Sure, it was the first week of summer vacation – YAY – but it was the first big storm of the season as well. And, of course, Iruka went out to train in it. Yet again his mind wandered, although not as badly as the previous day.
Kakashi had been very distant when he'd finally made it back to the apartment after Iruka's training. His roomie had been out when he got back, so he went ahead and made some lunch – Yakisoba – which Kakashi hadn't been there to eat. Kakashi had come back, mumbled something akin to a quick greeting, and then hid out in his room for the rest of the day.
It left Iruka feeling confused and a little let down. Had he done something to make Kakashi angry? He'd cleaned the house on Saturday – a much easier task this time – and had made his special Noodle Delight for dinner with Kotetsu and Izumo. Kakashi had seemed happy if a little shaken when they had gone their separate ways for bed.
But why had Iruka felt let down? He had been at a loose end, sure, but that was no reason to feel like he'd been ditched on Sunday. It only proved that he had become used to Kakashi's company in such a short time.
Gosh, he'd only been living there for just a little over a week and he was already battling to keep from calling the apartment "home." No point calling it such an affectionate term if he wasn't going to stay.
After training today, he was soaked more than usual – and, yes, he blamed the god-damned rain for that! So he sloshed home and took a shower. Yay, more water! Then he dried himself and blow-dried his hair just in time to find a leak in the ceiling with his head. So he put a bucket under the leak – that's why Kakashi had all those buckets – and washed and dried his hair again.
That was when he went around the apartment and found all the leaks and put buckets under them. Conveniently there was just the right number of buckets to place underneath them. Funny how that worked out. More proof that Kakashi was a little… different.
Then Iruka sat down at the foot of his bed and started looking for the television remote. It was a good five minutes of searching before he realized that Kakashi didn't have a TV in the living room. He'd been so busy the previous week that he hadn't even noticed the couch had only faced a chair and the front door. The only TV was in Kakashi's room, but unless he was cleaning Iruka didn't go in there.
But that was okay. There probably wasn't anything worth watching on today, anyway.
So that was when Iruka made lunch and started reading one of Kakashi's non-Icha Icha novels. Oddly enough, it was a sappy romance story between two men. There wasn't any sex in the part he had managed to get through, but an amazing plot that kept him turning pages quickly.
That was when Iruka started wondering what Kakashi looked like under his clothes. And he started banging his head down on the table in front of him.
Kakashi watched Naruto avoid another attack from Sakura. And another. And another. Then he got hit, and he flew into a tree.
"Damn it, Naruto! What's gotten into you today?!" Sakura demanded as she stomped over to where Naruto had landed. The poor boy was slowly righting himself into a sitting position, but he looked so dejected as he watched Sakura approach that Kakashi almost intervened out of pity.
"I don't know what's wrong, Sakura-chan," Naruto said. "I guess I'm just not feeling very good today."
That snapped Sakura out of Angry Teammate Mode and into Kind Healer Mode. Kakashi found it amusing to see her hard eyes soften before she asked, "Where does it hurt?"
"My body doesn't really hurt," Naruto said. His voice sounded thick, almost as if he were sad. "I just… I'm not up for training today."
Kakashi gave Naruto a hard look through the misty rain. The boy's eyes were downturned and cast to the side. His arms were held in front of his chest as if he were trying to either subconsciously protect himself or hold himself in. But, most importantly, Naruto's eyes had lost their bright light. They looked dull and almost dead.
"I think we've done enough damage to the training field for one day," Kakashi said in a light voice as he looked around at the broken trees around him. "I know I'd like to go home and eat a nice, home-cooked meal that my roommate has lovingly prepared just for me. See you kids at the bridge tomorrow morning at seven."
With a disbelieving grumble from Sakura the students moved to leave. Sakura was practically a flash of pink light as she bolted home. Sai left at a more leisurely pace, but Naruto took his time to stand up.
"Hey, Naruto," Kakashi started as casually as he could, his hands stuffed in his pockets comfortably. "What's really going on?" With Naruto there was no need to be subtle. The boy wouldn't get it.
Naruto sighed and refused to look Kakashi in the eye. "I suppose I aught to tell you," he mumbled. "It's just… the last time I took the Chunin Exam I only made it through because I lucked out. I mean, I couldn't figure out any of the answers on Ibiki-san's test, and I didn't know how to cheat. Sakura barely managed to save me and Sasuke during that one fight, and Sasuke…"
"He manipulated you," Kakashi supplied easily.
"Yeah," Naruto agreed in a grave voice. "If it wasn't for Jiraiya training me for that month and teaching me about the Kyuubi's chakra, I wouldn't have been able to beat anyone in the final exam."
Kakashi had to fight the impulse to flinch when Naruto mentioned the legendary pervert sage. It rankled that he, Kakashi, had paid so much attention to Sasuke and ignored the truly wonderful Shinobi in Naruto. With a start he realized that the words Iruka had said to him just a week ago had wound their way into his head, making him embarrassed of the choice he'd made back then.
"You got through the preliminary fight with Kiba-kun by using solid strategy," Kakashi found himself saying. "You have also grown in strength and skill dramatically since then, and you have a natural instinct for any test about teamwork that Ibiki is likely to throw at you. I'm sure that you'll make it through again."
"You do?" Naruto asked as he looked up at Kakashi with hopeful cerulean eyes.
Kakashi couldn't help it; he smiled and nodded. "I do. I know that despite the challenges, you will fight your way through the best way you know how. After all, you are a great ninja and it's your nin-do – your ninja way."
All of a sudden Kakashi couldn't breathe. He looked down and saw a blond head plastered to his solar plexus with muscular arms wrapped tightly around his chest. It took Kakashi a moment to realize that he was on the receiving end of a Naruto hug – more like a death grip of gratitude. With a silent chuckle (it was hard to make noise with no breath) he affectionately patted Naruto on the head.
Naruto loosened his arms and looked up at Kakashi. "Thank you, Kakashi-sensei! I'll do my best to make you proud!"
Kakashi patted Naruto's head again and moved out of the excitable boy's grasp. "Maa… I'm sure you will, Naruto. Iruka-sensei taught you well, as did Jiraiya.
"Oh, by the way Kakashi-sensei, how is Iruka-sensei doing now that he's at your place?" Naruto asked with a snicker.
Kakashi sighed and turned to leave. Not more of this crap from one of his own students! "He's fine," he said as he stuck his hands back into his pockets.
The previous day after he overheard the conversation between Gai and Iruka, Kakashi had gone to the memorial stone to have a very unproductive conversation with Obito's spirit. On the way there and back he kept getting stopped by Shinobi and villagers alike who were asking him how Iruka was managing after the fire. At first he'd been annoyed that these people, who had never found the courage to approach him before, were suddenly stopping him in the middle of the busy street to ask him about his personal life. They'd never cared before.
Then he figured it out: he was rooming with the village Darling. They couldn't ask Iruka about his welfare because the Chunin would only say he was fine and then thank them for their concern. Suddenly, taking care of Iruka had made Kakashi approachable. Even with his Icha Icha out where everybody could see.
So, for the first time, he opened up to his student just a teeny tiny bit. "Iruka's doing well," he said. Naruto had caught up to him and was keeping pace beside him, so he just looked down to make eye contact with his pupil. "Would you like to come to my place for a few minutes to see for yourself?"
Naruto's face brightened. "You mean I get to see your place?" he asked excitedly. "Oh, boy! Just let me go home and change! I'll meet you at…"
By that point Naruto had run too far away to be heard, but Kakashi was following him at a more sedate pace. He'd head toward Naruto's apartment and get there just as the boy was leaving. Then he'd calmly lead Naruto back to his and Iruka's apartment.
But first, he should at least inform Iruka that they were going to have some company
Iruka looked up as he heard a poof and saw a cloud of smoke. In the middle of the mess – damn transportation jutsu smoke was a bitch to clean up – he saw a Kakashi clone smiling at him just like the original.
"I just wanted to say that I'm bringing Naruto by to see you," the clone announced. "He's never been to the apartment, so he's very excited. We should be there in… oh…" the clone made a point to look at the clock in the very taunting way the real Kakashi would have had he been there. "I suppose we'll be there in about ten minutes." Then, with another poof the clone disappeared.
Iruka sat frozen at the dinner table for a moment before he slammed the book down on its surface and shot out of his seat. With a flash of hand signs fast enough to make Kakashi envious he summoned two clones and set them to cleaning the residue of Kakashi's teleportation jutsu. Then he summoned another one to clean his bed and a third to tidy up the bathroom. Then he began rushing around the kitchen and started pulling out the ingredients to make a batch of soft buttery cookies.
By the time Kakashi and Naruto arrived twelve minutes later – Kakashi called out "I'm home" like a good roommate – the house was practically sparkling with cleanliness and the first batch of cookies was waiting for the oven to reach full temperature. Iruka looked up from where he was dropping dough onto a second baking sheet with a spoon to say, "Welcome home," when the two Shinobi walked in.
"Wow, Kakashi-sensei, I didn't expect your apartment to be so… normal," Naruto said as he stepped inside, his head swiveling every which way to take in everything. "I expected it to be, I don't know, like a dojo or something with kata hanging from the walls and weapons lined up in the bathroom or something."
"Naruto, take your shoes off," Iruka reminded his ex-student as he came around the half wall of the kitchen. "Kakashi had a couch, but he bought me a bed so he had to put it in storage. Otherwise, his apartment is completely normal. It's just a bigger version than mine was."
Naruto quickly hopped back into the entryway and stripped off his shoes. Then he tackled Iruka – who fortunately was prepared for the attack and managed to brace himself with a foot strategically placed behind him. The two men wobbled for a moment before Iruka managed to pull them back on balance.
"I'm so glad you're okay, Iruka-sensei. I was really worried about you!" Naruto said into Iruka's chest.
"You know, Naruto, you could have visited me at the Mission Desk," Iruka said with a laugh. Kakashi couldn't help but notice how big and real Iruka's smile was. The Chunin was truly happy to see Naruto and to receive a "hug" from him. It amazed Kakashi that Iruka could breathe.
"Yeah, but everyone in the village was going there to see you," Naruto said as he pulled away from Iruka's embrace. "I wanted to talk to you, too. You don't have to stay with Kaka-baka if you don't want to. You can stay with me."
"Thank you for the offer, Naruto, but I'm doing pretty well here," Iruka said, although Kakashi suspected that he wanted to stay with Naruto even less than he'd wanted to stay with his two friends. Naruto's small studio apartment was still a complete disaster.
"Kakashi-sensei isn't sexually harassing you or anything, is he?" Naruto asked as he gave Kakashi, who was passing them on his way to the kitchen to see what Iruka was making, the stink-eye. Kakashi paused to raise an eyebrow at Naruto before he continued on his way, only to stop again when he spotted the novel that was still lying haphazardly on the table. He turned a surprised eye on Iruka, who returned the look with a shrug. Naruto, fortunately, had turned back toward Iruka and was talking a mile a minute, so he missed the entire exchange.
The cookies Iruka made were soft and flakey, and they melted in Kakashi's mouth when he sipped his tea. The conversation between Naruto and Iruka was mostly one-sided (Naruto's side, of course). Then, after Iruka had finished his cup of tea he expertly and shamelessly booted Naruto out of the apartment. When he returned from the doorway he almost walked right into Kakashi, who was standing just inside the living room holding the novel Iruka had been reading.
"Is there something you'd like to tell me?" Kakashi asked teasingly, waving the book in front of Iruka's face.
"Yes, Kakashi-sensei, I was going to inform you that I've borrowed that book. I'm a little surprised to find a gay romance book in your collection," Iruka said as he pushed past Kakashi in order to start cleaning up the napkins off of which they'd been eating cookies. "Are you mad that I started reading it without asking you first?
"Not really," Kakashi admitted. "I am a little surprised that this is the one you chose to read. I have a whole bunch of straight books I thought you'd be more interested in. The adventure section is right next to your bed."
"Well, that was the book I randomly pulled off the shelf," Iruka admitted. He walked up to Kakashi and plucked the book from his fingers and started riffling through it without really looking at the pages. "I'll admit that I'm not really into romance novels, but this one just sort of hooked me from the first page. I've never read a gay novel before, either."
"I'm glad you like it," Kakashi said as he watched Iruka wander off toward his bed and sit down at the edge of it. "I didn't take you for a homo."
"Oh, Kakashi, please don't say it like that," Iruka said as he dropped the book to his lap. "I'm assuming that because you own this book that you swing that way at least a little bit?"
Kakashi took a deep, steadying breath before he nodded in affirmation. There – he admitted it.
"You like girls, too, right?"
Another sharp head nod. No secrets. He couldn't stand the idea of lying to the academy teacher. It just didn't seem right.
Iruka looked down at the book in his lap and sighed. "I've never really been attracted to any girls, but I haven't really been attracted to any men, either. I've dated a few women in the past, but it was mostly because they liked me and I wanted to have somebody. As I'm reading this – and it's a really good story – I'm starting to wonder if maybe I swing that way."
Kakashi felt his jaw drop. "Iruka-sensei, that's a very personal piece of information. Are you sure you want to tell me that?"
Iruka seemed to sigh as he looked Kakashi in the eye. "I figure that since you're my roommate you aught to know, just in case I go crazy or something and bring a guy home."
Kakashi mirrored the small smile on Iruka's lips and saw the twinkle of humor appear in his eye as he said, "Maa... I doubt you'll bring any random strangers home. It's not like you to do that, Iruka-sensei."
Iruka shrugged as he stood up from the bed and practically sauntered toward Kakashi. "Oh, I don't know. The last time I got drunk I wound up shacked up with a male Shinobi. Next time… who knows?"