1: Stars:

The light of the stars takes so long to reach our eyes.

"You don't believe in me, do you?" asked the infuriating man who was squatting on Iruka's desk.

Iruka rolled his eyes. "You're keeping me from getting any work done by standing on my papers, so yes, obviously you exist."

"That isn't what I mean, and you know it," argued the other man, not budging.

"Just tell me what you want me to say so that I can say it and you can go away," Iruka said quietly, slumping in his chair.

"Oh, I don't know. For starters, maybe that I'm not lazy, worthless, perverted, and whiny," replied the man on his desk, that last word coming out with something that sounded very suspiciously like a whine indeed.

"Fine, Kakashi-san, you are not lazy, worthless, perverted, and whiny," Iruka said, pulling off a very good imitation of the whine itself.

Kakashi's cyclopean glower was not amused. "You are not convincing me," he said, in a very different voice, one low and threatening.

Iruka pushed himself away from the desk and stood. "If you won't let me finish my work, I'll just go home. I am not fighting with you again. You're just trying to get me angry because it turns you on, and I'm tired of your games," he said, as calmly as he could. His face was only slightly red, he hoped, and he hadn't raised his voice. Raising his voice might work well on just about anyone else, but not Kakashi.

Kakashi sprang off the desk and landed in front of Iruka, blocking his path. This was new. Following him around and pestering him Kakashi had been doing for a while now, but actually hindering his running away was definitely not the norm. The other man might be only slightly larger than Iruka, but the actual threat he posed was enormous. To Iruka's surprise, however, Kakashi's voice had a pleading tinge to it when he spoke again. "Will you stay if I'm good? What if I help you with your work?"

Iruka wasn't sure how to deal with this new approach. He rubbed his temple, the headache that had building there all day finally reaching a nearly unbearable level. "Go get me something for my headache, if you want to help, and then you can stay and talk to me while I finish up my work if you like," he said finally, wondering exactly what possessed him to treat a higher-ranked shinobi like an errand boy. Surely he wasn't going to get away with it, was he?

But he did. Kakashi nodded, turned, and bolted out the window. Iruka had just had time to settle into his chair, dust the footprints off his paperwork, and pick up his pen when Kakashi was standing before him with a glass of water and a couple of pill bottles. "I didn't know what kind you used, but I find it works best if you take two of each," Kakashi offered helpfully, handing the items over. Iruka nodded, took the offered medicine, and drank the water while Kakashi looked around the classroom as if deciding where to perch, now that Iruka's desk was out of the question. He finally settled on the floor beside Iruka's desk, a little too close for Iruka's comfort but not quite close enough that Iruka felt validated in asking him to move. Iruka figured he had calculated for exactly that effect, but admitted to himself that he might just be a little paranoid when it came to the quirks of Jounin. Especially this particular Jounin.

"What are you working on anyway?" Kakashi asked him casually.

"Modifying my schedule again," replied Iruka, writing as he spoke. "I have all this extra practice and tutoring I like to do, but all the extra work Tsunade-sama piles on me is starting to get in the way, so I'm trying to find time for everything. I'm going to have to drop something, I know, but I'm not sure what yet. I've been taking some of Mira-sensei's students for some of my practice sessions though, so I'm thinking we might just combine the two and then each only have to do half, if it can safely be done with the number of students that show up for them."

Kakashi cocked his visible eyebrow at Iruka. "You really do a lot of work, don't you, Iruka-sensei?"

The observation was made in a serious tone, more serious than Iruka had heard from Kakashi in a while. He stopped writing and set the paper aside, looking down at Kakashi. He felt awkward sitting in a chair while Kakashi sat on the floor, and even more awkward now that the man was talking seriously to him instead of just being annoying. "I suppose I do," he answered. "There's just always more work to be done, and I can't exactly say no."

"No wonder you think I'm lazy. All I do is go on some super-hard mission, kill a few people, and then I get to pass out from chakra depletion and rest for weeks or months on end. Except when I was training a Genin team, that was hard, but I didn't prove to be so good at that," Kakashi said. His tone was light, but his words seemed sincere.

That was enough for Iruka. "Kakashi-san, you're not lazy. Well, okay, sometimes you're lazy. However, most of the time you use your laziness and other obviously negative personality traits as a defense mechanism for dealing with your inability to interact properly with living human beings, and it's completely understandable. What isn't understandable is your strange fixation on a Chuunin teacher who is both very boring and quite beneath you."

Kakashi looked up, and said, "You're not beneath me, you're taller, see?" blithely.

Iruka groaned. "You're not going to explain this to me, are you, Kakashi-san?"

Kakashi shook his head emphatically, reminding Iruka very much of some of the younger kids he'd taught. "Nope, not going to explain it. Besides, you're the one who said I could stay," he pointed out.

"Yes, obviously I'm a masochist," Iruka muttered.

Kakashi looked curious. "Are you? I wouldn't have pegged you for one, personally. Then again, you do spend most of your time with kids, and that's pretty painful, so maybe…"

Iruka gave up. He wasn't going to get anything figured out with Kakashi chattering at him, and while the medicine was starting to work on his headache, what he really needed was dinner and not to be staring at paperwork. "Come on, I'm quitting for the night," he said, picking up his papers and locking them in his desk drawer.

"You can't! You're not done yet!" Kakashi cried, his voice sounding oddly panicked.

"My head hurts, so I'm done," Iruka said quietly. "Now, if you can talk softly, you can come to my place and have dinner with me, okay?" He was going to regret this. He regretted it already, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, but he was also honestly curious as to why Kakashi was obsessing over him. It wasn't about Naruto anymore, Naruto had left Konoha to train with Jiraiya a while ago now, and he wasn't due back for even longer. It might be simply a game to Kakashi, toying with the Chuunin, but that didn't account for this odd panic.

"I can be quiet if it means I get to eat dinner with you," Kakashi whispered, and something in his tone sounded almost reverent, and once again strangely childlike. He waited silently as Iruka gathered up his things, locked his classroom, and led them out of the Academy.

"What should I make for dinner?" Iruka asked as they left the school, but Kakashi shook his head.

"You can't make me dinner if your head hurts. Let's pick up ramen or something and bring it to your place to eat so it'll be quiet." Iruka started to protest, but Kakashi cut him off. "I'm buying. Just tell me what you want."

"Ramen is fine," Iruka said gratefully. He had planned on having something simple for dinner, but once had invited Kakashi, didn't want to seem rude. And he really didn't normally eat out except on special occasions now that Naruto was gone, so it was kind of a treat for him. He followed Kakashi to Ichiraku, noting with amusement how the Jounin's pace constantly changed, as if being very careful not to leave him behind. Ordering the ramen for take-out caused the owner to look at Iruka strangely, since he typically ate there, but the order was ready quickly and they were soon off to Iruka's.

Iruka's apartment was not a big place, nor was it particularly impressive. It was, however, rather homey. He found himself relaxing a bit once he was sitting at his own table, eating ramen, even if he did have an unexpected guest to deal with. Kakashi sat quietly while Iruka started eating, watching him carefully.

"Aren't you going to eat?" the younger man asked.

"Oh, yes, eat," Kakashi said. "Of course I'm going to eat." He looked indecisive for a moment, and then pulled down his mask and starting eating.

Iruka tried to be rational about this. Surely people saw Kakashi's face. Medics, if nothing else, considering how much time he spent in the hospital. Probably his friends, as well. Just because he had used hiding his face as a way to torture his students didn't mean that it was so special for anyone to see it, surely. But Iruka didn't know anyone who would say they had seen it, and had heard more than just Kakashi's Genin team speculating about what it looked like. It looked like a pretty normal face, as far as he could see, a handsome one definitely, but still just a face like anyone else's. Okay, a very handsome one, with a nice jaw line and soft-looking lips, but still… Iruka snapped out of it. Less staring, more eating, he told himself firmly.

"So, after dinner, would you like to go for a walk with me?" asked Iruka. It was a nice night, and the fresh air would probably be good for him. Besides, Kakashi was starting to get this kicked-puppy look like he expected to be asked to leave as soon as they were done eating, and it was too much for Iruka to deal with. He seriously needed to find out what was wrong with Kakashi, because this strange behavior couldn't be a good sign.

Kakashi's eye studied Iruka's face carefully, and then he quickly finished up his food and helped Iruka clean up. "Are you sure you feel up to a walk?" he asked.

"It's just a headache. Like you said, dealing with kids is painful. Real kids and adults who insist on acting like kids, so that covers all my jobs," Iruka said with a grin. "I think it'd be good for me actually, and I'd appreciate the company."

Kakashi smiled back, and Iruka thought he really did have a nice smile when you could see it. "Okay, then, Iruka-sensei, I'd be happy to come with you."

The sky was clear, and the sun was setting as they left Iruka's place. "Let's not go through town, too noisy," said Kakashi, grabbing Iruka's arm and steering him down a side street. Iruka wasn't very comfortable with the touch, but Kakashi seemed to be genuinely worried, so he let it go. He even let it go when Kakashi continued to hold onto his arm, for a moment anyway, and it was Kakashi himself who realized what he was doing. He looked at his arm as if it didn't belong to him, and then pulled it back, mumbling what Iruka assumed was an apology even though he couldn't really hear the words.

Before long, they were at the edge of the forest, and it was getting dark. Iruka paused for a second before stepping onto the path, and then turned to Kakashi and smiled. "Just a bit into the forest perhaps? It's such a pretty evening, and I know a great star-watching spot not far from here… they should be out by the time we get there."

Kakashi was of course wearing his mask again, but his eye lit up with joy. "Anything you want, Iruka-sensei."

Again that reverent tone, and Iruka found himself wanting to slap some sense into the other man. What was wrong with Kakashi, to act this way? He sounded almost love-sick, but surely that couldn't be it, could it? Perhaps it was Iruka's turn to tease the Copy-Nin, and see how he liked it, he decided. "Anything, Kakashi?" he asked, his voice low and sensual, very aware of the lack of any honorific.

Kakashi's eye widened, and he seemed to tense all over at once. Iruka was worried he'd gone too far, though what he'd said to the Jounin was incredibly tame considering some of the dirty things he'd heard come out of the man's mouth in public. Then Kakashi nodded, slowly and seriously. "Anything, Iruka, anything at all."

Iruka's mouth went dry. This wasn't a joke or a game after all, he realized suddenly. This pale specter of a man had been following him around for months and teasing him because he was interested in him, not because he was bored or wanted to drive Iruka mad. But what to do with such a realization as that? Iruka should say what he wanted was to stop being followed around and pestered, but he couldn't bring himself to say the words. This was Hatake Kakashi after all, and while he might be one of the strongest shinobi Konoha had, he was also a man whose life had been a great tragedy, and not someone who easily opened himself up to others. Iruka wasn't about to be cruel to him now, but he wasn't really sure what the kind thing to do would be.

So he smiled, because Iruka always smiled when he was lonely or hurt or afraid. And he led the way to his favorite star-gazing spot without comment about the great confession he'd just been given, and together the two men sat staring at the stars, pointing out their favorite constellations, speaking of other starlit evenings, and saying nothing at all about what exactly it was Iruka would do with the "anything" Kakashi had offered him.