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A Rapture on Affliction

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“Kakashi-san, I think we’ve been sufficiently patient.”

His attention flickered from Yoshino Nara, in the midst of her attempted cajoling, to the familiar chakra signature currently climbing the steps to their apartment. Iruka was home from training early, not good, but unavoidable considering how persistently terrifying the Jounin Commander’s wife was.

Either not unaware or just not caring for the new presence, Yoshino continued. “It’s been months, I think we deserve an answer. Have you given our proposal any thought at all?”

Kakashi’s neutral expression sharpened suddenly, his aura spiking just enough for Yoshino to pick up on his displeasure. Not killing intent, just a clear irritation at her steadfast determination. It reminded him too much of Iruka and exactly how much influence this woman had on him over the last five or so years. Kakashi’s lips pressed together beneath his mask.

“This is neither the time nor place to discuss that.” His visible eye fixed on the shadow just barely visible around the corner. Ah, so Iruka was listening in. Kakashi made a mental note to teach his young roommate to better conceal his shadow. “You’re free to leave.”

If he’d been unreceptive to this sudden visit before, he was outright hostile now. Continuing with Iruka present was an underhanded move on Yoshino’s behalf, but a clever, strategic one. She forced his hand with no extra effort on her part.

The ANBU caught Yoshino’s face turn red from the corner of his eye. She took a quick, deep breath -a fair attempt to reign in an otherwise explosive temper. “Shikaku and I understand," the word was gritted out through clenched teeth. Shikaku must have coached his wife on what to say before she showed up unannounced and unwelcome at his front door. Kakashi honestly expected her temper to get the better of her by now. “you’re apprehensive about this-”

“That wasn’t an invitation to keep talking,” Kakashi cut her off curtly, pushing for the outburst he knew was coming. Yoshino couldn’t mask her emotions, it’s why she never made it past chunin. “Leave, now.”

Rage flared in the Academy sensei’s eyes. She forced a smile that was more teeth than kindness. “You need to stop acting like a child and start thinking about what’s best for Iruka.” She glanced over her shoulder, eyes softening at the shadow that shifted anxiously behind them. Kakashi barely managed to cap his killing intent. So she did know Iruka was there, fucking bi- “I’m giving you a week, Kakashi-kun. If I don’t hear from you by then, I’m sending Shikaku. We’re done playing the waiting game with you. This is Iruka’s happiness on the line.”

With a final, hard stare in his direction, Yoshino took her leave.

Closing his eye, Kakashi inhaled deeply in preparation for what was to come. Several tense minutes stretched between them before Iruka finally stepped around the corner. Shifting his weight from foot to foot, the genin clenched his hands into his shirt hem. “...W-Why was Yoshino-sensei here?”

Ah, there was the metaphorical elephant.

Even expecting the question, it made Kakashi’s blood run cold. “It’s nothing.” Iruka visibly flinched at the calm, almost detached, tone in his voice. He knew he should feel something, especially with his precious person so visibly terrified, worried, lost. But Kakashi didn’t, not really, he told himself. He’d gotten too good at pushing it all down.

Don’t dwell on the feelings and they didn’t become a problem.

Iruka’s mouth set in a thin line. Head lowered, he glanced down at his feet, dark brows knitting together in a way that showed he was thinking, considering, how to respond. When he looked back up, Iruka’s eyes were glassy with tears. “Please talk to me.”

Iruka reached for his hand then and something inside the ANBU seemed to crack and give. The genin’s touch burned right up his arm like a violent flame eating dried timber. Kakashi yanked his hand away, his visible eye darkening. That fire licked through him, igniting his entire system in a raging inferno that seemed to set every nerve ending ablaze. It ate through his mental restraints, releasing all the pain, anger, disappointment, he’d pushed, pushed, pushed down. Months of repressed rage reddened the edges of his vision and set his jaw taut. “Why didn’t you tell me Shikaku and Yoshino Nara want to adopt you?”

Iruka's face completely drained of colour, dark eyes widening in horror. His mouth opened and closed quickly several times, making him resemble a fish flounder on land. “H-How did you-?” He cut himself off with a bite to his lower lip. With hands clenched tightly in his pants, the genin’s gaze quickly diverted to the floor. Kakashi could make out a slight tremble to his shoulders. “...Is that why Yoshino-sensei was here?”

“They approached me about the adoption while you were escorting Susuki.” Kakashi bit out the words before he was able to get a handle on his rampaging temper. He hadn’t noticed how much his voice elevated until Iruka took a sudden step back.

At that moment, it didn’t matter if his anger was justified or not. He just felt so furious! A type of all-consuming rage he hadn’t known since-

A full-body shudder ran through the ANBU.

-since Sarutobi-sama made him follow through on the promise to Iruka. He’s taken his rage out on an innocent kid back then, but Iruka wasn’t so blameless this time. He'd purposefully kept a life-changing decision from him. 

We’re supposed to be pack, family.

The genin stared at him, eyes dark with disbelief. “But, that mission was almost five months ago!” Kakashi could almost picture the gears turning in his mind, putting the pieces together in that uniquely perceptive way of his. “Why did you keep that from me?!”

A dark satisfaction curled in Kakashi’s stomach when he replied, “the same reason you kept the adoption from me.”

“I turned them down, Kashi!” Stomping his foot on the ground, Iruka jabbed a finger brazenly to the center of Kakashi’s chest. “I’m not getting adopted!”

Kakashi froze, his breath catching on a barely hidden gasp. What? Yoshino’s words from earlier came back to him with a vengeance, ‘ You need to stop acting like a child and start thinking about what’s best for Iruka ’. But, wasn’t that was he always did? Care for Iruka, train him, watch over him, teach him to be self-sufficient? Iruka was a shinobi, those are the skills he needed to survive. Didn’t Kakashi do what was best for him?

I do, don’t I?

Or was he just denying Iruka a supportive, loving family in favour of his own petty, selfishness? ‘ Don’t leave me alone again!’ Iruka had cried, begged and pleaded with those very words so many times in the past. Yet, how often did Kakashi simply ruffle his hair and leave on a mission?

You always leave him alone, a vindictive little voice in his head supplied, now you’re just scared he’ll do the same to you. Inhaling deeply, Kakashi swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat. “Well, maybe you should be.”

The pain that suddenly stabbing through his chest, Kakashi saw mirrored in Iruka’s eyes. “What? The genin shook his head. “Y-You don’t really mean that.”

“They love you.” He knew the words were true as soon as he said them. Yoshino and Shikaku Nara genuinely loved Iruka. They wouldn’t be fighting this hard for a twelve-year-old, clanless orphan if that wasn’t true. Adopting Iruka wasn’t advantageous to the Nara clan, it was just another genin to lodge, feed and provide for. “They're better for you than I am.”

“No, they’re not!” Iruka almost screamed in protest. Tears brimmed in his eyes and quickly spilled over to race down his tanned cheeks. “I love them! I love Yoshino-sensei and Shikamaru-chan and Shikaku-sama. They've been so kind to me. When I'm with them, it feels like before, you know? If just for a little while. But I don't want any of that without you!” The genin grabbed Kakashi's shirt, hands curling the material in two massive fistfuls. “ You’re my family, I’m not going anywhere without you!”

Kakashi’s arms raised, unsure of what to do with them but wound too tightly to touch his precious person. As if Iruka was a fragile glass his blood-soiled hands would shatter. “Iruka-”

Pressing his tear-stained face into Kakashi’s shirt, Iruka wailed, “I love you the most, Kakashi!”

Everything around him seemed to come to an abrupt halt with that innocent declaration. Iruka’s weight against his front was suddenly crushing. His chest clenched, lungs restricting so tightly, Kakashi couldn’t breathe. A shiver ran through him, his already pale face gone ghostly white. Cold, he felt so cold, like all the warmth and all that burning rage from moments ago ebbed away to leave him hollow, empty. 

Perspiration broke out across his brow as Kakashi stared down at his precious person. The brown head bowed against his chest suddenly lifted. I love you so much, Kakashi. Rin stared back at him dead-eyed, blood slowly trickling from the corners of her mouth. She smiled at him in the way only she could, that tender, understanding curve of lips that left him longing for her gentle kisses, the feel of her arms around him-

It’s not like I love you or anything, Bakashi! Rin’s tender smile turned down into a too-familiar pout. Obito stares up at him, brows furrowed behind cracked goggles, his face set in a scowl. Then he blinked, sharingan in both eyes one second, and a single, bloody hole the next, seeping crimson down his cheek to drop off his jaw-

-because that missing eye was in Kakashi's skull, replacing the one he lost as Obito’s jounin gift to him, the scum who couldn’t keep his word, who failed them both in life and death.

He killed everyone he loved, everyone who loved him.

‘I’ll become your eye and see the future with you.”

“-ashi! Kakashi!!” Two small hands slap down on his cheeks and suddenly he could breathe again. “Kakashi, snap out of it!”

The ANBU drew in a deep, ragged breath, the image of his dead teammates contorting back into Iruka’s teary face -puffy cheeks, red-rimmed eyes, quivering chin. “You don’t love me, Iruka.” Kakashi croaked. He didn’t realize he was shaking until he pulled the genin’s hands from his masked face. “Don’t say that.” Please don’t even say that again.

“B-but I do.” Breath hitching in a sob, Iruka scrubbed his tears away with his sleeves. “You’re my family, my most precious person, Kakashi. More so than Izumo and Kotetsu, or Yoshino-sensei, Shikamaru-chan and Shikaku-sama or Inoichi-sensei or Genma-sempai or Gai-san.” He squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that continued to trickle down his cheeks. “You’re the one I love the most.”

“No, I… I-I-” His chest heaved with each breath, lungs constricting tighter than before. Kakashi yanked his mask down, inhaling shakily through his nose and out through his mouth like all shinobi were trained to do. It wasn’t helping. Silent screams resonated through his head, stuck on loop like the image of Obito and Rin covered in blood, crushed under rocks, chest blown open from his chidori, dying, dying, dying and whispering tenderly I love you, I love you, I love you, Kakashi...

The walls warped around him, seemed to creep closer, to fold in on him more and more with each struggled breath. “I-I-” He couldn’t stay here, had to get out, had to-

No more, no, no, no!

His hands raised in a tiger seal.

“Wait!” Eyes widening in alarm, Iruka reached for him. “Kakashi don’t-!”

A billow of smoke blocked Iruka -his screams, tears, anguish- completely from sight as Kakashi shunshined away.

Chapter Text

Kakashi never came back.

Iruka didn’t know how long he remained in a sobbing, broken heap by the apartment door. His heart ached, heavy with fear and loss that coiled tightly together in his chest. At some point, the sun set and he picked himself up. He was a shinobi, Kakashi expected him to be stronger than this. The apartment was suffocating that first night, but he forced himself to stay. He needed to be there when Kakashi came home. They needed to talk. Their relationship couldn’t be left so fractured by hurtful words and actions.

But Kakashi didn’t return that night or the next few.

The days passed in a dazed blur for Iruka. He carried on with his normal routine, more on auto-pilot than actually living life. He got up in the morning, went to practice, did D-rank missions with his team in the afternoon and trained with Ibiki in the evenings. Rinse, wash and repeat. Nights were spent sitting at his bedroom window, gazing out over Konoha with the hopes of catching a glimpse of familiar silver hair.

Kakashi left like this once before, right after Iruka first moved in and almost burnt their kitchen down. Back then, he’d emerged from his bedroom, after the fight, to find Kakashi’s ANBU mask missing. It was a small comfort, a small way to confirm the ANBU would return at some point.

This time, however, there was no such reassurance.

Because it was all his fault.

Kakashi left in blind panic, not anger. The more Iruka thought about it, the more the guilt ate at him. He’d pushed the Kakashi too hard and kept something important from him. Now, all he could do was wait and hope it wasn’t too late to salvage their broken, little family.

Sniffling quietly, Iruka rubbed fresh tears from his eyes and pulled Kakashi’s shuriken blanket tighter around his shoulders. He’d promised Rin and Obito he’d look after their mutual loved one, that he’d support him. Iruka failed miserably. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled to nothing and no one for the hundredth time. “I’m so sorry.”

Please don’t leave me, Kakashi.

His teammates noticed the change immediately. Iruka couldn’t concentrate. His chakra-control was all over the place, and he kept making simple mistakes. On the third day, when he simply picked at his lunch, eating no more than a few small bites, Kotetsu had enough.

“Okay, enough of this.” Picking a spring roll up with his chopsticks, he stuffed the entire thing into Iruka’s mouth. The youngest genin startled, almost choking on the bite as tried to swallow it. “I don’t know what’s going on with you and Kakashi-san, and I won’t ask, but you’ve got to snap out of this funk you’re in.”

Izumo nodded in agreement. “Remember what Inoichi-sensei told us before? We are shinobi. We have to endure through trying times. You’re our friend, Ruka. Is there anything we can do to help?”

Tears left Iruka’s eyes glassy, though for a different reason than the previous few days. “Thanks, guys, but there’s nothing you can really help with.” Poking at his food, he took a small bite of rice to appease his friends more than actually wanting to eat.

Izumo shared a look with Kotetsu. “Well, is there anyone who can?” he asked gently.

“No, I-” Iruka blinked, his mouth opening in surprise. Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of that before? If Kakashi wasn’t coming home, he had to be bunking with someone. “Yes! Yes, there is!”  Izumo and Kotetsu would’ve told him if Kakashi suddenly showed up at Genma’s apartment. That only left one person the ANBU might turn to. Scarfing down the rest of his food, Iruka sealed his empty bento box in a storage scroll for safe-keeping. “I’ve got to go, cover for me?” They had taijutsu training with Ibiki-senpai after lunch.

Kotetsu shot him a double thumbs-up. “Sure thing, Ruka! Go get your man!”

Spluttering, Iruka’s face immediately flushed red right up to his ear tips. “H-He’s just my friend!”

Sure he is.” Kotetsu rolled his eyes and waved the younger genin off. That was the same tone he used when Genma-senpai talked about Shizune! Kotetsu didn’t believe him.

Covering his mouth with a hand, Izumo turned to the side in a horrid attempt to hide his laughter.

“No wonder Genma-senpai calls you gremlins.”

“You love us, Ruka, and you know it.” 

 


 

“Gai-san!” Dropping from the trees surrounding the training grounds, Iruka jogged over his spandex-clad friend. He'd been searching for a while before finally locating the chunin. Gai’s training regimen took him all over the village, through populated areas, up the Hokage Monument, over rooftops, across parapets and places Iruka was anxious just thinking about. Thankfully, he always ended his work-outs in whatever training ground was free at the time. Today it was the sixth one closest to Senju Park.

In the middle of a hand-stand, Gai turned at the sound of his name. “Iruka-san!” Balancing on one hand with ease, he waved to the genin. “To what do I owe this pleasure on such a beautiful autumn day?” Thick brows creased together, head shifting to the side as he studied Iruka. “You appear quite peakish my Most Genuine of Companions.”

Worrying his friend was the last thing Iruka wanted to do. His stomach twisted painfully. Guilt, fear, uncertainty, his mind supplied unhelpfully. With fresh tears stinging in his eyes, Iruka lowered his head. He couldn't keep crying like this. He was a genin, a shinobi of Konohagakure, he needed to have better control of his emotions. Trying to rationalize did nothing to ease the heavy ache in his chest, however. The words came out before Iruka could stop them. “...Gai-san, have you seen Kakashi?”

Rolling gracefully to his feet, Gai brought a hand to his chin in thought. “No, I cannot say that I have. Our youthful challenges are always halted during missions.” Banging a fist into the open palm of his other hand, a brilliantly bright grin spread across the chunin’s face. “Ah-ha! You must seek a challenge, Iruka-san!”

“What? Oh no.” Iruka shook his head, hands held up to physically keep the taijutsu specialist at bay. Gai seemed to deflate at the rejection. “I wouldn’t be much of a challenge right now,” he added after a moment. 

"An excellent observation! Your youthful vigour has just begun to bloom!"

"I suppose it has." Iruka chewed on the inside of his cheek. Now, what was he supposed to do? Gai was the only person he could think to ask. Kakashi didn’t have many friends. He should’ve known coming to Maito Gai would be a long shot. “Thanks for your time anyway, Gai-san,” he mumbled quietly and turned to leave.

Two large hands caught his shoulders, halting Iruka in his tracks. “Something occurred to cause my dear friend such anguish.” The genin’s eyes widened in surprise. Gone was Gai’s usual, blinding smile. His mouth curved down, dark, shining eyes fixed on Iruka’s with such intensity, the genin momentarily tensed. That wasn’t a question. Gai was smart, even with such a bombastic personality. “If you desire a willing ear, I am, and will always be, your steadfast confidant.”

The dam Iruka was using to barely hold back his emotions seemed to crumble under Gai’s gentle concern. The genin bit his bottom lip, tears slowly trickling down his cheeks. “G-Gai-san…” It felt like all he’d done the last few days was cry.

A quick tug at his shoulders tipped Iruka right into the chunin’s green flak jacket. Strong arms closely snugly around his shoulders, but not in the too-tight way Kakashi always hugged. “It’s okay to cry, my friend!”

Iruka stiffened at first, but slowly sank into his friend’s arms. Gai smelled heavily of sweat and pine. He must’ve been training in Senju Park again. The off-handed thought seemed ironically out of place, but there it was, flitting through his anxiety-addled mind.

Iruka’s breath hitched on a sob. Burying his face into his friend’s vest, Iruka finally, willingly, let himself freely cry. Days of endless guilt and worry overflowed from where he’d pushed the emotions down deep inside him. It’s my fault Kakashi left like that, what right do I have to be so upset?

Kakashi called them pack, family, but all he'd done was strain the bond they'd carefully formed. Iruka wrapped his arms around the chunin, hands fisting into the thick flak jacket Gai wore so proudly. He felt so tired. The last few days were a blur, but Iruka knew he hadn't been eating or sleeping as he should be. It was hard to eat with a lump in your throat and a heavy pit in your stomach.

Gai just held Iruka and let him cry it out. He thumped the genin on the back once his tears waned into hiccups and quivering shoulders. "Regale me with your heartfelt tale of woe, My Friend!"

Iruka couldn’t help the small chuckle that slipped through. Gai always knew how to make him feel better. Wiping his face on the back of his sleeve, Iruka breathed deep to calm his frazzled nerves. "It's nothing like that. Kakashi and I, well… we had a pretty bad fight. He hasn't come home since. I'm starting to get worried."

“Do not fret, Iruka-san!” Gai gave him a double thumbs-up, all blinding smile and sparkly teeth. “I’m sure he fares well. Kakashi’s never had the best interpersonal skills and he doesn’t emote very well…” Gai scratched his chin, mouth set in a perplexed line. “Regardless! I’m positive my Eternal Rival will return to you shortly! You are the precious blossom of his heart!”

“W-What?! Gai-san!!” The genin felt his entire face flush red at his friend’s sudden declaration. The spandex-clad chunin always had his heart in the right place, but sometimes his imagination and enthusiasm got ahead of him. “Y-You can’t just-! I-I am not-”

“Indeed you are, Iruka-san!” Iruka could almost see stars in his friend’s eyes. Massive, manly tears streaked down Gai’s cheeks.

“Gai-san, please…” With a groan, Iruka buried his face in his hands and tried to ignore how embarrassment burned all the way to his ear tips. There was no changing Maito Gai’s mind once an idea took hold.

“Fear not, I shall enquire to my Rival’s whereabouts until he returns to your side!” Gai clasped the younger shinobi, none too gently, by the shoulders. “If I do not, I shall scale the Hokage Monument with one hand!”

Rubbing a few lingering tears away, Iruka forced a small smile. Gai was already sizing up Hokage Rock in the distance. “I'm sure you'll do your best either way, Gai-san.” The chunin truly was a compassionate, caring friend, one he was very grateful to have.

 


 

A full week passed before Iruka started getting desperate. Kakashi hadn’t been home, not even while Iruka was out of the apartment.

A fine layer of dust settled over the living room window the ANBU used as his personal entrance and exit. Nothing in his room moved. Discarded pyjamas remained at the foot of Kakashi unmade bed, his half-finished fantasy novel, Silverwing, still upside down on the kotatsu, pages parted almost halfway through in a hasty page mark. A clear indication the reader had planned to return to the novel shortly.

Iruka found himself staring at the book during the worst moments of loneliness. Kakashi must have been reading when Yoshino-sensei came. He could almost picture his precious person sitting there, posture slightly slouched, chin propped on one hand, the other curved around the book’s spine.

Sometimes Iruka curled up against Kakashi’s side, leaned into the warm, silent comfort being close to him offered. Without a word, he’d shift the book just enough for Iruka to see the page and start reading out loud. Iruka didn’t often know what the story was about, that’s not why he listened. It was Kakashi’s voice, steady and tranquil, that drew him to the older shinobi’s side.

Only in their apartment -in the strange, comfortable home they made together- reading his latest novel out loud, did Kakashi sound genuinely at ease.

Turning away from the novel, Iruka carefully slid the last of his library books into his satchel. They were due back tomorrow, but the urge to get out of the apartment's overwhelming emptiness almost consumed him. The library books were a good enough excuse as any to get away from home for a while. Slinging the satchel over his shoulder, he swung out the open window.

Taking the rooftops to the library meant few people acknowledged him. A wave from Choza Akimichi was the only interaction he had before reaching his destination. Sunday evenings found the library sparsely populated. That suited Iruka perfectly fine. Returning his books to the librarian, the genin pulled his trusty notepad from his weapon’s holster. After two years of use, it was starting to fray at the edges. Iruka flipped to the page he’d tagged with a red bookmark.

Every book on kekkei genkai the library had available to a genin class shinobi was written neatly in a list. After the fluke with his fire and water affinities during his first C-rank, Iruka started looking into exactly what he’d done. After several hints from Inoichi-sensei, Kakashi and Genma, he’d discovered one type of kekkei genkai in which a shinobi could combine two chakra natures to make a new one.

After researching several different nature combinations, he came across a footnote for the combination of water and fire natures.

Futton: Boil Release.

Just like with his seal studies, Iruka found information on Futton to be infuriatingly limited. If he was lucky, there’d be a paragraph or two of basic information -like how it originated in either Kirigakure or Uzushio. Most of the time, however, Futton was nothing but a passing mention.

With several books already crossed off his list, Iruka hunkered down at a corner table and opened an ageing encyclopedia on water chakra nature. Whether he learned anything on Futton in the dated pages, water was one of his affinities. Knowledge is power. Anything he learned could be useful one day.

Only, it was too damn hard to concentrate!

After reading the same line for the fifth time, Iruka slammed the encyclopedia shut with a frustrated groan. He half flopped over the table, face buried in his assortment of books. His head and stomach ached painfully from the ball of shame he carried since Kakashi left. Every day without a word of his precious person weighed heavier on Iruka’s shoulders.

Iruka remained slumped over the table, even when a chair scraped across the floor across from him. “You know, I didn’t think coming across you upset in the library would be such a common occurrence, Kid.”

Looking up, the genin quickly straightened in his chair. “Hi Senpai.” He kept his voice low so as not to disturb the other library patrons.

The tokubetsu jounin grinned across the table, senbon shifting between his teeth. “Haven’t seen you lurking here for quite a while. Is waiting for Kakashi getting to you again?”

Iruka drew in a sharp breath, eyes rounding in surprise. His heart seemed to jump into his throat. "Genma-senpai!!" The genin was on his feet before he realized it. He reached across the table to grab Genma's hand. "Do you know where Kakashi is?!" He could hear the desperation in his own voice.

The tokubetsu jounin stared at him for a moment, disbelief flickering through his dark eyes. "No, he wouldn't..." The senbon clicked taut between Genma's teeth, a scowl sharpening his normally relaxed facial features. "That brat didn't tell you he volunteered for a solo mission, did he?"

It was like a bucket of ice water hit him square in the face. The cold spread through him until Iruka felt a sickening sorrow settle somewhere deep inside him. The genin sank back into his seat, his grip on Genma's hand loosening. "No, h-he didn't," he managed to push the words out. The too familiar burning of building tears made his eyes ache. He blinked quickly to push the sensation down. "We… had a fight. It was my fault."

"Shodai's balls, Iruka." Cursing quietly, Genma tugged his bandana hitai-ate off and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "That's not an excuse for his little disappearing act. Shinobi don't fucking do that to their family."

Iruka rubbed his stomach in a futile attempt to ease the twisting ache there. "...What if Kakashi doesn't come back?" The genin sniffled. A few tears slipped down his cheeks.

"Okay, that's it." Pushing the chair out as he stood, Genma snagged the genin's wrist. "You're staying with the Gremlins and I until Kakashi comes back, and he will come back. It'll just be a few weeks or so."

"N-no, I can't impose like that. I'll be fine on my own, please." Despite his startled protests, Iruka found himself being pulled towards the library's exit. Dusk had settled outside, bathing the village in soft hues of orange and gold.

"Iruka, you look like shit." Keeping a firm grip on the genin's wrist, Genma turned towards his apartment complex. "We're going home for supper with the Gremlins, then you're going to borrow a pair of pyjamas from Izumo and you're going to get some damn sleep, understood?"

"I-I…"

"Iruka," he started without looking back at the genin trailing behind him. Genma's grip tightened briefly on his wrist. "Izumo and Kotetsu would never forgive me if I sent you home alone upset."

"I don't want that!" Iruka stumbled to a halt, making the tokubetsu jounin stop with him. Biting back a sob, he buried his face in his hands. His guilt felt like it was about to swallow him whole. "All I do is cause unnecessary trouble for the people I love!!"

"Don't talk like that, Kid." Resting a hand atop his head, Genma ruffled his hair with a soft sigh. "Look, I'm going to tell you something someone once told me when I was in a pretty low place."

"W-What's that?"

 "We're shinobi, we endure. You're needed so you have to hang in there." The tokubetsu jounin tapped the plate of Iruka's hitai-ate. "You're very precious to many people, Iruka, my family included. So let us be there for you, okay?"

"...O-Okay."

"That's more like it."

"...Genma-senpai?"

"Yeah, Kid?"

"Thank you."

 

Chapter Text

It was just his luck he got stuck working the ANBU desk during the graveyard shift. Headquarters was always busy. Operatives came and went at all hours of the day and night, in partners, teams, and solo. Every combination and assortment. Someone always manned the desk, ready to offer assistance in whatever way necessary. That mostly consisted of wrangling returning ANBU into seeking medical attention.

Because as powerful as Konoha's nameless shadows were, the majority were big babies when it came to hospitals. It's why a handful of skilled medics were cleared to personally handle ANBU's more unique members.

If Genma Shiranui happened to be once such operative, well. He was wearing the face of the monster who destroyed his village two years ago on his ANBU mask.

Kitsune.

It was a kind of bittersweet irony. If Kushina-san hadn't personally bequeathed her old mask to him, he would've smashed the damn thing over Minato-sama's grave. But Genma was sentimental, he kept the moniker in her memory.

Genma's eyes flickered to the wall at the familiar tug of wards being bypassed. Anger licked through his chest before he could shove a cap on it. There was just one returning chakra signature.

Genma knew far too well.

His wayward partner finally returned home.

Folding Shizune's latest letter neatly, he gently tucked the paper lovingly into his breast pocket. Damn if he didn't miss his beautiful angel. It had been a few months since they'd managed to meet up. He ached to have her in his arms again, especially with their third anniversary rapidly approaching.

The wall next to his caged-in desk lit up brightly. The seals and wards gave way to let his partner through. Shadows morphed and rippled until Kakashi Hatake stumbled into the empty foyer, swaying dangerously on his feet.

"Fuck!" Genma was on his feet in seconds, bounding over the desk to check his partner over. Kakashi blinked mismatched eyes at him blearily through his Hound mask. The unfocused look meant chakra-exhaustion, genjutsu or a weird combination of both. Where a certain silver-haired shinobi was concerned, anything was game.

Kakashi didn’t protest to his mask being removed. The younger teen swayed on his feet as Genma clipped the porcelain mask to his belt. Shit, definitely chakra depletion. The little fool always overdid it when they were together, he could only imagine how hard Kakashi pushed himself on a solo mission.

Grabbing his chin, Genma held two fingers about a foot from his partner's face. "Follow my fingers with your eyes only."

Those mismatched eyes shifted sluggishly with his fingers, following up and down, side to side. Good, no concussion, just chakra exhaustion. With that in mind, Genma quickly gave the younger teen a once over, checking for abrasions and broken bones. Besides a bit of bruising, some scuffs, and the low chakra, Kakashi seemed to be okay. "You'll be fine." Letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, Genma's shoulders dropped in relief.

Thank the Sage.

If anything happened to the brat, Minato-sama would never forgive him. The relief was short-lived once he knew Kakashi was as okay as one could expect coming back off a solo S-rank.

While he was being checked over, Kakashi began talking, his tone a low, exhaustion mumble. "...I'm going to crash in the breakroom for a few hours."

Releasing his partner's chin, Genma inhaled deeply and let the anger his concern barely kept at bay fully wash over him. Gloved hands fisted against his pant legs, clenched so tightly he felt nails bite into his palms through the thick fabric. The disappointed rage that’d been simmering inside him since he’d run into Iruka at the library a few weeks ago finally boiled over.

Kakashi hadn’t told anyone about his damn solo mission. Genma only found out because he was assigned a mission with Panther as his partner. Whatever his reason for leaving, Kakashi’s sudden absence had ramifications through their entire friend group. Gai, his gremlins, Inoichi, himself, and Iruka...

Fuck, that poor kid.

Over a month Iruka waited, fretted and blamed himself for Kakashi’s little disappearing act. Genma’s family were the ones who stood by, unable to do anything to alleviate the genin’s guilt. How many times had Genma woken up to find Iruka crying on his sofa? Or tucked between Izumo and Kotetsu under the kotatsu? Having their teammate so distraught affected his gremlins’ own mental well-being. It took them months to heal after the Kyuubi attack.

Kakashi -his partner- was putting all that progress at risk.

Pulling back his hand, Genma put all that worry and anger behind his fist and pushed Kakashi right in the face. It showed just how unfocused his partner truly was when the strike hit home without a bit of resistance on Kakashi’s behalf. Genma stared down at the younger shinobi sprawled on the floor at his feet. The incredulous stare looking up at him did little to abate the tokubetsu jounin’s anger. “What the fuck were you thinking?!”

Clutching a hand to his cloth-covered face, Kakashi blinked wide, mismatched eyes up at him. “...What?” The cloth dotted crimson between his splayed fingers, most likely from a nosebleed. Genma’s left hook wasn’t as strong as Gai’s, but he still packed a punch.

“I don’t care what your fucking reason was, you don’t disappear on your family like that you jackass!” Genma yanked his kitsune mask off so Kakashi could a good view of just how angry he was.

And he was livid.

Genma could feel the rage burning through his very veins, leaving his fingers trembling around the porcelain as he clipped his mask to his belt. The last time he felt like this, Raidou was horribly disfigured on an assassination mission gone wrong. That fucker didn’t live long once Genma was done with him. “We’ve all been worried sick about you, especially Iruka.”

Just like that, the disbelief was gone. Kakashi’s eyes hardened, his entire face set in a painfully neutral expression. “That’s none of your business.”

“It became my business the minute you left without telling anyone! I’m your partner I shouldn’t have to find out you volunteered for a solo through reassignment.” Genma crossed his arms over his chest. He loved the brat. Heck, Kakashi had become something akin to a little brother over the last few years. But his extent of dealing with problems was to bury them or bolt.

That wasn’t going to fly anymore.

Kakashi had the decency to at least avert his gaze. “...That wasn’t my intention.”

“Well, it sure as heck turned out that way.” Genma pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “You’re not on your own anymore, Kakashi. Iruka’s spent the last month under my kotatsu, crying himself to sleep.”

“He has no reason to be loitering in your apartment.” Kakashi rolled back onto his feet with less grace than he normally displayed. “Send him home.”

“I’ll do no damn thing.” It took everything Genma had to resist punching his partner again. He’d hoped one hit would be enough to knock some sense into Kakashi. “You caused this, don’t begrudge the kid some comfort.”

Rubbing a hand across his nose where the first traces of bruising was beginning to form, Kakashi scowled and ground out, “You’re not-”

“Don’t give me that bullshit!” Grabbing the front of Kakashi’s grey flak jacket, Genma yanked him fully to his feet. “You were doing so good with the kid. You’re not the emotionless tool you like to pretend you are. What happened, Kakashi?”

Kakashi shoved his hands into his pant’s pockets, half-lidded eyes staring straight over Genma’s left shoulder. The tokubetsu jounin could almost feel the younger man shutting down on him. “No, don’t do this.”

No, no way was he letting his friend slip back into the darkness of his own mind. Genma’s grip shifted to Kakashi’s shoulders. The muscles drew taut beneath his touch. “Come on, we’ve been partners for three years. We have each others’ backs, don’t we? Don’t shut me out.”

Kakashi’s head lowered, both eyes slipping closed.

Cold dread clawed at Genma’s insides. Shit, he was losing him. “Talk to me please, Kakashi.”

Kakashi remained silently unmoving for far too long. Genma’s heart dropped into his stomach. That was it then, the tentative, fragile bonds Kakashi built with those around him were broken, just like the young man in front of him. Swallowing hard, Genma sighed. Change, healing, neither couldn’t be forced.

Just as he went to withdraw his hands from Kakashi's shoulders, his partner murmured quietly, "...Shikaku and Yoshino Nara want to adopt Iruka."

"...Well, damn." Scrubbing a hand across the five o'clock stubble covering his chin, Genma gave his friend's shoulder a comforting squeeze. He wasn't sure what the bigger surprise was, the damn adoption or Kakashi actually opening up enough to tell him about it. That was a huge step for Kakashi, just completely unexpected. "Don't put the cart before the horse, Kakashi. Iruka's a genin. Being a shinobi makes him an adult in the eyes of the village, even if he is a minor. The Naras can't adopt him without Iruka's consent. There's no reason to panic, the kid isn't going to up and leave."

Kakashi's gaze remained fixed on their feet. "...He'd be better off with them, Genma."

"Oh shit, you didn't tell Iruka that, did you?!"

His partner’s lack of response dropped Genma’s stomach right to his feet.

“Fuck, Kakashi,” Genma cursed again. No wonder the poor kid was so distraught. To be told that and then have Kakashi ghost him for a month? His gremlins would be a wreck if he did that to them. “You can’t honestly be considering this.”

“If it was Izumo and Kotetsu, you’d do the same.”

Genma opened his mouth to argue, paused to really consider his answer, and snapped his mouth shut again. He hated it when Kakashi was right. If there was a better opportunity for either of his gremlins than what he could provide, he’d give them up.

No matter how much it hurt.

“Our situation’s different from yours.” Genma squeezed his eyes shut against the migraine taking root behind his eyes. “I’m their legal guardian, not their roommate. Iruka’s choosing to stay with you because he wants to. Heck, he worships the ground you walk on. The kid adores you-”

“He can’t,” Kakashi interjected quickly, his voice tightly controlled.

"What?" Genma’s eyes flew open and fixed on his partner’s face. He knew that tone. It was as close to desperate as Kakashi ever got.

"He can't." There was an angry edge to the words when Kakashi repeated them.

Genma’s mouth set into a grim line. He could never tell what was going through his partner’s head. Kakashi perfected hiding his emotions almost too well. Yet, here they were, teetering on the cusp of whatever inferno Kakashi had been pushing down for Sage knew how long. He could see it in the taut set of his friend’s muscles. It was a miracle Kakashi hadn’t shut down completely yet. How was Genma supposed to prevent that and still help? "Kakashi, that's not-"

"I'll kill him too!"

That cry seemed to halt the world around them. Not letting himself think his actions through, Genma moved on impulse. One hand fisted into the back of Kakashi’s grey flak jacket and with a hard yank, Genma pulled Kakashi into a fierce hug. His partner immediately tensed, his own hands coming up to grip and shove at Genma’s arms as he cried, “let me go!"

Ignoring his friend’s protests, Genma slid his free hand into Kakashi’s hair, pressing his face into his shoulder. Kakashi growled and fought against him like a wounded dog, demanding to be released between angry curses. He might have considered it, if not for the slight tremor to Kakashi’s shoulders, or the dampness he felt slowly build against his bare shoulder.

Kakashi struggled until Genma’s arms ached. Every second seemed to drag on for an eternity. His heart hammered in his ears. And then finally, finally , Kakashi slumped against him, too exhausted to keep fighting. Genma rested his cheek atop his friend’s unruly, silver hair.

It showed just how distraught Kakashi was if he hadn’t even considered using a substitution jutsu to get away. “You don’t have to do this alone anymore,” Genma murmured gently and smoothed a hand down Kakashi’s back. Shinobi, especially ANBU, weren’t supposed to show emotions. But under all their training, they were still human. “You’re my friend. I’m here for you whenever you need me.”

When Kakashi finally lifted his head, his sharingan was bleeding tears. Inhaling deeply, Genma wiped the crimson away with the back of his glove. Kakashi never looked as tired as he did then.

It was the kind of weariness that went beyond the flesh and dug right into the soul.

Genma could almost see the ghosts lingering in Kakashi’s eyes. Minato. Kushina. Sakumo. Obito. Rin. Every one of them haunted Kakashi, even years after their death. Genma knew how hard it was not to drown in guilt for simply surviving where loved ones hadn’t.

He and Kakashi shared a few of those ghosts, after all.

"Iruka isn't Obito, he isn’t Rin. You put your faith in him. Don't take that away now. Talk to Iruka, okay? I think you both need that."

Kakashi covered the sharingan with his hand. "I'll... I'll try."

Chapter Text

Looking up at his apartment building, Iruka’s hands tightened around the container in his arms. Genma gave him enough food to last most of the week. After a month away from home, it felt surreal to be going back. He needed to go home though. Iruka could never repay Genma’s hospitality, but he couldn’t keep wallowing in his regrets.

His team was counting on him.

With a determined nod, the genin pushed some chakra into his feet and walked up the side of his apartment building. The wards registered his arrival with a familiar prick to his chakra. Unlocking the living room window, Iruka eased his backpack through, then shimmied inside.

Early evening sunlight spilled across the living room in soft orange and golden hues. The genin reached for his bag, almost jumping out of his skin when he finally realized he wasn’t alone. He had a kunai in hand before he realized it was Kakashi sitting at the kotatsu, previously abandoned book once more in hand. “You’re back,” he murmured in disbelief.

Snapping the book shut, Kakashi’s visible eye quickly diverted from him to the kotatsu. “...It seems you are as well.”

Iruka scowled. He wasn’t sure if his friend meant for that to sound disconcerted, but it definitely came off that way. The heavy ache he’d been carrying inside sharpened. When tears burned in his eyes this time, it was from anger, not sorrow. “That’s all you have to say after being gone a whole month?”

Kakashi sat his book aside stiffly, shoulders rigid. “I have a mission tomorrow.”

“You should get ready then.” Huffing, Iruka grabbed his food and headed for the kitchen. “Don’t let me get in your way.” He shoved the large container into the fridge, tossing out several things that spoiled while they were both gone. He didn’t look up, not even when he heard footsteps lead up to the kitchen door. Kakashi wanted him to know he was there. It was the only reason he’d deliberately use heavy steps.

“...Iruka.”

“What?” The genin tossed a half-empty carton of spoiled milk into the garbage none too gently. He was angry and made damn sure Kakashi knew it. “I don’t really feel like talking right now Kakashi.” He slammed the fridge door shut, hand clenching around the handle briefly. Iruka bit his bottom lip, ignoring the impulse to reach for his friend, to apologize and beg for forgiveness. I’m not the one who disappeared. He was always left behind, always waiting and worrying. “At least you had the decency to tell me you're leaving this time.”

With his back turned, he couldn’t see Kakashi’s face, but the pregnant silence that settled between them spoke volumes.

Iruka pressed a hand to his stomach when it twisted painfully. His shoulders slouched, eyes squeezing shut against the building tears. It was hard to stay actively angry at such a quiet indifference. It was weariness that made the genin speak again. “Just go away, Kashi…”

There was a soft exhale behind him, then nothing. The genin remained where he was for several minutes, staring blankly at the fridge door.

Kakashi was gone, just like he’d ask for.

Iruka turned, heading through the empty kitchen and living room with a heavy heart. The ANBU’s book was once more discarded atop the kotatsu. Iruka stopped long enough to pick it up. If Kakashi didn’t want to finish it, he might as well give it a read.

The crack of light beneath Kakashi’s door offered little comfort. Iruka stared at the closed door, trying to wrap his head around his friend’s logic. Iruka told Kakashi to go away, so he retreated to his bedroom, but didn't outright leave like last time. What was the difference?

You were angry, you didn’t mean what you said. Ignoring the little voice in the back of his head, Iruka made sure to slam his bedroom door loudly behind him. It rattled on the hinges, a perfect display of anger he really didn’t feel any more.

He was just tired.

Kakashi’s green shuriken quilt was still bunched up by his pillows. He’d left it there before staying at Genma’s. Why Kakashi hadn’t come looking for it yet he couldn't say guess. Kakashi was attached to the quilt much like the worn med-pack he always wore.

Without giving the quilt anymore thought, Iruka tossed the book onto his pillow, changed into his pyjamas and crawled into bed. The sun was barely set, but he felt exhausted. Rolling onto his stomach, the genin pressed his face into Kakashi’s shuriken quilt with a sigh.

Kakashi was finally home.

He was okay, no visible injuries, chakra a little low but that was a given where a certain silver-haired ANBU was concerned. Knowing that should be a relief. Iruka almost worried himself sick for the last month -wondered if Kakashi was hurt or captured, if he was eating well and safe.

But it wasn't.

If anything, the genin felt all the more wound up, drawn taut like a spring, ready to snap or explode depending on what gave first, his anger or fear. Iruka knew neither would lead to a positive resolution. Being mad at Kakashi felt justified and gratifying in the moment, then just exhausting once the initial rage simmered down.

Sliding his hands beneath the soft quilt, Iruka inhaled deeply, let the breath fill his lungs completely, then exhaled slowly. Inoichi-sensei preached the benefits of meditation. The team went through a whole session every Saturday evening after solo practice. 'Healthy coping skills are the foundation of a long, satisfying life,' their jounin sensei always said. It helped Iruka relax, if nothing else. Right now, he needed to stop thinking , to shut his brain off for a little while. He was desperate for sleep, but it never came easily with his mind running on emotions and adrenaline.

Starting from his feet, Iruka slowly relaxed each part of his body, working his way up to his head. By the time he reached his stomach, the genin's breathing evened out. He slipped into a deep slumber, exhaustion winning out over his frenzied mind. 



The dusty debris clogged his lungs, sent him into a coughing fit that brought him to his knees. He dropped, down, down, down into the abyss, hit the water hard, engulfed, and sank in a matter of seconds. The frigid cold numbed his limbs, stole the breath from his lungs. He thrashed, struggled against the icy grip of death. Screaming into the darkness, his cries were swallowed up in the void of nothingness. The surface long since disappeared.

Fear clawed at his throat, filled his lungs like that freezing water. The more he struggled, the deeper he sank. He’s couldn’t die! Not like this, not now. His precious ones. He needed to find the ones waiting for him. Arms and legs flailed in the cold unknown, struggling for leverage against the nothingness.

He dropped, shivering and spluttering against cracked concrete. Coughing black water from his lungs, he hauled himself to shaking feet. The billowing wind struck him face first, stirring up debris around him, whirling, twisting, contorting into a typhoon with him at the storm’s eye.

Something wet and red flung from the tempest, blinding him. Hands clutched at his eyes, rubbing at the thick liquid. It burned, burned, burned, seemed to seep straight through his skin, a corrosive, acidic abomination. He forced his eyes to open, to see, to keep going. The crimson poured down on him, an acerbic manifestation of his own aberrations. It weighed him down, screamed in his ears as an amalgamated mess of everyone he ever loved and failed.

He scrubbed the phantasm from his face, splattered it across the blackened nothingness undulating around him. It dripped from his limbs, his hair, his very soul. Blood, blood, blood, so much blood. He dropped to his knees, screams mounting to nothing, lost in the vacuuming storm.

The claret oozed and twisted together, mounting before his very eyes into a beloved abomination. “Iruka…” It reached for him, form solidifying the closer it came. His mother cradled his face between gentle hands, his father smiled lovingly, Inoichi-sensei knelt before him to bring them eye-to-eye, Yoshino-sensei brushed blood-sticky bangs from his face, Kakashi murmured the words that destroyed him, “I love you.” 



Dark eyes flew open in terror, his own screams echoing in his ears. He thrashed, kicking out against the bloody creature from his nightmares. His fingers closed around the kunai he kept under his pillow, slashing at nothing and everything his nightmares dragged to the forefront of his mind. A sudden jerk to the side sent him toppling off his bed in a twisted heap of blankets.

Hitting the floor hard, the kunai wrenched from his hand to clatter against the wooden floor. He laid there in the lump of blankets with his heart pounding in his ears and tears dampening his cheeks. A full-body shudder ran through Iruka, muscles taut and glistening with sweat. Hands covered his mouth, muffling the sobs that wracked his trembling frame.

The water was running in the bathroom.

Drawing in a deep breath, Iruka stilled in the tangle of blankets. Oh no, not tonight, not now. Please don’t let Kakshi be having a sharingan-influenced nightmare tonight of all nights. He laid completely immobile, listening with plummeting hope the water would shut off and the telltale sounds of footsteps creaking on the floorboard would return Kakashi to his bedroom.

Minutes ticked by in tensed anticipation.

The water kept running.

Shit.

Groaning quietly, Iruka wiggled his way out of his sheets and Kakashi’s shuriken quilt. Wither their relationship was on thin ice or not made no difference. Kakashi was his family. Whenever he needed him, Iruka would be there.

The genin used that thought to harden his resolve. Slipping into the hallway, he closed his bedroom door lightly behind him. A crack of light shone through the ajar bathroom door, showing the slightest sliver of Kakahi’s prone form leaned over the sink, hands braced on either side of the counter.

“Kakashi.” Making his footsteps heavy, Iruka slowly pushed the bathroom door fully open. “Kakashi, can you hear me?”

The ANBU stilled, knuckles white from how tightly he gripped the sides of the counter. Ever so slowly, his head lifted, face exposed, cheeks damn from crying blood and actual tears. Mismatched eyes settle on the genin’s tense form, gaze unfocused and glassy. “Rin?"

He inhaled sharply, forcing himself to remain pliant, nonthreatening. “No, Kakashi, it’s Iruka.”

“Iruka…?” The ANBU blinked slowly, trying to associate the name with what his sharingan was forcing him to see. Shuddering, Kakashi covered his scarred eye with his palm. His shoulders sagged, several blinks bringing his grey eye back into focus on who really stood before him. “...I thought you were sleeping.”

They stared at each other, the air between them thick with tension. Iruka still trembled slightly, the nightmare lingering in the back of his mind. It was the worst one he experienced in quite some time. Absentmindedly, he rubbed his upper arm, eyes diverting to the floor. “I heard the water running, I was worried.”

“Mah,” Kakashi scrubbed a hand through his unruly, silver hair. “I’m fine.”

Bullshit, you just called me Rin. Iruka bit the inside of his cheek, irritation, rage, bubbling up inside him again. “If you’re so fine, then why did you run away?”

The ANBU bristled, his grey eye hardening in anger. Muscles tensing, Kakashi’s hands fisted at his sides as he scowled. “I didn’t-” He cut himself off abruptly and looked away, head lowered until his bangs blocked his eyes. “...I’m sorry, Iruka.”

Iruka’s breath caught in his throat, dark eyes widening in disbelief. “...What?” He must have heard that wrong. He knew Kakashi cared for him, had figured out long ago he showed remorse, regret or affection through the little things he did. But to actually apologized?

Iruka quickly formed a ram seal, “kai.” Nothing changed, it was still the hall in their apartment, light spilling through the bathroom door, late at night.

Kakashi’s scowl deepened. “This isn’t a genjutsu.”

Iruka gnawed on his bottom lip, the old, nervous habit coming back full force. Tears built in the corners of his eyes. Iruka blinked rapidly to keep them at bay. “I had to check,” he responded in a small voice.

“You shouldn’t have to.” Sighing, Kakashi closed the space between them and slipped his arms loosely around Iruka’s shoulders. It gave him the option to pull away if he wanted to. He didn't, not really. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the mission.”

Iruka’s breath hitched on a sob. His heart ached. The anger he so desperately held onto seeped away so all that remained was a bone-deep weariness. Tears trickled down his cheeks when he sniffled and dripped off his chin. Burying his face in Kakashi’s shirt, the genin hugged him, trembling hands grasping fistfuls of cotton. “Why did you leave like that? I was so scared. I didn’t know where you were, or if you were okay. I-I thought I’d never see you again and I never got to say good-bye.”

Lowering his face to Iruka’s loose hair, Kakashi held him a little tighter. For a while, they just clung to each other until the answer finally came in a quiet murmur, “I’m scared too.”

A confession that seemed so simple, but took so much for Kakashi to admit, clicked all the stray pieces into place for Iruka. It was like seeing an old puzzle in a new light. Everything made so much more sense -Kakashi disappearing so suddenly, the volunteer mission, the awkward way he hugged, how closed off he was about is past, the lack of people in his life.

All of it.

Laying his cheek over Kakashi’s heart, Iruka listened to the erratic beating. It reminded him of the night, all those months ago, when Kakashi returned from that horribly long mission so hurt and chakra exhausted. His heart pounded in the same uneven rhythm back then when a quiet confession was made in slurred, compromised exhaustion:

"I kill ev'ryone I love. Scared 'm gonna do that t'you too…"

Kakashi was terrified he’d die - like his parents, his teammates, his sensei.

Iruka’s stomach did a sickening flip. “It’s okay to be scared sometimes, Kashi.” He cuddled deeper into his precious person’s arms. “That’s why we’re together, to help each other when we need it.”

Kakashi stiffened, muscles going taut. “I’m… I’m trying to do better.”

Drawing back from the hug, Iruka reached for Kakashi’s hand and laced their fingers together. “That’s a good start, right?”The genin rubbed his thumb over Kakashi’s palm. “You’re my family, Kakashi. I’m happy right here with you,” he added quietly.

Kakashi swallowed hard enough for Iruka to see his throat constrict. “There’s something I have to show you.”

Iruka took a step back but kept their hands connected. After so long apart, he wanted the contact. “What is it?”

Without saying another word, Kakashi led the genin into his bedroom. He motioned for Iruka to take a seat, then pulled two crumpled up paper balls from a locked desk drawer. He smoothed the wrinkles out, silently handing them both to the genin.

Iruka settled on the bed's edge, dark eyes scanning the papers. He froze, a strange combination of shock and dread clawed at his inside. The genin shifted between the documents, reading over the headers several times. His face paled, making his facial scar stand out all the more prominently.

There, filled out neatly in Yoshino-sensei’s elegant writing, were Adoption papers for Iruka Umino.

And Legal Guardianship forms for Kakashi Hatake.

He lingered on the second document, rereading it to make sure he wasn’t imagining the words. Legal Guardianship for Kakashi! Excitement, disbelief, awe, the emotions rushed over him so quickly, the genin was left feeling light-headed and giddy. Yoshino-sensei and Shikaku-sama wanted both of them! He’d never leave Kakashi all alone, but he didn’t have to now. There was no need to choose between the people he loved, he could have them all! Iruka hugged the papers to his chest. This was too good to be true-

-Far too good.

Iruka looked up at the ANBU standing silently at his side. “Is this why Yoshino-sensei came to see you before?”

Kakashi’s visible eye slid shut. “Yes.”

The genin inhaled sharply and bit down on his bottom lip. He held the crumpled documents up. “H-How long have you had these?”

“...Six months.”

Iruka visibly flinched at the confession.

That was half a year! Kakashi kept these papers hidden since Iruka’s first C-rank mission. Iruka pressed a hand his chest at the throbbing pain swelling there. That hurt, it hurt bad, like someone tried to carve his heart out with a kunai. Clutching the papers tightly, Iruka didn’t even attempt to hold back his sobs. With his sight blurring, the genin lowered his head. Tears dripped onto the crumbled documents. “Why, Kashi? Why?”

The room fell deathly silent for a moment. The bed dipped as Kakashi sat next to him, shoulder-to-shoulder, thighs brushing. “...I’m selfish, Iruka,” he admitted quietly. Leaning forward, the ANBU braced his arms against his thighs. “I don’t like change, and I…” He trailed off with a sigh and scrubbed a hand over his bare face. “I want to keep you all to myself. You’re my pack, my family, not theirs. I couldn’t risk losing that again.”

Iruka kept his swimming vision fixed on the papers in his hands. “So you were jealous.”

His friend stiffened abruptly against his side, as if the thought had never occurred to him. Knowing the kind of person Kakashi was, it most likely hadn’t. “I guess so,” he conceded after another long pause. 

The genin blew some bangs out of his eyes. “That’s kind of childish, Kashi.” He always heard jounin were all a little unprecedented, a little unhinged. Iruka could only imagine how becoming one at twelve stinted emotional and social growth.

The ANBU bristled but said nothing to refute his observation.

Sighing softly, Iruka reached out and took ahold of Kakashi’s hand again. “So, what do we do about these?” He waved the documents haphazardly, then dropped them on the bed beside him.

“I think we owe the Naras an answer,” Kakashi responded simply.

Iruka quirked a brow. “You think?

“Mah, we do.”

Gnawing on the inside of his cheek, Iruka swallowed around the lung of uncertainty in his throat and asked the question this whole conversation was leading up to. “...What is our answer?” It was their decision. Iruka never intended to leave Kakashi alone, they were family first and foremost, before everything else. But a legal guardianship changed that. These papers were for both of them.

Kakashi dropped his chin atop Iruka’s head. “I suppose figuring that out is our next step.”

“Maybe something to talk about over breakfast?”

“Mah, sounds like a plan.” 

In the end, whatever choice they made, they’d make it together.

Chapter Text

Settling onto the zabuton at Kakashi’s side, Iruka reached for the older boy’s hand under the kotatsu and squeezed reassuringly. He’d shared many meals with the Nara family over the last year and a half. Their home was every bit as welcoming and cozy as he remembered.

As comfortable as he felt seated across from Shikaku and Yoshino Nara, his friend was not. Kakashi held himself rigidly, back ramrod straight and shoulders tense. He looked like a man ready to go to war instead of dinner.

Yoshino-sensei showed her enthusiasm in the elaborate feast she’d prepared for them. All their favourite dishes lined the table. How she’d found out Kakashi’s meal preferences, Iruka didn’t want to know. He heard rumours of her espionage specialty before getting married. As much as he loved Yoshino-sensei, she was downright terrifying.

Iruka had personally tucked Shikamaru-chan in for the night. The toddler had taken one look at him, held his hands out to be held, and refused to let go. Yoshino attempted to pry the little boy from Iruka’s arms, but Shikamaru-chan just turned away from his mother with an angry, “no!” That stubborn determination visibly surprised everyone but Kakashi. It wasn’t like the normally lazy toddler.

Guilt churned in the genin’s stomach. It had been quite a while since Iruka last came for a visit. He hadn’t meant to upset Shikamaru-chan, it just felt wrong to keep visiting after turning down the Naras’ generous offer.

That’s why he and Kakashi were here now, to settle the entire matter once and for all. Shikaku sat calmly at his wife’s side, one arm draped loosely over her shoulders. Yoshino-sensei reclined against his side, silently seeking comfort through her anxiety. Iruka knew that reaction very well. He often leaned on Kakashi in a similar fashion.

Catching Kakashi’s eye, Iruka nodded and rubbed encouraging circles over the back of his hand. They’d spent the last few days discussing the Naras’ proposition, the pros and cons, how they both felt about it and why. In the end, the choice they decided upon was made together.

As a family.

Kakashi’s hand clasped tightly around his own, fingers quivering ever so slightly. “You’re sure you’re okay with this?”

“I am, this is what we decided together, Kashi.”

Sighing softly beneath his mask, Kakashi pulled the Adoption forms and Legal Guardianship application papers from his weapon’s holster. The papers looked like they’d been through a few too many S-rank missions -folded several times, the edges worn and paper wrinkled. Knowing Kakashi, they just might’ve been. The ANBU smoothed the documents out and slid them silently across the table to the Naras.

Gasping sharply, Yoshino-sensei’s hands quickly raised to cover her mouth. Shikaku’s eyes widened slightly in surprise. Iruka grinned, unable to hold back his excitement any longer. Parts of the documents the Naras left blank were now filled in with Kakashi’s messy chicken-scrawl. Both he and Iruka had signed at the bottom.

Kakashi lifted an open-palmed hand before the couple could say anything. “We have conditions.”

Yoshino-sensei’s brows furrowed, an angry flush filling her cheeks. Shikaku placed a hand gently on her shoulder and squeezed. “You may keep your apartment.”

“Anata-”

Shikaku shook his head, quelling his wife’s protests. “We discussed this, Yoshi. They're both shinobi of Konoha. There needs to be compromise and communication if this is going to work.”

Iruka shifted a little closer to Kakashi, letting their legs press together. “How did you know we would ask to keep our apartment?”

“A logical deduction,” Shikaku shrugged. His hand slipped from Yoshino-sensei’s shoulder to rest on her upper thigh. “You’ve been completely independent for almost three years. Asking you to give that up would be an unfair adjustment for two shinobi,” his focus landed on Kakashi, “especially considering your unique situation.”

Kakashi stiffened and his visible grey eye hardened. His hands dug into his pant legs, clutching tightly, though he said nothing against Shikaku’s assessment. Iruka knew how hard it had to be for him to bite his tongue.

Rubbing a tear from the corner of her eyes, Yoshino-sensei shifted on her zabuton. A sign she was getting antsy. “However, Iruka will have a bedroom here as well. This is going to be his home as much as your apartment is. There’ll be bunk beds, just in case Kakashi-san decides to stay.” Her dark eyes shifted to Kakashi, lips hitching into a knowing smile. “I’d offer you a room as well, but you wouldn’t accept it, would you?”

“Mah, you’d be correct.” Kakashi’s gaze remained fixed on the wall just behind Yoshino and Shikaku, pointedly ignoring Iruka’s disappointed pout. This was supposed to be for both of them, not just his benefit.

“That’s fine.” Crossing her arms over her breasts, Yoshino-sensei’s brows knit together in a scowl. “However, I expect you both to be here every Sunday for family dinner, no exceptions unless you’re on a mission! ” She added the last part quickly when Kakashi opened his mouth to argue, “Do I make myself clear?”

Kakashi bristled at his side. Iruka quickly reached for both his hands and laced his fingers with his friend’s stiff ones. “Yes, Ma’am,” he grinned, despite the ANBU’s apprehension. A giddy warmth was slowly spreading through his stomach and chest. This was really happening. He could have a family with all his loved ones. Yoshino-sensei, Shikaku, Shikamaru-chan and Kakashi. He blinked back the tears forming in his eyes. Please, please, please, don’t let Kakashi regret agreeing to this!

Seemingly satisfied, Yoshino’s dark eyes softened. “Good, now what else?”

“Iruka remains registered as my next of kin ,” Kakashi announced bluntly. His tone made it clear there was no room for arguing the point.

“...Kakashi.” Iruka stared up at his friend, trying hard to swallow around the sudden lump in his throat. They hadn’t discussed this, but it was clearly weighing on the ANBU’s mind.

“A shinobi’s next of kin holds complete medical power if a shinobi if unfit to make decisions for themselves. This includes potentially life-ending decisions.” Shikaku hummed in thought, his fingers gently running along Yoshino’s arm to keep her calm.

Leaning into his wife, Shikaku murmured gently in her ear, cutting her off a few times when she tried to argue. Finally, Yoshino huffed and relented. “Fine, I’m trusting your judgement on this Shikaku.”

The Jounin Commander sighed, heavy and deep. “Yoshino and I would like to be listed as Iruka’s next of kin in exchange, and I will be placed as a secondary contact for you, Kakashi-san.”

“That’s-”

“It is for the best.” The quiet command caught both their attention. It was the same easy authority Hiruzen possessed. “I know you don’t want that kind of life-altering decision to fall solely on Iruka-kun’s shoulders. We’re here to support both of you, that’s all we desire.”

Kakashi’s jaw tensed beneath his mask. “Yes, sir.”

“...Who’s my next of kin right now?” Iruka asked after a moment of tense silence passed between the four of them.

“Sandaime-sama listed himself on your forms after Ikkaku and Kohari passed.” Shikaku ran his fingers over his goatee.

“W-What?” Iruka inhaled sharply, eyes rounding in shock. “Why would he do that? Why him and not Kakashi?” Had his friend not wanted to?

“The anonymity of ANBU prevented them from fulfilling such a role for non-ANBU class shinobi.” Shikaku sighed, eyes slipping closed briefly. “As for Hiruzen-sama, it seems our Hokage is quite fond of you, Iruka-kun.”

“He’s been really kind to me, though I know he’s very busy.” They didn’t get to have their weekly teas any longer, but Hiruzen still checked in on Iruka frequently. Once in a while, they played a game of shogi together. Iruka even came close to winning once.

“Sandaime-sama sees every citizen of Konohagakure as his family.” Yoshino shifted again, hands folding into her haori sleeves. “Is there anything else to discuss?”

There was one more thing, something important. Really important.

Iruka looked from Yoshino to Shikaku with his stomach twisted into knots. He loved Yoshino-sensei since she first walked into his Academy classroom four years ago. Through the time spent with Shikaku, the shogi lessons, the family diners, he’d grown to love him too. And Shikamaru-chan? He filled an ache in Iruka’s heart he didn’t even know was hurting until the pain eased. A little brother, one for him to mentor and protect.

They cared for him, supported him, nurtured him when they didn’t have to. Never wanting or expecting anything in return. Like his own parents did before they were taken away from him. It still hurt to think of them. Sometimes the ache was so raw, Iruka could do nothing but curl up and cry. He was proud to be the son of Ikkaku and Kohari Umino. They were heroes.

Iruka loved them all so, so dearly.

At that moment, he made a split-second decision.

“I want to hyphenate my last name,” Iruka started softly. He pressed his shoulder to Kakashi’s, trying to ease the older boy. He’d been tense and trembling softly the entire conversation. They had talked about him keeping the Umino surname, so this had to be a very unexpected surprise. “I want to be able to-”

Yoshino-sensei’s sob cut off his words. Springing to her feet, the Academy sensei rounded the kotatsu and pulled the genin into her arms. “I love you so much, Iruka.” Iruka completely stiffened for a moment, then melted completely into her arms. He squeezed his eyes shut as his tears finally spilled over. “My boy.” Yoshino nestled her face into his ponytail, one hand sliding up to cradle the back of his head. She kissed away the tears on his cheeks. “Our son, finally. Shikaku, we have another son.” 

 


 

Kakashi shifted back on instinct the moment Yoshino moved.

Then Iruka was in his new mother’s arms and he knew agreeing to this was a mistake. His chest constricted, forcing him to breathe quick and shallow to get enough air in his lungs. Kakashi didn’t belong here, not now, not ever. He was a black stain on this family, a loose end to be neatly handled. They didn’t want him. No one wanted a disgraced Hatake like him.

No one.

Kakashi’s muscles were so tense, he could feel them jittering beneath his skin. His vision blackened at the edges. He had to get away, had to get out of here, go somewhere trash like him really belonged.

Somewhere he could be useful.

Another mission, the Commander always had solos-

The palm pressed firmly between his shoulder blades almost made Kakashi jump out of his skin. His instincts screamed at him, one hand automatically going for his weapon’s holster. His entire body froze just as his fingers brushed the pouch. Shadows skittered along his arm, causing warning bells to go off in his head. Shikaku’s Shadow Binding Jutsu. He couldn’t move, couldn’t-!

“Take a deep breath and exhale slowly.” Shikaku murmured just loud enough for him to hear. “Calm your heartbeat and the rest will follow.”

Take a deep breath? Take a deep breath?! How the hell was he supposed to do that when he couldn’t breathe? Kakashi’s fingers dug into the front of his shirt, clenching until his knuckles turned white-

A puff of warm air wafted against the side of his face. The sensation was so surreal, his brain stuttered abruptly to a halt. There it was again, and again. A steady, even rhythm at his side. Shikaku breathed deeply, releasing his breath in a long, even exhale.

The motion captured Kakashi’s attention and gave him something concrete to focus on. He gasped choppily, panting more than following the Jounin Commander’s instructions. Shikaku kept his breathing steady and even without comment. His palm rubbed in a slow, firm circle across Kakashi's back.

“Kakashi-kun.” Warm fingers curled around his and rubbed over the back of his hand. Shuddering, his fingers twitched, his movements restored with the removal of Shikaku’s jutsu. Yoshino traced his fingers lightly with her own, her breathing slow and even to match her husband’s.

Iruka settled against his side, opposite Shikaku, a warm, steady presence he knew all too well. The genin grabbed a fistful of his shirt and held tightly.

Kakashi squeezed his eyes shut, every muscle drawn taut. His heart pounded in his ears. Obito’s sharingan throbbed painfully. The familiar sensation of blood trickled stickily down his cheek. Obito always cried blood. He couldn’t think, couldn’t figure out how to get away. The contact was too much, too overwhelming, too-

-warm.

So, so warm.

He didn’t know how long it took, but his breathing slowly evened out with the steady pattern Shikaku and Yoshino set. Inhaling deeply, he let the steady rhythm of their breathing wash over it. Damn it if Shikaku wasn’t right. His muscles slowly untensed though they ached with a heavy weariness.

Smiling softly, Yoshino gently wiped the bloody tears from Kakashi’s cheek with a brush of her kimono sleeve. “There, you did well.”

Shame flooded his cheeks, leaving them flushed beneath his mask. How pathetic a shinobi of his calibre needed other people to calm him down. He was trained from a young age to handle his own shit and yet, here he was: freaking out over a choice he made of his own volition.

You agreed to this, Kakashi, deal with it.

Shikaku cleared his throat after a moment of tense silence. “It’s gotten quite late, Yoshi.”

“Oh! Yes, it has.” Yoshino sprung to her feet, hands clasped together. “Far too late to send you home. There’s supposed to be a storm tonight. A foot or so of snow if I’m remembering correctly. Why don’t you stay? It’s been a long evening, we can discuss this more in the morning.”

Kakashi felt his muscles start to tense again. Iruka caught his attention with a light touch to his arm. “Is that okay?”

“...Of course.” Forcing his visible eye to curve with a less than genuine smile, Kakashi resigned himself to a sleepless night. He’d agreed to this, promised to try for his precious person’s sake. Backing out now would destroy Iruka. No, he never wanted to be the reason for Iruka’s tears.

Never again.

Iruka’s smile was the sun. He would protect that brilliant light.

Without much fanfare, Yoshino set up a spare futon for them in what would be Iruka’s new bedroom. It was bigger than their kitchen and living room combined. “I hope you don’t mind sharing. The other futons are already over at Inoichi’s place for the upcoming holidays.”

Iruka unfolded the shirts she’d brought for them to change into. “That’s okay, Yoshino-sensei. We’ll be fine with one futon.” The size made it obvious the shirts were Shikaku’s. No matter which one he chose, Iruka would swim in either shirt. In the end, he kept the forest green t-shirt with the Nara Clan symbol on the back and tossed Kakashi the plain blue button-up. “Thank you for everything.”

Kissing his forehead, Yoshino pulled the genin into her arms. Iruka went to her like a small child starved for affection. She rocked him gently, reluctant to pull away. “Sleep well, breakfast is at eight o’clock sharp. Don’t be late.”

Kakashi’s brows raised. Eight o’clock? When was the last time either of them slept past six? “Mah, we’ll be on time.”

“I’m holding you to that, Kakashi-kun.” With a final wave from the door, she called back, “put your dirty clothes in the hall, I’ll wash them for tomorrow,” and took her leave.

The moment the door clicked shut, the ANBU’s shoulders sagged wearily. Settling onto the kotatsu, he stared down at the button-up shirt in his hands. This was really happening. He’d agreed to let Shikaku and Yoshino Nara be his legal guardians.

He ignored the tight knot clenching in his gut. No going back now.

Iruka pulled on Shikaku’s shirt, having set his weapons holster and medical pouch on the desk. He kicked his dirty clothes into a pile, opting to leave his boxers on. The shirt was so big, it fell almost to his knees. Shivering, the genin crawled under the duvet and settled onto his stomach. “...Are you really okay with all this, Kashi?”

The ANBU paused half way through removing the bandages around his upper thigh and glanced over at his young friend. Iruka pulled the ponytail from his hair, sinking a little deeper under the covers. “Well, tell me honestly, are you happy?” Undoing his grey vest, he shucked it from his shoulders.

Iruka rolled onto his back, dark eyes meeting his grey one. “Yes, I am.”

“Then I’m fine with it.” Changing his clothes quickly, Kakashi dropped the dirty laundry outside the door and slipped under the blankets with Iruka. He laid out his back, fingers curling around the fantasy novel he’d taken to carrying in his medical pouch.

Genma suggested it while Iruka was on his first C-rank mission. He’d been an antsy, worried mess the entire time. Reading gave him something else to focus on and relaxed him somewhat. Since then, Genma and Gai both started bringing him random books ranging from fantasy to biographies, to action-adventures and even the odd romance. He’d gotten nothing but a stack of books for his sixteenth birthday. Not that he was complaining. Seeing what novels his friends chose for him turned into a fascinating character study.

...His friends.

“What book are you reading now?” Iruka rolled over to get a look at the novel in his hands.

Wrapping an arm around the genin’s shoulders, Kakashi tilted the cover for Iruka to see. “ The Wreckage, Jiraiya-sensei sent it from Yukigakure for my birthday.”

“Jiraiya-sensei?!” The genin’s jaw dropped in surprise. “As in Lord Jiraiya of the Legendary Sanin?” Ah, of course, Iruka knew who Jiraiya was. Yoshino pounded clan politics and village history into her pre-genin like everything else she taught -with brutal efficiency.

“Mah, my sensei was on Jiraiya’s genin team.” He flipped the novel open carefully so as not to bend the spine. Minato-sensei used to say how precious books were, to treat them with care as they contained the world's knowledge. Kakashi practiced care with books to honour his sensei's words. “He stays in touch here and there,” solely out of guilt. He didn’t voice the last part out loud. Kakashi’s fingers curved around the novel’s cover and back pages. Jiraiya showed little interest in any of Minato-sensei’s students until it was too late. Sending him random letters and presents wouldn’t make up for his absence.

Kakashi wasn’t the one who needed Jiraiya.

“Uh, Kashi. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Blinking, the ANBU followed Iruka’s line of sight to the novel in his hands. He’d snapped the book’s spine right in half. So much for taking good care of his birthday present. He sat the paperback aside with a sigh. “I’m sure.”

Iruka didn’t seem unconvinced but thankfully didn’t push the topic further. “Maybe we should get some sleep?”

“Mah, sounds like a plan.”

Flicking off the lamp, Iruka curled up with his head on Kakashi’s chest. Iruka was still a cuddler, especially during the colder months. After more than two years of sharing a bed sporadically, Kakashi found he didn’t really mind.

“Hey, Kashi?”

“Yes, Iruka?”

“...I’m glad you’re here with me.”

Inhaling slowly, Kakashi let his eyes drift shut. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be.” 

 


 

The creak of the door pulled Iruka’s from his slumber. “Intruder, three o’clock.” Finely tuned instincts had Iruka sitting up, kunai in hand, before his sleep-shaken mind caught up with his physical movements.

“Mah, rather short for an intruder.” Kakashi’s lazy drawl and the slight nod of his head towards the door caught Iruka’s attention before he threw the kunai. “You’re reflexes are improving though.”

Blinking some sleep from his eyes, the genin leaned forward to peer around Kakashi. “Oh, Shikamaru-chan.” He sat the kunai aside.

The toddler stood in the doorway, chubby cheeks puffed out in the most adorable pout Iruka had ever seen. Dark eyes shifted between him and Kakashi, evaluating the scene before him. Kakashi had his weapon holster and worn medical pouch back on, evidence he’d been awake for some time. He still wore Shikaku’s button-up shirt over top his normal muscle shirt with the attached mask. He sat at the foot of the futon, ripped novel in hand.

“Ah, good-morning Shika-chan. Have you met Kakashi yet?” Iruka shifted onto his knees, crawling out from beneath the quilts.

“...No.” Scowling, Shikamaru looked down at his feet. That was not the reaction he was expecting. Shikamaru was usually apathetic towards strangers, not… Was he sulking? Iruka shot Kakashi a questioning look. The ANBU just shrugged in response.

“Umm… It’s kind of cold, why don’t you come get under the covers?” Iruka patted the fluffy comforter. “The futon’s nice and soft, Shika-chan.”

“Ruka!” The toddler stomped his feet, one tiny hand fisting against the door frame.

If Shikamaru’s previous behaviour was out of character, Iruka had no clue what caused that. “Uh,” he stammered, glancing helplessly to Kakashi.

“Someone’s jealous," the ANBU supplied.

Oh.

Oh no!

That wasn’t what he wanted! Shikamaru was such a sweetheart. It had been a while since Iruka last spent time with him. And now there was a stranger in the house. Guilt coiled uncomfortably in his stomach. “Aww, Shikamaru, come here please.” Iruka held his arms open to the little boy. “I’m sorry.”

And just like that, the pout was gone. Tiny feet stomped across the floor, faster than he’d ever seen Shikamaru move, and then Iruka had his arms full of sniffling, teary-eyed toddler. Hugging the little boy close, the genin rubbed his back in soft, soothing circlings. “Don’t cry, Shika-chan. I promise I’ll be around a lot more from now on, okay?”

Rubbing one chubby fist over his eye, Shikamaru hiccuped. “..Kay.” His hands fisted into Iruka’s shirt. Ebony eyes studied Kakashi intently. “...Hi.”

To Kakashi’s credit, he hesitated for only a moment before his visible eye curved softly. Tugging his mask down to his chin, the ANBU smiled at the toddler. “Hello Shikamaru, it’s nice to meet you. My name’s Kakashi.”

“...Kashi,” the toddler repeated slowly, then nodded as if coming to an important decision. “Okay, Kashi.” Shikamaru reached out and caught hold of the fingers Kakashi had curled into his mask.

And just like that, all seemed right with the world. Iruka’s eyes watered as warmth swelled inside him. Anxiety, relief, excitement, happiness, hope, a full myriad of emotions washed over the genin. The smell of eggs and fried saury drifted down the hall. Yoshino-sensei sang loudly the kitchen while she prepared breakfast. Shikaku passed by the opened door, yawning and waving groggily in greeting to the three boys.

These were the people he loved the most.

His family.

Never had a morning been so bright.

Chapter Text

Yawning softly, Iruka stretched his arms over his head and rolled his neck. Hours of reading through books on water release and kekkei genkai were starting to take a toll. Research into his ability to combine his water and fire affinities was going about as well as research into his mother’s seal had. Very few shinobi in Konoha had the ability to combine two chakra natures together. 

Most of what he found was on Hashirama Senju’s mokuton. Wasn’t that ironic? His great-grandfather’s legacy loomed over his head. Was it a peculiar burden or gift? He wasn’t sure which described it any better than he knew what to do with it. Had the ability to combine chakra affinities been inherited from the Shodaime Hokage? Was there anyone else in his peculiar family tree with that ability? There were no easy answers. Even Shikaku’s knowledge of the subject was limited and he was a genius!

Did his weird fire and water duality even constitute as futton kekkei genkai? Or was it just a fluke that arose from the desperate, adrenaline rush of battle? Inoichi-sensei drilled chakra control into his team. Kakashi always said shinobi fell back on base instincts when control of a battle was lost. It was how shinobi stayed alive.

Flopping over the desk in his new bedroom, Iruka blew some bangs out of his eyes. Kakashi was on a mission, so he decided to spend a few days with his adoptive parents and little brother. 

His parents and little brother.

That giddy warmth returned, spreading slowly through his chest. After all the struggles, the hard work and uncertainty he'd persevered through, these last few months felt almost surreal. Like he could wake up any minute from the blissfully happy dream his life had become. Wouldn't that have been the cruellest nightmare? Iruka sometimes found himself waiting for that to happen, but he never woke up, never found himself caught in a genjutsu. He made sure to check- having pinched himself and tried the release technique so many times, Shikaku started shooting him concerned looks across their shogi board. 

This was really real. He and Kakashi had a family! Parents and a little brother! And oh, if Shikamaru-chan didn't take to Kakashi quickly! At first, it was small things, like following the ANBU around or flopping down beside him when Kakashi tried to sequester himself away with a novel. Then the toddler started leaving his books by the extra futon and Shikamaru-chan's intentions became painfully clear. 

Before anyone knew it, Shikamaru-chan planted himself brazenly into Kakashi's life with a stubborn force frighteningly reminiscent of Yoshino-sensei. He crawled into the ANBU's lap during shogi games with Shikaku-

((That in itself was a delightful surprise. Iruka hadn't known Kakashi could play shogi. Shikaku sure took advantage of it.)) 

-and 'gifted' his toys to Kakashi frequently. The day Shikamaru held a book of fairytales under his nose with a simple "read", Kakashi floundered like a fish out of water. 

Kakashi had no clue what to do with Shikamaru-chan. He didn’t quite panic, but his face paled and his hands shook every time the little boy came close to him wanting attention. When his friend sent Iruka helpless glances and silent pleads, he always went to them. Curling up at Kakashi’s side was already second nature. Having Shikamaru in his arms warmed him from the inside out. Being with both of them? Well, it felt like home. 

It took time, but Kakashi slowly grew accustomed to the toddler’s blatant affections. Iruka wasn’t sure if the ANBU ever got completely comfortable holding Shikamaru. He always looked so stiff, so scared, but he cradled the toddler against his shoulder nonetheless and Iruka’s heart swelled.

Shikamaru-chan took full advantage of having two big brothers willing to indulge his disdain for walking. The toddler inherited most of his looks and personality from Shikaku after all. Iruka was all too happy to hold and carry his little brother around. They’d missed a lot of time together the last few months. 

...At least, he was until Yoshino-sensei started scolding him for it. Nothing was worth inciting her wrath, not even Shikamaru-chan’s large eyes and puppy dog pout. 

The very thought sent a shiver up Iruka’s spine. Reaching out, he closed the textbook he’d spent the last few hours reading. Genma was nice enough to send his girlfriend Shizune a letter asking if she learned anything about futton kekkei genkai during her travels. Problem was, he’d gone on the mission with Kakashi. Iruka was back to pulling what little information from textbooks he could while waiting on Genma's return.

That's all he could do. Inoichi-sensei forbade him from practicing futton without him present. Which was really for the best. Inoichi-sensei was their commander and the team medic. Attempting anything with it usually resulted in a healing session. Iruka wasn’t too keen to get second-degree burns inside his mouth and esophagus again. 

The holidays offered the only real opportunity he had to test it out so far. The Yamanaka dojo, lined with its many seals and wards, proved an excellent place to try blending the two chakra affinities. All Iruka managed to do was shoot boiling water from his mouth and burn himself. With so much other stuff happening, no one’s focus was truly on training. 

As per tradition, one of the Ino-Shika-Cho hosted for the holidays. This year was Inoichi-sensei’s turn. Oh boy, was it chaotic!!

Crowded, loud, high energy, and so much fun.

From the middle of December to the first of the new year, there was anywhere from sixteen to eighteen people in Inoichi Yamanaka’s house. 

Thinking back, Iruka counted out everyone on his hands (and promptly ran out of fingers). Inoichi-sensei and Ino-chan, Chouza-san, his wife and Chouji-kun, then Chouza-san’s old genin team consisting of Genma-senpai, Gai-san and Ebisu-san who only popped in for an evening here and there as he had a family of his own. Then Izumo and Kotetsu, Ibiki-senpai and his little brother Idate. 

In true Nara form, he, Kakashi, Shikaku, Yoshino-sensei and Shikamaru-chan were the last to arrive. Kakashi took one step through the front door, saw the wonderful disaster that was holidaying with the Ino-Shika-Cho and would’ve bolted if not for Shikaku’s firm grip on his shoulder. Genma-senpai quickly enticed him with a new fantasy novel and a quiet room to read it in. Then Shikaku drew Kakashi into a game of shogi on the terrace and Gai challenged him to toddler toss of all things (something Ino-chan and Chouji-kun greatly enjoyed) and… somehow, someway, everything turned out okay. 

No one thought twice about Kakashi needing a quiet place to go when the sheer volume of people, affection, happiness, overwhelmed him. He was there, with them all where he belonged. Nothing else mattered. 

Four days later, Raidou-san arrived straight off a mission with dangerously low chakra and a deep cut that ran from knee to hip. Yoshino-sensei took one look at him, healed his leg with Inoichi’s help and sent him promptly to bed. Ibiki-senpai said nothing in his boyfriend’s defence when Genma-senpai spent the entire next day hazing Raidou about it. 

Those days, where all his precious people were together, happy and safe, were like a bubble -fragile, beautiful and fleeting. There, for an instant, but never to last beyond the memories made. Iruka cherished each one of them, from decorating a cake with Mrs. Akimichi and Yoshino-sensei to shogi with Shikaku, sparring with Gai, and playing with the little ones. Having snowball fights, staying up late to watch creepy horror movies, exchanging presents, and falling asleep next to Kakashi.  

They were all memories Iruka stored away inside his heart, to think about when he felt down or discouraged. This was the sense of belonging he knew as a child, that he mourned in the wake of the Kyuubi’s attack. Not just the loss of his parents, but the entire community, left him reeling. Now, Kakashi and he both had a place they belonged and people who loved them. 

Nothing felt better. 

A curt rap of knuckles on his bedroom window broke Iruka from his thoughts. Closing his notebook quickly, he opened the curtain and froze. With his heart in his throat, the genin pushed the window up. “What can I do for you, ANBU-san?”

The ANBU’s bear mask tilted slightly to the side. Iruka knew he was a little less formal with the elite than most genin. He chalked it up to the company he kept. “Iruka Umino-Nara?”

“Yes, Ma’am?”

Pulling a scroll from her breast pocket, Bear dropped it into Iruka’s outstretched hand. “You’ve been summoned to the hospital. Please make haste.” With that, her fingers curled into a ram seal and she disappeared in a whirl of leaves. 

The genin ripped the scroll open, dark eyes quickly skimming the contents. He inhaled sharply, dread curling in his stomach. A next of kin summons. Kakashi was in the hospital. A flare of chakra lit the scroll on fire and Iruka was out the window. He took off across the rooftops at speeds that would make Gai-san proud. 

Dressed in full ANBU armour, with his kitsune mask covering his face, Genma awaited his arrival. Iruka’s heart pounded in his ears as he came to a halt before his senpai. “Kitsune-san.” His hands fisted into his pant legs, resisting the urge to reach out to Genma. He was in uniform, in a public place. As frantic as Iruka felt, he couldn’t blow his friend’s cover. “Are you okay?” 

Genma’s shoulders stiffened momentarily, then slowly relaxed with a sigh. He reached out to ruffle Iruka’s hair. “I’ve had worse, kid.” Bloodstained bandages ran up his left arm, crisscrossing beneath the high collar of his skin-tight uniform. His arm guard was missing and a few cracks lined his mask close to his chin. It looked like an explosion went off close to his left shoulder. 

“You sound tired,” Iruka persisted gently. Kakashi wasn’t the only one the genin worried about where ANBU missions were concerned. 

An airy laugh was the only response to his question. “C’mon, let’s get you to the real reason you’re here.” The ANBU offered his uninjured hand to the genin. 

Biting his bottom lip, Iruka gripped Genma’s gloved hand tightly. “Hound-san and I would definitely come if you were badly hurt, senpai.” 

Genma’s grip quivered slightly as the coarse leather curled around Iruka’s fingers. “I know.” 

They walked in silence, descending several floors below ground-level, past laboratories, maintenance, storage, and the morgue. Iruka’s gait slowed when they drew close to the mortuary, his hold on Genma’s hand tightening. Blind panic swept through him so quickly, he was left mentally reeling. “Senpai?!” Oh no, no, no, no! Kakashi wasn’t dead!! He couldn’t be. Genma would’ve told him before bringing him down here, wouldn’t he? Give him time to prepare himself. Having a genin break down in the morgue wouldn’t help anyone, right?

Next of kin have to identify remains-

“He’s not dead.” Genma practically yanked Iruka by the large bay window. He followed with his heart in his throat. Not dead, not dead, Kakashi’s not dead. He clung to that thought even as his eyes lingered on the window. Rows of body bags lined gurneys and tables, neatly tagged for autopsies, family retrieval or whatever the village did with their dead shinobi before burial.

He never saw the morgue before, not even when his parents died. The village was so overflown with the dead, the wounded and the missing anyone who could identify a person did so. Iruka often wondered who identified his parents’ remains while being extremely grateful he hadn’t needed to. He never forgot the last time he saw his mother, her lifeless form torn completely in half, those dead eyes staring right through him-

The hall came to a dead end several feet past the mortuary. Genma’s familiar chakra reached out, probing the concrete until something clicked. The wall rippled as they stepped forward. The familiar sensation of wards pricked at their chakra -a flash of green for Genma and yellow for Iruka. 

An iryo-nin awaited them on the other side, gloved hands clasped before him. “Kitsune-kun, you’re supposed to be resting.” He didn’t look angry, more worried, concerned. Dark brows knitted together as his mouth twisted into a frown. “I don’t have enough chakra to reclose that wound again.” 

“I’m fine.” Chuckling wearily, Genma waved off the concern. He removed his mask and clipped it to his belt. “Someone had to get the kid.” 

“I assured you I would do that.” The bright red katakana for Medical Corps stood out against his tan uniform. The medic's hands glowed a soft green as he trailed them over Genma’s bandages. “ANBU are to minimize who know their identities, Genma-kun.”

“What can I say? Iruka’s a smart kid.” Genma tugged playfully at the medic’s high collar. “You worry too much, Kito.” 

“I always will.” A soft, sad smile curved the medic’s lips when his attention shifted to Iruka. He bowed his head gently in greeting. “Umino-san, I presume?”

“Kaka- uh. Hound, is Hound okay?” Iruka caught himself just in time. Kakashi’s codename felt strange on his lips after being so close to the ANBU for so long. 

“I’ve done everything I can for him. The rest is up to time and Hound-kun now.” 

A whimper slipped past his lips. Kakashi wasn’t dying. Everything would be okay. Relief flooded through Iruka, left his muscles feeling loose and achy. Had he truly been that tense? “T-Then why was I summoned?” He looked between Genma and Kito. “I thought next of kin were only notified for medical decisions or to identify a body?”

The pair shared a look. Genma simply shrugged and bit down on his senbon. “Hound’s been asking for you since we made it back to the village.” 

“I thought having you here would help him rest better,” the medic added gently. “I made a professional call to have you summoned.” Seemingly satisfied Genma hadn’t aggravated his wounds, Kito patted the ANBU lightly on the shoulder. “Please get some sleep, for Kamizuki-san and Hagane-san if not yourself.” 

“Stop using the Gremlins against me, Kito.” The senbon bobbed between Genma’s lips as his jaw worked. He scowled, more annoyed than angry. “Once I get the kid to Hound, I’ll join you in the lounge, okay?” 

“Is oolong tea to your liking?” 

“Yeah sure, better make an extra though.” 

Kito pulled off one glove and folded the second into the first. “I’ll have the pot ready in five minutes.” 

“Yes, sir.” Genma shot the medic a two-fingered salute as he directed Iruka around the corner. “Damn medic,” he muttered with a fond sigh. “He did that on purpose.” 

“Genma-senpai?” 

“Don’t worry about it kid, just a good medic doing his job.” Genma directed Iruka down another hall with a hand placed gently between his shoulder blades.

Each step they took made Iruka’s muscles jitter worse. He couldn’t help but worry, though he knew Kakashi would be okay. He had to be hurt very badly to ask for him. Kakashi never asked for him. Heck, he never willingly stayed in the hospital. The long mission he and Genma completed last winter proved that much. Only once Iruka saw his precious person for himself would the anxiety clenching his stomach into knots abait?

“Here we are.” Genma squeezed his shoulder lightly before his hand fell away.

“Here?” Iruka’s brows raised towards his hitai-ate. There, curled up in a tight ball with his back to the door, was another ANBU. One around his size if the genin wasn’t mistaken. It was hard to really tell from the way their legs were pulled so tightly to their chest. Iruka couldn't properly identify their gender positioned as they were. Brown hair spilled from behind a green and red painted mask to fall over narrow shoulders. 

This wasn’t a guard. The ANBU’s position screamed of a guilt Iruka knew all too well. Self-blame. He must’ve been on the mission with Genma and Kakashi. Iruka bowed his head to the ANBU with respect. “Thank you for watching over Hound.”

The mask came up quickly, inadvertently revealing its feline features. “I… I wasn't, I didn't... Senpai was the one looking out for me.” There was the guilt, heavy-laced through a voice that made this elite shinobi seem even younger. That wasn’t possible right? Kakashi was thirteen when he joined ANBU. Iruka was thirteen now. This boy had to be at least his age, right? 

“Hound will always go the extra mile for his friends. I’m glad you kept each other safe.” Iruka smiled and offered his hand to the other boy. “Let me help you up.”

The feline mask shifted between Iruka and Genma leaning against the wall behind them. His shoulders went rigid. “Kitsune-senpai, your mask.”

“It’s fine, Lynx.” Genma’s senbon clinked between his teeth as he grinned. “Iruka figured out who I was months ago.”

“...I see.” The eyes that stared at Iruka through the mask’s eyeholes were endless depths of inky black. The ANBU dubbed Lynx studied his outstretched hand before accepting the gesture. Black spandex closed around his fingers in an awkward, too-tight grip rather reminiscent of Kakashi. That one gesture spoke volumes. “Thank you,” he murmured as the genin pulled him to his feet.

“Thank you for having Hound's back, Lynx-san.”

“Well aren’t you two just the cutest bucket of adorable sap ever?” Genma teased and ruffled both their hair. “Come on, Lynx. Kito’s got tea brewing in the break room.” Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed the younger boy by the shoulder and forcefully directed him back the way he and Iruka just came. “Give Hound our regards, Iruka!” He called over his shoulder.

Just like that, Iruka was left alone to contend with his anxieties. His trembling fingers curled around the doorknob. Kakashi was just beyond this door. What kind of state would he find his precious person in? The genin was almost scared to find out how serious injuries had to be to keep Kakashi hospital bound. 

Inhaling deeply, Iruka slapped his cheeks to steel his resolve. “Okay!” Whatever shape Kakashi was in, they’d deal with it together. They were family. Recovery could be hard, but he’d be with the older teen every step of the way. 

Holding onto that thought, Iruka burst through the hospital door and promptly froze in place. The world around him seemed to stop and crumble in the same instance. “...K-Kakashi.”

Kakashi’s head turned towards Iruka when a sob broke past his lips. His visible grey eye widened. “...Ruka?” The ANBU’s jaw worked beneath his mask, struggling to form the words. Iruka could hear the dazed surprise in his voice, as if he was trying to decide if the genin was really there or not. Was he put under another genjutsu?

“Oh… no, Kakashi...” Iruka’s heart plummeted straight into his stomach. 

“You’re here?” The ANBU’s arms rested atop a soft blanket pulled up to his chest. Every inch of his visible torso was wrapped tightly in bloody bandages. His sharingan was covered with a suppressant seal inked right into the gauze. Massive, hand-shaped bruises covered his neck. The left side of Kakashi’s head was shaved enough for a fresh, angry scar to be visible against his pale skin. Kakashi's skull had been split clean open and subsequently healed by a skilled medic. If Kito was truly the one who worked on Kakashi, no wonder he was so low on chakra. At least his head could be fixed.

His hand could not.

Kakashi was missing fingers.

“Y-Yes, I’m… I’m here.” Iruka forced himself to approach the bed. Each step weighed down his feet with an overwhelming sense of fear. Kakashi, his precious person. What happened? Who did this to him? He was tortured , a small voice supplied from the back of his mind. Iruka shuddered, very aware of the possibility. “I’m here, Kashi.” His fingers trembled when he reached for Kakashi’s injured hand. 

The ANBU stiffened at the contact, but Iruka’s didn’t let him pull away. He knew if he did, Kakashi would close himself off completely. That wasn’t happening again, not after everything they went through together. This was just another hurdle for them to overcome. Instead, Iruka leaned down just enough to kiss the back of his bandaged hand. He heard Kakashi’s sharp intake of breath, felt his remaining fingers flex in the firm grip. 

Squeezing his eyes shut, Iruka kept his precious person’s injured hand pressed to his lips. Hot tears trickled down his cheeks and dripped off his chin. His shoulders shook as he cried. Kakashi was hurt so badly, but he was here, alive and alert. “...You came back to me.” 

The mattress shifted as Kakashi hauled himself back against the pillows in a half-sitting position. “I promised,” he rasped, each movement a struggle with how battered his body was. 

Without a second thought, Iruka quickly crawled onto the narrow bed to help. Shifting the pillows to better support the older teen, Iruka eased him back as gently as he could. He could only guess what his friend went through. The genin’s trembling fingers curled into Kakashi’s muscle shirt. How could he help? He wanted to make things better. They were supposed to support each other!

“...Iruka.” Kakashi pressed their foreheads together and exhaled slowly. His gaze was unfocused when his visible eye slipped closed. How many painkillers did they have him on? 

Whimpering softly, Iruka’s arms slid around Kakashi’s shoulders in a loose hug. Useless, he was so useless. All the effort he put into training, becoming stronger, learning everything he could, it was pointless if he couldn’t protect the person he loved the most! He loved Kakashi so much, this confusing, kind, wonderful person. For all his strengths and all his flaws, Iruka loved him. 

The sudden realization filled Iruka with an impulsive, giddy kind of warmth. It spurred him forward, caution thrown to the wind. With his face a tear-streaked mess, Iruka smashed his lips to Kakashi’s cloth-covered mouth in a clumsy, uncoordinated kiss. Their noses bumped awkwardly, the ANBU went rigid against him. Heat slowly rose in Iruka’s cheeks until his entire face felt like it was on fire. The cotton mask was surprisingly soft against his lips.

Painfully aware of how tense Kakashi was, Iruka pulled back quickly. “I-I-," stammering, the genin pressed his lips together, eyes diverting to his lap. Sage help him! What was he doing?! He just kissed Kakashi!! Kakashi, who hadn’t said or done anything in return. The heat in his face quickly spread right up to his ears. He could feel the older teen’s gaze on him. Iruka's stomach did an uncomfortable flip. “S-sorry, I just thought…”

A rustle of fabric caught his attention. Iruka’s head raised just quickly enough to catch Kakashi pull his mask down to his chin. Cradling Iruka’s cheek in his uninjured hand, Kakashi tilted his head ever so slightly and closed the small distance between them.

Iruka’s breath caught in his throat, his mind screeching to a complete halt. Heat flooded through his entire body, deepening his blush several shades of red. The lips pressed lightly, to his own were slightly chapped but soft and so warm. There was hesitancy, uncertainty behind the gentle action. Sighing softly, Iruka all but melted into the kiss.

His first kiss with Kakashi.

It was over far too soon. A soft blush dusted Kakashi’s cheeks once they separated. “...Oh.” Iruka stared at his precious person in awe, his face steadily reddening until he felt like an overly ripe tomato. Kakashi kissed him. An embarrassed whine caught in his throat. Iruka quickly buried his face in his friend’s chest. Holy Sage, Kakashi just kissed me!

An airy laugh rumbled through Kakashi's chest. He dropped back onto the pillows, bringing Iruka down with him. "It's okay," he lamented quietly. "Everything will be okay." 

Stretched out against the ANBU's side, Iruka's eyes lingered on Kakashi's right hand. His ring and pinky fingers were completely gone. “...But you’re hand.” The genin gingerly brushed his fingers over his palm. Kakashi never complained about being hurt, but losing a body part was different. He’d be a wreck if their roles were reversed. 

Kakashi hummed, his remaining fingers flexing at Iruka’s touch. “My team made it back in one piece, this is a small price to pay.” 

“...I thought you and Genma-senpai worked as a pair.” 

“Ah, so you met Lynx.” Kakashi brushed his thumb across Iruka’s bottom lip. 

“I did, he seemed...” Iruka bit the inside of his cheek, searching for the right word to describe the other boy, “lost.” He couldn’t get rid of the little voice that kept telling him Lynx was the reason Kakashi got tortured. Yes, tortured not just hurt. Fingers didn’t come off that cleanly in the heat of battle. What truly happened on Kakashi’s mission was most likely already classified, so he didn't ask. “Are you and Lynx-san friends?”

Kakashi considered the question carefully before answering. “Yes, I suppose we are.” 

One didn’t lose fingers over a supposed friend, but it was progress for Kakashi to admit that much. “He’s my age right?” 

“I believe so.” 

Iruka shifted a little closer to his precious person and slowly laced their fingers together. “Do you think he’d like to spar sometime?”  

Kakashi’s cheek dropped atop his head. “Mah, I think so.” 

They fell into a comfortable silence after that, content to simply remain close to each other. It was only a matter of time before Shikaku was informed about Kakashi’s hospital admittance. High level wards wouldn’t keep Yoshino-sensei away, nor would Kito’s tea occupy Genma for long. Iruka was sure Lynx wouldn't be far behind Genma.

For the moment, however, they had this peaceful silence and each other.

“Hey, Kakashi?”

“Hm?”

“Welcome home.”