Iruka walked through the village with a stack of graded papers in his hand. On the outside he probably looked a little irritated, but on the inside he was livid.
What was up with Kakashi? The man was questioning everything he did! Sure, he'd given the guy a lecture when he'd just woken up, but that was mostly because he'd been grouchy from his rude and inconsiderate awakening. Since then, he'd been careful not to do anything to annoy the Jounin. It bothered him that even his kindness was being questioned. So what if he made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the Jounin? Couldn't he do something because he wanted to?
And why had he told Kakashi about Naruto's reading ability? It wasn't his to tell! He'd encouraged Naruto to tell Kakashi at least, but Naruto wasn't one to force his problems onto anyone else. If Iruka hadn't gone to the Genin's place so many times to fetch him for class, he wouldn't have known about the boy's difficulties, either. So why had he brought it up?
As Iruka reached the memorial stone, he sighed in relief that no one else was there. He sat in the grass before it and looked for the place where his parents' names were etched.
"Hey, Mom and Dad," he said in a whisper so soft the sound never made it past his lips. "I've had a rough weekend. It was my birthday, but I forgot about it until I was drunk. My place burned down, and now I'm shacked up with a crazy Jounin who's driving me nuts. He's reminding me why I never had a long-lasting roommate before: they always piss me off." He'd had a roommate when he first made Chunin. He'd wanted a clean apartment, but the other boy hadn't cared so much. To this day they weren't friends.
"You see, Kakashi keeps asking me questions. It was strange enough that he let me sleep on his couch, but now he's been asking me about a lot of strange things I wouldn't normally think about. This is the guy who basically told me to buzz off after I voiced some concerns about Naruto in the Chunin Exams, and he called me weak when I was recovering from the Pein attack on the village! He hasn't shown me any interest in the Mission Room, and he didn't even want me on his couch! He's inconsiderate, rude, lazy… Dad, if you were alive I'll bet you'd like him as long as you didn't have to work with him.
"But… if he," Iruka took a deep breath to steady the quiver he felt deep in his chest. "If he didn't want me, then why was he so kind to me when we got to his apartment? Why would he try to get to know me? Why hasn't he made any demands for me to leave the instant another apartment opens up? Why didn't he blow up at me when I told him I went into his room? He's being awfully nice, despite being a natural prick.
"And how the hell did he know about my work schedule?"
Of course no answers were forthcoming for any of his questions, but getting those thoughts off his chest made him feel lighter. He sat at the stone for several more minutes, pondering the conundrum of his new roommate. Seriously, why was the jerk being so nice? Had he presented such a pitiful face at the fire that Kakashi felt he had to be kind? Iruka doubted it – he'd been injured and in the hospital when Kakashi had walked in and told him in a roundabout way that he thought Iruka was weak. Even called him cute.
Bleh. Cute. What a sickly-sweet derogatory term of endearment. Just what every guy wanted to hear.
Maybe Iruka hadn't looked so pathetic at the fire, but maybe Kakashi had seen Iruka's depression and had sympathized? It wasn't very likely. The guy was predictable to a fault. Iruka had done a very thorough workout this morning instead of practicing his jutsu like he normally would because he knew Kakashi would probably follow him – to find out if Iruka was going to tell anybody where he lived most likely. The man was nothing if not suspicious and prone to snooping around people he found different. It was all logged in his psych evaluation in his file. Iruka had felt the chakra flare of Kakashi following him after he left the apartment (admittedly it was a small one and he wouldn't have sensed it at all if he hadn't been looking for it) and because of that flare he had been able to track Kakashi's presence most of the way to the training ground.
That was one thing Iruka didn't want Kakashi to know: what he did during training. It may not have been anything compared to what Kakashi had seen in the past, but he wanted to keep it private for as long as possible. That jutsu… it was his last connection to his parents.
Iruka walked into the apartment and stopped. Something wasn't right. He smelled… food. Food without smoke. So he flipped off his sandals and made his way into the living room to investigate. Smelling things that could potentially mean an apartment that was on fire usually made him wary.
Above the half wall that curled its way around the kitchen he could see Kakashi in front of the stove with something in the wok before him. As Iruka came closer, Kakashi said, "Iruka-sensei, can you tell if the chicken is done?"
Iruka walked into the kitchen and peeked into the wok. A large amount of meat looked like it had been smothered in teriyaki glaze was bubbling and dark brown in the bottom. "Any longer and it's going to start to burn."
Kakashi removed the wok from the heat and started dumping the contents onto little plates. "I don't cook very often because I can't always tell when it's done," he explained. "Takeout is a lot easier and usually tastes better."
Iruka looked at the table where a bowl of slightly overdone rice sat at his place along with some pickled vegetables, cucumber salad, and what appeared to be sautéed eggplant and onions. At least the sautéed combo didn't look overcooked. The pickled vegetables and cucumber salad were both very similar to each other and, thankfully, raw so they couldn't be overdone.
But then… Iruka realized that he didn't have anything to complain about. Naruto couldn't cook anything. It was one of the reasons the blond boy liked ramen so much: he could boil water. Just barely.
"It looks good," Iruka said as he took his seat at the table. It wasn't an outright lie since it didn't look bad. It appeared to be edible. It just had a bit more… character… than Iruka was used to his food containing.
"It didn't turn out right," Kakashi snapped as he set a plate of chicken in front of Iruka. It appeared that cooking – or, more accurately, not doing something perfectly – grated on Kakashi's nerves.
Iruka shrugged as he watched Kakashi take his seat on the other side of the table. "Then I guess you know what you don't want to do next time you decide to make something."
Kakashi glanced up at Iruka, who had grabbed his chopsticks and was staring down at his food with his head resting on one hand. It was a very relaxed and easy position that gave Kakashi the privacy to eat his food at a normal human pace. "You're treating this as a learning experience?" he asked in disbelief.
"Yes," Iruka said to his chicken, which he was picking at. "I'll admit it's a bit more Cajun than I'm used to, but it doesn't look bad. Next time you may want to stir it more and not let it go so long." He took a bite. "But the teriyaki sauce is good."
"It came from a bottle," Kakashi griped as he tried a piece of his own. Iruka's home-made stir-fry with his teriyaki sauce made from scratch was much better. Although, this sauce wasn't bad…
"The sauce you used… did it come from the miso teriyaki bottle?" Iruka asked.
Kakashi stared at Iruka, his mask pulled down and he was about to take a bite. "Yeah, that one," he said suspiciously.
"That's a bottle of my home made teriyaki," Iruka said with a small proud smile. "I re-used the bottle after I dumped the moldy sauce that had been in it and washed it. That way I don't have to prepare it at every meal."
Kakashi looked down at his plate contemplatively. He hadn't realized what a pain it was to prepare five different items all at once in just the right proportions for two people. The rice in the rice cooker pretty much cooked itself, and the pickled vegetables and cucumber salad just took some cutting and mixing, but making the eggplant dish and the chicken had taken a lot more juggling than he'd expected. Then the chicken took a lot longer to make than the eggplant. "Tomorrow, let's go out to eat," he said.
"You can," Iruka said. "I'll stay in, if you don't mind."
"Maa, Sensei, why would you want to do that?" Kakashi asked lightly. "It's so much easier to go out! You shouldn't have to cook all your meals."
"I'd like to," Iruka said. Kakashi was truly amazed at the dedication Iruka had toward the slightly charred food before him, and his courtesy of keeping his gaze lowered so Kakashi could "enjoy" his food. "However, I'm not feeling up to running into students."
"I thought you liked talking to your students," Kakashi asked curiously. He'd always noticed that whenever a current or past student approached Iruka, which happened quite often, Iruka would always take a few minutes to at least greet the kid. He seemed to genuinely enjoy the interactions.
"I do like it," Iruka said slowly, "but I'm kind of at a low point in my life right now. I don't feel up to being social."
"What?" Kakashi asked after a brief moment. "You, at a low point in your life? Naw….. I don't believe it."
"Believe it!" Iruka said in a falsely enthusiastic way that was dramatically reminiscent of a blond Genin they'd both taught. "And where's my ramen?"
Kakashi looked down at the food he'd made and said, "Maa… Naruto, its right in front of you disguised as eggplant. If you eat it, it'll be just like ramen."
Iruka broke out into laughter. "Too bad Naruto wouldn't fall for that," he said.
"Have you ever tried?" Kakashi asked lightly as they resumed eating. Now that his mood had lightened, Iruka dug into his food a little more enthusiastically, making Kakashi smile underneath his mask.
"He's come over to my house for dinner pretty regularly since he made Genin," Iruka admitted. "I don't have to blackmail him into eating his vegetables now, but to get him to this point I tried everything. For some reason he didn't believe that his carrots were actually ninja disguised as carrots."
Kakashi chuckled, almost causing Iruka to look up in surprise. He resisted the urge, but he was pretty sure he'd jerked a little. "If Naruto was twelve, then I'm sure he wanted to believe…. Believe it!"
Iruka chuckled. "Oh, you know him – he said he couldn't believe something as silly as that, but he ate them anyway. Nowadays I think he's found some vegetables that he likes, although I think he still looks at the ones he doesn't like as enemy ninja who need to be taken out."
With a laugh from both men they lapsed into silence and ate their food. It was surprisingly comfortable to just sit there and eat, and it only took a few minutes before Iruka had finished everything. Then he started clearing away his dishes.
"What are you doing?" Kakashi asked from the table.
"I'm doing the dishes," Iruka said, turning back to finally look Kakashi in the eye. He noticed with a little bit of disappointment that his roommate's face was covered once again.
"It's okay," Kakashi said. "I cooked, so I'll clean."
"Well, you cooked, so I'll do dishes. That way neither one of us feels stuck doing all the work each time."
That didn't jive with Kakashi. "But you did the breakfast and lunch dishes, and all the dishes and cooking since you got here except for last night," Kakashi said. "I can do some of the work."
Iruka paused as he waited for the sink to fill with hot water. "You're asking for work?" he asked, mystified. "The lazy Jounin who reads porn, sits through training, is always late, and can't turn in a decent mission report is offering to do more work?"
"Yes," Kakashi said with a smile in his voice.
"Has the sun blown up and I just don't know it?" Iruka teased as he dumped soap into the dishwater.
"Maa… Sensei, you make me sound untrustworthy!" Kakashi almost wined.
Iruka sighed. "I thought you hated housework because of how dirty the place was when I got here," the brunet admitted.
"I don't hate housework," Kakashi admitted as he brought a few remaining dishes over to the sink. "I just don't need to do it. Nobody ever comes over."
Iruka glanced over at the lazy Jounin who was leaning comfortably against the counter. "A house as groady as yours used to be is completely unsanitary! I'm surprised you didn't get tetanus from all the dust."
"I'm up on all my shots," Kakashi said. "The Hokage won't send me out on missions anymore unless I've had all of my medical checkups and shots and tests. She's such a killjoy."
"It's for your own good," Iruka said, "and that of your team. Are you so suicidal that you don't care about how your life impacts others?" he asked with a hint of irritation and irony in his voice.
Kakashi's head almost snapped back in surprise. Suicidal? He wasn't suicidal? Sure, he took risks, but he wasn't wishing for death. At least, he wasn't anymore. Not since Naruto had unwittingly beat some sense into his head. "I do what I do to protect the village. And hospitals are horrible."
Iruka could see some of that. Hospitals were horrible places. They smelled like antiseptic and they were so hushed a person could hear a fly sneeze at the other end of the building. It didn't help the only time anyone went there was when they were hurt or sick, or to visit someone who was hurt or sick. "I guess I just think the best way to avoid hospital visits is to make it so that I never have to go," he said as he started washing dishes. "I try not to get sick, and I train my students as best I can so I don't have to visit them."
"What about when you get injured?" Kakashi asked.
With a sigh Iruka said, "As you probably know, I haven't had a mission in several months, and I haven't had an A ranked mission in about a year. There isn't much that can harm me beyond some cuts from kunai practice at the academy."
"You've had missions so recently?" Kakashi asked.
Iruka paused in his scrubbing, looking over at the white haired man leaning against the counter next to him. "You thought it had been longer?" he asked with a smile.
"Yeah…" Kakashi mumbled with a thoughtful look at Iruka. "I almost never see you gone from the mission desk, so I assumed you don't go on missions anymore."
"And my file says that I hadn't done an A ranked mission for a few years before the last one," Iruka said with a suspicious glance over at his roommate. "When did you read my file?"
There was a long pause as Kakashi appeared to debate what he was going to say. Then he said, "I read it a long time ago, after Naruto left with Jiraiya."
"Random timing," Iruka said as he went back to scrubbing.
Kakashi sighed and gave up the game. "I was looking for Sasuke. I figured that knowing everything about his past and reading the histories of the people from his past would help me understand where I messed up."
Iruka turned toward Kakashi again in surprise. That was a lot of insecurity that he'd just been privy to, which was completely unlike the famous Sharingan no Kakashi. Not only was he shocked at what Kakashi had told him, he was also shocked at the implications behind the words. Kakashi felt bad that one of his students had turned into an S-ranked missing nin? He took the blame for it himself? He felt responsible?
"You know, Naruto told me about that confrontation on the roof by the water towers," Iruka said slowly. "He said that everything had been pretty much okay by the time Sasuke had disappeared behind the towers. But do you know what? I'll bet Sasuke saw the damage behind the towers, and realized that although the Chidori did greater damage to the front, Naruto's Rasengan did more damage overall to his tower, and blew a big messy hole in the back." At Kakashi's questioning look Iruka added, "I was on the team that had to repair those a couple days later. Then Naruto told me about the confrontation and Sasuke leaving… the pieces clicked into place."
"So… it's your belief that seeing the damage the Rasengan produced made Sasuke join Orochimaru?" Kakashi asked.
Iruka chuckled softly in the back of his throat. "Of course it wasn't the cause!" he said. "But he and Naruto have been in competition since they met at the academy and had felt threatened by him almost since day one. He saw the potential in Naruto and felt some fear that Naruto had something he didn't – power, heart, strength of character… I don't know what. He felt threatened, and therefore goaded Naruto and tried to knock him down whenever he could."
Kakashi seemed lost in thought when Iruka stopped speaking. Had he gone a little too far again? Had he outstepped his bounds?
"What did he have to feel threatened about from Naruto?" Kakashi asked slowly.
Iruka shrugged. "Naruto is powerful, emotional, and free to be himself. He fights for everything he wants and he defends anyone who needs it. It's his ninja way, as he's always shouting at the top of his lungs. It's what Sasuke wants with all his heart – he wants to protect his dead clan from Itachi, and since he can't do that he wants to punish his brother for his loss. Naruto has always been his foil – the opposite side of his coin; the sun in his darkness; the innocence he felt was stripped of him when he came home to find his family murdered. Add to that the fact that Naruto was also an orphan and was hated for an unknown reason at the time, and you have the makings of an epic rivalry that could span a lifetime."
"You seem to know a lot about this," Kakashi murmured. "I didn't know you were so close."
"Well, Naruto took a lot of time, but Sasuke required his own share of attention. It's part of why I was a mother hen. I may have taken Naruto out for ramen a lot for dinner because that's when I could see him, Sasuke came over to my apartment for breakfast several times a week. He didn't open up to me as much as I would have liked, but he did tell me some things."
"Did you do that out of the kindness of your heart?" Kakashi asked. His one visible eye hadn't changed over the course of their conversation, but Iruka had the feeling he was giving the other Shinobi a lot to think about.
"Not entirely," Iruka admitted. "It wasn't a mission or anything, but the Third Hokage had asked me to keep an eye on Naruto once he was placed in my class. Then I saw how Sasuke seemed to be struggling and alone, so I decided to take him under my wing as well. Sasuke never seemed to appreciate it as much as Naruto yearned for it, so I'm not surprised that it didn't help him as much as it did for Naruto."
"Either way, it's admirable," Kakashi said in a soft voice. "It's your greatest weakness, but it's still admirable."
Iruka rolled his eyes and set the last dish in the drainer before he wiped his hands. "It depends on what you're doing," he snapped, irritated with this same old judgment that he'd heard before from this arrogant bastard. Without waiting for a response he turned away from Kakashi and said, "Pardon me a minute," before he headed off to the bathroom and almost slammed the door.
Kakashi quietly watched Iruka stalk off and sighed in relief when the door closed with the anger on the other side of the door. Then, realizing something, he quietly picked up his mug of tea and made his way to the couch. He'd just sat down and put the mug safely on the coffee table when he heard a deafening roar. It wasn't until the ringing in his ears subsided that he realized the roar had been Iruka shouting at him about the wet towel he'd left on the floor of the bathroom after his shower.
He'd been good thus far keeping the apartment neat, but what could he say? Old habits die hard.