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This is a work of fiction based on characters by Kishimoto Masashi. No copyright infringement is intended.
With another mission finished, Kakashi ambled toward the mission room as he normally did. His report had been hurriedly finished, but then again, the times had changed. Since the attack on the village, any and all capable ninja were put to work, and well, Kakashi was just another one of them. So long as he had all of the necessary and appropriate information down, he figured it would be enough. The important thing now was to come in, hand in the mission report, and take on the next job.
Pushing open the door, he walked in and was delighted to see the room mostly empty. His eye roved over to the clock in the room, and Kakashi had to admit he was a bit surprised that it was already quite late. Turning back to the mission table, he strode forward and presented his papers to the one person still working there that evening.
“Good evening, Iruka-sensei,” he said, holding out the small stack of papers. Kakashi offered the chuunin a tired sort of smile before shifting his gaze to stare at the lists of missions on the table. Those lists never seemed to get any smaller, did they?
Glancing up from the stack of papers in front of him, Iruka offered a tiny smile to the ninja in front of him. Kakashi did seem to be looking a bit worn, but that was to be expected, with the amount of missions the man had been going on lately. It was only a testament to his strength that he still came back time and again, handing in a rushed report, that not even Iruka's inner perfectionist would find fault with. It was enough that some semblance of a report was handed in at all, what with how busy everyone had been since Orochimaru's attack. "Welcome back, Kakashi-sensei."
As he flipped through the papers handed to him, scanning them with a perfunctory glance, just making sure there were no glaring things left out, it occurred to Iruka that the man in front of him may well have an answer to some of the questions that had been plaguing him recently. As a jounin, he was privy to more information than Iruka was, and he had heard that Kakashi held some sort of acquaintance with Jiraiya, Naruto's new teacher. But how to ask? That was a dilemma at hand now.
"All seems to be in order as far as this is concerned." Following Kakashi's gaze towards the pile of mission scrolls that hadn't been assigned yet, and sighed softly, knowing that there wasn't any there with Kakashi's name on them. He didn't hand out S-class missions; only the Hokage herself did that. "Godaime-sama is at the hospital this evening, and won't be back until tomorrow. You'll have to go see her for your next mission, Kakashi-sensei." Just then, Iruka realized that this was the perfect opportunity to speak with the other ninja. "Ah, since you have the time, and you haven't been in Konoha much lately, would you like to get some dinner? Catch up on what's been happening here?" And perhaps answer some questions yourself, Iruka thought.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Kakashi answered in response to Iruka’s preliminary check of his report. His gaze returned to the chuunin’s face upon the mention of the Hokage, and he looked mildly surprised. If she had been called away to the hospital, Kakashi could only assume that someone’s mission had gone dreadfully wrong. The healer ninja were quite proficient, and he could probably make an accurate guess at the state of the patients at the moment. The emergency room, no doubt, was occupied, and a mad rush had probably filled the hospital. With a soft sigh, he nodded his head in acknowledgement to Iruka’s words. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to pay her a visit in the morning.”
The jounin was about to head back out when Iruka called upon him again. Face turning toward his fellow ninja, he raised a brow, a small smile appearing beneath his mask at the mention of food. Kakashi had intended to simply go home and sleep, but what could a little dinner and chat hurt? Besides, it would be good to catch up on any news the village had churned up during his absence. Though, if current shinobi news was all they were going to talk about, Kakashi was afraid that this might end up being a very one-sided conversation. Most of the information he knew was confidential, and if Iruka was interested in it, a polite headshake was all he was going to get as an answer.
“I suppose I could,” he answered, his eye sliding shut as a larger small appeared on his hidden face. Kakashi then looked down at the various piles of paper surrounding Iruka. Making a broad gesture toward them, he asked, “Need any help with these, or should I just wait for a few minutes for you to finish?”
Settling down against the desk, he glanced briefly at the paperwork. Most of them were finished reports, and upon looking closer, he recognized a few names. Asuma, Genma, Ebisu… The list seemed to go on and on. Everyone was busy nowadays, even the genin. Kakashi momentarily thought about asking about the quality of the work of recent but decided against it in the end. Instead, he just offered the other another smile.
It was a relief that Kakashi had returned in what appeared to be good condition from his mission, considering the fact that such a thing seemed to happen less and less often, as the strain on all the ninja in Konoha became more pronounced. Even the special jounin or ANBU members weren't necessarily safe from such things, as they had the most strain on them, since their skills were the most in demand. Anko's team was late getting back, and Aoba's was the reason why the Godaime was in the hospital rather than in the mission room right now. Iruka did have things in hand, though, and just had to file things away and leave a few reports on the Hokage's desk for her to read the next day so she was appraised of any problems that had occurred in any missions or other developments that they had gotten wind of.
"Ah, thank you Kakashi-sensei, but I'm almost finished here. If it doesn't bother you to wait, I'll be done shortly." He rose then, moving with an efficient but not hurried stride towards the cabinets where the finished reports were filed away according to month and team leader name. Despite the fact that they had lost so many ninja after Orochimaru's attack, the cabinets were near filled to bursting. After a forceful shove, Iruka finally got the thing to stay closed, and he dusted off his hands. "Done."
Walking back over to the desk, he gathered his things, consisting of a rather thick sheaf of papers that needed grading. He hadn't had the time to do it in the mission room, so he'd have to bring them home with him and do them later on. It wasn't the first time he'd be up late working, and certainly wouldn't be the last. He didn't begrudge the loss of a couple of hours sleep here and there; it was worth it to see the joy on a child's face when they mastered a new technique. That was the true reason that he had become a teacher.
Realizing he had been lost in reverie, Iruka flushed slightly, embarrassed. "Ah, sorry about that. Got a bit lost in thought." Clearing his throat, Iruka gestured towards the door. "Where would you like to go?" It occurred to him then that while this man had been Naruto's jounin sensei, they really weren't all that acquainted with one another, and he wasn't sure what sort of foods he liked or anything like that. Well, he could hope that the choice of dinner location wouldn't have something really bizarre. He much preferred something plain but hearty, like ramen, rather than more elaborate dishes.
Remaining where he was, Kakashi quietly watched Iruka finish up his paperwork and place parts of it in the cabinets. He had to admit that when he was younger, he hadn’t thought much of the ninja who did the desk jobs. Kakashi had always been more of an out-in-the-field sort of person, much like what his last name implied. But as he had grown, he had come to realize that even office jobs were important, even if he himself would never take the job.
Kakashi wondered for a moment what the chuunin thought of his position. Did he like being a teacher? Did he like sitting behind a desk? Or did he really long to be out there completing missions like the rest of them? The questions continued to fill his mind, and it wasn’t until Iruka apologized for getting lost in thought that he snapped back to the present.
“Not at all, Iruka-sensei,” he said, failing to mention that he too had drifted off into his own world. Focusing on the matter at hand, Kakashi thought about where they should go eat and tapped his chin. Well, Naruto had always been talking about how he and Iruka went to Ichiraku Ramen together, so he guessed that was a safe place to suggest. Aside from being a familiar place, the food was fast, not to mention good, and Kakashi could be in and out without too much delay – he still wanted to get a rare full night’s sleep after all.
“Would Ichiraku Ramen do? Naruto’s always talking about how you two go there together,” Kakashi answered. He pushed himself away from the table and made his way to the door. Turning around, Kakashi leaned against the frame, hands hidden in his pockets. “Though, if you have some other idea, I’d be happy to listen.”
Smiling happily at the mention of the boy who was in parts like a brother as well as a son to him, Iruka nodded. "Yes, going to Ichiraku became a bit of a tradition between the two of us, it's both of our favorite places to eat. That sounds perfect." And while he had always enjoyed the time spent with Naruto there, Iruka had to admit that there was some appeal in the idea of him spending time with someone over the age of 13. The problem with teaching young children was that after some time, if you didn't have a break with those around your own age, you went a little crazy - okay, maybe more than a little.
Standing by the door, Iruka waited for Kakashi to pass through before closing up after them, producing a key from his pocket to lock up. No one else would be by that evening for missions, and if they were, it would be the special classified ones that only the Hokage could assign, anyway. There was a sound of metal grinding against metal - the lock always gave some problems - and finally the bolt slid into place with a loud 'click'.
"Ready?" Iruka flashed a small smile at his fellow nin, hoping he wasn't inconveniencing the man too much; everyone needed to eat, right? Even super-elite jounin, who never did anything below A-rank missions, except when saddled with a genin team. He just hoped the older man wouldn't get annoyed with him and his questions.
Kakashi cast the other teacher a smile and nodded his head. While he wouldn't admit it, his stomach was starting to growl quietly, and if things had gone to his original plan, he probably would've ended up getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning just to eat. His plan to get a full night of rest would've gone out the window. Yes, going out for dinner seemed like a good idea.
"So you said you'd tell me how the village's been," Kakashi started, lazily glancing over at Iruka as he did so. One hand slipped out of a pocket to scratch at the bridge of his nose before disappearing once more. He fell silent for a second, seemingly troubled. "Has there been any word on Sasuke?"
It seemed so long ago, and yet just like yesterday, that the genin had run off. Kakashi could remember hearing the news, could remember running off in hopes of catching the Uchiha, could remember failing. His uncovered eye swiveled down toward the ground.
Kakashi'd failed his team. Again.
Forcing a smile, he turned back to look at Iruka. "It's doubtful, but I thought I'd ask anyways," he said. "Or have you heard on Sakura's progress? She's still in the village, right?"
Of course he had, how could Iruka have overlooked that? It was just rude of him to totally bypass the other man's obvious need to know the state of their village just to have his own curiosity sated. "Ah, yes, of course. Things have been slowly quieting down, at least comparatively. We're still very busy, as we are low on chuunin and jounin-level ninjas, but must still present ourselves like we are as strong as we were."
Iruka's eyes clouded at the mention of Sasuke, looking off down the street as they continued on their slow amble towards Ichiraku. "Aa. Whispers and rumors already gone cold by the time we hear of them." Stealing a glance at Kakashi to see his reaction - what little bit he could see with most of his face covered - and he frowned at what he saw. As a teacher, he had grown quite adept at seeing things that were meant to be hidden. The obvious smile curving Kakashi's visible eye only made it all the more apparent to Iruka that the other man was troubled.
"Yes, Sakura is still here in the village; in fact, she should be at the hospital with Godaime-sama as we speak. She's coming along quite nicely. I was actually very disappointed in myself when I hadn't realized how good of a med nin she would make." And it was true. Sakura had been improving at a remarkable rate; her intelligence and excellent chakra control was perfect for someone in the medical field. Her confidence had also grown now that she wasn't being overshadowed by Sasuke and Naruto, whose capabilities had been growing in leaps and bounds, leaving her feeling very far behind them both. Training with Tsunade had truly been the best thing for her.
Spotting Ichiraku just a bit further down the road, Iruka was relieved. He was getting rather hungry himself, having skipped lunch to lecture Konohamaru and his friends Moegi and Udon for yet another escape attempt, and then going straight to the mission room to report for duty. A bowl of roast pork ramen sounded very good just then, indeed. "Was there anything else you wanted to know, Kakashi-sensei? Anyone else you wanted to inquire about?"
"Well, I'm glad to hear that Sakura's doing well," Kakashi said, still rather distracted by the lack of news on Sasuke. It wasn't that he actually expecting any news, but every time he inquired about the genin and received no response, it sent a chill down his spine. The village knew no more about his whereabouts than he himself had gathered during his missions.
Up to this point, history seemed to be repeating itself. The Sannin had each taken under their wing one member of his team, and he could only imagine what sort of molding they'd go under. Kakashi sighed softly. If only he had been given a little more time, he could've done something. But of course, there was no turning back time.
Pushing away thoughts of past errors, Kakashi turned his attention back to Iruka and the question being asked. "How are the other genin teams doing?" he queried. "And when is the next chuunin exam to be?"
As he finished speaking, the two of them arrived at Ichiraku, and Kakashi pushed aside the hangings before taking a seat. Propping his chin up on a hand, he quickly ordered his usual and turned to look at Iruka. "It'd be nice to see one of my students pass the chuunin exam, so I may try to return to Konoha whenever Sakura takes it..."
Settling onto the stool beside Kakashi, Iruka smiled at the man behind the counter, ordering roast pork ramen, almost tempted to order a double, if only for the nostalgia of many visits to this very place with Naruto, who always had trouble deciding between the roast pork or the miso ramen.
"Mmm, the other teams seem to be progressing quite well, at least from what I've seen of their mission reports. If they all keep improving at this pace, they'll obtain chuunin rank in no time." It was almost strange for him to see these children who he had guided through their academy years now growing so quickly, becoming such strong ninja. It was a mark of pride for him to know that he had some small hand in their development into the ninjas they were becoming.
The next chuunin exam...that was actually quite a good question, and one that Iruka had no real answer for Kakashi. "Well, I'm not entirely sure. There are discussions being held, but it's still being debated when it shall be held and which hidden village will be hosting it. Seems that there are some who are not too keen on hosting after...well, after."
The ramen was set before them at that point, along with a bottle of warm sake and two cups, which was a pleasant surprise. Pouring himself a cup, he looked inquiringly at Kakashi to see if he wanted some as well.
Kakashi let one finger scratch at the worn counter for a moment. After the last chuunin exam. Another Uchiha and another problem. A soft sigh slipped past his lips but he made no further mention of it. For someone so haunted by his past, Kakashi was going to put up a valiant effort in not letting this error bother him.
As if it were there expressly to relieve him of his troubling thoughts, his bowl of ramen was set before him. The jounin had just pulled out a pair of chopsticks when Iruka was offering him sake. Hm. Alcohol was always good for drowning one's troubles. With a smile behind his mask, Kakashi lifted the cup and allowed the chuunin to pour his drink for him.
"Thanks," he said before raising the cup slightly in a silent toast. Kakashi then performed one of his ridiculously fast mask removal and replacement acts, leaving the cup drained without leaving his face exposed for more than a second or two. The jounin replaced his cup on the counter, its rim just barely touching Iruka's; he had placed them a bit too close, but so long as each picked up their own, there would be no problem.
However, a bowl of ramen and several bottles of sake later, two cups right next to each other were becoming more difficult to discern from one another. So in this slightly dazed state, Kakashi's hand closed around one of the cups, and he lifted it and downed the contents.
He didn't realize that he had accidentally used Iruka's cup instead of his own.
Squinting in an attempt to clear the fuzziness that was more in his mind than in his eyes, Iruka reached for his sake cup, bringing it to his lips...only to find that it was empty already. Strange, he had just filled it, hadn't he?
Shrugging, he set the cup down and picked up the other, still-full cup, which obviously had to have been his, since he hadn't drank his yet, right? Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small voice was telling him that if he were wholly sober, he'd be quite embarrassed at having tried to drink from another's cup, but he was quite happily buzzed and just quite happy in general. That fact was evidenced by the decidedly goofy smile curving his lips. In fact, he was so happy, he felt the need to share it.
"Ne, Kakashi-sensei," Iruka said, words slightly overpronounced so that his lips and tongue wouldn't trip over the tricky syllables. "I'm glad we met up like this. It's nice to have someone to talk to who isn't nearly two decades younger than me." And that was certainly the truth. Iruka may love his students, but being around another adult was necessary at times too...even if a case could be made for Kakashi's own childishness, at least according to the man's former students. That thought set Iruka off smiling again, pleasant memories flooding his brain.
Yes, this had definitely been a good idea, if only to be pleasantly nostalgic rather than morose in his remembrances. They'd definitely have to do this again.
Having given up on the mask replacement plan a while back, Kakashi cast the chuunin a goofy grin. His uncovered eye drifted over to the two cups for a second, and a tiny voice in his head appeared to be trying to tell him that the two of them had exchanged cups and inadvertently, kisses. Laughter spilled unchecked past his lips then, and the jounin clapped a hand on Iruka's back.
"It is, it is. Though, in my case, I get to talk to someone who isn't already romantically involved or ridiculously..." Kakashi paused, a funny image of Gai appearing in his head. "...green." He tried to prop his chin up on his hand and missed before managing it on a second go. Kakashi smiled again. It had been quite nice of Iruka to ask him to dinner.
"We should do this again, Iruka-sensei," Kakashi said. He poured the remainder of the sake into the two cups and drained what he supposed was his quickly before fishing out a wad of cash. The jounin dropped it on the counter and turned to the other. "I believe I'm done for evening."
Flopping forward in a loose-boned sprawl across the table, Iruka peered up at Kakashi through disheveled bangs that had fallen forward into his face, his hitai-ate discarded a bottle of sake earlier during a particularly heated discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of exploding tags. The jounin's laughter prompted his own, though he wasn't quite sure what was funny. Didn't really matter was his way of thinking. Any excuse for laughter in these trying times was definitely a good thing.
"Green..." All chuunin and jounin wore green vests, though Iruka knew that there was only one person that Kakashi could be referring to there. Polite to a fault, even Iruka had to admit that Maito Gai was...well, he was just Gai. And even in small doses, Gai could be too much to bear. "Definitely too green." There were others too, some were too stuffy, too preoccupied with their own loss, or just too busy to take a moment like this, enjoying the simple pleasures of sake, ramen and good company.
"A-Ah, yes, we should. I'd like that." He'd originally sought out Kakashi's presence in hopes of finding out word of Naruto, but he was glad to discover that spending time with the man wasn't as bad as his ex-team made it appear, with all their whining and bellyaching over lateness and pervertedness. It was definitely worth it.
Rummaging in his own pocket, he pulled out a like amount of cash to cover his own share of the food and drinks, dropping it on top of Kakashi's and pushing himself onto his feet, which were a bit unsteady, but not overly so. "Same here, I think. I have to teach in the morning, and the kids will be all over me if I show them that I'm tired."
Flashing another, more sincere smile, Iruka affected a slight bow, a bit too tipsy to do a proper one. "Next time you're in the village, do stop by the academy. Be..." He paused over his next words, lips twisted into a slight frown. "Be careful, okay?"
"Hoh? You have to teach
tomorrow?" Kakashi asked, an amused grin spreading across his face and reaching his eyes. The jounin lurched to his feet and leaned against the counter for a second. After regaining his bearings slightly, he made an attempt at patting Iruka's shoulder but ended up hitting the other's elbow instead. "Well, good luck with that. I hope you don't wake up with a hangover."
Pulling his hand away from the other, he then stretched his arms toward the sky before settling down into his usual slouch. After waving at the owner, Kakashi turned his attention back to Iruka, another dazed look appearing on his face.
"Of course, Iruka-sensei. I can't pass up another chance to drink with you, now can I?" His visible eye curved upwards. "You're a good drinking partner. I'll see you soon, mm?"
With a slight nod of the head, Kakashi took the streets. He paused momentarily to wave at the chuunin one last time before continuing on his way. Whoever thought the Academy teacher could be such good company?