."


Iruka, frazzled from having to explain to two rival pre-genin girls why they couldn't both play the same role at the same time, hid in the tiny dressing room allocated to him within Konoha's only theatre, took deep breaths, and reminded himself that grown chuunin could be patient. Patient, and not stressed at all, despite oncoming deadlines and the need to deal not only with a horde of complaining children who still couldn't remember their lines, jounin who had to be chased to come for rehearsals, chuunin who were far too busy with the rebuild effort to put any energy into acting, and the continued lack of a suitable Mitsuhi.

Yes, everything was going fine. He just needed coffee. Maybe with some suitably strong liquor. Maybe strong liquor with just a hint of coffee.

He took another deep breath.

The door to the dressing room slammed open, and Iruka automatically rolled off his slouch in the only rickety chair into a defensive crouch.

"Iruka-sensei…! I have found a Mitsuhi, as I have promised!" Gai struck his nice-guy pose. Sunlight from the tiny window gleamed off disturbingly perfect white teeth.

Iruka took a deep breath, and managed to smile, if a little fixedly, straightening up and smoothing down the white hakama of his blue kamishimo. The costume felt bulky compared to the form-fitting trousers, shirt and flak jacket he was used to, and his hair felt odd loose over his shoulders, but he had another scene to rehearse as Ojiro in an hour, and it would have been far too much of a bother to change. He peered behind Gai's shoulder at the sound of a sharp intake of breath.

Hatake Kakashi looked shocked – his single eye was wide, and the fingers of his right hand hovered just over his masked mouth. Silvery hair fell over his tilted forehead protector haphazardly, as the jounin recovered, stuffing gloved fingers into his trousers, his eye half-lidding. "Yo, Iruka-sensei…"

Gai interrupted, striking another dramatic pose (this one seemed fairly random, and looked like a convoluted sort of morning-stretch exercise with a retina-burning hip-thrust). "The… perfect… Mitsuhi…!"

Kakashi flinched slightly, and looked somewhat embarrassed to be in the same vicinity (the same continent) as the other jounin. "Er…"

Iruka took another deep breath. He could sort this out without losing his temper. He could. "Gai-sensei, thank you very much for your efforts. I would like to interview Kakashi-sensei in private now, if you don't mind."

"Of course, of course," Gai smiled. "Endeavor greatly to entertain the adorable future of Konoha, our youth! Good luck with your play!"

Both ninja waited in silence until even the footsteps could no longer be heard to ears trained to listen to the slightest sound, then Iruka slumped back into his chair, rubbing his eyes. "Um… Kakashi-sensei, did Gai-sensei somehow, well…" The word 'force' didn't seem appropriate regarding the legendary Sharingan user, but Gai seemed disturbingly persuasive. Iruka was pretty sure that he personally would do anything Gai asked him to do, on threat of having to see that hip-thrust again (agh).

"Ah… hahaha, he did," Kakashi said, his eye crinkling, one hand threading through the shock of silvery hair, scratching at his scalp, looking sheepish. "He told me that the Academy needed some help with their teacher's day play, and that I was the right person for the role. I'm sorry if he…"

"Oh. No, it's all right," Iruka covertly looked Kakashi over. An instant problem presented itself – the need to keep the Sharingan eye covered, and the possible mask psychosis. However, the issue of the eye could be solved with a few minor changes to the script (perhaps a bandage, with some mention of a recent injury). The mask, however… perhaps a scarf would do – it wasn't as though the play strictly followed historical detail, in the first place.

As to 'menacing' – well, Iruka had first-hand experience of a deadly serious Kakashi, and it had not been something he would have wished to repeat (the experience, and the content; the embarrassment, and the impotent anger). But they were rather desperate…

"If you're really sure you can spare the time, Kakashi-sensei…?"

"Well. I'm currently without a genin team," Kakashi pushed his hands into his pockets again. "And I suppose I could use a break from training."


Five minutes into listening to Kakashi read off Iruka's copy of the script, Iruka found himself thanking the Gods for Maito Gai (a spiritual experience that he found disquieting). The jounin was so perfect for the role that he wasn't sure why he hadn't thought of him earlier, for a moment – then it occurred to Iruka that he had always written off Kakashi either as 'legendary genius ninja', 'Naruto's new sensei', and 'pervert ninja', all of which never lent itself to the need to be anything more than an acquaintance.

"You'll do well to give up the location of Rumi-hime now, or feel the edge of my blade," Kakashi's visible eye narrowed, voice a harsh snarl.

Iruka folded his arms before an imaginary Sakiko (to be played by Asuma), and colored his tone with a weariness he no longer felt, in his sheer relief, "Now, now, Mitsuhi-san, I'm sure Sakiko-san understands the danger of his situation. Why don't you just give us the information and save yourself from having to suffer the brunt of my partner's wrath? We could even come to some sort of… arrangement."

"In my opinion," 'Mitsuhi' drawled, "We should just cut off his fingers, one by one, until he tells us what we need to know."

"I dislike unnecessary violence," Iruka smiled – genuine with the lifting of stress – the smile that would make the apparently gentle and reasonable 'Ojiro' seem unnerving. His voice relaxed back to his normal tone. "And then the curtain drops for the next act. Kakashi-sensei… thank you so much… I don't know what we would have done if we couldn't find a Mitsuhi within the week, and you're amazing in the role, and…"

"Maa, maa," Kakashi's eye crinkled as he raised his hands. "I'll be glad to help, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka found himself struggling to find a way to reply to that, without tripping over his tongue (overwhelming relief, or so he thought), and smiled, instead, a little awkwardly, scratching his loose hair, in a silence that seemed abruptly charged with the unknown. Kakashi was studying him, quiet and solemn, the one eye flickering over the dark blue kataginu with the white inverted sakura flower design, then the pale blue kimono; the katana and wakizashi at his hips, white hakama, sandals and white tabi, then back up to his face. Iruka blushed, mistaking the stare. "It does look a little silly, doesn't it? A ninja wearing a…"

"No, no," Kakashi interrupted, too quickly to be polite, "It looks… it looks good, on you. I didn't think… I mean, well, it suits you." The eye crinkled, though it seemed more like a knee-jerk smile to forestall a runaway tongue.

"Thanks," Iruka said, for want of a better way to reply to the stumbling commentary. His cheeks burned. "Er. Oh, I should um, introduce you to the costume people… we'll need to refit you into Genma's Mitsuhi costume…"


Kakashi looked stunning in the modified kamishimo, with a cream scarf over the lower half of his face, even with a lopsided bandage over the Sharingan eye, his spiky hair combed down. Iruka realized he was rather opening gawping at the other ninja as the 'costume people' (really Kurenai and some of the final year Academy pre-genin girls) fussed over the kataginu and the pleats of the hakama, and was glad that Kakashi seemed more interested in protesting that the obi was too tight.

He managed to recover his composure just as Kurenai gripped a whining Kakashi by one shoulder and propelled him around, slapping away fingers that picked at the obi. "So, Iruka-sensei, what do you think?"

Iruka smiled, and hoped that he wasn't blushing – though his cheeks felt a little warm. He picked his answer carefully. "Kurenai-san, Isae-chan, Yumi-chan… all of you are incredible."

Isae-chan flushed in pleasure, while Yumi-chan giggled. Kurenai, however, looked at Iruka thoughtfully, for a moment, then smiled slightly in response. "Precisely. Well. If we can stop Kakashi here from picking at the damn obi during the performance, Mitsuhi is certainly ready for the full dress rehearsal. It'll just be a matter of learning the lines, but it should be no trouble for the legendary Sharingan Kakashi, eh?"

Kakashi mumbled something about frightening kunoichi under his breath that got him (carefully, so as not to damage the kamishimo) punched in the shoulder.


Outside of rehearsed scenes, however, Iruka found himself far too busy to speak to Kakashi – even if Ojiro was really a supporting character, he had to handle dispute resolutions between rowdy pre-genins, help locate missing jounin, oversee catering for rehearsals that dragged on through meals, counsel Kurenai during a minor disaster regarding accidental oil spatter on 'Shogun Asami's' kimono, and various other minor headaches that came from being a central aspect of the play's management. The other chuunin, especially the teachers, did try their best to help, but it seemed that somewhere down the line, annoyingly, Iruka became the final stage of adjudication.

Which was a pity, he had to admit to himself. Kakashi looked so handsome, in the formal samurai uniform. He had to rely on years of voice control from teaching unruly pre-genin classes not to show evidence of his heart skipping beats whenever 'Mitsuhi' had to lean close to 'Ojiro' to consult documents; during the choreographed fight; during the interrogation of Sakiko. And that normally lazy drawl, that slid so easily into a purr of menace… made him glad that the kataginu's sleeves hid his arms. Goosebumps. The slight flush he explained away as the costume being too warm.

Foolishness – Kakashi was famous for openly reading Icha Icha. Even if he was actually bisexual… but he had looked stunned, the first time he had seen Iruka in the kamishimo. Still… it could just be shock at seeing a ninja wearing a samurai's formal clothing. And he was jounin. But it couldn't hurt, could it, just to see if he could be interested?

After the fourth rehearsal of the Rumi-hime rescue scene, that went by with only the minor hitch of 'Rumi-hime' getting her kimono caught on a prop dagger and falling over onto an amused 'Sakiko', Iruka sank down in a chair next to Kakashi, and watched the other ninja tense almost imperceptibly. He kept his voice friendly. "Kakashi-sensei, would you like to go for dinner? We won't be due back for another hour."

Kakashi blinked. "In our… we're in costume."

"The play's not secret, despite the Academy's best efforts," Iruka said wryly. "No one would think it odd, and there's a really good udon stall close by. It'll be my treat, for helping us out."

Kakashi hesitated for a moment, and then dipped his head. "Okay."


"Who wrote the script, anyway?" Kakashi asked, just as the silence was edging from companionable to uncomfortable. They sat at a small table in the crowded, open-air udon stall, just next to the chaos of the kitchen, enjoying the tempura udon that the place was famous for.

Iruka drank a spoonful of soup, grateful for the conversation cue – he had found that his previous confidence had slowly ebbed away while leading Kakashi to the udon stall, and he had to actually exert effort not to stare at the other ninja while waiting for their food. "Oh. It was a joint collaboration between groups of the graduating Academy class – we picked the best one. This one was written by… Zakibi-kun, Reiji-kun and Sanae-chan, and edited by the chuunin Academy teachers. Then we had the students vote who to allocate to each role."

"Ah." Kakashi nodded absently, as he ate, the scarf folded on his lap. Iruka found his eyes tracking fine cheekbones and an elegant nose, skin pale from lack of exposure to the sun, and looked down at his food quickly. "I'm surprised you weren't voted into a main role, Iruka-sensei."

"Well… we stipulated that all the main roles were to be played by students," Iruka explained, "And that supporting roles by chuunin or jounin." Wryly, "And I have to admit, 'Ojiro' has some of the best lines in the play, sounding off 'Mitsuhi'."

Mitsuhi, the more powerful character, and Ojiro, the poor, mediocre samurai partner, yet in his own way just as (if not more) remarkable than the Mitsuhi character, serving as the invaluable aide. Chuunin, and jounin. Perhaps it was because of the three pre-genin who had written the play, only Reiji-kun had the potential to graduate to jounin, with his friends intent on supporting him through it. A child's play of societal perception with a curious resonance – which was why it had been selected over some other, more complex scripts.

"I see," Kakashi said, then grinned. "The role seems written for you."

"I sometimes suspect it might be," Iruka admitted dryly, "Especially how Sanae-chan giggles each time she sees me in this outfit."

"Well… er… it looks really good. On you," Kakashi said, somewhat awkwardly, then he ducked his head quickly over his food, to hide a flush. "Maa. I've said that before, haven't I."

"So do you," Iruka pointed out, deciding to have some mercy on Kakashi, "It could just be the kamishimo." He smiled, and watched the single eye widen.

Kakashi nodded slowly, apparently not trusting himself to speak. Despite the poor start to the dinner, Iruka congratulated himself on the information gained. Kakashi was interested.


The next rehearsal, 'Mitsuhi' was standing a little too closely to 'Ojiro' than was really appropriate, for the speech, during the map-reading scene.

The second day, Iruka found himself taking time off his breaks to watch 'Mitsuhi' rehearsal scenes.

On the third day, Iruka noticed that the female audience congregation for 'Mitsuhi' scenes had also increased by a disturbing amount, and felt jealous, and oddly threatened, and had to have a long, quiet think, at home, next to the 'fridge, the cool, smooth surface allowing him to sort out his thoughts. He didn't have any right, or reason – not yet, anyway.

Four more rehearsal days, and Kakashi was offering to walk Iruka home, at night, because he lived 'close by' (really more like halfway across the village, Iruka found out, the next morning, with discreet inquiries).

The fifth day of semi-full dress rehearsals, Iruka found himself suddenly, dreadfully busy, sorting out last minute disputes over costumes, little spats that had broken out between extremely competitive children vying for stage placements, and concerned parents over the little sleep their sons and daughters were having, excited over the play as they were. On retreating to his dressing room, with no time to go out for dinner, he noticed a discreet package of fragrant oden and a little scrap of paper with a sketch of a scarecrow, left on the dresser.

The sixth and final day before full dress rehearsals, 'Mitsuhi' no longer needed any scripts or prompting for any lines, and the female congregation was beginning to whistle and cheer. Very unsettling.


The first full dress rehearsal went without any major problems (other than the usual occasional backstage problems that the chuunin teachers managed to sort out). There were some cues taken too soon, or too late, some children and jounin had an attack of nerves, despite the lack of any actual audience (outside of said female congregations), and there was a near-avoidance of a paint accident with Rumi-hime's kimono. Also, it had taken a lot of convincing to restrain Gai-sensei from making any loud encouraging comments from the audience whenever Kakashi came on stage.

When the curtain fell, Iruka was the first to sink down to his knees in relief, ignoring how it might crinkle his hakama. One of the chuunin teachers, dressed as a servant, laughed, and clapped him on the shoulder, before walking off to find a drink. "Maa. If it would only go like this on the actual day, I would be so happy."

It hadn't been meant to address anyone, but Kakashi was suddenly on his haunches, grinning playfully at Iruka. "Even if it isn't, I'm sure you – and the other teachers – would be able to sort things out."

Like many of the other jounin, involvement in the play had come with a sober realization of how capable the chuunin really were, at least in handling matters that had nothing to do with paper scroll missions. That was a good thing about the play, despite the hassle and the lack of resources due to the rebuilding effort, at least, in the wake of all that business with Orochimaru and the excitement over getting used to the new Hokage.

"I hope so," Iruka muttered, stretching, then finally straightening up and rubbing the small of his back. "Want to go out for celebratory drinks, Kakashi-sensei? I think most of the others are coming, once we get the children home."

This time, Kakashi hesitated so long that for a moment, Iruka felt he wasn't about to agree – then he nodded, slowly.


The reason for that presented himself with the barely veiled surprise with which some of the jounin, especially, looked at Kakashi, when all of them headed to the closest bar, and how the Sharingan user seemed somewhat uncomfortable in the company of so many, for a purely social purpose. Iruka felt a little guilty for asking Kakashi along, then felt annoyed at himself for feeling guilty – why in the world should he have to excuse that? Every man had to have some form of social life, to be healthy. And surely the others merely had to get… used, to Kakashi in this context – no doubt with his childhood, fast-tracked through the Academy and the varying ranks of ninja, Kakashi hadn't had the opportunity to develop his social circle or skills, but that was hardly his fault, and… and so, he had no need to feel guilty, for either side. Mulish, Iruka drank his beer in silence.

Still, as the tension seemed to creep in, uninvited, during the second round of drinks, Kakashi abruptly excused himself, pleading weariness. Iruka hesitated, when the jounin had left, listened to the sudden murmuring of gossip, and did so, as well, uncaring of how it may appear. He caught up with Kakashi after a street. "Hey."

Kakashi blinked. "Iruka-sensei. Weren't you…?"

"Oh. No, I'm not that good with alcohol," Iruka said, allowing for half-truths, "And I need to keep a clear head tomorrow. It's only a couple of days until teacher's day, and there are still things to sort out."

"Ah," Kakashi said, noncommittally. "Um. See you tomorrow, then."

"I'll walk you home," Iruka said, giving in to impulse, and grinning when Kakashi arched an eyebrow at him. "I haven't, before."

"Oh. Er. But my house is in a mess, and it smells of dogs, and, er, I think I should walk you home instead, Iruka-sensei," Kakashi protested, very quickly.

"I don't mind," Iruka replied, with a quick smile. "I've visited a lot of children's rooms, by invitation or for extra tutoring, it can't be any worse. And it'll only be fair – you've walked me home before."

"Ah. Eh. All right," Kakashi said, a little reluctantly, in the face of Iruka's surface calm.


Kakashi fumbled with the lock to his house, muttering to himself, and when he finally opened the door, stood at the frame, hesitating. Then he peered at his fingers, looked back up at Iruka, very slowly, then murmured, "Tea?"


Kakashi's place did indeed smell of dogs – the reason was immediately apparent, with a large, blue-eyed husky on the single settee, which regarded him solemnly as he walked in – white fur splashed with chocolate brown over the muzzle, eyes and spine. The large tail wagged, once, then the dog lay its head back on its paws, as Iruka approached, carefully. It made a soft sound of contentment, when its ears were scratched, and shifted on the sofa, allowing Iruka to sit down.

Closer up, he noticed the husky's left hind leg was oddly crooked, as if it had been savagely broken at some point. A snuffle at his feet made him look down – a tiny one-eyed Yorkshire, begging to be lifted into his lap. As he obliged, he noticed that of the five or so dogs that could be seen in the living room, regarding him with amiable curiosity, all of them seemed to be disabled in some way – missing paws, broken legs that had set badly, scarred, limping, or, in the case of one quiet spaniel slouched against the single bookcase, simply elderly. The simple furniture in the house was scratched and occasionally chewed, and the plain dark brown rugs seemed to be chosen simply because they were easy to wash and difficult to stain.

The small one-story house had, however, a garden of decent size – from what Iruka had seen of it on the way in – likely expensive property in total, though affordable with a jounin's pay, probably. There were framed pictures on the walls – one of Kakashi's dog summons, one of Team Seven, one of what looked like the genin team Kakashi had once been part of, and a framed scroll of a painted celestial hound. An ANBU mask hung above the bookshelf, and a katana was displayed underneath the framed picture of the summons. The single low square table in the room had a sleeping, whipcord-thin mongrel dog of varying shades of gray on it, the three paws it still possessed up in the air.

Kakashi himself eventually emerged from the kitchen, partitioned off by ricepaper walls, balancing a tray of tea and cookies. A soft word to the dogs quieted their inquisitive barks, and a gentle nudge woke the mongrel from the table – it snorted at him, slipped off, and under. "Tea," he said, somewhat unnecessarily. "Um. I see you've met Rumo and Haruki." Gestures told Iruka that 'Rumo' was likely the husky, and 'Haruki' the tiny terrier in his lap.

Placing the terrier on the settee, Iruka knelt down at the table, following Kakashi's cue, watching tea being poured from the plain, slightly cracked teapot into cheap porcelain cups with a mildly disturbing bright blue floral design. As he sipped, he said, "These aren't… these are normal dogs, aren't they?"

Kakashi nodded. "Quite a few of them either rejected by their owners – injured or old dogs can be a hassle to keep, and it's hard to have a lot of free time with what we do – or their owners have passed away and their relatives don't want to put in the effort." Wryly, "The Inuzuka family tries to help, but their dogs are… special, and don't particularly enjoy the company of 'normal' dogs. Still, Kiba-kun, especially, comes around to walk these when I'm away on missions, or busy."

"Oh." Iruka contemplated this information as a rheumy-eyed Jack Russell attempted to climb into his lap. "Um, then the play – the rehearsals, really are… well, they're sort of full-day things, lately, especially since it's the school's one week Autumn Festival break…" Teacher's Day, this year, was on the eye of the height of the Autumn Festival – and the play one of the village's highlights, at least for the children.

"It'll be over in a few days, neh?" Kakashi's eye crinkled, over his teacup – the mask had been pulled down. The husky moved a little awkwardly from the settee, limping over to Kakashi and resting its muzzle on a shoulder to be petted. "And, like I said, some of the Inuzuka family do come around to help."

Iruka finished his tea in the silence that followed, then said, "So, what are their names?" just as Kakashi murmured, "Iruka-sensei…"

"Ah! Er… you first," Iruka smiled, quickly.

Kakashi stared at him thoughtfully, for a moment, and then he smiled faintly. "No, it's not important."

As he learned the names of each canine, Iruka couldn't help but think that he had just let something important slip away.


The day before the play, a stray cat frightened into the theatre did irreparable damage to a rice paper wall prop that was supposed to be the main piece signifying the 'Shogun Hall' setting. Soothing panicky feathers, helping to locate appropriate rice paper, paints, and overseeing the reconstruction of the prop took up most of the day. His nerves in shreds at the end of the day – though the replacement prop, at least, seemed to be shaping up in time for tomorrow – he stumbled, for the first time in a week, over his lines.

At least he wasn't the only one in trouble – but Kurenai said, reassuringly, to all the actors, that the last rehearsal usually was the worst one, and told them all to take an early night.

On the way out, Iruka wasn't sure whether or not to be thankful for Kakashi's company – mentally and physically exhausted, he realized only sublimally that he had walked them to Kakashi's house, instead of his apartment. Inside, he curled up on the settee, next to the husky, and fell asleep instantly.


He woke up early next morning as part of his warm blanket shifted and rolled, causing him to fall off the settee and onto his face. Disorientation and panic as his limbs tangled in fabric caused him to yelp and sit up, then he flinched as he realized he was then staring straight into a face of a very large, bemused dog. The husky flicked a pink tongue at Iruka's nose, then padded off slowly towards the kitchen, where the scent of frying bacon caused his stomach to growl.

It seemed during the night Kakashi had somehow managed to remove his flak jacket – it was folded, on the table, with a Scottish terrier sleeping atop it – and had placed a blanket on him. Smiling a little foolishly to himself, warmed at the concern, Iruka folded the blanket into squares and placed it on the least fur-covered part of the settee, ambling towards the kitchen.

Kakashi, clad in faded track pants and a rumbled, open shirt, looked over his shoulder when he entered, and gestured at the small table against the wall of the kitchen with his chin. Dogs of varying sizes and infirmities already clustered under and around it, expectantly – Iruka noticed a few that he hadn't seen before, a little wet from a garden romp. He poured coffee for himself from the pot, and drank, enjoying the sheer domesticity the scene presented, as well as the occasional flashes of a washboard stomach as Kakashi reached for chopped ingredients in a bowl on the counter.


The play went off so perfectly that Iruka felt it was surreal, giving his final bows with 'Mitsuhi' to thunderous applause in the packed theatre, blushing and picking out familiar faces in the crowd. He wished Naruto was here – Sakura looked a little strange, sitting without Sasuke or Naruto, in the row behind Tsunade-sama as befit her pupil, but she seemed, at least, for this moment, free of the melancholy that seemed to linger around her features.

At their final bows, in the line behind 'Rumi-hime' and the other students that made up the main cast, he felt Kakashi's hand brush against his own and give his fingers a light squeeze, masked from anybody who might see by the long sleeves of the kataginu, and the silent invitation and question made Iruka's breath catch, in his throat. He knew Kakashi was watching him through the corner of his eye – he smiled, and mouthed 'Tomorrow'. Tonight, there would be a large party in celebration of the solstice eve and the success of the play – Tsunade-sama would be in attendance, even, and skipping out would be difficult.

Kakashi seemed apprehensive at the number of people who lined up to take photographs with him and 'Ojiro', during the party, and the series of suddenly friendly conversations, unused to this sort of social attention, and far out of his depth – Iruka grinned, deciding, under the influence of sake, simply to watch – and procure some photographs afterwards with the promise of film. Properly developed, he had space on his walls for a frame or two.


Iruka couldn't keep himself from covertly admiring his companion through the solstice celebrations – Kakashi had somehow acquired a deep green yukata decorated with pale green leaf embroidery that matched the pale blue scarf around the lower half of his face, a silk headband over the Sharingan eye. Iruka himself wore one of his father's old yukatas – dark red, almost black, with sea surf designs on the hems. As they browsed the stalls set up on the main street for the day, he found Kakashi always finding some sort of reason to brush against him.

He tried to tell himself that it had only been a week and a couple of days – it was too fast, too odd, too uncomfortable, but as a hand slipped unobtrusively to the small of his back, in the press of bodies that watched the fireworks at midnight, Iruka knew he was going to ask. Tonight.

As they walked back to his apartment, Iruka thought of at least seven different ways to start going about it, but at the doorway, a little shyly, Kakashi bent down, pulled away the scarf, and pressed a tentative kiss on his lips. When the jounin purred, he knew that he never really had to verbally say anything – he had already asked, and Kakashi had heard. Acceptance was sweet, and tasted of sake and yakitori.

He found himself thankful for the uncomplicated nature of fundoshi and yukatas, as they tangled, limbs and breath, on the narrow bed, clumsy kisses and careful caresses, soft laughter and startling pleasure. Traced scars and muscle, and kissed over the closed, scarred eye, met parted lips with a questing tongue. When Kakashi moved within him, he snapped his head back with an open-mouthed moan of ecstasy and pain. It had been far too long – since he had this sort of bliss and gentleness, this sensation of falling towards inevitable infinity.


When he woke, it was to the scent of frying bacon.