I do not own Naruto...

Pairings: YAOI!!!! KakaIru, KoteIzu, GenRai, (also het: AsuKure, JijiTsu)

italics: people's thoughts...


Winter Blues

"It's raining. Again." Tsunade sighed, as she shifted her chin from one hand to the other. Doing her Kage duties - signing papers, welcoming newcomers, chatting up a daimyo - had always bored the feisty blonde - but sitting in front of a desk with nothing to do...

Is even worse...

And the sound of heavy torrential rain... is getting on my nerves...

"What I need... is sake..."

After rooting around fruitlessly, Tsunade slumped back in her chair and then swiveled around to stare out the heavily rain-streaked windows. She couldn't see ANYTHING.

And everyone else - all the civilians, farmers, nins, criminals - are probably ALL sitting and looking out and feeling bored...

It was winter in Fire Country - and the heavy torrential rains had come. Bringing with it sneezing, cold feet, general dampness, depression, angst and... the flu...

Really amazing, Tsunade thought, how nins are so rekless... it comes to seasonal illnesses...

"Tsunade-sama..."

You'd think as adults they'd be more careful. But, oh no... you get people like Gai who ignore the craziest weather conditions when training - or Kurenai, who's always undressed, in my opinion - and Kakashi, moping at the memorial stone in the rain...

"Tsunade-sama..."

I understand if the Genins got sick... or even Chuunin - some of them are still in their diapers...

"Tsunade-sama..."

Well - okay - Senseis could be excluded. Take Iruka... or Ebisu... Stress alone probably lowered their immune system - which is why the school's closed and everyone's at home in bed... except for me...

Of course.

"TSUNADE-SAMA!!!!"

Yep, it's just me. Why aren't I in bed? Perhaps I should get the flu...

"TSUNADDDDEEE-SSSAAAMMMAA!!!"

"Eh?"

Tsunade jerked up in surprise - to meet the irritated dark eyes of Shizune - and the meeker brown eyes of Iruka. Both rather damp and smelling like of that moist, sweaty odor of rain.

"Iruka." Tsunade leaned back frowning. "You're up!"

"Sorry. I felt better so... I... well, uh... I got bored of listening to the rain, so... I thought you might need some help..."

The Chuunin looked around the stark room and at the bored face of his Kage.

Tsunade sighed. "I see. Well... I'm glad to hear that you are better. We need help, too..." She waved a hand vaguely at nothing.

"- To sit around on our asses," grumbled Kotetsu, strolling in with a HUGE stack of files, followed closely by his equally burdened partner, Izumo.

A chair flew past his ear and embedded itself in the wall.

Izumo nudged his loudmouth partner in the back.

"Whoops... did I say that aloud?" Kotetsu gasped.

Iruka, Shizune and Izumo shook their heads, Tsunade shook her fist.

"I see you two jokers are alive and well - and in fine form too!" the famous Academy sensei cocked an eyebrow at his fellow Chuunins.

"And with too much time on their hands," snorted Shizune.

"Somehow," Izumo grunted. "We're surviving - no thanks to Tetsu's mouth. Get him killed one of these days..."

"That I believe," Shizune said tartly. "Well, Iruka, like you two, has gotten better. With his help, we'll get through this in NO time!"

She nodded at the two piles of paper now set gingerly on the Kage's desk.

"Damn... more paperwork?" Tsunade glared at her (suddenly) full inbox.

"You looked bored."

"Shizune. You're a slave driver."

"Yes, yes... You're right, Hokage-sama..." Kotetsu and Izumo nodded, in fervent agreement with the Kage - no longer deceived by the apparent meek attitude of the Kage's assistant.

"I didn't ask YOUR opinion," Tsunade said tartly, eyeing the (suddenly) whimpering Chuunin's with approval.

"It'll be done in no time," Iruka agreed, flipping through the first folder. "Oh... it's a sick leave..."

"There's ALOT of them," Shizune explained. "You weren't the only one to spend alot of time in front of the toilet..."

"What a waste... Let'em be sick and have done with it..." Tsunade shrugged. "They'll be back."

"Ah yes, but there are some people who fake illness just to slack off..." (here, a glare at Kotetsu)

Said Chuunin gave a weak (and very fake) cough.

"So alot of processing and double-checking? Let's do it!"

Iruka rolled up his sleeves with determination.

Kotetsu and Izumo, eyeing their new partner, cringed.

"He is NO MAN!" Kotetsu whimpered. "That is a monster!"

-----

After three hours of hard work, running messages (Kotetsu and Izumo's job) and cross-referencing, all of the piles of paper (made up mainly of sick leave notes) had been processed.

"That's about it," Shizune heaved a sigh of relief.

"Don't you feel so good, now that's all done?" grinned Iruka cheerfully.

Kotetsu and Izumo who had wilted onto their chairs both groaned.

"Feel good?" Kotetsu growled. "I feel like shit!"

"Well, we're ssing the light at the end of the tunnel -"

"Oh, I'm seeing a light alright..." Izumo grumbled. "I'm half dead!"

Kotetsu chuckled, Iruka looked resigned.

"All we have to do is have these papers signed - and these... papers..." Iruka turned away from the pair of jokers to shuffle through his pile. "Mailed..."

"Oh... we might have to deliver them ourselves," Shizune sighed. "What with half the mail-nin down..."

She gigled at the sight of Kotetsu and Izumo's horrified faces.

"Joking!"

"Shizune," Izumo pleaded. "PLEASE don't do that again..."

"I had you there, right?"

"Dammit, woman. You want me dead?" Kotetsu shook a fist, anger re-energizing him.

Iruka picked up the last paper, a scribbled notice by a rather messy clerk - the scrawled kanji seemed rather hurried... no doubt written in a rush to make it to the bathroom...

A notice concerning the absence of one Hatake Kakashi.

Absent from work for two days.

"He's probably running late," Kotetsu flapped a hand lazily.

"Look at how he kept Shiranui-san waiting at the Chuunin Exam - of all things! What did he say -"

"A very trying man, I agree," Iruka nodded. "But - don't you find it troubling that he's been missing?"

The three other Chuunin looked at each other.

"Nope," they chimed in unison.

"After all, he may be annoying - but he IS an adult," pointed out Izumo sensibly.

"He is HATAKE-sama - a genius ninja - what could happen?" Shizune blinked.

Iruka let out a sigh of annoyance.

"He is a man - a man - who can't get a report in on time to save his life. He's not a god!"

"Soooo..." Kotetsu cocked an eyebrow.

"So maybe - maybe - he's on a mission gone wrong!"

"Or he's down with the flu," interjected Izumo, sensibly.

"Maybe he's been kidnapped!"

"Or he's down with the flue -"

"Maybe Orochimaru killed -"

"Orrrr..." Izumo sighed. "He's down with the flu... Hey... anybody think I'm a record player?"

"Izumo's got a point," Shizune sighed. "That guy probably hung around the memorial stone on a rainy morning one too many times..."

"Well," Iruka conceded. "That's as good a reason as any... I'll check on him myself... He might be out on a mission - or kidnapped - or yes, Izumo, ill - or he's slacking off like someone..."

"Heyyyy!" Kotetsu growled. "I was ILL!"

"Just not ill as long as you told Tsunade-sama!" Shizune smacked the loud-mouth Chuunin.

"Save me!" Kotetsu mock-wailed, clinging to Izumo.

"Yes, yes..."

Iruka sighed.

How does Tsunade-sama cope? I thought my class was bad!

-----

Tsunade was smart. Her great coping strategy consisted of two things: 1. errands, 2. sake.

Iruka had to forgo the sake, but he insisted on splitting up from the bunch after two or more - wasted - hours of gossipping and "information gathering" at the various sick houses and apartment buildings around town.

-----

Gai (between huge hacking coughs) had given a rather weak version of his springtime of youth rant - which lacked conviction due to his hogtied appearance.

"He won't stay in bed..." his rather (scarily uni-browed) sister told a rather frozen (in fascination) audience. "It was the only thing I could do..."

"We appreciate your... handiwork..." Iruka smiled weakly.

Izumo and Kotetsu tried to hide behind him.

The come-hither looks from the girl... were scary...

"- can't waste our youth with paltry sicknesses, now can we?" Gai was trying to argue with Iruka and sister at once.

"Eh?"

"GAAHHHH!!!! IRUKA-SENSEIII!!! You're learning well from my Eternal Rival!!!! SO HIP AND MODERN!"

The three Chuunin got his signature and retreated quickly, saying 'no' politely to multiple offers of tea.

-----

Genma and Raido were found snuggling in bed. Most of the conversation took place in their bedroom... Iruka didn't know where to look.

"I feel dizzy - light-headed - and had bouts of vomiting..."

"Here, too..." Raido agreed.

"Yuh-huh..." Kotetsu nodded. "Sure. You guys look real ill from here..."

The two special Jounin looked up at the three cynical Chuunin, looming over the foot of their bed.

Genma suddenly bolted to the bathroom - giving everyone a nice view of the Shiranui Junior in it's Splendidly Naked Glory.

At the sound of "BLLLERRGGHHHH!!!!", Iruka risked opening one of his eyes.

"It's over -"

"Awww... so young!" Raido laughed.

Iruka frowned as his face turned red.

"If you guys are ill - you're not treating it correctly - I'll get nurses over here - they'll have you ship-shape in no time."

"Make sure they're sexy!" Genma called weakly from the bathroom.

Leaving Genma's to his toilet meditations and Raido (who was stoicly finding a cooking pot for himself), Iruka could only shake his head.

Grown men, when sick... are like little children...

-----

Asuma proved Iruka's theory even further. But the Sarutobi was luckier than most - he had a younger brother and an older sister to keep an eye on him - as well as Kurenai.

"I'm over it," she protested. "Just a bit weak is all..."

"Well..." Iruka sighed. "We needed your signatures..."

"Good," Izumo nodded. "Less running around for us."

"I know just how you feel, Kurenai-senpaai," Kotetsu smiled.

"Kotetsu - shut up..."

"So cold, Iruka-sensei!"

Iruka gave Kurenai a "kill-me-now" look. The red-eyed Jounin smiled and shrugged.

"Well, Asuma-sensei," Iruka smiled as the man scrawled his name on the requisite scroll. "You're one lucky guy to have all these people..."

"Ahh... yes..." Asuma laughed - then coughed up a lung.

His face seemed redder.

Iruka left with a smile.

-----

The Nara's, for all the care the mother gave - seemed as if they were at death's door. Shikamaru took one look at Iruka's earnest face and rolled over.

"Another day..." He mumbled. "It's too troublesome to sign anything..."

The father didn't even poke his head out from under the blankets.

-----

Jiraiya was keeping himself occupied with two hot nurses. It took all of Izumo and Iruka to drag Kotetsu away.

-----

The Hyuuga butler received the scrolls, disappeared, then reappeared with everything signed.

"I trust everyone is doing okay?" Izumo asked carefully. "If there is any need for nurses or -"

"I-i-i-iruka-sensei!" Hinata gasped - coughed - and straightened up, looking very small and fragile in her light blue kimono.

"Hinata-sama!" The butler gasped.

"You should be in bed!" Iruka scolded, noticing her feverish face. "You look ill... I'll send -"

"It's fine," Neji said, appearing beside Hinata. "We're here to give support as necessary. I'll get Hinata-sama back to her room."

"You do that, Neji-kun," Iruka nodded.

-----

"Well, that's about everything..." Iruka sighed.

It was around seven o'clock and what little light there was gave away quickly to dark.

"You two can go home early and rest."

"Seriously?" Izumo blinked. "What about Kakashi-senpai?"

"I'll do that myself."

"Cool," Kotetsu grinned. "Have fun with that!"

"Ehhh?" Izumo shook his head. "Iruka's acting weird..."

"Well... of course." Kotetsu shrugged. "Genma-senpai told me once that Iruka had a crush on Kakashi-senpai."

"No way -"

"Hmmm..." Kotetsu nodded.

"That's - really unbelievable."

"Well... yeah... Genma-senpai was drunk, so I though so too..."

"Obviously. Remember that time he said Tsunade-sama was making out with Jiraiya-sama on her desk?" Izumo shook his head.

"That Genma -"

"Still... Iruka being so insistent... makes you wonder..." Kotetsu pointed out.

"Well," Izumo unlocked his apartment door. "What will be, will be - coming in?"

"Sure."

-----

Iruka found the apartment building quickly enough. In the heavy shower of rain, it looked dark, large and ominous. Once he was in the foyer, Iruka shook his umbrella and closed it - feeling for once tired, cold and damp. Perhaps it was the sight of the never-ending stairs.

And with my luck, his apartment is in one of the higher floors…

Kakashi's apartment was close to the top - by the time, Iruka got to the fifth floor, he was breathless.

No wonder the man is so fit...

But then, he probably uses his window more often than not...

Before long, Iruka found himself before a non-descript door. Uncertain, he stood there.

"He's not answering, dearie?" An old lady's voice asked.

Iruka stifled a yelp.

"Uh... well... I just got here to check up on him -"

"How nice..." The old lady smiled. "It's good to see the boy has some nice... friends..."

Iruka blushed.

"Oh - well - no - well, I'm more or less..."

An annoyance. Someone to be laughed at -

All the time I see him - it's like he's far, far above me...

Unreachable.

Untouchable.

Perfect.

Everything people respect, admire -

A genius.

Everything I'm not...

"Well, he wasn't looking too good to me," the lady was saying. "I think he got that nasty flu going around. But he's alone bug, is that one. Not one for dependency... so... I was worried. He's not been out for two days..."

"Hmmm... I'll have to get in then..." Iruka twisted the locked doorknob thoughtfully. "I've got some skeleton keys at home -"

"Oh well... if it's keys you're wanting. I've them here..."

Iruka suddenly took a good look at the grey-haired, bespectacled old lady.

"Name's Aiko. The landlady."

"Thak you for your help and concern, Aiko-san," Iruka smiled, accepting the spare key. "Hatake-san will really appreciate it!"

"Oh... I doubt that..." Aiko smiled. "But it's for his own good."

The gentle lady left Iruka alone to enter Kakashi's dark apartment.

-----

It was silent. Silent. Dark. And warm. Empty, clean - almost to the point of sterility. Empty...

A shadow rose - small and stout.

"Who - Iruka-sensei - that you?"

Iruka tried to remember the owner of the deep rough voice...

That dog... Pakkun?

"Kakashi... I'm looking for him..."

"Oh..." Here the dog sighed with relief. "Finally. Somebody came!"

"He's gone."

"No. He's here. Sick."

"Oh." Iruka drew closer. "So, Izumo was right."

"Eh?"
"Never mind. How bad is he?"

"Bad. I think. The young pup - he's not fond of hospitals - never had been since his mother died..."

"Ahhh."

"For as long as I knew him, he'd hole up in his bedroom when he got ill. Then, the Kage would come to drag him out - get him to the hospital and all - Or that weird Fuzzy Eyebrow Freak..."

"Eh heh heh... Gai-sensei..."

"That's him... or... that Senbon-sucking Jounin..."

"Genma-senpai?"

"Those two would be sent as well..."

"I see..." Iruka said rather grimly, thinking of the dead Kage, the sick Jounin who had been unable to help their friend. "Well. I'm here now. It's going to be alright, Pakkun."

"Sure."

Iruka leaned over the bed and peered through the dim light - to glimpse what looked to be a small grey bush poking out of a long round sausage.

Pakkun had snuck a paw under the blanket.

"He's hot," the small pug dog growled.

"And shivering - he's got the chills."

"Can you do anything?" Pakkun asked.

"Well... okay... let's see... we need, cold cloths, more blankets, warm water - soup - new clothes..."

Iruka peeled back the blanket.

"Ughhh..." He tried not to faint from the rathe sweaty, stale smell of work clothes. "He didn't change! I bet he's still got his shoes on!"

"Told you he was sick," Pakkun deadpanned.

"Pajamas, then - and a bath..."

"I'll go ask Aiko-san then, for the stuff..." Pakkun padded to the door. "The blankets, soup, cold clothes and - "

"Warm water - this place has no amenities?"

"Hm. No. This is a Jounin bachelor apartment."

Pakkun disappeared down the hall, while Iruka found the door to the bathroom. Running the water, the Chuunin busied himself with finding towels and shampoo.

And pajamas. Those were in a small chest. Under the bed. Rather musty smelling - and old.

Probably not his either. What DOES he wear to bed? His clothes? Ew... that's just wrong... Or...

Iruka was horrified at the thought.

Naked?

His face turned a bright red at the thought of Kakashi sleeping naked under a sheet - and - and -

Gah! ENOUGH OF THAT! GET A GRIP, IRUKA-SENSEI!!!

Back in the bedroom, Kakashi was stirring restlessly. Uncertainly, Iruka stood over him.

Should I wake him... or not? How heavy is he anyway?

His dithering ended quickly when Kakashi opened his eyes - groggy and uncertain. Hazy - glimmering - round - cute -

Iruka blinked at them impact of sick-chibi Kakashi eyes.

"Hey," Iruka said gruffly, frog in his throat.

A pause.

"I'm here."

He felt like an idiot -

"I'm here"? What kind of thing to say is that? Hello, Iruka - Get a grip! Seriously!

"I see..." Kakashi said in a really husky voice.

A pause.

Kakashi waited for the apparition to explain his presence. Unfortunately, said apparition was in seventh heaven imagining Kakashi saying his name in said sexy, husky bed-voice...

"Iruka-sensei..."

"Eh? What? Oh..." Iruka bent over the sick man. "You're ill, Kaka-sensei! You need help. Let me finish preparing your bath and then we'll get you into warm pjs and then..."

With that the sensei bustled away - leaving a (still) puzzled Kakashi. Fifteen minutes later, a red-faced Iruka was tossing the Jounin's clothes into a dirty hamper.

I saw HIS FACE!!!!!!! Kaka-senpai... he makes... Raido and Genma... look... guuuuuuu...

It took the landlady FIVE knocks to get Iruka's attention.

"About time," Pakkun said dourly.

"Ehhh... Pakkun-sweetie," Aiko-san smiled, while peering curiously into the (still) dim room. "He's probably run off his feet!"

"Hmmmm..." Pakkun mumbled, eyeing Iruka's star-struck eyes. "Where's Kakashi?"

"In the bath," Iruka blushed even redder.

"Ohohohoho!" Aiko smiled. "So competent! I'm sure you'll have that man in good condition in no time!"

Iruka smiled weakly.

"I hope so..."

"Well, dearie... here's the soup - and hot water - Pakkun. Why don't yo ugo sit by Kakashi -" Aiko was handing things off a small cart.

How the heck did she get all this stuff up here?

Iruka sweat-dropped.

I guess, Kakashi-sensei's got a fan...

Once Aiko-san was gone. Iruka finished up the dozy Jounin's bath with a quick shampoo. Wrapping Kakashi up in two kimonos (with 2 matching pants), he got the Jounin propped upon several pillows, wrapped in several blankets - with warm soup and some hot water for tea in canteen.

All set, Iruka thought cheerfully. And thanks to Aiko-san, I got some blankets and pillows for myself.

"Have some soup," Iruka suggested. It'll ease your throat... And some toast..."

"I feel hot -"

"You've got the chills."

"Seriously -"

"You want to go to the hospital?"

A silence, then: "No."

"Alright do as I say - bear with the blankets - you've got nausea - so soup broth will be okay - dizziness - you're off your feet - chills... I've wrapped you up warm... and... a slight fever."

"You sound like a nurse -"

"Hmmm..."

"Or..."

"Just stop trying to talk. Eat."

-----

After twenty minutes of agonizingly slow sipping (and munching), Iruka managed to get a fair amount of soup and tea down Kakashi's throat. The grey-haired Jounin leaned back with a sigh of contentment.

"See, that's not so bad," Iruka smiled, eyes freely wandering over the Jounin's bared face.

The grey hair stuck out all over the place now that it had dried. In the light of a small lamp, which Iruka had dug out from under Kakashi's bed - the Jounin's pale face didn't look so sickly. The black sash tied around his head to cover the Sharingan seemed stark all the same.

"Time for sleep..." Iruka said brightly, avoiding the questioning look in his senpai's eyes.

Don't ask me what I don't understand myself, Kaka-sensei...

Halfway though the night, Kakashi restlessly tossing and turning woke the light sleeper up. Iruka froze as he heard the deep, panting gasps coming from the bed - the incoherent mumbling...

Fear? No... this is... this is... Kaka-sensei...

Iruka rose, found the bed and gently rubbed the Jounin's shaking back.

"Kakashi... It'll be alright... it's going to be okay... wake up..."

"Moth-"

"Kakashi!"

The Jounin woke up suddenly - gasping as if he were suffocating. Turning, all Iruka could see was - terror mixed with wretchedness.

"Kakashi -"
Iruka without thinking moved closer onto the bed, arms open to draw the Jounin closer.

Only to get himself splattered from the waist up with vomit.

"Oh shit!" Iruka couldn't help but start laughing.

Kakashi's face was study of nausea and mortification, the terror fading away in the ridiculous, humiliating moment.

"Sorry, Iru-"

Iruka caught the next bout adeptly with a handy bowl.

"It's okay," Iruka positioned Kakashi more comforably. "This way it gets out of your system."

Iruka's laissez faire attitude fell on deaf ears - but eventually Kakashi stopped apologizing. Iruka cleaned himself, the top blanket and the bowl, while chatitng to the stricken Jounin.

"It's like when you get drunk, right?" He said comfortingly. "I'm sure Genma-san and you've had lots of experience -"

Kakashi picked at the fluff balls on his new top comforter.

"I don't."

"Eh?"

"I'm not."

A pause.

"Used to stuff like that... I don't... it's rare for me to get drunk - or - or... be ill..."

"Hmmm... I see..."

"I'm sorry," the Copy Nin reiterated, miserably.

"That's okay, Kakashi-san. I'm more worried about you. Are you okay? You were -"

Kakashi stared harder at his blanket.

"I saw my mother sick again. That's all." He laid back and closed his eye. "And - what with this all happening - it should be Kakashi, don't you think?"

"I'm honored," Iruka smiled at Kakashi's attempt to be friendly.

A silence.

"Well... I'm grateful," Kakashi said slowly. "Things would've gotten seriously bad without you here..."

Iruka blushed. "I'm only too glad to help."

"Ahhh..."

A pause.

"Why?" Kakashi asked, at length.

"Huh?"
"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why help me?"

He has the tenacity of his hunting dogs, Iruka sighed inwardly.

"Oh, well... Sakura came and helped me when I was sick. And I realized that - well - I didn't know if there was anyone to take care of you... so..." The Chuunin blushed at the memory of Kakashi in the tub.

"Why think at all?"
"Oh... well..." Iruka's face turned even redder. "I don't know..."

Damn ANBU interrogations...

"Hmmm..." Kakashi opened his eye to watch Iruka twiddle his fingers. "Perhaps my charm encouraged your sense of charity?"

"Charm?" Iruka blinked, then laughed. "Ahaha! That's funny!"

"You're not supposed to laugh..."

Iruka smiled.

"I don't know. Seriously... maybe... because you're memorable - no - that'd be Naruto - no. I think... it's because I know what you really are deep down inside."

"Eh? You know something about me that I don't know about?"

"Hmmm... well. I know that behind the mask of genius is a lonely boy. Like me."

"Ah. You've thought alot about this, then?"

"Maybe."

"It's, how can I say this... an obsession for you, then?"

Iruka blushed (again).

"No. It's just..." He scratched his scar thoughtfully. "I thought you'd like a friend -"

Iruka jumped as a cold hand found his under the warm blankets.

"So when I heard you were absent, I was worried. That you'd gone - well, that you'd died without me getting to know you better. And Izumo and Kotetsu were probably laughing up their sleeves at my behavior but - you know - in a way, I WAS right - you DID need my help. And I'm glad - because I guess - I guess - you're more important to me than I realized. I know this is sudden - but - all those times we talked... well... more like argued... but anyway, I thought - wow, he's an amazing person! Well - the emphasis is person because at our first meeting, you seemed kinda inhuman to me... but I was wrong - you are just like me. You need me - so. Yeah. I guess. I do love you..."

"Zzzz... Zzzzz... Zzz... Zzzzzz..."

The soft sound of snores jolted Iruka out of his long-winded ramble.

At first the Chuunin felt like screaming.

THE DAMN HATAKE! FALLING ASLEEP IN THE MIDDLE OF A LOVE CONFESSION!!!!

And I had just gotten up the nerve - my heart was RACING, DAMMIT!

But looking down at his sleeping patient - at the wild hair, and slack, child-like face, Iruka couldn't help but smile.

Another day, then... another...

Iruka paused as he realized his hand was STILL lightly clasped in the Hatake's hand.

We're holding hands! Cold-hearted Hatake is holding my hand!

And suddenly, everything seemed alright.

Grabbing his blanket off the floor, Iruka managed to make a space on the small mattress beside Kakashi.

It would work out.

They would make it work out.

-----

"So, Genma was RIGHT!" Izumo said, watching Iruka chatting animatedly to kakashi in the Ichiraku Ramen Shop. "Iruka HAS CRUSH!"

"Who would've thought?" Kotetsu shook his head. "I thought Kakashi-sama was "that annoying man"..."

"Hmmm..." Tsunade shrugged. "Love is strange, right, Izumo?"

"Errrghhh..."

"Eh? What, Izumo? You fell for someone and didn't tell me?" Kotetsu blinked, partially out-raged.

Izumo turned red, glared at Tsunade, then, sighed.

"Yes. Very strange..." Tsunade turned back to watching the two ninjas talk. "Hey... did you see that?"

"No way..." Kotetsu leaned forward.

"Let's bet..."

"Oh no," groaned Izumo.

"Who's gonna initiate the next footsie... Kakashi? or Iruka?"

"Kotetsu..."

"I feel lucky today," Tsunade sighed.

-----

Several hours later, with Kotetsu a little poorer (and Tsunade worried, because she won the bet...), the two errand boys parted way with their Kage (now busy yelling at Genma and Raido who'd skipped work several days...).

"So Genma was right..." Izumo reiterated. "Does that mean -"

"No waaayyyy..." Kotetsu murmured. "That's -"

"Just wrong?"

"Hmmm... yes."

"It's interesting to think on," Izumo stroked his chin.

"That is the way of darkness... Izumo. Don't go there!"

"Of course not! Do I look like an idiot to you?"

"..."

"Hey! You're supposed to say 'no'! Get back here, Tetsu! Now! I'm the smarter one of us! I'll always be smarter!"

---

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