Author's Note: Sequel to Stumbling Into Secrecy.


Clandestine Interest


Friday night, after school, after homework was graded and filed away, all the teachers met at their local hangout for drinks again. Iruka had to admit that the world had felt different all week. He was questioning himself, and his surroundings, and he wasn't sure why.

If his coworkers noticed, they were too polite to say.

"Hey, stop sulking or whatever and have a few," Genma said.

Alright, so everyone but Genma was too polite to say anything. Iruka sighed and sipped his beer slowly. "No, I'm not going to have a drinking contest with you."

A round of groans went up.

Genma slumped back in his chair. "Loosen up, Iruka-'sensei'. It's Friday."

"For your information, last Friday I had to help a man passed out on my doorstep," Iruka said. "So I have a very good excuse for not wanting to be stone cold drunk this evening."

Genma snickered. "What, is he going to do it again?"

Iruka colored.

"Who is this guy, anyway, who passed out on your doorstep?" Mizuki asked.

"I don't know," Iruka said.

"Ooh, Ruka." Genma whistled.

Hayate elbowed him. "Knock it off. That's not nice. Iruka-kun was being a good citizen, and you're making fun of him."

Genma raised his hands. "Hey, hey. It's good natured teasing among friends. I didn't mean anything by it."

Iruka sighed and slumped in relief. Hayate was one of the only people who could rein Genma in.

A hand clapped down on his shoulder, and he jumped, his head snapping up.

Hatake Kakashi smiled down at him.

Iruka stared, unable to help it. He'd only seen Kakashi a few times around the village since they were both children. As an adult, Kakashi was wippet-thin and imposing, all muscle and sinew. As usual, one eye was covered by the jauntily tied hitai-ate, and a mask came up over Kakashi's nose, covering the lower half of Kakashi's face. Only the telltale crinkle at the corner of Kakashi's eye revealed the smile.

"Kakashi-kun, hey," Genma said, unfazed. "I thought you hated these get-together things."

Iruka remembered that Genma had grown up with Kakashi. Team Minato and Team Kiroku had been rivals, albeit of the friendly sort. Minato, future Hokage, had led Kakashi, Obito, and Rin. Kiroku, one of Minato's friends from his academy days, had led Genma, Ebisu, and Gai.

"Maa, what gave you that idea?" Kakashi asked. "I'm working Fridays, that's all."

"This doesn't look like work," Genma pointed out.

Kakashi grinned, the fabric of his mask stetching with the motion, revealing a vague outline of his mouth. "I'm off on sick leave."

"You don't look sick," Ebisu said. From his sour tone, Iruka guessed that Ebisu thought Kakashi was malingering. He had no idea why Ebisu would jump to conclusions, but then, he didn't know Kakashi like Ebisu did.

"Ah, but I've been grievously injured in the line of duty," Kakashi declared. He had the audacity to wink at Iruka. "Cracked ribs. Some good citizen found me on my deathbed and took me to the hospital."

Iruka flashed cold with disbelief. It can't be.

Anyway, that wasn't what had happened. Of course, if Kakashoi had been the ANBU agent he helped, Kakashi wouldn't be able to say what happened.

No, it can't be. It's a coincidence. Why is he winking at me? And his hand is still on my shoulder. Iruka found himself thoroughly embarrassed.

"You seemed like you were having an interesting conversation," Kakashi said. "What about?"

Ebisu ate a piece of tempura and washed it down with beer. "Iruka-kun was just telling us how he'd helped an injured man last Friday."

Kakashi blinked. "What a coincidence...I was injured last Friday, too."

Those words sank straight to the bottom of Iruka's stomach. He's obviously trying to tell me that was him. Why? To thank me? He hadn't done anything remarkable. He didn't want or deserve the thanks. And wasn't Kakashi risking a lot by declassifying himself?

"Sure you were," Ebisu said. He didn't seem impressed.

Kakashi took the empty seat next to Iruka and helped himself to a drink from the pitcher of beer, using one of the two extra glasses. "Expecting company?"

Iruka started to answer, then noticed Kakashi drinking through his mask, without getting the mask wet. He stared for a few long moments before shaking sense into himself. It's an illusion. Kakashi is a master of genjutsu.

Genma shrugged. "Usually a couple more guys show up."

"Izumo-kun and Kotetsu-kun had other arrangements tonight," Hayate said.

"Ah, right. Those guys." Kakashi took another drink of beer and looked at Iruka. "Aren't they your friends, Iruka-sensei?"

Ebisu snorted. "Sensei? Why did you call him 'sensei'?"

Kakashi shrugged. "It's nice to have someone to be respectful to."

Iruka blushed. "N-Now, Hatake-san, wait a minute..."

Kakashi sighed and put on a morose face. "'Hatake-san'. How formal."

Iruka squirmed.

"That's the way our Iruka-kun is," Genma agreed, downing the last of he beer in his glass.

Ebisu gave him a refill. It was customary to refill a friend's drink for them.

Genma took the pitcher and refilled Ebisu's glass in return, though Ebisu had only finished half of what had been there to begin with.

"I suppose I should call you Umino-sensei," Kakashi said.

"Iruka," Iruka corrected.

Kakashi grinned.

Iruka did not like that grin. It spoke of mischief.

"Well, if you want to be called Iruka-sensei, you'll have to call me Kakashi," Kakashi said, draping an arm around Iruka's shoulders.

Iruka felt a flush break out all over his body at the casual intimacy. What had he done by helping Kakashi? "Ah...okay. Kakashi-sensei."

Genma snorted beer out his nose and wiped his face on his sleeve. "Kakashi-sensei? Seriously?" He laughed. "Only kids call him that."

Iruka blushed.

"Stop that," Hayate said, without any real heat. "You're going to make him blush worse."

Kakashi rubbed his chin, examining Iruka with interest. "Maa, you are blushing, aren't you? Why? Is it hot in here?"

Iruka despaired. Izumo and Kotetsu knew that he was gay, but no one else did. He didn't trust Genma not to blab, and Ebisu not to judge.

Kakashi, being the kind of elite genius – and ANBU agent – he was, had to be some kind of A-type man's man. It was almost a given. Kakashi would never understand, and being so smart, he'd probably dissect Iruka and figure it out.

Iruka prepared himself to be humiliated. Maybe not in front of his friends, but he would be humiliated. Of that he was certain.

"Iruka gets red when he's had too much to drink," Genma spoke up, unexpectedly coming to his rescue.

Iruka grinned sheepishly.

Kakashi chuckled. "Is that right? Gai-kun turns bright red. That's why he won't drink. He won't suffer the indignity."

"What about you?" Iruka asked. "What color do you turn?"

"You'll never know," Kakashi said casually.

Iruka eyed Kakashi's mask. It did a pretty thorough job of covering Kakashi's face. Does he take it off for undercover missions? He mentally slapped himself. Don't go there.

But Kakashi's arm was still around his shoulders, and he had drank enough to be mildly buzzed. Besides, knowing Kakashi was that injured man last Friday stirred up his protective impulses. Silly, but Iruka couldn't help it. He'd become a ninja to protect people.

Worse...People with a hint of vulnerability were just his type. Not people who needed saving all the time. People who were strong, but had that one vulnerable moment where he could step in and offer his services. And Kakashi had done just that.

He'd spent all week fantasizing about the mystery man and telling himself not to. Kakashi introducing himself as that man seemed like fate.

Except for the fact that it was Kakashi, of course.

"Should you be drinking?" Ebisu asked suddenly as Kakashi finished his glass of beer. "If your ribs are fractured, you would have been prescribed medication to manage your pain."

Kakashi gave him a lazy look. "Medication is more fun with alcohol in the mix."

Iruka snorted. "Unless you overdose on it and need to go back to the hospital."

"No need to worry, I'll be careful," Kakashi said.

Iruka looked at him suspiciously.

Kakashi grinned. "Anyway, if I happen to need a little help, it's good to know I can rely on you, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka put on a scowl. "I'm less inclined to take care of people who purposefully put themselves in danger."

"How cruel."

Eventually, the pitcher of beer was drained, Kakashi putting more of an effort in than Iruka, and everyone said their goodnights.

Iruka walked home as usual, crossing over the doortstep to the apartment building where Kakashi had fallen last Friday with a pang.

Still, he didn't pause or mope about it. The single thought merely crossed his mind, Why couldn't you have been someone else? The mystery had been more enticing than the reality. Kakashi was not the quiet, sensitive person Iruka had conveniently imagined when fantasizing about his tall, delicate stranger in the broken dog mask.

But that was the way of reality, wasn't it?

Iruka thought sometimes he was too much of an idealist to be in a relationship with anybody.