A/N: Yes, it's actually an update. No, you're not seeing things. I'm sorry this one took so long, guys, but I'm optimistic that this fic will be finished. Please drop a line and let me know what you think!
The sun was shining in his eyes. Kakashi groaned and rolled over, bringing his arm up to cover his face, then cringed as the contact made the throbbing behind his eyes explode into full on pain. He took a breath that was meant to be steadying and tried to fight back the nausea building in his throat long enough to sit up, only to be rewarded by the reluctant screech of muscles that had been overused after long – for him – inactivity. The Jounin winced as he swung his legs down off the bed, and concentrated for a full minute on just breathing.
When he was finally certain he wouldn't streak his sandals – which his blearily opened eye informed him he was still wearing – with vomit, he tugged himself to his feet and half-stumbled, half-limped into the bathroom. A quick twist of the faucet started the water in the bath tub running, and he tried to ignore the fact that the sound of the water hitting the porcelain was as loud as the rush of a waterfall. He leaned down and stuck his head under the stream until his head cleared, then pulled back, gasping for breath, cold water trickling down from his hair to cover his still-masked face. He slumped down against the wall and tried to sort through the conflicting memories from the night before.
He remembered sake. Lots and lots of sake. And he remembered Tsunade, glaring, yelling, fear-tinged eyes and-
Oh fuck. He'd threatened the Hokage. The Jounin groaned and buried his head in his hands, ignoring the sparks of pain the movement sent ricocheting through his skull. So much for getting back in the field. He'd be lucky if he managed to stay out of Ibiki's chair. Kakashi ran his fingers through his damp hair, pushing it back from his face, then twisted the water to warm and turned the shower on. He managed to strip out of his gear before half-falling into the shower. He spent a good half hour simply collapsed against the shower wall, letting the warm water run over his body and loosen the over-used muscles.
After four glasses of water and twice the recommended dosage of pain killers, Kakashi was feeling human enough to pull on a fresh uniform – noting that he needed to do laundry, by the near-empty state of his closet – and head out the door. He stopped at the first restaurant he passed for breakfast, then headed to the market and bought enough food to restock everything he'd thrown away when anticipating a long mission. He juggled the bags at the door long enough to get the wards open, then nudged the door closed behind him with his hip and started unloading the groceries.
Everything was healthy and raw, with nothing resembling a ration bar. All of it would take cooking, and as he stashed the leeks in the fridge, he knew that it was the first step to accepting his situation. After the stunt he'd pulled the day before, there was no way Tsunade was going to let him back out on the field. Hell, he wouldn't let himself out of the village in his state of mind. It would take time and hard work to convince Tsunade that he was stable enough to be trusted on missions.
Kakashi arrived at the mission office an hour before closing. For once, his report wasn't covered in blood and dirt and shoved into his jacket along with a spare kunai and a tangled piece of chakra wire. It wasn't crumpled or covered in kanji that only approximated real writing. Instead, the writing was even, neat, and carefully spaced, written in dark black ink that facilitated easy reading. It was thorough without being overboard, and every detail that could potentially be of use as future intelligence had been included. It was quite possibly the neatest mission report Kakashi had ever written in his adult life, ever since Obito had died and he'd started shirking the rules.
When he handed it to Umino Iruka, the man looked surprised for all of a second, then schooled his expression into its normal professional lines, looking over the report. Kakashi saw the slight dilation of his pupils when the teacher read the issue date for the mission, and a tension in Iruka's shoulders that the Jounin hadn't even noticed uncoiled. When the brown-haired man looked up at him, it was with a genuine smile.
"Thank you for your hard work, Kakashi-san," he said. Kakashi nodded, then leaned back against the corner of the desk, opening his book. He caught a glimpse of Iruka's confused expression out of the corner of his eye, but didn't say anything, keeping his attention focused on the words. A few minutes later, another shinobi stepped up to the desk, and business generally went as normal. Shinobi were good at adjusting to things. Konoha was accustomed to Jounin, especially ones named Hatake Kakashi, being odd.
An hour passed, during which Iruka became steadily more nervous, until the final report of the day was given no more than a glance before being approved. As soon as the shinobi left, Kakashi slid down off of the desk, turned to the teacher, and smiled.
"Is that dinner invitation still open, Iruka-sensei?"
Iruka glanced up at him, startled, then a slow smile spread over his face. "Of course."
The walk back to Iruka's apartment was short, and Kakashi read during it, nominally focusing his attention on the pages. It was better than the silence stretching out between them, and Kakashi noticed as they walked that the Chuunin snuck an occasional glance out the corner of his eye at him. "How was the mission?" Iruka finally asked.
Kakashi glanced over at him, then shrugged. "Same as usual. B-rank." He said it dismissively, easily keeping the irritation he still felt over that out of his voice, and Iruka nodded. When they came to Iruka's door, Kakashi politely looked away as the traps were disarmed. He tucked his book away, idly repeating the page number in his mind for future reference, then followed the Chuunin inside. Iruka nodded at a wooden stool by the bar, and Kakashi cast him a surprised glance before settling down. He'd expected to be handed a knife again and set to prep work.
Iruka shrugged his canvas satchel off, setting it on the bar. Kakashi looked up at the teacher and raised his visible brow when Iruka set a neatly-stacked pile of copy-books in front of him, along with a red pen. Well, there went his hopes that spending a few days out on a mission was enough for Iruka to give him a break. "What am I supposed to do with these?"
A smile tugged at the corners of Iruka's mouth. "I assume you remember the basics of chakra manipulation?" He didn't bother to wait for Kakashi's answer, pulling the refrigerator door open and coming out with an armful of vegetables. Kakashi wasn't in the least surprised to see eggplant among them. "I cook, you grade."
"Maa, Sensei, do you treat all of your guests this way?" Kakashi drawled, but he opened the first book all the same, glancing down at the paper. The handwriting was almost as bad as his own, but the concepts were basic enough. A little too basic, maybe. The kid's hold on how seals channeled energy seemed a bit weak even for a pre-Genin. Despite himself, Kakashi picked up the pen and started to write out an explanation- only to be stopped by a glare from Iruka.
"Only the multiple choice. I'll go over the essay questions myself. And if you need a key to be able to answer such basic questions, you really will be sitting in my classroom for remedial lessons."
Kakashi glanced up, snorted, and lifted the pen from the paper. "Yes, Sensei."
Iruka's cheeks colored slightly, but he made no move to withdraw the threat. "To answer your question, yes, I do. But then, you and Naruto are the only guests I've had recently, so there's that." He turned his back on Kakashi before the Jounin could answer, turning the sink on to scrub the vegetables clean. Kakashi watched him, noticing the slight tension in his shoulders, and waited until the Chuunin had pulled the cutting board out.
"Why so few visitors?" he casually asked. Iruka paused for a millisecond, but it was enough for Kakashi to notice. He wondered if it was because of embarrassment and discomfort with the situation, or if Iruka's reaction was because Kakashi was edging too close. The Chuunin bent his head, focusing on slicing the eggplant, and wisps of hair that had worked loose from his ponytail obscured his face.
"You don't have many visitors yourself," Iruka hedged. Kakashi made a quiet sound in reply, and nominally focused his attention on the grading, pen scratching against paper.
"That's because I prefer it that way," Kakashi eventually answered. "But the question is, why do you? It makes sense for a Jounin, but you're a desk-ninja."
Kakashi glanced up just in time to see Iruka tense further. For a moment Kakashi wondered if he'd pushed too far, then he caught a glimpse of dark brown eyes as Iruka glanced over at him. The look was tentative and at the same time gauging, as if Iruka was deciding if he could be trusted or not. "Do you remember what happened the night Naruto became a Genin?"
"One of the Chuunin working for Orochimaru manipulated him into stealing the forbidden scroll," Kakashi answered. He kept his voice calm and still. Iruka nodded, short and jerky, in response. He didn't reply for a minute, focusing on starting the soup and scooping neatly-sliced vegetables over into the pot. When he finally did speak, his voice was quiet, and he didn't look at Kakashi.
"Mizuki. He was the Chuunin who told Naruto to steal the scroll," Iruka said. Despite knowing that Iruka wouldn't see it, Kakashi nodded. Iruka didn't glance over at him, busying his hands with cleaning up. Minutes ticked past. "He was my best friend. In the Academy, and later on, too. We became teachers at close to the same time, and taught together for years. I spent almost every day with him, and until that night, I never knew. I found out later that he'd killed a teammate on a mission, before Orochimaru got to him. So it wasn't just his influence. Mizuki was like that on his own. But I didn't see it."
Kakashi stared at the man, taking in the slight hunch to his shoulders and the vulnerability in his voice. For a moment, he was tempted to do something about it. Get on his feet, close the distance between them. Rest a hand on Iruka's back, over the scar just between his shoulder blades from that night. Offer some kind of comfort. He resisted the urge, and when he spoke, his voice was gruff. "You weren't the only one who didn't see it."
Iruka glanced up at him, a wry smile tugging at his lips. Kakashi almost looked away from the vulnerability in those dark eyes, but something stopped him. "There were suspicions, though. Sandaime-sama told me, after. And I didn't even have that. I trusted him." He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, then glanced down. "He was the person I was closest to. After that, it was hard to trust my own judgment," he said quietly.
Kakashi wanted to believe those words, but something nagged in the back of his mind. Iruka was admitting that his best friend had been a traitor, and he hadn't known. It'd make sense under those circumstances for him to close himself off, but one look around the apartment was reminder enough of why he was here in the first place. The traps were elegant, masterful, and far beyond what a Chuunin should've been able to accomplish. It'd make just as much sense for Orochimaru to have gotten to more than one person.
But then, why defend Naruto with his own body? Why chase after Mizuki, instead of allowing him to capture the scroll? Why be the one to go after him again, later, when he escaped? It'd have been easy at any of those points for Iruka to simply let Mizuki go, but Kakashi had read enough of the reports to know how desperately he'd chased after him. A small voice mentioned that Iruka had been the one writing the reports, and Kakashi considered that for a moment, but it just didn't fit. The details didn't add up.
"Iruka-sensei," Kakashi said slowly. The teacher glanced up, looking at him with wary eyes. Kakashi hesitated, trying to find some words of comfort that wouldn't come off as trite or dismissive. "It's not your fault," he said, and regretted it immediately. The words rang hollow to even his own ears, and Kakashi wondered who he was to try absolving someone else of guilt when he couldn't even handle his own. To his surprise, though, Iruka just nodded.
"I know that it isn't. But it doesn't make it any easier to trust," he said simply. Kakashi just stared, trying to find words, but before they came to his lips Iruka had already turned away. "Dinner should be ready soon. How's the grading?"
Kakashi let out a slow breath, grateful for the change in topic. It felt too intimate to talk about something like that, and a question hovered just beneath the surface. Why him? If Iruka had so much difficulty with trusting, why not only allow Kakashi into his life, but deliberately pursue him? He edged away from those thoughts, instead glancing down at the copy book. Only a few of the questions were actually marked, and there was a puddle of red ink on the paper from where he'd left the pen resting.
"Maa, Sensei, I think this is more your strength than mine," he replied, deliberately drawling the title in an attempt to lessen the tension.
Iruka seemed to relax slightly at the teasing, and cast an amused glance over at Kakashi, though there was still that hint of raw uncertainty just beneath the surface. Too expressive, Kakashi thought, not for the first time. Too much was given away in the set of Iruka's jaw, the tight line of his lips, and the lingering discomfort in his eyes. Either Iruka was one of the best he'd ever seen at concealing his thoughts, or he was too open to have become a ninja in the first place.
"Should I take that to mean you'd prefer to be the one doing the cooking from now on?" Iruka asked.
Kakashi shrugged, the movement deliberately casual, and didn't refute Iruka's assumption that their shared meals would continue. Part of him wanted to- the part that had kept him from making an attempt to comfort Iruka, the part that even now was focused on the mission, weighing every action against the possibility of Iruka being a traitor- but there was another part of Kakashi, one that he didn't want to listen to, that whispered he'd miss this. He pushed the thought aside, slipping back into the banter that by now was easy and familiar. "It's better than paperwork."
Iruka snorted in reply, but a smile tugged at his lips. "You know, that report proved that you're actually capable of turning them in on time and neatly. Before now, I had my doubts."
"Believe it or not, I did attend the Academy, Iruka-sensei," Kakashi chided, but his tone was mild.
"I couldn't tell," Iruka replied dryly. "But now that I know you're capable of it, I won't be accepting any mission reports below that standard."
Kakashi winced. He should've predicted that, really, but he'd been more focused on showing Tsunade that he didn't need his head probed to make certain it was still stuck on straight than on the possible consequences of his actions. "Maa, Sensei, you haven't had problems taking them before," he tried.
Iruka sniffed, turning his attention back to the soup. He ladled out bowls for both of them, glanced at the copy books, and raised a brow. Kakashi obligingly pushed them out of the way, and Iruka set both bowls down before claiming a seat beside the Jounin. He pulled the book over and glanced at Kakashi's notes before answering. "I can promise you that it takes me twice as long to make sense of your normal mission reports than it does for you to actually write a decent one."
"Is that why you're always so temperamental, Sensei?" Kakashi teased, leaning back slightly to look at the teacher. His lips quirked up into a grin underneath his mask, movement barely visible beneath the thin blue cloth. Iruka eyed him for a moment, then pushed a spoon in his direction and deliberately turned to face the wall.
"Between thirty pre-Genin and a village full of Jounin and Chuunin that seem to think they're still pre-Genin, anyone would develop a temper," Iruka said, and though Kakashi couldn't see his face, he could hear the amusement in Iruka's voice. "It's necessary to keep all of you in line."
Kakashi took a bite of his soup. It was a touch saltier than he usually made it, but it was good, and he could actually enjoy it. If Iruka was planning to surprise him to get underneath his mask, he'd have already made an attempt. "Surely we're not that bad, Iruka-sensei."
"You're right. You're worse," Iruka said. Kakashi chuckled in reply, not bothering to refute the statement, and focused on finishing his soup. When it was done, he tugged his mask back into place and plucked the pen from Iruka's fingers. When the Chuunin looked at him, surprised, Kakashi shrugged.
"You did make me dinner. And if these are all due back tomorrow, maybe if I help you'll actually have time to sleep," Kakashi said.
Looking amused, Iruka slid the copybook over. As Kakashi settled into grading, his stomach full of something other than ration bars and his fingers stained with ink instead of blood, he wondered why it all felt so natural.