Iruka always respected Kakashi. Their relationship, limited as it was, went through its ups and downs (the chuunin exams being the famous down); but that never tarnished his admiration for the dedicated shinobi. Their most recent encounter, and one of the most impressionable Iruka had ever had, sealed his opinion of Kakashi forever.

Looking up into Pein's emotionless face, Iruka was fully prepared to die. He was not going to leave his comrade, and he especially would never give anyone information that could lead to Naruto's harm. To expect death and instead get Kakashi –brave, steady and strong- was a feeling Iruka would never forget. To later learn that that encounter had cost Kakashi his life (although briefly) affected Iruka so deeply he swore he would never cross the shinobi again; especially not for a petty reason such as a conflict of opinions. He also secretly wished to repay him for his kindness, although the thought of ever saving Kakashi's life was utterly laughable. So, Iruka had contented himself with being as kind and helpful to the shinobi as he could, whatever the circumstance.

So, you could imagine Iruka's total, complete and utter shock at being summoned into Tsunade's office for a mission –and seeing Kakashi there, hands in his pockets, looking at him expectantly. Tsunade grinned a wolfish, amused grin at Iruka's confusion as he closed the door politely and stepped inside her office.

"Kakashi-san." Iruka greeted in his usual polite manner, the surprise and slight confusion mingling with his pleasantry. "Tsunade-sama, you summoned me?"

"Yes, Iruka-sensei! Please, come forward and stand next to Kakashi." Iruka did as he was told, smiling slightly at the familiar way Tsunade addressed Kakashi. For some reason, it made him happy to see them on such good terms. Maybe it was because he never saw Kakashi with anyone, and so any hint of friendship was a relief to the chuunin. He came to a stop next to the taller man, who regarded him with his usual eye smile.

"Greetings, Iruka-sensei."

"Iruka-sensei." Tsunade began before the Chuunin could address Kakashi again. "I've called you to my office because I have a very important mission for you. Yes –a mission. I realize most of your hard work is done within Konoha, but the requirements of this mission suit you so wonderfully, there's really no one else who can do it."

Iruka visibly balked. HIM? Now, Iruka was completely aware of his skill set. He knew he was a solid, capable chuunin, especially strong in the basics from his years of teaching. However, he never really did particularly IMPORTANT missions that required the HOKAGE to administer them (with the exception of anything that had to do with Naruto). He was nowhere near that skilled –that was what the Jounin and ANBU were for. "Tsunade-sama, I am honoured to be considered by you. What do you require?"

Tsunade and Kakashi both grinned at Iruka's infallible politeness, which had him blushing scarlet and slightly tipping his head down. He didn't understand why he always seemed to amuse his superiors in such a way. Wasn't everyone supposed to be respectful?

"Iruka-sensei, this will be an undercover mission. It requires someone who has impeccable social skills, can read and relate to people, and is able to see through half-assed diplomatic lies like it's his job." At her last phrase, she beamed at him –seeing as that WAS, basically, part of his job. "This will obviously be your role in the mission. You are to pose as a wealthy merchant from Konoha in a very high risk, but incredibly important social gathering of other high ranking merchants from various countries. The details are in the mission scroll, but basically, we've been hearing rumors that Mist traders are attempting to rally together and put an unofficial blockade on trade between other countries and Fire."

Iruka gaped. What a move to make, after everything Konoha had been through. Unoffical made sense, since the present Mizukage obviously had nothing against the Fire country. Iruka squared his shoulders, his outrage temporarily dismissing his surprise at the high ranking mission he was being assigned. "We know for certain the officials of Mist are not involved...?"

"Not entirely, since Mist has quite the reputation –but certain enough to know where to focus our intel. For now, at least." She signed, then looked up at Iruka and quipped: "Do you accept?"

"Yes, Tsunade-sama. Of course! I am honoured and will do my best." He exhaled with a slight bow.

Tsunade leaned back in her chair with another broad grin. "Excellent, I knew I could count on you. Well, I'll tell you the rest of the mission parameters, then. You are obviously not going alone –Kakashi here will be going as your "body guard". However, we always enjoy the element of surprise, so he will be posing as a hired hand. One with a skill level that isn't too intimidating until we need it to be."

Once again, Iruka gaped. Well, he knew Kakashi must have had something to do with his mission. Now, however, the rank level really hit him. For him to be working side by side with just Kakashi...and for Kakashi to be a necessity for this mission. Well...now, he was starting to doubt himself. He truly hoped he wouldn't embarrass himself in front of the famous Jounin. He turned abruptly and noticed Kakashi watching him with a soft, amused expression. He realized that he must have been gawking for quite a while. He flushed deeply –geeze, he really needed to learn to control himself the way Kakashi did.

"Tsunade-sama...this mission...I...I mean, Kakashi-san is-"

"-Oh, it's perfect for both of you! You don't even need to break character. One is the stoic, silent protector; the other is a smiling courteous socialite. It's like poetry, really. Also, you've already accepted, so you're stuck with him now."

"OH! No, no, I have nothing against Kakashi-san, really. I'm really quite honoured to work with him, I understand he's quite...above..." Iruka just stopped himself when he realized Kakashi was levelling him with far too intense, and yet bizarrely soft, a look. "...I will be ready to leave whenever we're required, Tsunade-sama. Thank you for this assignment." He figured he'd better just stop before his entire head exploded from concentrated heat. Seriously, why did this always happen to him? He was utterly composed and domineering in the classroom, and quite often at the mission desk. He swore he had more authority than this.

"Excellent! Here is your scroll. Meet Kakashi at the gates in three days at sunrise. Dismissed!"

With that, Iruka and Kakashi silently turned and walked out of Tsunade's office. Once the door was closed, Iruka turned to Kakashi with a broad smile on his face. "Well, Kakashi-san! It's been such a long time since we've worked together. I really am honoured to be on this mission with you, and I do assure you I will perform to a standard you'll find acceptable."

Kakashi laughed good naturedly, his eye cranking up into a tall 'u'. "There was never any doubt about that, Iruka-sensei, otherwise you would not have been chosen for this mission."

"A-ah...well, yes, of course." Predictably, Iruka's face inflamed bright enough to direct a small crowd through the woods in the dead of night. "I just...well, you see, I really wasn't expecting to be assigned this kind of mission. Not that I don't appreciate it, it's just...ah...umm..." once again, Iruka trailed off under the strong gaze of Kakashi. He never noticed how intense his lazy expression could get...he only had one eye, how could he capture someone's attention with it like that, and with seemingly no effort?

"Maa...Iruka-senseiiii. So bashful." He almost purred in his long, husky drawl, leaning in slightly to train his eye on Iruka. "You'll do just fine, we all believe that." And without another word he smiled, cast his hand signals and promptly disappeared.

Iruka was left standing in the hallway, mere moments from an excruciatingly awkward, geyser level nose bleed from sheer embarrassment. He needed to get his shit together before the mission, or he wouldn't have enough blood circulating through the rest of his body for normal, everyday functions, let alone shinobi level stealth and accuracy.

-POOF-

"Ah, Iruka-sensei...I forgot to mention: We're supposed to be star crossed lovers in this mission. Deeply in love, but unable to be together due to the differences in our stations and the barriers of our conflicting life styles."

"..."

Iruka was fully incapable of response. He was trapped in an endless limbo of being utterly shocked, deeply embarrassed, oddly intrigued, and rightfully critical. As such, his expression was priceless. And exactly what Kakashi was aiming for; after a few moments of thorough enjoyment, he grinned his usual happy-go-lucky grin and flashed Iruka the peace sign.

"Just teasing, sensei -you better get that checked out."

-POOF-

Iruka blinked slowly, than pressed his fingers gingerly to his nose –they came away, tinged red.

Damnit.