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Die A Little Death With Me

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Had his come even dried that morning when he decided that was the day he would betray him? It wasn't the weeks spent trapped in a hospital bed, the hours that T&I questioned him while a Yamanaka rifled through his mind that finally made him break. No. For Iruka, it was finally being released home to find the same sheets on the bed from that morning that caused him break. Mizuki.

He angrily tore the sheets of the bed, which aggravated the wound on his back. He cried out, the pain making him fall to his knees. He was supposed to be on bed rest with therapy for several more weeks. As he lay there panting in agony, he cried for the first time since everything had happened. He had loved Mizuki, no matter how many times the man had put him down, treated him like shit, but this was...he couldn't even name the emotions that cycled through him. 

So he stayed crumpled on the floor and cried for a love that had never been real in the first place. He cried for the young, innocent chunin he'd been when he'd let Mizuki take his virginity, truly believing the other man wanted him. He cried for the broken man he was now, left with nothing but a scar and the ruins Mizuki had left behind.

Eventually, he slowly moved from the spot on the ground. He managed to get the sheets changed, throwing the old ones into the trash. His back hurt even with the pain killers they gave him. The wound is almost healed, but the nerve damage is lingering, a constant reminder that he's a fucking idiot who fell in love with a sociopath. 

Iruka knew he should rest, but the need to purge outweighed his self preservation. Every gift the silver haired bastard had ever given him went in to the trash, though gifts from him were rare. By the time he got to the fourth bag of trash, he felt like he finally had his apartment back. Dragging the bags to the can were agony, sweat dripping from his brow as his body shook from the effort. 

He had been warned not to use chakra or over tax himself, but none of that mattered as he formed the seals for a fire jutsu. He would burn away any trace of Mizuki, of his lies and betrayal. It took almost an hour to get through it all. He came close to throwing up more than once, a combination of the stress of his body and the memories of that bastard touching him. 

Iruka used a bit more chakra to douse the smoldering embers of the fire, trash can now blackened by the prolonged burning. His vision swam and he nearly passed out as he released the jutsu. Too much. He'd done far too much. He sagged against the wall, gasping for air as he tried to get his vision to clear and get the world to stop spinning so much. 

He almost didn't make it back to his apartment. Several times his vision narrowed as he almost passed out from pain and the strain he'd put on his body. He got as far as his couch before he decided that was far enough. He collapsed on the cushions, as he stopped fighting against the need to pass out.

***

Ko and Izumo tried. They really did. They were pissed when they found him passed out on the couch. He had refused to go back to the hospital when they had finally managed to wake him. Izumo told him he was being foolish, that he needed to be checked out. Iruka had told him to mind his own fucking business. 

That had started a fight between him and Kotetsu, which ended when the other chunin stormed out of his apartment. Izumo had stayed to try to calm things down, but Iruka had pushed him away as well, telling him that unless Kotetsu was planning on betraying Konoha then he had no idea how he felt and to get out of his fucking house. 

He hadn't heard from his friends in over a week. Anko was gone on an extended mission, so he was alone. The pain ate at him, slowly driving him crazy now that he was home. That morning had been particularly rough since he'd been told he could not return to teaching until he was cleared by his doctor. That meant it could be months before he could return to his life as he knew it.

Iruka tried to push it away, tried not to dwell on it, but he felt like everything was spiraling out of control. He slammed his tea cup into the sink, shattering it, causing several pieces to fly everywhere. He bent over the sink, trying to get air into his lungs. He felt like he was being choked, vision going gray. It was too much to deal with, to process. In the back of his mind he knew he was having a panic attack, but that did nothing to lessen the overwhelming emotions that gripped him. 

Gradually, the attack lessened and it became easier to breathe. Iruka raised a shaking hand up to his forehead, wiping away the cold sweat that had formed on his brow. It was then he noticed the blood. A fragment of his tea cup had sliced a shallow cut on his hand, which was bleeding freely. He swore, grabbing a paper towel so he could apply pressure to stop the bleeding. He fumbled through his cabinets, looking for a first aid kit. 

He sat down on the kitchen floor, wrapping his hand. He vaguely recalled that the last time he needed this first aid kit was also became of Mizuki. His vision started to blur as tears welled up in his eyes. As angry as he was at Mizuki, he was just as angry at himself for staying with him for so long. No matter how much he yelled at him, or came home smelling like other men, Iruka would always justify staying. It wasn't that bad, all couples have issues, he would tell himself. He doesn't hit me, but even that was mostly a lie. Mizuki just hid his physical abuse under the guise of 'training'. How had he let things get so bad? Why didn't he walk away for it all? Now, he was lucky he could even walk at all.

He sat there for a long time before he finally pulled himself up. Dealing with the broken cup was more than he could manage, so he left the mess behind. Another mess he couldn't fucking handle. He headed to his bedroom, suddenly so exhausted. He would see how tomorrow went.

***

Iruka was awakened the next morning by a pounding at his front door. He startled awake, still half caught in a nightmare. He'd been having those a lot. He dragged himself to the door. A muffled shout of Iruka-sensei made him freeze. Naruto. A chill went down his spine as the nightmare came rushing back, the night of the Kyuubi attack. 

He stumbled back, away from the door. Naruto's pounding on the door increased, as did his shouting. The chunin fled the room as he felt bile rise up. He just barely made it to the bathroom as the dry heaving started. The nightmare had been too close to the real thing. Naruto just had terrible timing. 

He was grateful when the boy gave up and left. He rested his head against the cool seat of the toilet. Today was not looking better than yesterday. He would have to buy the blond ramen later to make it up to him. He'd feel better once the nightmares subsided. 

Physical therapy that day was particularly exhausting and painful. Iruka was beginning to wonder if he would ever get better. The medical nins had high hopes, but each time his progress felt so minimal. The walk back to his apartment was agony, his back burning with each step. His day didn't get better when he finally got there because Anko was waiting for him and she looked pissed.

Her face softened a bit as he struggled up the stairs. He unlocked the front door without greeting her, stumbling into the apartment making it only as far as his couch before collapsing. "Oh Ru, I didn't know it was still this bad. Can I get you anything?"

"Pain meds are on the counter in the kitchen." All he wanted to do was curl up on the couch and pass out, but he doubted he could avoid a confrontation with with purple haired woman. 

Anko brought him water and the bottle of pills, which he quickly took. It would be a bit before they kicked in, but they would help. "Ru..." The chunin nearly winced. Here it came. "Are you eating?"

He looked up at her, puzzled by the question. That was not what he was expecting. "What? I mean yeah." Sure, he'd only had toast so far that day, but it was only...4 o'clock. Well, shit. It must have slipped his mind.

"I ask because your fridge is basically empty. The older lady next door says you've barely left home in weeks. Did you even go grocery shopping this week?" Anko tried to keep her voice calm and even, but it just served to piss Iruka off. 

"I'm not a fucking child, Anko! I don't need you or that old bitch spying on me." He bit out at her. He was in too much pain to deal with this nonsense. "Why are you even here? To lecture me about Ko and Izumo?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Ok. You can hold your goddamn horses right now, Iruka Umino. I'm here because I'm concerned. You were seriously injured like a month ago. Now, you're not eating and fighting with your friends. We care about you,  Ru."

"No one asked you to! I am so sick and tired of being in pain all the time. I don't want your fucking pity." Iruka pushed himself up, wincing. "I'm going to bed. You know where the door is."

She tried to follow him, but he practically slammed the door in her face, leaning heavily against it. Moving that short distance made him break out in a cold sweat. Fuck, he had overdone it again. He listened to Anko swear at him through the door for several minutes before she finally left, still cursing his name. He collapsed into his bed, passing out shortly thereafter. 

***

Iruka felt like shit the next day when he finally managed to get out of bed. He stumbled into the kitchen to make himself some tea. He glanced at the fridge, wondering if he had anything edible in it. Anko had been right about his bare fridge. 

He opened the door with a sigh, wondering if he maybe had some instant ramen left in the cupboards. He was shocked to fine it filled with home made meals and fresh vegetables. One of the meals had a note that just said 'don't be an ass'. He didn't know how Anko got back in, but that was definitely her handwriting. Guilt ate at him as he pulled out some food to heat up. He didn't mean to be such a bastard to his friends, that just seemed to be his default lately. 

He knew he needed to apologize to her, to all of his friends really. They did care about him and just wanted to help him through this. Being confined inside was not helping with his mental state, but when he do go out, people stared, whispered behind his back. Isn't that the teacher that was sleeping with the traitor? How could they clear him? Surely, he must have known. 

So he'd stopped leaving house house unless absolutely necessary. Maybe he should try to make it to over to Ko and Izumo's place. It wasn't far and his physical therapist did want him to walk each day on top if his stretches. But what would he say? Sorry I threw you out of my house, just didn't seem to cut it. 

He would figure that out after he ate and got dressed. He was in a better mood as he sipped his tea, so he decided to sort through the mail that had been piling up. His stomach dropped when he saw very familiar handwriting on a letter addressed to him. DON'T READ IT! He screamed at himself, even as he tore the envelope open. 

How had Mizuki gotten a letter to him? Were prisoners allowed to send out mail? His stomach clenched as he read his words. His hands were shaking uncontrollably as he got to the last line, 'love you always-Mizuki'. What kind of game was the bastard playing at? A fucking apology letter? 

He quickly dug through the pile of mail for find several more letters. The next one begged him to see him, the next two grew increasingly desperate sounding. The last one...the last one was full of hate and venom for ignoring him. The letter tore at every insecurity Iruka had, every thing Mizuki used to put him down, and told him how he had cheated on him their entire relationship, in great detail. 

The letter fell from his hands, landing softly on the table, where Iruka just stared at it. Too much. It was too much knowing how much Mizuki truly hated him. He stumbled away from the table, running into the wall behind him. The first sobs shook his whole body, as he cried, wailed, for the lie his life was. He sobbed for what felt like an eternity, losing himself to the misery.

He came to in the bathroom, barely recalling going into the room. He looked down in horror at the mess he'd made of himself, blood running down his forearms. A bloody kunai was sitting just out of reach on the counter. He took a shaky step towards the sink and caught a look at himself in that mirror.  

Iruka's eyes were wide, shock starting to wear off a bit. He was panting as he came back into his body, which meant the pain was starting to hit him. He swore and formed the hand signs for a basic healing jutsu. He healed the wounds enough so they closed up, hopefully it was enough to not scar. How long had it been since he'd done something like this? Since the early days of dating Mizuki and he'd never done it during some weird blackout period. 

He washed the blood off his arms, quickly cleaning up the sink and floor. It gave him something to focus on instead of absolutely freaking out about having cut up his arms like that. He obsessively cleaned the tiles, scrubbing at the group to remove any trace of blood. After spending the better part of an hour scrubbing the bathroom, he realized how much blood he had on his clothes.

He bit back a sob as he struggled out of his clothes, running them to the washer. The blood had seeped through in places, staining his skin. He tore his hair tie out as he headed back to the bathroom to shower. The water was hotter than he normal like, but he didn't care. He needed to clean himself up before Mizuki found out. He froze under the hot spray as he realized what he'd just thought. 

He had always credited Mizuki with being the reason as to why he finally stopped cutting. As he scrubbed the blood off his body it occurred to him he had stopped because Mizuki had told him how pathetic it was that he had to cut, how disgusting his scars were, not that he actually had that many. It had been how he had coped as an angry teenager. 

Now, he was just a broken adult, unable to cope with the reality that his life was quickly spinning out of control. It a way it was fitting that he'd lost control and sliced up his arms. That piece of shit Mizuki wasn't here to tell him how he was a terrible person or to manipulate him. He was finally free of him. 

***

That small revelation helped him through the rest of the day and the next few weeks. He made time to apologize to his friends and really focused on his recovery. When things became too overwhelming or he started to spiral into a deep depression, cutting helped. He would heal the wounds as much as he could to minimize the scarring, hiding the marks on his legs, where it was unlikely that anyone would see them.

By all outward appearances, he was getting better. He was making steady progress with his rehab, the pain slowly subsiding to manageable levels. He even had a date set to return to work. He should be happy, should be celebrating, but inside he felt so close to a break down. Just smile through it, he told himself. That's all people want to see. They want to see the lie so his problems didn't become theirs. 

Iruka kept the letters and he would obsessively re-read them on his bad days, days when he locked himself in the bathroom with his sharpest kunai. He hid from his own pain, stuffing down the years of abuse, only letting it spill out on those dark nights. He had everyone else convinced he was fine. Surely he could convince himself as well.

Chapter Text

Iruka was shocked when he found out who Naruto's new jounin sensei was, surprised that the man had actually passed Team 7. Guilt ate at him that he was only just now learning about how Naruto was doing since becoming a genin. He had spent several weeks actively avoiding the boy when his nightmares were at their worst, dreaming of his parents dying repeatedly.

Now, that he was doing better, well he was sleeping slightly better now, he felt up to taking him out to ramen, as if endless bowls of broth and noodles could ease his guilt. "And Kakashi-sensei reads these pervy books, even when we're training!"

Iruka forced a smiled onto his face. "Maybe he's reading something else to get a rise out of you."

"Pfft. I doubt it. I tried to grab his book, but he dodged and let me fall into a river!" The boy continued on with his complaints. "And Sasuke thinks he's so cool. When I'm Hokage I'm gonna give him all the worst missions."

The chunin let him prattle on, paying for a third bowl of ramen before Naruto finally declared that he was full, which was a good thing because Iruka's wallet was looking a bit sad after paying for their meal. Being off work for so long was starting to hurt. Medical pay only went so far.

He made sure the blond made it home safely and promised to take him out for ramen after he went back to work. Today he felt a bit better, a bit like himself. Ko had invited him out that night. He'd reluctantly agreed, not knowing how he'd feel, but now he was actually looking forward to it.

He dragged out some of his nicer looking civilian clothes to wear. He frowned at himself in the mirror, realizing how loosely the clothes fit. The shirt used to stretch across his chest and shoulders and the pants were usually a bit hard to get on. The clothes looked baggy and horrible on him, or so he told himself. 

Depression crashed into him hard as he fought back tears. He knew exactly what Mizuki would say if he saw him. He could almost hear his biting tone and snarky remarks. Iruka choked back a sob, forcing himself to breath. Each breath was a struggle as he stumbled into his bathroom. He had to get rid of Mizuki 's voice, had to quiet the emptiness inside of him the threatened to consume him.

The first cut stung, but it was suddenly easier to breath. His hands had stopped shaking by the third cut. By the sixth cut, he had almost muted Mizuki, pushing his hateful lies down, burying them deep. That was when someone knocked on his door. He recognized the chakra signature immediately. Anko. "Fuck. No, not now." He pressed some toilet paper to the bleeding wounds, trying to stop the blood flow as he tried to heal them. Every knock spiked his anxiety, sending him back to the edge. 

He couldn't let Anko see him like this. She would want him to get a psych eval, to talk to someone. Iruka knew he wasn't crazy, that he'd be fine in time, but this getting reported could stop him from going back to work. His hands frantically formed the hand signs for a more powerful heading jutsu he'd been working on. It was a huge chakra drain, but the skin on his leg was quickly healed, looking as if the cuts had never happened.

Iruka quickly cleaned up the remaining blood, flushing the evidence away. He cleaned the kunai, hiding it back in the drawer. Anko was yelling at him to get his lazy bones up to answer the door, when he finally made it out of the bathroom. He tried to catch his breath before he opened the door.

"It's about time. I was knocking for ages." She complained, stepping inside his apartment. "Everything okay?" Iruka could feel her looking him over, probably assessing his mental state.

"I'm fine. I was just in the bathroom getting ready." He hoped she bought the fake smile he plastered on his face.

It seemed to work because Anko didn't call him on his lie. "Great. Ko and Izumo are going to meet us at the bar. I just came to make sure you felt up to going. I know you can't say no to Kotetsu."

Some of the tension left his body as he realized she hadn't felt the surge of chakra when he healed himself. "Yeah, I am. It's been way too long since we all went out." Lies. So many lies. He was in no way feeling up to going out now, but if he told Anko that she's want to know what was wrong. Better to go for a few hours than answer his friend's questions.

"Is that what you're wearing?" Iruka almost winced at her words. "You look really good, Ru. All the guys are gonna be all over you tonight." Anko winked at him.

She was just being nice, he told himself. "I'm not up to seeing anyone right now." Not after Mizuki.

Anko put her arm around his waist. "Maybe not now and there's always one night stands. Get some and boot them on out. I can be your wing woman."

Iruka smiled at her. She cared and it showed. "I think I'll pass, but I'll keep you on mind when I do feel like getting back out there."

"Good enough for me. Let's go!"

***

Iruka winced as he woke up to a pounding headache, a sure sign that he'd over done things the night before. It only took a moment to realize he was not in his own bed. He shot out of the unfamiliar bed, his body protesting at the sudden movement. 

A man was asleep up on the bed, his back to the chunin. The soreness in his body confirmed they had sex. He desperately searched his memories from the night before for some clue to the man's identity as he gathered up his clothing. He froze as the other man stirred, starting to wake up. He flew through the hand signs for the teleportation jutsu. He was gone before the man managed to roll over.

The chunin dropped his clothes, making a break for the bathroom as a wave of extreme nausea hit him. His body was not reacting well to the sudden teleportation, he thought, as he emptied the contents of his stomach into the toilet. "What the fuck did I do last night?"

He rested his head on the toilet seat for a moment, the cool porcelain felt good against his skin, as he tried to trace his movements the night before. He and Anko headed to the bar. They let Kotetsu order the drinks, always a mistake. The drinks had been strong and plentiful as his friends celebrated his supposed recovery. Ko had over done it early on. He vaguely recalled him puking in the alley behind the bar. An apologetic Izumo had taken him home. 

It started to get murky after that. He remembered being with Anko and then...being hit on. The guy had been drunk too, but had been super in to him. Iruka barely remembered his face, but he hadn't been that attractive, but he had been drunk and lonely. Flashes of skin and moaning, the feeling of being filled. He didn't recall his name or of they had used protection.

Iruka lifted his head, sudden shame filling him. He'd only ever been with Mizuki and now a random guy from bar. His body was sore as he pushed himself up. He would drop by the clinic later for a check up since he was fairly certain they'd had unprotected sex, but first he needed a shower, needed to wash away the scent of the stranger.

His stomach settled enough after the shower that he was able to keep down some water and toast, which meant he could take some much needed pain killers. He was ready to curl up on his couch for a nap when Anko burst through his front door. "Thanks for ditching me to get some D last night. I brought your keys back."

"What do you mean?" Iruka didn't even notice his keys were missing when he got home. Why did Anko have them?

She flopped down on the couch next to him. "You don't remember giving me your keys? You almost dropped them like eight times, so you gave them to me for safe keeping. And then you just disappear later. The bartender told me you left with some rando. So deets?" She grinned at him, wanting him to tell her everything. 

Everything was he'd gone up with a man whose name he didn't know, whose face he barely remembered, had unprotected sex, and run away like a coward once he woke up. "Nothing happened. He tried to pick me up and I brushed him off. I teleported home and passed out. I forgot you had my keys."

Anko frowned at him. "I swung by here after the bar to check up on you. You weren't home..." She didn't call him a liar, but it was implied. 

"I don't know what to tell you, Anko. It's a little fuzzy, but nothing happened and I came home. I must have wandered around for a bit or something." Irritation crept into his voice.

"No reason to get mad, Ru. Geeze. I was just happy you came out. You need to get out of the house more." She rested her hand on his knee. "I care about my bestie."

"Ugh, you know I hate that word. Bestie. Like is best friend too hard to say." It was a long time joke between the two of them and it made him feel like shit for lying to her. "And I appreciate you dragging me out."

Anko grinned at him, obviously happy to have gotten him out of the house. She stayed for a bit longer until Iruka told her he really needed a nap to help with his hangover. He was secretly glad to see her go. She was his best friend, and he loved her dearly, but interacting with people was utterly exhausting, especially since he had to pretend to be happy the whole time. 

He slept most of the day way. He had just over two weeks until he started back at the academy, for which he was extremely grateful for. He was ready to be back to his routine and regular sleeping patterns. He shuffled into his bathroom, yawning. He groaned when he caught sight of himself. He looked like shit, his hair was an absolute mess. 

First steps in setting himself back on a better path, tackling his nest of hair and eating. He'd get himself back on a routine and he'd feel better. "You can do this, Ru." And he did feel a bit better after cleaning himself up. He ate some leftovers, deciding tonight was a nice night for a walk.

Fresh air would be good for him. He could forget all about last night. Iruka looked up at the sky as he stepped outside. He'd always loved looking up at the stars, especially on missions that took him far away from the village and its lights. Hands stuffed into his pockets, he headed out.

His feet took him to the opposite end of the village from his apartment. He didn't make it over this way often since it was mostly full of civilian housing. He stopped as he came upon what looked like a bar at first, but he quickly realized it was a gay club. There weren't many in Konoha, but he knew this place was there, somewhere in the back of his mind. He'd never had a reason to go there before. Mizuki absolutely hated places like this, having a few hateful things to say about the gay men that frequented such places. 

Just one drink, Iruka told himself as he drifted towards the entrance. It was busy inside, with loud music playing. This was definitely not his usual scene and it must have showed. Several men gave him a once over, but mostly they kept away from him. He ordered a few more drinks than he intended, but overall it was a nice existence experience. He stood up to leave, but a man slid into the seat across from him. "You are too hot to be here alone. You must have someone at home."

Iruka flushed red at his compliment. "No, it's just me. Sorry, but I was just heading out."

"I'm Arata and I'd love to buy you a drink if you're willing to stay a little longer." He gave Iruka his best smile, trying to be charming.

The chunin debated for a moment before sitting back down. The man was very forward and informal, having given only his first name, but it was nice to be told he was attractive. "Iruka Umino. It's a pleasure to meet you, Arata-san."

"No need to be so formal. We're all friends here."

***

Several drinks later, Iruka was stumbling into Arata's apartment, hungrily kissing the other man. Kami, it felt good to be wanted, even if the other man barely knew him. He let himself be pulled into his bedroom, stripping off clothes as they went. They tumbled into bed together, mostly nude. 

"Wait. I need to grab something." Arata rolled off of him, moving to the edge so he could open his night stand. He pulled out a small baggy of pills and offered Iruka one. 

"What is this?" The chunin eyed the pill, unsure of what he was getting himself in to. 

Arata looked at him and grinned. "This is just a little something to make us feel good. You'll have the best sex of your life. I promise." Iruka had enough sense left to start to protest, but the other man pressed it into this mouth and he swallowed obediently. 

***

Arata had been right. It was the best sex of his life. Whatever he'd been given had left him floating in a sea of wonderful sensations. Every touch, every caress had him moaning in ecstasy and Iruka couldn't get enough. The hangover the day after was awful, but Arata told him he just needed to drink more water beforehand. 

The last two weeks before he started back to work were filled with drug fueled sex with Arata and his friends. Even on the days when he wasn't thing to the club, he still took half a pill of the drugs the other man had supplied him with. The high heightened the pain/pleasure of cutting, making him almost feel euphoric. He tried it just to see how it felt and he was so damn glad he did. He finally felt like he could take the world on.

Chapter Text

Anko was there bright and early his first day back to work. He was barely awake when she knocked on the door. Now she was in his kitchen, apparently making breakfast, as he sleepily pulled on his uniform. There was a cup of strong tea waiting for him when he dragged himself out of the bedroom. "You didn't have to do all this," he said, yawning.

"It's your first day back and I want you to have a good start to the day." She served him a plate heaped with food. "Now, eat while you still have time."

Iruka obliged, sleepily shoveling food into his mouth. If he ate, she wouldn't worry so much and he hated being such a burden. The fucking mess who couldn't get his shit together, so his friends felt obligated to help. If eating her breakfast made Anko feel better, he would do it, even though he had very little appetite. 

He thanked Anko for the meal and set off to the academy. Anxiety made the meal sit heavy in his stomach, making him feel sick. He wasn't sure if he was mentally prepared to go back to work. His class must miss him by now, right? Maybe they had liked their substitute more. 

His heart was heavy as he headed into the academy, head full of everything that could go wrong. His doubts went out the window when he was greeted with shrieks of 'Iruka-sensei'. Most of his class had arrived early to greet him on his first day back. There was nothing quite like a dozen screaming pre-genin hugging him to cheer him up.

Iruka finally got them to settle down and get into their seats. The substitute was nice enough to leave detailed notes on what they had covered and who needed more help. He smiled as he read over the notes. His students had been doing well and that made his heart soar. His current class was filled mostly with students who hadn't quite been ready to test to become genin or had failed their exams. Some were former students or students he had helped from other classes. 

The lesson that day went off without a hitch, except he had a few students missing. They were good students, so he found it odd that several of them had missed class. Maybe a bad cold was going around the school. He brought it up to the principal when he came to check how Iruka's first day went.

"Ah, yes. Well..." The man stumbled over his words, obviously hiding something. "Their parents wanted them transferred to other classes."

The chunin felt like he'd been punched in the gut. "They pulled them out of my class?"

The principal shuffled uncomfortably. "Iruka-sensei, you know everyone here at the school loves you and trusts you, but some of the parents...had concerns after you were injured."

Had concerns because he'd been sleeping with a traitor. He plastered a smile onto his face. "I understand. Most of them will become genin this year. They need to focus on that." Not listen to their parents' fears that their teacher was also a traitor. 

The principal patted him on the back. "You know how silly parents can be sometimes, but you are the best teacher we have."

He was glad when the man finally left, leaving Iruka alone in his empty classroom. He'd have a new class next year, then he could put all of this behind him. That was the mantra he tried to tell himself as he walked home. It would get better with time, people would forget. He made it home before he completely broke down. 

Mizuki had taken one more thing from him, something he shouldn't have even been able to touch, his students. He had taught some of the best and brightest to come out of the academy in recent years, but it wasn't enough. He was going to be judged on his past mistakes. It wasn't enough for Mizuki to betray the village, he had to fuck Iruka over completely in the process.

He let his bag fall to the ground, then his vest. He needed to ground himself, stop the spiraling. He managed to make it to the kitchen to pour himself a drink. Just needed to forget for a while. He didn't want to be reminded of pale flesh and silver hair, the way Mizuki would say his name. 

The second drink went down as quickly as the first. Just needed to forget about him, to stop his words from replaying in his mind. Worthless. Unlovable. Not worth a one night stand. He didn't remember pulling out the letters, not that he needed to. Every word was branded onto his heart. 

And now, he wasn't even good enough as a teacher. That was the one thing he had been proud of in his life. The one thing that had solely been his. Tears blurred his vision as he cried for what felt like the thousandth time over a bastard who had never loved him. Was he really as bad as Mizuki said? Pathetic. That had been his favorite insult. 

Judging by how his life was currently going, he believed Mizuki. He was pathetic. Couldn't keep him from betraying the village, couldn't keep his class intact. What was the point of trying anymore? No one trusted him. No one wanted him anything other than a quick fuck. Not that he blamed them. He couldn't stand how weak he was. Did he really expect anyone else to see him as anything worth their time?

He finally shoved the letters back into their hiding spot. Exhaustion was setting in, but all he could do was lay in bed, head filled with every bad thing he'd ever done or been told. It was just a bad day, he tried to convince himself. Tomorrow would be better. It had to be.

***

The next day at the academy went as well as it could considering Iruka only got four hours of sleep and hadn't worked on any of the previous day's school work. He quickly graded it during their first break. The kids were rambunctious, but they made him feel a bit better. It was going home alone that made him start to spiral again.

He forced himself to take the time after school each day to correct their work. Trying to cram it in during school was very stressful. It was really the only thing he managed to get done once he was home. It was Thursday by the time he realized he hasn't showered all week, but he didn't have the energy to deal with it until Friday.

He dragged himself into the shower after managing to finish grading and eating a little something. He realized he'd started losing weight again because he'd been skipping meals. He needed to pick up some more ramen. It was the only thing he'd been able to cook since it required minimal effort. 

The shower water was almost too warm, but he curled up, letting it run over his body. He rested his head on his knees, so glad the week was over. The kids were the only thing that had gotten him through. They were all genuinely happy to see him everyday. The great thing about children was they would overlook your flaws. They didn't see the a fuck up when they looked at him. They only saw their precious Iruka-sensei.

It had been a long time since his depression had hit him this hard. The last several months had been hard as his depression and anxiety got worse. He thought back to the last time he hadn't showered for a week or more. It had been over two years ago, near the anniversary of his parents' deaths. It had hit him particular hard for some reason.

-

Iruka curled up in his bed, his tears had dried up long ago, but his throat was still raw from sobbing. He had barely left bed for days and he felt like garbage. He closed his eyes, longing for sleep, but he had already slept for hours that day.

"For fucks sake, Iruka." He hadn't heard Mizuki let himself in. "I am gone for a few days on a mission and this is what I come home to?" His tone was cold, biting. The silver haired man walked around the bed. "I know you can hear me." He face twisted up in a look of disgust as he took in the current state of the other chunin. 

Iruka wished he would leave, just wanting to sleep, but instead Mizuki grabbed his arm, trying to drag him out of bed. "Leave me alone, Zuki."

"Don't call me that. You know I hate that nickname." His fingers dug in Iruka's arm. "You are getting out of this bed and fucking taking a shower. You smell disgusting."

The teacher pushed against his boyfriend's chest. "Please. I don't feel good."

Mizuki tried to pull him out of bed again. "You're not sick, just fucking pathetic. Kami, why do I even bother with you?" He dragged Iruka to his feet. "I swear if you cut yourself-"

"I didn't! It's been years. That's behind me." He bit back a sob. Why did Mizuki always think the worst of him? Why couldn't he see that he was hurting? 

Mizuki shoved him towards the bathroom, making the other man stumble. "You better not be lying. I told you I would leave you if you started again. Now, get in the fucking shower. We are supposed to go out tonight. I'm not changing my plans because you're too lazy to get up and get your ass ready."

-

Iruka had gone out with Mizuki that night, had forced himself to smile for their friends. At the time, he had convinced himself that Mizuki actually cared, that he had done it to help him, but really he was just a selfish bastard who only cared about himself. 

He pushed himself to his feet so he could actually wash himself off. He started to feel better as he washed away the grime of the week. Having his hair finally be clean would also be a nice treat. Next week would be easier. He would make more of an effort and then things would be okay.

Chapter Text

Things were not okay. The first few weeks back at school dragged on endlessly. It was all Iruka could do to make it through the day and force himself to take the time to grade their homework. They deserved a better sensei, someone whose life wasn't in perpetual turmoil. He had found a routine at least, even if it was all he could manage during the week. He was getting the bare minimum done and he considered that a win.

His friends had tried to make plans with him several times, but he brushed them off, telling them he was too busy now that he was working again. He wondered how long they'd believe that excuse, especially Anko. She would eventually demand that he tell her what was wrong. She wouldn't understand that he was doing fine. Sure, he ended every day almost in tears, almost at a breaking point, but he managed it. The principal was happy with his work and the kids were doing well. He had things under control. 

He hadn't seen Arata and his friends in weeks because he was always tried, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. He always felt so empty after he left Arata's apartment. Iruka told himself that he was using him as much as the other man and his friends were him. It also meant he hadn't been taking the drugs he'd been given as much. Again, a good thing. They left him feeling drained and sluggish the next day.

He hadn't been cutting as much either, only on the really bad days when it was all he could do to just get out of bed. He was maintaining a normal schedule and slept at least a few hours each night. At some point things had to get better because he could only go up from here, right? 

***

Iruka had been staring at the letter for hours. His Friday had been going so well until he came home and found the letter waiting for him. He had very nearly destroyed it, deciding that whatever Mizuki had written wasn't worth reading, but here he was, staring at the envelope. He finally broke, tearing it open.

He shouldn't be reading it. He knew that, but this man had claimed for years to love him. Maybe some time in prison had made him realize what he'd done, how he'd hurt Iruka. He only got to the first sentence before he knew there was no redemption to be found for the other man. The words sat heavy in his soul as he read. What had he done to make Mizuki hate him this much? So much that he wished him dead and worse, wished he would kill himself. 

He pushed himself up from the table, chair clattering as it hit the ground. He left the letter where it was on the table and pulled his vest on. He needed out of there, away from Mizuki's poisonous words. It wasn't that far of a stretch to see himself taking that last step, taking a kunai and ending the pain. He had been struggling against crushing depression for months with no end in sight. It would be...a relief. 

Iruka was only vaguely aware of his body moving, of his surroundings. His mind was peacefully blank, shut down. He had no destination, no motivating, just running, fleeing the demon that was his ex lover. He wandered for what felt like hours, but really he had no idea how long he was out there, stumbling through the forest. When had he left the village? He couldn't remember because remembering didn't involve just answering that question. It involved remembered why he ran in the first place and that would be bad, wouldn't it?

It was so cold outside. He should have brought a jacket, he thought to himself, struggling to think why he was outside. And why was it so hard to breathe? Iruka realized in the back of his mind that he was sinking, falling. He tried to take stop himself, but found nothing to grab on to as the current pushed him under. 

He panicked as realized he was underwater and the burning in his lungs was because he was drowning. How did he get in the water? He'd been at home, hadn't he? He struggled to reach the surface, desperately clawing at the water, trying to save himself. He was going to die in the darkness and no one would know what happened to him. Would they even find his body or would the current carry him far away? 

Thoughts of his friends filled his mind, thoughts of Naruto. No, he couldn't die like this. With renewed determination, Iruka formed the hand signs of his most powerful water jutsu, hoping it was strong enough to propel him to the surface. He put all of his chakra into the jutsu, knowing failure meant death, and formed the last hand sign.

Water whipped all around him and the world turned sideways for a moment, making the chunin think he had failed for a moment. Then, his head broke through the surface of the water. He choked on water as he desperately tried to breathe and keep himself from going back under. The bank of the river was close, but the current was still dragging him along. It took everything left in him to make it out of the water. 

He crawled onto solid ground, shivering and soaking wet, but alive. Kami, he was alive. The water he had swallowed while trying to save himself came rushing back out. He threw up what felt like liters of water. This brought on a fit of coughing that strained his already abused lungs. The coughing eventually subsided and he collapsed in a heap, shivering. The water had been cold, but hopefully not enough to let hypothermia set in. He didn't know how long he'd been in the water or how far away from the village he was, so he was still potentially in danger.  

All Iruka wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep. Every part of him hurt, but he had to get up, had to move. He realized he had his vest on, which meant he had an emergency supply of soldier pills. He fumbled at the vest with numb fingers, praying that he could just get the damn pocket open. He almost wept with relief when he managed to free the container he kept the pills in. 

It felt like it took an eternity to get the container open. He sagged in relief when the bitter soldier pill was finally in his mouth and he began to weakly chew. The flood of chakra meant he could move, could stand. He struggled to his feet and tried to orient himself. He looked for land marks around him, tried to figure out how far outside of Konoha he had made it. 

Iruka was miles outside of the village, and judging by how dark the sky was, he'd been out there for hours. He had to make it home before the soldier pill wore off. Nearly drowning had its dangers and he needed to get to safety. The shivering was getting worse, so he needed to move.

The forest flew by him in a blur as he pushed towards his goal, the gates. He just needed to make it to the gates of the village and he was safe. The soldier pill stretched his already frayed nerves. He jumped at every little sound, nearly taking out a rabbit with a kunai along the way. He was shaking badly after the first few miles, more from stress and nerves than the cold. 

His lungs burned from the effort it took to keep him moving forward. More than once he had to stop for a coughing fit. Just keep going, he told himself. He had to keep moving. He almost cried in relief when he saw the village gates come in to view. He barely knew the chunins at the gate, but they didn't try to stop him. Home was still so far away and he was fading fast. Anko. She lived close to the gates. If he could make it there, he would be fine.

Iruka landed on her balcony with a heavy thud, practically collapsing against her back door. Fuck, he hoped she was home. Weakly, he tried to knock at the back door, but he could barely make a fist. His chakra levels were practically nil so he couldn't signal that way either. His vision swam as he fought against passing out like his body wanted. 

"RU!" He hadn't heard the door open, but suddenly Anko was standing over him. Finally, he could let go. He was safe. Her worried face was the last thing he saw before darkness swallowed him. 

***

Heat was the first thing he noticed when he came to. Confusion rolled through his mind. He had been running hadn't he? It had been so cold, but now he was incredibly warm, sweating in fact. He opened his eyes slowly, still incredibly exhausted. His body ached and for a terrifying moment he thought he was in the hospital after Mizuki...no. That was months ago. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room and confirmed what he knew in the back of his mind, he was safe. 

"Kami, Iruka." Anko stepped into his field of vision. "What the fuck happened to you?" He tried to answer, but his attempt dissolved into coughing. She gently pushed aside the layers of blankets and helped him sit up. She held a glass for him and helped him drink. "You're lucky my friend last night was a medical nin. He said you almost drowned. I convinced him to treat you here and not take you to the hospital. I told him you were returning from a mission and you'd do better here." Iruka's heart ached that she'd had to lie for him. "I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on?" He didn't need to look at her face to know there were tears in her eyes.

The chunin swallowed, head hung low. "Anko..." His throat hurt, but he needed to get the words out. He needed to tell someone because he knew how close he had come to dying and he couldn't lie to himself anymore. He needed help because things were not getting better. "I tried to kill myself." He had seen Anko through some bad times, but she never let any of it break her, but his words...they did just that. She pulled him into her arms and sobbed.

Iruka felt his own tears well up and he let go, let go of all his pain, let go of everything he'd been carrying for months, years. He clung to Anko and the two friends cried together for a long time. It felt good to just have someone hold him, comfort him. She didn't want to hurt him or use him. She just let him cry out his pain and for the first time in a long time he felt somewhat okay.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Anko said quietly, finally asking the question Iruka had been dreading. 

"Mizuki has been sending me letters..." He listened to a string of curse words fly out of her mouth. "I didn't get one for a while, but when I came home last night, one was waiting for me and it was bad." He pulled his knees up to his chest. "He told me was surprised I hadn't killed myself yet, that I was worthless. There was a lot of awful things. I just don't understand why he hates me so much. I...I loved him." His voice cracked, but he managed to hold back the tears that welled up. "But he hates me, has always hated me. And something in me broke. I don't remember much after that. It's like my body was moving without me, like I'd checked out. It's happened before, but never like this. When I came back, I was already in the water, had been for a while."

Anko reached out and took his hand. She looked worried, and rightfully so. "I told myself things would get better, but they haven't. I started cutting again." He looked away from her when he said, suddenly ashamed that she had to see him at his worst, at his most broken. 

"You are still here, Ru. We can get you help and work through this. You aren't alone." She clutched his hand tightly, as if she was afraid he'd disappear if she let go. "I love you so much."

Iruka looked at her with tears in his eyes. "Anko..." He didn't deserve a friend like her. "There's... more. That night we went out, I lied to you about being home. I did leave with someone, but I was so wasted I don't remember who I left with. I was just so ashamed. And then I started going to this club and met this guy. I started sleeping with him and his friends. He would give me drugs, which helped me zone out of the whole situation. After Mizuki, I wanted to be wanted, but it just made me feel emptier." He had to tell her everything, had to get this off of his chest.

The chunin pulled the blanket around his body, wanting to just curl up in a ball and sleep. He was so tired of hating himself, of being disgusted by his own actions. "Iruka...things can get better, okay? We will make things better. Do you know what he was giving you?" He shook his head, having never bothered to ask. "Were you using protection?" He knew she was trying help, but shame hit him hard as he looked away from her. "It's okay. We will get you checked out at the hospital."

"I can't report this, Anko. They will put me back on medical leave. I can't lose my kids a second time." Tears stung his eyes as he pleaded with her. "I will do anything I can to get better, but the academy is the only thing keeping me sane." He was practically frantic by the time he finished speaking. 

"Shh, I got you." He let her pull him into her arms. "Ru, it would just be for a check up, some blood work. I know of a program that helps shinobi without it going into your file. I will reach out to the person running it, but you will have to do what they say."

"I will, Anko. I swear." A flood of tears came again as she held him. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry."

She rubbed his back as he cried, gently rocking him. "There's nothing to be sorry for." She held him like that for a long time, until he finally passed out from exhaustion. She had a lot of favors to cash in if she was going to get him help.

***

Iruka had managed to survive the check up and blood work. The medical nin said he was in good health and would get back to him with his test results in a few days. Now, he was dreading the next part of his day, going to his apartment with Anko. He had agreed to let her come over and get rid of anything that might be a trigger for him. She'd offered to go with him to the hospital, but he turned her down. He was already asking a lot of her.

Anko was waiting for him with ramen, which firmly cemented her as the best friend a person could have. "Everything go okay?"

"Yes, but I have to go back in a few days for my results." He hesitated a moment as they stepped inside. Mizuki's letter was still sitting on the table where he'd left it. Anko moved around him, setting the food down and picking up the letter. She gently folded it up and put it back into the envelope. He watched her tuck it away in her weapon's pouch. "Thanks." He told her softly as he sat down.

Iruka didn't have his usual appetite, but he managed to enjoy the ramen she'd brought. Better to eat now than to try to stomach food later as Anko helped him clear his apartment out. She put his leftovers into the fridge, hesitating a moment. "What?"

Anko smiled, but her eyes looked sad. "Nothing. Just need to clean a few things out of here is all." Heat rose up as he realized his fridge was probably disgusting. He had been neglecting so much lately. "It's okay, Ru. It'll get better." She patted his back. "Are you ready for this?" 

Iruka sighed as he stood. "Yeah..." He reluctantly headed back to his bedroom. He opened up the closet, digging out the box that contained the rest of the letters. Wordlessly, he handed it over to her. Next came the drugs Arata had given him, which Anko flushed down the toilet. She helped him remove remove the supplies he kept in the bathroom for cutting. He had agreed to switch to senbon for now. He was still a shinobi and needed to be able to defend himself. All of his kunai were going home with Anko. 

He looked on in shame as she packed up his kitchen knives as well. All of his alcohol was poured down the sink. The two of them cleaned out the fridge and scrubbed down the entire apartment. He had gotten rid of everything of Mizuki's after he'd been released from the hospital, but now he went through his things again. Anything with even a small connection with him was removed. At the end of it all, he had to admit he did feel better.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay at my place for a bit?" Anko hesitated at his front door.

"I have to be up early for work and I want to sleep in my own bed." She hugged him hard enough to knock the air out of him.

"You need anything at all and I will be there. I promise. And I'll let you now when I get more info when that group meets."

He watched her go with a heavy heart, wondering if he should have gone home with her. He pulled out the school work that desperately needed to be graded that night. Working helped him, helped keep his mind off worrying about the program Anko was trying to get him in to. He had to just keep it together for a while longer. 

Chapter Text

It was Wednesday when Anko finally brought him the information of where the supposed support group met. Iruka was still a little wary, but she had assured him it was legit. They met every Friday night, which worked well for him. He was a ball of nervous energy by the time Friday was over. It had been a very long week. He was still trying to deal with almost dying and trying to keep it together for work. His students were wonderful though and were always ready to help each other out. Maybe he should always take on the kids almost ready to graduate instead of a new class every few years. 

He had gone home to change, unsure if he should show up in uniform. Really, he had no idea what to expect. He read the address and time for the hundredth time, glancing over at the clock. He would be early, but that was better than pacing in his apartment for the next twenty minutes. 

The address was across town, located in a section that was mostly full of civilian housing. He nearly walked by the place because he was looking for...well he wasn't sure what he was looking for, but it wasn't a bar, that was for sure. He looked at address again, as if it would have magically changed in five minutes he'd been standing outside. He finally decided to head inside. The man working the bar definitely looked like a shinobi, and since the decor was mostly weapons, this was probably the right spot.

His palms were sweating heavily as he walked up to the man. "I'm looking for Daisuke?" That was who Anko had told him ran the group. It was at that moment that he realized he should have asked more questions. 

The man behind the bar smiled, which looked a little sinister due to the large scar that bisected his lips. "In the back." He gestured to a door, almost hidden from sight.

The chunin mumbled his thanks and headed through the door. The back room was almost more spacious than the actual bar. It was certainly more well lit. A dozen or so people were standing around chatting and Iruka felt like he stuck out so badly. He had to fight not to run back out the door he'd just come through. A man his age broke off from one of the small group and headed his way, smiling. 

"Hello, welcome. First time?" He seemed nice enough, but the chunin was still on edge. Iruka nodded as he tried not to fidget. "My name is Tenzo. We will be starting shortly. We always do introductions, but feel free to skip. I know your first time can be a bit intimidating, but we're happy to have you."

Iruka was sure his face was starting to heat up at Tenzo's words. "T-thank you. My name is Iruka." 

There was that kind smile again. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Iruka-san." He sounded so genuine that it did help put the chunin a bit at ease.

An older man headed their way, patting Tenzo's back as he joined them. "Daisuke-san, this is Iruka-san."

Daisuke offered Iruka his hand. "I'm the group facilitator. You're Anko's friend, correct?"

"Yes, that's me."

"Wonderful. She mentioned a friend of hers would be joining us tonight. I am glad you came out. Anko said wonderful things about you." Someone called Daisuke's name from across the room. "Ah, I need to speak to him. Tenzo can answer any questions you have, Iruka-san." 

Iruka watched him go, glancing over at Tenzo. The man gave him a reassuring smile. "I don't really know what you expect..."

"That's okay. Some people come here to share, to work through things they are feeling. Some like to just listen, to know they aren't alone. Daisuke-san is a counselor for the village. He started this group to help shinobi who were struggling before they ended up in his office for a psych eval. Everything that is talked about stays here. Sometimes some very personal things come up." He paused as he realized Iruka looked a little overwhelmed. "Hey, it'll be okay. Coming here is the first step and not an easy one to take. If you ever need anything, Daisuke and I are here to help."

The chunin nodded weakly, feeling a bit numb inside. He was having to breath through his anxiety, trying to stay grounded. Daisuke called out, letting everyone know they were getting started. Tenzo gave him one last encouraging smile and headed to find a seat. 

Iruka sat down as far out of the circle of chairs as he could manage. He spent most of his time listening to the other shinobi. He was given a chance to speak, but he quietly shook his head. He let out a sigh of relief when they quickly moved on to the next person. Tenzo had been right about not feeling pressured to speak and at the end of it all he did feel like maybe he wasn't so alone in his pain. 

Daisuke caught him before he could leave. "Iruka-san, can I speak to you for a moment?"

The chunin froze, wondering if he had done something wrong. "Of course."

"I am very glad you came out tonight. If you would like, I think you could benefit from some one on one time." Daisuke continued before Iruka could tell him no. "Off the books, just two friends having tea and discussing life."

Iruka considered his offer for a moment. If anyone other than Anko had found him last week, then he would most definitely be up for a mental evaluation. He couldn't let things get that bad again and this way he could work on himself without losing his job. "Okay. I can do that."

"Wonderful." He handed Iruka a slip of paper. "That's my address. How does Sunday afternoon tea sound?"

"Sounds good." He tucked the paper into his pocket. "Thank you."

Tenzo joined them just as Iruka was going to head out. "I got everything put away. See you next week." Daisuke thanked him and said goodbye to Iruka. Once he was gone, he turned that dazzling smile to Iruka once again. "You did great tonight."

He grabbed the door for the chunin, walking with him out of the bar. "I didn't really do much." Iruka mumbled, face starting flush red. He had to admit he enjoyed the attention a bit too much. He was here to talk about his issues, not find a boyfriend, he sternly reminded himself. 

"Hey, you didn't run out the door screaming. That's something." His enthusiasm made Iruka laugh. "Have a good week, Iruka-san, and I hope to see you next week."

"Thanks. Hopefully I'll be here."

***

Iruka spent Saturday dodging Anko. He knew she'd want to ask how Friday went and he wasn't ready to talk about it. What was he going to tell her anyways? I met a cute guy and didn't talk at all. Very productive. At least he had tea to look forward to. 

Daisuke lived in a nice house, one that reminded him of the one he grew up in until his parents were killed. He really needed to go visit the Memorial Stone. It had been far too long. Maybe he'd go after tea. When he knocked a lovely older woman answered. "You must be Umino-san. My husband is sitting out back. Please follow me."

Daisuke smiled when he saw them and Iruka wondered if the man had been worried he wouldn't show. "Iruka-san, it is very nice to see you again." The chunin took the seat next to him. "I love meeting out here. It's a wonderful spot, relaxing."

Iruka had to agree. The small garden area was full of all sorts of wonderful plants and a small tree. Everything was so vibrant and alive. "It's beautiful out here."

"Yes. So, how are you doing?" He asked, pouring Iruka a cup of tea.

Iruka sighed at the question. He decided to answer him honestly. "I don't know how much Anko told you, but I haven't been cutting. Every day has still been hard and utterly exhausting."

Daisuke sat back in his chair. "I know it can be intimidating to talk in group. Some people find the one on one easier. Anko only told me you had gotten very close to seriously hurting yourself. You can tell me as much or as little as you want, but in my experience getting it out is better than trying to keep it all inside."

The chunin stared down at his tea as he contemplated pouring his heart out to him. "My parents were killed in the Kyuubi attack. I've been on my own since then. One of my first friends was a man named Mizuki," he hesitated a bit as he said his name, "and we started dating when I was 17. I knew he wasn't good for me, but I stayed because I didn't want to be alone again and most of the time he was...well an asshole, but I could deal with it. At times though, he was so cruel, would say such hateful things to me. I realize now how abusive he was. Mentally, verbally, and sometimes he got physical." He stopped for a moment, suddenly overwhelmed. Daisuke silently pushed over a box of tissue and Iruka realized he was crying. 

"He would get angry at me and tell me we were going to train, that I was so weak and pathetic so I needed all the help I could get. But it was just an excuse to hit me. I should have dodged better." He laughed, bitterly. "Or we would just be working on taijutsu and he'd hit me with a jutsu. I needed to expect an enemy attack at all times. And then he used one of my students to betray the village, tried to kill him. I took the hit instead and was almost paralyzed. There was a point I thought I would never recover." Iruka started getting choked up and had to stop.

Daisuke let him have a moment to compose himself before he spoke. "Iruka, if this is going to work I'm going to have to be 100% honest with you. Starting with, I read your file. The nature of my job means I have access to the files of pretty much every shinobi in Konoha. Nothing was officially checked out, but I did spend some time reading it and do you know my takeaway from it? You are a good man who has dedicated his life to Konoha. No one has ever had a bad thing to say about you."

"You obviously didn't see the section from when I was a kid." Iruka scoffed at him.

"Oh, I did. The childhood pranks and trouble in school was a cry for help. You were hurting. You lost your parents, you home. Your very foundation in life was destroyed. And yet you nearly died protecting the boy who has the unfortunate task of containing the demon that killed your family. When we spend time with people who constantly tell us we are less, we start to believe it. I know you blame yourself for staying with that man for so long, maybe even that you deserved what happened, but you didn't. The abuse was not your fault, Iruka. Staying does not mean you are less of a person. You are a good man and I think it's time you remembered that."

Iruka had been trying to stop crying for a while, but those last words, hearing he was still a good person, pushed him over the edge. How had the other man seen so deeply into his soul so quickly? The years he spent with Mizuki had wore him down, broke him down, until he believed everything Mizuki had to say. "We fought over Naruto being in my class. When Mizuki found out, he was furious. He lost family in the attack as well. He didn't think Naruto should be with other children." Iruka was never able to stand up for himself, but he had fought for the boy. He had never one blamed Naruto for what happened. He was an innocent child. "I don't know where to go from here, Daisuke-san."

"And that's okay. We will figure it out together. For now, I want you to do me a favor. Every day find one thing you like about yourself that day. It can be the same thing over and over again. I want you to write it down each day. Can you do that for me?"

Iruka nodded as he took a handful of tissue. He was a snotty crying mess, but he felt better than he had in months. "Thank you so much for this, for helping me."

The older man smiled. "Thank you for coming and staying. I hope to see you next Friday at group. If Sunday works for you, then this can be our regular tea time." 

Iruka finished his tea, thanking Daisuke once again. He felt just a bit lighter as he left the garden, like maybe the entire world wasn't sitting on his shoulders.

***

Anko had tracked him down on Monday and they'd had a nice lunch. She had brought him dango at the academy. It had felt nice, normal. She didn't pry too much, just said she was proud of him before she left. 

He had failed to do what Daisuke had asked of him. Every time he sat down all he could think of was Mizuki and any good feelings he had about himself went out the window. By Thursday, he was utterly miserable. He had been pacing across his small apartment for an hour trying to think of something to write. He'd get a few words down, then scratch them out.

He was trying his best not to spiral, but it much hard to stop himself when he was alone. The need cut was almost overwhelming. He so desperately wanted to feel....something, something other than the bottomless pit of despair that threatened to swallow him. 

Iruka finally decided he need to get out, to do anything other than obsess over his shortcomings. The fresh air felt good as he headed to the training grounds. Maybe he would feel better after physical activity. He needed more practice with his senbons anyways. He was decent with them, but he'd always been more accurate with kunai. 

The area was mostly empty since it was later in the afternoon, the sun having almost set. Luckily the area he picked for training was pretty well lit. It was awful having to search for senbon in the dark. His first few throws were pretty dismal, but he quickly improved. 

"Hey! Ru!" Iruka turned to see Izumo and Kotetsu heading his way. They had patched things but, but things were still a little tense at times. "Didn't expect to see you out here this late." Izumo seemed happy to see him, but Ko was silent and looked a bit annoyed. 

"Hey, you two." Iruka smiled, and for once, it didn't feel forced. "I was just trying to clear my head. What are you up to?"

"With senbon training?" Izumo questioned him, laughing a bit. "You were always better with kunai."

Iruka's heart sank a bit. Did he lie to them or burden them with the truth? If he couldn't tell his closest friends, then who could be tell? "I...uh... started cutting again and well..." He didn't know how to finish that sentence. 

"Do you want to train with us?" Kotetsu asked before the silence grew too uncomfortable. "It's more challenging with three people." Iruka had never been more grateful for his friends as Izumo voiced his approval of this plan. 

"I would love to." The three of them spent way too long out there, training long after the sun had set. He and Izumo teamed up to go after Ko, as the other man shouted about his boyfriend's betrayal, after they tricked him into falling into a pond. Iruka couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed so hard watching his friend climb out of the muddy water. 

"You look so ridiculous." Izumo told his boyfriend, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. "You are not going into the house like that."

"I hate you both!" Ko huffed as he started to strip off the cold wet clothes. "Just pass me the scroll with my spare clothes so I can change."

"I forgot it!" Izumo managed to get out through bursts of laughter. This set Iruka off again, making him laugh so hard his sides hurt.

They eventually got Ko as cleaned up as they could manage. "Thanks, you guys. I really need that. I know I haven't been the best friend lately."

"Let me stop you there, Ru. You are a great friend. You're just going through a rough time, but that doesn't erase our years of friendship or how you've always been there for us." Izumo hugged him tightly. "And if you need anything, we will be there for you."

Iruka got a bit choked up at his friend's kind words. "What Izumo said." Ko added, giving him a one armed hug.

"Thanks. I started getting help thanks to Anko. Things got pretty bad there for a while. I didn't know how to tell anyone." He quietly told to them. "I will try to reach out more."

"Good." Izumo hugged him again. "You take it easy tonight and we will see you soon, okay?" 

Iruka felt better as he waved goodbye to his friends. It was almost time for him to got to bed, but he cherished every moment he'd spent with them that night. When he got home, he pulled out a clean piece of paper and scribbled 'I am a good friend', before cleaning up and turning in for the night. 

Chapter Text

Iruka took a sip of his tea, deliberately not looking at Daisuke. The man was looking over his pitiful list from the week. He had only managed to write down one more thing that week after one of his students told him he was his favorite sensei ever. It had warmed his heart and been something to add to the list. "You did better than I expected," Daisuke said, setting the list down. "Most people don't even manage one thing their first week."

The teacher looked at him, a bit shocked. "Really?" He said weakly as he rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess this was a good week." He still hadn't spoken up at the group meeting on Friday, but he reconnected with Ko and Izumo, so it was a start.

"Things aren't going to change overnight, Iruka-san. That is hard for some people to grasp. Therapy can take time, so even something small like this list is progress. Never forget that." He poured them both some more tea. "How was work this week?"

Iruka sat back in his chair, looking out at the garden. "Work was fine. The kids were really great this week. I also got to see some of my friends that I had been...pushing away as my depression spiraled out of control."

"That's wonderful news, Iruka-san. Having a good group of friends to support you is very important." The older man offered him a supportive smile. "And you came to the group meeting again. That's another positive."

The chunin stared down at his teacup. ”Yeah, but I just sat there.”

“Baby steps. This week it’s just coming. Maybe in a few weeks, you’ll feel like participating. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, okay? Right now, just know you aren’t alone and have people there to support you if you need it.” Daisuke reached across the table and patted his hand. “Now, I insist you have some of the cookies my wife made and enjoy the rest of your tea. Enjoy today.”

Iruka ate far too many cookies and had several cups of tea. Talking with Daisuke was easy. He didn’t feel like the man pried too much and never had he judged Iruka at all. He felt lighter leaving his house to head to the market. Things were still hard, but they were starting to slowly shift. He was almost done shopping when he heard someone call his name.

Tenzo weaved his way through the small crowd, heading towards the chunin. It was weird seeing him in uniform. Iruka couldn’t help but smile as the other man joined him. “Hello, Iruka-san.”

“Tenzo-san, it’s nice to see you.” He turned back to the stall he’d been shopping at and paid the woman for the vegetables he’d picked out. “What brings you out this way? Shopping as well?”

The jounin laughed. “Yeah, I was gone most of the week on a mission, so there’s not a whole lot of food in the house. I’m leaving again soon, so I really just needed something for tonight.”

“Why don’t you have dinner with me?” The words left Iruka’s mouth before he could stop himself. Why on earth would he want to spend his time with someone like him? Before he could spiral down too much, Tenzo grinned at him.

“I would like that if it’s not too much trouble. It means I don’t have to worry about cleaning up before I go.”

Iruka was trying not to melt at that smile. Kami, this man was dangerous. “No trouble at all. I always cook extra. It’ll be nice to have someone over.” Oh, great. How desperate and lonely did that make him sound?

Tenzo took the bag full of groceries before Iruka could pick it up. “It’s settled then.”

“You don’t have to carry that, Tenzo-san.”

He just shrugged and smiled. “The least I can do since you’re cooking dinner for me.” Iruka tried hard not to blush as they walked. He didn’t know why Tenzo affected him so much. Maybe it was because he was the first good looking man that didn’t seem to be trying to get into his pants or use him. He was genuine and caring. He also didn’t seem to mind that Iruka’s life was obviously falling apart and that’s why he’d started going to the meetings.

“Please excuse the mess. I was grading papers,” he told Tenzo as he unlocked the front door. He hurried over to the table, tiding the stack of schoolwork he’d left there. He knew his place was a bit of a disaster and he regretted not cleaning up more over the weekend.

Tenzo set the grocery bag down on the table he’d cleaned off, looking around the small kitchen. Iruka tried not to feel self-conscious as he took the papers out to the living room. He cleaned off his couch, picking up as he went before the jounin could see the clutter. “You have a lovely home,” Tenzo said as he trailed after him. “I love all the drawings on your fridge. Your students obviously love you.”

Iruka ducked his head, blushing furiously. “Thank you, Tenzo-san. I was thinking of making dumplings for dinner if that sounds alright.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m not the best in the kitchen, but I’m more than willing to help.”

“I’d love to have the help then,” Iruka said, smiling at him.

-

Dinner with the jounin had been nice, but he hadn’t expected he’d want to stay for tea. Iruka had offered and he’d accepted without hesitation. This created a problem for Iruka because now he was sitting on his small couch next to the man, pouring them both a cup. Tenzo was easy going and he really enjoyed talking to him, but he made the chunin’s heart flutter.

“You probably won’t see me for a while,” Tenzo told him as he accepted his tea. “I’m probably going to be gone for a few months, but I hope you’ll keep going on Fridays. Daisuke will be there if you need anything.”

Iruka had to admit he was a bit disappointed, but it was to be expected with the jounin being active duty. “I will keep going. I think Anko would hunt me down if I didn’t, but also, it helps.”

That made Tenzo smile. “Good. I’ll look forward to seeing you there when I get back.” Iruka knew he meant it in a friendly way only, but his heart still skipped a beat at those words. “I should really go home and finish packing.” He set his teacup on the table. “This was really nice. Next time, I’ll have to show off my mediocre cooking skills and invite you over.”

The chunin laughed at his comment. “I’d enjoy that. Thank you for coming over tonight. It was nice having someone over for dinner.” He stood so he could walk Tenzo out.

Tenzo paused by the front door. “Take care of yourself, Iruka. You matter to people. I know that’s hard to remember sometimes.” He surprised the teacher by pulling him in for a hug.

Iruka mumbled a quiet ‘thank you’, trying not to get too choked up as the jounin left. He mattered to people. He was finally starting to see that again. He rested his head against the door for a moment. He mattered and he would make it through this.

***

Tenzo hadn’t been joking about being gone for a while. Nearly three months passed before Iruka saw him again. He looked tired but lit up when he saw the teacher. They waved across the room as the meeting started. Iruka had plans after, so he wasn’t able to catch up with the jounin. Tenzo was gone the next few meetings, but he wasn’t worried too much. Jounin got called out all the time.

The pattern continued over the next several months. He’d see him in passing at an occasional meeting and then he’d be gone. Life didn’t get better overnight as Daisuke had said, but it got easier. He fully embraced group, finally started to speak out. He received an overwhelming amount of support from the other shinobi in attendance. Opening up about the abuse he’d faced wasn’t easy, but speaking up made it easier to start processing what had happened to him.

He wasn’t much better at his weekly lists for Daisuke, but on a good week, he managed to write down four things. One thing he tried to always write down was that he mattered to people. He made an effort to see Kotetsu and Izumo more. Anko practically lived at his house most weekends. He was grateful for the company. Even though he was busy with training, he made time to take Naruto out to ramen as often as possible. It was hard letting him grow up, but he was shaping up to be a fine genin.

Iruka tried to do more things just for himself, like taking himself out for tea at his favorite shop. He was enjoying a cup of something fruity and delicious when someone slid into the seat across from him. He looked up at see Tenzo grinning at him. “Tenzo-san, what a pleasant surprise! Did you just get back from a mission?”

“A few days ago. I was surprised to see you out on a school night. I just ordered a cup of tea and hoped you wouldn’t mind me joining you.”

“I would love the company. You know teachers are allowed some time to themselves, even on school nights.” Iruka had been almost ready to leave, but it was worth it to spend some time with the jounin. “I’m glad you made it home safely.”

Tenzo sat back in his chair. “Me too. Things have been so busy lately. I feel like I’m barely in the village at all.”

Iruka nodded. He had noticed his friends were being called out on missions far more often. “You’ve been missed at the group meetings.”

“Ah, well, I hear you’ve been helping out when I’m not there.” The jounin smiled at him, making Iruka blush a bit. It was true he’d been helping clean up and been running small errands for Daisuke. It made him feel good to help out in any way he could.

A cup of tea was sat down in front of Tenzo before Iruka could respond. He took the moment to study the jounin’s face. He was looking worn down but seemed in good spirits. “Will you be here this Friday?”

“I think so. I know they will start having some of us jounin stay in the village more as the chunin exams get closer. I know I will be grateful for the break.” He stirred a bit of sugar into his tea. “Are you going to watch the exams?”

Iruka shrugged. “Maybe. I doubt any of my students will be in them this year. None of them have been genin for very long.”

Tenzo nodded, taking a sip of his tea. “That’s right. Your class just graduated this year. Will it be a while before you have more students taking the genin exam?”

“No, actually. I didn’t get brand new students this year. My class is made up of students who failed the exam or weren’t quite ready to take it. I’m confident all of them will pass this year. They have made a lot of progress.” He was proud of how far some of them had come. None of them were letting not passing with their peers hold them back. All of them were pushing themselves hard and were going to be better genin for it.

“I love hearing you talk about them. It’s obvious you care a lot.” Tenzo was staring at him and it did things to Iruka that he was not willing to admit.

“Thank you,” was all he could manage to get out.

Tenzo sighed heavily as he caught sight of something outside the window. “That looks like a summons for me. I guess I won’t see you on Friday after all. Hold down the fort for me.”

“Of course, Tenzo-san. Come home safe.” The jounin made no promises but patted his shoulder as he stood. Iruka never saw who he was holding his summons, never saw the ANBU crouched in a tree a few feet away from the shop.

 

***

Iruka stared down at his hands, not speaking to the man sitting across from him. “Iruka-san?” He didn’t respond, feeling numb inside. “Iruka, are you alright?” He looked up at Daisuke, blinking.

“No,” he managed to get out. Nothing was right anymore. “I can’t believe he’s gone.” Hiruzen, the Third Hokage, the closest thing he’d had to a father after his parents died…was dead and it had rocked Iruka’s world.

Daisuke reached across the table and gripped his hand. “I know you two were close. The funeral was hard for a lot of people. I can imagine that you have been struggling a lot this week. How are you doing?”

Iruka wanted to curl up in a ball and grieve, but his friends had quickly made sure he wasn’t alone. It seemed like there was always some reason, some excuse for them to come over. He had to admit that it was comforting. It helped keep him from spiraling back down into self-harming. “It hurts, but I’ve thrown myself into work. The Academy was damaged in the attack. We’ve been organizing the students to help where they can. Everyone is taking extra shifts at the gates and the missions’ desk.”

“But how are you?” The older man asked again.

“Surviving. My friends,” he started to get choked up, “they haven’t left my side. We’re supporting each other. Group will be hard when it starts back up.” The meetings had been put temporarily on hold after the attack. There was so much going on and the village needed every available shinobi. “Thank you for making time for me.”

Daisuke poured him another cup of tea. “I will always make time for you. Drink some tea, eat some cookies, and rest for now. These next few months will be extremely hard, but you have come so far. Know I am here if you feel yourself starting to slip and need someone to catch you.”

The teacher spent a lot of time just resting as Daisuke had instructed. He was so tired, but he would push through. He was mentally healthier than he had been in years and had better coping mechanisms. Losing Hiruzen left a hole in his heart, but he wouldn’t disappoint his mentor by falling apart now. Shortly before he’d died he had told Iruka he was proud of him. Iruka had suspected he’d known he was in therapy but had never mentioned it.

He left Daisuke’s with a heavy heart but felt better than when he’d arrived. The scars from the fighting were everywhere in the village. It was hard to go anywhere without thinking about it. He wasn’t surprised when Anko showed up shortly after he got home, ramen in hand. They ate in silence, each lost to their own thoughts. She hadn’t been herself since her run-in with Orochimaru.

“Staying here tonight?” Iruka asked as he set his glass in the sink.

“Yeah.” Anko tossed her ramen container in the trash. “I brought over some stuff while you were out. I hope that’s okay.”

Iruka nodded as the two of them headed to the living room. This was her third night in a row sleeping over. He saw her duffle bag was sitting on the floor. Looked like he was going to have a house guest for a while. He sat down on the couch, feeling so drained. Anko curled up next to him. “We’ll get through this, Anko.”

“I fucking hope so because this feels awful.” He could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen her cry. She hated people seeing her that vulnerable, but that night she broke down. Iruka held her as she sobbed, rubbing her back. He’d known this was coming. Any time Orochimaru was involved, he knew Anko was going to lose it. She didn’t like talking about her time with the man, but he knew it’d been bad.

When her cries quieted, he gently helped her up. “Let’s go to bed.” She nodded weakly and grabbed her bag. It felt odd sleeping next to someone, but he wouldn’t have Anko anywhere else.

Chapter Text

Group had been very rough when it started back up. The tension was high in the village and everyone was on edge. More than once Tenzo and others had to step in and stop someone from totally losing it. It was hard for Iruka to see, but he was dealing with his own grief. Anko more or less lived at his place now, which he was grateful for. They both needed support. 

The next blow that came was finding out one of his former students abandoned the village to join Orochimaru. Naruto had been crushed by Sasuke leaving and now his only goal seemed to be finding the boy. Six months later and things still didn't look good. Sasuke was were he wanted to be, becoming a missing-nin. And then Naruto left to train with Jiraiya. Iruka knew it was for his own good, but they had left just a few days before the Winter festival. It was the first time he'd gone without Naruto in years. It was March now and there was still no word on how long the training would last. 

Iruka was grateful for the occasional letter that Kakashi dropped off to him. He was still distant since their argument before the chunin exam, but they were starting to warm up to each other. The letters kept him going as the one year anniversary of his near drowning loomed closer. He was in a much better place now, but it was still in the back of his mind. He was only seeing Daisuke once a month now, though he was considering dropping by on Sunday for an extra visit to talk about how he was feeling about things. There was still a lot of grief, but every day got easier. 

One of the things he looked forward to was having a drink with Tenzo after the group let out. He still was sticking to drinks of the non-alcoholic variety, but the jounin never commented. He was still out of the village fairly often but seeing him really brightened Iruka's day. He would never admit to anyone other than Anko that he had a crush on the man. He felt odd about it after being celibate for so long and he only knew him because he'd tried to kill himself. No, Tenzo was firmly in the eye candy only zone where Iruka was concerned.

Iruka had only run into Arata once since everything had happened. He made it quite clear to him that there was never going to be anything between them ever again. He needed to avoid people like him, who would drag him back down into a dark place. He had very much needed the break from dating to figure his head out. It was a bit lonely, but at least he had Anko to snuggle with most nights.

"Kami, that is lame," Iruka sighed heavily and sat back in his chair. He was avoiding going home because Anko was out of the village on a mission. Maybe he should see if Kotetsu and Izumo were free. Was that who he was now? A lame teacher with no life outside of school except for the few friends he convinced to spend time with him. He missed having a partner to come home to, though Mizuki had been nothing to write home about. He wanted someone that lit up when he got home, that would tuck a blanket around him after he fell asleep grading. Anko was great, but she lacked certain bits that he was rather fond of. 

He pushed himself to his feet and stuffed the ungraded assignments into his bag. He could finish it after he figured out dinner. Like usual, he was the last one to leave the school. Most of the other teachers had families to get home to. His shoulders sagged at the thought. No, he needed to remind himself why he was single and why it was a good thing. It also meant he wasn't on anyone else's schedule. Teaching took up a lot of his time and had been a constant fight between him and Mizuki. Not that Mizuki was someone he should compare future partners against. He shook his head, pushing all thoughts of the man aside. Thinking about him did him no good.

The chunin headed to Ichiraku's on a whim. Ramen would cheer him up and keep his mind off of things. He was halfway there when he heard a familiar voice call out his name. "Iruka-san!" He couldn't stop the grin that spread across his face as he stopped and turned towards Tenzo who was making his way over to him.

"Tenzo-san, I wasn't expecting you back in town so soon. You're usually gone for longer when you get called away." He had only missed one group meeting so far, so Iruka had expected him to be gone for at least another week or so. 

"Easy mission for once, so we made it back almost a week before expected. Heading home from dinner?"

"Ah, actually just left school and was going to get some ramen. Would you like to join me?" Oh no. What was he doing? Having an occasional drink together was one thing, but dinner felt much more intimate, almost like a date. 

That earned him a huge grin, the one that made Iruka's heart skip a beat. "I'd love to. I need real food after a week in the field. I'll even buy."

Iruka ducked his head, staring down at his feet. Why did the jounin have to be so damn charming? "You don't have to do that, Tenzo-san. I'm grateful for the company. It'll be nice to talk to someone over the age of twelve." He loved his current group of students, but if he had to hear one more whiney pre-teen complain about something today he was going to lose it. 

"I don't know how you do it, Iruka-san. Your patience must know no bounds."

"Hardly. I'm just good at listening and working with them." As they got closer, the smell of ramen filled the air and his stomach began to growl. "I guess I'm hungrier than I realized."

Tenzo chuckled as he ducked into the ramen stall. Luckily, no one else was there so they didn't have to wait long. Iruka took his time, savoring the food. He didn't want the other man to know he was a ramen monster like Naruto. Iruka may tease the boy, but he was just as bad. He debated having a second bowl and decided to splurge a bit. Much to his horror Tenzo slipped Teuchi money before he had a chance to. "Tenzo-san! You don't need to pay for me."

The jounin just chuckled as he stood up. "Consider it a pre-celebration of your one year anniversary of coming to the group. You've done so well over the past year."

Iruka inhaled sharply, taken back by his comment. He couldn't believe that Tenzo had remembered when he had started. The small spark of feelings that had been growing for the other man turned into a fire that ran through his body. Kami, this was bad. He should not let these feelings grow any more than he already had, but then the jounin went and did things like this. He remembered him. It seemed silly to be so twitterpated over something so small, but half the time Mizuki couldn't even remember his birthday, let alone their anniversary. Not that this was an anniversary between the two of them, just when he started going to the group. Though, it was technically when they met. 

He realized he'd been staring at Tenzo for several minutes and he looked away quickly, blushing furiously. "Thank you, Tenzo-san," he managed to get out. He pushed himself to his feet and exited the shop as quickly as he could. He needed some air and distance between them, though Tenzo fell in next to him as he walked. "I don't know that I would be alive without the group or Daisuke-san."

"Well, I for one am glad you're alive." Iruka nearly tripped over his own feet at those words. The pounding in his chest was so damn loud as Tenzo caught his arm and helped steady him that Iruka wondered if he could hear it. "Careful there. Can't have everyone's favorite sensei getting hurt on my watch."

"Sorry. Just clumsy sometimes." He ducked his head, looking away from him as they walked. He loved having Tenzo beside him, even for a short while. Fuck, he had it bad. Before he realized where he was heading, his apartment came into view. He had unknowingly let the jounin walk him home. "This is me." He gestured to the stairs as they got closer. "Would you like to come up for some tea?" What was he doing? He should definitely not be alone in his apartment with Tenzo. His brain screamed at him to abort this plan, but the other man's face lit up.

"I would love to, Iruka-san." At least Anko was gone so she wouldn't be there to witness Iruka staring at him like a lovesick moron. He could barely think with him sitting next to him when they got ramen together. What was he going to do with Tenzo in his home? Nothing. He was going to nothing. He would make him tea and then send him on his way. There could be nothing between them. He repeated this to himself as he unlocked his front door. He dropped his bag by the door and kicked his shoes off like he normally did when he got home. 

"Please, make yourself comfortable, Tenzo-san." Iruka tried not to think about the jounin making himself at home in his small apartment as he prepared the tea. His hands shook a bit as he pulled two cups down. Get a grip, Iruka. He's just a friend. This was just a friendly social call, nothing more. His resolve lasted until he carried the tea out on a small tray to the living room and found Tenzo relaxing on his small couch. His eyes drifted over to the chair where he usually sat to read and saw it was full of blankets he'd forgotten to put away. He'd washed them so he could put them back in storage. Would it be rude to move them or should he just sit next to him?

He set the tea down on the table in front of Tenzo and decided it would be easier to just sit next to him. It was fine. Just two friends enjoying tea...on his couch...very close together. He nearly dropped the kettle when he tried to pour them some tea. "Here, let me." Tenzo carefully took it from his shaking hands. "Are you alright, Iruka-san? You've been kind of jumpy all day."

"Sorry. I just think March is a hard month for me. You haven't been there for all the meetings when I talked about what happened, but I was in a very abusive relationship that ended and then he sent me these harassing letters. That's why I tried to..." He stared down at his hands. 

"Do you know who Orochimaru is?"

Iruka looked up at him, a bit confused. "Of course."

"And you know he experimented on children in the village? I was one of those experiments. The only one that survived that particular experiment. Then, I was recruited into Root. ANBU is the only life I have ever known and it started to take a toll. I wasn't even sure I was entirely human and I didn't want to go on. I was lucky to have a senpai who saw what was going on. I wouldn't be here without him. When Daisuke-san started the group meetings, I started going because I knew there were others who needed someone to support them. Not everyone has a friend or a loved one that sees the struggle and that's hard. I wanted to be that for others. It's rough not being in the village, not being able to help as much as I want, but I was happy when you started helping because then I didn't worry so much. They had another person who cared, who would stand up and see their pain, who would help them." Tenzo was giving Iruka a very intense look and he didn't quite understand what it meant. "I guess what I'm trying to say is I see you, Iruka. I see you and everything will be alright."

Iruka's body moved and for a moment he felt like he wasn't in control, but it was different from before. He wasn't hurling towards despair but to joy. He could hardly breathe when his lips met Tenzo's. He was shocked by his actions, especially since he knew it was a terrible idea, but when the jounin wrapped his arms around him all he could focus on was the intensity of the kiss. He moaned into Tenzo's mouth not caring that he was not supposed to be doing this. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt light, like his burdens had just melted away.

Kissing Tenzo was amazing, especially when he made the man whimper when he nipped at his bottom lip. The jounin was all hands as he practically dragged Iruka onto his lap. "Thank Kami. I was starting to worry I was the only one that felt this way," Tenzo whispered against his neck as he sucked at the sensitive skin.

Iruka pushed him back against the couch and kissed him hard, crushing their mouths together. "It was very much mutual." 

"I can see that," he panted as they met again for another passionate kiss. Iruka couldn't remember if he'd ever felt such intensity with a partner before. Certainly not with Arata and Mizuki...he was never good for him. There was no way he felt a connection like this with him. It was hard to think with Tenzo's mouth on his. He had to remind himself to breathe. He would be no good to either of them if he passed out. 

Iruka almost whimpered when Tenzo broke the kiss. "I have to tell you something before we go any further." There is was. The proverbially other shoe dropping. The teacher sat back and tried not to imagine every bad thing that could possibly come out of the jounin's mouth. "I have a boyfriend, but we're in an open relationship."

He stared at him for a moment. "W-what?"

Tenzo rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry. I was going to tell you, but I was caught off guard by the kiss and then got a little too into it. I understand if that's not something you're into. It's not for everyone. He does know that I had a crush on you and was spending time with you. I don't want you to think any of this was behind his back. I wasn't even sure if you felt the same, so I was just enjoying being your friend." It all came out as one long rush of words. 

"I... don't know how I feel about that. I was kind of in a weird relationship, though it wasn't really, after the abusive ex and it was sort of open and not good." Iruka looked away, feeling conflicted.

"Hey, it's okay. We don't ever have to do anything. I can enjoy just being your friend. I don't want to push you into anything you wouldn't be comfortable with. You actually know my partner. He thoroughly approves of you and also thinks you're cute if that helps." 

Iruka offered him a weak smile. "Sort of? I'm sorry I kissed you without thinking it through. I made everything awkward." He sighed heavily. "Who is your boyfriend?"

"Kakashi."

"K-Kakashi?!" The chunin sputtered in disbelief. "Seriously? Wait, he thinks I'm cute? I like yelled at him in front of all of the jounin senseis before the chunin exams. I mean we've sort of made up now because of Naruto, but I was pretty sure he hated me for a while there."

Tenzo laughed. "Oh, he was mad there for a minute, but I think he was impressed that you were willing to stand up to him. He's used to getting his way and it knocked him down a peg or two, so thank you for that." He reached out and put his hand over Iruka's. "I should probably go. I didn't mean for this conversation to go quite like this and I think you want some time to think about things."

Iruka nodded, running his thumb over the back of Tenzo's hand. "And I should tell you that my first boyfriend was horribly abusive and it led to me making a lot of bad decisions when things ended. One of them being unprotected sex. I've been abstaining from sex since I joined group, but a lot of bad things happened before I joined. Some things I'm not proud of."

The jounin squeezed his hand. "Thank you for sharing with me." When he pulled his hand away and stood, Iruka almost pulled him back down. Instead, he walked him to the front door.

"Tenzo-san..."

"No pressure on any of this. I'm sorry if I made things harder for you. I... don't let this keep you from going to the group meetings, okay?" Iruka gave him a small smile and nodded. "Good night, Iruka-san." It was only after he left that Iruka remembered that that Tenzo had called him by just his first name before he kissed him. He rested his forehead against the door, eyes closed. He just had to pick the most difficult situations to get into. This was different than with Arata, but he couldn't help but compare the two situations. At least Tenzo was being upfront and honest. He had complicated things by kissing him, but now he knew how the man felt. What exactly did he want to do with that information? And what about Kakashi? Was he really okay with all of this?

His head was spinning as he pushed himself away from the front door. He needed sleep and Anko. She would set him straight on things. Why did she have to be away at a time like this? More importantly, why did he have so little self-control when it came to Tenzo? Maybe he should talk to Daisuke. He didn't have to tell him who the other person was, just explain the situation and how it made him feel. All of the doubt and what-ifs aside, that kiss had been one of the best moments of his life. His heart was still racing at the thought of it. He had it bad for Tenzo and he didn't know what to do about it.

Chapter Text

Iruka was early, but instead of going inside he was staring at the door to the restaurant from across the street. Almost a month had passed since he had kissed Tenzo and he was sure Anko was tired of hearing about the jounin at this point. Her advice had been to fuck him until neither of them could walk. Luckily, he had Daisuke to talk things out with since Anko was no help. He had internally debated all the pros and cons of dating Tenzo and every time he came to the same answer. When he'd run into the jounin that morning he hadn't even thought before asking him out to dinner that night. He tried not to think about how quickly the man had said yes.

Kami, he was a coward. He could be inside already, but his own self-doubt kept him rooted to where he could observe the front door. Would Tenzo want him once he realized how messed up he was? He went through the breathing exercises Daisuke had shown him. He paced back and forth trying not to hyperventilate, but he was not ready for this date. Why did he do this to himself? Before he could work himself up anymore, he spotted Tenzo walking up the street towards him. 

Iruka was not proud of the squeaking noise he made as he darted into the alleyway behind him. This was not good. How was he going to make it through dinner if he couldn't make it inside the damn restaurant without a panic attack? "Maa, sensei, the restaurant is behind you." A voice called from above him. 

The chunin looked up, startled. Above him, feet dangling from the edge of the roof was Kakashi Hatake, Tenzo's boyfriend. "Kakashi-sensei, what are you doing here?"

"Making sure Tenzo didn't chicken out on his date, but I see I was concerned about the wrong person." Kakashi pushed himself off the roof, dropping down in front of Iruka. "Something wrong, sensei?"

"Besides going on a date with your boyfriend? Everything. Naruto is off Kami knows where training because people want to kill him. Sasuke is a missing-nin and Anko has been living with me since everything happened. I am a fucking mess who has no business dating anyone and for the life of me I can't convince my body to walk across the street to go on this date." He wasn't sure how much of that Kakashi understood as it all came out in a rush, his anxiety spiking.

And then Kakashi had the nerve to laugh at him. He glared at the jounin, who patted him on the shoulder. "You are so his type. Listen, Tenzo and I aren't exactly the picture of mental health. ANBU will do that to anyone, so he gets it. He gets the anxiety flare-ups and bouts of depression. Just take a breath, sensei, and remember that he's still your friend. He knows you've been through a lot, so has he. He isn't expecting the world from you, just some dinner. So just breathe." 

Iruka stared at the jounin like he was crazy, but he did feel better. The tightness in his chest started to loosen and he took several deep, calming breaths. Maybe Kakashi was right. He was putting too much pressure on himself when it was just tonight. He wasn't making any promises outside some food and maybe a drink. He could make it through this. "Thanks, Kakashi-sensei. I really appreciate it, though it feels weird to get a pep talk from your date's boyfriend."

Kakashi just shrugged. "Sometimes you have to be the wingman your partner deserves. He's a good guy, Iruka-sensei. I should probably go before Tenzo realizes I'm here."

"He didn't know you were following him?"

"Of course not. I just wanted to make sure he was alright. He's been a nervous wreck all day. I wanted to be there if he needed it, but if he saw me he'd give me shit for checking up on him. He is my precious kohai after all. Good luck, sensei." Kakashi gave him a two-finger salute before he launched himself up onto the roof and disappeared. After he left, Iruka remembered Tenzo had mentioned a senpai that had saved him. Had that been Kakashi? 

He mentally shook himself as he left the alley. He had been so freaked out he didn't even think about how anxious Tenzo might be as well. As weird as it felt to have Kakashi talk him out of his major freak out it was nice to know that he was supportive of them dating. He was still a little uncertain about how the whole 'multiple partners' thing worked, but at least he knew for sure now how Kakashi felt about things. 

*** 

"But did you get to the bone zone with him?" Anko asked as she shoved a piece of meat into her mouth. Iruka had splurged on barbecue for them but was now regretting ever going out in public with her. She loved to ask embarrassing questions as loud as humanly possible.

"Anko," he hissed, "keep your voice down. And no we didn't go to 'bone zone' as you put it. That has to be the most awful way to say sex." He made a face at her as he added more meat and vegetables to the grill on the table between them. 

"The old lust and thrust. Knocking boots. Putting your bread in his oven. Bumping uglies. Porking." She looked quite amused with herself. 

He decided to interrupt before she could continue. "Stop it or I won't tell you how the date went." He hadn't actually gotten around to telling her any of the details about it before she had gone right for the jugular asking if they'd had sex. "I kind of freaked out before it even started and Kakashi of all people talked me down." Anko arched an eyebrow at him but didn't interrupt. "I know it's odd having your boyfriend's boyfriend help you out on a date with said mutual boyfriend...not that Tenzo and I are official or anything."

"I'm sure he'd love to make it official...on that ass."

"That doesn't even make sense, Anko," he said exasperated. "This is why we never go out. You behave worse than my students."

Anko blew him a little kiss. "I hope your students don't talk about your sex life as much as I do." She just smiled as he glared at her. "Fine, fine. I'll behave until you finish your story."

"So after my major freak out, I finally headed inside. It was wonderful. Probably the best date I've ever been on before. Tenzo was a perfect gentleman. He walked me home and everything. Before you ask, yes we kissed." He paused, thinking back to the heavy make-out session that had ended up with him pressed against the front door. "Well, maybe a bit more than kissed, but it was nice."

"So when's the wedding?" Anko wiggled her eyebrows at him suggestively. He made a rude gesture towards her in response. "Oh sensei. Your students have been teaching you bad things."

"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up, you jerk. I had a nice time and we already have our next date planned barring any unexpected missions." It was silly how much he was looking forward to seeing Tenzo. Every time he thought about the jounin his heart started to race. 

Anko poured him some sake. "Let's celebrate then. I'm really happy for you, Ru. When you showed up at my place soaking wet...I really thought I might lose you for a while there. Seeing you get better, be happy again, it means the world to me." 

Iruka felt himself start to tear up so he ducked his head to hide his face. Crying was bad enough but it was so much worse being in public. Anko didn't say anything as he composed himself. When he looked back up, he mostly had his emotions under control. "Thank you, Anko. For everything."

"You basically let me move into your place, so we're even. I guess I'll have to go back home now that you got lover boy coming around." She winked at him as she downed her shot.

Iruka blushed at her implication. "He has his own place. We can go there if we want to...hang out and I know you're home."

"Or you can let a girl listen in on that sexy time. I can't believe you have more of a sex life than I do right now." Iruka snorted at her. He still didn't have a sex life, just the potential for one.

"I thought Genma asked you out." He asked, stealing a piece of meat from her side of the grill. Pork belly was his favorite and she had let it start to burn so he didn't feel bad about taking it. "He's a nice guy."

Anko just shrugged poking at the food on her plate. "I feel like I've been such a mess since everything happened. I don't know if seeing anyone is a good idea. He is a nice guy and I don't want him to know the crazy that is my life."

"You know what," he said, pointing at her with his chopsticks, "he would be damn lucky to have you. You aren't a mess, Anko. You've just been dealing with a lot and need to be nicer to yourself. It's fine if you aren't ready for a relationship, but don't put yourself down."

"This is why we're best friends, Ru." Seeing Anko smile was one of the best feelings in the world. She had a lot of reasons not to smile, and he'd been one of them not long ago, but he wanted her to be happy. Anko deserved the best and damn it if he'd let her put herself down.

*** 

Tenzo was still buzzing from his second date with Iruka. Much like the first date, this one had ended at the chunin's front door. Iruka had opened up a bit more about his past and why he was taking things slow. He was more than happy to oblige. Getting to spend time with him was more than enough. Well and the heated kisses the two had shared.

He shook himself as he headed up the stairs to his apartment. He would go as slowly as Iruka needed. He'd been elated when the other man had asked him out. Being in a relationship with another person was usually a deal breaker and he understood that, but when Iruka had first kissed him he knew he couldn't deny how he felt anymore. It helped that Kakashi was so easy going about it all. He'd even fessed up about going to the restaurant for their first date to make sure Tenzo was alright. He'd ended up putting Iruka's fears to rest, which made him fall even more in love with his former senpai.

The wards to his apartment buzzed, but the chakra signature wasn't his. Kakashi had apparently come to visit. He unlocked the front door and stepped inside. "Kashi? You still here?" He asked, kicking the door closed behind him. His only answer was a small flicker of chakra. Intrigued, he headed into the living room. It was empty, but the door to his bedroom was slightly ajar. He gently pushed the door open and found Kakashi laying face first on his bed. "Hey there. Everything alright?"

His boyfriend looked up at him half asleep. "Sorry. Just got back earlier and had a few drinks with Raidou and the others. Your place was closer." The jounin looked quite content snuggled up in his comforter. Tenzo sat down next to him and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead.

"You know you're welcome here anytime. I'm glad you're back though. I missed you." He ran his hand through Kakashi's silver hair. It looked crazier than usual when meant he'd gone to bed with wet hair. He'd never know anyone who got bed head as badly as his boyfriend. "I had another date with Iruka," he told him as he laid down and snuggled up next to him.

Kakashi sleepily buried his face in Tenzo's chest. "That's good to hear. I'm glad it's going well." He yawned, struggling a bit to wake up more. "Did you touch his cute butt yet?"

Tenzo laughed, shaking his head. "No, I didn't, you perv. We kissed...a lot. We're just taking things slow, which is good for both of us."

The copy-nin nodded sleepily. "I suppose that's a good thing, but I want all the butt details when it happens. He's got a cute butt." This was not the first time the two of them had discussed the sensei's backside, though it was adorable when Kakashi rambled about it half asleep.

"He does have a cute rear end," he said, humming in agreement. "What else do you like about him?" It was rare to catch his boyfriend like this and he was going to enjoy every moment of it. Sleepy Kakashi was the best.

The copy-nin made a soft noise as he thought about it. "I like the way he teaches. He's really patient with the kids and he's nice," he trailed off for a moment. "I like how he treats Naruto. He's a special person. You should kiss him and never let go, Tenz. He's a good one, a precious bean..." A soft snore cut off whatever Kakashi was going to add to his comment. A precious bean? Tenzo smirked, trying not to laugh. He wasn’t going to live that one down anytime soon.

---

Tenzo woke to the smell of food and soft murmuring in the other room. His bed smelled like Kakashi and that was always a good thing to wake up to. Kami, how did he get so lucky to have this man in his life? He was debating on waking up fully or seeing what his boyfriend was cooking when the door to his room burst open. The jounin let out a soft grunt of surprise as Bull jumped onto the bed, flopping onto him. "Oof, good morning to you too, Bull." The ninken just gave him a small 'woof' as he wiggled around, trying to get comfortable. This meant pushing Tenzo out of his way. He had effectively been kicked out of his own bed by ninken on a morning he could actually sleep in. If he didn't love Bull so much he'd be cross. 

Instead of reprimanding the dog, he just patted his massive head and rolled out of bed. Food it was, then. Kakashi was shirtless in his kitchen and he paused to admire him for a moment. He knew he was caught when he saw the grin on his boyfriend's face. "See something you like?" He asked, wiggling his hips.

Tenzo rolled his eyes at him. "Just an ass." He headed towards the counter where a fresh pot of coffee was waiting for him. 

"And what a nice ass it is." Kakashi stole a quick kiss and tried to go for another, but he stepped to the side so he could pour himself some coffee. He definitely needed caffeine if he didn't get to sleep in. "Maa, so mean to me. I cook for you and this is how I'm treated?"

The brunette just took a sip of his hot drink, basking in the gloriousness that was black coffee. "Coffee first. Love later. Also, Bull stole my bed so that's a point against you."

"That's not my fault," Kakashi said pouting. "You know you can kick him out. You spoil the ninken too much, Tenz. Now, finish your coffee and eat because I'm home in one piece for once and I want that love you promised." It warmed his heart to see Kakashi so... light and happy. He'd taken it hard when Sasuke had left the village and he’d sunk into a deep depression which had only recently started to ease. Tenzo had felt guilty about pursuing Iruka at first, but his love had encouraged him every step of the way. 

"I love you, Kakashi," he told him as he pressed a soft kiss to his bare shoulder. Back when he was in Root he never imagined having a life like this, a life filled with love. His life had been so bleak that he longed for death, thinking that was surely better than the life he'd had. Then, he met Kakashi and his life changed. Things hadn't been easy, but he was glad he'd left that life behind. Being an ANBU was still hard on both of them, but they made it work. He set his coffee aside so he could wrap his arms around his boyfriend’s waist.

Pale arms wrapped around him as he buried his face in the curve of Kakashi's neck. "I thought I was getting love later."

"Oh, hush," Tenzo mumbled. He had nowhere to be and a boyfriend to snuggle. Today was going to be a wonderful day.