Kakashi lay in bed watching his bedroom brighten as the sun rose. The day before had been interesting, to say the least. Of course he'd gotten to the bridge to meet Naruto, Sakura, and Sai late, but he'd been in such a good mood from breakfast that he forgot to go to the Memorial Stone. What a happy surprise it had been to find the apartment clean and the kitchen producing such amazing scents, making the place feel lived in and warm. He couldn't find it in him to torture his students as much as usual.
He'd surprised them when he'd arrived by telling them that they were each to practice a single jutsu that they normally wouldn't have tried. He assigned each one a different spell, and had watched each of them struggle. Then he'd assisted each one, explaining where they were messing up and how to improve. Only Sai had been able to master the new technique before he allowed a lunch break, but the other two had made significant progress. Then, after lunch he'd set them up in pairs for a sparring rotation, giving them a chance to integrate their new techniques and for him to speak with each student individually about their fighting tactics.
Sakura had been the first to notice the change in Kakashi. When he spoke with her privately, she asked him why he was so chipper. He'd sidestepped her question – he had an image to maintain after all – before redirecting her attention to the lesson. But, by the time he'd called it quits for the day, all three were suspicious. He had no doubt that they had all gone out to eat afterward and discussed little old him.
But the nicest part of the day had been in the evening. After letting the brats off for the day, he'd gone to visit Obito at the Memorial Stone and to ponder his sudden good mood. Breakfast wasn't that spectacular to change his mood for an entire day, even if the Miso Soup had eggplant in it! That, and he really hadn't slept well knowing there was a stranger in the other room. Obito didn't have any answers, as per usual, but Kakashi still found himself leaving to buy the dog food after a reasonable amount of time.
Then he'd come home to find Iruka in the kitchen preparing dinner. The shorter man's hair was up in its usual ponytail and he was wearing a spare uniform someone had given to him, so he hadn't physically changed much in the hours since Kakashi had left. But there was something different about him. It was the relaxed way in which Iruka stirred the food with one hand in his pocket and a truly peaceful expression on his face that practically blew Kakashi's mind away. He almost hated himself for ruining Iruka's calm by announcing his presence.
The dogs had also come as a surprise. Not only had Iruka been okay with him summoning them for dinner, he'd enjoyed their antics – and what antics! Kakashi was used to the challenges for dominance and playful tendencies of his summons, but they never tried to steal his food off his plate like they did with Iruka! They were acting like puppies, pure and simple, and Iruka encouraged them, even enjoying the game. Then, after Kakashi had done the dishes – voluntarily, too – Kakashi turned to find Iruka in a pile of wiggling nin-ken trying to pet them all at once.
Kakashi had almost felt left out as he witnessed the scene, and instead he sat in the chair opposite them as everyone settled for a big cuddle. Imagine, ninja dogs cuddling! If Kakashi hadn't found the image of Iruka buried in fur so picturesque he would have died at the embarrassment of his ninja dogs acting like contented pets!
Then the truly terrifying part of the evening: Iruka had asked him if he could invite some friends to the apartment. Of course his logic was sound – who wouldn't be worried about such a kind person being left in Kakashi's house? And Kakashi knew what his reputation was. People didn't cover their whispers very well when they talked about him as he passed. He would have been worried about Iruka, too, if he hadn't already known how things were going. Iruka was just… so… innocent. And kind. And the nin-ken knew it, too, which is why they attached themselves to Iruka so easily. Kakashi couldn't refuse Iruka even though he'd wanted to.
It pleased Kakashi when he got up to go to bed that his nin-ken had followed him. There was a brief scuffle at the door as the dogs argued over which one would stay with Iruka. Apparently they all wanted to stay with Iruka, but they all wanted to stay with Kakashi, too. Eventually Bull decided that he was just going to walk over to Iruka's couch and lay back down next to it without saying anything – not that he'd ever said anything before. The others understood that Bill had decided to be Iruka's guard and had noisily filed into Kakashi's room to settle on his bed.
Then Pakkun had sneezed. "Boss, did you actually wash your bed?" he asked.
"No," Kakashi said as he started changing into his pajamas, "Iruka did that before dinner. Didn't you notice when he left and made my bed when I did the dishes?"
"We were too busy eating," Bisuke admitted guiltily. They'd all been given some leftover chicken, which Iruka had used to buy himself some time to finish the laundry before he got pounced on the couch. Kakashi had been surprised to find his bed made with his clothes piled neatly on it after he'd finished washing the dishes. Because he couldn't very well sleep on the bed with the dogs and his now fur-covered clean clothes, he quickly stuffed them in some drawers.
"He's nice, Boss," Guruko said as he settled on the foot of the bed. "Can we keep him?"
"He's only staying until after the Chunin Exams," Kakashi said. "Then there'll be a free space and he'll be given a new apartment."
"What happened to his old one?" Akino asked.
"It burned down," Kakashi replied, pushing a few nin-ken out of his way so he could climb into bed. Pakkun took up his usual spot on the pillow next to Kakashi's head and the others settled in again. "Iruka-sensei didn't have anywhere else to go."
"I'm surprised he didn't," Pakkun said. "He's the kind of guy to have a lot of friends."
"I guess he does," Kakashi said, thinking back to the fire when he'd overheard the other two Chunin offering Iruka their place, and Iruka made a comment about being sardines. "But he still needed a place, and no one else volunteered. Then Shizune made me volunteer."
Pakkun snuffled around in a way that always made Kakashi think that the pug was chuckling at him. "I bet she just wanted you to do what you would have done anyway."
"I'm not sure I would have," Kakashi murmured. "I'm really not that nice."
"Sure you are, Boss. You just don't like to admit it," Pakkun replied as his eyes drooped.
With his pack around him, and the lack of sleep the night before catching up to him, Kakashi had found himself asleep in only a few minutes. But now that he was awake again with the dogs still sleeping around him, Kakashi found that he couldn't get the little Chunin out of his mind.
He really was becoming smitten.
Iruka woke to the sounds of someone banging around in the kitchen. He turned his head and cracked his eyes open, checking to make sure it was Kakashi messing around before jumping to defend his new… couch? He'd have to come up with a term to call it – it wasn't his house, his couch, his place, or his anything. He didn't have anything except an ancient shield.
Having seen Kakashi clumsily tinkering around in the kitchen, Iruka decided to try and catch a few more hours of sleep. It was Sunday. He didn't have to be anywhere.
Then Kakashi dropped something metal, and Iruka nearly hit the roof in his surprise. "Kakashi, what are you doing?" he demanded.
Kakashi grabbed the kettle he'd dropped and looked over his shoulder at Iruka as he set it on the stove. "I was just making myself some tea, Sensei. I'm surprised you didn't wake sooner – I've been banging away in here for the last five minutes."
"I know you have," Iruka grumbled. "I was trying to ignore you. Today's my day off."
"No mission desk and no students?" Kakashi asked as he filled the kettle with water.
"None; just a bunch of grading. This week we have exams and I need to get everything back to the kids tomorrow so they can study for the first one on Wednesday. Then we're off for the summer, just in time for the Chunin exams."
"I always found it odd that the academy is open on Saturdays, but you don't work there that day," Kakashi commented as he rummaged through the cupboards for tea. He seemed a little put off at first, and Iruka wondered if he was surprised to find food in the previously empty spaces. It wasn't like he'd changed which cupboard the tea had been stored in.
"I am usually given the difficult class," Iruka said. "I'm the one assigned the kids who are special in one way or another: prodigies, troublemakers, kids with bloodline limits… the children of deceased fourth Hokages. Then, when I was assigned mission room duty, my time at the academy was shortened to five days a week to accommodate the extra duty. Because of my teaching style, I still manage to have the highest number of graduates each year, and I am honored to even have a whole graduating class of rookies who not only graduated but also made it to the Chunin exams six months later. Shikamaru even made Chunin that year."
"You are quite the mother hen," Kakashi said, remembering how Iruka had chastised him for entering Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura into that exam. He didn't miss Iruka stiffening at the mention of it.
"Considering how many orphans I had that year, I'm not surprised I turned into a mother hen," Iruka said. "I also knew what Naruto and Sakura were like in my class, and I didn't believe it until I saw it that they could grow so much in so little time, especially considering that you are a genius and were most likely only able to teach Sasuke."
Kakashi stared open-mouthed at his new roommate (not that the other man would know that his mouth was dangling since the mask covered it). "What?"
Iruka sighed and stood, walking over to the table where he tiredly plopped down in a wooden chair. "From my experience, smart people who've had it easy tend to easily understand other people of similar intelligence. Sasuke was a prodigy who worked his ass off and closed off his emotions after the death of his clan. Considering how much of a genius you've proven to be, how hard you work for the village and how emotionally cut off you are from everyone, the two of you really are peas in a pod. Naruto is a completely different ball of wax who requires an emotional attachment to get things into his thick skull, and Sakura was just a preteen girl with preteen girl hormones, which made her impossible to teach. You did a really good job, but I didn't know that until I saw it with my own eyes."
"You give me far too much credit, Sensei," Kakashi said lightly, surprised at Iruka's observations.
"I know I do," Iruka snapped, his voice suddenly taking on an irritated edge. "Naruto tells me about your training sessions and your missions just like he did back then. Until Sasuke left you basically used the competition between them to train Naruto in new skills, and you mostly left Sakura to her own devices instead of pushing her to develop her taijutsu and ninjutsu abilities. You, Sensei, are ridiculously lucky that your students didn't die on your mission to Mist."
"How very cunning for a man who hasn't been on an A ranked mission in years," Kakashi snapped as the tea kettle began to whistle.
Iruka shrugged. "I may not be a Jounin and I don't have any special jutsu, but I am an experienced teacher. That's why they still have me there after nine years, when most Chunin only teach there for three or four. Dealing with students is my gift, and I'm certain that if I ever decided to train for Jounin status I would be given a Genin team of three immediately."
"You became a Chunin at sixteen?" Kakashi asked.
Iruka smiled. "Pretty average, I know."
Kakashi shook his head. The Chunin was annoying in his preachy-ness. All he wanted was some tea and a chance to wake up slow. Instead he found himself being talked down to by an Academy teacher. Who cared if he was a great teacher, he still didn't have very much actual experience in the field. "I'm not awake enough for this," he mumbled as he jammed a teabag into his cup.
Iruka, for his part, looked contrite. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to berate you," he said. "Would you like me to make you breakfast?"
"Sure," Kakashi said as he poured the hot water into his cup. Then, because he couldn't very well stay mad at the man he had to live with for who-knows-how-long, he made a peace offering. "Would you like some tea?"
Iruka sighed and rubbed his face with the blanket. "Yeah, thanks," he said. "I think I'm up for good now."
"Sorry about that," Kakashi said in the most heartfelt way he knew how.
"No you aren't," Iruka said. "A man of your skill and grace wouldn't drop one pan let alone three pans and a kettle. And you know where the kettle belongs since I didn't move any of your stuff around yesterday. You're worse than Naruto was. You know he would play a prank on me before a test just to rile me up so I'd do something to make it impossible to give it out?"
"Sounds like him," Kakashi said as he started making Iruka's cup of tea.
"Did you know he did it so he'd have an extra day to study?" Iruka asked. "He can't read very well, so it took him a long time just to read the textbook. He couldn't keep up in class taking notes, so almost everything he learned he either learned by ear or figured out on his own."
Kakashi turned from pouring Iruka's water to look at the tired teacher who was still sitting tiredly at the table, his elbows resting comfortably on his knees. "I never knew that," he admitted.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Iruka said. "He never does the paperwork. When you don't do it, you foist it off on Sakura because her handwriting is the best and you don't want me yelling at you. I'll bet you've never actually seen Naruto write anything, and because your lessons are all practical and relate to group work that's a natural course."
"He's a smart kid," Kakashi said as he handed Iruka his tea. Iruka set it on the table before him to let it steep. "He thinks in four dimensions."
"He does," Iruka said. "Once I figured out why he was playing the pranks before tests, I started giving more notice about tests and gave more comprehensive explanations of what was going to be on them, but because of my duties at the mission desk I couldn't spend much time with Naruto. That's why he didn't know how I felt about him until Mizuki betrayed us and told Naruto about the Kyuubi."
Kakashi just stared at the academy teacher in amazement. He'd never realized just how much the teacher paid attention to the goings-on around him. "Well, it doesn't help that he's such a knucklehead," Kakashi said as he took a tentative sip of his tea through his mask. "Sometimes I wonder if he has a learning disability with how many times I sometimes have to explain things."
Iruka gave a chuckle and sat back in his chair. "He never had anyone to help him learn," Iruka said. "He didn't learn how to think the same way everyone else did. Some people learn by hearing. Some people learn by watching. Then there's Naruto, who has to jump into the fire to know its hot."
"If that's true, then why did Jiraiya do so well with him?" Kakashi asked.
Iruka shrugged. "From what Lady Tsunade's told me, she essentially was Sakura when she was a Genin, and Orochimaru was very similar to Sasuke. Jiraiya was just like Naruto is, and he was able to present concepts in a way that let Naruto figure them out."
Amazing. "Are you very close to the Hokage?" Kakashi asked.
Iruka sighed. "I was injured a lot when I was going through my professional prankster stage after my parents' deaths. She and I grew close over time, and since she's been back we've started talking again." Then Iruka stood up and stretched, his hands almost touching the ceiling above his head. "Well, I better get a move on if I'm going to make breakfast. I didn't mean to get into that discussion, either."
"It's okay, Sensei," Kakashi said. "I'll bet you've been wanting to say that for a while."
Iruka smiled as he passed the kitchen's half wall. "Sort of," he admitted. "I never figured I would actually say that to you, though."
Kakashi watched as Iruka read another three page essay. He watched as the Chunin made marks on it in a big red pen. As the page was placed on the "done" pile he quickly grabbed it and started reading it.
"Kakashi-sensei, could you please put that back?" Iruka asked without looking up.
"I wanted to see what you see," Kakashi said as he moved away from the couch that Iruka had taken over and headed toward the dinner table. "You've been at it for about three hours now with only one cup of tea, so I was wondering what was so interesting."
"These need to get done before dinner," Iruka said. "Since I started them after lunch and I have to finish in an hour so I can start preparing dinner, I can't take a break."
Kakashi could accept that. After Iruka had made breakfast Kakashi had followed him to the training field. Iruka went through a pretty basic series of warm-ups before proceeding into a fairly standard set of drills. It was a good workout that worked on strength and speed, but no special skills were practiced or developed, although a decent amount of time was spent on the workout. By the time Iruka finally called it quits it had been time to make lunch.
Iruka was… interesting, Kakashi concluded. His moves during training, although routine, were precise and perfect. Of course, he taught these skills to young children on a daily basis. His demonstrations didn't have to be perfect since the students didn't have discerning eyes, but the unhurried-yet-quick actions very nearly were.
But they were so routine! There was no variation, like Iruka was practicing by remote; like he'd been doing this same set of kata and drills for years. Was the teacher stuck in a rut? Kakashi had to admit that Iruka was a good teacher, if what the younger man had said that morning was true, which he believed it was. The kata had become quite complicated near the end of the morning, but it didn't prepare anyone for true battle.
It made Kakashi wonder if Iruka had sensed his chakra as he sat in a nearby tree "reading" his Icha Icha. However, when Iruka had finished with the cool down movements the Chunin had headed home as if he'd just had a good workout. The Chunin, who was so easy to read, looked tired and satisfied as he walked beneath Kakashi back toward the village.
Lunch had been as delicious as all of the meals Iruka had made thus far, which brought up the item Kakashi had wanted to mention.
"You know, Iruka-sensei, you don't have to cook all the meals," Kakashi said.
Iruka glanced up at Kakashi as he said, "I know I don't, but I'm used to doing it for myself anyway."
That made Kakashi pause with surprise. "You always cook like that?" he asked.
"Well, no…" Iruka said as he went back to his grading. Sometime during Kakashi's musings the Chunin had managed to work his way through his pile – he was almost finished grading the essays. "I usually only made stir fry or something simple I can make in one pot with a side of rice when it was just me, but whenever I have company I try to make a more traditional meal."
"Why would you do that?" Kakashi asked. Iruka only shrugged. "Seriously, Iruka-sensei, why would you go through so much effort to cook for me?"
Iruka sighed, put a grade on the last essay, set it aside dramatically, and looked Kakashi in the eye. "Because you gave me a place to sleep even though you didn't want to," he said seriously. "I wanted to thank you, and I think that domestic duties are the only thing I can contribute to the household while I'm here. Heaven forbid I stay longer than I need to."
Then, as Kakashi sat there stunned, Iruka picked up his pile of corrected essays and left the apartment.