Iruka leaned his forehead against the smooth hard paint of his front door as he fumbled for his keys. They were in his shuriken holster, all the way down at the bottom. Stupid stupid to drop them in there. And it wasn't as if it was the first time either. The last time he'd done it he'd ended up with a cut on his thumb that had hurt like hell, and bled all over his groceries, and forced him to hold his chopsticks funny, for a week, which had amused Naruto no end.
But then again he'd been unusually… distracted when he'd hurried out the door that morning.
Hell he'd been distracted all day.
Did he still have four days to get the bells, or just one? If only he'd asked Kakashi when he'd had the chance. Of course he'd pretty much assumed that the three days taken up by Kakashi's mission wouldn't count. But the more he'd thought it over the more he'd realized that when it came to the Copy Nin you couldn't assume… anything… ever. So, was he up against a deadline, or did he still have time to plot?
Time, that was the rub. He just needed more time. But somehow time never seemed to be on his side. It had the most annoying tendency to shrink to nothing and disappear when he was enjoying himself, but stretch on forever when he was not. The past eight hours for example seemed to have taken up half a lifetime.
The kids had been particularly restless and impossible with their relentless obsessing over his self-imposed 'mission', even for kids, even for ninja kids. Of course he couldn't really blame them. He'd been the one to ask for help in getting Kakashi's bells after all. He'd carefully avoided saying exactly why he wanted them, but more than a few of his students had pretty much guessed.
He sighed a bone weary sigh. If he was going to absentmindedly doodle hearts and cutesy pictures of spiky haired masked jounins, he supposed he really shouldn't draw them on the blackboard.
But the kids he could deal with, he did every other day. It was his obsessing over that same spiky haired masked jounin that was eating him whole, from the inside out, starting with the parts of his brain responsible for forming coherent thoughts.
Just as his fingers made contact with something he recognized as his key-chain, the door swung open and he found himself pressed against a warm body. Lean, scrawny, all muscle and sinew… Hayate.
"Oh hey, you're still here? That must have been quite a lover's tiff if you're still hiding out from her."
Hayate gave him a cool unflustered look, but then all of his looks were pretty cool and he'd never once seen Hayate flustered in the nearly twenty years he'd known him.
"No, I should be forgiven by now. Yuugao will still be out training with her squad, probably won't be back for another hour at least. And I've got a message for you. From Kakashi."
Iruka couldn't help it, just the sound of the man's name made him glow. Was he a pushover or what?
Hayate chuckled as he ushered him in. "Damn you've got it bad Ruka. I swear if you don't win this showdown I'm taking a three month mission out of here. You're gonna be so pissed you'll make the whole village miserable. I'm really gonna pity those poor brats you teach."
Iruka's semi functional brain had somehow picked out the one relevant word. "Showdown? What showdown?"
"Oh yeah, Kakashi's message. Tell you what, why don't you sit yourself down and I'll make you a nice hot cup of tea."
A moment later Hayate was shoved hard against the wall, but not in a good way, as Iruka glowered down at him from his two inch advantage in height. Well five if you count the ponytail.
"Spill it jounin. Exactly what did Kakashi tell you to say?
Hayate tried not to look too intimidated, as Iruka had so conveniently pointed out, he was the jounin.
"Weell, he's too tuckered out to do anything today. And he said something about a final showdown to settle things one way or the other… tomorrow. Since tomorrow's the last day of the challenge. A showdown at high noon. That was it. I guess noon's the traditional time for showdowns. Or something."
Iruka slackened his grip and wandered into his small living room to sink onto his couch. So he did have just one more day. He knew he should be disappointed but somehow it seemed as if it had been inevitable all along.
And a showdown? At high noon? What the hell did that mean?
And no kakashi until tomorrow.
"Damn. And I was hoping to see him tonight."
He looked up at Hayate, who'd followed him, now that it seemed safe. "Perhaps you wouldn't mind making that tea now?"
Hayate grinned back down, showing way too many teeth. "No no Ruka-kun, you weren't hoping to see him tonight, you were hoping to fuck him tonight."
The grin widened from extremely amused to positively shit-eating.
"Hey now, don't bother getting all coy with me Iruka. I remember what it was like, a quick taste when he gets back after a few days out on a mission, just enough to leave you all hot and bothered until you can get him on his own, somewhere private, clothes optional. And then nothing, because he gets called into some high level strategy meeting, that happened a lot back then. Or because he's taken yet another jutsu or kunai or something within a hair of a vital spot, to save a teammate, and he's in the hospital."
Iruka's eyes widened to the size of salad plates as the implications of Hayate's little revelation descended on him like a truck full of bricks from the heavens. "You what? You remember! You mean you… you and Kakashi?"
Hayate had been gazing into the mid distance, or would have been if the tiny room had had one, but now he focused right on Iruka's face, staring him down, as if he'd been given a dare.
"Sure, we had a fling, a few years back. You think you're the only one around here who can appreciate a perfectly shaped arse?"
Iruks paled. And he'd left Hayate with Kakashi all morning, all day for all he knew, wearing nothing but a towel. "But… but Hayate, you aren't gay!"
Hayate shrugged. It looked as if he was aiming for nonchalant, but Iruka was sure he could detect a hint of defensiveness somewhere in there too.
"True. Matter of fact I'm not even really bi. But hotdamn, you know, Hatake Kakashi! You've seen him naked. The first time he took off his mask was enough for me."
Iruka was suddenly finding it exceptionally difficult to breath. "He… he took off his…"
Hayate slapped him on the back. If Iruka's eyes had been open just one size wider they'd probably have been knocked clean out of his head by the jolt.
"Don't look so shocked Iruka. Although I must admit it's damn cute on you. It was when we were both in ANBU. Those porcelain masks are hot as hell when you're running, or fighting, or both. Regular sweat traps, and of course the fool had his other one on underneath… Then again, the fact that we'd been out in the wilds together for three weeks on one long adrenaline high might have been a factor."
Iruka took a deep breath as he tried hard to banish the image of Kakashi and Hayate, in ANBU blacks, going at each other like rutting tigers in a billowing haze of testosterone fog.
He couldn't afford to miss his last chance of getting Kakashi's bell by being carted off to the hospital for massive blood loss.
"So… um, you er, you and Kakashi…"
Hayate was looking way too wistful for Iruka's liking. "Funny isn't it, and now I'm engaged to Yuugao. Hard to believe. I always thought I'd end up with a cute little red headed civilian girl, with freckles. Remember her?"
He did. The memory from happier childhood days slipped into the rift that had opened between them. In some strange way it sealed up the breach, glue to keep their friendship whole.
"Yeah, she's been married for years. Got four kids already."
"Sooo… you and Kakashi… how long?
"Couple of years. Good years. But it was just a fling, nothing for you to get jealous over I promise. I mean it's not as if I was in his fanclub or anything."
Kakashi had a fanclub! Iruka took a deep breath, just how many revelations was he expected to handle in one day? Gods if only he'd known he'd have been their most loyal devotee. Under an appropriately untraceable false identity of course. The paperwork couldn't have been that hard to forge and he'd always rocked at henge. Gah… that was the price of not hanging around with girls.
But Hayate and Kakashi? It was still almost impossible to wrap his mind around.
A wicked question tickled his brain as he fought against the great grandmother of all blushes.
But he had to know.
"Um so um… Hayate, you and Kakashi, well…er… so… so who was on top? Obviously anyone would assume Kakashi, well he's the alpha of alphas, right? But then, you know… swordsman? No one with a grain of sense ever tries to stick a swordsman with anything so…"
Hayate at least had enough decency to colour a little in response, or maybe he'd just been caught off guard.
"Iruka! Hmm. Well one thing you'll get to understand about Kakashi, at least I hope you'll get the chance to understand, he likes to… experiment."
"You mean he…?"
"…And don't assume that everyone who's good with a blade is all hung up on that Freudian phallic nonsense either because…"
"So then you…?"
"Iruka. Ask Kakashi if you like. But I… will never… tell."
Hyate took his long katana from the corner table, withdrew it from its sheath and eyed its keen edge with a look that seemed distinctly intimate, even longing, despite his denial. Then he slid it back in, with a sensual thrust that was far too aggressive for anyone to misunderstand its not-so-hidden implications.
"Well I'd best be off. Gotta stop in at Yamanaka's florists on the way home. Say it with flowers, right. It's the only way with Yuugao, she never let's me get a word in anyways."
He vanished with a cheery wave. And he hadn't even made the tea he'd promised.
Iruka leaned back into his couch and groaned. Tomorrow. At high noon. Didn't Kakashi realize that he was still teaching at noon? What was he supposed to do, just run off and leave the kids to their own devices while he had his 'showdown'?
With a monumental effort he pushed himself to his feet and staggered into the kitchen to set the kettle on to boil.
Kakashi got up at dawn, significantly refreshed and if not exactly rested, in a hell of a lot better shape than he had been the day before. He spent three hours at the monument, four reading one of his favourite books in one of his favourite trees, then set off towards the academy. Ten minutes to spare, perfect timing.
He was almost there when something ran up against the edge of his warrior instincts. He froze.
Two shinobi, approaching out of the northwest One muscular, with the stiffness to his gait that came courtesy of scars from an old injury, but still strong enough to rip your head off with his bare hands. The other smaller, bandanna wrapped head, longish hair, lithe as a cat retrofitted with rubber joints in its legs.
Now now Kakashi, you've been back in Konoha for more than a day so get your head out of mission mode already, you moron.
He blinked twice. Ok, Raidou and Genma, coming right at him. No, they're leaning together for a quick kiss and Raidou is running off to the right. Which leaves…shit, Shurenai Genma.
Kakashi cursed his luck in half a dozen different dialects and languages, just what he needed, to run into Mr. Know It All himself, or at least Mr. Knows Far Too Much for anyone else's peace of mind.
Because if it was happening in Konoha, then you could be sure that Genma would know all about it. And he wasn't particularly discrete concerning exactly how much of that information he kept to himself, either.
He had time to spare, but not enough for this. Genma was much too good to fall for just any old evasions and obfuscations. But despite his misgivings he stopped at the jaunty hail.
"Hey Kakashi! Last day of the challenge right? So I take it you're on your way over to the academy to shove those bells in little Ruka-kun's fist, sling him over your shoulder and finally claim him as yours."
"Er, not exactly Genma."
A palm met the middle of his back with a hearty slap and there was a wicked point of steel twitching just beyond his longest lashes. Which was odd, because Genma was shorter than he was. Kakashi straightened his slouch just a tad.
"Then you're a bigger fool than even I ever took you for. Why would anyone turn down a hot little sensei like him?"
Why? All the reasons why suddenly threatened to overwhelm him. Beneath his mask his jaw clenched tighter than any vise, but he'd made a promise and he'd keep it. He'd give Iruka an honest chance.
Genma's expression suddenly became completely serious. It was something Kakashi had never seen before and never ever wanted to witness again.
"Kakashi. If it doesn't work out then it doesn't work out. Will you really be any worse off than you are now?"
Sadly he knew the answer to that one only too well. "Yes."
The senbon resumed twitching and a little of the familiar irreverence was back. "Yes? What the f… Why?"
Why? Five minutes to noon. Crap Kakashi, just tell him and get on your way.
"The truth is, at first I thought this week was going to be a regular blast, open season on teasing our 'hot little sensei'. But it didn't work out that way. If you must know, I really hope that I can have something with Iruka that's… good. For both of us."
Genma's expression became confused, which still looked out of place on him, if not anywhere near as unsettling.
"Genma-san, do you know the story of Pandora's box? Pandora opens the box and lets all the evils out into the world, and then hope comes out of the bottom of the box. Did you ever wonder what it was doing in there in the first place? Don't you realize that hope is the most devastating evil of all? Because without hope you'll never be disappointed."
Genma's confusion faded to understanding. "And once you have it, if you lose it you've lost everything."
"Whoa, Kakashi. If being a genius makes you come up with crap like that, I've never been more thankful for my average IQ."
Despite his carefree grin there was a lingering hint of sadness in Genma's eyes. "Well good luck then, I think."
Kakashi watched him saunter away. You know as well as I do that you've never been average in anything, Genma-san.
If he hurried he could still make it on time.
Iruka looked at the clock… again. Eleven fifty-nine. He stared out of his window at the empty playground with its lonely tree and lonely swing. In little over half an hour it would be buzzing with children chowing down their lunches and burning off the morning's inactivity. But right now there was no one in sight, not even one lone thistle-head of a jounin. He turned around and came face to face with…
Not three feet away.
Make that three inches.
No, one inch.
"Sooo, Iruka-sensei. Shall we do it?"
The jounin jingled his bells.
Iruka would have taken a step back, if his feet hadn't been rooted to the floor.
"You want to do it now?"
"In front of the children?"
There was a noise that sounded remarkably like a squee from the middle of the back row, where Hyuuga Hanabi was currently choking and gagging around the fist she'd shoved into her mouth. Somehow bloodshot eyes looked so much more… disturbing, when they were bloodshot all over.
Iruka could feel the back of Kakashi's nails snaking a path down the small of his back, round the curve of his buttock.
He sucked in a breath to keep from squeaking like a little girl as they followed the seam of his pants up his inner thigh.
The bells were jammed between their bodies. Kakashi had one hand on his shoulder, the one facing the class, thankfully. The other hand, well he'd be much better off if he didn't think about where that was right now. But Kakashi certainly seemed distracted, which made it the perfect opportunity.
With lightening speed he grabbed towards Kakashi's belt.
The tips of his fingers grazed cold metal, then long slender fingers were interwoven with his and Kakashi was squeezing his hand affectionately.
The bells were now in the jounin's other hand. He held them high and disappeared in a coil of smoke, feet first and bells last, giving them a little jingle just before they vanished.
Shit, what the hell?
Was that it?
Surely that couldn't count as a showdown. It had barely lasted more than a minute.
A silvery tinkle from the middle of the room informed him that it was far from over. The kids had heard it too. They sat in rigid silence, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or rather the other bell to ring.
And it did.
All faces turned towards Udon, Konohanaru's little sidekick. And the least likely kid to sir up trouble, ever. At least not on his own.
Iruka made an executive decision, he'd probable be fired if he was wrong, not to mention sued by the boys parents but… he pounced. To a roar of approval. Only to find himself crouched on the desk holding an armful of scrolls. As the noise died down Udon's muffled cries could be heard from where he'd been stuffed on the last shelf of the book case.
A three way substitution jutsu with delayed effect. Flashy.
Iruka glared around at the empty spaces in the room as he helped the little boy down. He polished the tears off his glasses for him as Udon wiped his eyes and nose on the back of his sleeve then scurried back to the relative safety of his seat.
There was another jingle.
This time it was from close to the ceiling, where Kakashi was now seated, cross legged, upside down.
Kids climbed up on the desks, on chairs on the desks, on other kids on chairs on the desks, in an attempt to reach him.
He vanished again.
Where was that sonofa…? Iruka spun around at the now familiar sound from behind him, only to grasp at air as Kakashi pulled back, just out of reach. Where he'd always been. Iruka poofed away and reappeared behind the Copy Nin.
But he'd been anticipated yet again.
His arms were wrapped, not around the Kakashi, but around a pert and pretty and unusually well developed future konoichi, with firm but full young breasts. One currently grasped securely in each of his sweating hands.
As he spluttered and apologized to Mai in utter mortification Iruka felt a prickle behind his eyes.
Ok, so he couldn't do it. He couldn't take Kakashi's bells. Hell the combined efforts or every ninja in Konoha couldn't take his bells. Which meant he'd never have Kakashi. And he'd almost deluded himself that he'd had a chance. Right, a sunbeam's chance in a blizzard in Snow Country.
But that didn't give the man the right to mock him, and it most certainly didn't give him the right to disrupt his class.
"Kakashi-sensei, either show yourself and we'll take this outside for a proper fight, or just get out. This is a school, not a circus, and we have work to do even if you don't."
Four Kakashi's appeared as if summoned, one in each corner of the room, and each jangling a tinkly little prize so temptingly. There was a roar of youthful voices and the already disorderly mob of students made a four-way split and surged towards them.
Then someone, from somewhere in the crowd, threw a kunai.
It shaved a few purple hairs from a little girl's head in passing, and with a poof and a dissipation of chakra, embedded itself in wall where a Kakashi clone had just been standing.
Iruka had had it.
He watched his student's severed hairs tumble to the ground, transformed into golden threads by light from the noonday sun as they fell through the still air.
And that was… most definitely… it.
"Everybody! Get back in your seats!"
No one saw him reach for them and no one saw him throw, but two kunai left the teacher's hand and in an instant dispatched the two remaining clones.
As his class scrambled to reclaim their seats Iruka advanced on the one Copy Nin still remaining.
He took a deep breath, every hair on his head bristling, every fibre in his body tensed tighter than a clockwork spring the instant before it breaks. His stance stiffened to that of a humanoid killing machine, his accusing finger as straight as the lasers that seemed to be shooting from his eyes.
"Hatake Kakashi! Never come into my classroom when I'm teaching and never ever do anything that might endanger my students!"
Kakashi could feel cold brick pressing up against his spine as he ran out of corner to back into.
He gave the bells in his hand a tiny conciliatory shake.
There was a titter from somewhere in the melee of students, followed by deafening silence as Iruka's eyes darkened to depths of fury usually only mentioned in tales about monsters around campfires.
He straightened his other fingers and uncurled his palm. "And give… me… those goddam… bells!"
Uh oh. Teacher voice, to the Nth degree.
The silver-haired jounin gulped and dropped two little tinkly bells into Iruka's outstretched hand.
Iruka wasn't exactly sure quite how the hell that had happened, but he as sure as hell knew he didn't care. He folded his fingers over his prize and grinned in triumph.
Hidden beneath his mask, Kakshi felt his face split into a matching grin.
Oh yes he had indeed.
Umino Iruka, chuunin of Konoha, had got him… by the bells.
And deep inside he knew he wouldn't want it any other way.
Well that's it folks. Thank you all kindly for reading all the way to the end,
See you next time, perhaps.