Title: Perfect Theology – Chapter 14
Summary: Because no one has a perfectly foolproof method to approach love and life. Including Konoha’s famed Copy Ninja.
A long time ago…
“Now Iruka, Hatake-san and I have a very important meeting to go to today. So I want you behave, okay?” His father pulled him along as they walked up to the front door of the Hatake family compound. The small, brown-haired boy looked curiously around. He’d never been here before, but it looked similar to his home: carefully trimmed, well maintained shrubs and flower beds lined the stone walls, and the porch they approached had been recently swept. Stopping at the white-painted wooden door, his father knocked smartly twice.
Footsteps sounded from inside, and Iruka instinctively scooted behind his parent. A moment later, the door cracked open a few inches. Iruka was surprised to see a pair of dark eyes peer out, near his level of sight. They looked him up and down somberly before darting up to glance at his father.
“Open the door properly, Kakashi.” Sakumo appeared behind his son, and the door was pulled open wide. The White Fang nodded at the other man. “Good morning, Kujira-san.” He smiled then, spotting the young boy partially hidden behind the older Umino’s legs. “And this must be Iruka. It’s nice to meet you.” Sakumo pushed his son forward. “Kakashi agreed to play with you for a bit while your dad and I attend to some business.”
Iruka peeked out again, looking doubtfully at the other child. He looked slightly alarming, with his shockingly-bright silver hair that was sticking out all over and sharp eyes. But most of all, little Iruka was perplexed by the dark-colored cloth mask that covered the bottom half of Kakashi’s face. It contrasted starkly with his pale skin, making him look ghostly and intimidating at the same time. He tugged at his father’s pants; he wasn’t sure if he wanted to play with this boy.
Kujira looked at the mask too, then glanced questioningly at Sakumo. He shrugged with the barest answering roll of his shoulders, before smiling again. “Okay, we better hurry, Kujira-san.”
Nodding, the dark-haired man firmly pushed his son out from behind him and towards Kakashi, into the house. “We’ll be back soon, Iruka. You play nice with Kakashi-kun.”
Reluctantly, Iruka went quietly through the door. He waved as the two fathers strolled down the walkway, shutting the gate behind them. Beside him, Kakashi raised his arm in a brief wave as well, before shutting the door crisply. For a moment, he looked at the younger child standing nervously beside him. Then with a sigh, he walked back into the living room.
Startled, Iruka followed close behind, looking all over at the foreign house. It was very clean, with ceremonial weapons and scrolls hanging on the white walls. He was surprised to see that there were no toys anywhere; Iruka didn’t think Kakashi was much older than him, and he himself had lots of toys to play with. Instead, the silver-haired boy sat down in front of the coffee table, apparently resuming what he’d been doing before the Uminos came to his door. Thick books were stacked on one side, with scrolls and pamphlets open in front of the serious young Hatake. He picked up his pencil and started writing, completely ignoring the other boy.
Completely confused, Iruka took a seat on the carpet next to Kakashi. Most people he knew were pretty nice; they usually would talk or play with him, and sometimes offer him something to eat. This Kakashi though, well…he was just rude!
Slightly put-off, Iruka poked a chubby finger at Kakashi’s side. He was really skinny. Maybe he didn’t eat enough? And what was with that weird mask?
The older boy raised an eyebrow at him. “What?”
The brown-haired boy pouted, poking again. “Aren’t we gonna play?”
“No.” He turned back to his scrolls.
“Because I’m studying.”
“Because my graduation exam is coming up soon.”
Sighing again, Kakashi looked exasperatedly down at the youngest Umino. This could go on forever. Thinking fast, he picked up a blank scroll and a spare pencil from the table. These he deposited on the floor in front of the rather annoying child, with a brief, “Here, draw something.”
“Okay!” Iruka liked to draw. His mother let him hang the good ones on their refrigerator. Happily, he sprawled out on the floor and picked up the pencil.
A few moments later, the scratching sound of pencil on parchment reached his ears, and Kakashi exhaled in relief. Thank goodness. He definitely wasn’t cut out for childcare. As he continued to write, the silver-haired boy took a quick look at the clock. Hopefully, Umino-san and his father would return soon. For the next few minutes, it was relatively quiet in the Hatake house, with the two occupants wholly engrossed in their respective activities. All too soon though, that peace was interrupted.
Just as Kakashi had almost forgotten that he was baby sitting, a sheaf of paper was suddenly thrust into his face. On reflex, he grabbed the hand that was holding it tightly, preventing it from touching his face.
“Look ‘Kashi-kun! I finished!” Proudly, Iruka waved the drawing back and forth. “Whattaya think?”
Looking closely at the crude drawing, Kakashi frowned. “What is this supposed to be?”
To his surprise, the brown-haired child laughed uproariously, pushing himself off the floor and onto Kakashi’s lap. He didn’t seem to notice the older boy’s alarm at his action, focusing instead on explaining his masterpiece. “It’s you, ‘Kashi-kun!” He pointed with stubby finger at a cluster of zig-zags. “This is your hair, cause it’s all spiky.” He then indicated what Kakashi presumed was a colored-in upside down triangle. “And this is your mask!” Iruka stopped, tilting his face back to look at the object in question. “Hey ‘Kashi-kun, why do you wear a mask?”
Sitting stiffly, Kakashi wondered how to remove this strange and inquisitive child from his lap. “Because I’m a shinobi.”
“But my dad’s a shinobi too, and he don’t wear one!” He reached up, pressing two fingers against the soft material.
Kakashi grabbed his fingers, pushing them back down. “Well, all shinobi are different.”
“So why do you wear it?” Iruka pouted, turning a bit in his lap so he could look the boy in his face.
Rolling his eyes, the young ninja glanced longingly at his stack of study materials. “Because a shinobi has to hide their emotions.”
“Um…it’s how you feel.”
“Because they can get in the way.”
At that, Iruka looked dubiously up at the older boy. “But don’t the mask get in the way too?”
“I think you’re lying.” He narrowed his brown eyes. “My mommy says that feelings are what make people human. She told me that if you can feel happy or sad then that means you’re normal.” That last thought suddenly made him worry. “‘Kashi-kun, are you not normal?” He jabbed a finger at the mask again. “You should let your feelings out. I think they’re stuck behind your mask.”
Unwittingly, Kakashi smiled under his mask. Iruka’s train of thought was rather amusing. “And why’s that?”
Iruka scoffed, looking as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. “Because my mommy said it’ll make you feel better to not hold it all inside.” He prodded the skinny boy’s chest with his finger. “And if you’re wearing that thing, how are people gonna help you feel better?”
“What do you mean?” Genius though he was, Kakashi was slightly puzzled by Iruka’s childish logic.
“Well, whenever I don’t feel good, my mommy always helps by giving me a chu-chu.”
Starting, Kakashi quirked an eyebrow at the unusual sound. “A what?”
“A chu-chu.” Rolling his eyes at the ignorant older kid, Iruka stood up. He couldn’t believe he’d never heard of a chu-chu. Before Kakashi could move or push him away, he wrapped his pudgy arms around his neck, and placed a loud kiss on the corner on his mask. “Chuuu. See?” He frowned, studying the shocked expression on the silver-haired boy’s face. This wasn’t the effect his mother’s kisses normally had. “Your mask is in the way, ‘Kashi-kun. That’s why it didn’t work.”
At the present…
Idly, Kakashi ran a finger down his mask, feeling the smooth, familiar material. The evening wind tugged mercilessly at his hair, but he ignored it, lost in thought. After wearing this small bit of cloth for so long, the mask was practically a second skin to him now. From the first time he donned it as a small child (his first one had been fashioned out of an old bed sheet), it had come to serve many purposes. As a young student and as a Genin, it was a source of confusion and curiosity for both his peers and his instructors. As Kakashi grew older and his reputation blossomed, it became an integral part of his persona. After all, he was a shinobi first. And while it was true that the majority of ninjas did not wear them, the Copy Ninja often thought that it added to his success as a warrior.
In many ways, it was a barrier. By now, there remained a very small amount of individuals who actually knew (or remembered) what Hatake Kakashi’s complete face looked like. And he liked it that way. It was intimidating, adding enigma and removing emotions from his appearance. And it was frustrating to his enemies, who were unable to see any signs of nervousness, fear, or tells.
But now, he wondered if he’d utilized the mask too long, to the point where he was hiding almost all of himself behind it, rather that using it as a mere tool. It represented the dominant shinobi side of him, which he’d carefully cultivated for years. It reminded him to school his emotions and curb his impulses. Since Iruka came into his life though, Kakashi had become increasingly aware of the simple man inside him, which laid dormant for years as the killer held the reigns.
“How much longer do you plan on sitting out there?”
Startled, Kakashi turned his head. He hadn’t sensed Iruka’s approach, and the Jounin was even more surprised that the younger man had detected him. But then again, he’d been fairly distracted. Shrugging, he turned a bit more to face the half-open window. He was seated stiffly on the slanting roof tiles outside Iruka’s apartment, channeling the barest bit of chakra to his feet for balance. “It’s nice out.” Iruka didn’t seem angry any more, but you could never be too sure.
The Chuunin scoffed, leaning forward to push the window open wider. “It’s windy as hell and probably going to rain again soon.” He’d detected the older man on his roof as soon as he’d arrived, but opted to let him stew for a while. That was the unexpected benefit of being a Chuunin; people often underestimated him. He found it humorous that Kakashi was also prone to such a elementary mistake. “What are you doing here?” He watched expressionlessly as the older man swung his legs over the windowsill and seated himself precariously on the edge.
“I-” Kakashi paused. What had he come for? To apologize? He wasn’t exactly sure where he’d messed up precisely, though he had a pretty good idea. To explain? But yet, there were things he didn’t fully understand, and that was frustrating. His pragmatic shinobi mind was used to comprehending things quickly. The problem here though, seemed to be that his heart wasn’t as astute. He looked up at Iruka, taking note of his body language. His arms were crossed, but his stance was relaxed, indicating that he was annoyed yet open to discussion. And that made Kakashi smile, because the first thing he’d discovered about Iruka was that he had a magnanimous heart: in spite of a quick and often explosive temper, he was also quick to forgive. He held close no malice, and genuinely wished good will towards others. So though Kakashi had done a significant wrong to him, Umino Iruka still offered him a chance to fix his mistake.
He considered what words he could use, what phrases would best convey himself. But he knew none of them would be even close to adequate. So instead, he reached a hand into his pocket. Taking out the small black notebook that had caused so much furor, he flipped to the very last page, where six lines were written. He’d scribbled them there earlier, as he’d tried to objectively examine himself. But now, he thought that the teacher in Iruka would understand it better; and perhaps he could teach Kakashi.
Wordlessly, he tore out the page in the notebook. With his other hand, he tugged his mask down, removing the entire piece of material from his outfit. Both items in hand, he hesitated, and eyed Iruka warily. The younger man’s gaze had widened slightly in surprise, but he remained silent. The Jounin inhaled slowly, calming his rapid heartbeat; this was a chunk of himself he’d never openly shared, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. After all, he’d trespassed on Iruka’s privacy and taken knowledge about the man that had not been freely given.
So with slightly shaking hands, Kakashi offered his mask out to Iruka. Both of them.
“…Kakashi, what-” Iruka took the paper and the mask in confusion, but the Copy Ninja shook his head, gesturing towards his hands. Perplexed, he held the paper up to his eyes and read:
Tenet number one: Exist.
Tenet number two: Cherish those close to you.
Tenet number three: Protect the village.
Tenet number four: Let no opportunities pass you.
Tenet number five: Separate the job from living.
Tenet number six: Approach every situation with adequate information.
Slowly, Iruka looked from the writing to Kakashi’s bare face. It was slightly startling to see nervousness flicker across the Jounin’s face, simply because it was a mien normally devoid of expression. But as he read and as he looked, he realized with a jolt that Kakashi was attempting to make amends by sharing the most private part of him. It wasn’t the face and yet it was; he could see that the silver-haired man was trying his best by allowing Iruka to glimpse the unguarded side of him, past the physical and mental masks he’d erected over the years.
He felt a silly, loopy grin come to his face, but that was all right. Kakashi was staring determinedly at the floor, so Iruka closed the distance between them, and knelt. The other man instinctively jerked in surprise, but held his reactions in check. Tilting his head up, Iruka smiled up at the uneasy Jounin. “Kakashi,” he began, prodding a tan finger at a pale chin. “You’re an absolute idiot.”
Relieved, Kakashi chuckled as he leaned forward. “I know.”
Iruka smoothed out the piece of paper, doing the same to the mask. “You’re a genius and a great shinobi, but you’re an idiot with relationships.” He rolled his eyes at the smirk on Kakashi’s face. “I’m serious. People are not missions, Kakashi.” He stopped at the confused look on the other man’s face. “Okay, they can be. But people you want to…get close to…should not be treated like an assignment.”
Holding up the tenets list, he pointed to a word: Cherish.
“Do you know what this word means? It means to nurture, to protect, to aid. It means you’ll treat it with tenderness and affection.” His voice caught slightly on the last word, embarrassed, but he plowed on. “Do you think you’ve been doing that?”
Seriously, Kakashi looked at the character under Iruka’s fingertip. He was right… “No, I haven’t,” he murmured lowly. “I’m not sure how to.” He felt an unfamiliar pang in his heart with that admission, but looked up at Iruka with trust in his eyes. “Maybe…you can teach me?” Kakashi picked up Iruka’s hand with a smirk that was full of both promise and mischief. “Eh, sensei?”
Iruka tried to look stern, he really did, but it collapsed at the puppy-like look Kakashi was aiming at him. So instead, he laughed briefly, tugging his hand and dragging the Copy Ninja fully into his apartment. Before Kakashi could stand or roll away, he slid a hand up his shoulders and to the warm skin on the back of his neck, pulling him close. He faltered for a moment, shy. “I hope you’re a good student.”
And the look that Kakashi answered him with could only be described as wicked. “Oh, I think you’ll find that I’m a genius in many things, sensei.” Dipping his head, he pressed his lips to Iruka’s slightly open, smooth mouth. He was close enough to feel the younger man’s pulse quicken at his touch, his hand tightening its grip. And as their lips slowly slid and pressed against one another, Kakashi vaguely thought that Iruka tasted like spring rain that fell happily on a parched earth: sweet, clear, and awakening. It refreshed his soul that had been lonely for so long, and warmed a heart that had been too accustomed to solitude.
A/N: Almost done! Just a epilogue left. Thanks so much for your support and your reviews!