Day Seven (plus the evening of the sixth): The Final
Kakashi sat on his futon absentmindedly scratching Pakkun behind his ears. The rest of the pack had mysteriously disappeared after what he dubbed 'the Turkey Incident' either out of guilt or fear of retribution, he was unsure which. Pakkun, however, had stuck around, because he was incredibly stubborn and believed himself to be above being punished.
It was kind of comforting having the little dog around, Kakashi thought, so long as he didn't open his big mouth. He'd found himself unable to sleep, because tomorrow he'd have to make what might be the most important decision of his life. He didn't want to get married. He didn't want to have children. He didn't want to share his life with anyone, period. Kakashi had lived by himself in his childhood home since he was eight years old. Having someone else's stuff around for him to trip over would be terrible, and what if they decided they wanted to use the entire house, to open up all of the barred doors and make space for the baby?
Kakashi only used two rooms in the house. His bedroom and the main bathroom. He still slept in a single bed in the room he'd grown up in, unwilling and almost afraid to move to the more spacious master bedroom his parents had shared. Too many memories.
"What did you do to Iruka-sensei?" Pakkun asked, finally breaking the silence with the question Kakashi had been dreading. Across the room Iruka's bed was neatly made, his student's homework in a neat pile at the foot of it and his pajamas folded tidily on his pillow. He hadn't been back all day, but Kakashi could feel his chakra now. The chūnin was sitting on the roof, and Kakashi wondered if he was waiting for him to go to sleep before he came inside.
"I kissed him," Kakashi said, the truth feeling strange in his mouth, almost like a lie for some reason.
Pakkun pondered that for a bit. "You kissed him and then what? You must have done something or else he'd be in your bed, not on the roof."
Ah, so Pakkun could feel the melancholy wisps of chakra too. "I ran away," he said quietly, feeling like the worst kind of coward. It had seemed like the only thing to do at the time, but… he really could have handled it better. Except that if he'd stayed he probably wouldn't have been able to stop himself from stealing another kiss, and another, and another…
Pakkun snorted. "Baka," he said fondly, "Even I know that's the worst thing you could do."
Kakashi ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes, sighing heavily. "It doesn't matter, really. He's not someone I can choose. Yūgao and I will have a powerful child."
"A powerful child who will grow up in a loveless home," Pakkun said dryly. "Do you really want that?"
"Do I have a choice? Even if Yūgao and I are not attracted to each other she can give me a child, and Iruka cannot. The child is the clincher."
Pakkun rolled his eyes, trotting over to Kakashi's backpack and pulling out the mission scroll, tossing it into his master's lap. "Read it."
Kakashi stared at the parchment in his hands miserably. This single piece of paper was the sole reason he hated his life right now. He tossed it across the room. "I don't want it."
Pakkun growled and brought it back to him. "I'm not a dumb dog, I didn't give it to you to play fetch. Just read the damn thing."
Kakashi scowled and broke the seal on the scroll. He hadn't actually looked at it seeing as he'd already been briefed on what he was supposed to do, and he hadn't wanted to torture himself more than was absolutely necessary. "Hatake Kakashi," he read aloud in a bored voice, "Is to spend a week (seven days) in the Uchiha Compound for the purpose of finding himself a suitable partner. He will have eight women to choose from, and one or two will be eliminated each day in a style similar to that of television show 'The Bachelor' until he makes his final decision." He paused. "That's all it says."
Pakkun gave him a doggy grin. "So technically Iruka-sensei is a viable option."
"It doesn't matter if it doesn't say anything about children in this scroll, my next mission will be to have a child," Kakashi pointed out.
"The child doesn't necessarily have to be related to your mate though, does it?" Pakkun asked. "And you know that Iruka-sensei is practically cut out to be a parent."
"The Elders would hate it," Kakashi said stubbornly. "They'd do their best to have the child taken away and then it'd be raised by them as a weapon."
"I thought you didn't want a child?"
"I don't, but if I did have one I would not allow it to be raised in the same way as I was."
"Iruka-sensei would fight it."
"Shut up Pakkun," Kakashi whispered fiercely. "I do not want to talk about this any more, and I don't want to think. I just want to go to sleep."
Pakkun eyed him contemplatively. "I'll leave you alone if you promise me you'll go up there and talk to him."
"I doubt he wants to talk to me," Kakashi said after a short silence.
"Promise?" Pakkun repeated.
Kakashi closed his eyes. "Yes, alright? Now go."
"I'll know if you don't do it," Pakkun threatened, and disappeared with an audible pop.
Iruka was lying on his back with his arms folded behind his head, staring at the sky. He didn't move or show any indication that he knew Kakashi was there even though there was no way he could not know. Kakashi sat down awkwardly beside him, but not too close, and looked up as well. The night air was warm and still, and there were very few clouds to block his view of the stars. The moon was nearly full, and Kakashi's inner genius informed him it was a waxing gibbous. He didn't particularly care for that information, focusing instead on using it's light to stare at Iruka while pretending not to.
Eventually he let his eyes roam over what he could see of the compound from his perch on the rooftop, the Uchiha fan symbols glowing ghostlike in the courtyards and on the doors of shops. He hated that symbol. It was the symbol of his failure. Carefully he untied the black material that covered his left eye and let it fall, closing his right and allowing Obito to look out at what had become of his once proud clan.
Obito hadn't been a proper Uchiha, not in spirit. In fact, Kakashi himself would probably have made a better Uchiha. They prided themselves on genius, and Obito had been anything but. He was, in his bumbling way, much more kin to Naruto and Iruka than the likes of Sasuke and Itachi. Kakashi almost laughed. Yes, Obito would find it highly amusing that the man he desired had similar qualities to the boy he'd once insulted and looked down on.
He didn't know how long he'd been there before Iruka gave a barely audible sigh. "Kakashi-san," he said quietly, not looking at him, "What do you want from me?"
What did he want? He didn't even know the answer to that himself. "I shouldn't have kissed you," he mumbled, surprising himself. Hatake Kakashi did not mumble.
Iruka gave a short laugh that was halfway between amusement and breaking down completely. "Is that supposed to be an apology, or are you trying to tell me to forget about it and pretend it never happened?"
Kakashi scratched the back of his head and looked down at the tile between his feet. It was difficult to get all of his thoughts into some semblance of order when he was feeling so unbalanced. "I'm supposed to find a wife tomorrow," he said softly. "I don't want a wife, I don't even want a girlfriend. And I don't want a child, either."
Iruka glanced over at his despondent form for the first time. "I suppose what you're trying to say is that you feel bad for kissing me because you knew that you were going to have to choose someone else tomorrow?"
"I couldn't help myself," Kakashi said. His stomach felt like it was folding in on itself, tightly and painfully. The only other person who'd been able to read him this well was his Sensei, and Minato had known him since before he could talk.
Iruka smiled, but there was a sad edge to it. "It's alright. I promise I won't tell anyone about it."
"Thank you." He figured that if Izumo ever found out about that he'd be ripped to shreds, jōnin or no. Not to mention what Naruto would do to him.
"It's pretty up here," Iruka said softly, his eyes back on the stars. "Where I live it's dangerous to lie on the rooftops at night because so many jōnin run through the area."
"I hate it," Kakashi blurted.
"You hate it?" Iruka said, turning his head to study him. "How can you hate something so beautiful?"
"Being here, I mean," Kakashi corrected. "I can see the stars from my own house. Uchihas remind me of my own stupidity and failure."
"Oh." Iruka was silent for a long time, just looking at him. "It's not your fault," he said eventually, "What happened with Sasuke. I think, if you're going to look at it that way, then all of us are a little to blame."
"I was his teacher. He was entrusted to me," Kakashi said hollowly. "He was so much like me that I thought I knew how to deal with his problems. I was arrogant."
Iruka's eyes looked sad. "Don't forget that I was also his teacher. I didn't see his internal strife simply because I wasn't looking, because I could only see Naruto's pain. I should have guessed it, though, given that I also became abruptly parentless when I was young. But I don't think anyone would ever have been able to make him change his mind." He gave a small smile. "If Naruto can't do it, then nobody can."
A lonely tear tracked itself from Obito's eye down the side of Kakashi's face. He scrubbed at it angrily with the back of his hand. "I was never really cut out to be a teacher."
"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself," Iruka scolded gently. "Naruto complains about you all the time, but when I was teaching him he used to complain about me, too." He smiled fondly. "To me. He says a lot of things that I always assumed came from you, because he'd never be able to come up with it himself. 'Those that break the rules and regulations are scum. But those who abandon their comrades are worse than scum' – are those your words?"
Kakashi stared at the Uchiha fan carved into the wall of the building across the street. "Not my words, no." His left eye twitched, and he thought he could hear Obito laughing. "Do you know how I got this eye?" he asked, touching the cheek below his sharingan lightly.
If Iruka was surprised at the change in subject he didn't show it. "No. Naruto asked me about it once, though, and I said he should ask you."
"I should have died when I was thirteen years old," Kakashi said. He hadn't told this story to anyone, save the Sandaime when he had to report back after the mission. "I'd just become a jōnin, and I thought I was untouchable. Unbeatable. Unfortunately wisdom comes with experience, not with rank, and it took me a while to learn that. My teammates detested me, and rightfully so. I was a haughty bastard. But even though he didn't like me Obito saved my life, giving up his own life and his eye for me. Those were his words, not mine."
"You feel guilty, don't you? That you lived while he didn't."
"He was a good person, a lot like Naruto. When I die, he will yell at me and tell me I wasted the life he gave me. He'd be right," Kakashi said.
"He would have died anyway, you realize that don't you?" Iruka asked. "In the Uchiha massacre."
Kakashi frowned. He'd never actually connected the two events in his mind, but it was true. "Maybe so. But at least then he'd have had time to do the things he'd always wanted to, and tell Rin how he felt about her."
Iruka gazed back up at the sky and fixed his eyes on the moon. "You need to stop thinking about the past because you cannot change it, only learn from it. When you have a child you'll be shaping part of the future, and you can change your child's life for the better."
Kakashi closed his eyes tightly. He didn't want to think about having children because having children meant not having Iruka, and he wanted Iruka more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life. "I don't want my child to grow up to be like me."
"Why not?" Iruka asked, and he seemed to genuinely be asking. "You're not a bad person, Kakashi. It take a little bit of work to understand you, but I think it's worth it to try." He stood up slowly, yawning. "I think I'm going to go to bed now. Are you coming?"
At first Kakashi's overworked brain thought the chūnin was inviting him to share his bed but before he embarrassed himself by jumping his bones he realized that he just meant to go to sleep in general. He was inordinately disappointed by it.
Kakashi still couldn't sleep, although he could feel tiredness right down to his bones. Instead he watched Iruka, who was curled on his side, his chest rising and falling with the long slow breaths of one immersed in deep slumber. His hair fell over his face in soft waves, and Kakashi wanted to touch it, just once. After tomorrow he'd never be allowed to.
He blamed his over-tired brain for the fact that he found himself crouched down beside Iruka's head, pushing his hair back behind his ear with a finger, watching as it slipped back over his face, and then pushing it back again. He felt guilty and adrenaline-high, as if he was masturbating in a place where he could get caught any second.
His eye travelled the length of Iruka's body under the blanket. He really shouldn't, he knew that, but Iruka just looked so warm and comfortable. He wouldn't stay long, he promised himself, he just wanted to steal a little bit of heat. Smiling happily to himself, Kakashi stepped over Iruka and lay down beside him on top of the covers, his nose in the dark strands of Iruka's peachy-smelling hair. Iruka mumbled something in his sleep and arched back against him, his bottom fitting perfectly into the curve of Kakashi's hips.
Kakashi's eyes fluttered shut. Just for a little while, he thought.
When Kakashi woke up his chest was warm and his back was cold, which was weird because he usually slept on his back. As he woke up further he realized it was because he was pressed against someone else, which was even weirder because he never stayed with anyone for more than half an hour post-sex. He woke up properly when the person yawned, rolled over and said sleepily, "What're you doing, Kak-shi?"
He didn't have an excuse, because he couldn't remember why he was in the chūnin's bed in the first place. And who could make up anything even half-believable with those adorably sleepy brown eyes blinking at them?
"Doesn' matter," the chūnin answered for him, leaning forward and brushing his lips against Kakashi's through the mask before snuggling closer. His eyes fell shut again, and he slurred something that, to Kakashi's shocked mind, sounded suspiciously like "Love you."
Kakashi lay very, very still. As nice as it was to have Iruka cuddle into him, he couldn't stay here. If Iruka found him here when he woke up properly he would be in some serious hot water. But if he managed to get away Iruka would probably just think it was a dream, which was a far preferable situation.
Iruka nuzzled into his neck and drooled on the shoulder of his 'Eternal Rival' shirt, mumbling something about onsens. How was he supposed to want to move away when the damned man insisted on being so adorable? And after tonight he wouldn't be allowed to do this any more, when he was in a serious relationship with Yūgao. He suddenly felt very heavy, and he pretended not to hear the tiny noise of protest Iruka made as he dragged himself away.
Kakashi flopped down on his cold, Iruka-less futon. He really shouldn't have kissed Iruka, if only for the younger man's sake and not his own. For some absurd reason Iruka seemed to like him, and it was cruel of him to do something like that when they really had no chance of being together. Are you sure about that? a little voice in his head asked. The mission parameters don't actually forbid it. Kakashi scowled and kicked the voice to the back of his mind. Leave me alone, he thought back viciously, I'm going to sleep.
Sleep didn't come for a long time though, and when it did he had strange dreams about dark skinned children with silver hair and deep brown eyes.
"Kakashi-san, you need to get up."
Kakashi didn't want to get up. His bed was warm and as soon as he got up he'd have to face the day, and this day was one he'd rather not live through. He kept his eyes tightly closed. If he just slept through today and woke up tomorrow everything would be fine again.
"I know you're awake."
"You can't prove it," he muttered. He was looking forward to the time when he'd have his own room again. And then he realized he would never have his own room again, or his own bed. He rolled over and buried his face in his pillow. I'm going to have to take loads of missions just to get some proper rest.
"Don't be such a baby," Iruka chided, and kicked him in the shin.
"Ow." His eyes flew open and he glared. "What was that for?"
Iruka smiled smugly. "See, I told you you were awake."
"I already knew I was awake," Kakashi said haughtily, and then was distracted by the tray in Iruka's left hand. "What's that?"
"Oh, this?" Iruka hoisted the tray higher in the air. "I made soup for breakfast because I was cold. I was going to give you some, but seeing as you're not being very nice I might change my mind."
"What kind of soup?" Kakashi asked suspiciously.
"Miso soup with eggplant," Iruka said carelessly.
Kakashi immediately sat up. "Give me."
Iruka raised an eyebrow. "No."
Kakashi pushed out his bottom lip in his best imitation of a pout. "Why not?"
"First off, making that face while you're wearing a mask makes you look mildly retarded," Iruka said. "And second, you're being rude. I might as well just eat it myself."
"But it's my favourite," Kakashi whined, and then sat still in shock. Since when did he ever whine? Since never, that's when. Iruka was making him lose all sense of propriety, somehow. He wasn't sure he liked it.
Iruka didn't seem too bothered by it though. "Is it really your favourite?" he asked.
"Yes," he said quietly. "It is." He didn't know how Iruka had chosen to make his favourite food out of everything he could have picked, but the man had done it and that just made his situation even harder.
Iruka, sensing the dramatic change in mood, laid the tray down on his knees. "You can have it," he said softly.
Kakashi did his best to swallow around the huge lump that was blocking his throat. "Thank you, Iruka-sensei."
"It was no problem, Kakashi-san," Iruka said, giving a partial bow and then scurrying back to his side of the room to busy himself doing something with his bags.
Kakashi wondered about that but didn't have much time to ponder as Izumo let himself into the room and flung himself on Iruka. "You're back," he said breathlessly. Kakashi felt uncomfortably like a third wheel.
"I didn't really go anywhere, 'Zumo," Iruka said soothingly, hugging the older chūnin back lightly. To Kakashi's experienced ear he sounded embarrassed.
"Like hell you didn't," Izumo said angrily. "You didn't come back with Kakashi-san and then whenever you did come back you didn't tell me, you just left me to worry all night. I couldn't sleep."
"I'm sorry 'Zumo," Iruka said quietly, kissing his forehead, "I didn't mean for you to worry. I just had some things I needed to sort out, that's all."
Kakashi tried the soup and pretended he couldn't hear anything, even though Izumo was being unnaturally loud. He felt like he was eavesdropping on a private conversation.
"You could have come to me to talk about whatever it was." Izumo sounded hurt.
"It was something I needed to figure out on my own," Iruka explained.
Izumo frowned. "What was it?"
"I was just -" Iruka tightened his hold on the back of Izumo's shirt, buried his face in his neck and whispered, "Trying to put childish crushes behind me."
Izumo stared wide-eyed at Kakashi. Kakashi stared at the soup and pretended he was deaf and blind, because the sight of Iruka clinging to Izumo was making his blood boil. It was very good soup, he decided, the best he'd ever tasted, actually. It deserved all of his attention.
"Did it work?" Izumo asked quietly, hesitantly, and Kakashi couldn't stop his eyes from leaving the bowl and staring sidelong at Iruka to see his answer. He couldn't deny the relief he felt when he saw that slight shake of the head.
Iruka hugged Izumo tighter for a long moment, and then stepped back, pulling himself together quickly. "I'm fine, really. Don't worry about me." He smiled shakily. "The one you should be worried about is the girl who has to marry Kakashi-san."
Izumo was looking at him again. Kakashi finished the soup. "Maa, shouldn't you be more worried for me? The kunoichi chose to be in this competition, after all."
Iruka stared at him, alarmed, as if he'd forgotten he was even in the room. Kakashi smiled at him, closing his eye out of habit. "You're good at making soup, Iruka-sensei."
"Thank you," Iruka said quietly. "I think I'll have a shower now." He seemed to rally all his strength to look Kakashi in the eye and smile. "Kakashi-san, you need to wear formal clothing today."
Kakashi nodded. Well, that just made everything even more fun. Not only was he going to have to choose a woman to spend the rest of his life with he had to do it in his father's kimono, which had been in storage for years and brought back painful memories for him. He walked over to his bag slowly after Iruka had disappeared into the bathroom and Izumo offered some poor excuse about needing to set things up before turning tail and fleeing.
He fingered the soft dark material of the kimono and let himself wonder what his father would have thought about his current situation. He'd probably tell me to stop being such a pansy and go after the person I want, he thought. Follow my heart and not the rules. Even though in the end that's the thing that killed him. Kakashi laughed aloud at the irony, though it wasn't particularly funny.
He had never actually worn anything so formal before, having spent the majority of his life existing in shinobi uniform, but he did remember watching his father putting it on more than once. Whenever Hatake Sakumo had gotten dressed up he'd taken his hair out of its low ponytail and allowed a young Kakashi to brush it, telling him that his mother had always preferred it that way and used to spend longer playing with his hair than her own. The only memories Kakashi had of his mother were of laughing eyes, dancing lips and unadulterated warmth.
He stared at the clothing laid out on the floor. Alright. So I have three dress-things and two – no three – belt-type things. So I'm guessing I have a belt per dress. He frowned. Which one do I put on first?
He was still frowning at the floor ten minutes later when Iruka came out of the shower, drying his hair with a towel. "Kakashi-san, are you alright?"
Kakashi turned to look at him and felt stupid. Iruka was wearing the dark purple kimono he'd picked out on the first day of the competition with the biggest belt type thing tied in a fancy way around his waist. "I don't know how to do this," he said quietly, slightly annoyed at having to admit to his lack of knowledge.
"Oh," Iruka said, walking over to what he had laid out on the ground. "Well, at least you have everything you need. This," he pointed to the first in the pile, "Is called hadajuban. It's like underwear, but kind of loose so you might want to wear normal underwear underneath it. The next one is called nagajuban and it's simply to stop you from getting bodily oils onto the kimono itself. Those two koshihimo belt around that one to keep it in place." He pointed to the two thin belts. "Got that?"
"I think so." Kakashi looked dubiously at the clothing. He wasn't looking forward to putting it on.
"I'll wait outside for a bit and then help you with the obi, okay?"
Kakashi was inclined to say that he didn't need any help, thank you very much, except that he didn't even know what Iruka was talking about when he said 'obi'. He nodded reluctantly and Iruka breezed past him, closing the door after himself with a soft click.
"Now it's just you and me," Kakashi muttered to the clothes. He took off his sleeping shirt and pants and picked up the first dress Iruka had pointed to gingerly. He slipped it over his shoulders and poked his arms through the sleeves. It smelled like dust and he felt like he was wearing a sack. Oh well. He shrugged his shoulders mentally. It's only for a day, right?
He pulled the second one over his head, then stared at the belts. Why did he need two, and for that matter where was he supposed to put them? He considered tying one around each arm just to annoy Iruka but then realized he wasn't capable of tying a knot one handed unless he put a lot of energy into it so he scratched that idea. He could call out to ask Iruka for help, but he wasn't that pitiful. He picked up one of the belts and it fell open as he did so. Kakashi stared at it. Why is it so long? My waist isn't that big.
He shrugged and wrapped it around his waist twice, tying it with a large sloppy bow over his left hip. He took the other one and did the same, this time tying the bow over his right hip. Now what? He was too impatient to wait for Iruka so he slipped the kimono over the top and held it closed. Looking in the mirror showed him that he now looked like he had cancerous growths spouting from his hips. Kakashi frowned. Tsunade probably wouldn't like that.
When Iruka walked back in he burst out laughing. Kakashi scowled at him. "Aren't my bows good enough for you?"
Iruka covered his mouth, trying to stifle his giggles. When he could talk again he said, "You're doing it all wrong."
Thanks, Captain Obvious, Kakashi said in his mind, but all mocking thoughts shut down when Iruka strode over and yanked his kimono open, pulling the bows apart and removing both belts from his waist. He folded the first one in half, smoothing out the wrinkles, and lined up the fold with Kakashi's navel. Iruka unfolded the koshihimo and stretched his arms around Kakashi's waist to pull both ends around his back and to the front again. Kakashi forgot to breathe.
Iruka was making some sort of complicated knot and explaining step by step what he was doing but Kakashi couldn't hear him, he was focusing solely on the face that Iruka was standing two inches away from him and had his hands on his waist. He had no idea what happened to the second belt but apparently he was already wearing it.
"Kakashi, are you listening to me?" Iruka was making a frowny face at him. He couldn't take it seriously because it was adorable.
"Where did you learn to do this?"
Iruka smiled softly. "My mother taught me. She used to love dressing up, and dressing me up. I think she originally wanted a little girl."
"It seems complicated." When Iruka spoke Kakashi could feel his breath on his neck. He didn't want Iruka to stop talking.
"Not really, once you learn it. Just be thankful you're not a girl, the rules for them are a nightmare." Iruka grabbed the larger belt-type thing and slung it over his shoulder while he pulled the sides of Kakashi's kimono closed, lifting the material slightly so it sat off the ground. "Hold for me?"
Kakashi obeyed and Iruka slipped the large belt around his waist, performing an even more complicated knot on this one. Iruka stepped back for a moment, studying his handiwork, and then shifted the belt around so the knot was at the back. "You look very nice, Kakashi-san," he said, his cheeks tinting rosily.
"So do you," Kakashi returned, his voice coming out in a kind of purr.
Iruka shivered noticeably then shook his head as if to shake away bad thoughts. "Thank you, Kakashi-san." Hurriedly he moved away, grabbing his sheaf of papers that detailed each day's activities. "You're supposed to think about whom you're going to choose," he said, his voice shaking maybe just a little, "And you can see the kunoichi if you want but you don't have to. This evening there'll be a dance and a dinner, and you pick your final woman then."
"A dance?" Kakashi felt incredibly frustrated. Why was Tsunade insisting he had to do so many things he'd never ever wanted to do before? "What kind of dance?"
"Ballroom dance, of course." Iruka watched Kakashi's blank reaction. "You don't know how to do that, do you."
Kakashi shook his head even though Iruka hadn't really been asking. Iruka took a very deep breath and said, "I can teach you, if you like."
"That would be nice," Kakashi said with a steady voice. It will be nice if I can refrain from kissing you. "How do you know how to dance as well?"
"I told you, my mother wanted a girl." Iruka shrugged hopelessly. "Also sometimes I teach shinobi who are going on high-class infiltration missions where they need to learn how to act like a nobleman or lady."
"You do that and teach pre-genin, and work the mission room, and feed Naruto?" Kakashi asked.
"And take missions, and run the school board, yes." Iruka nodded. "I'm not very powerful so I do a lot of little things to help the village out."
"Those aren't 'little things', Iruka-sensei."
Iruka scratched the scar on the bridge of his nose awkwardly. "Well, I – I like to help."
"When do you have time to do things for yourself?" Kakashi pressed, "Like going to the movies, catching up with friends, or going to an onsen. When do you do that sort of thing?"
Iruka blushed. "Well, I don't, usually. When I have free time it gets eaten up by Naruto, or if he's not around I get eaten up by loneliness so I usually go find someone to give me a job."
"Loneliness?" Kakashi frowned. "Iruka-sensei, why would someone like you be lonely?"
Iruka clapped a hand over his mouth and shook his head resolutely. "I'll teach you to dance only if you forget I said anything. And if you go out there without knowing how to dance you'll look like a fool."
Kakashi sighed. "I can't forget it, but I can drop it, for now."
Iruka nodded, knowing it was the best he could hope for. Kakashi wondered about it. Iruka seemed to have a lot of friends, so why would he ever be lonely? He even had a particular friend who would warm his bed whenever he fancied. It was weird, he'd never have picked that the charismatic chūnin would feel the same way as he did.
"Hold my right hand, and thread your fingers through mine." Kakashi didn't know how he was going to learn anything with his heart pounding this loudly. He just knew that his palms were going to get sweaty too, and then Iruka would think he was disgusting. "Put your other hand on my left shoulder blade, going underneath my arm."
He almost jumped when Iruka put his hand on his shoulder lightly, and the chūnin gave a light, breathy laugh. "Relax, this isn't difficult."
"Easy for you to say," Kakashi said, not quite snapping but grumpily enough.
Iruka just snorted. "If you can do even a simple kata then you can ballroom dance, easy. I'll teach you the waltz because it's supposedly the most romantic. It's also relatively painless to learn."
"Painless sounds good right about now," Kakashi agreed, though he didn't see how dancing with Iruka in any way could be painless.
"Okay." Iruka took a deep breath. "I'm playing the role of the woman, so that means you have to learn how to lead. That mean you have to be confident in your steps for your partner to follow, otherwise it throws both of you off."
Kakashi grinned. "Are you always the woman, Sensei?" It was just too easy.
Iruka blushed a dark red, and chose to take his comment at face value. "No, sometimes I teach kunoichi how to dance and in that case I take the man's position."
"And the man's position is what, pray tell me?" Kakashi enquired, his voice deceptively innocent.
Iruka stomped down hard on his foot. "That's what I'm trying to teach you," he hissed. "Now grow up before I walk away and leave you to fend for yourself."
"Alright, alright," Kakashi said hurriedly, tightening his grip on Iruka's hand. The last think he wanted was for Iruka to walk away.
"Okay. I'll start by teaching you the basic box step and we'll work our way up from there. Any waltz steps go in a three-step pattern. On one you lead with your left foot, so take a step forwards, and I step back."
Kakashi stepped forwards and was almost surprised when Iruka moved with him. "Good. On the two you bring your right foot forwards to where your left is and swipe it to the right in a corner-like shape."
Kakashi did as told and was rewarded with a smile. "That's right. Now on three you bring your left foot to where your right is.
"Now, you move back again with your right – that's the one – bring your left foot back in an opposite facing corner –two – then shift your right foot so you're back where you started. Got it?"
Kakashi frowned. "I think so."
"Good. Now try doing it without looking at your feet. Set your sight over my shoulder. Remember, the man has to lead."
It was easier than kata, and Kakashi picked it up quickly enough once he'd gotten over the fact that he was standing so close to Iruka. "Now because that would look quite silly on the dance floor this time each time you take a step I want you to turn slightly, you have to guide me. It's still a box shape, it's just gotten larger and I guess a bit more fluid – yes, like that."
For some reason even after he'd got that part down as well Iruka didn't let go of him so he just kept following the steps, the monotonous 1-2-3 pounding in his brain. After a while he dared to slide his gaze onto Iruka's face and to his surprise found that he was smiling, his eyes closed. He was analyzing the way the dark lashes fluttered against the chūnin's smooth, mocha-coloured skin so he almost didn't notice when Iruka pulled him closer, narrowing the gap between them almost to the point where his head was resting on Kakashi's shoulder.
Kakashi chuckled. "Maa, are you pretending I'm someone else, Iruka-sensei?" he teased.
Iruka's eyes flew open at the sound and he pulled away from Kakashi abruptly, a horrified expression plastered on his face. "Go-gomenesai, Kakashi-san," he stuttered, and fled.
Kakashi blinked, staring in the direction his dance partner had disappeared in. He felt quite alone, and wished he'd kept his big mouth shut for once. He couldn't help it though, Iruka was so much fun to tease because he got riled up so easily.
He wandered out of the courtyard, not quite sure where he was supposed to go. Just drifting about the empty streets of the Uchiha compound felt weird, and even if he wanted to go find Iruka he was pretty sure the man didn't want to be found. He paused under a tree covered in cherry blossoms and plucked one of the pink tinged flowers out of the air as it floated past his face. Twirling it in his fingers, he wondered how his team was doing. He hadn't seen Sakura in a long time except in passing, and she always seemed in a hurry to get somewhere. From Tsunade's offhand comments he figured she was doing well as a medic-nin and he was glad she'd finally found her niche. She'd always been in the shadow of the two boys, even if she did have the best chakra control.
Naruto was the same as ever, judging by his reaction to seeing his favourite Iruka-sensei, though he'd grown taller and stronger. He'd moved up quickly from being the kid that everybody hated to associating on nickname-based terms with two of the sannin, the most powerful shinobi in Konoha. It was sweet that he hadn't abandoned his relationship with Iruka, but Kakashi himself wasn't exactly someone he'd come to for help or even want to start a conversation with.
And Sasuke… he didn't want to think about Sasuke. Kakashi sighed and let the flower fall from his fingers. He only had himself to blame, really. He'd never been much of a mentor to the kids, or even a friend. He needed to quit feeling sorry for himself.
"Are you getting cold feet?" a quiet voice asked, and he looked up to see Yūgao watching him. She was wearing a white kimono decorated with small purple flowers and tied with a purple obi. Her hair was tied in a plait that looped around and was pinned to the back of her head with an ornamental clip. It made her look gentler than usual.
"Maa, I never had warm feet to begin with," Kakashi replied, giving her his best eye-smile.
Yūgao smiled softly. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry that you have to go through with this. But for my own sake I'm not sorry at all."
Kakashi shrugged. "It's my duty to my village, apparently."
"That's so very you, Kakashi," Yūgao said. "Don't you ever put yourself first?"
"Protecting this village is the only thing I know how to do," Kakashi said. But how I desperately, desperately want to change that.
"Maybe you should think about finding new values," Yūgao said, staring up at the vivid storm of pink and white cherry blossoms. "I don't mean abandon the village, but take something for yourself. Having a child might change your direction in a good way."
Take something for myself? Maybe I should. He thought about how Iruka's entire face lit up when he was happy, and how soft his hair felt as it slipped through his fingers. "Maybe I will," he said quietly. "Thank you, Yūgao."
They stood there in silence for a while, watching the breeze swirl the cherry blossoms around on the ground, until Kakashi noticed there was a fair amount of sand mixed in with the flowers. He glanced up to see Gaara standing on the roof of the nearest building and sighed inwardly. "I have to go now, Yūgao. I'll see you tonight."
Yūgao barely nodded, her mind obviously far away. "Good luck, Kakashi."
He didn't know what the luck was supposed to be for, choosing the right partner or changing his life, but he nodded his thanks anyway, leaping onto the building slightly awkwardly and cursing his kimono.
"You're not going to marry Temari," Gaara said.
"No, I'm not," Kakashi agreed. "Haven't we already had this conversation?"
"I'm just making sure," Gaara said coolly, without blinking.
Kakashi shrugged. "I have better options. How's being Kazekage working out for you?"
"I don't think the people of my village care for me that much. Most of them would have been happy for me to be killed by the Akatsuki. Naruto would be a more… charismatic leader."
"Naruto would also put his people in danger by making decisions without thinking them through," Kakashi said wryly. "He still has quite a way to go before he can become Hokage."
Gaara dipped his head in affirmation. "At least he won't be the first jinchūriki to become a Kage."
"He'd probably see that as a negative thing," Kakashi said, smiling. "He likes to be first in everything."
Both Kakashi and Gaara turned to see Temari bounding across the rooftops towards them, her hair unbound and curling around her shoulders. "If I didn't know better," she grumbled, "I'd think you were trying to take Kakashi-san away from me."
Gaara and Kakashi stared at each other. "Your hair looks nice down," Kakashi offered, and Temari preened.
"I conditioned it three times this morning so it would be perfectly soft for you."
"Uh, thanks?" Kakashi said. Gaara stared at his sister.
"I brought this specifically to wear today too," she said, plucking at the front of her kimono. The majority of it was white but it merged into a dark purple-y black at the edges of the sleeves and at the hemline. Overtop of that was a sakura tree in full blossom.
'It is very nice," Kakashi agreed, though he couldn't really care less about clothing.
Temari blushed. "Thank you."
Kakashi didn't know what to say to the obsessive kunoichi, and Gaara's staring was beginning to get slightly freakish, so he excused himself with the defense of having many things to do to prepare for the ceremony. Temari squealed in delight, and Kakashi fought the urge to cover his ears.
"Ja ne," he said cheerfully, disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Kakashi spent the afternoon in the quiet solitude of the Uchiha graveyard, his back against Obito's gravestone and Icha Icha open on his lap. He'd tried reading but found it near impossible to concentrate on the words. In Icha Icha the protagonist had many women hanging off him, true, but he wasn't forced to pick one to spend the rest of his life with. Rather, he got to pick all of them and have a night (or more, if he chose) with each.
Kakashi sighed. He didn't want to live like an Icha Icha hero either, but even that would be better than the current decision he had to make. He was disturbed from his thoughts by a rustling behind him and turned to see Iruka shuffling towards him. "You need to go to the central area now for the final decision," Iruka said quietly.
Kakashi peered at him. His eyes looked a little puffy. Had he been crying? "How did you find me here?"
Iruka cracked a little smile. "I've seen you at the memorial stone a few times. I figured the only place a morbid bastard like you would be was in a cemetery."
Kakashi smiled back, though Iruka probably couldn't see it. "True enough."
"I hate cemeteries," Iruka said. "Can we get out of here?"
"What's wrong with them?" Kakashi asked. "They're so peaceful and quiet, and the dead always listen to what you've got to say without interrupting."
"They're sad," Iruka replied softly. "You can feel the sorrow of everyone who has trudged up the paths to visit people who have died, over and over again as if by continuing to visit they can somehow change the fact that the person is dead. It makes the air heavy."
"I guess." Kakashi shrugged and stood up slowly. From standing he could definitely tell that Iruka's eyes were red-rimmed. "I don't really see it that way, though. I like being alone." He tucked Icha Icha carefully into the fold of his kimono.
Iruka turned away and headed back towards the centre of the compound. "I'm sick of being alone," he said so quietly Kakashi wasn't even sure he'd heard it correctly.
"Welcome to the final day of The Shinobi Bachelor!" Tsunade boomed. She was standing on some sort of makeshift stage hung with fairy lights, wearing a knee length silver kimono that glittered and didn't adequately cover her bust. "Make sure you have all your bets in, because the betting booths will be closed in fifteen minutes. Who will Kakashi choose?"
Kakashi wished the earth would open up and swallow him. There was a huge gathering of villagers, mostly shinobi, all dressed in their best formal clothing huddled around the stage and talking in excited whispers. Whoever thought up the idea to make dating a public spectacle should be shot, he thought viciously.
"Ah, Kakashi, you're on time for once," Tsunade said happily, jumping down from the stage and dragging him towards it. "This is going to be fun."
"No it isn't," Kakashi grumbled.
"I meant fun for me," Tsunade corrected. "You're not going to enjoy it."
"You can say that again," he said, and seconds later found himself in the centre of the stage. For some reason the crowd started cheering as soon as they saw him.
"Okay, Kakashi, have you made a decision? You have ten minutes to do it, but I need you to give out your final prize pretty soon after we stop taking bets," Tsunade said, as if it wasn't much of a big deal.
Kakashi nodded. Yūgao was really his only choice, but he found he didn't mind so much. He liked her well enough, and they understood each other to a certain level. They actually had pretty similar personalities, when it came down to it. Kakashi smiles wryly. Or maybe it was just that being in ANBU wiped out your personality completely and that's what they had in common. She wasn't ugly either, that was for sure. Chances were they'd produce a pretty nice looking kid, as well as a talented one. He could live with that.
"Are you ready?"
Tsunade handed him his final 'rose' which, instead of a kunai, was a finely crafted tanto with intricately carved roses on the bone handle and an engraved closed bloom at the base of the blade. It was very light, for a decorative weapon, and Kakashi thought it would be a good knife for gutting people.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please," Tsunade shouted loudly. A few of the audience continued to chat (Kakashi could have sworn one of them was a blond with bright blue eyes) so she screamed, "Silence!"
That seemed to work. In a rather deceptively calm voice Tsunade said, "Please hold your breath while Kakashi chooses his bride."
Kakashi stood up slowly, uncomfortably aware that every single eye in the silent audience was on him, holding the tanto carefully with both hands. Yūgao was sitting to the left of the stage and Temari to the right. He took a deep breath and headed left.
He stopped a couple of step away from her chair, and was annoyed to see that his hands were shaking. His father would have punished weakness like that. He gave one last cursory glance out over the crowd and froze. From all the village of Konoha dressed in their finest his eye managed to pick out one lonely person, standing a little apart from the crowd. Iruka was gnawing on the tip of his thumb, his eyes bigger and sadder than Kakashi had ever seen them.
Take something for yourself.
Well, if there was ever a time to change his blindly following ways, then this was it. Kakashi leapt from the stage, landing a little clumsily due to the not-made-for-fighting-or-doing-anything-physical-really kimono he was wearing, and strode over to the chūnin that he felt closer to than anyone who he'd ever slept with. He stopped directly in front of him, and Iruka just blinked at him, confused and disbelieving.
Figuring something drastic was being called for, Kakashi hiked up the skirt of the kimono the best he could and knelt down on one knee. He held the tanto up and out in front of him on the flats of his palms and drawled, "Maa, Sensei, do you still want to know if I top or bottom?"
Iruka's eyes grew impossibly round, and then he pulled this thumb out of his mouth and slapped Kakashi across the face. "It's not funny anymore," he hissed. "Stop teasing me."
Kakashi was at a complete loss. Of all the answers he could have got, that was not something he'd expected. Though he really should have, given the way he'd been treating the chūnin all week. "It's not a joke," he said quietly. "I want you to be my," he paused as he searched for the right word, if he said 'wife' he had no doubt Iruka would kill him, "Boyfriend?"
Iruka blinked, and dug his teeth into his bottom lip. "But you can't choose me. I can't have children for you."
"This mission doesn't make any mention of children," Kakashi said smoothly, wondering if he'd messed up and read everything wrong. Iruka didn't seem to want to be with him.
"But… you'll need to, one day," Iruka said. He glanced around him and realized for the first time that every single person in the village was focused on him. His face turned red and he scratched his scar uncomfortably.
"Brat! You can't choose Iruka-sensei," Tsunade yelled, grabbing Kakashi by the ear and hoisting him to his feet.
"Why not?" Kakashi snarled, twisting out of her grip with practiced ease. "The mission parameters told me to find my soul mate. I did. And now you have a problem with that?"
"But nobody bet on Iruka," Tsunade said angrily, "You're messing with my gambling!"
Without warning a piece of paper pierced with a senbon flew through the air and thunked into the wood of the stage beside Kakashi's head where it stuck, quivering gently. "I beg to differ," a smirking voice said, and the crowd turned to stare at Shiranui Genma. Kakashi almost rolled his eyes. Of course that loudmouth would be in charge of the bets and have to make a great show of everything.
Genma nodded to the paper. "Take a look."
Tsunade slid the paper off the senbon – careful not to touch it, because who knew what germs Genma carried – and read it aloud. "Bet on Umino Iruka, 3,850 yen." She paused. "Kamizuki Izumo."
The crowd stayed silent, almost afraid to breathe. "Well, Iruka-sensei," Tsunade said slowly, "Are you going to answer him?"
Iruka looked like he was either going to burst into tears or spontaneously self-combust. Kakashi watched him hopefully. "I…" He stepped forward nervously and threw his arms around Kakashi's neck, nearly impaling himself on the tanto in the process, nodding into his shoulder. "Yes. Yes, if you will take me."
Kakashi slipped the blade underneath the back of Iruka's obi and hugged him back, breathing in the peach of Iruka's hair and the vanilla of his skin and pretending he couldn't feel the wetness on his shoulder. "Of course I'll take you," he whispered. "But you have to take me too."
-Small Omake-Type Thing-
Tsunade sat in her chair sipping sake out of a teacup and chuckling to herself. Kakashi was always full of surprises, but she hadn't expected him to go that far out of convention. The Elders were going to be spitting mad when they found out and it wouldn't be a fun time for Kakashi, Iruka or herself, but still. Iruka will make the brat happy, she thought, smiling. They'll drive each other up the wall, but they should be able to work it out without too many casualties.
She took another sip of sake, swilling it around in her mouth for optimum flavour, and considered. "Hey Shiranui," she called.
Genma sauntered over lazily. "What can I do for you?" he said around his trademark senbon, flicking it up and down as he talked.
"What exactly were the odds on Iruka winning the competition?" she asked curiously.
"Er." Genma shifted from one foot to the other nervously. "I had to make something up when he asked so I said one hundred to one?" he said quickly, looking anywhere but at her face.
Tsunade's shout could be heard all the way across Fire Country as she sprayed sake all over her desk and one quivering tokubetsu jōnin. "You said what?"
Izumo's bet translates to about $50 American, so he'd be winning roughly $5,000.
Yay! This is the end. Thank you guys for sticking with me this far, and please review. I've decided to be casually optimistic and say I'll write a one-shot for the person who gives me the 100th review. It's a win-win for me: Either I get lots of reviews or I don't have to write.
There will be a sequel, so watch out for that if you're interested. It will be rated M and have the sexy things and swearing (I can't help myself) that's not in this fic though, so be warned. I'll probably start it sometime after I finish Hound's Release, which I want to get done by Christmas. So until next time, ja ne!
P.S. I just managed to write 60,000 plus words in a month and complete a story. Feck yeah!