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Not Quite So Soulless

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Iruka closed the door to his tiny flat and sighed.

"Right," he said out loud to nobody, his voice rough and pained to his own ears, "that went well."

He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the door. It had not gone well at all. It had, in fact, gone as badly as it could have gone, the sting of the rejection spreading inside his chest. He took a deep breath, pushing disappointment and grief as far down as he could, and let it out slowly, eyes still closed, holding himself steady against the door as if it was the only thing keeping him up. It might as well have been, his limbs felt rubbery, not fit to move or hold his weight. He focused on his breathing, clearing his mind of everything else until he felt he could move away from it.

Once he did, he went straight to the kitchen; he needed a drink. Iruka bypassed the beer, his usual indulgence on the nights the kids were especially difficult, and got the sake out. Tomorrow was Sunday and he didn't have class, he deserved to get spectacularly plastered for one night. He'd just been rejected by the one person who was supposed to accept him, without reservation, in this world; he'd earned a night of self-pity and alcohol.

It had taken Iruka the better part of a year to gather the courage to seek him out. From the moment the mark on his shoulder had cleared, the formless splotch of colour taking the shape of stylized lightning encased in a black and red Sharingan, he'd known who it belonged to. He'd cursed his luck because apparently, the universe had decided that his perfect match was Hatake Kakashi, someone Iruka only knew by reputation and had always seemed to him aloof and unapproachable, someone out of his reach. Thus the long time it had taken to convince himself to seek him out, wanting to hold onto the possibility rather than face outright rejection.

He'd been right. He had known since the moment Kakashi had opened his door, his uncovered eye zeroing on the mark and his entire body stiffening, what the outcome was going to be.

The worst part, Iruka decided into his third drink, was the fact that Kakashi had not been cruel or anything but kind and reasonable about it. He had been calm and composed the entire time, had even apologized to Iruka for the bad hand he had been dealt, but the end result was the same.

"I'm sorry, Iruka-sensei," Kakashi had said, voice gentle and sad, mask not fully concealing the downturn of his mouth, "but I don't have a mark. It was covered when I joined the ANBU and never developed."

He had gone as far as showing Iruka his arm, where the ANBU tattoo covered whatever mark would have been there, never fully defined except for the formless outline of colour.

And really, there was nothing Iruka could have said or done facing that. He'd known, everyone in the village knew, that to become an ANBU a sacrifice was needed, he had just not been aware of what it was. It made sense, in a twisted way; ANBU were considered soulless killers, the elite fighters, they would not have been as effective if they had something tying them down.

Iruka understood but he was still angry and bitter about it.

He kept drinking, thinking about how Kakashi had avoided touching or even looking at him at all while they talked, his uncovered eye fixed on a point over Iruka's shoulder.

Well, Iruka had been alone for a long time, he knew how to deal with it.

He had one night to feel sorry for himself and drink himself to oblivion, and tomorrow he'd pick up the pieces and carry on with his life, wait for the mark to disappear and maybe in the future be matched again.

Leaving the ANBU was at the same time the hardest and the easiest decision of Kakashi's life, but it was time.

It was easy; Kakashi would not admit it to anyone out loud, but he longed for a silly boring mission, one that didn't leave him with bloody hands in the end. He didn't want to retire, he was barely twenty-five and could still give much to the village, but he'd take any escort mission playing bodyguard for merchants, or playing courier, or even helping train a bunch of kids, as long as it didn't involve killing from the get-go. It wasn't that he had gone soft, he would not hesitate to take a life in combat when necessary, but Kakashi had grown weary of assassinations, of missions that carried the stench of blood and death from the moment the scroll was handed to him.

It was also hard; he had been part of it most of his adult life, joining the ranks when he was in his teens and everyone he had cared about was long gone. The ANBU had become his family, Yamato and Anko his siblings, Gai the weird cousin everyone pretended to just tolerate but would defend to the death. They were all like him, lonely and damaged in some way, the marks they were born with never developed under the brand of ANBU. They led a dangerous life, but it wasn't an unhappy one, not while they had each other. Kakashi knew he was going to miss them, though he had a feeling his family wasn't going to be too far behind in joining the regular shinobi duty.

He was right.

They were waiting for him outside, maskless and cloakless like himself, and that was the answer to why they had not argued with him when he had told them his decision.

"You done?" Yamato said with a tilt of his head in the direction of the headquarters.

Kakashi had a bag with the spare belongings he kept in the barracks in his hand, just a change of clothes and some toiletries, his own mask and cloak returned. He had never felt lighter. "Yup."

"Let's drop that at your place and hit the bars," Anko said, linking her arm with Kakashi's and Yamato's when they got to her side. "We have much to celebrate!"

Gai took the place on the other side of Kakashi, not saying much for a change, but with a wide smile on his face. They made quite the spectacle, four of the more feared shinobi in the village walking together like children and smiling widely, chatting and laughing loudly completely uncaring of all the stares they were attracting. It was freeing, Kakashi couldn't remember the last time they had so much fun or so much alcohol; life in ANBU meant they always had to be prepared, and it was a rare occasion that found the four of them together without a mission or an injury to be recovering from.

"Come on everyone, this round is on us!" Anko declared loudly in one of the bars, the effects of the past rounds beginning to show in the way her vowels rounded and her smile widened.

"You mean it's on me," Kakashi countered, and got only a laugh in reply.

It was usually the case; they all had the means since working for ANBU left them with little time to spend their money, but Kakashi had inherited more money he knew what to do with, and enjoyed treating his friends when they had the chance.

"And we will all be grateful for it, my friend," Gai said with a hearty backslap, downing his glass of sake in the next breath.

Some of the other patrons of the bar were approaching them, called by the offer of free drinks, foregoing their usual reticence to approach them. Genma, who had been a friend of Anko while they were training, was the first by their side. "Is it true, then?" he asked, curiosity and glee in his expression. "Have you guys left the masks?"

"We have," Kakashi confirmed with a smile. "Most of them, at least," he gestured to his still covered face.

"A miracle at a time?" Genma teased good-naturedly, gesturing for a jar of warm sake to be refilled. "Come sit with us, you'll need to get reacquaintance with most of the village if you're going to rejoin normal life."

Kakashi looked at his friends and they smiled and nodded, grabbing their glasses and jars to follow Genma to a booth in the back. The booth was already half full, and there was barely enough space for all of them to sit in it pressed closely together.

For the first time, Kakashi faltered, the smile slipping from his face.

Sitting there with his friends and laughing was Umino Iruka, engaged in a lively conversation with Kurenai and Asuma, completely oblivious to his surroundings. He had barely changed in the two years since Kakashi had seen him, sitting stiffly in his apartment and listening while Kakashi apologized for not being what Iruka, what anyone, deserved.

It had been a difficult conversation; Kakashi was not a cruel man by nature and had been aware from the moment he took the brand that he was condemning someone to a life of loneliness. He had told himself it was for the better when he did it, fifteen and heartsick from loss, that being alone was an improvement from being tied to someone so embroiled with death it killed anyone who got close. Kakashi could see now that his reasoning had been twisted by loneliness and sadness, he had even felt the possibility of connection that first time they had spoken, but had not been ready to acknowledge it.

It had been shortly after that he had considered leaving the ANBU, though.

"Scoot over guys," Genma called his friends loudly, and all eyes turned to them. "I got company!"

The moment Iruka's eyes fell on Kakashi the smile was completely wiped from his face, a stony blankness replacing it immediately. Asuma had the opposite reaction, grinning widely at them and gesturing expansively. "Kakashi! Yamato!" He took in the rest of them, the drinks in their hands and their relaxed stances, the fact they were all there together. "All four of you?"

Genma nodded, sliding into the booth and dragging Anko with him. "Yes, they've all left at last."

Iruka's eyes widened slightly at that, his brows climbing up his forehead. "I didn't know you could leave the ANBU."

All of them took a seat, Kakashi the last of them so he could keep as much distance between him and Iruka as possible. "It's not the norm," Yamato explained, refiling all the empty glasses he saw with his jar. "But they only want willing soldiers."

"I see."

"What are you going to do now?" Kurenai asked, staring at Kakashi with a considering expression. He wondered whether Iruka had confided in her and what she thought of him because of it.

"Personally, I'm taking a few weeks off to catch up on my reading," Kakashi admitted, earning a few chuckles. "I guess I'll start taking normal missions after that."

"I'll drink to that!" Gai said, lifting his glass in a toast. Everyone drank, Iruka's eyes meeting Kakashi's for an instant before he focused back on Asuma.

Kakashi felt the same spark of connection he had felt two years before in his flat but still didn't know what to do with it. There was no rush, though, so he just drank and laughed with his friends, enjoying the freedom to do it for the first time.

Iruka woke up with a pounding headache and the feeling that something had died in his mouth. God, why did he drink so much the night before? He groaned and turned in his bed, screwing his eyes tightly and wishing for his head to fall off and stop hurting.

A second later he was out of bed, his heart pounding in his chest, his eyes bulging out as he stared at the man unconscious in it.

Oh shit.

He hadn't. He couldn't have. This was the stupidest thing he had ever done, and considering his past that was saying something. In the bed, the man groaned and stirred, his head lifting slightly on the pillow to stare at Iruka one-eyed.

"Five more minutes," Kakashi said, and promptly closed his eye and started snoring softly, snuggling deeper under the duvet.

Iruka closed his eyes and panicked quietly, trying to remember what had happened the night before and how the hell had Kakashi ended up in his bed. He wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing, but that was normal, Iruka had slept naked for years he wasn't going to jump into conclusions without seeing more than the top of Kakashi's head.

He grabbed a robe and left the bedroom as quietly as he could because sudden noises around sleeping shinobi were always a bad idea and around ANBU, even ex-ANBU, they were probably lethal. In the kitchen, he downed a glass of water and started a pot of coffee. Once that was done he went to the bathroom and stared at his reflection in the mirror from every angle, trying to see if there were any marks on him that gave him an idea of what had happened.

He remembered Genma coming back to the booth where they were drinking with a group of people in tow, but Iruka had not paid attention to them at first, too involved in his conversation with Kurenai. Genma was always inviting people to drink with him, seemed to know the entire village and regularly drink with everyone. It wasn't until Kurenai kicked his leg that he looked up, straight into Kakashi's eye, and he had been unable to look away. Even after two years of only seeing him from afar Iruka couldn't help but be attuned to the man. Then they had learned Kakashi and the rest of the group had left the masks behind. Iruka lost count of how many jars of sake they drank, but as much as he had tried to ignore Kakashi's presence in the booth, it had been like a humming in the back of his head, driving him to drink even more to try to drown that awareness.

He couldn't remember anything after Kurenai and Asuma had left.

His eyes landed on the patch that covered his mark, still firmly affixed, and sighed in relief seeing it. At least he hadn't revealed that. Under the patch his mark was still fully defined, something of an oddity for a mismatched person. The mark should have blurred, becoming formless like it was before, freeing him to meet someone else. It hadn't, though, and Iruka had taken to covering it, convinced it was just a question of time for it to be gone and some other mark to take its place. Or maybe not, and it would remain formless forever.

Nobody knew how the marks really worked, they only had conjectures and an overdeveloped sense of romance that people enjoyed so much. Cases of rejection were practically unheard of and hadn't been properly studied, but there were known cases of the mark blurring and changing with time when one half of a pair died, or if they never met for whatever reason. Iruka had always hoped his would do that.

The sound of the coffee boiling forced him out of the bathroom, and he served himself a mug and sat on the kitchen table, immediately putting his head in his hands. His mind kept going back to the same thing over and over again; he couldn't have slept with Kakashi, that was a recipe for disaster. Kakashi had already rejected him in spite of them being matched together, it would be ridiculous for Iruka to fall into bed with him, he would never be free of this lingering attachment that way.

"Iruka-sensei?" Kakashi's voice took him out of his musing, and he lifted his head and turned to look at the door. Kakashi was there, sleep rumpled and soft, and dressed head to toe with his cloth mask covering his face and his hitai-ate over his eye. He had a hand on the back of his neck and a reddish tint on his cheek over the mask, the very picture of embarrassment. "Could I bother you for some coffee?" he asked sheepishly.

Iruka stood on autopilot and served him a mug, black with one sugar, before taking his seat again. Kakashi looked at him puzzled but smiled under his mask.

"Thanks, Sensei," he said, then he pulled down his mask to drink and Iruka choked on his own coffee.

"What are you doing?" Iruka squeaked. There were many rumours and few facts known about Hatake Kakashi in the village, in spite of him being one of the village's favourite gossip subjects, but one thing that was known was that Kakashi never showed his face. Ever.

Kakashi's hand froze halfway down to take his mug, his eye widening impossibly. His hand twitched up, an aborted motion to cover his face again, and he closed his fists and took a deep breath. With what was a visible effort, Kakashi relaxed his hands and dropped them to the table, his eye fixed on Iruka's, his face stained pink.

He had not meant to do that, had not even realized he had done it until Iruka had mentioned it.

"Sorry," he finally said, grabbing his mug from the table and taking a sip. He closed his eye in bliss and sighed. "Perfect, how did you know how I take it?"

"I didn't," Iruka admitted, and they stared at each other in a silence that was oddly not uncomfortable. "Last night?" Iruka finally asked, the question burning in his mind.

Kakashi smiled impishly, the curvature of his mouth speaking of mischief, and Iruka was struck with how open and easy to read his face was without his mask. He was also unfairly handsome, all sharp features and high cheekbones, full lips and dark eyes. "It was unforgettable." If only, Iruka thought, wishing he could remember anything. "You were perfect." He purred and stared at him with a teasing smirk. Something on Iruka's face must have told him he was really freaking out, and Kakashi wiped the expression from his face. "Nothing happened, Sensei, I'm not the kind of asshole who would sleep with someone so drunk they don't remember the next day," he admitted finally, and Iruka breathed in relief. "Genma and Anko left together, and by that time you were too drunk to leave on your own. I offered to make sure you got home, being slightly sober than you were, and once here I came up to make sure you made it to the bed instead of passing out on the corridor. You insisted I laid with you until you fell asleep."

"But I was--" he gestured at his body, naked under the robe, and didn't miss Kakashi's appreciative glance.

"I tried to stop you, but apparently you overheat in bed." he shrugged. "You also cuddle like a demented octopus, I couldn't extricate myself before I fell asleep."

Iruka felt his face overheating now and hid it behind his mug. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it."

They continued drinking in companionable silence until Iruka asked the question he hadn't dared the previous night. "Why did you leave?"

He didn't expect Kakashi to answer, not really, but the same as it had happened with the mask, the words were out of his mouth almost against his will, if the shocked expression on his face was any indication. "After you came that day," he began, and those were the last words Iruka would have imagined hearing. "I started to look at the ANBU differently. I didn't enjoy hurting you." Iruka had known even then. "I felt something, and I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't let them brand me barely a week after I buried my last friend." That he had not known. And considering how long Kakashi had been in ANBU, he must have been very young when that happened. No wonder he had accepted the brand, Iruka would have done the same when his parents died if he hadn't been an untrained child. "I got sent on a mission which I can't talk about but that I loathed right after that. And then another. And another. Until all I wanted was out. The only thing stopping me was my family."

Iruka could only imagine what kind of missions would those be and was grateful he would never need to complete one. "But you all left together in the end."

"We did." Kakashi flashed him the kind of brilliant smile Iruka read about in corny romance novels, and he felt his heart giving a loud thump against his ribcage and a flash of heat on his shoulder. He barely restrained the urge to rub his hand against it.

Kakashi must have felt the same because he did rub his hand against his shoulder where the ANBU tattoo was. He looked ruefully at Iruka, his smile dimming. "I'm sorry for the pain I caused you--"

"It's not your fault," Iruka interrupted because it wasn't like Kakashi had rejected him out of cruelty or spite.

"I'm still sorry, and I guess by now your mark has probably faded," Iruka said nothing to that, Kakashi nodded as if he had confirmed it. "but I think there was a reason we were matched."

This couldn't be happening to Iruka. "What do you mean?" he asked in a strangled voice.

"I don't tell my secrets to everyone, and I definitely don't unmask for anyone. I feel comfortable with you in a way I only feel with my family." Kakashi looked at him earnestly. "I want to know you better, maybe it's too late for us to be soulmates, but I think we can still be friends."

Iruka considered it; the smart thing would be to say no and let time and distance do their thing until the mark on his shoulder was a formless blur, but it felt like a waste. He felt comfortable with Kakashi, and maybe that was what the universe needed to free Iruka from this impossible match, for them to know each other better and realize they weren't compatible.

"I think you're right. We should meet again, as friends."

His pounding heartbeat at Kakashi's answering smile told him how much of a bad idea it really was.

It was not a date.

Kakashi had been repeating those same words to himself for the past few days since he and Iruka agreed to meet again. They were just going out for dinner, something that friends did frequently, or so Kakashi had heard.

Truth was, Kakashi wasn't really an expert in normal relationships. He had never had one himself. His closest friends were his family, they practically lived in each other's pockets and kept no secrets. They frequently shared a bed to sleep, in and out of missions, and regardless of what people believed, he didn't keep his mask when it was just them. They had all moved to the Hatake compound after leaving the ANBU, coming in and out of each other's rooms at will, sharing the bathrooms occasionally and slipping into each other's bed when they heard someone having a bad night. Kakashi and Gai spent hours challenging each other to more and more impossible physical feats, shared practically all of their meals fighting for choice morsels like small kids, and they had walked in on Anko and Yamato having sex in more than one occasion. Genma was with them the last time, and all Gai and Kakashi had done was lay one more plate for dinner that night, welcoming Genma into the family.

So no, he didn't know how to have a normal friend. He didn't know how to do normal at all.

But this still wasn't a date, and he had no reason to feel nervous about it.

"Stop freaking out, Kakashi," Anko shouted from the other side of the garden where she was leaning on Gai's back sharpening her kunai. Gai's head was over her shoulder, eyes closed and mouth open, completely dead to the world. Gai would sleep like a log when one of them was around, and not even an explosion would wake him up. The moment they moved away, though, he was wide awake. It was very inconvenient on long missions.

"I'm not."

"Yes you are," Yamato agreed, walking into the garden from the house, Genma in tow.

"What's Kakashi freaking about?" Genma asked. Gai's eyes snapped open but he didn't move from where he was, still relaxed against Anko.

"Nothing," he stressed, "I'm just going out without them tonight and their co-dependant asses are not reacting well."

Gaio snorted. "He's going out with Iruka, just the two of them, and he's been reminding himself and everyone around that it's not a date." He closed his eyes again and went back to sleep.

Sometimes Kakashi hated his friends.

"It's not a date," he repeated for the millionth time. "We're just going to be friends. It's complicated."

Genma stared at him and then shrugged. "Friendship shouldn't be complicated, Kakashi, but I've seen you all together, you complicate everything."

And that at least was the last of that. He was still thinking about it when he met Iruka at Ichiraku's, it was Kakashi's favourite place and they had a booth right at the back where he could lower his mask while he ate without worrying about people seeing him.

"I can't believe I've never been here before," Iruka was saying through a mouthful of noodles, his cheeks bulging and his face flushed in pleasure. He looked impossibly endearing. "And it's so close to my place."

"It's good, right?"

Iruka swallowed and smiled, and Kakashi felt that itch on his shoulder again. "It's very good, how did you find this place?"

"My jounin teacher took me here, he used to say I would choke on my food one day if I kept the mask on," Kakashi answered with a wistful smile on his face at the memory. It didn't hurt so much now that he had his little family, but for a long time, he had been unable to think of the Yondaime and his team. "This booth was his idea."

"The Yondaime, right? He was your teacher?" Iruka must have seen the pain in his expression because he changed the subject immediately. "I have a lot more respect for my teachers now I'm one myself. I can't imagine what it was dealing with me at that age, I was a right terror."

"Were you?" It wasn't difficult to imagine, not with the spark of mischief he'd seen in Iruka's eyes.

"Oh yes, there wasn't a prank I wouldn't dare," Iruka explained and Kakashi couldn't help but imagine him, tiny and mischievous, the polar opposite of what Kakashi had been as a child. "I was the class clown, used to drive my teachers up the wall." He looked at Kakashi, eyes shining with amusement. "Some would say it's karma that now my students drive me insane."

"Who's the worst one?"

"Naruto. Hands down, he's a nightmare!" Iruka said, but there was a fondness in his expression that belied the harshness of his words.

Kakashi was curious and charmed. He was also convinced he was doing this friendship thing wrong because he wanted nothing more than to kiss Iruka. "What's the worst thing he's done?" He asked to distract himself from thoughts of tasting Iruka's mouth.

Iruka's story was funny and sweet and Kakashi couldn't remember a word of it, too focused on the way Iruka's face shifted as he told it, how his hands moved and his eyes shone and his lips formed the words, Kakashi's shoulder itching constantly.

After dinner, they went to a bar and had a beer, both of them reluctant to part. Kurenai and Asuma were there and they joined them, much as Kakashi didn't want to. But it wasn't a date, just a dinner between friends, and he had no reason to refuse. Not really.

It was a trend that repeated every time they met, which was a couple of times a week while Kakashi was enjoying his sabbatical. They would have dinner somewhere, chat about anything and everything, tell each other stories about their lives, things Kakashi was certain they wouldn't share with just anyone, and then have a drink with the rest of their friends.

They weren't dating, but Kakashi was finding more and more difficult to remind himself of that.

He was falling for Iruka, and the almost constant burn on his shoulder was the universe agreeing with it.

It was too late, though, it had been too late since the moment Iruka had left his house two years ago, the chance the universe had given them wasted, and Kakashi only had to see Iruka's covered shoulder or his branded one to remind himself of that.

Or so he had believed.

"When are you and Iruka going to stop playing around and admit you're soulmates?" Anko asked one morning.

Kakashi blinked blurrily at her, still not fully awake. He had stayed up most of the night finishing a book, was only awake and out of bed because he needed to go to the bookshop to buy the next one. He grabbed a mug of coffee and a muffin and sat next to her at the kitchen table. "What?"

She nodded pointedly to his arm, uncovered where he was wearing just a sleeveless tank top as he usually did around the house. "Are you still saying you're just friends?"

Kakashi looked at his shoulder, still not sure what Anko meant and was suddenly wide awake. It wasn't possible. There were no documented cases of branded people developing their mark, but it seemed that in this Kakashi was going to be an exception, the same as he had been on many other things.

There, on his shoulder, was now a very clear design of blue waves and a stylized kanji, Kakashi didn't need to read it to know which one it was. Under it, barely visible anymore was the ANBU tattoo, so faint it was almost impossible to see it unless you knew it was there. He touched it reflexively, unable to believe it was really there and turned shocked eyes on Anko.

"You hadn't realized it was there." It wasn't a question.

"But I lost my chance with him," he muttered, still too shocked for anything else.

"Did you?" She looked at the mark again, not commenting on what he had just revealed. "The universe seems to be giving you a new one, are you going to take it?"

Kakashi didn't bother to reply, was out of the door and running towards the Academy before she even finished speaking, pulling his mask up as he ran.

Iruka loved his job, he loved to teach the kids and their antics usually amused him greatly, especially considering he had been quite the brat himself at their age. There were days, though, when he would gladly strangle them all, starting with Naruto.

"For the tenth time, Naruto, I can still see you, and you still look like yourself."

They had been at it for the past ten minutes, and it wasn't that Naruto was incapable of performing the jutsu correctly, Iruka had seen him do it before, it was that today he seemed to want to get on Iruka's last nerve, and the looks he kept shooting Sakura were a clear indication of why. Not that Sakura was paying any attention to him, she had eyes only for Sasuke, who looked bored by everything and everyone around him.

Iruka remembered what it was to be their age and have a crush, before the marks developed and they all hoped that person would turn out to be their soulmate, what it was to embarrass oneself if that meant catching their eye, and be happy about it.

Right now Iruka would give anything to go back to simpler times. He checked the time and decided he'd had enough and they could all do with a break.

"Ok, enough," he groaned in exasperation when it looked like Naruto was getting ready to repeat the same silly act for the eleventh time. "we're going outside for target practice."

The class followed him cheerfully, the day was beautiful, warm and bright, and that might have contributed to Naruto's mischief; it was a perfect day to be outside, and everyone knew that Iruka would take them there if sufficiently irritated, since murdering his students was frowned upon by the headmaster.

Once outside it was as if they all turned into model students, choosing their weapons and queuing peacefully in front of the targets. The downside was that now Iruka didn't have to focus on the kids so much, he was free to focus on what a mess his life was.

He should have never agreed to meet with Kakashi as friends. Should have known it was going to backfire spectacularly on him. He remembered how much the rejection had hurt two years ago, and that was before he had gotten to know Kakashi. Before Kakashi had shown him not only his face but his thoughts, and his sense of humour, and his loyalty and irreverence.

What the hell had he been thinking? Had he really believed that knowing Kakashi better would make him care less for him? Was he drunk when he'd gone with that reasoning? Of course it wasn't going to make him care less, Iruka had been an idiot for even considering it.

Except, he was sure that Kakashi was growing to care for him. It was easy to see when they were together, the way they would never run out of things to talk about, how Kakashi smiled at him in that beautiful way of his, his eyes straying to Iruka's mouth as if he wanted to kiss him. Iruka wanted that very much, had barely been able to think of anything else since they started going out, had become used to the almost constant itch on his shoulder.

He had finally resigned himself to the fact that no, the mark was not going to fade. It had not faded after the rejection when he had barely known Kakashi, it definitely wasn't going to fade now that Kakashi sought him out almost daily and looked at him like Iruka was the best thing that had happened to him. It wasn't going to fade now that Iruka loved him.

Iruka needed to decide whether he was going to risk it fading in the future and breaking both their hearts, or it not fading and Kakashi getting tired of him and breaking just his own. Again. Every time Kakashi smiled at him without his mask, every time he made him laugh with one of his family's silly anecdotes, every time Kakashi just looked at him with wonder in his eyes, Iruka was closer to forgetting how much it had hurt and do it.

There was a disruption in the class and Iruka snapped out of his thoughts to see what had his students excitedly whispering among themselves. As if summoned by his thoughts, Kakashi was approaching them at a fast clip just short of running. He was wearing his mask, though he appeared to have just got out of bed, he was probably reading again until dawn, his hair in complete disarray and his clothes crumpled as if he had slept on them.

"I need to borrow Iruka-sensei for a moment," he said before Iruka could ask him what was wrong. "Uchiha-kun, you're in charge of the class until we return, make sure nobody dies." He grabbed Iruka by the waist and they had both disappeared in a puff of smoke, Iruka still too stunned to do anything.

He regained his wits as soon as Kakashi deposited them in his classroom, now empty except for the two of them. "Kakashi? Is everything alright?" he asked, this behaviour was strange even for Kakashi who usually liked being a bit weird.

"I need to see your mark," Kakashi said, and Iruka's brain screeched to a halt.

He took a step back from Kakashi on instinct, though he had not moved at all. His request, though, had made Iruka's heart speed on his chest and his breath to get stuck on his throat. He had shown Kakashi the mark once, that day when he had been rejected, and ever since he'd had it covered with a patch. Iruka still checked it from time to time, always with the hope that it wouldn't be there.

Except lately he hadn't, he knew it was still there, could feel it when he was with Kakashi.

"What-" he began.

"Please." There was something in Kakashi's voice that gave him pause. It wasn't just the breach of etiquette making such a request, it was the fact that Kakashi knew what it was. It made no sense to ask, and made even less sense that he was so harried about it.

Iruka looked carefully at him, finally registering the fact that his clothes were not only crumpled, but they also left his shoulders and arms uncovered. This was the least dressed he had ever seen Kakashi outside. He wasn't even wearing a flak vest, and that for someone like Kakashi was being almost naked.

Iruka's eyes zeroed immediately on Kakashi's shoulder and all the breath left him.

"It's not possible," Iruka said, his voice thready and thin.

There, clear as day on Kakashi's shoulder was a fully defined mark, blue waves with the kanji for learning, and barely visible under it the ANBU mark, as faded as the soul mark had been when Kakashi showed it to him two years ago. It didn't take a genius to interpret his mark.

"I know," Kakashi said, and Iruka looked up to his face. He had pulled his mask down, his one uncovered eye fixed intently on Iruka, a terrible hope on it. "Show me, please?"

He didn't think about it, didn't consider they were in the classroom and they probably only had five more minutes before the children started murdering each other, or came barreling into the room to see what was keeping their teacher away, or came to get another glimpse of Kakashi. Iruka opened the flak vest and pulled the zipper of his uniform down, Kakashi seemed to have stopped breathing, hands clenched into fists by his side, his entire body coiled tight with tension. Iruka was also feeling the tension, as if now they had matching marks they were having a transference of feelings. With hands that were less steady than a minute before, he pulled his sleeve down his shoulder and grabbed the adhesive patch, removing it quickly.

He heard Kakashi exhale, and looked down to his mark still as red and defined as always, the Sharingan standing in sharp relief, then looked up into Kakashi's eyes.

He wasn't expecting the kiss, not that he was going to complain now he finally had Kakashi kissing him to within an inch of his life. He could feel it everywhere, from the point where their lips joined, Kakashi's hand on his jaw, the other one on the back of his neck, their tongues sliding against each other, their chests pressed together, Kakashi's hips under his hands, one of his legs between Iruka's thighs. He sighed into Kakashi's mouth, the mark on his shoulder burning, and pressed even closer, wanting more, needing more.

"I can't believe it," Kakashi was muttering against his lips, pulling back to look into his eyes only to press his mouth again to Iruka's, his hand clutching at the nape of his neck almost painfully. "I can't believe I get to have this."

Iruka couldn't believe it either; he had resigned himself to the fact that Kakashi might love him but they wouldn't have this, this certainty of a connection. Of course, when it came to Hatake Kakashi, he always defied expectation. "You're my soulmate," Iruka said, he could hear the wonder in his voice, the breathless excitement of getting something he had believed was out of his reach.

"Yes. And you're mine." Kakashi kissed him again, deep and devouring, his hands finally leaving Iruka's face and moving back his back to cup his ass, pressing him harder against his own body.

Iruka moaned into Kakashi's mouth, feeling himself begin to harden and struggling to remember why it was a bad idea. It wasn't, it was an excellent idea. He wanted to have Kakashi's taste burned into his memory, the feeling of his body under his hand, their clothed cocks rubbing and hardening. Iruka moved his hands from Kakashi's hip to grab the hem of his sleeping shirt, sliding inside and pressing against his warm and soft skin. "Kakashi, I--"

Unfortunately, his students were there to remind him they weren't in a private place.

"You think we can see Kakashi-san fight?" someone said opening the door to the classroom. Kiba if Iruka wasn't mistaken. He froze and felt Kakashi going completely rigid in his arms, his back to the door.

"Uhg, gross," that was Naruto's voice right by the door. Iruka closed his eyes and wished for the ground to open and swallow him whole. "They're kissing, not fighting."

"I think it's hot!" Sakura said, dreamily. "Are those matching marks? It's so romantic!"

They stared at each other in horror for a long, suspended second, then Kakashi just vanished in a puff of smoke, letting a very dishevelled Iruka in the middle of the classroom with half of his students looking at him from the door. He cleared his throat, his entire face aflame and brushed his hair back, pulling his hair tie to redo his ponytail before he put all his clothes back into order and closed his flak jacket again.

He was going to kill Kakashi.

Theirs was going to be the shortest relationship in the recorded history of soulmates. They wouldn't even have time to be registered as the oddity they were, because Iruka was about to head straight to the Hatake compound and murder his soulmate with his bare hands for leaving him alone to face his students with swollen lips and a half-hard cock, which Kakashi was never to enjoy, on account of being dead.

"Iruka-sensei," Sasuke said, entering the class. "I apologize, they followed you here and I couldn't stop them."

"I noticed," he said, his voice rough. "Don't worry, Sasuke," he added because it wasn't Sasuke's fault. "Everyone, we're done for today. You can all go home."

The cheers and shouts were expected, and the speed at which they left the academy, in case Iruka changed his mind. As soon as they were gone, Iruka took a deep breath and headed out as well.

Anko was the one who opened the door for him when he arrived at the Hatake compound. "You're looking for Kakashi?" she asked with a knowing look and a smirk.

"I'm going to kill him," Iruka said and she laughed, moving aside to let him in.

"No, you're not. Not if he's made you smile like that," she said, and Iruka realized that yes, he had been smiling the entire time he was coming here, smiling with his kiss swollen lips and thinking about how he was going to kill Kakashi. Or kiss him. One of the two. He hadn't decided which one yet. He touched his lips, his smile widening. He was definitely going to kiss him. "He's at the back. Welcome to the family!"

...