Summary: Because no one has a perfectly foolproof method to approach love and life. Including Konoha’s famed Copy Nin.
Now, a normal person might have felt slightly guilty about infiltrating an acquaintance’s home and privacy, but it was an established fact that Kakashi was not a normal person. He wholly believed in the adage that said something about what a person doesn’t know, can’t hurt them. Or, pretty much: if Iruka never found out, it was a win-win. Undeniably, there was the off chance that Iruka would find out and would be mad as a result, but the Copy Ninja was a man very used to taking risks. And in his opinion, life was more interesting with frivolous risks.
Turning away from the photographs, Kakashi glanced around the rest of the apartment. There were two entrances- a front door and the side door in the kitchen which he’d entered through- and several decent-sized windows looking out onto the street. The kitchen opened up into the living room, and the Jounin scanned his eyes over the ordinary furniture and crammed bookshelves. He could see a narrow hallway at the other end of the space that probably led to the bathroom and bedroom, if it was anything like the other bachelor apartments he’d been in. Tidy, but not obsessively so. Thank god, he scribbled quickly into his notebook. On one wall was a large framed picture of a famous local hot spring, looking serene and inviting under a setting sun and clouds. Likes hot springs? Something to remember, definitely. The coffee table was littered with stacks of papers, scrolls, and pens. Obviously, Iruka did his grading there.
He considered taking a peek into the Chuunin’s bathroom and bedroom, but a glance at a clock on the wall told him to not risk it. It was almost noon, and the morning shift in the mission room would end soon. Next time then. Fluidly, Kakashi exited the apartment the way he came, effortlessly replacing the wards as he went out. His gaze flickered to the bright sun overhead. The morning was almost over. Just enough time for him to meet his genin team, get some training done, then break for lunch. More to the point, if his estimation was correct, if he kept up a regular schedule of surveillance of Iruka, then he should have sufficient knowledge on the subject within a week. This was taking into account time needed to find and sneak a peek at his ninja dossier, observe his workplace, and maybe interview close acquaintances. Then he could plan out the perfect date that was sure to win over Iruka entirely.
Carefully, he tucked away the small notebook he was already calling “the Iruka Files” in his head. Corny? Perhaps. But Kakashi had learned long ago that a ninja with a sense of humor was a mentally healthy ninja. Mostly, anyways.
Iruka File #001
– Tidy, but not obsessively so.
– Appears to like hot springs.
– Cute photos, cute quote in kitchen. Somewhat dorky.
The Chuunin turned in his seat, smiling widely at the young Genin running towards him. It was an almost regular routine for them to meet here at the ramen bar, but to see Naruto brought genuine happiness and pride welling up inside him. Not too long ago, he’d been a complete idiot of student, failing time and time ago to graduate from the Academy. Now, he was a blossoming shinobi, taking strong steps towards his dearest dream. Iruka wondered if this was what being a parent felt like. “How was training today?”
The blond took a seat next to his former teacher, eagerly anticipating his meal. “It was great! Kakashi-sensei had us work on taijutsu, and I totally kicked Sasuke-bastard’s ass.”
On reflex, Iruka frowned and admonished Naruto’s language, but the mention of their Jounin leader made his thoughts halt, smile freezing in place. It had been a few days since their date, but he hadn’t seen much of the man at all. Normally, this was something that wouldn’t have come to his notice; he was a Chuunin and naturally walked in different circles than Kakashi. Usually though, the Copy Ninja would at least walk with his students a ways before departing to do whatever it was Jounin did on their non-mission time. These couple of days though, Naruto had shown up without the silver-haired man. This didn’t bother the young boy at all, but it stirred up the beginnings of doubt in Iruka. Maybe Kakashi was avoiding him?
“Yay, time to eat!”
Naruto’s enthusiastic shout and the bowl of steaming noodles set in front of him jarred Iruka from his thoughts. Well, he thought, picking up his chopsticks. Maybe he was just being paranoid.
Iruka File #021
– Likes ramen. A lot. Perhaps a Naruto side-effect?
– Hates maze gohan. A lot.
– Likes chocolate. Should show him Icha Icha chapter on ways to use chocolate creatively.
– Lots of blue boxers. Favorite color?
– Condoms, bottom drawer in the bedroom. Don’t forget.
Four days and counting. Sitting glumly in his seat at the mission desk, Iruka was trying his best to think positively, but it was pretty much a lost cause by now. He hadn’t seen hide or hair of Kakashi in four days, and now he was almost a hundred percent certain the Jounin was avoiding him. Usually, Team Seven came in together to get and turn in missions. Today however, it had been just Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke coming in for their D-rank assignment, their team leader nowhere in sight. Several times, he’d been on the verge of asking, but clamped down on the impulse almost immediately. It was embarrassing enough that Kakashi was avoiding him without his former students knowing it too. So it was with a forced smile and a few words of encouragement that Iruka handed the three their mission and sent them on their way.
Naruto glanced back at Iruka on their way out. “Does he seem kinda depressed to you?”
His female teammate looked back as well. “Kakashi-sensei’s been acting weird too. Maybe they got in a fight?”
Iruka File #079
– Mediocre at cooking.
– Have yet to find someone who knows how he got scar on his face.
– Super bad grades as a child. How did he become a teacher?
– Uses kunai holster to carry pencils.
Day five and Kakashi was running out of pages in his notebook. He’d wanted to fit everything into one little volume, but there was a whole slew of info and tidbits about Iruka he’d found out or heard. And elite Jounin that he was, Kakashi did not believe in neglecting to store away any bit of data that might turn out useful. And boy, did he have data.
He’d spent three of the five days combing through Iruka’s apartment, noting favorite books, eating habits, anything that hinted at the kind of person Iruka was inside. And he hadn’t been disappointed. Squirreled away in drawers, closets, and on shelves were various mementos and trinkets from his former students. Ranging from crayon pictures to holiday cards to roughly shaped clay animals, it was obvious that Umino Iruka was a popular instructor.
And he could see why. Though the man possessed an often explosive temper, Iruka was also a very kind and empathetic person. Each and every single student paper, test, and worksheet that he brought home each day were graded thoroughly. He also made sure to include small notes of praise on stellar work, encouragement for almost perfect assignments, and tips for improvement for the not-so-great ones. Kakashi found himself admiring the devotion that the younger man poured into his work. It was endearing to watch, and positively…sweet. Of course, he couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between his own teaching methods and Iruka’s. Kakashi shoved and beat the progress out of those under his tutelage; Iruka coaxed and nurtured with the patience of a mother.
That thought made the Jounin wonder if perhaps that was the underlying cause of his attraction. Intellectually and philosophically, Iruka was different from him. But he exuded a palpable kindness to everyone in his life, attracting and drawing in lost, lonely souls like Naruto and Kakashi. The younger man wasn’t unusually strong or skilled as a shinobi, but his presence evoked feelings of security. It felt like home. Watching Iruka these past few days, he’d seen so many acts of genuine concern and selflessness.
He flipped back a few pages in his notebook. Just the other day, Kakashi had been watching the school day end perched high in a tree. As usual, Iruka followed his herd of students out, waving as goodbyes were said and reminders given. One young boy’s mother had run late, so the Chuunin patiently sat with the small child for almost an hour, until the tardy parent finally rushed up, apologizing profusely. And Iruka hadn’t been annoyed or angry. Just happy that his students all returned home safely. Seeing such a scene awakened a pang of guilt within the Jounin, and he remembered the end of Team Seven’s first test and how they’d left Naruto tied to the stump. He had managed to get out eventually, but still.
There once was a time when Kakashi would have scoffed at such gentle methods of teaching budding shinobi; they needed to learn to kill, after all. Not too long ago, he would have openly made fun of Iruka. And in the recent past, he had definitely brusquely brushed aside the man’s concern for his students while nominating Team Seven for the Chuunin exam. Iruka was motherly and sappy, to the point where Kakashi wondered if he could be an effective ninja. However, Iruka was also sunny and affectionate, and such warmth had no trouble melting Hatake Kakashi’s cold and passive exterior to effortlessly latch on to heart strings.
But above all, the Chuunin had the same values as Kakashi: he cherished each and every single person in his life. He fiercely protected his students. He used every opportunity and event to try and instruct his charges and convey a greater meaning to them.
He made the most of his existence.
Being around Iruka was strangely relaxing, easily distracting him from thoughts about missions and conflict. Instead, his thoughts collapsed into questions: what does he like? What does he hate? Could he love me back?
Kakashi started. That thought surprised him. Was he in love?
Ironically, the silver-haired man didn’t have an answer to this question. For once, his logic failed him. He’d spent almost a week uncovering information and learning about Iruka, but he hadn’t scratched the surface of his own feelings. Slipping the notebook back into his vest pocket, Kakashi folded his arms over his chest, contemplating. He’d thought he was scrutinizing the Chuunin objectively, but it became apparent that that was not the case. Every small proof of the younger man’s compassion or integrity seemed to shine clearly in his eyes now, and it astonished him. The change in his perspective had happened fairly quickly, but had gone unnoticed until now. Even during training with Team Seven, he often caught his mind wandering back to the other man, wondering what he was doing. It was slightly alarming, and most certainly confusing…
But then again, love had always confused him.
Kakashi stood completely still before the stone, staring. His eyes, one weary and one aching, traced over the names freshly carved into the cold rock. Rain sprinkled down from the cloudy gray sky, saturating his hair, his clothes. But he remained still, aggrieved gaze locked firmly on a single set of carved letters. Obito, you…
“Kakashi?” The young shinobi turned slightly as his sensei approached.
Minato stopped next to the young Jounin, hands in his pockets. “You should cover that eye up, Kakashi. The medics said that’s the best way to reduce the chakra drain.”
“I know.” But he still didn’t move. His left eye, Obito’s eye, throbbed dully, making him slightly dizzy. He made no move to cover it up. Every twinge, every pain reminded him of his dead teammate. He endured every discomfort stoically. He deserved to suffer. After all, Obito was dead because of his mistakes…
The Yellow Flash frowned, eyes full of concern. The youngest Jounin had been quieter and more reserved since returning from the last mission. And while they were all mourning Obito’s death, Minato was especially worried about Kakashi.
“I was wrong about him.”
Startled, Minato looked sharply at his student. “What?”
“Obito.” Kakashi remained still as stone. “I was wrong about Obito.” His hands clenched into fists, tense. “I always thought he was weak, that he would never be a strong shinobi. But in the end…he turned out to be stronger than me…”
All of a sudden, Kakashi no longer looked like the stoic, silently efficient ninja he’d worked so hard to be. As his sensei looked down on him, he saw a boy, too young and too full of confusion and grief. Bending down on one knee, the Yellow Flash put a firm hand on the skinny shoulder, turning Kakashi to face him. “Kakashi,” he said softly, a sad smile on his face. “Obito died to save two people who were precious to him, who he cared deeply about. He loved the two of you.”
The silver-haired boy’s eyes widened. “He loved us?”
Pityingly, Minato nodded. “Of course. Kakashi, you might not know it but, we’re your friends and not just your teammates. We care about you. And it makes us strong.”
“I…don’t understand how.” Kakashi looked back and forth between the older Jounin and the memorial stone.
“Well,” Minato straightened up, his hand still on the young shinobi’s shoulder. It made his heart ache to see Kakashi- orphaned at such a young age- struggling with the concept of love. “You will understand bit by bit. Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. Loving someone deeply will give you courage.”
Footsteps sounded behind the two men, and they turned to see a woman approaching holding a red umbrella, her long crimson hair fluttering in the cool wind. She rolled her eyes upon seeing the two Jounin, both completely soaked by the rain. “I thought you two idiots were supposed to be geniuses.” Kushina stopped behind them, moving the umbrella slightly to accommodate the other two beneath it. “When you two are done collecting rain, let’s go home and find some dry clothes and food.”
Minato turned to follow her, steering Kakashi to do the same. Kushina walked on his other side, taking the young boy’s cold hand in her warm one. “C’mon, Kakashi-kun.”
Walking between the two of them, Kakashi looked from Uzumaki Kushina to his sensei. He could see and almost feel the affection between the two like a summer breeze, warming everything around it. Normally, he didn’t permit adults to pull him around like a little child. But as Kushina held his hand, he could sense the motherly tenderness emanating from her gentle smile.
And he could see Minato-sensei was right. Strength and courage.
Note: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” is a quote by Lao Tzu.