Disclaimer: I never have and never will own Naruto, you silly little things.
Author's Note: Welcome to the re-posting of "The Little Things"! I won't be changing too much because that would drive my inner perfectionist insane, so enjoy the mostly intact original version with some modificatons! Be sure to check my profile for notes, updates, yada yada, blah blah.
Ultra special grovling thanks to the lovely readers at the KakaIru lj community for preserving the fic where I failed and my dear partner in crime, Valen! You people are glorious.
Warning: The entirety of this story is not to be taken seriously. Those looking for deep introspection and meaningful romance with a side of angst, run far away now—this will burn your eyes. And possibly your soul.
Those of you in search of snarky idiocy with ridiculous Iruka-torture, a helping of crack, and a side of drama, read on!
Chapter One: Unremarkable
Hatake Kakashi should have known better than to use labels. Ever since birth, he had been another victim branded, cursed, and inevitably empowered by them. He created masks that fit to the public's opinion and boosted all his reputations. Truly, it was better that way. The real him, they did not know; the real him, they did not deserve to know. The jounin wore his little façades, playing the game with all the pawns around him, and waited. He sat by patiently, wondering if anyone would ever be able to tear away the mystery—to see the underneath the underneath. He wondered if they'd care. He wondered if they'd be worth it. Really, he wondered if there was even an "anyone" left.
Time and time again, silently presenting challenge after challenge, Kakashi found his company predictably wanting. He knew them better than they knew themselves. Their masks were not nearly so perfect. He was an un-lockable tease, bored, stuck lingering among transparent tools. He had seen their usefulness. He knew their reliability in combat. He knew their strengths, weaknesses, and every thread of a character flaw. Genuine humanity-beyond what soldiers preserved in order to survive society-he had yet to see.
For a man who prided himself on looking underneath the underneath, the Copy-Nin's gaze didn't pierce very far. Lazy labels had blinded him.
Unimo Iruka, in the jounin's world view, was of little note. He was another name and serial number on an ID tag, another presence scurrying around in a way of life of little concern to any shinobi. He was a dark-skinned man of thicker build with a defining scar across his nose. He was a chuunin who manned the mission room, a drone who filed away the insignificant, bureaucratic grunt work. He was an overbearing teacher stuck in his own little world, totally ignorant of the system beyond his profession. All in all, Iruka was much like the tree in front of his beloved Academy-ignored, bland, and constant. He simply was, and nothing more. This mindset Kakashi never expected to change. Circumstance gave him reason to think otherwise.
The morning had been the same as all the others-cold, misty, and grey. It seemed his life would always be at the mercy of grayscale.
Against this bleak backdrop, the jounin became something of an apparition-a lithe man so pale, taking steps so silent, he might as well have been part of the ether. Drained of all color, washed of all life, he felt just as faded. It was the sight of the usurper that drew his eye. It was the murmur in the quiet that shook him from his routine.
Kakashi stopped and carefully watched the figure standing before the memorial stone. A faint chill trickled down his spine at the stark familiarity. Set against a dreary haze, the darker man hadn't lost any of his enviable warmth. He stood, as tangibly full of energy as ever; that particular constant was alien in this territory.
Umino Iruka simply wasn't supposed to be here.
Curiosity sunk in its jagged claws into the Copy-Nin. Questions stirred in his guilt-ridden mind. The chuunin, however, would be the first to speak. The teacher stiffened and turned sharply, bright eyes seeking the other presence encroaching on his warmth. Though several like shades of icy death himself, the silver-haired jounin did not go unnoticed.
"Kakashi-sensei," he breathed, stepping aside as the Copy-Nin slowly approached.
"Sorry to interrupt, sensei." Kakashi settled into his laidback slouch and stared at the man intently. "I didn't think anyone would be here this early."
"I've been here for over an hour, actually."
"Yeah. I haven't spoken with them in a while." He glanced down at the stone briefly and gestured with the yellow and purple lilies clutched in his right hand. "I had to leave them these."
The jounin's gaze shifted to the vibrant petals for a moment and then fell to the marker. It wasn't long before he found the two names he'd never bothered to recognize.
"Your parents?" His grey eye glanced back up at the sad smile on the teacher's face. It was really all the confirmation he needed.
"They were killed," Iruka sighed as sorrow shone in his entrancing brown eyes, "in the Kyuubi attack."
Curiosity dug its claws deeper. "But, you-Naruto-"
"I know what you must be thinking, but, to me, hating Naruto for something that was never his fault is out of the question," he paused here and raised his chin almost defiantly, "If anything, I see myself in Naruto, in the circumstances that made us who we are. What's sealed inside him-I can't change that. All I know is that Naruto is a hero in his own way, that he is a good person first and foremost, and that I will do all I can to help him. In doing that, I'm honoring their sacrifice. If I keep forward and teaching, the grief doesn't hurt so much all the time."
"I doubt many people in your situation would have done the same." Kakashi half-smiled behind the mask. "It's bad enough he has the demon in him, but he's also loud and orange."
Iruka laughed so warmly it caught the jounin off-guard. "Doesn't look good for him, does it?"
It was that smile. Something about that smile. How could it be so disarming and yet-?
"No," he said, struggling against the faint, tingling warmth fluttering in his chest. "No, it doesn't."
"May I ask whom you're here for, Kakashi-sensei?"
An awkward pause stretched out in the cold air before the jounin responded.
"Old friends," he murmured, staring at the names endlessly haunting him as the Sharingan burned beneath his hitai-ate.
Iruka didn't expect anything more. The pain and guilt he felt from the Copy-Nin in that instant he was all too familiar with. For Kakashi, those scars were still fresh. He wished he knew what to say. He wished he knew how to help, even though he sincerely doubted the man would ever accept it. To hold on for all this time, the jounin seemed to think he deserved his agony.
Someone like me could probably never change that, no matter how much I wanted to.
The chuunin gently placed the purple lily at the foot of the stone and stood back up. The bit of violet drove away the impending haze, if but for a moment, and the sudden relief did not go unappreciated. He was well aware of the grey eye following his actions and smiled. They hardly knew one another, and he still managed to pull the jounin back. Maybe the coldness possessing the Copy-Nin wasn't so permanent after all. He hoped, for Kakashi's sake, that was the case.
"Here," Iruka said softly, holding out the yellow lily. "I think you need this more than I do."
Kakashi eyed it with a perhaps overly bored look. "A flower?"
That earned him a snort.
His visible eye crinkled with a guarded smile. "I hardly think this is the place to ask me for a date, sensei."
The blush, the jounin expected. The sudden rush of warmth through his own chest at the sight was a surprise.
"It's symbolic," Iruka muttered, hastily grabbing the man's right hand and setting the stem in the gloved palm. "Gold and purple lilies-parables for life and death."
Kakashi made a faint noise in understanding.
"Purple lilies stand for the loss we all feel in death." The teacher closed the Copy-Nin's fingers around the flower's stem and stared back up at that dark grey eye. "But gold lilies stand for the rebirth of life that follows after, what happens when we have to carry on with our own lives and remember those we lost. It's a circle, and it's one that we all have to start over and over again until our own time comes."
The Copy-Nin felt the hand over his squeeze slightly, for a split second, before letting go.
"The point is to keep going no matter how much it hurts. You can't stop." Iruka smiled, and added with a laugh, "You never know what you might miss!"
It was that warmth, that spark that finally struck a chord.
"I guess you're right," his eye crinkled with the slight smile, "sensei."
Hatake Kakashi was intrigued.
At first, the jounin wasn't overly concerned. Granted, the teacher had been on his mind three months straight after their meeting by the memorial stone, but Iruka was a puzzle he could work on solving. Many times, he was honestly glad for the distraction. Downtime between missions could be, and usually was, unbearably dull. Trying to figure out what made the chuunin tick was an opportunity he found he couldn't pass up. His analytical mind enjoyed putting together the pieces of Iruka's life. He took notes of friends, favorite places to be, favorite foods, daily routines, and even joined the teacher and Naruto for some casual meals. It became something he could look forward to, information he could update, more facts he could learn. For someone so normal, Iruka was increasingly interesting and increasingly irritating. Despite his best efforts, Kakashi could not, for the life of him, figure out just why the man was so enthralling. Short of a simple explanation, prolonged investigation was necessary.
"What are you doing?" a gruff voice huffed from his shoulder. "Scratch that—do I even want to know?"
Kakashi barely glanced away from his paperwork. "What makes you think I'm doing anything, dog?"
"You're in a tree. With binoculars, a camera, and a notebook."
"I'm admiring the view."
"You're being a creeper."
"I'm wounded. Truly. Here I thought a change of scenery would help me think, and you accuse me of being some kind of deviant."
"Considering that's the guy's bedroom," Pakkun snorted, "I just bet he's helping your need to think."
Kakashi raised his eyebrow and drawled, "I'm broadening my horizons."
"Oh, gross. Isn't that illegal to do in public?"
"Shut up, Pakkun."
The pug rolled his eyes and glanced down at the paper in his master's lap. "What are you really doing? This is the tenth time I've caught you here watching this guy. Did he do something? Is that a list?"
Kakashi sighed. "I'm trying to observe, you insufferable mutt. Don't you have something better to do? Poker to play? Squirrels to chase? Children to bite?"
"I'm more interested in why you're stalking a chuunin for the hell of it. Unless this has something to do with the Rainbow of Stupidity."
"The munchkins are far too entangled with their little love quadrangle to notice anything but hormones and ramen." Kakashi shrugged. "I'm simply observing the subject just in case."
"In case of what?" Pakkun prodded the list with his paw. "A sudden pimple? Have you even read what you've written here?"
The Copy-Nin blinked.
The dog threw him a disbelieving stare. "'Must remember to do mission reports correctly and punctually. Seems to earn smile #5. 'Butterflies' still unexplainable. Ponytail unusually spiky today. Perhaps changed to new shampoo. Managed to grasp subject's hand. Found it large, warm, minor calluses, firm grip. Gave subject a smile after incident. Observed marked increase in pulse and perspiration. Face revealed new shade of cranberry. Blush managed to travel below collar. Wonder if subject has tan lines.'
This is normal for you?"
The nothing got louder.
"You know, this reads an awful lot like infatuation—"
Kakashi's eye narrowed.
"—and is frolicking headlong into obsession, boss."
"Just as long as you don't fall in love with the guy."
Kakashi scoffed. "Don't delude yourself, dog."
Two more months of 'observations' and handing in his mission reports only to Iruka-sensei passed before the Copy-Nin admitted (privately) that he was a little obsessed. A bit. Maybe. Just a little. Kinda.
Three months after that and five Icha Icha books chock full of Iruka-sensei surveillance photos later, Kakashi had to admit that 'a little' was an understatement.
Another month of blatantly admiring everything about the man and having particularly interesting dreams (that required a cold shower upon waking up) told his genius brain that something else might be going on.
Yet another month of 'accidental' touches, incidental 'dates', and the intense need to always be there, making Iruka smile and laugh every day, later-Kakashi realized he had a problem.
"Oh, look at you, all twitterpated," Pakkun had cooed sarcastically. "Dumb ass. You know, I'm not going to say it, but I'm going to think it—very loudly."
Kakashi had cringed.
What started as a slight, little crush wasn't so much that anymore. The truth was that the jounin had fallen for the teacher. Hard.
Worse still, Iruka-sensei had absolutely no idea-at all.
The chuunin was completely oblivious, totally naive-and possibly in some serious denial. It was a trait/flaw the Copy-Nin found to be simultaneously aggravating and, well, kinda cute. Not as cute as the angry blushing, or the embarrassed blushing, or the stuttering, or the pouting, or the sneezing, or the way he nibbled his pen when he was lost in thought, but that was beside the point.
The main issue at hand was that Hatake Kakashi, one of the most (allegedly) alluring and attractive men in Konoha, had all of his subtle, and not-so-subtle, advances shot down by a chuunin. He had been chasing Iruka almost over the course of a whole year, and all he'd managed to do was become a curious acquaintance in the man's world view. On some level, the jounin figured he probably deserved it for how he'd snubbed the man at the Chuunin Exams, but mostly, his battered ego saw it as a travesty. The smoothest-talking lecher in the whole village couldn't even get to first base with an Academy teacher-a teacher, for God's sake-when everyone else would be practically swooning. It was infuriating. He tried everything-everything short of grabbing him and kissing him senseless. Somehow, what little social skills he had told him that his quarry, the near embodiment of Morality, probably wouldn't react to that very well (no matter how tempting it really did sound).
No, this required seduction, even if every attempt backfired. And they did. To be driven to using Naruto as a pick-up line on more than one occasion was downright desperate. To fail every single time was so pathetic it burned.
Travesty? Hell, this was an outrage.
Kakashi's sharp, analytical mind brooded over this disgrace as he stood, leaning back gracefully against a thick tree on the outskirts of the training grounds. His left hand slipped into his pocket as his right held up his beloved book, and his steely grey eye admired the picture wedged between a few choice pages. An inaudible sigh left him as his pale fingers rapped against the green hard cover. So far, the jounin's genius mind was drawing a blank. With the exception of the artistic opinion that this particular camera angle really captured the chuunin's backside quite nicely, very little definite thought was taking place.
Normally, the Copy-Nin was quite good at multi-tasking, but today something was wrong-something that he just couldn't quite put his finger on. As far as he was aware, nothing was terribly different. His love life was a wreck. His emotional baggage required a decade of therapy. The breeze was gentle. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. Butterflies flitted about swaying flowers, and squirrels went after each other's nuts. It was quite peaceful, actually, and possibly a bit gay. Yet, there was just something missing-
"Take that back, you bastard!"
"Make me, dobe!"
Ah. Kakashi nestled contently against the tree as his students screamed at one another. So that was it. He smiled beneath his mask. Tranquility at last.
"Sakura, how could you?" Naruto howled, holding up the offending note. "I knew you liked Sasuke-teme, but this is just gross!"
"I didn't write it, you idiot!" she shrieked, smacking him upside the head. "As if I would waste my time! I don't need to be sneaky and quiet about my affections! Sasuke knows exactly how I feel about him!"
Said Uchiha scowled and tried not to flinch.
"Besides-" Sakura spat, grabbing the paper from the blonde. "This looks like your crappy hand-writing!"
The Copy-Nin had to look up at that.
"It does not!" Naruto roared, blushing furiously and pointing his finger at the so-called avenger. "Like hell I would ever write anything to that-that-!"
"Don't lie! I can see the ramen stains!"
"I didn't write it! Why would I say I love somebody I hate?"
"Hormones and repressed sexual tension!" she snarled. "Admit it! You have a boy-crush on my Sasuke!"
Naruto paled and froze as his expression caught somewhere between 'Oh God, I'm going to die' and 'Oh God, I'm going to throw up'.
Sasuke fidgeted awkwardly and then looked down because the particular patch of grass he was standing on was incredibly fascinating.
Sakura gaped at the boys dumbly and then mentally went to war with Inner Sakura as the apparent love triangle wreaked havoc on her brain.
Their beloved sensei took this moment of silence to tuck away his book and leisurely make his way over to the scene of the unfolding soap opera. He paused at the girl's side and deftly took the note from her trembling fingers. Ah, teenagers. He never thought his team would be so thoroughly amusing, and all because of some piece of paper. The jounin would have to remember to tell Iruka-sensei about this. The Copy-Nin could see the blushing, and his hidden smirk widened into a grin. Yes, he would definitely have to later. But now, according to sacred law, it was time for some goading.
"Maa…" He waved the note back and forth. "Is this what all the fuss is about?"
"Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto balked and flailed his arms wildly. "It's-It's not what it looks like! Really! Sakura's lying! She's framing me!"
"I am not, you big dork!"
"It looks like poetry." There was a pause as the eye crinkled happily and skimmed over the words. "Oh, my mistake. Love poetry."
"I didn't write it, I swear!" the blonde screamed hysterically. "I didn't write it!"
"Of course, you didn't, loser," Sasuke snorted. "You can't even write your own name, let alone a stanza."
"Aw, that's so sweet of you, Sasuke," Kakashi beamed, "to come to your lover's rescue when he's so embarrassed. How gentlemanly."
"He's not my lover!" The Uchiha snarled. Apparently a nerve had been struck.
Sakura sighed a bit in relief at the outburst. "Kakashi-sensei, you shouldn't be teasing Sasuke. He and Naruto aren't together like that."
"Yet," the jounin practically sang. "It's only a matter of time."
The three retorted at once, though with varying enthusiasm. "LIAR!"
"Then again, Sasuke, you do have a lot of fangirls. I suppose any of them could have written this. And, judging by the quality, your 'secret' admirer has been reading a lot of Icha Icha."
Naruto flinched, but only because a bug bit him at that precise moment.
Kakashi cleared his throat. "Oh, my raven-haired beauty-!"
"Shut up!" Sasuke growled, his hands clenching into tight fists.
"How your eyes sparkle like dew in the sunshine-!"
"Knock it off!"
"And your pale, sinewy muscles glisten with-"
"Shut up!" Naruto roared, blushing furiously as he covered his ears.
"Okay, okay." Kakashi folded the note and glanced at the trio. His genius mind kicked into gear. He was such a good sensei. Iruka would be proud. "But I hope you've learned your lesson about sending sensitive material to comrades in public. It can always be intercepted."
There was something of an affirmative murmur and a collective nod.
"Good." He turned back to the tree, but then stopped, and headed over to the blonde. "Oh, and, Naruto?"
He mumbled miserably, "Yeah?"
Pale fingers slipped the note into the boy's pocket as the jounin smirked. "You spelled "fiery" wrong-not that he cares, I'm sure."
Naruto made a mortified noise, blushed fire engine-red, and then snapped, "I didn't write it!"
"I believe you, I believe you," Kakashi said, clearly implying otherwise, and then turned back to the tree as he pulled out his book.
It took roughly seven minutes for training to properly resume, and even then it was sub par. He supposed it was hard to focus when one was trying to figure out if a particular move was a not-so-subtle attempt at a grope, but such was the life of a ninja. He mentally reminded himself that he might have to watch Naruto and Sasuke more closely lest something with the potential for tremendous blackmail happen. But the jounin also knew that when those wild, bottled-up teenage emotions exploded, it was not going to be pretty. He did care about their wellbeing a little, after all. As their leader, he supposed he had to keep them in one piece, and that took vigilance. If they didn't kill one another, he figured Sakura would try to in a jealous rage. That, or she'd pass out from a heavy nosebleed and become a rabid yaoi-fangirl stalker. The jury was out on that one. Either way, damage control on his part would probably be required.
Now if only he could figure out what to do about his own predicament. The Copy-Nin nestled back against the gnarled trunk and skimmed over a few pages of poorly-written smut before the gears again began to turn in his head. What to do, what to do. Hmm.
Well, quite obviously he had to make Iruka realize how he felt. That was fairly important. But he also wanted to make sure the sensei felt something in return. To be completely rejected after all this-that was a terrifying prospect. It was almost enough to convince him to not do anything. What if he screwed up? What if Iruka hated him? What if Iruka was straight? Now that would be awkward. Yes, he decided, he should probably figure out that piece of information early on. It would be nice if Iruka would actually go along with the jounin's ultimate life plan: point A-meet, point B-hold hands (by force, if necessary), point C-go on first date, point C(a)-have hot sex, point D-sign marriage certificate. It would be a shame for that crayon-illustrated diagram to go to waste.
Clearly, there had to be some more blatant seduction involved. If Iruka went along with it, that would effectively solve one problem. Well, two problems. But then there was the matter of the Copy-Nin's ego. A year of being utterly brushed off hadn't done the poor thing wonders. Humility didn't soothe those particular boo-boos. His pride called for retribution. It called for vengeance. It called for payback. It called for-some other worthy synonym in the thesaurus.
Kakashi had to admit, he wasn't above toying with the man. Far from it. Iruka deserved a taste of his own medicine. He wanted the man to squirm. It was a crime to be so entirely oblivious. There had to be a way to use it against him.
But how? How to kill two-three-however many birds he was up to now-with one stone? This required craft and cunning. It required mischief. There had to be some plan, some brilliant course of action he could take.
Even if I did think of something, he probably wouldn't go for it. He'd probably think it was a joke and forget about it. Damn. Dealing with the naive should not be this complicated. I've admired the man for months now, half the time not even secretly. What do I have to do, write him love notes in my mission reports? Ha! Talk about effort wasted. He wouldn't even believe it. You think he—
Oh, wait a second.
Wait. A. Second.
"Now, then." The man smirked as the light blub flickered on. "There's a thought."
And what a thought, indeed.
He looked up from his book in time to see a feint on Sasuke's part send Naruto barreling into a tree. He almost cringed as he held back a laugh. That looked like it hurt. Still, it had been a very good move. The fox-child should have predicted it. Maybe if his head wasn't so thick, or maybe if he wasn't so distracted by thoughts of a certain 'raven-haired beauty'…
"Misdirection," the Copy-Nin chucked to himself. "Of course, misdirection."
A wicked grin pulled at his thin, pink lips hidden beneath the mask. He'd outdone himself. It was genius, absolute genius. His grey eye took on a thoroughly sinful shine as the trio instinctively turned toward their teacher and shuddered. That look was not a good look. No, that was a very bad, evil look of diabolical plotting. They could only pray they weren't the intended victims, because that expression in the jounin's eye could only mean one thing.
Hatake Kakashi had an idea.
He had an awful, awful idea.
To Be Continued…
A/N: Note that Chapter Two was not recovered and will require complete revision. I will try to not make you wait too long.