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Language Gap

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Iruka buried his nose further into his scarf, his hands shoved deeply into his pockets as he walked briskly towards the bus stop. His car needed to be taken to the shop — something was wrong with the ignition. The engine whined hoarsely when he turned the key, but it never caught. He couldn’t bring himself to spend the money yet; money he definitely did not have. He knew he’d have to shell it out soon regardless, because winter was swiftly approaching.

He picked up his pace as he got closer, jogging the last few feet to the bus already stalled at the curb. He hopped up, paid his fee, and settled into a window seat near the back. He was no stranger to public transit. It was his sole means of transportation for ten years. The car was a new addition — well, new to him. It was an old, used honda civic that his brother-not-brother Asuma handed down to him after he bought a shiny new truck. It had caused Iruka more problems than relief. He didn’t understand the appeal of owning a car until last winter, when the temperatures dropped below zero and the sidewalks were slick with ice. He was thankful for the personal heater, the ample space for groceries, and to have it available for Naruto to use whenever he was home; the car was more Naruto’s now, than his.

Iruka plugged his headphones into his phone and looked at the time — 12:45. His shift started in 15 minutes; he’d make it, but only just. He loved working the night shift at the library, even more so now that an attractive stranger started to frequent it. His attempts at conversation with the man were less than exciting. They were usually short, and sometimes clipped. Iruka couldn’t tell if the guy was being rude, shy, or simply had nothing to say.

Iruka wasn’t discouraged though; there was something intriguing about the stranger that went beyond the unique color of his silver hair. He had a large scar that cut through his eye, and a black cloth mask worn snugly over the lower half of his face. The type of books he left behind were as varied as they come — everything from Shakespeare to Suzanne Collins. He seemed to take a recent interest in young adult novels despite his age, which if Iruka had to guess, was close to his own, and he was 29 himself. Not that he was passing judgment, no. Just a simple observation.

Iruka glanced out the bus window, his body instinctively knowing where they were about to pass. The building was still empty twenty years later, the brick still scorched, and Iruka’s nightmares were still plagued by the fire despite not being there when it broke out. He’d been sent on a delivery on foot — one steaming container of karē udon — two blocks away. He delivered to the same old lady everyday, and she always kept him longer than necessary, pressing sweets into his palm. When he had come back, the noodle shop was aflame. In his shocked state, he distantly heard something about a grease fire, before he was whisked away by the hand by his childhood friend Asuma, living with him and his father from that day on.

Iruka sighed and stood up, making his way towards the door since his stop was next. He really wished the city would do something about the building. Every time he saw it, it made him feel oddly exposed and vulnerable, like his past was staring straight at him.

He shook his head a little and stepped off the bus. The library was a short, five minute walk from the stop.

“Afternoon, everybody,” Iruka said when he arrived, approaching the front desk.

“Hi, Iruka,” Sakura chirped. Hinata gave a little wave.

“How’s the morning been?”

“Quiet. We finished setting up the new exhibit… it looks really good!” Sakura said, staring at it.

Iruka followed her eyes, taking it in.

“Hinata knit that big octopus and the jellyfishes! Aren’t they cute?”

The library was showcasing a new fantasy series about an underwater universe full of merpeople and all sorts of interesting creatures.

“They’re wonderful,” Iruka said, smiling at Hinata, who turned away with a blush. “It looks amazing. Great job; both of you.”

“Shizune came in a few minutes before you; she’s in the break room,” Sakura said, gathering up her things. “And Shikamaru is… around here somewhere.”

“I-Iruka,” Hinata said quietly, “I finished putting the magnetic tape strip into the new arrivals, but I didn’t have time to register them all into the database yet.”

“No problem, I can finish that up. Enjoy your night, you two. And have a good weekend. See you on Monday.”

On her way out, Hinata placed a tiny crochet frog on the counter.

“I made this for Naruto, w-will you give it to him?”

“Of course,” Iruka smiled. “He’ll love it.”

Hinata blushed again and hurried after Sakura. Both girls went to the local university with Naruto, and Iruka knew Naruto was completely oblivious to the crippling crush Hinata had on him. Naruto’s attention was elsewhere — particularly on a black-haired boy he’d known since middle school.

Iruka had adopted Naruto when the boy was only twelve. He’d caught him trying to steal a container of cup noodles from the gas station. He bought it for him, as well as a slice of hot pizza from the glass containers at the check-out counter. They ate together on the curb, and Iruka found out that Naruto’s foster home wasn’t providing him with enough to eat.

There was a ramen shop across the street from the gas station, and from that day on, they agreed to meet there twice a week for several months, Iruka treating him to as many bowls as he could eat. It wasn’t long after that Iruka suggested adoption. He was only 22 at the time, but all the law required was that the adult be at least ten years older than the child. Iruka wasn’t wealthy by any means, but he had inherited a sum from his parents, and he’d been working two jobs ever since he was 16. It was enough to provide Naruto with a safe place to live, and give him three warm meals a day — Naruto had become the younger sibling he never had.

“Brought you a coffee,” Shizune said, placing it on the counter next to Iruka. “I’m off to do the rounds, see what kind of trash is waiting for me.”

“Good luck,” Iruka laughed.

He took a sip of his coffee, pulled over the cart of new arrivals Hianta had left behind, and got to work. 




Like clockwork, the silver-haired stranger showed up at three in the afternoon. Iruka was teaching a young woman how to find an academic article on a computer when he walked in. They shared a smile (or what he assumed was a smile — Iruka affectionately called it the “smize” in his mind, since it only showed in his eyes due to the mask) before the man disappeared behind the shelves, presumably to collect the same books he had yesterday, picking up where he left off.

Iruka spent the rest of the day processing hold requests, helping an elderly man learn his new smartphone, teaching a short program on how to search for jobs in the area and fill out applications, and curating a recommended reading list around the theme Will of fire to be published on the library’s website.

Sometimes Iruka would look up to catch the stranger staring at him — it never failed to make him flustered — but then he’d downcast his eyes, take a sip from his thermos, and turn the page of his book lazily.

Shortly before closing, Iruka saw the man do what he’d seen him do countless times. The patron pulled out a pocket-sized notebook, scribbled down what had to be the page number of the book he was reading, and placed it back in his bag. He watched the guy stand with the stack of books in hand, moving towards the aisles — Iruka got up and walked over to him.

“I can put those back for you,” Iruka said, holding out his hands.

“Thank you,” the man said with a polite nod.

“You know, you could get a library card,” Iruka teased. “Then you could read the books at home, and not have to come here everyday.”

“Ah. Then I have to ask for one, and my English is not so good,” he said, scratching at the back of his neck. “And you are… very nice to look at.”

Iruka’s mouth fell open with a blush, completely taken off guard.

“O-oh. Thank you,” Iruka stammered. “A-and there’s nothing wrong with your English. You might just need more practice…”

“Mm,” the man agreed. “In Japan, where I’m from, the little education for English focuses on reading and writing, not so much conversation.”

Iruka knew the accent sounded familiar; it had been two decades since he heard it, but it was reminiscent of his parents. He pushed a book back into its place on the shelf, biting his lip in thought.

“I could help you, if you’d like. With any specific troubles you might have or… we could just talk. The library is usually pretty dead the hour before closing.”

“Dead?” Kakashi asked, his brow wrinkling in confusion.

“Um, empty? Meaning, there isn’t a lot of activity at that time.”

“Strange way to say it.”

“I suppose it is,” Iruka laughed. “Tomorrow then?”

“Tomorrow,” the man nodded, sticking his hands into his pockets.

“I’m Iruka, by the way.”


Iruka smiled and watched him go.




The next day, Iruka approached Kakashi’s table to find him reading New Moon; he barely stifled his laugh.

“Are you enjoying that?”

Kakashi brought the book away from his face.

“Oh yes. Excellent.”

Iruka let out a surprised sound, holding back the joke he was definitely going to make, but then Kakashi winked at him playfully.

“The writing is terrible, but I love it. Reminds me of a book series from my country. Same bad romance. It’s named Icha Icha. I am addicted.”

Iruka let out a laugh, finding the admittance oddly adorable.

“Well, if you want…” Iruka chose his words carefully; as a librarian he wasn’t supposed to be judgmental. “…a more refined story about vampires, I have some suggestions. Of course there’s the classic Dracula by Bram Stoker, but two of my favorites are Fledgling by Octavia Butler, and Carpe Jugulm by Terry Pratchett. ”

“You like vampires then? Very sexy, no?”

“If you like your neck bit,” Iruka said without thinking.

Kakashi tilted his head in clear amusement, quirking one of his eyebrows.  

“I—that’s not—I just meant—,” Iruka stuttered, his face turning darker by the second. “You know, sucking the blo—,” Iruka cringed. “—I’m going to stop talking now,” he said, with his face hidden in his hands.

Kakashi crossed one leg over the other, leaning back in his chair.

“Hmm. Maybe I do need card for the library. Talking to you is more fun than reading while I am here.”


And this is how they started. Kakashi would come in and they would converse whenever Iruka could spare time—Iruka found out that Kakashi was enrolled in the same university as Naruto. He’d gotten a late start, having worked straight for a family friend’s small publishing house fresh out of high school, the same company that printed his beloved Icha Icha. Kakashi was pursuing a bachelor’s in literature, choosing to study abroad in the states for some travel experience and to improve his English. The reason for his varied reading was that he was trying to catch up on classic books read in the west since a lot of references were lost on him. So far his favorites were The Great Gatsby, and The Princess Bride, which Iruka found stupidly charming.

After two weeks of conversation, Iruka finally asked Kakashi out on date. For how shy Kakashi could be about his English sometimes, he was not shy about using it to flirt — it had progressed from subtle to obvious and Iruka was starting to feel like he was in some sort of ethically gray area considering it happened at work.


They agreed to dinner at a Korean barbecue, a short 10 minute walk from the library.  

“Let me take this off, so I’m not hiding,” Kakashi said, reaching for his mask after they’d sat down.

Iruka’s stomach twisted a little. He had yet to see Kakashi without it.

“I have… hm, how do I say this?” Kakashi paused, searching for the word. “My immune system is not so strong; I get sick easy.”

“Ah,” was all Iruka could think to say as Kakashi’s face was revealed.

Of course he’d wondered what Kakashi looked like, but it honestly didn’t matter much since he already liked the man, but… Kakashi was surprisingly cute. And even though Iruka could see his mouth now, Kakashi still mostly smiled with his eyes. 

Iruka was smitten.




“Maybe you could help me with Japanese,” Iruka suggested cheekily, on their walk back towards the library. “My parents died when I was young, so I lost it. My reading and writing comprehension are terrible.”

“Mm. It is very different. We have three character system. Not like English. With only one… alphabet?”

Iruka nodded his head before saying, “That sounds daunting.”

Kakashi chuckled.

“It doesn’t take so long to get. You can do it. I would be happy to teach you. That way we spend more time together,” Kakashi said, bumping his shoulder into Iruka’s with a smile. “Where should we go now?”

Iruka smiled, delighted Kakashi didn’t want to part yet.

“Well, my friend Kotetsu is with his boyfriend and some of our friends at a bar down the street,” Iruka said, pointing in that direction. “We could join them?”

“That sounds daunting.”

“Don’t worry,” Iruka laughed, linking his arm through Kakashi’s. “I won’t throw you under the bus.”

Kakashi stopped in his tracks, yanking Iruka into a halt.

“What. Why would you do that? So violent, Iruka- kun,” Kakashi emphasized with a pout, having left his mask off for their walk.

“Oh! No. It’s an expression, meaning… I won’t abandon you in a difficult situation or something.”

“I don’t understand,” Kakashi said, shaking his head. "You know what one women said to me after I asked her how the exam went? She said, I repeat, ‘it was a piece of cake.’ I was very confused. It was clearly not a piece of cake. It was paper, and I hate cake. It scared me from talking to many people.”

Iruka laughed, squeezing at Kakashi’s bicep.

“She meant it was easy.”

"How does easy mean cake? Doesn’t make sense at all.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Iruka agreed with a laugh. “But we have a lot of those phrases. Wait until someone tells you to break a leg,” he said, as they approached the entrance to the bar. 

Kakashi’s mouth dropped open in horror.